The Unbearable Failure of Last Generation Theology, Part 1: The Spectrum

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The Unbearable Failure of Last Generation Theology, Part 1: The Spectrum

Editorial Note: This article is part 1 of a 3-part series. 

A lot has been written about Last Generation Theology (LGT) recently. George Knight, Reinder Bruinsma, and Andrews University all published books dedicated to exposing and rejecting the tenets of LGT.[1] Many articles have also been written, including Adelina Alexas LGT series here on the Compass Magazine.[2] LGT proponents have since responded with an LGT symposium titled “God’s Character and the Final Generation” held in the Sacramento Central Seventh-day Adventist Church on the weekend of March 22, 2019.

 

In this present article, I don’t wish to repeat the many arguments and positions taken in the above resources. Excellent as those sources may be, I—as a former proponent and student of LGT—would like to offer a diverse perspective that, up to this point, seems to have either been missed or has gone unnoticed altogether. In doing so, I hope to narrow the complexity of the debate over LGT down to a singular foundation which, in my estimation, constitutes the unbearable failure of LGT. In other words, from this one foundational concept, the rest of LGT emerges as a theological system doomed to failure in both systematic and practical religious experience.

 

Related Article: Theology of the Last Generation

 

In his book “End-Time Events and the Last Generation”, George R. Knight makes the case that LGT’s entire system falls apart with its understanding of sin. Because their understanding of sin is faulty, Knight argues that everything that follows is likewise skewed. Reject LGT’s definition of sin and LGT falls apart like a house of cards.

 

I don’t necessarily disagree with Knight, but I would argue that LGT’s unbearable failure does not begin with its definition of sin. Rather, its failure begins with a faulty understanding of the law of God. In other words, LGT’s understanding of sin is derived from its understanding of the law. This means that sin is not the patient zero or the foundation of LGT’s failure as a theological system. Rather, the false understanding of sin promoted within LGT is but an outflow of LGT’s concept of law. And that understanding, in turn, is based on a false understanding of God’s character so that in the end, rather than vindicating the character of God before the universe, LGT leads us to malign his character even more.

 

Before I defend the position made above I need to make a very clear point. LGT cannot be painted with one brush. Not everyone who claims to believe in LGT sees the system in the same way. Instead, I have found (through personal experience and observation both within and outside of this camp) that there is a spectrum of views in LGT. I personally refer to these views as: Gateway LGT, Laymans LGT, Historical LGT, Die-Hard LGT and Emerging LGT.

 

Related Article: George Knight talks last-generation theology and Adventism today

 

Gateway LGT

Gateway LGT (a phrase I have borrowed indefinitely from pastor Mike C. Manea) is the kind of LGT promoted by people who like the gist LGT but don’t want to go as far as the die-hards. They tend to be conservative but have enough common sense to know that some ideas are just a bit too intense. So they hold onto the tenets of LGT (post-fall nature of Christ, sin as willful choice, last generation perfection, vindication of God via perfect obedience) but they try their hardest to soften the existential and psychological impact of each of these ideas by trying to frame them in the love and grace of God. The problem with this kind of LGT though is that it leaves people wide open to be swept into the next stage of LGT – the Laymans stage.

 

Laymans LGT

Laymans LGT is basically the kind of LGT you end up with when LGT proponents come to your church, preach the stuff and then leave theologically uneducated lay people to figure it out. Over time, certain ideas emerge that may not have necessarily been promoted by the LGT proponent but that divide the church and place the people under its damaging influence (mostly families and youth). For example, my wife was raised with Laymans LGT and was taught things like 1) The judgment is happening right now and if your name comes up and you are not absolutely perfect you will not be saved. 2) The only way to be safe is to perfectly obey God in everything and make sure you repent the moment you sin or you might lose your salvation if you die.

 

Related Article: God’s Character and the Last Generation –An Interview the Jiri Moskala

 

Other ideas I have heard throughout the years is that God’s people have to become perfect enough to live sinless lives without the help of the Holy Spirit who will leave the earth entirely at the end of time, or that we have to reach a point of sinless obedience where we no longer need Jesus to intercede for us. The problem with this kind of LGT is that the ideas it nurtures are not necessarily taught in any official LGT publications or books. It’s almost impossible to find an LGT proponent who would ever say these things and when attempting to expose and rebuke these ideas LGT defenders will often say, “Show me a statement or source that proves we teach those ideas” and you can’t. But to anyone who has grown up with the influence of LGT over their local church, you know for sure that these ideas are real and damage everyone who embraces them. In my opinion, Laymans LGT is the most influential kind of LGT and simultaneously the most difficult to prove because it exists primarily as an oral or mythical tradition. Sadly, while LGT proponents may often deny they teach these ideas I have never seen any intentional and official rebuttal, rejection or rebuke of these ideas come from them either. At best, they distance themselves a little from them, but my contention is that this is not enough. As a result, I find LGT proponents just as much to blame for Laymans LGT as if they had spelled those ideas out themselves.

 

Historical LGT

Historical LGT is the kind of LGT that has, to some degree, the most legitimacy. It is built on the historical trajectory of the post-1888 Wagonner, the impact of Weiland and Short on the 1888 conversation, the influence of fundamentalism beginning in the 1900’s, the ideas introduced and popularised by ML Andreasen before, during and after the QOD crisis of the 1950’s, the development of those ideas via independent ministries that arose after the QOD crisis, and the collateral effect that those ideas sparked in the decade preceding and following the Glacier View crisis with the late Dr. Desmond Ford. However, the problem with historical LGT is that, at best, it serves as a platform for all of the other types of LGT I introduced in this segment. There is, in my estimation, no such thing as a true historical LGT proponent. Rather, each of the views in the spectrum catapult from the ideas that emerge from historical LGT and tend either toward the moderate gateway type of LGT or toward the extreme, die-hard version which I comment on next. A final point regarding the problematic nature of Historical LGT is that it is used as a lens through which the proponent reinterprets and reframes Ellen Whites writings and significance in SDA theology. As a result, Historical LGT is often to blame for emerging generations of Adventists wanting nothing to do with Ellen White. The inflexible, stringent and judgmental picture of Ellen White many have encountered is a picture that has been amplified significantly by Historical LGT which, as stated before, serves as a lens through which Ellen Whites writings are reinterpreted all the while claiming that the theology originated with her thus leading scores of youth to abandon Ellen White when, in fact, the real problem was the LGT lens through which she has been pressed.

 

Related Article: What Does Pastor Ted Wilson think about the Last Generation Theology?

 

Die-Hard LGT

Die-Hard LGT is the kind of LGT that has no hair on its tongue. It’s also hard to pinpoint because it tends to derive most of its impact and influence from Layman’s LGT. But it does have a few official proponents which other LGT believers do not necessarily embrace. Because I prefer to avoid pointing out names and ministries it’s difficult to say more other than, unlike Gateway LGT which tries to soften the blow of the pillars of LGT, Die-Hard LGT doesn’t try to soften anything. Its proponents see the rejection of LGT as a kind of evidence that they are right – almost as if a sort of persecution is taking place – for, as some might argue, only a small few are willing to endure the “straight testimony.” Thus, this group does not worry about offending anyone. They have a straight testimony to proclaim and they are going to do it no matter what. This group also tends to be the most vocal in matters of perfection and openly criticizes the church, its leadership and its members including hammering those who still eat meat, cheese or drink coffee. (Ironically, this group tends to be silent when it comes to real issues like racism, sexism, nationalism in the church etc.)

 

Emerging LGT

Emerging LGT represents a modern trend within Adventism in which some conservative Adventists believe LGT is redeemable if we just tweak some of its pillars and present them in a more healthy and balanced perspective. In a sense, Emerging LGT is not really LGT. It’s a different theological framework attempting to redeem or appropriate the LGT label for the gospel. So in a sense, it’s more of a semantical tug of war where more gospel-centred visioneers are attempting to rob LGT of its own label and reframe it in a more positive, enthusiastic and grace-centred way. This group believes in concepts like the vindication of God and the perfection of God’s people, but does not necessarily believe that sin is merely a willful act or that Jesus was post-fall. It also sees perfection as a natural outflow of redemption and not as a requirement for entry into heaven. In short, perfection is the result of and not a requirement for salvation. This group also differentiates between the biblical doctrine of perfection and the modern (though Greek influenced) doctrine of perfectionism prevalent in LGT circles. The problem with this group, however, is similar to the Gateway LGT in that by attempting to redeem the label, unsuspecting members are left open to the deceptions of Laymans and Die-Hard LGT.

 

Related Article: Can We Know That God Accepts Us?

 

With all of this said, I would argue that each of these camps, regardless of their difference in posture or intensity, is still rooted in one disastrous idea which is neither Adventist nor biblical and that this single belief is what leads to the unbearable failure of LGT no matter what perspective in the spectrum you assume. That idea, once more, is predicated on a faulty understanding of the Biblical view of the law of God. We will expand on this in the next article.

Click here to read the rest of this series on Last Generation Theology.

Editorial Note: This article is part 1 of a 3-part series. 

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Notes.

[1] See Knight, George R. “End-Time Events and the Last Generation” , Bruinsma, Reinder. “In All Humility: Saying NO to Last Generation Theology” , and Andrews University, “God’s Character and the Last Generation”.

[2] See: https://thecompassmagazine.com/author/adelina-alexe

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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.