Monthly Archives: August 2016

Fundamental Belief Number 11 (Growing in Christ)

By His death on the cross Jesus triumphed over the forces of evil. He who subjugated the demonic spirits during His earthly ministry has broken their power and made certain their ultimate doom. Jesus’ victory gives us victory over the evil forces that still seek to control us, as we walk with Him in peace, joy, and assurance of His love. Now the Holy Spirit dwells within us and empowers us. Continually committed to Jesus as our Saviour and Lord, we are set free from the burden of our past deeds. No longer do we live in the darkness, fear of evil powers, ignorance, and meaninglessness of our former way of life. In this new freedom in Jesus, we are called to grow into the likeness of His character, communing with Him daily in prayer, feeding on His Word, meditating on it and on His providence, singing His praises, gathering together for worship, and participating in the mission of the Church. We are also called to follow Christ’s example by compassionately ministering to the physical, mental, social, emotional and spiritual needs of humanity. As we give ourselves in loving service to those around us and in witnessing to His salvation, His constant presence with us through the Spirit transforms every moment and every task into a spiritual experience. (1 Chron. 29:11; Ps. 1:1, 2; 23:4; 77:11, 12; Matt.20:25-28; 25:31-46; Luke 10:17-20; John 20:21; Rom. 8:38, 39; 2 Cor. 3:17, 18; Gal. 5:22-25; Eph. 5:19, 20; 6:12-18; Phil. 3:7-14; Col. 1:13, 14; 2:6, 14, 15; 1Thess. 5:16-18, 23; Heb. 10:25; James 1:27; 2 Peter 2:9; 3:18; 1 John 4:4.) (Ps 1:1, 2; 23:4; 77:11, 12; Col 1:13, 14; 2:6, 14, 15; Luke 10:17-20; Eph 5:19, 20; 6:12-18; 1 Thess 5:23; 2 Peter 2:9; 3:18; 2 Cor. 3:17, 18; Phil 3:7-14; 1 Thess 5:16-18; Matt 20:25-28; John 20:21; Gal 5:22-25; Rom 8:38, 39; 1 John 4:4; Heb 10:25.)

This is the newest of the 28 Fundamental Beliefs (they were 27 before 2005). It grew out of a series of observations made by the Mission Issues Committee of the General Conference around the turn of the millennium. One of these observations was that many Adventist believers in Africa and parts of Asia did not have any problem combining occult practices with Adventist faith. Another observation was the absence of a devotional life in many of the same places. A third had to do with the relative absence of Christian education in much of the world. The excuse given for non-practice in all of these areas was: They aren’t in the Fundamental Beliefs! If we need to have a devotional life, tell us plainly. If we need to avoid the occult, tell us plainly. If we need to put our children in Adventist schools tell us plainly. So this fundamental attempted to address the issues of the devotional life and avoidance of the occult (the issue of Christian education as an expectation for all Adventists did not make the cut in 2005). Fundamental 11 is, therefore, something of an awkward mixture of two different themes. The framers of these changes didn’t want to add two or three new fundamentals so they combined two into one here.

In addition to the changes in the text list at the end of the statement (as voted in San Antonio 2015), a sentence was added toward the end: “We are also called to follow Christ’s example by compassionately ministering to the physical, mental, social, emotional and spiritual needs of humanity.” There was strong pressure to add a new Fundamental on Christian Social Responsibility. Rather than proliferate fundamentals further, it was felt that adding a sentence here could cover that concern in the larger context of Christian spirituality. References to mental and emotional needs indicate the church’s increasing awareness of mental and emotional illness and of the therapies needed to deal with them. That is a very positive development.

The irony here is that this fundamental calls for the very kinds of practices that are involved in what many call “spiritual formation.” Spiritual formation was taught at the Seminary for more than twenty years of my term there. During that time, however, I never heard the kinds of things that people today associate with “spiritual formation.” So phrases like this can have different meanings in different contexts and different meanings at different times. In order to avoid confusion, the Seminary has decided to change the title of this discipline to “Christian Spirituality.” The content has not changed significantly, and in my mind didn’t need to change, but the mere use of the phrase has become controversial. That is, perhaps, another reason to combine the occult and the devotional life together in one fundamental. “Spiritual formation” is thought, in many parts of the church, to open the way to the occult and Satanic influence. Since those are never good things, the topic of spirituality requires vigilance.

At Loma Linda University we have a number of classes in “religion and culture.” When dealing with culture the lines between truth and error, light and darkness, are not always as clean as we would like, or as many would like to paint them. For example, after the tsunami in Indonesia, western healers went in and often made things worse, especially in terms of emotional healing. The locals seemed to respond better with native methods of healing. That was a surprise to the Christians involved. There are principles in yoga and acupuncture that seem to have scientific evidence behind them, the line between a health practice and a dark spirituality is not always as clear as we would like. In a mission book called Bruchko, a Western missionary recognized an illness and had a medical cure, but the people wouldn’t take the medicines from him! He found it much more effective to convince the witch doctor to dispense the medicine for him, and then the people were cured. Did he do the right thing in intervening in that way or should he have allowed them to die by their own choice?

Another challenging line we wrestle with is the one between demonic oppression and mental illness. In the New Testament, behaviors that we would describe as mental illness were almost always attributed to demonic oppression or possession. Does that mean there was a lot more demonic activity back then? Or were they simply more conscious of demonic activity? Were they confusing the demonic with what we would understand as severe mental illness?

I was asked to address these issues at a psychiatry conference at Loma Linda a couple of years ago. From my reading of Scripture and experience with both mental illness and demonic symptoms I drew the following distinctions between the two, in order to help practitioners distinguish them. 1) If the patient is hearing and seeing things no one else can see, it is likely to be mental illness, not demonic possession. If the healthy people in the room can also hear and see bizarre things, the phenomena are likely demonic. 2) If a person exhibits symptoms associated with mental illness but demonstrates knowledge or abilities that there is no reasonable expectation for them to possess (such as speaking foreign languages they have never been exposed to), demonic manifestation may be involved. 3) Where the presence of certain objects (talismans) seems to aggravate symptoms of mental illness, a demonic element may be involved. 4) If symptoms of mental illness are relieved by medication or medical interventions, the issue was probably mental illness. If symptoms are instead relieved by prayer or spiritual counseling the chance of demonic involvement is much greater. Today’s world is more complicated than the ancient world was.

In the Western world it is often thought that demonic possession and spiritualism are largely manifested in more “primitive” parts of the world. But vampire movies and movies about exorcism give evidence of a latent spiritualism in the West as well. There is much of the demonic in Western culture. For example, the Hollywood concept of a spider-man is widely accepted as a reality in primitive cultures. In addition, many people in the West consult psychics or horoscopes.

An important distinction that is worth mentioning is the distinction between healing and curing. People are cured by the right medicines at the right time, but true whole-person healing comes by other means. We may not in this life be completely sure of the line between physical and mental illness, on the one hand, and afflictions that have a more spiritual origin. Both maladies may often present themselves in the same person. Jesus was able to heal both, but relied on a process when dealing with mental illness (based on John 5:14 in the Greek). Since demonic involvement provokes both physical and mental symptoms, mental illness and the demonic may sometimes interweave with each other.

The entire world is becoming multi-ethnic and multi-cultural, so the cautions in this Fundamental are most appropriate, especially the middle sentence beginning with “No longer do we live. . .” Various cultures see things differently, and there are positive things in many cultures, but much that is taken for granted in every culture is worthy of criticism, avoidance, and/or careful reflection.

When dealing with matters such as this, it is helpful to remember that memories are very creative, so we must be cautious when we hear reports of demonic possession. If someone says things like God spoke to me, or I had an encounter with the demonic, we have to honestly say that we cannot be sure on the basis of such a report exactly what took place. But the spiritually wise thing to do is treat the reports as if they were true and then assess them with all the tools one has available.

Fundamental Belief Number 10 (Experience of Salvation)

In infinite love and mercy God made Christ, who knew no sin, to be sin for us, so that in Him we might be made the righteousness of God. Led by the Holy Spirit we sense our need, acknowledge our sinfulness, repent of our transgressions, and exercise faith in Jesus as Lord and Christ, as Saviour and Lord, Substitute and Example. This saving faith which receives salvation comes through the divine power of the Word and is the gift of God’s grace. Through Christ we are justified, adopted as God’s sons and daughters, and delivered from the lordship of sin. Through the Spirit we are born again and sanctified; the Spirit renews our minds, writes God’s law of love in our hearts, and we are given the power to live a holy life. Abiding in Him we become partakers of the divine nature and have the assurance of salvation now and in the judgment. (Gen. 3:15; Isa. 45:22; 53; Jer. 31:31-34; Ezek. 33:11; 36:25-27; Hab. 2:4; Mark 9:23, 24; John 3:3-8, 1616; 16:8; Rom. 3:21-26; 5:6-10; 8:1-4, 14-17; 10:17, 23; 12:2; 2 Cor. 5:17-21; Gal. 1:4; 3:13, 14, 26; 4;4-7; Eph 2:4-10; Col. 1:13, 14; Titus 3:3-7; Heb. 8:7-12; 1 Peter 1:23; 2:21; 2 Peter 1:3, 4; Rev. 13:8.) (2 Cor. 5:17-21; John 3:16; Gal. 1:4; 4:4-7; Titus 3:3-7; John 16:8; Gal. 3:13, 14; 1 Peter 2:21, 22; Rom. 10:17; Luke 17:5; Mark 9:23, 24; Eph. 2:5-10; Rom. 3:21-26; Col. 1:13, 14; Rom. 8:14-17; Gal. 3:26; John 3:3-8; 1 Peter 1:23; Rom. 12:2; Heb. 8:7-12; Eze. 36:25-27; 2 Peter 1:3, 4; Rom. 8:1-4; 5:6-10.)

A couple of small changes were made in the middle of this FB in San Antonio. “Lord and Christ” was replaced by “Saviour and Lord.” The meaning and purpose of “Christ” here seemed unclear to many readers and replacing it with the word Saviour seemed more helpful. “Saviour and Lord” parallels “substitute and example” in the last clause of the sentence. Placing “saving” ahead of faith instead of after it, ties the salvation to the person rather than to the word faith. This was felt to be better English grammar and more accurate theologically as well.

This fundamental belief has quite the individualistic tone. Although there is the repeated use of the plural (“we” and “our”), the things discussed in this statement are things that happen in and to individuals, not in communities. So the statement is lacking in social ethics. It is about dealing with personal sin, exercising faith, being justified and adopted, and becoming born again. On the other hand, while Romans 3 may seem individualistic at first glance (3:10-12, 20), Paul’s view of sin is quite social and community oriented, at least in the examples he chooses to share. Sin happens when people shed blood or heap curses on each other (3:13-15), there are societal consequences when sin occurs and healing from sin has social consequences as well. Sin affects “all” (3:23) and so does the remedy for sin. The solution to sin is God’s “right-making” in the faithfulness of Jesus Christ (3:22). In making individuals right with God (justified) God is also making them right with each other, at least within the saved community.

There is also a surprisingly strong focus on “participation” in this statement. That emphasis builds on the statement in 2 Peter 1:3-4, we are “partakers of the divine nature.” Adventists here maintain a strong focus on what comes after salvation. Participation in the divine nature means that there is not an infinite gulf between God and the creation (as in Greek philosophy and some Islamic theology). The Hebraic God is very much involved in the material world, He is near as well as transcendent. Adventists generally try to be as balanced as possible on the great theological issues.

One of the great questions of salvation is whether God accounts us righteous or makes us righteous. The former is often thought to be the Protestant view and the latter the Catholic view. This statement affirms both perspectives, not forcing people to make a choice. The SDA Fundamental Beliefs as originally written try to include more than to exclude. These statements are reflective of the community’s positions rather than an attempt to be prescriptive.

But being open and inclusive does not mean anything goes. You cannot accept this statement and still buy into everything that has been said by other Christians on the subject. For example, this statement excludes “Five-Point Calvinism,” with its strong focus on predestination and a lack of human freedom. It also rejects the concept of “double predestination,” that some people are predestined by God to be lost. This statement affirms that Adventism is strongly on the side of Arminianism, which sees human beings as free to make decisions for or against God and to be deeply participatory in their relationship with God. The Holy Spirit clearly plays a major part in orchestrating that freedom, but Adventism emphasizes human choice and freedom as a crucial theological element.

A number of my colleagues noted that this statement seems rather flat and uninspiring. It is as if a committee sat down to design a horse and ended up with a camel! It is careful to say all the right things but does not say them in a way that would be inspiring. Another seeming lack in the statement has to do with the eschatological element of salvation. It is hardly mentioned until the very last phrase. This future aspect of salvation is certainly emphasized in texts like Romans 5:9-10 and Titus 3:7. One final point seems worth mentioning as well. The statement is full of metaphorical language (righteousness, faith, gift, deliverance, Lordship, adopted, born again, sanctified, hearts) yet offers no indication that the language itself is metaphorical, which could lead to extremism and misuse (taking a metaphor too literally and trying to apply it in inappropriate ways).

Fundamental Belief Number 9 (Life, Death and Resurrection of Christ)

In Christ’s life of perfect obedience to God’s will, His suffering, death, and resurrection, God provided the only means of atonement for human sin, so that those who by faith accept this atonement may have eternal life, and the whole creation may better understand the infinite and holy love of the Creator. This perfect atonement vindicates the righteousness of God’s law and the graciousness of His character; for it both condemns our sin and provides for our forgiveness. The death of Christ is substitutionary and expiatory, reconciling and transforming. The resurrection of Christ proclaims God’s triumph over the forces of evil, and for those who accept the atonement assures their final victory over sin and death. It declares the Lordship of Jesus Christ, before whom every knee in heaven and on earth will bow. (Gen. 3:15; Ps. 22:1; Isa. 53; John 3:16; 14:30; Rom. 1:4; 3:25; 4:25; 8:3, 4; 1 Cor. 15:3, 4, 20-22; 2 Cor. 5:14, 15, 19-21; Phil. 2:6-11; Col. 2:15; 1 Peter 2:21, 22; 1 John 2:2; 4;10.) (John 3:16; Isa. 53; 1 Peter 2:21, 22; 1 Cor. 15:3, 4, 20-22; 2 Cor. 5:14, 15, 19-21; Rom. 1:4; 3:25; 4:25; 8:3, 4; 1 John 2:2; 4:10; Col. 2:15; Phil. 2:6-11.)

Aside from a reshuffling of the biblical evidence at the bottom, there are no changes in the wording of FB9. Since this fundamental focused on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, one wonders why it isn’t listed after number four, which dealt with the nature of Christ. The answer probably is that the first five fundamentals focus on the persons of the godhead and the next five or so focus on the actions of the godhead. There is never a perfect grouping of beliefs like these, the order that was chosen is probably as good as any.

The religion scholars at Loma Linda have historically expressed concerns that legal substitution not be seen as the controlling metaphor of the atonement, as it often is in Protestant Christianity. But this statement certainly does not limit itself to legal substitution. This statement offers an excellent balance among the various biblical metaphors of the atonement. Legal, substitutionary atonement was seen as liberal and “new theology” in the 1970s, and therefore suspect, but now it has become the conservative view. It is interesting how theology changes over time and people hardly notice, because a new generation sees what was recently new and the new normal. In our resistance to change we often end up changing without realizing it.

In the broadest sense, atonement is seen as having both objective and subjective elements in it. The objective side of the atonement focuses on what happened outside of us on the cross. Did the cross in some way change God’s mind? Did it defeat Satan in some way? Did it somehow satisfy the justice of God? The subjective side of the atonement, on the other hand, focuses on how the cross changes us. Through the cross we learn that God is fair and just, that the law is for our good, that God is on our side. We are moved from serving God on account of fear to trusting Him. Another way to express this contrast is this: Which is more important, the Christmas story or the Easter story? Do you focus on the life of Jesus or on His death and resurrection as the driving forces behind the atonement? At Loma Linda there is a tendency to focus on the life and death of Jesus as the ultimate revelation of God’s character, the strong emphasis of chapter one in Steps to Christ, whereas at Andrews and other places, the emphasis is more on the death and resurrection of Christ as an atoning sacrifice. This fundamental affirms both as part of a balance and tension.

For SDAs it is good to see an increasing focus on atonement at the cross, but it would be unwise to lose the pioneer sense that the cross has ongoing significance. It represents the way that God behaves and rules in all times and places. The gospel is not about sinners in the hands of an angry God, it is about God in the hands of angry sinners. In addition, the cross is not just about how God behaves on this earth; past, present and future. It also has a cosmic dimension, it changes everything at the level of the whole universe, not just earth.

2 Corinthians 5 has an interesting universal tone. God was reconciling the whole world to Himself in Christ. But a universal tone is not the same thing as universalism. The very ones who are reconciled to God at the cross still need to “be reconciled” to God. Having said that, the availability of universal salvation involves the possibility of universal salvation. No one is excluded, all have equal access to God and salvation at the foot of the cross.

In our discussion we considered one possible corrective to this excellent fundamental. The way this fundamental expresses the cross focuses much more on us than on God. It might have been helpful to explore a bit more questions like, What did it cost God to go to the cross? What does it mean when divinity suffers? Did the experience of sacrifice leave a mark on God? Did He lose something that He doesn’t get back? The natural human tendency to focus on ourselves is not easy to overcome, even in the writing of fundamental beliefs!

Fundamental Belief Number 8 (Great Controversy)

All humanity is now involved in a great controversy between Christ and Satan regarding the character of God, His law, and His sovereignty over the universe. This conflict originated in heaven when a created being, endowed with freedom of choice, in self-exaltation became Satan, God’s adversary, and led into rebellion a portion of the angels. He introduced the spirit of rebellion into this world when he led Adam and Eve into sin. This human sin resulted in the distortion of the image of God in humanity, the disordering of the created world, and its eventual devastation at the time of the worldwide flood, as presented in the historical account of Genesis 1-11. Observed by the whole creation, this world became the arena of the universal conflict, out of which the God of love will ultimately be vindicated. To assist His people in this controversy, Christ sends the Holy Spirit and the loyal angels to guide, protect, and sustain them in the way of salvation. (Gen. 3; 6-8; Job 1:6-12; Isa. 14:12-14; Ezek. 28:12-18; Rom. 1:19-32; 3:4; 5:12-21; 8:19-22; 1 Cor. 4:9; Heb. 1:14; 1 Peter 5:8; 2 Peter 3:6; Rev. 12:4-9.  (Rev. 12:4-9; Isa. 14:12-14; Eze. 28:12-18; Gen. 3; Rom. 1:19-32; 5:12-21; 8:19-22; Gen. 6-8; 2 Peter 3:6; 1 Cor. 4:9; Heb. 1:14.)

Aside from the re-arrangement of the biblical texts, the major change in this fundamental was the addition of a sentence that could have been placed in FB6, “as presented in the historical account of Genesis 1-11.” I understand that there were two reasons for placing the statement here instead. First, it is the only place in the 28 FBs where the Flood is mentioned. Second, since this fundamental also mentions creation, it made it possible to reference Genesis 1-11 as a whole and not just the chapters related to the Flood. While many scholars have questioned whether the primary intention of Genesis 1-11 is history, this sentence certainly expresses how the average Seventh-day Adventist views these chapters.

This statement opens with the phrase “all humanity,” but that by itself is open to misunderstanding. The entire universe is involved in the great controversy and is affected by its outcome (Col 1:20; Eph 1:9-10; Rev 12:7-10), as the sentences that follow in the statement make clear. The ultimate outcome of the controversy is the vindication of God’s character of love. The statement leaves ambiguous, however, just how or by whom God’s love is vindicated. It is interesting that while the worldwide flood is mentioned here, the cross is not! From the Adventist perspective, the cross is more about theodicy (vindicating the character of God or defending God’s reputation) than it is about soteriology (how people get saved). Recent scholarship affirms that even Romans and Galatians are more about God and His character than what Luther saw in them, a revelation of how we get saved.

A key text upon which this statement is based is Revelation 12. At first glance Revelation 12 seems to be about a war against aggression and rebellion. How do you reconcile the self-sacrifice of the cross with such an aggressive story? A closer look at Revelation 12 makes clear that the battle language there is metaphorical. It is not a war fought with tanks and planes and guns, the great controversy is a war of words. The tail of the dragon (Rev 12:4) reminds the reader of prophets telling lies (Isa 9:15). The ancient serpent of 12:9 recalls the Garden of Eden where the serpent spewed out deceptive words (Gen 3:1-6). The method of the dragon’s attack in heaven is to accuse the “brethren” (Rev 12:10). And he is overcome by “the word of their testimony” (Rev 12:11). The battle language is the metaphorical backdrop to a war of words.

A Loma Linda perspective on this Fundamental focuses on the picture of God that human beings hold. God is not the kind of person His enemies have made Him out to be. He is not arbitrary, vengeful, unforgiving and severe. Instead He is both infinitely powerful and infinitely gracious. Not everything that religion says about God is true and some of the things even Christian religion says about God make Him look bad in the eyes of the world. God is often portrayed with a character more like that of Satan. So a major theme in Adventist evangelism is that everyone, including Christians, need to critique their own religion. Human beings do not, by nature, gravitate to an accurate picture of God. And if all who want to know God are willing to exchange what they think they know for truth, it will bring us all closer together.

There are practical implications of this picture of God for patient care. In more traditional types of chaplaincy, people are encouraged to think of death as simply part of life. When people are suffering, Jesus is portrayed as a sustaining presence more than as a healing one. There is also a desire to avoid doctrine at the bedside. While these points make sense in general, at Loma Linda we find it helpful in many cases to go further. While doctrine may not normally be appropriate at the bedside, it can at times be important for the chaplain to explore with a patient. Chaplains need to minister to a patient on the basis of the spiritual resources the patient brings with them. And in a world of great diversity, the chaplain needs broad spiritual and doctrinal understanding in order to be able to minister to many different types of people.

It is also true that there are occasions where what the patient believes is itself a source of suffering and can make both the dying process and the healing process harder than it needs to be. Patients often believe that they are sick because God is punishing them. While a doctor or a chaplain may not want to get into the details with a patient, the great controversy motif gives the caregiver the confidence to gently confront destructive doctrines with a message of God’s love and care even for those who have made a mess of their lives. The great controversy offers a perspective for understanding some of the difficult stories in the Bible that may be part of a negative narrative in a patient’s life.

In the Adventist view, the essential nature of God’s character is love. And for love to occur, it needs to be freely chosen. Love that is commanded or forced is not love. In creating the universe God was expanding the circle of love that was always there among the members of the Trinity. But for His creatures to truly love God they had to be free to do so. And being free to love meant they were also free to rebel and reject God’s love. God so highly values the freedom of His creatures, that He allows them the freedom to choose and also the freedom to reap the consequences of their choices. That means that God does not will that people be sick or die. Sickness and death are the consequences of freedom and illustrations of what happens when freedom is exercised in rebellion and self-centeredness. People are not sick because God is angry with them or because he is punishing them (although He can use misfortune to get our attention), suffering is a natural consequence of the present human condition. Suffering does not exist because God is evil or weak, it exists because God values freedom above all else. And one day the universe will be healed and safe, not by superior force, but through the abundant evidence that the universe is ruled by self-sacrificing love.

The Great Controversy motif also has powerful implications for geopolitical issues today. Some ask the question, Is Islam a religion of peace or a religion of violence? In light of the Great Controversy that is the wrong question. There is a universal conflict between God and Satan. That conflict is being played out in every nation and every religion. The line between good and evil is not between “us” and “them,” it runs right down the middle of every religion and every person. That means God is at work within Islam, and so is Satan. God is at work in Christianity, and so is Satan. God is at work within Adventism, and so is Satan. Because of the cosmic conflict, Islam can be a religion of peace and a religion of violence at the same time, because both God and Satan are at work in the hearts of Muslims. This FB has powerful implications for many aspects of religion.

SDA Fundamental Belief Number 7 (Nature of Man/Humanity)

Man and woman were made in the image of God with individuality, the power and freedom to think and to do. Though created free beings, each is an indivisible unity of body, mind, and spirit, dependent upon God for life and breath and all else. When our first parents disobeyed God, they denied their dependence upon Him and fell from their high position under God. The image of God in them was marred and they became subject to death. Their descendants share this fallen nature and its consequences. They are born with weaknesses and tendencies to evil. But God in Christ reconciled the world to Himself and by His Spirit restores in penitent mortals the image of their Maker. Created for the glory of God, they are called to love Him and one another, and to care for their environment. (Gen. 1:26-28; 2:7, 15; 3; Ps. 8:4-8; 51:5, 10; 15; 58:3; Jer. 17:9; Acts 17:24-28; Rom. 5:12-17; 2 Cor. 5:19, 20; Eph. 2:3; 1 Thess. 5:23; 1 John 3:4; 4:7, 8, 11, 20.)  (Gen. 1:26-28; 2:7; Ps. 8:4-8; Acts 17:24-28; Gen. 3; Ps. 51:5; Rom. 5:12-17; 2 Cor. 5:19, 20; Ps. 51:10; 1 John 4:7, 8, 11, 20; Gen. 2:15.)

The changes in FB7 were few and simple. In addition to re-arranging the texts at the end and adding 1 John 3:4, the title was changed from “Man” to “Humanity” for the sake of inclusive language. The only other change was eliminating the phrase “under God.” The phrase was thought to be redundant with other things in the statement and could leave the impression that Adam and Eve’s sin was somehow under God’s direction or supervision.

This fundamental is another remarkable evidence that the writers of the original 27 were able to say many important things without taking sides on the most controversial issues among Seventh-day Adventists. When writing statements of belief, less is more. For example, the word “reconciled” points to the atonement in an open-ended way, not settling an issue upon which Adventists have sincere differences of opinion. This encourages continued study and discussion but enables us to stay unified, even in the midst of significant differences. The writers of these fundamentals were working to unite rather than divide. The changes made to FB6, however, seem intentionally divisive, or to be charitable, unifiying in a more exclusive sense. They were grounded in the concern that certain views will harm the body if not excluded. Time will tell if that venture will prove positive or negative for the church.

The SDA doctrine of human nature raises many more issues than does the doctrine of God (the subject of fundamentals 2-5), but these in general are left untouched in this statement. For example, How does the image of God relate to the nature of human beings who are marred by sin? In the intriguing words of one scholar, “Sin is unnecessary, yet it is inevitable.” What exactly do we mean by sin and how does this affect who human beings are and what they can become? While human beings are clearly physical, what do we do with aspects of human nature that seem to transcend the physical? One thing is for sure, the SDA view of human nature is much more popular among non-SDA biblical scholars and theologians than it was a hundred years ago.

One striking aspect of this statement is its focus on the more negative side of human nature, its enmeshment with sin. This is spelled out in some detail. But it would have been nice to give a little more detail on the positive side of humanity, not just noting that we were made “in the image of God.” What are some of the good things we retain from our origins, marred though they may be?

One thing not explored in this fundamental is the relational side of human nature. In the Protestant, Western tradition, theologians focus on individuality and freedom. But Genesis 1:26-28 focuses much more on relationships and community. The first humans were created with three basic relationships, 1) a relationship of submission to God (based on the “image” and “likeness”), 2) a relationship to the environment (“rule over, dominion”), and 3) a relationship with other humans (“male and female”). So a Hebrew view of human nature would focus more on the community than on the individual, which is central to Western thinking. The immediate consequence of sin was broken relationships, exile from the garden, the place where God can be directly encountered. Relationships with God, the earth and each other were broken after sin. So sin is manifested in the loss of community as much as it is in the internal distortions that occur in each of us. SDAs emphasize the individualistic nature of sin, but that is not a complete reflection of the biblical picture.

A Loma Linda perspective on this fundamental focuses on a number of things. 1) Adventists value the human body and thus focus on health and healing in spite of a strong apocalyptic mindset. 2) We also value the community. Resurrection means that people don’t go to heaven as individuals when they die. All remain “asleep” in their graves until the resurrection, and then the entire community is re-united in bodily form. 3) Additionally, this life is not the ultimate thing and death is a defeated enemy. We battle against disease and death because that is what God is doing. We battle in confidence that death is a defeated enemy, but we don’t get cast down when we lose a battle with death, because we know that we are winning the war. Deaths in this life are not the final word. Death on this side of Jesus’ return is just a sleep. The ultimate reality is beyond.

Although this is emphasized in later FBs, it is important to mention here that the SDA doctrine of human nature proclaims the unity of human beings (Gen 2:7; Eccl 12:7). Body, mind and spirit are not separate entities, but combined in a wholistic unity. This has powerful implications for the practice of whole person care and even more powerful implications for scientific research into human nature. Some of the best neurological and psychological research is increasingly substantiating the Adventist view of human nature. So this doctrine is a powerful guide to scientific research on the human body and mind.