The Road: An Interview with Pastor Marcos Torres

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The Road: An Interview with Pastor Marcos Torres

Editorial Note: The following is an interview of Pastor Marcos Torres in anticipation of his new book The Road: A Journey Through the Narrative of Scripture which will be released November 5, 2020, on Amazon and is also available at The Story Church Project. The interview was conducted in October 2020. 

Tell us about yourself: education, occupation, family, etc.

My name is Marcos David Torres. I grew up in New Jersey, am a US Army veteran, and currently serving as a pastor in Perth, Western Australia with my wife and two boys. I have a bachelor of theology from Southern Adventist University. And just for fun, Thai Green Coconut Curry is the greatest food on earth.

What do you like most about being an Adventist?

I went through a season where I really questioned the veracity of Adventism as a faith-tribe. During that season I opened myself up to alternative theological systems in the protestant world. In the end, I discovered that—while far from perfect—Adventism had something eccentric to say that no one else was saying with clarity and existential utility that I felt was unmatched. And that’s what I fell in love with. I believe this perspective, when divorced of the sectarian and fundamentalist suffixes, offers incredible insights into the market of ideas and the spiritual pursuit of God’s heart.

What is your life/ ministry passion?

Besides Thai Green Coconut Curry (so good) my biggest passion in life and ministry is exploring faith with people who have no background in Christianity or church—what some have termed “post-church”. I love it because oftentimes people who have a church background ask very religious questions that tend to revolve around dogmas or theological differences only church folk care about. But people who have zero church background are more existential in their seeking and wrestle with themes that are deeply significant and meaningful to what it means to be human. I don’t know why, I just find navigating that much more satisfying than explaining to someone why Sabbath is on the seventh day and not the first.

What is the title of your new book/bible study guide and how did you come up with the name?

It’s titled “The Road: A Journey through the Narrative of Scripture”.

I came up with the name because I believe experiencing God is more about encountering him in a historically unfolding plotline, and less about dissecting him with a list of propositional ideas (like a set of doctrinal beliefs) detached from our individual and collective stories.

Also, the culture we inhabit in the present has moved beyond propositional truth claims—especially transcendent ones. They inhabit a more immanent frame and are more open to stories than they are to creeds or dogma. So I wanted to explore scripture in that framework which I personally feel is a more natural way of experiencing the text anyways.

How long did it take for you to develop the Road and what was the impetus behind it?

When I began pastoring I was responsible for studying the Bible with Millennials and secular Australians. What I quickly discovered was that no Bible study set available at the ABC (Adventist Book Center) was designed to interact meaningfully with their way of thinking or seeing the world. The traditional study sets explored themes that had zero meaning or value for post-Christian thinkers. Many of them were also loaded with forced questions that left a very manipulative flavor in people’s mouths—almost as if the whole set was designed to make someone a cookie-cutter-conservative-Adventist rather than lead someone into an encounter with Jesus.

I couldn’t stand it, so I made my own. It’s been about 5 years in the making now.

You said the Road is designed for “post-church seekers”. Can you elaborate more on this particular target audience —“post-church seeker”? Who are these people and what are they about?

A post-church seeker is a person whose heart has been awakened by the Holy Spirit and who is searching for answers and reaching for what lies beyond the material realm, but who has little to zero church background. This means they don’t speak our language, share our assumptions, or find value in our church norms. They aren’t necessarily anti-church. For the most part, they have no deep sense of the church’s existence.

Such people (also referred to as “Nones” and on the rise in Western culture) may experience a spiritual awakening through the agency of the Spirit, but this does not magically make them capable of inhabiting our traditional church cultures or of appreciating our traditional approach to explaining scripture. Their minds work according to totally different frameworks and unless we contextualize and translate, they will simply take their spiritual hunger elsewhere.

New Adventist bible study guides typically are just a reformulating of the same old set of questions and answers our parents and grandparents were exposed to. What is different about the format of the Road?

The Road is designed to tell the story of God’s heart and his redemptive narrative in a way that interacts with contemporary themes like the pursuit of civic redemption through social justice, political revolution, and self-authored spirituality. Now the study set doesn’t necessarily mention those things by name because I wanted it to present in a way that wasn’t so constrained—so that seekers of diverse backgrounds could take the content and form their own questions from it—but its primordially framing the narrative of scripture through the Adventist lens in a way that speaks meaningfully to those things that secular culture already finds meaningful.

For example, most study sets frame the gospel in a guilt/innocence paradigm. This paradigm is foreign to a post-church culture far removed from categories like moral absolutes. To explain the gospel to the culture like this requires the seeker to leap through an unnecessary amount of massive paradigm shifts in order for things to sort of click which is just impractical and unfair to them. This study set frames the gospel in the paradigm of oneness/separation which undergirds much of the social justice ethos and makes more sense to a Millennial non-religious mind that has never conceptualized the world along guilt/innocence categories. So the study set is specifically designed for that audience to such a degree that I would say, if you want to study the Bible with a person coming from another church/denomination or pre-modern culture be prepared to supplement a bit because it’s not designed for them.

What questions are answered in the Road that post-church seekers are asking but are typically overlooked in a traditional Bible study series?

It’s hard to answer this question because post-church seekers don’t ask questions in a concrete way—the way religious people ask questions. Emerging secularism (the kind of secularism impacted by post to meta-modern moods) searches for truth in a more enigmatic way in contrast to the propositional/rational approach of previous generations. Add to this the fragmentation of culture and you have emerging seculars whose “moods” differ widely depending on geography and social climate. So narrowing down a set of concrete questions they are all asking is not really a thing.

So what I aimed to do was lay a broad enough foundation in scriptures narrative to allow each chapter to touch on primal existential themes common in contemporary culture but to then equip the person journeying with the seeker to do the contextualizing. So if I had to force the answer I would say it deals with questions like the meaning, purpose, and trajectory of existence—though again, those are less questions and more hauntings and so they have to be addressed less as multiple-choice answers and more as a journey. This doesn’t mean the guide doesn’t have questions in it that are then answered. Most of the chapters aim to answer 2-3 central questions to the plotline. But they are not the traditional Q&A format because real questions can’t be answered in multiple-choice. They require a story. And so the questions aim to unfold the story as naturally as possible, laying a clear enough foundation for diverse seekers to wrestle with the content in a contextual way.

I think this is also a good place to add that The Road is not a magic solution to getting secular folk to read the Bible and join your church. On the contrary, in a person’s spiritual journey The Road will only do about 10% of the work. The other 90% is you. So this is why the book is accompanied by an online training school that aims to empower missional Adventists to effectively engage with emerging culture. Because the real work won’t happen in a book. All the book can do is frame the conversation in a meaningful way. The real work will only happen in relationship.

What questions are not specifically answered in the Road that traditional Bible studies would cover and why do you think post-church seekers are not asking those questions?

The Road doesn’t get into religio-centric questions such as “What day is the Sabbath?”, “Does the law still apply under the New Covenant?”, “Why are there so many denominations?” or “Is the secret rapture true?” (as some examples.)

Emerging secular seekers are so far removed from church-culture that these questions are foreign and meaningless. They don’t know what a denomination is. They have zero interest in Covenantal debates. And I have never introduced the Sabbath to a secular person who pushes back with “but we’re saved by grace!” because they don’t generally know what grace or salvation is. Those are questions church folk trip over, not emerging seculars.

So if you are looking for a study set that argues for Adventist doctrine over against interdenominational contentions, I’d honestly say try a traditional study set. This one isn’t really designed for that.

Another thing to add is that because this set isn’t topical but thematic you won’t necessarily find a particular chapter or lesson on the Sabbath, the sanctuary, or the law of God. Instead, those themes progressively unfold through the entire set. Some chapters do have that topical flavor, but only when the natural arc of the story demands it. My objective throughout was to develop the set in a way that led people to a meaningful encounter with God’s heart and not in a way that massaged the Adventist corporate ego. But being a lover of all of our fundamentals and wanting the set to be an adequate baptismal resource the final product does cover everything but again, its primary goal is to lift up Jesus, not us.

How do you anticipate people will engage with your material? Will they simply see an ad and purchase the book and do self-study or do you see the book as a tool for Bible workers and evangelists to go door-to-door? What is the ideal scenario given the nature of your Bible study set? Do you envision laypeople or pastors or both leading bible studies with The Road? Or do you envision The Road as more of a self-study program?

The book will be sold to an Adventist audience first and I am creating a separate copy space for secular seekers to interact with it directly. But at least at the start, I expect it to be used by missional Adventists as a resource to journey with any seekers in their sphere of influence who are ready for this next step.

The book also encourages community so I hope it’s used that way. It can be used as a training resource, in classrooms, in small groups, in Sabbath School etc. However, it can certainly be used by an individual who doesn’t have a community to connect with. The book comes with a series of reflection videos online that expand on each chapter (separate to the training school). These are for everyone of course but can be a big help for those who are exploring alone.

Apocalyptic prophecy is the bread and butter of Adventist evangelism. (We love the beasts!) How are the topics/theological truths of Daniel and Revelation handled in The Road?

The apocalyptic themes in The Road are explored within the framework of cosmic and planetary justice (social justice being a sub-category of these two). While prophecy’s historical predictions are explored, they are not central. The central theme of prophecy is its protest of injustice and its call for God’s people to be countercultural agents of healing that resist the way of empire.

In far too many Adventist study guides most of the lessons are focused on prophecy and lifestyle issues with only 1 or 2 studies on Jesus and salvation. How is the Road different?

You can’t take a chapter out of The Road and use it as a study guide for a Biblical topic like you can with most traditional sets. This is why the Road is being released in book format and not pamphlet format. Because each chapter bleeds into the next so deeply that you can’t pull one out and use it. They are interconnected.

This is because the entire study set explores the gospel and never gets away from it. It explores it in its individual expression as well as its communal, social, and cosmic expressions. So the whole thing is salvation from beginning to end. Some of it dealing with our personal salvation experience and then from there moving into how our personal salvation is part of a bigger story in which God engineers a new society or civilization in which true justice and equity are eternally manifested.

With regard to lifestyle issues, the set doesn’t shy away from those—but of course, it focuses on this in a healthy way and leaves lots of room for a person to come to convictions based on their own walk with God. Autonomy is a deep value inherent in emerging secular culture, so any inkling that you are attempting to subvert their individuality in the name of some supposed moral norm (particularly those super conservative ones that don’t even make sense when you poke at them) will be met with immediate suspicion and you might even lose the seeker right then and there. So in this set, I touch on the metamorphic experience of encountering Jesus, but I don’t force issues and definitely stay away from eurocentric expressions of holiness, etc. Instead, holiness emerges as a holistic restoration to our collective human identity as cultivators of beauty, focusing on the heart and allowing a person to coauthor their own convictions with God instead of forcing traditional Adventist cultural norms onto them.

Many pastors are desperate for Bible study materials for youth and teenagers. Is your series, in its current state, appropriate for that age bracket? If not do you have any plans to create a youth or teen version of The Road?

Oh definitely. This set is brilliant with teens and youth because it interacts with the world in a way that makes sense for them while avoiding the stuff that usually drives them away. It also uses simple language but not so simple that it reads cheesy or elementary. And of course, I have personally used it with teens and youth very successfully.

But again, the set only does 10% of the job. The other 90% is you. So you have to develop yourself into being the kind of person that can relate to young people. Having a study set that frames the gospel in a meaningful way is a big help, but it’s not the whole picture. If you want this to work with teens/youth—or any emerging generations for that matter—you have to develop your ability to interact well with their minds and earn their trust.

Again, this is why I created the online courses for the set—so that I could invest in everyone who purchases the set and help equip them to be effective at this sort of thing. It doesn’t happen magically. It’s a tough mission field and I want to support people through that as much as possible. But if you don’t develop yourself and take the set and try and use it like a magic pill, it won’t work. You need to expand your own horizons in order to use this effectively.

Tell us more about the online training school component of The Road? (Cost, format, time commitment, etc.)

The cost for the online training school is free. If you have purchased the book you get access to the course (details in the book). Again, my objective here is to equip the church to engage a demographic that is increasingly missing in our churches and struggles to connect in the odd moments they do show up. So I didn’t just want to throw some study set out there. The training school is a big part of this.

Timewise, it’s definitely a commitment. But if you are looking for a fast way to become an effective post-church missionary that doesn’t require time, sacrifice, and effort on your part then don’t get into this space. This is a mission field and you have to learn a new language, a new way of thinking, talking, and sharing. It’s not easy, but this is why I have created these resources so that the years and years that I have invested in this space are now available to you in a more accessible format.

The online training is also accompanied by a series of reflection videos. The reflection videos accompany each chapter in the book and give a more panoramic view. I encourage everyone to watch those and pay special attention to the frameworks, language, and moods that are used to get a slightly clearer picture of what exploring scripture with a post-religious culture can look like. Also, the entire thing is set up so you can engage it at your own pace, so no pressure to do it all within a prescribed time.

What can pastors expect when using this study set?

That really depends on your context and how much effort you have put forth to develop yourself into an effective post-church missionary. But I suppose some basic expectations are that this set will provide its student with much more than a set of fundamental beliefs. It will provide them with a whole new worldview—a story through which they can re-engineer their life and direction. And best of all, this worldview will be healthy and relevant—entirely centered in Jesus—which I think is something we should aim to nurture in all of our churches.

How can people acquire a copy of The Road (cost, formats, bundles, etc.)?

You can get the book for USD $27.00. It’s available on Amazon from November 5, but you can find it easily by clicking the link at thestorychurchproject.com/store

If you want the convenience of printing there are also 3 print license options available at thestorychurchproject.com/store (also on November 5).

They each differ in price, but if you plan on exploring this with a group of people the print licenses might be a better option than getting multiple copies of the book. You can go to the above link for more details.

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About the author

Ingram London

Ingram London is a PhD student studying systematic theology at Andrews University.