Questionable Sources

Since writing the previous blog I have been thinking. I have decided that before getting into Howard Peth’s book directly, it may be useful to set some background to the current controversy among Seventh-day Adventists. Peth quotes from time to time from the work of Roger Oakland and Ray Yungen. While he quotes from many sources and does not express direct dependance on these men, there is much similarity in tone and substance. Their influence on him seems at least as strong if not stronger than the Quaker and Catholic influences on Richard Foster.

I mention Oakland and Yungen because they have placed themselves at the crucial intersection between evangelical and Adventist thinking on spiritual formation. They both appear to be extreme dispensationalists, a perspective on prophecy radically at odds with Adventism at its very core (although they share a similar suspicion of the Papacy). So it is to be wondered why Adventists would take their work as seriously as many in Peth’s camp seem to. It is interesting to me that Peth and his colleagues seem to feel that they can pick and choose from the work of Oakland and Yungen and remain “undefiled.” But if that is the case, why cannot other Adventists take a similar approach to the works of Foster, Willard, Warren and MacLaren? Why is guilt by association somehow valid in the latter case but not in the former? It seems like a process of selective evidence to me. In reality we are learning from others and influenced by many sources. We all have to exercise spiritual discernment in this process and make sure our own selective use of Scripture is not as deeply flawed as those we criticize.

Oakland and Yungen have been studying and reporting on issues of spiritual formation and prayer for a dozen years, naming names and institutions in the evangelical world that they feel have sold out to eastern mysticism. Then in 2007 they came across an Adventist News Network article that mentioned (positively) how spiritual formation (in the sense of developing habits of Bible study and prayer) was getting increased attention at the Andrews Seminary and many local churches. Interpreting the phrase along the lines of their previously formed opinions about spiritual formation, they assumed that Adventists were buying into all the negatives that they had seen elsewhere. They posted material lumping Adventists as part of the whole Christian world that was falling away from God into spiritualistic apostasy.

Sometime after that a few Adventists here and there read Oakland’s work and began sounding the alarm within Adventism. The warnings of John Witcombe and Rick Howard fall into this category and also the book by Howard Peth that I am reviewing. For a full, fair and kind accounting of these developments I strongly suggest everyone get hold of a copy of the article by Dave Thomas (“The Great ‘Spiritual Formation’ Kerfuffle”) in Spectrum, volume 40, issue 1, Winter, 2012, 44-49. He documents in detail the journeys of Oakland and Yungen, their influence upon Adventism, and some of the more recent developments as a result. This is valuable background to the concerns I will address in the blog(s) that follow (don’t know how many yet).

(Additional Note– 12/3/14) As many may be aware, Dave Thomas’s article has been attacked by the same people who are finding fault with Walla Walla University’s approach to spiritual development training right now. I think Walla Walla’s opponents are sincere and seem to be godly people, but Dave Thomas has huge credibility with me as a careful thinker and keen analyst of trends in the church. So while his 2012 article may not prove accurate in every detail, I am confident in its overall helpfulness to the issue.

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