The Unbearable Failure of Last Generation Theology, Part 3: The Effect

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The Unbearable Failure of Last Generation Theology, Part 3: The Effect

Editorial Note: This article is part 3 of a 3-part series. Click here to read the entire series. 

In the previous article, I concluded with the following question, “What happens when a person sees the law of God as a Heart-Beat rather than as a Strong-Arm?” And my answer was, “everything changes”. In this article, I will touch on this by summarising how a “Heart-Beat” understanding of the law of God impacts how we view some of the key tenets of LGT: sin, the nature of Christ, salvation, sanctification and perfection and the vindication of God’s character.

Sin

As already demonstrated, once we see the law of God as ontologically and essentially rooted in God’s character of love then breaking that law moves away from breaking a list of imposed rules to breaking the design of love. This is why James could say that “whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it” (James 2:10). The reasoning is simple – if the law of God is fundamentally the rhythm of love then it can’t be compartmentalized. Therefore, to break one command is to break the entire law because love is either being broken or it is not. Thus, a law-of-love ontology leads us to understand sin as much more than the willful choice to break a legal demand. Rather, sin is a condition of being that we are born in which leads us to develop characters that are driven by the impulse of self rather than love. Our actions are thus mere symptoms of the deeper problem that we are under the dominion of a counter-design where the ego is supreme. In this definition, sin is thus a condition of lovelessness (a term synonymous with lawlessness) and can only be resolved through a process of restoration as opposed to strict compliance with a checklist of do’s and don’ts.

 

Related Articles: God’s Law Restored

Nature of Christ

In this view, the debate over Christ’s nature becomes meaningless. The reasoning is simple. A sinful being is under the dominion of the self. So there is no debate over whether a sinful being can sin. However, equally demonstrable is that a sinless being can sin. That is, a sinless being can choose to put self first. We see this with the angels in heaven and Adam and Eve. Sinless beings sinned. Therefore, it is clear that a sinless and sinful being can both sin. One wanders initially from the design of love through deception and the other is under the dominion of the counter-design.

 

When Jesus came to the earth, therefore, his victory had nothing to do with his nature. Whether he had sinful or sinless flesh is irrelevant. Both are capable of sin. Rather, his victory was found entirely in having his humanity connected to the ontological source of love which is God. By his connection with love, Jesus lived a life in perfect harmony with love in human nature. And that perfect love, he offers to his people as a gift. In Jesus, therefore, we are shown not that man can live a perfectly obedient life to a list of imposed demands but rather, in Jesus we are shown that man can love. That is, his life is a demonstration of what we can become when we surrender the impulse of self to him and allow him to restore us to the image of love.

 

Related Article: Not Letter, but Spirit

 

Some might argue that this is not too different to what LGT proposes. I would agree. LGT is not wrong in its affirmation of the perfection of Christian character. It is wrong in how it frames it. In LGT, perfection takes on two faulty ideas. The first is that the law of God is a legal code we must comply with. As a result, perfection becomes about how well you can keep the Sabbath, how committed you are to not eating certain foods, and how well you comply with heaven’s demands for a strict, holy life. Here, the second faulty element enters the picture. In LGT, a strict, holy life is primarily defined in Eurocentric terms. That is, holiness and European value structures are equated so that a truly holy person in many LGT camps is a person who dresses, talks and acts like a white American from the 1950’s or before. Thus, any music that is too African, or too Latin must be shunned as “degenerate music”. Dress reform is constricted to the fashion of a by-gone Victorian/white era and anything that deviates from this is frowned upon. Thus, the Strong-Arm view of the law imposes not only what God demands as compliance with but it becomes a means by which, in the words of Ty Gibson, the church fights to remain “conservative and white in its orientation.”[1]

 

To the contrary, when we see the law of God as the essence of love then obedience is less about compliance and more about harmony. As a result, perfection becomes about how filled you are with the love of God—a love that has both horizontal and vertical impact. To this end, it is not so much the keeping of the letter of the law that matters but being in unison with its spirit. Jesus criticized the Pharisees for their failure in this when he said,

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices–mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law–justice, mercy and faithfulness.” (Matthew 23:23)

To the ancient Israelites, God had a similar rebuke when he said,

“I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” (Amos 5:21-24)

And again he declared,

“Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—I cannot bear your worthless assemblies. Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals I hate with all my being. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands in prayer, I hide my eyes from you; even when you offer many prayers, I am not listening.” (Isaiah 1:13-15)

God was tired of his peoples’ compliance with the letter of the law while they lived lives out of harmony with its ontology of love. Thus, he instructed his people to put away their religious noise and to “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” (Isaiah 1:17)

 

Related Article: The Promise and the Law

 

The Heart-Beat model of the law takes us away from seeing sin as an act of non-compliance to a state of self-slavery. As a result, we see in Jesus the possibility of what we can become when we are connected to the source of the laws heart-beat—the eternal agape love of God. When we receive Jesus, our sins are washed away but we are also connected to the source of love and as the connection deepens over time, we develop characters of love just like Jesus had. We are not concerned with imposing or coercing a particular model of holiness or making sure we tick all the boxes. Instead, our Christian walk becomes an exciting journey in allowing Jesus to reproduce his love in our self-centered hearts.

Salvation, Sanctification, and Perfection

Much of this has already been explored above. Salvation is about restoration to God’s original design of love. This means that as I walk with God I am restored to the image of love. It is not just lusting that God heals in me. He also heals the sexism. It is not just pride that God heals in me. He also heals the racism, prejudice and cultural supremacy in me. It is not just a warped appetite God heals in me. He also heals my indifference toward the hungry, the poor and the dispossessed. But here, the Heart-Beat model of the law leads to another change.

 

Related Article: First Law

 

In LGT, perfection is often spoken of as a destination—a finish line a person must reach in order to be “safe to save.” This is rooted in a legal compliance model of the law. If the law is a legal demand then I must achieve perfect compliance with that demand in order to be saved. But once the legal demand is discarded, we are left with a different picture of perfection. It’s not about reaching some finish line in order to be saved. We are already saved. Rather, perfection is about being on a journey toward the heart of God—a journey that leads us to daily become more like the father—sometimes in microscopic/seemingly unnoticeable ways. The objective is not to reach some goal, an ethereal finish line of sorts. Rather, the objective is simple: to be filled with love so that it overflows to those around us more and more. Gone are the fears about whether I’ll be good enough at a certain point in my life. It’s not about a checklist. It’s about a dynamic experience in the love of God.

Vindication of God

A life lived in love is the only kind of life that can vindicate God. Some LGT proponents argue that such a view is 100% compatible with their own. But I disagree. You cannot love unless you feel safe. You cannot love like Jesus unless you can declare with confidence in him that nothing can separate you from his love. You cannot love like God unless you are certain that his love for you is unutterable and immeasurable—deeper than the deepest sea, wider than the widest valley. You cannot attain the perfection of Christian character unless you know that you are his, no ifs ands or buts. You cannot enter into harmony with love if you are concerned over compliance with the letter of the law. You cannot dance if you are weighed down with chains. And to that end, the perspectives on perfection and vindication espoused in LGT emerge as fundamentally incompatible with a love-ontology. Consequently, LGT emerges as a theological narrative that cannot produce what it so vigorously defends. In the end, the proponents of LGT boast of an impressive mansion of ideas all the while living in a shed to its rear. In the words of Soren Kierkegaard,

 

Most systematizers stand in the same relation to their systems as the man who builds a great castle and lives in an adjoining shack; they do not live in their great systematic structure. But in spiritual matters this will always be a crucial objection. Metaphorically speaking, a person’s ideas must be the building he lives in—otherwise there is something terribly wrong.[2]

 

And yet, such is not the case for the many who espouse LGT. They boast of its magnificence but do not dwell in it, for no one can. To the contrary, they dwell in the shed across the river and look romantically upon it, defend it, argue on its behalf all the while perpetuating a culture of anxiety, despair and hypocrisy that has slowed our journey toward the promised land as a collective people. And it all begins with a faulty understanding of the law. An understanding that is more Catholic and Calvinist than it is Adventist. And from this faulty view we behold the unbearable failure of Catholicism, the unbearable failure of Calvinism and the unbearable failure of LGT.

 

Related Article: By Law or By Faith?

 

But there is good news! We don’t have to abandon authentically Adventist perspectives like the vindication of God or the perfection of our characters just because LGT has distorted these views. We can reclaim them and it all begins with understanding, first and foremost, that the character and law of God are ontologically linked and emerge into the human experience from a spring of love that serves as the foundation for the design of reality. Thus, when speaking of the law of God Ellen White certainly said that “[o]ur only definition of sin is that given in the word of God; it is ‘the transgression of the law’” but she goes on to add that “it is the outworking of a principle at war with the great law of love which is the foundation of the divine government.”[3] And yet, we all know how the story ends, and how beautiful is its epilogue! When sin and sinners are no more “creation”, writes Ellen White, “will never again be turned from allegiance to Him whose character has been fully manifested before them as fathomless love…”[4] Instead, a new era will erupt before us.

“And the years of eternity, as they roll, will bring richer and still more glorious revelations of God and of Christ. As knowledge is progressive, so will love, reverence, and happiness increase. The more men learn of God, the greater will be their admiration of His character… and ten thousand times ten thousand and thousands of thousands of voices unite to swell the mighty chorus of praise…. From the minutest atom to the greatest world, all things, animate and inanimate, in their unshadowed beauty and perfect joy, declare that God is love.”[5]

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

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Notes.

[1] Gibson, Ty. “The Alternative Community: The (Un)Christian Culture” (Story Line Adventist Church podcast)

[2]Moore, Charles E. Ed. “Provocations: Spiritual Writings of Kierkegaard.” (Kindle Books, location 158)

[3]White, Ellen G. “The Great Controversy” (p. 492)

[4]ibid., p. 504

[5]ibid., p. 678

 

 

 

 

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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.