The Death and Rebirth of the Investigative Judgment, Part 3: What Makes a Thing Matter?

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The Death and Rebirth of the Investigative Judgment, Part 3: What Makes a Thing Matter?

In the first article of this series we explored the decaying contemporary milieu of the Pre-Advent Investigative Judgment (PAIJ). In the second installment we dove into Adventism’s collective failure to extrapolate world-changing potential from the doctrine, resulting in its practical, on-the-ground demise. Consequently, the doctrine lacks relevance to anyone who is not an “us,” and even then, its usefulness appears to be reserved for the tiny substrate of church members who enjoy theological investigation. Thus, as far as the average population of the church is concerned, the PAIJ holds little to no meaning. Its utility is placed under greater scrutiny in a non-Adventist context (such as secular, post-Christian society), which is neither challenged, nor inspired by the doctrine’s proposed ideological and theological contributions.

 

But is this quandary inherent to the doctrine itself? Or is the blame on us? In this third segment of “The Death and Rebirth of the Investigative Judgment” I will argue that the fault lies squarely in our conceptualization of the PAIJ and not in its essence. In fact, as I will later demonstrate, the essence of the doctrine has been altogether missed in favor of outdated and surface argumentation that, while offering glimpses of meaning and value, simply teeter on the edge of its actualization without ever truly diving in.

 

Related Article: How Shall We Search the Scriptures?

 

Before we arrive at that conclusion though, we need to step out of the theological world and explore a more fundamental question: What exactly is relevance? The answer is imperative to laying the necessary foundation for the rebirth of the PAIJ. In fact, I find it odd that in all our attempts to make the doctrine relevant we have never once defined exactly what it is we mean by relevance. The assumption has been that a relevant thing is a thing that matters. And so, we embark on a crusade for any and every possible excuse we can find to say, “See? This is why the PAIJ matters!” But relevance goes a lot deeper than merely finding justifications for something to exist. Therefore, before continuing the theological conversation over the PAIJ, let us turn our attention to the very concept of relevance itself.

 

What is Relevance?

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, relevance is “the degree to which something is related or useful to what is happening or being talked about”.[1] At first glance, this definition does not appear to offer anything different from our instinctive perception of what relevance is. If a thing is interesting to a certain group of people then it is relevant to them. And if it is not interesting, we must find ways of making it so. This, I observe, has been our historic approach. However, if we return to Cambridge’s definition we find a formula composed of two simple foundations. The first is that there is a thing being talked about and the second, that there is a thing that relates to the thing being talked about. The interaction of these two elements gives birth to relevance.

 

In other words, relevance is not a concept that exists in isolation. Instead, relevance is always derivative. Likewise, relevance does not lead a conversation but follows it. It does not introduce ideas but, to the contrary, adds or subtracts from them. Therefore, a potential way of formulating the nature of relevance is to conceptualize two layers of ideas. The first we can refer to as the “primary idea” and the second simply the “secondary idea.” It would look something like this:

 

Primary Idea + Secondary Idea = Relevance

 

As can be seen above, relevance emerges in relation to an existing primary idea. This means that no secondary idea is ever relevant or meaningful unless it relates to an already existing primary idea (the nature of how primary ideas come to be is beyond the scope of this series). Thus, any idea introduced that does not relate to a primary idea is irrelevant, while the ideas that do relate by adding or subtracting from the primary idea are the ones that are considered relevant.[2]

 

Related Article: How I Can Love the Gospel and the Investigative Judgement at the Same Time

 

For example, imagine you are discussing your favorite food with a friend and it happens to be pizza. Your friend then responds by saying they have a friend who lives in Chicago. The secondary idea introduced by your friend is really no secondary idea at all. That is, it has nothing to do with the primary idea of liking pizza. It adds nothing to that idea, and neither does it subtract from it. Therefore, your friend introducing a new idea about a friend living in Chicago is irrelevant to the primary idea that is already in motion and, as a result, is meaningless.

 

However, if your friend says, “I have a friend who lives in Chicago and he owns his own pizza restaurant,” now we have a secondary idea. It ties into the primary idea already in motion and adds to it. In your primary idea you are saying that pizza is the best food. Your friend then introduces a secondary idea in the form of an anecdote which adds content and value to your primary idea. Consequently, the secondary idea is relevant and, as more relevant secondary ideas are introduced, the conversation thrives.

 

Related Article: Why Doctrine Matters

 

But why is this important to understand? The answer is simple. Relevance is not found in simply introducing justification for an idea. Psychology lecturer Robin Robertson expressed this best when she wrote, “Many attempt to add relevance to otherwise uninteresting content by focusing efforts on creating interest.” She then goes on to identify the different ways people attempt to do this and concludes that unless a person finds the content “worth knowing, then their attention will likely wane.”[3] And in order for an idea to be “worth knowing” the idea itself must necessarily relate to a primary idea already in motion. If it does not, you can justify the existence of your idea all you want but, in the end, none of what you say will add any value to the conversations already taking place. Therefore, after much effort your idea will still prove to be irrelevant, for it does not, in its very essence, add meaning to any primary ideas that are already occupying society’s attention.

 

How this Applies to the PAIJ

Now that we understand the nature of relevance, let us return to the theological discussion about the PAIJ. The reason why the PAIJ lacks relevance is that, for all the work we have done to justify its existence, nothing that the doctrine represents adds any value to society’s existing primary ideas. As I said in article two, the doctrine appears to have the most meaning to those in academic and theological circles. This is due to the fact that theologians, particularly Adventist ones, already have a vested interest in the doctrine. Consequently, defending the PAIJ is a primary idea already in motion in our lives. Thus, when we find secondary ideas that bolster this a prioricommitment we attribute value to those secondary ideas that those outside of our field would not. We then introduce those secondary ideas to the church, which is composed of people who are not engaged in the primary idea of the PAIJ’s utility, and our brilliant ideas fall flat. Even when positively embraced, we cannot help but admit that they are not as consequential to our spiritual experience as we would like them to be.

 

Therefore, if we want the PAIJ to be relevant to the church and, ultimately, to the culture, then we must revisit the doctrine from an entirely different perspective – one that speaks life into the already ongoing primary ideas in the world and in the culture. To continue to defend the PAIJ based on secondary ideas that speak life to primary ideas only theologians care about is the very reason we are in the conundrum we find ourselves in. We must celebrate the foundation we have built so far but likewise admit the journey is not over. At best, everything we have discovered about the PAIJ has simply served to lay a foundation of raw materials. We have yet to construct something meaningful on that foundation. And I propose we never will until we begin to look at the doctrine as a secondary idea that is intended to add to or subtract from primary ideas found not only in our theological ivory towers, but in the collective human experience.

 

Related Article: The Heart of Adventist Theology

 

This pattern of Biblical secondary ideas adding or subtracting to social primary ideas is not new. In fact, it is how theology functions on a pragmatic level. The cross is relevant across time and culture because it speaks to the shared perspective of the redemption of being – a primary idea felt everywhere. The state of the dead is relevant because it, too, speaks to the primary idea of death, afterlife, and the nature of being. That is, these are conversations already taking place that the doctrine then adds and subtracts variables from. We also have the doctrine of God, the doctrine of the church, the doctrine of last things, and the doctrine of heaven, all of which speak secondary ideas into already existing questions over origins, destiny, family, and society. But turn your attention now to the PAIJ and ask: what primary ideas does it address? If you are a staunch supporter of the doctrine, perhaps you will fish something out of thin air. But if you are willing to admit the struggle, you will find that the PAIJ speaks little into existing societal concerns.

 

Why is the PAIJ Disconnected from Society’s Primary Ideas?

So why is the PAIJ irrelevant in the realm of contemporary primary ideas? The answer is simple: it does not add or subtract from any contemporary concerns. This is the consequence of force fitting the doctrine into a religious and corporate packaging that gives us a sense of grandiose fulfillment but, by default, offers nothing to the world beyond “us”.

 

On the religious constraints, it is easy to see that the PAIJ is a doctrine constructed on two simple foundations: Arminian theology and soul sleep. Unlike Calvinism, Arminianism embraces human free will and presents the probability of a human being lost after salvation (Arminian theology rejects the concepts of “Once Saved Always Saved” and the Calvinist doctrine of predestination). Because of this, all Arminians believe that believers are judged after death as their soul is transported to heaven. However, because Adventists don’t believe in the immortal soul, we believe that a person is unconscious in death, which means the judgment takes place not at death, but at a particular point in history. Without continuing down that rabbit hole, suffice to say that in this setting the PAIJ has religious value because it explains how God differentiates between the saved and the lost, including those who professed Christ and later rejected him. Thus, this entire framework of the PAIJ basically revolves around whether a person was faithful to the end or not, and provides answers to religious questions about assurance, perseverance, and judgment that other Arminian denominations (Pentecostals, Methodists, Arminian Baptists etc.) have never been able to formulate.

 

Related Article: Why Theology Matters

 

However important this framework may be for theological and systematic discussion, it is a meaningless framework for the average Christian, and even less relevant for the culture. In addition, the preoccupation with these things does not lead to a practical Christian life not already available to someone who is pursuing an authentic spiritual walk with God. Thus, this framework, while valuable in academia, is increasingly meaningless in evangelism, discipleship, and mission, especially in our post to meta-modern transitional age.[4]

 

In order to move forward then, we must transcend our traditional frameworks which naturally invite us to lay aside our own desire for religious and institutional affirmation. The doctrine of the PAIJ does not exist to give us a corporate identity that we use to pacify our sense of importance. Likewise, it does not exist to iron out theological wrinkles that scholars have been splitting hairs over for centuries. Rather, it exists to communicate something of value about God’s heart into the human experience.

 

When we think back to our pioneers we can see that a primary idea in motion for them was the great disappointment of October 22, 1844. This disappointment occupied emotional and existential energy that, for some, demanded a resolution. When the doctrine of the PAIJ came to light, it emerged as a secondary idea that brought resolution to an already existing primary idea – the disappointment.

 

As valid as this position may be, we must admit that the disappointment is no longer an active primary idea. No one is investing emotional and existential energy into resolving the puzzle of a failed prediction in 1844. We simply live too far removed from the events to have any intimate connection to them. Thus, by virtue of the passage of time the primary idea of the disappointment is no longer important. As consultant Wes Trochill so aptly pointed out, “relevance changes over time.”[5]

 

Related Article: An Introduction to Biblical Narrative Analysis

 

Nevertheless, Adventists continue to defend the relevance of the PAIJ on the basis that it answers the question of the disappointment. I do not disagree with the argument in a historical or theological sense. It is certainly valid. But such a line of reason provides zero utility to the doctrine today because the disappointment is simply not a primary idea anymore. Thus, when we base the relevance of the PAIJ on the secondary idea of “making sense of the disappointment” we base its relevance on an idea that has zero value in contemporary society.

 

Likewise, the early Adventists were immersed in the war between Arminian and Calvinist theology. This battle tended to revolve around matters such as free-will, assurance of salvation, the place of the law, the nature of death and the human soul, the role of obedience, sanctification, and covenant theology. In addition, new theological concepts began to emerge, such as Dispensational Theology, which argued vehemently against any positive posture toward the law of God (a posture all classical protestants share, not just Adventists[6]). These developments were alarming because, for the first time, the fringe antinomian sentiment of generations past appeared to be systematizing itself into a theology that competed with the classical systems of Protestant thought. Add to these tensions the fact that most of Adventism’s audience in North America was already Christian and you have the building blocks for a very relevant conceptualization of the PAIJ that answered questions related to each of these religious debates occupying the primary ideas of many.

 

Related Article: How to Get Your Theological House in Order

 

Fast forward to the aftermath of World War 1 and the emergence of post-modernism, and suddenly, the primary ideas our pioneers were interacting with no longer exist. Society grows increasingly secular. Theological evangelical debates are progressively sidelined. A cynical and skeptical view of the future, of the nature of reality, and of the very concept of truth begin to dominate the cultural consciousness. The death of God, prognosticated by the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche and popularized in his novel “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” gained increasing credibility. Thus, by 1961 the French theologian Gabriel Vahanian could argue for the secularization of Western society in his classic, “The Death of God: The Culture of Our Post-Christian Era” in which he stated,

 

[M]odern culture is gradually losing the marks of that Christianity which brought it into being and shaped it. Whether from a national or an international perspective, Christianity has long since ceased to be coextensive with our culture…[7]

 

Vahanian’s observation was, of course, preceded by momentous episodes in the story of humanity. The Great Depression, World War II, and the Cold War, accompanied by the “Red Scare,” had left an indelible mark on society that reshaped the existential priorities of the culture. Thus, Vahanian was right in observing that the primary ideas of the day had moved far from the biblical and into the socio-political. Less and less people cared about Arminian and Calvinist debates anymore. The endless banter between law and grace seemed laughable. The culture moved increasingly toward the post-Christianity described by Vahanian. The world was moving at a hundred miles an hour with society changing at an unprecedented pace. Today, that transition is in full effect on the heels of incredible technological advancement on the one hand, and a subconscious trauma implanted onto us by acts of terrorism, mass murder, and international war. In the midst of this, emerging generations increasingly identify as religious “nones” – spiritual, yes, but far removed from any semblance of historic Christian faith.[8]

 

And Adventism rides along in the background, the doctrine of the PAIJ seemingly untouched. It maintains its old framework fueled by the primary ideas of a bygone century. It said nothing to the struggle for equality. It remained silent in the face of Jim Crow. In fact, the very people who hold to this unique doctrinal construct turn out to be no different to the culture, perpetuating the racial inequality of fallen man within our own denomination.[9] The PAIJ rides on. It utters no encouragement or enlightenment to the Civil Rights movement. It offers no resistance to the totalitarian, communist threat. It gives humanity no hope in the light of Hiroshima and the peril of complete self-annihilation. It simply keeps its old framework and to this day, the PAIJ remains locked in the ideological constructs of our pioneers. The constructs were good, yes, and they still remain true and valid. But has the PAIJ nothing more to say? Did its capacity to speak to contemporary primary ideas die with our pioneers? Or is it, as I imagined, as a lone man sitting on an ethereal bench staring at us, his heart beating, longing to say something of meaning to the human experience, and yet silenced by our own incredulity and inability to think higher, further, and wider than the basic raw materials gifted to us by our forefathers?

 

Related Article: A Closer Look at the Adventist Mind

 

Failure to do any of the above has resulted in a doctrine that tends to be more of an ancient ideological artifact than a present, world changing concept. It also explains why our best arguments have fallen short. As valid as the transparency of God is as a theological concept, it simply adds little to existing primary ideas. Likewise, the benefit for the angels’ motif is essentially a secondary idea that relates to primary ideas in heaven, not on earth. Finally, while the vindication of God holds the most meaning of all the arguments, it has not been framed in a compelling way that addresses the cries of the culture’s heart.

 

The doctrine is dead, ladies and gentlemen, but it can be reborn. There is but one prerequisite. We must be willing to be led by it and to overcome the compulsion of control that we have oppressed it with for so long. We must let the doctrine speak, and then, we must take its message and speak on its behalf. It is not a deconstruction that we need, for in the words of W. F. Buckley, the ancient ideas are not anachronistic. Rather, the “the idiom of life is always changing,” and we must be prepared to adapt. And when we do, we will then be poised to offer a relevant message to an erratic and broken generation finding comfort in the digital Asherah poles of the day, longing for connection and meaning in a world of convenience and consumerism, mindless violence and mass, unjustifiable death, all while crying out against the cynical irony of its forerunners with a longing for something, anything better.

 

In the next article I will introduce a potential reframing of the PAIJ that is not only rooted in the text, but that also speaks meaning into universal primary ideas. These universals are primary ideas that humanity has already actuated and is attempting to resolve everywhere. I will also show examples of how the PAIJ could have been of incalculable meaning in generations past, and yet missed its opportunity because of the frameworks it was locked into. This will serve as a warning for the future of our denomination, and also as an encouragement to build not on self-idealizing propaganda, but on a narrative that lifts Jesus up before a desperate and vagabond civilization.

Read the rest of Marcos’ series on Pre-Advent Investigative Judgement

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Notes.

[1] Cambridge Dictionary, Online. [Web: https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/relevance]

 

[2] This particular definition of relevance is what I refer to as “pragmatic relevance” in that it accepts the existence of primary ideas and searches for practical ways to connect secondary ideas to those already existing primaries. A typical approach among conservative Christians though is to argue that a thing is relevant by virtue of its inherent value regardless of how it connects to a primary idea or not. This approach leads to a definition of relevance I refer to as “dogmatic relevance”, in which no attempt at contextualization is made because the proponent of the idea thinks it unnecessary to reframe. In this model, primary ideas are ignored on the basis that people should believe the secondary ideas by virtue of their inherent value. This approach, however, ignores practical concerns and takes one a more coercive tone that ultimately fails to accomplish its intended aim.

 

[3] Roberson, Robin. “Helping Students Find Relevance,” [Web: https://www.apa.org/ed/precollege/ptn/2013/09/students-relevance]

 

[4] This does not mean that the framework is useless or faulty. In fact, I personally engage in these very frameworks with theologians and have a high level of interest in resolving them. What it simply means then is that once this framework is ironed out in academic theology, it must then be reframed into a meaningful message for the general public. In short, the issues debated and resolved in academia are not always meaningful to people at face value.

 

[5] Trochill, Wes. “Relevance is the Key to Understanding Your Audience,” [Web: https://effectivedatabase.com/relevance-is-the-key-to-understanding-your-audience]

 

[6] See: Torres, Marcos D. “The Hole in Adventism: Making Total Sense of the Old & New Covenant,” at https://www.thestorychurchproject.com/store1

 

[7] Vahanian, Gabriel. “The Death Of God The Culture Of Our Post Christian Era,” p. 228 [Web: https://archive.org/stream/deathofgodthecul012946mbp/deathofgodthecul012946mbp_djvu.txt]

 

[8] For more see “The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated,” by James Emery White.

 

[9] See “Against the Wall” at https://againstthewall.org

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About the author

Marcos Torres

Marcos Torres is a pastor in Western Australia where he lives with his wife and children. He loves talking about faith, culture and Adventism. You can follow his blog at www.thestorychurchproject.com.