Report: Adventist Theological Society Conference San Diego, 2019

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Report: Adventist Theological Society Conference San Diego, 2019

For over thirty years, the Adventist Theological Society has been functioning as “an international, professional, nonprofit organization established as a resource for the Seventh-day Adventist Church to foster biblical, theological, and historical studies supportive of the Church’s message and mission.”[1] Among other projects, the society holds two conferences yearly (one in the spring and one in the fall). Along with my colleagues in the PhD program at Andrews University, I had the privilege of attending these meetings for several years, including this past November in San Diego, CA, where the theme was “Christ in All of Scripture.” I wanted to give our readers a picture of what is being discussed at the ATS meetings, so I asked a few presenters three questions. Below are their responses and a few links to additional information about ATS and resources available through the society.

 

John Reeve, PhD, Assistant Professor of Church History at Andrews University and current ATS President.

Paper Title: “Christ in Every Scripture: Adventures and Misadventures in the Psalms”

  1. What are some of the motivations behind this particular study?

I have been a student of the reception of the text of scripture by Christians through the centuries, especially the first six centuries, for decades. The opportunity to focus on Christ in the Psalms as understood by the early church came to my mind as soon as I heard of the theme topic “Christ in All of Scripture.” Because of the heavy use of the Psalms by the ascetics, there were more commentaries written on the Psalms by the early Christians than on any other book of scripture. Though many good readings of the Psalms are found in these ancient commentaries, not all of the comments given on the Psalms are good exegetical conclusions. This is why I chose the subtitle “Adventures and Misadventures in the Psalms.”

 

  1. What methodology did you use in your research?

 

To prepare this topic, I purchased the two volumes on the Psalms from the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture series published by IVP. Reading through the various comments by the early Christian writers filled many happy hours with curiosity satisfied. I sought out many Psalms that have been used to point to Christ, especially those used as such by the writers of the Gospels. I followed this up by seeking out the original sources to read the comments in context and the current scholarship on the reception of the Psalms to engage the conversations about influential readings of the Psalms. One such current work I found most helpful is the work by Susan Gillingham, Psalms Through the Centuries (2 volumes).

 

  1. Could you share some key ideas and/or aspects of special relevance to SDA Christians today?

 

Some key points articulated in the presentation included the three main hermeneutics of the early church interpreters and how these are true unless they are pressed too far, then they become false. The three are: 1. Spiritual things are spiritually discerned: It takes a spiritual person to interpret the spiritual meaning of scripture. 2. No private interpretations: Scripture must be interpreted according to the truth, and the church has the truth. 3. All scripture reveals Christ. All of these are true, unless they are taken to extremes.

 

In the first instance, we do need the Holy Spirit to interpret correctly, and the empowered and changed life enables one to perceive truth more clearly. However, it is not true that the most extreme ascetic necessarily has the best interpretation. Origen argued that only those living the disciplined life of perfection merit the Holy Spirit’s guidance in choosing the correct allegorical interpretations. This has been pushed too far and has become false.

 

Concerning the second hermeneutic, no private interpretation, it is true that each of us should not have an independent reading of scripture, we should depend on our colleagues to damper our individualistic interpretations. However, it is not true that whatever the church decides is correct becomes truth. Tradition is not where the truth resides, but in God’s word. The church must always be corrected by scripture, not have church tradition dominate the possible readings of scripture. In Irenaeus, Origen, and Tertullian, this has been pushed too far and became false.

 

Concerning the third hermeneutic, that all scripture reveals Christ, this is true, and was the theme topic of the annual meetings. Jesus Christ is revealed as author of all scripture, in prophecy by many passages, as antitype in many more passages, but not as subject in every passage of scripture. Some of the misadventures in the Psalms presented included allegorizing all the Psalms into showing Christ as subject in every Psalm.

 

Diodore of Tarsus and Theodore of Mopsuestia famously critiqued this extreme. The specific example of the sixth Psalm being allegorized into a Psalm of eternity on account of the header being translated in the Septuagint as “concerning the eighth.” On the basis of “the eighth” being a reference to the allegorical interpretation of the days of creation as the 6000 years of earth’s history, the seventh thousand years as the millennial sabbath, and the eighth day being a reference to the resurrection of Christ and eternity with Christ, as developed in the Epistle of Barnabas. This misadventure in Psalm 6 has been pushed far past any truth to the hermeneutic that all scripture reveals Christ.

Adriani Milli Rodrigues, PhD, Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology and Director of Undergraduate Program in Theology at UNASP (Latin-American Adventist Theological Seminary in Brazil)

Paper Title: “Christ in All Scripture: A Systematic Theology Perspective”

  1. What are some of the motivations behind this particular study?

One of the main Christological approaches in systematic theology is related to Christ’s threefold office (historically called munus triplex), with reflections on the OT categories of prophet, priest, and king. The chief motivation behind my study is to reflect systematically about these categories from the perspective of Scripture. Instead of merely systematizing these categories from a logical standpoint taking into account the information we find in Scripture, the study attempts to uncover how they are actually articulated by Scripture itself. I decided to delimit my reflection to one book, namely, the epistle to the Hebrews. This decision was motivated by two key factors:

 

1) the rich Christology of Hebrews, which somehow interacts with the categories of prophet, priest, and king;

2) the intentional dialogue that the author of Hebrews entertains with Scripture as whole, especially by means of citations of the OT.

 

  1. What methodology did you use in your research?

 

Overall, the research methodologically develops a systematic reading of Hebrews in two steps, which sequentially explore the material and the formal contribution of Hebrews for Christology. In the first step, I attempt to systematically outline the Christological content presented by Hebrews.  In the second step, I seek to observe how Hebrews constructs a systematic understanding of Christ dealing with Scripture as a whole. In this step, I intend to uncover how Hebrews uses the OT to articulate its Christology. While my approach is explicitly systematic, I do not anachronistically assume that Hebrews is a modern work of systematic theology. Rather, I only suggest that we can learn more about the inner logic of Scripture as a whole when we pay closer attention to the Christology of Hebrews. In fact, this learning opportunity is crucial for sound systematic theology that is canonically oriented.

 

  1. Could you share some key ideas and/or aspects of special relevance to SDA Christians today?

Hebrews explicitly highlights that Christ is both king and priest. The first title describes the lordship of Christ over all things. The second one emphasizes his faithful and merciful mediatorial work on behalf of human beings. But this Christological elaboration is epistemologically founded on the idea that Christ is the eschatological and fullest revelation of God to human beings. This revelatory aspect is related to the prophetic feature of Christ’s threefold office in traditional theology, considering that Christ is the agent of divine revelation. Taking into account the abundant use of the OT in Hebrews, the content of Christ’s eschatological and fullest revelation is not something completely new but an extraordinary fulfillment of God’s previous revelation by means of the prophets. In other words, Christ’s revelation is a fulfillment of God’s revelation in the OT.

 

When we observe how all this material and epistemological information is put together in Hebrews, we can come to the conclusion that Christ as king and priest is God’s eschatological revelation. According to this systematic articulation, we learn from Hebrews that all Scripture (the God’s prophetic revelation in the past) points to the fulfillment of Christ’s royal priesthood. In other words, to think about Christ today is to reflect upon his present lordship and mediation in the heavenly sanctuary. This is a decisive fulfillment of what we read about Christ in all Scripture.

 

Rodney A. Palmer, DMin, Assistant Professor of Religion (Homiletics and Pastoral Ministry) at Andrews University

Paper Title: “Christ in All Scripture: A Homiletical Perspective”

  1. What are some of the motivations behind this particular study?

The motivating factors behind this study are

 

1) the fact that many believe preaching Christ from all of Scripture is boring, redundant and not necessary, and

2) the erroneous idea that we are living in the grace dispensation and only the New Testament matters because Christ fulfilled/abolished the Old Testament.

 

  1. What methodology did you use in your research?

 

A research was done of all the major works of homileticians who place emphasis on preaching Christ from all of Scripture. These homileticians include Bryan Chappell, Julius Kim, Sidney Greidanus and Abraham Kuruvilla. These authors were placed in dialogue, and the best-practices for preaching Christ from all of Scripture extrapolated.

 

  1. Could you share some key ideas and/or aspects of special relevance to SDA Christians today?

 

Christians/Adventists desirous of preaching Christ from all of Scripture need to be mindful of a few principles. We are to:

  • Interpret and preach Christ from all the Scriptures because:
    • It is biblical – Jesus and the apostles did it (Luke 24; John 5; 1 Cor. 15:3-4; Acts 4:10-12)
    • It is foundational to our understanding of the entire biblical story
    • It is practical – Christianity is based on the life, death, and resurrection of Christ
  • Utilize Greidanus’ Seven Steps for preaching Christ from the Old Testament:
        1. Redemptive-historical Method: views an Old Testament passage within the total biblical story of redemption
        2. Promise-Fulfillment Approach: Helps us consider how Old Testament promises are fulfilled in Christ
        3. Typology: seeks to understand how persons, institutions and events embedded in Old Testament meet their fulfilment (antitype) in Christ.
        4. Analogy: Notes the similarity between the teaching or goal of the Old Testament and the teaching or goal of Christ in the New testament
        5. Longitudinal Themes: Tracing relevant themes in the Old Testament through to Christ
        6. New Testament References: Verses in the New Testament that quote or allude to the Old Testament
        7. Contrast Method: Areas of discontinuity or major difference in the manner in which God sought to reestablish his kingdom on earth before Christ and after Christ.
  • Avoid Moralism: Principles of good behavior are taught from the text without the need for Christ and the gospel. This form of “Christless preaching” has resulted in what Christian Smith calls, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism – the concept that God created the world. He wants you to be nice and fair. He wants you to be happy. He’s not very involved in your life, but He’s there in case you have a problem. And if you are basically a good person, then you can go to heaven when you die.
  • Avoid Allegory: Explaining a text by picking something in it and giving it an interpretation that is unrelated to the context or meaning.
  • Understand that not every verse in the Old Testament mentions Jesus, but every passage reveals aspects of God’s character and care that relate to his saving work.
  • Embrace Ellen White’s Counsel: “In our ministry we must reveal Christ to the people, for they have heard Christless sermons all their lives.”

Hyunsok John Doh, Professor of New Testament Studies at Southern Adventist University

 Paper Title: “The Slain Lamb of God in Revelation”

 

  1. What are some of the motivations behind this particular study?

I teach “Revelation” at Southern. I had taught the same subject for seven and a half years before I joined Southern two years ago. From my experience of preparing for the classes and from teaching itself I have learned more from the book than the times I sat in Revelation classes years ago because I was digging for myself and repeating it many times. I have realized that Revelation reveals Jesus much more than I had thought. And ATS was looking for papers on Christ. I knew in Revelation the Lamb is big. I knew the best way to study about Christ in Revelation is to study the Lamb. That’s why I chose to study this particular subject.

  1. What methodology did you use in your research?

I used a grammatical-literary method. What I was focusing on was what the texts are saying. I tried to accept what they say and learn from them. I looked up all the occurrences of the Greek word arnion in Revelation. It was used 29 times; I had enough texts to wrestle with. Except one, all of them were used as symbolic image for Jesus. Even in this exception the Beast from the earth was likened to Jesus. In my survey, I not only included the texts where the particular word was used, but I considered other texts in which the Lamb is understood as subject of the sentences without saying the word as well.

After surveying all the related texts, I have discovered Revelation is more about the Lamb than I had assumed. I learned from these texts who Jesus is, what He did, what He is doing, and what He will do. The description of Jesus in Revelation shows what Jesus did after His ascension. Revelation is a sequel to the four Gospels which tell the story of Jesus on the earth, while Revelation reveals His life and ministry in the heavenly realm. I have learned much more from the texts as I studied them. I have compared notes with other scholars who were before me. But this part is far less than my own study of the texts.

  1. Could you share some key ideas and/or aspects of special relevance to SDA Christians today?

 

I began with Revelation 5:6 where a lamb was first introduced. After that a lamb has become the Lamb in Revelation and it almost has become another name for Jesus. There are three words used more often than any other ones in the Bible for the identification of Jesus: Christ, Jesus, and Son. But in Revelation they are in the minority. The Lamb occupies much more in the book.

 

In the beginning of my study I titled my paper “The slain Lamb of God” but I changed my title just before my presentation because I have seen more emphasis on the Lamb with seven horns and seven eyes. This Lamb of God is a combination of the two aspects: death and power. While the “slain” part of the Lamb is looking back on the cruel death and His victory through death, the “horns and eyes” part of the Lamb is looking ahead on the final vengeance and ultimate victory.

 

Just as early Christians in the Roman province of Asia were going through an extremely difficult situation, the last day Christians are undergoing horrible experiences in many parts in the world. They may feel they are defeated because they are persecuted, tortured, and killed. But the Lamb of God first went through the valley of death and darkness. As Adventists, we are still scattered flock of God, not very well recognized by the world. We are small in number, and we are not powerful in the world, but Jesus the Lamb of God is our Shepherd, our Warrior, our King of kings, our Judge, our Groom, our Temple, and the Source of our life.

 

Roy E. Graf, PhD, Systematic Theology Lecturer, School of Theology and Graduate School, Peruvian Union University

Paper Title: “Ontological Presuppositions in the Christological Controversies of the First Centuries”

 

  1. What are some of the motivations behind this particular study?

 

My personal motivation with this topic relates to the issue that the doctrine of Christ is very important for me as a Seventh-day Adventist. However, Seventh-day Adventists are not always aware that our understanding of the nature of Christ is not necessarily the same as the one of historical Christianity in general. I think that the understanding of that doctrine is crucial to grasping, for example, the doctrine of the sanctuary with which there is a systematic connection. My conviction is that some of the problems with the doctrine of Christ during the Christological controversies of the first centuries are still alive and the ontological presuppositions underlying those controversies are still operative in much of Christian theology today. That is one of the reasons why contemporary Christianity is unable to admit the existence of a real heavenly sanctuary and the functions related to that structure.

  1. What methodology did you use in your research?

My methodology is historical-theological. I would say, actually, that the methodology is more theological but, as I am dealing with historical issues, I think is better to say that it is a historical topic but with a theological interest.

 

  1. Could you share some key ideas and/or aspects of special relevance to SDA Christians today?

 

Adventists usually have held the Christological formula “two natures” in “one person.” Is this formula, however, understood as in the Council of Chalcedon (451 AD)? My study focuses on the Christological controversies of the first centuries. During that period, the apologists and Fathers of the Church tried to explain the issue of the relationship between the divine and the human nature of Christ using the logical tools of interpretation and expression from the Greek philosophy, and even the content of the Greek thought itself.

 

In my paper, I analyze and evaluate the ontological presuppositions underlying the Christological controversies during the first centuries and suggests that Greek philosophy was the main source providing the ontological presuppositions in order to interpret the divine-human nature of Christ. Specifically, the paper addresses the issue of the divine-human nature of Christ in Justin Martyr, Irenaeus of Lyon, Tertullian of Carthage and Origen of Alexandria and presents a brief panoramic view of the development of this question in later Fathers of the Church or Councils up to the Council of Chalcedon in 451.

 

To access the video and audio archives please visit https://www.atsjats.org/media1/video-audio-archives1. For a brief history to the first visionary discussion going back to Boston, 1987, check-out Dr. Richard Davidson’s reflections at https://www.atsjats.org/about/history-of-ats.

___

Notes

[1] More about the society’s core values, goals, and membership can be found at the same link.

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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.