March 22-23, 2019 God’s Character and the Final Generation Conference, Part 1

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March 22-23, 2019 God’s Character and the Final Generation Conference, Part 1

Editorial Note: Over the past few years there has been an increase in tensions and debate within the NAD regarding “Last Generation Theology” or LGT. This news piece documents the response of some laypeople and ministers to this tension over soteriology and final events. The presentations described below were a part of a two-day conference entitled “God’s Character and the Final Generation” held on March 22-23 at the Sacramento Central Seventh-day Adventist Church. While the organizations and individuals involved in this event do not necessarily represent the position of The Compass Magazine or the author of this article, we believe it is important to document the ongoing conversation in the church regarding this issue.

Presentation #1: Why Jesus Waits, Norman McNulty, M.D

Norman McNulty began his presentation by noting that we have been waiting for Christ’s return for 175 years (since 1844), despite the fact that, as Ellen White wrote in 1900, “[h]ad the purpose of God been carried out by His people in giving to the world the message of mercy, Christ would…have come to the earth, and the saints would have received their welcome into the city of God.” (Testimonies for the Church Vol 6, p. 450)

The delay of Christ’s Second Coming, prophesied in the Parable of the Ten Virgins (Matthew 25:1-6), is caused by our sleep and slumber. According to McNulty, the condition of the ten virgins describes the condition of the Seventh-day Adventist Church before Jesus’s return, because we have the lamps (Bible truth), and we are the church waiting for the Second Coming. In James 5:7, 8 we find out what Jesus is waiting for before His return: for the fruit of the earth to ripen, which requires the outpouring of the early rain (already poured out at the Pentecost), and of the latter rain (which will be poured out just before Christ returns). While we profess to be God’s people, we have played the role of the harlot spoken about in Jeremiah 3, so God has been withholding the latter rain. Our sins of unbelief, rebellion, strife, pride, and insubordination contribute to the delay of Christ. Obedience, while viewed negatively by some, is what will allow God to pour out the latter rain.

Only when God will see the church having the same experience of faith and obedience as Jesus had during His life and through His death on earth, will He pour out the latter rain. “We will be able to proclaim the final fall of Babylon when we fully have the character of Jesus,” said McNulty. This is not just mere reflection, like the moon’s reflection of the sun; it is a reproduction of Jesus’s character in us, and it is only possible in those who believe in it. Also, this reproduction of Christ’s character is more than just putting a stop to bad deeds, it involves our witnessing for Christ so that, through our own influence, His character is reproduced in others as well. We can recognize this character as one that shows the fruits of the spirit spoken about in Galatians 5:22, 23: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. When the character of Christ, as described in Galatians 5:22, 23 is fully reproduced in God’s final generation of believers, Jesus will come back.

The seed of the harvest is the death of Jesus (John 12:23, 24), and the harvest is a generation of Adventists who manifest the fruit of the Spirit, not selectively, but altogether. McNulty drew a connection between the death of Christ (the planting of the seed) and the harvest at the end of the world based on three characteristics described in Revelation 14:12-16 which the two share: (1) having the patience of the saints, (2) keeping the commandments of Jesus, and (3) having the faith of Jesus. The power of the third angel’s message consists precisely in the fact that it is a description of Jesus on the cross, as well as a promise of a final generation who will have learned through the fierce trials of life to be like Jesus when He hung on the cross. This message is more than mere proclamation, it is a message that must be demonstrated.

God is not waiting for the pope or the US to issue the Sunday laws, as this will happen when God has a final generation in whom His character will be reproduced. This is the group referred to as the 144,000 spoken about in Revelation 14:12. They provide the grounds for the vindication of God. “The Savior came to glorify the Father by the demonstration of His love; so the Spirit was to glorify Christ by revealing His grace to the world. The very image of God is to be reproduced in humanity. The honor of God, the honor of Christ, is involved in the perfection of the character of His people.” (DA 671.3) Yet “[w]e do not vindicate God. God vindicates Himself through us. God vindicates Himself through the 144,000,” clarified McNulty. Jesus is waiting for this generation that will fulfill the three characteristics of Revelation 14, the weakest from the worse generation living on earth, to vindicate His character before the universe.

Presentation #2: The Trojan Horse, Pastor Dennis Priebe

Priebe began his presentation by recalling two historical events: the victory of the Greeks against the city of Troy through the Trojan Horse, and a World War II story where a strong line of French defense was ignored, while the invasion occurred though an unguarded part of the country. He then suggested that we have had a Trojan Horse in the Adventist church. While we have been well prepared for direct attacks against doctrine, and have had clear defenses against Catholicism and liberalism, Satan has devised a different way of attack, through Protestants who are much more like us than our “direct” enemies. We have been blinded by our common grounds with conservative evangelicalism. The danger is the “total destruction of Seventh-day Adventism as the remnant church of prophecy.”

The heart of this deception consists of five major issues:

  1. Involuntary sin – the idea that we all become sinners because we are born with a sinful nature.
  2. The unfallen nature of Christ – the idea that the humanity Christ took upon himself was Adam’s sinless nature before the fall, or that Christ’s human nature was both sinless and sinful.
  3. Salvation by justification alone – the belief that the ground of salvation includes only justification, not regeneration and sanctification, which are only fruits of salvation.
  4. Justification as declarative, not transformative – the belief that justifying righteousness only declares the believer righteous, but it does not actually make the believer righteous.
  5. Imperfectability of Christian character – the belief that even through the imparted power of God, perfect obedience to the law remains impossible for Christians as long as we are on this earth.

Priebe’s brief response to these was as follows:

Concerning involuntary sin: John 3:4 states that “sin is the transgression of the law.” White called this the clear and true definition of sin and understood it to mean willful transgression of the law of God in thought, word, or action. James 4:17 and John 9:41 further suggest that the sin for which we are condemned is only known sin, and never involuntary sin or a state of birth.

Concerning the nature of Christ, Priebe referenced Ellen White’s description in Desire of Ages:

“It would have been an almost infinite humiliation for the Son of God to take man’s nature, even when Adam stood in his innocence in Eden. But Jesus accepted humanity when the race had been weakened by four thousand years of sin. Like every child of Adam He accepted the results of the working of the great law of heredity. What these results were is shown in the history of His earthly ancestors. He came with such a heredity to share our sorrows and temptations, and to give us the example of a sinless life.” DA 48.6

Concerning whether salvation consists only in justification, and whether justification is only declarative, Priebe concluded that justification is never just a declaration of righteousness, but it is also a transforming process based on White’s quote in 1 SM 394 “Having made us righteous through the imputed righteousness of Christ, God pronounces us just, and treats us as just.”

Concerning the imperfectability of the Christian character, the speaker suggested that the expression “every thought” in 2 Corinthians 10:5 indicates the perfectibility of Christian character: “casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.” A similar idea is expressed by White: “Everyone who by faith obeys God’s commandments will reach the condition of sinlessness in which Adam lived before his transgression.” (IHP 146)

What is at stake in this perfection of character is the honor of God, as White comments in the following: “The honor of God, the honor of Christ is involved in the perfection of the character of His people.” (DA, page 671). “The honor of His throne is staked for the fulfilment of His word unto us.” (COL 148). Satan’s challenge is leveled against fallen man’s ability to keep the divine Law: “Satan declared that it was impossible for the sons and daughters of Adam to keep the law of God, and thus charged upon God a lack of wisdom and love. If they could not keep the law, then there was fault with the Lawgiver.” (ST Jan 16. 1896). In response to this challenge, God has promised a seal for the generation facing the most challenging time in earth history. White states: “If there was ever a people in need of constantly increasing light from heaven, it is the people that, in this time of peril, God has called to be the depositaries of His Holy law and to vindicate His character before the world.” (5T 756) “Every character will be fully developed, and all will show whether they have chosen the side of loyal or that of rebellion. Then the end will come. God will vindicate His law and deliver His people.” (DA 763).

Presentation #3: God at Risk, Pastor Dennis Priebe

Atonement, the most important word in the bible, means “at-one-ment,” putting together what has been torn apart. The harmony of the universe has been disturbed when God’s most majestic creature brought charges against God. Satan was filled with jealousy and hatred towards Jesus because he was not included in the planning of the creation of humanity. (EW 145). The precise relationship between Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit was not clear even to some angels, so God called an assembly of the entire heavenly host to clarify that the Son had since eternity been one with Him in omniscience, power, and authority. Satan owed his obedience to the Son, but he refused to submit, suggesting that a huge loss will come upon heaven should he and all his followers be expelled. (SR 18). At some point, he repented and asked for him and his followers to be taken back into the favor of God (EW 146). But he was not allowed to return, because his repentance was not genuine; he only desired his privileges back and his malice and hatred increased when his request was declined. (SR 25, 26, 27). Isaiah 14:13, 14 describes the fall of Satan thus:

For you have said in your heart:
‘I will ascend into heaven,
I will exalt my throne above the stars of God;
I will also sit on the mount of the congregation
On the farthest sides of the north;
I will ascend above the heights of the clouds,
I will be like the Most High.’

The process of atonement is complicated and lengthy and involves something greater than the salvation of human beings: the vindication of God’s character. This is described in Romans 3:4 (“That You may be justified in Your words, And may overcome when You are judged”) and confirmed by Ellen White:

“But the plan of redemption has a yet broader and deeper purpose than the salvation of man. It was not for this alone that Christ came to the earth; it was not merely that the inhabitants of this little word might regard the law of God as it should be regarded; but it was to vindicate the character of God before the universe.” (DA 68)

One of Satan’s charges—a legitimate charge—was that if God is just, He must exclude sinners from heaven just as He excluded Satan. Alternatively, if God can forgive the sinners and take them back, then God would be obligated to take him back as well. (5T 474, PK 588, 589). God’s answer to Satan’s charges was not force, but humbling Himself through Christ (Phil 2:6-8). His life and death unfolded the Law of God, and by this sacrificial phase of the atonement, God refuted Satan’s lie that justice and mercy cannot exist in harmony. But, asked Priebe, “if God guaranteed the destruction of Satan and sin by the sacrifice of Christ, why didn’t He just end the whole process right then?” Why were another 2000 years of Satan’s rule allowed? Such a delay must have a good reason and be part of the divine plan.

The reason for this delay is that not all Satan’s charges were refuted at the cross. Both the angels and humans still had unanswered questions. White writes:

“Yet Satan was not then destroyed. The angels did not even then understand all that was involved in the great controversy. The principles at stake were to be more fully revealed. And for the sake of man, Satan’s existence must be continued. Man as well as angels must see the contrast between the Prince of light and the prince of darkness. He must choose whom he will serve.” (DA 761)

The next phase of the atonement plan is the intercessory ministry of Christ as our High Priest (Heb .4:14, 8:6, 7:25). In this capacity, He can legally forgive sinners by applying the benefits of His sacrifice to those who believe in him.

Yet one more phase of atonement is still to be fulfilled in order for all of Satan’s charges to be answered. White writes:

“Satan declared that it was impossible for the sons and daughters of Adam to keep the law of God, and thus charged upon God lack of wisdom and love. If they could not keep the law, then there was fault with the Lawgiver.” (ST Jan 16, 1896).

His charge involved not only unfallen humans, but also humans living in a sinful world. Thus, God’s mission was partly to reveal “to the heavenly universe, to Satan, and to all the fallen sons and daughters of Adam that through His grace humanity can keep the law of God.” (MLT 323).

Priebe phrased Satan’s charge in the following words: “My influence over them, says Satan, is greater than your grace and your power over them. All you can do is keep on forgiving their continuing sinning. As long as forgiveness is all your atonement plan can offer, my charge stands. You haven’t defeated me yet.” God’s continuing forgiveness shows that He put Himself at risk, and only when it will be shown that God’s forgiving grace leads to His enabling grace, then Satan will be fully defeated. This can be demonstrated if, for a period of time, forgiving grace is no longer available, but only enabling grace is available. This will be the time when Christ leaves the sanctuary and we must live for a period of time when forgiveness is no longer possible.

Through His grace, God will produce a special group who will reflect the image of Christ fully and live without the intercession and forgiveness of Christ. These are the 144,000, and “through them, Satan will be forever defeated,” said Priebe, suggesting that the fit man who removes the scapegoat in Lev. 16:20, 21 most likely represents the 144,000. A demonstration must be made that a group of people can live without sinning, and that is what the final phase of the atonement is all about. Should Satan cause even one of these to make one sin, then God loses. As Satan and Jesus struggled when Jesus was on earth, they will struggle again during the last days of our history, except the struggle will be between Satan and Jesus as reproduced in the 144,000.


Presentation #4: New Books, Old Error, Pastor Larry Kirkpatrick

This presentation centered around some misrepresentations of LGT as perceived by its proponents. Decrying the Knight–Whidden narrative popularized in our church (George Knight and Woodrow Whidden are retired Seminary professors), Kirkpatrick reminded the audience that our historical facts must be accurate. After highlighting two anti-LGT titles published in 2018 – End-Time Events and The Last Generation by George Knight, and God’s Character and the Last Generation, edited by Jiri Moskala and John Peckham – and suggesting that the latter is a book of mere opinion (given the usage of words like “it seems,” “appear to be,” “tends to” in some places), the presenter provided a list of six clarification points concerning LGT. Three of these are, in his view, misrepresentations:

  1. “The conclusion of the great controversy is dependent on humans; Christ’s work is insufficient.”
  2. “Humans must attain absolute perfection and thus will no longer need Christ.”
  3. “Jesus must have been just like us.” (quoted from the presentation handout)

Kirkpatrick indicated that point 1 is an incorrect assessment of LGT, since the power through which the 144,000 overcome sin is the power of Christ. The role of humans is not meritorious, and it is the sacrifice of Jesus that provided atonement for sin. Regarding point 2, the presenter reemphasized that humans do not reach the expected level of perfection on their own, but through Christ, and that we will always need Him for the forgiveness of past sins and the power to overcome sin. Concerning point 3, Kirkpatrick mentions that Adventist pioneers stressed the ways in which Jesus’s humanity was like our own despite the popular belief in original sin, which automatically must put Jesus in a different human category.

Three other ideas are points of disagreements, with LGT subscribing to the following:

  1. “The fallen human condition can be transcended in this life. Sin is chosen; fallen human nature in itself does not condemn.”
  2. “Justification has a more-than-forensic meaning.”
  3. “The Second Coming has been delayed by human unconsecration.”(quoted from the presentation handout)

Concerning the fallen human nature, Kirkpatrick pointed to Philippians 4:13, 1 Corinthians 10:13, and Jude 24 which suggest that through Christ we can overcome sin and that no temptation is greater than God’s ability to help us resist it. Concerning justification, the presenter advocated for it as more than forensic based on a quote from Ellen White: “God’s forgiveness is not merely a judicial act by which He sets us free from condemnation. It is not only forgiveness for sin, but reclaiming from sin. It is the outflow of redeeming love that transforms the heart” (Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing 114). Lastly, point 3 was backed by a few Bible verses (Numbers 14:33, 2 Pet 3:11-12, and Mk 4:28-29), where God calls His people to holiness with the purpose of hastening the Second Coming.

RELATED ARTICLE: God’s Character and the Last Generation a Book Review by Adelina Alexe

Read the rest of Adelina’s series of reports on the Last Generation Theology Conference.

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About the author


Adelina Alexe is a Ph.D. student in systematic theology at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary. She loves God and enjoys nature, arts, and meaningful conversation. Her special research interests are narrative theology and hermeneutics.