In the previous article, I introduced three concepts that have helped me reformulate my approach to remnant theology without settling for the historic sectarian approach nor our modern reactionary “just get rid of the whole thing” trend. Those three ideas I referred to as the,
- Axiomatic Permanence and Ethereal Essence of Ideas
- Necessary Coherence of Ideas
- Somatic Embodiment of Ideas
The first concept is simply this: that ideas are self-evidently non-corporeal and as a result, they cannot be contained or bound by physical barriers and neither does time drain them of their force. The second concept simply speaks to the need for ideas to bind holistically as a narrative, with the pieces clicking together in such a way that a person does not have to undergo cognitive dissonance in order to appreciate or believe in the idea you propose. The third emphasizes another axiomatic assumption–that ideas worth their existence never linger in the abstract but always find a host through which they are materialized through action, patterns, and practice. Any idea that fails to transition from the academic to the practical becomes a mere mental exercise for the intellectual sophisticates and has little meaning or applicability in the realm of the absurd and urgent matters of life.
But the question that I want to answer in this present article is, How do each of these basic concepts help me reimagine remnant theology? And can they, in turn, be molded to work in a variety of settings that find the foundations of sectarian remnantism to be appalling, narcissistic, and toxic? As I have mentioned previously in this series, secular culture is so fragmented there really isn’t any way for me to know whether or not the approach I will outline here will work well in your setting. This is simply how it has worked in my setting. However, because the only alternative tends to be the historic approach, I would contend that even if this approach does not fly over very well in your setting, it will still enjoy a much more meaningful reception than the alternative. As usual, it is up to the reader to adapt and tweak for their immediate context.
Before I share the reimagined approach I employ, keep in mind that the three concepts from the previous article (and summarized above) are not concepts I necessarily share with a seeker. They simply help form a substrate for me to rethink and work off of. But I do not sit with a secular sojourner and explain those three elements to them before going into remnant theology. On the contrary, the elements are already there undergirding my approach and fragments of them emerge as I explore remnant theology. This will become obvious as you make your way through the explanation I offer below.
Back to remnant theology. The way I engage this concept is by first introducing a very simple and obvious element of historical theology. You don’t need to be a scholar or philosopher to understand this and in fact, it requires very little explanation. That concept is simply this: Every denomination and religion tells a story.
Once we have agreed on that basic premise, I then add the next layer which goes something like this: Every denomination and religion tells a different story. This portion requires a little more elaboration. At times, the stories are not entirely distinct, but for the most part, different religions and denominations exist because enough people resonated with one story over another. Over time, the stories morphed into communities that lived to emphasize their particular brand of ideas. Because people have different temperaments, experiences, and personalities it’s no surprise then that a diversity of stories emerges throughout Christian history, each highlighting diverse aspects of the divine and some presenting diametrically opposed pictures of God.
Once again, this is not a concept that needs a whole lot of explanation. However, if a person needs a bit more insight I introduce them to the Calvinist/Arminian divide within Christianity. Calvinism I introduce as Story A: God is Power (I don’t typically use big words like Calvinism or Arminianism with seekers). Arminianism I introduce as Story B: God is Love. I demonstrate how both stories develop entirely different narratives that in the end, paint contradictory pictures of God. I am careful not to criticize or attack opposing views. That’s not the objective and if you make it your objective, you will lose most modern seculars. Instead, my goal is to demonstrate one simple idea and nothing more: that different communities of faith tell different faith-stories. That is all.
Now that we have settled that issue I ask, What is the battle between good and evil about? At this point, we have already explored the Great Controversy in-depth and the seeker is aware that the battle between good and evil is fundamentally an ideological struggle over truth about God and lies about God. I then ask, where are lies about God found? Are they found in paganism? Are they found in Catholicism? If I wanted to encounter some God-lies, which of the many God-stories out there should I read? And the answer to that question is all of them. Lies about God are ideas and ideas do not stay tucked away behind the walls of the Vatican, infidel libraries, or ancient mythologies. Ideas travel. They immerse themselves through platitudes and primordial presuppositions into any ideology they can attach themselves to. This includes Christianity. Lies about God exist within the narratives told by Christian communities. We do not have the corner or market on truth.
Now, this isn’t a concept I tend to get much pushback on. In fact, people are often relieved that a Christian admits he doesn’t know everything and that what he does know, could, in fact, be wrong. But from here, I bring them to the next question. If ideas are meant to be coherent and tell a seamless and unified story–then what are we to do with the immense contradictions present between Story A: God as Power and Story B: God as Love. One of these stories, by virtue of coherence, cannot be true. While neither can lay claim to perfection, it’s clear that the variation between the two lends itself toward one conclusion: that one of these stories is influenced heavily by lies about God. And when we weigh up the God as Power narrative versus everything we have already seen to be true about God’s character it becomes obvious that one theological narrative is perpetuating lies about God whereas another is seeking to discover the truth about his heart in the midst of all the lies.
Now at this point things can get a bit uncomfortable, so I switch gears and ask a question: Why does any of this matter? As we discuss and explore, my aim is to steer our contemplation toward matters of justice and equity. In doing so, my point is that our God-story matters because lies about God are ideas and ideas tend to move from the ethereal to the physical. So what happens when lies about God move from the world of ideas to the world of actions?
For example, if you believe God is a dictator who refuses to be questioned or challenged, then how will those ideas impact the realm of parental discipline? If you believe God loves one nation more than another, or one group of people but not another–will that not lend itself toward indifference and injustice? Is this not the root of Christian anti-Semitism and Islamophobia that allows some Christians to justify atrocities against these groups with very little care of their sufferings? Is this not the foundation of the modern-day atrocities committed in Palestine all in the name of “support Israel” fueled by Dispensational theology? If you believe God operates as a hierarchy of power and subordination, will this belief not lend itself to abusive relationships, patriarchal control, the objectification of women and other sexist outcomes that we are witnessing in many evangelical churches today? If you believe God is on the side of the politically conservative, will you not dehumanize the liberal? The questions can go on and on, but the examples are clear. Ideas, when embodied, become acts and acts fueled by lies about God are bound to perpetuate a disruption of God’s creation design even if they pledge allegiance to him as an ideal.
I then take the next step. If the war between good and evil is ever to close, a revelation of who God is and what he is like must be at the center of that epilogue. God must dispel the lies and provide humanity with a clear picture of himself. In other words, God must tell a new story that is liberated from the restraints of the old story. This story must be coherent and its application must lead to the perpetuation of justice, love, and harmony in the real world, not just in abstract theory. Once this is clear, I take the seeker back to Daniel 8:14 (we would have covered the judgment already by this point) and I invite them to see the text from a different angle. If God is going to restore the sanctuary what does this mean? Is not the sanctuary a metaphor of his heart? Does it not depict his salvific narrative? Is it not a window into the totality of his being?
Thus, if the sanctuary has been trampled this means that to a large degree, the story of God has been trampled. His character has been maligned. Rather than the love, mercy, and justice seen in the sanctuary a different story of God has emerged–one that depicts him in ways that allow the establishment to co-opt his name for the advancement of empire, political agendas, and temporal gain. Thus, in this sense, the trampling of the sanctuary can be understood as the trampling of the story of God. But the text says that the sanctuary would be restored. We have–at this point–seen that this restoration would begin at the end of the 2300 years, in AD 1844. What this means is that toward the final chapters of earth’s history, God will tell a new story. He will give birth to a new idea–one that is simultaneously ancient–that captures the truth about his heart in a way previously unknown.
At this point, we have arrived at the idea of remnant and here I emphasize the final point in our exploration. Remnant is not institution because ideas cannot be contained within institution. Remnant is not a logo with a brand and a tax number because ideas cannot be owned by temporal or physical denominations, businesses, or corporations. What this means is that in the same way that lies about God constitute a story that permeates every other story, so the truth about God constitutes a story that will in turn latch to all other stories and lead them back toward his ideal. In short, the remnant is a story–not an institution. It moves into the culture and liberates as it flows, unhindered by the bureaucracy of denominationalism. It is an idea that cannot be contained.
At times, the discomfort is apparent. After all, just because you have reframed a theological construct like the remnant doesn’t mean that a post-modern, relativistic culture won’t still struggle with the basic idea that one story can be more true than another. Because of this, I take the time to explore what I refer to as the naivety of pluralism. If we wish to make all stories equal, I explain, then the story that dehumanizes people of color and claims they are debased, lesser evolved beings must be upheld to the same degree as the story of the white supremacist. To suggest that the legacy of Jim Crow offers history an anthropological truth equal to that of the Civil Rights movement is obviously preposterous.
I raise these issues to strengthen the case for pluralisms lack in the realm of belief. If beliefs constitute stories, then clearly not all stories can be equal. And of course, it goes without saying that anyone so deeply committed to relativism and pluralism as to reject these explanations is clearly not the kind of person you should be discussing remnant theology with anyways. Other issues need to be addressed first.
To summarize, the remnant church is not an institution because remnant theology is a new story and stories cannot be bound within systems. So rather than introduce secular students to an institution that is meant to be the true church, I introduce them to a story or idea that is meant to communicate God’s heart with clarity. In this sense, the remnant church is not an institution but an idea. And it is an idea I invite them to embrace. I am not asking them to pledge allegiance to an institution but to a story. The story is remnant. And what this means is that in 1844 God did not seek to give birth to a new church but to a new story, and the story is for everybody.
Then what of the institution? Is it pointless? Should it be ignored or discarded? Of course not. The institution is the somatic embodiment of the story. It is the natural result of two people who shared the story with ten, then forty, and then four hundred ad infinitum. The result is that as the story finds hosts, the hosts naturally organize themselves into a system that facilitates the telling of the story to the whole earth. It is a global story to be told and this requires resources, organization, and networks in place.
Thus, the institution emerges as the somatic manifestation of the story. It builds hospitals and publishing houses, schools and universities, churches and health retreats–all in an attempt to tell the story to the whole earth. Nevertheless, the institution is not the story. A story cannot be contained within an institution, logo, tax number, or denominational brands. The remnant transcends all this and is, primarily, an idea that rises above physio-temporal boundaries.
Now some might wonder–why even go to institution? And to this, I would simply point us back toward one of the clearest points contained within the somatic manifestation of ideas: their application. It is true as British economist John Maynard Keynes once said, that “Ideas shape the course of history.” And it is also true that French poet Victor Hugo once declared, “What leads and drags the world are not machines, but ideas.” But more to the point, I believe, are the words of legendary inventor Thomas Edison when he said, “The value of an idea lies in the using of it.” Thus, ideas shape history and lead and drag the world when they move from the abstract to the real, when people embody and enact them. And to that end, the institution of Adventism is brilliantly irreplaceable. Without this institution, Adventism becomes a mere ethereal story floating in the clouds. With it, the new story of God’s heart can permeate the culture through the active, practical actions of flesh and bone.
With this perspective as the foundation for exploring remnant theology, I have found the ability to both reject sectarianism and pluralism, opting instead for a middle approach that is effective and sensible in the realm of secular outreach.
 Maria Elisa Garcia Franquelo. “What leads and drags the world are not machines, but ideas.”