Why the Critics of the Investigative Judgment Have Failed

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Why the Critics of the Investigative Judgment Have Failed

On October 22, 2015, the 171st anniversary of the Great Disappointment of 1844, Spectrum Magazine published an article entitled, “1844 – Pillar of Faith or Mortal Wound?”

According to the author, “the viability of 1844 as a prophetic marker continues to depend heavily on isolated proof-texts. It seems Adventist scholars who defend 1844 as an unmovable rock are satisfied with finding tiny hooks in a few chosen verses that appear to (albeit remotely) support our position.” Moreover, “we have been given in to the temptation to hold on to tradition instead of continuing to study Scripture. We have overstated our case and stretched the evidence in order to confirm our ‘prophetic identity.’ And frankly, that is all 1844 really is, it only massages our corporate ego, it does little for the individual believer. I can believe that Jesus has been my perfect intercessor since the ascension without jeopardizing my standing with God.” Therefore, “we should have the humility to accept that we may have been wrong all along about the nature and timeline of Christ’s priestly ministry in heaven.”[1]

This article is just one of hundreds that have been written over the years by non-Adventists, former Adventists, and church members alike, questioning the validity of this unique Adventist doctrine. Objections have been raised that:

  • The Investigative Judgment (IJ) is nothing more than a feeble face-saving attempt to address the mistake of 1844.
  • It is an extra-Biblical doctrine invented entirely by Ellen White.
  • It cheapens the Reformation gospel of salvation by grace through faith.
  • It robs Adventists of the assurance of salvation and causes them to live in constant fear.
  • No other denomination has seen any value in this doctrine and hence all have rejected it.
  • A good number of Adventist ministers and theologians secretly know the doctrine to be false but are afraid to admit it.

Adventists have repeatedly refuted each of these claims. Nevertheless, the critics do not relent. If we respond with a humble and open mind on these issues, we are interpreted as being uncertain. If we reply with perfect confidence, we are accused of being dogmatic and intransigent. It seems no matter what answers Adventists can come up with, they appear to always be interpreted as reactionary inventions cooked up to keep ourselves from having to bury a dead concept; one that depends on the KJV translation for its veracity, on isolated and dubious texts such as Daniel 8:14, on the day/year principle, or on the translation of some uncertain Greek or Hebrew terms.

In light of these attacks, one would think the debate was over. Nevertheless, as we will now demonstrate, the debate is far from over. While critics may pride themselves in their long list of seemingly conclusive arguments, the truth is they have no argument. But if they have no argument, then why do they continue to press the matter?

The answer is simple. Over the decades, Adventists have allowed the critics to portray the IJ as a sort of theoretical concoction that is entirely dependent on the veracity of a long series of prerequisite assumptions (such as day/year, Daniel 8:14, etc.). And if there is any doubt regarding any of these assumptions, the entire theological structure collapses like a house of cards.

However, the IJ cannot be refuted this way (as the author of the Spectrum article and other critics have gone about it). Their approach, in essence, has been a futile attempt to kill a tree by plucking off the leaves. This doctrine is not dependent on the day/year principle, Dan. 8:14, Leviticus, or some passage in Hebrews—that is only the route by which Adventists came to discover it. In reality, the IJ is much broader and rests first of all on an Arminian understanding of the Protestant gospel.

Classical Arminianism and Free Will

During the Protestant Reformation, two distinct camps emerged under the banner of Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide and Sola Gratia with conflicting views regarding the human will. The first, Calvinism, rejected the idea of free will in favor of predestination.[2] This perspective was later articulated as five distinct points using the mnemonic T.U.L.I.P. (see chart below for more info).

(T)otal Depravity

(U)nconditional Election

(L)imited Atonement

(I)rresistible Grace

(P)erseverance of the Saints

In contrast, the second camp, Arminianism, fully supported the concept of human free will and therefore rejected each one of the five points above. Please take a look at the following chart[3] for a more detailed explanation of the differences, paying special attention to point number five:

table comparing Calvinism and Arminianism

Copyright © 2016 CRI/Voice, Institute by Dennis Bratcher (Click image to view larger)

Now here comes the tricky part and, incidentally, the most important part:

Over time, a third camp emerged that took something of a hybrid approach. They adopted the first four points from the Arminian side and the fifth point from the Calvinist side, giving rise to what is popularly referred to as the concept of Once Saved Always Saved (hereafter O.S.A.S.). What’s tricky about this is that they still call themselves Arminian even though, in discussions about the IJ, how they feel about point number five of the TULIP formula is the single most important factor. (For the remainder of this paper I will be using the labels “Classical Arminianism” vs. “O.S.A.S. Arminianism.”)

Therefore, in any discussion about the IJ, before any mention is made of Hebrew terms in Daniel or Greek terms in Hebrews or the validity of the day-year principle, two questions should be asked of any critic:

  1. Are you a Calvinist?
  2. If not, do you believe in Once Saved Always Saved?

Why does this matter? Because all Classical Arminians reject the idea of Once Saved Always Saved, they all believe that a person who has experienced a genuine new birth can still be lost, and therefore, all believe in some form of IJ differentiating between believers, even though they don’t call it that.[4]

However, most Arminians also believe that when a person dies, they are carried directly into the presence of God for judgment. At this moment, it is determined if they were faithful or not and the sentence is pronounced for either reward or punishment.[5] Adventists, on the other hand, believe that people rest in their graves until the resurrection. Thus, there is no longer a necessity to force-fit the IJ immediately after death; we don’t need to rationalize away all the Biblical passages that speak of the judgment as being in the future. Since we believe Jesus will bring His reward with Him at His coming, the judgment needs only to take place shortly prior to that.

In essence, the Adventist doctrine of the IJ is the natural outgrowth of Arminianism and Soul Sleep. All the other elements (1844, the Hebrews passages, the day-year principle) are useful in understanding the judgment and its relevance, but they are not essential.[6] In other words, the IJ does not stand or fall on any of those issues. Its necessity stands or falls on the validity of Classical Arminianism and its eventuality stands or falls on the validity of Soul Sleep theology. Since Adventists correctly affirm both of these foundations to be true, we are therefore correct about the nature of the IJ. At this juncture, the likelihood that we are also correct about all these other elements, including the timing, is extremely high before the conversation even starts.

In summary, if a person believes:

  1. That salvation can be lost,
  2. That God judges,
  3. That the souls of humans sleep until the resurrection, and
  4. That this reward/punishment is not received until the resurrection,

such a person will very likely come to believe in an Adventist-like pre-advent IJ irrespective of any other factors. If salvation can be lost, this matter must be objectively decided before the church goes to heaven. If God judges, then part of His judgment work would be to determine the faithful from the apostate.[7] At this point, we have the basic building blocks for the IJ. And while the 3rd and 4th propositions do not lead us to 1844 (the timing of the IJ) they leave the door comfortably open for such a possibility.[8] And this is why those who attack this doctrine on peripheral issues like Greek or Hebrew terminology are, quite honestly, wasting their time. If critics would like to tear the IJ down as a theological concept, the only way to do it would be to deny its Classical Arminian foundation and the Mortal Soul concept which naturally gives birth to the IJ as Adventists understand it (see more in this article). However, the critics have not and cannot do this, which is why, after many decades of effort, they have failed in their attempts to refute this doctrine.

illustration of tree and leaves

Johnny, Jim, and Bob

For the sake of clarity, let’s take a brief look at how each of the three theological traditions views salvation.

Calvinism

Before the foundations of the world, God decreed that Johnny would be lost and Jim saved for reasons having nothing to do with them. So, for example, Johnny might be a relatively good person and Jim a criminal. Nonetheless, because God ordained it, Johnny would never come to recognize his need of a Savior or repent of his sins. Jim, on the other hand, at some point in his life, will come to repent and experience a genuine new birth.

Moreover, even if Jim falls away after being born again, some time before his death, he will come back to Christ and die having made peace with God. Again, all this for no other reason than that God has decreed it to be so; neither Johnny nor Jim chose any of it or could change their fate if they wanted to. Therefore, an IJ in such a case would be pointless.

O.S.A.S. Arminianism

Under this paradigm, both Johnny and Jim are offered the gospel invitation. They are both free to accept or reject that invitation, and God does not interfere with this choice. Johnny, of his own free will, chooses to reject it and Jim to accept it. However, having accepted the invitation and having experienced a genuine new birth, his salvation is secure and can no longer be lost. It does not matter if after being born again he turns away from God, becomes more evil than Hitler himself, or longs with all his heart to undo his former decision to come to Christ. His salvation is sealed; he no longer has free will in this respect. So a pre-Advent IJ in this situation would be pointless since there is, in a technical sense, no such thing as an apostate.

Classical Arminianism

To understand this perspective, we need to introduce Bob. As before, the gospel invitation is still being extended freely to all. Johnny, as usual, rejects it. Both Jim and Bob accept it. They both open their hearts to Christ; they are both born again, sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, pardoned of their sins, declared to be the sons of God, and there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels on behalf of both. However, only Jim makes it to heaven, while Bob ends up lost in the end.[9] So it is evident that an IJ, in this case, is far more complex a process than simply determining whether a person has accepted Christ or not.[10]

Again, Arminian Protestants would argue that this IJ of sorts takes place when Jim and Bob die. Both would be ushered into the presence of God where their case would be reviewed either for heaven or hell. Jim would make it to heaven by virtue of his faith in Christ. Bob, on the other hand, having decided to turn his back on Christ, would be turned away. Since, as Adventists, we do not believe in the immortality of the soul and therefore that God has to have a place ready for the soul immediately after death, there is no need to enter into this judgment then and there. In fact, there are even some Christians who, recognizing that the judgment takes place in the future, attempt to harmonize this by proposing some type of “holding cell” where people don’t immediately get their reward but only await their day in court. To support this, they make reference to Peter’s “spirits in prison” (1 Pet. 3:19 KJV) and to the example of the fallen angels whom “he has reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day” (Jude 1:6). All these are workarounds Adventists don’t need because we don’t believe the dead are conscious. Nor does God need to judge each person one at a time but instead “has appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world” (Acts 17:31).

For over a century and a half, the Adventist church has been challenged by critics from inside and outside the denomination, insisting that the doctrine of the IJ is unbiblical at best and cultic at worst. These voices have called us to discard this teaching if we wish to remain orthodox. Nevertheless, we remain unconvinced by the many peripheral attacks made against this doctrine, for we see it, not as dependent on a long list of small exegetical presuppositions, but as the natural outgrowth of Classical Arminianism and Soul Sleep. In light of this foundation we concur that many critics of the IJ are, quite possibly, either:

  1. Concerned with Classical Arminianism, a debate that was raging centuries before Adventism came around.
  2. Concerned with non-essentials (day/year principle, Daniel 8:14, 1844, the meaning of chatak in Daniel 9, the connection between Daniel 8 and 9, Leviticus, the book of Hebrews, etc.), in which case we are free to disagree without having to discard the entire doctrine.
  3. Concerned with a pseudo-IJ, in which case they are really attacking a straw man.
  4. Unaware of the real theological issues at hand such as the differences between Calvinism and Arminianism and their development throughout the centuries.

In conclusion, the Adventist church will not discard the IJ because we have no need to do so and critics have failed in providing us with one. Therefore, our message to the critics of the IJ is as follows:

  • If you are a Calvinist/OSAS Arminian, you need to be upfront about this. At this juncture, the debate is not so much about the IJ peripherals as much as the IJ foundation—Classical Arminianism. So rather than expending valuable time debating nonessentials, let’s get to the core of it.[11]
  • If you are a Classical Arminian, then we invite you to re-explore the topic with an open mind. There are countless resources that conclusively demonstrate that the IJ doctrine is scripturally sound.
  • If, regardless of anything the Adventist church does, you maintain that the IJ is heretical and false, then we have no burden to enter into controversy with you. The church cannot consume valuable time and energy in attempting to satisfy the accusations of those whose minds are made up beyond reason.

Moreover, we have a message to the Adventist church as well. As a church, we need to be more proactive in confronting people of influence (counter-cult apologists, Christian leaders, etc.) who continue to either misunderstand or misrepresent our views. There is no reason to keep struggling against the current when taking our message to the general public because a few key people continue to incite prejudice and superstition. We have a solid foundation for the IJ and we can stand firm on it as we continue to explore and perfect our understanding of the details that make this doctrine so unique in the Christian world.

Resources for Understanding the Investigative Judgment

The Case for the Investigative Judgment by Marvin Moore: http://www.amazon.com/Case-Investigative-Judgment-Marvin-Moore/dp/0816323852

The Apocalyptic Vision and the Neutering of Adventism by George R. Knight: http://www.amazon.com/The-Apocalyptic-Vision-Neutering-Adventism/dp/0828023859

The Judgment and Assurance by W.W. Whidden: http://www.amazon.com.au/The-Judgment-Assurance-Woodrow-Whidden-ebook/dp/B0088HJJEA

The Pre-Advent Judgment by Marcos Torres: http://www.pomopastor.com/p/books.html

“Facing Life’s Record (An Analysis of the Great Controversy’s Scariest Chapter)” by Marcos Torres: http://www.pomopastor.com/2013/08/facing-lifes-record-analysis-of-great.html

1844 Made Simple: www.1844madesimple.org

“Answering Objections to the Investigative Judgment Doctrine” by Mike Manea and Marcos Torres: https://www.thecompassmagazine.com/blog/answering-objections-to-the-investigative-judgment-doctrine

“Why the Investigative Judgment Matters” by Mike Manea and Marcos Torres: https://www.thecompassmagazine.com/blog/why-the-investigative-judgment-matters

Click here to read the rest of this series

______

Notes

Marcos Torres co-authored this article. It was also published at http://www.thehaystack.tv/why-the-critics-of-the-investigative-judgment-have-failed/

[1] http://spectrummagazine.org/article/2015/10/22/perspective-1844-pillar-faith-or-mortal-wound

[2] While technically Lutheranism classifies as the first camp to emerge during the Protestant Reformation, it failed to answer certain questions, which then gave birth to Calvinism and Arminianism. It is these two camps that are most relevant to our discussion.

[3] http://www.crivoice.org/tulip.html

[4] Some may argue that if all Arminians believed in a type of IJ differentiating between believers, they would A) have produced a parallel theology to the IJ by now or B) have embraced Adventism’s IJ. However, these propositions can be rejected for the following reasons. A) Just because an IJ is logical within a Classical Arminian framework does not mean the theologians will willingly go that route. For example, in regards to the question of what happens at death (judgment, holding cell, etc.) United Methodists refuse to take a stance, even exhibiting a level of uncertainty regarding their own immortal soul theology and using this as the basis for refusing to answer the question of the judgment’s eventuality [http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/what-happens-after-a-person-dies]. In addition, their rejection of Adventism’s IJ is most likely due to the way in which we as a church have failed to properly present this doctrine to the world. We elaborate on this in this article, which explores the relevance of the IJ, but will elaborate in more detail in future articles.

[5] There are a variety of views in the Protestant world regarding judgment. Some believe that the dead are judged right away. Others believe in a “holding cell theology” in which the dead are placed on hold until the return of Jesus, at which point they receive their reward. With regard to the living, some believe that they are judged just prior to the secret rapture.

[6] Some might argue that Arminianism and Soul Sleep are not enough but that we also need the Great Controversy theme in order to arrive at the IJ. However, we would counter by saying that without Classical Arminianism the Great Controversy theme would not exist. While the Great Controversy theme is instrumental in making more sense of the IJ, it is not essential for its foundation and is, in reality, yet another outgrowth of Classical Arminianism.

[7] Some are entirely at variance with the idea of God having to engage in a judgment process that would determine the faithful from the apostate, by virtue of His omniscience. However, such a judgment must necessarily take place. It is of no consequence if this judgment takes place in God’s mind, at death, in a judgment prior to the second coming, or in a judgement at or after second coming, or even if the knowledge of the faithful and the apostate has eternally existed in God’s foreknowledge. These are nonessentials. The point is, God necessarily engages in a judgment process that separates the faithful from the apostate. The timing of this judgment is a separate, non-essential (albeit relevant) issue.

[8] By saying that the door is left comfortably open for the possibility of 1844, we do not intend to portray 1844 as an uncertain teaching. A future article will deal with the philosophical and exegetical foundations of the timing of the IJ and demonstrate that Adventists have no need to question this conclusion either.

[9] Lest the reader be tempted into thinking that Classical Arminianism is inherently lacking in providing assurance of salvation, observe the challenges that Calvinism and OSAS Arminianism have in this respect as well. In Calvinism God elects those He saves with no choice of their own. You can only become aware that you were elected. You cannot actually choose to be saved. But what happens when a seemingly born-again Christian apostatizes? Calvinism has only two answers. Either he will repent again in the future (at which point you have a person whom God has elected for both salvation and apostasy and then salvation again) or you were never really elected for salvation to begin with. Thus, many Calvinists who struggle with a post-conversion fall have been left wondering if they are eternally reprobate or not. OSAS Arminianism faces the same struggle. Either your apostasy is proof you were never saved to begin with or you will forever remain saved despite your apostasy. In the end, believers are left having to wonder which one is true of them. Classical Arminianism teaches that we are saved by grace through faith and that we remain saved, not by works, but by continued grace through faith. Likewise, Classical Arminians can potentially experience a lack of assurance knowing that its possible for them to apostatize and be judged accordingly. Thus, all of these systems fail to provide “air-tight assurance,” meaning in the realm of assurance none can confidently claim to be superior to the other. Nevertheless, Arminians’ hope never rests on their performance or ability to be “faithful” but on faith in Christ as their only hope. This faith can be rejected for either legalistic reasons (such as the book of Hebrews) or carnal reasons. But so long as that faith (a gift of God) is maintained, we are secure in the One in whom we put our trust.

[10] Let’s be clear here that this has nothing to do with Adventists but applies to all Classical Arminians such as Methodists and Pentecostals. And again, while not in either category, Lutheranism also rejects Perseverance theology and OSAS, leaving the possibility wide open for a genuinely born-again person to turn their back on God and be lost.

[11] The article cited in the opening claims that “We should have the humility to accept that we may have been wrong all along about the nature and timeline of Christ’s priestly ministry in heaven.” However, its nature is derived from Classical Arminianism and its timeline is firstly based on Mortal Soul theology. The timing is discussed in this article, and a future article will tackle it in greater detail.

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About the author

Mike Manea is a former high school science teacher with a love for theology and technology. Born in Romania, he now lives in southern California, where he cofounded Zahid Manea LLC, a marketing and management consulting firm. Mike is married and has a young son. He blogs on science, religion, and philosophy at Unapologetics and Conversations.

  • Daniel

    Mike, no doubt you enjoy engaging with the “critics” of the “Investigative Judgment” doctrine; and you’re willing to publish their comments on your website forums (Haystack; Conversations; and now here at Compass), but some time later you delete the comments and present the article again on another website—why is that?

    I think Harold McGregor did an astounding job (as have many others in the past), but you believe the “critics have failed”. Could it be that the critics have failed because their voices have been silenced?

    Could it be that the whole Christian world is Investigating and Judging this doctrine and proving that those who go beyond what is written in the Scriptures, by introducing their own “private interpretations”, from extra-biblical sources authored and handed down by carnally minded individuals—will end up spiritually shipwrecked?

    These are all honest questions–look forward to hearing from you.