Posts in Story
The Lost Art of Evangelism with Anneliese Wahlman
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Does Adventist evangelism even work anymore?

Some people say it does. Others insist it doesn’t.

I’m of the persuation that Adventist evangelism works. And I’m also of the persuation that the biggest problem with Adventist evangelism is just that - it works.

OK, it doesn’t work super well. But it works just enough to keep us thinking theres not much we need to improve.

In other words, it works well enough to keep us comfortable. And thats precicely why it doesn’t work.

But what if there was a way to change that?

This week I am releasing a brand new podcast interview with Light Bearers creative writer Anneliese Wahlman titled “The Lost Art of Evangelism”.

In this interview, we discuss an article Anneliese wrote for Light Bearers by that very title (you can read that original article here) and explore what it would look like for Adventists to enhance our evangelistic potential with art.

If you love evangelism, art and reaching people that our church struggles to reach - you don’t want to miss this podcast episode! Listen below and share with your friends!

Connect with Anneliese

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facebook.com/anneliese.wahlman

twitter.com/AllieWahlman


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The Future of Adventist Evangelism (with Lisa Clark Diller)
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The most amazing thing happened last week!

On Friday, I got to spend a whole hour with professor of church history at Southern Adventist Universtity, Lisa Clark Diller! We chatted about nerdy things, CS Lewis (more nerdy things) and the past, present and future opportunities and challenges for Adventist evangelism.

If you love Adventist evangelism but have wondered why it doesn’t seem to connect with emerging generations, you don’t want to miss this episode!

Listen below and don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast, leave a review (sooooo helpful!) and share it with your church leaders (also super helpful!)

CONNECT WITH LISA

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To contact Lisa Clark Diller visit her SAU page here: https://www.southern.edu/people/ldiller


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Metamodernism & It's Impending Challenge
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Postmodernism is dead…

- David Guterson, Novelist

It’s a new week at The Story Church Project and I have three exciting things to share!

First, the podcast series “Help! My Local Adventist Church Sucks” is officially over which means you can hear the entire thing here.

Second, if you want to share the entire series with your church leaders but can’t get them to listen to a podcast - no worries! You can download the entire thing as an ebook below! It’s titled, “Heartbeat: How to Redesign Your Local Adventist Church”.

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Third, with this series finished, I am turning my focus for the rest of the year toward developing a really good understanding of the emerging secular ideologies that surround us and discover ways in which the local Adventist church can intertact meaningfully with those shifts.

To start off with, I want to focus on the death of postmodernity and the emerging metamodern oscillation that is already in full swing all around us. If you want to read about this in more detail, make sure you get the ebook “How to Study the Bible with Postmoderns” here. You can also check out my article “Metamodernism and It’s Impending Challenge to Christianity” at The Compass Magazine.

In fact, this weeks podcast will simply be a condensed version of that article.

Now here is why I think its so important to talk about the Metamodern arrival.

Adventists started talking about and responding to the postmodern challenge when postmodernism was already on its death bed. Since the 70's, a new perspective has been arising to take postmodernisms place: metamodernism. My hope is that Adventists invest in understanding this emerging vision of reality and find ways to reach this culture today, not 70 years from now when its old news.

Click Here to Read the Whole Article or listen to the podcast episode below!


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How to Free Your Local Church from Last Generation Theology (with pastor Mike C. Manea - part 2)
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A couple of weeks ago, pastor Mike and I sat down and talked about the challenges posed by Last Generation Theology and how to heal our local churches. In this episode we dive a little deeper and discuss questions such as:

  1. Can we have assurance of salvation? What did Ellen White mean when she said we should “never be taught to say that [we] are saved”?

  2. Did Jesus finish his work/ atonement at the cross? Or not?

  3. Do we have to reach a state of sinless perfection before the close of probation?

  4. Must I remember and confess every sin or else God will bring it against me in the judgement?

  5. How do I free my local church from these beliefs?

The goal of this episode is to show how rejecting LGT does not mean a person has to go to the opposite extreme of cheap grace and can instead revisit each of these themes through the beauty of God’s heart revealed at the cross. The end result is a narrative of belief that can fuel mission and nurture local churches capable of effectively connecting with the lost.

Listen below!


For a more indepth analysis of LGT, including Ellen White quotes on assurance of salvation, see the article “REclaiming Adventism”. Click here.

To explore the connection between the sanctuary and assurance of salvation in more detail, see: “How Adventism Ended the Gospel Wars” Click Here.

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5 Beliefs That Kill Local Church Mission
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Last week, pastor Mike and I sat down for an interview titled, “How to Free Your Local Church from Last Generation Theology.”

The episode has quickly become one of the most popular for The Story Church Podcast which prompted Mike and I to agree to a follow up! That followup will be published next week (I hope), and for this week I do a follow up of my own by addressing 5 beliefs that kill local church mission in the Seventh-day Adventist movement.

Those 5 beliefs are:

  1. The belief that the law of God is an imposed legal construct.

  2. The belief that sin is a choice and not much more.

  3. The belief that we must become perfect to be saved (or for the Great Controversy to end).

  4. The belief that we alone have the truth (no one else!).

  5. The belief that our job is to warn the world about all the bad stuff.

Of course, there are other unhealthy beliefs that damage our capacity to do mission as local Adventist churches, but these 5 are the ones I highlight this week.

Check out the episode below! Don’t forget to subscribe, comment and share!

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How to Free Your Local Church from Last Generation Theology (with Mike C. Manea)
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Transforming your church is not simply about changing its structure, methods and leadership mechanisms. If you want to truly transform your church, you have to go deeper into its story. Sadly, in Adventism, many local Adventist churches are plagued by unhealthy theological paradigms that affect its capacity to do mission. Some of these beliefs include perfectionism, how we understand the nature of sin and the law, distorted versions of the gospel and - a shockingly common one - the idea that the battle between good and evil can’t be won until a group of last day believers achieve sinless lives.

This last view is a common idea taught by a theological paradigm within the church known as Last Generation Theology. And until it is addressed and discarded, the vast majority of local Adventist churches will simply never thrive.

 

Want to explore a healthy, gospel centred approach to Adventist theology?

Check out these books!

 

But why? Why are these ideas so dangerous to the mission of the local Adventist church?

This week, I share a new interview with pastor Mike Cyprian Manea as we discuss the root of the problem and how a healthy, Biblical alternative is imperative if we want our churches to thrive.

This episode is fire, so don’t miss out!

Listen below.


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Is Your Adventism Beautiful?
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Jewelry.

It’s a word that ruffles lots of feathers in Adventism. Some Adventists believe you can’t possibly be Adventist if you wear it. Other Adventists believe there is nothing wrong with it. And others still take a functional approach that supports the use of jewelry (like watches, tie clips, wedding bands) while rejecting jewelry that only serves adornment purposes (like ties I guess?). But to be honest, I kind of don’t really care. In fact, the whole debate pretty much bores me. But there is an angle on the whole theme of adornment and jewelry that I never hear during these debates, and its the one that I happen to find really interesting.

In Isaiah 61:10 the Bible says,

I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

Now notice the imagery here. The text is saying that God adorns us like a bride adorns herself in jewels. Picture that for a moment. A bride getting herself ready for her wedding. She is careful to comb and braid her hair just right. Her skin is brushed to perfection. She hangs a necklace around her neck and earrings that match. The jewels themselves can’t be just any old jewel. They have to be just right - not so strong that they steal the show and not so weak that they look out of place. They have to compliment her eyes, her dress - even the shape of her jaw and the length of her neck. It’s a work of art intended to enhance her beauty and draw attention to her joy.

The Bible says that this is what God does for us. He adorns us. He clothes us in his promise of salvation, in a robe of his perfect life and love. The picture Isaiah is painting is clear. God isn’t interested in dragging us into a religion full of rules and weird standards. The exact opposite is happening. God courts us romantically and then, the day we embrace him, he adorns us in all the beauty heaven has to offer.

In other words, God wants us to be beautiful.

David put it best in Psalm 90:17 when he wrote, “let the beauty of the LORD our God be upon us…”

In other words, its not simply that God adorns us with his grace and forgiveness. According to David he adorns us with himself. He is like a jewel that enhances our beauty and draws everyone’s attention to his heart. (Too bad this amazing point is often absent in our silly debates over jewelry.)

But it goes deeper than this. God is not simply an adornment upon you and me that others see when they interact with us. Instead, the Bible paints an even crazier picture. Notice what Isaiah says in chapter 62 verse 3.

You will be a crown of splendor in the LORD's hand, a royal diadem in the hand of your God.

Not only does God adorn us with himself, Isaiah goes so far as to say that he adorns himself with us!

Did you catch that? Not only does God adorn us with himself, Isaiah goes so far as to say that he adorns himself with us! Imagine God placing a crown on his head, or a royal ring upon his finger. That crown and that ring represent you and me. It’s not that God needs us to make himself more beautiful because he is the height of beauty. However, in some weird way I don’t fully understand God still describes his people as jewels he wears upon himself. I would suggest that because the great controversy is a battle over the character of God - is he good or not? - then the biblical picture of God wearing his people as jewelry has theodical significance. In other words, when we live beautiful lives we beautify God in the eyes of people who think he is ugly. Our lives are the jewels that catch their attention and enable them to see the true beauty of his heart.

Zechariah also captured a similar picture when he wrote, “The LORD their God will save his people on that day as a shepherd saves his flock. They will sparkle in his land like jewels in a crown.” (Zech. 9:16) and speaking through the prophet Haggai, God said to Zerubabbel, “I will make you like my signet ring, for I have chosen you…” (Haggai 2:23)

So let me ask again. Is your Adventism beautiful? Is your faith like a jewel that God would want to wear? Because buried beneath endless ping pong battles over whether jewelry is cool or not lies a narrative significantly more meaningful and important for us to ponder. I have never met a lost person who rejected church or Christians because they wore too much jewelry. But I’ll tell you what I have met - countless people who have turned away from God because supposed believers live lives that make God look ugly. Judgmental, arrogant, disconnected, sectarian, holier-than-thou, argumentative, critical, fault-finding, condemnatory, negative, obsessed with rules, traditions and mindless customs, tossed around by conspiracy theories and full of hatred toward those different from themselves. That’s the sort of stuff that makes God look ugly. Not your necklace or wedding band but your character.

So my question today is, is your Adventism beautiful? Is your life beautiful? Are you adorned with the character of Jesus? Are you kind, fun to be around, and encouraging? And on the flip-side, if you were a jewel would he put you on? Would your life be filled with care for the poor, the vulnerable and the lonely? Is it the kind of life that would make others say - “wow, God really is beautiful.”

The answer to these simple questions is the difference between a life of missional effectiveness and failure. So today I want to invite you, regardless of what your convictions on jewelry are - stop and think if you are adorned in the beauty of God and if, in turn, God would adorn himself with the beauty of you.


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3 Reasons Why "Jesus Loves Me" Is Not Enough
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The title of this weeks blog might surprise you.

Since when is the love of Jesus “not enough”?

Haven’t I consistently written that the love of God is the theme and song of all of scripture? Have I suddenly changed my mind?

The answer is no. I have not changed my mind. I wholeheartedly believe the foundational point of all of scripture is to bring us face to face with the unending and life-transforming love of God. Jesus is the centre and aim of every theme, prophecy and doctrine. It’s all about him, plain and simple.

I wholeheartedly believe the foundational point of all of scripture is to bring us face to face with the unending and life-transforming love of God.

However, here is my point. In an increasingly secular and post-Christian society where emerging generations are exposed to worldviews, philosophies and ideologies that impact the way they understand the nature of being, the meaning of life and the destiny of the human story you and I had better be able to say something more than, “Jesus loves me.”

Allow me to explain. Just a few months ago I read an article (can’t remember what it was called) about a conversation between an atheist and a Christian. The atheist was well schooled and a student of minds such as Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and Friedrich Nietzsche. The Christian was a member of a church where it appeared the only thing anyone ever really talked about was “Jesus loves you.” As she sat face to face with profound existential questions related to suffering, injustice and ethics she found herself unable to say anything beyond, “Jesus loves me.” The atheist walked away underwhelmed by the exchange. The girl walked away flustered by the plethora of questions she was incapable of answering. It was an interactional train wreck.

With that foundation in place, let me now explain the 3 reasons why I believe that “Jesus loves me” is not enough.

1. A “Jesus Loves Me” Theology is Weak.

I can’t stand churches obsessed with doctrine. Particularly when doctrine is elevated above Jesus and relationships. However, I have an equal aversion for churches who reject doctrine in the name of “all that matters is Jesus.” Both of these camps are fuelled by people who clearly have no intimate contact with contemporary society.

If you are obsessed with doctrine, with rules and regulations and with unbending theological formulas then I invite you to hang out with some real people outside of your echo chamber. I guarantee, the stuff you think is so clear and important will start to fall apart rather quickly.

And if you are one of these, “just focus on Jesus’ love” people, I invite you to do the same. Explain to an atheist the dichotomy between the love of God and the injustice of the historical and modern church without resorting to cheesy one liners. Explore the nature of being with a postmodern, questions of origin, destiny and identity with an agnostic. See how far a shallow, “all that matters is Jesus love” theology gets you when you look into the eye of a self-proclaimed meta-modernist who wants to understand the logic of your faith but rejects the popular Christian tag lines of the day as reductionist and idealist foundations that function more as escapism than robust ideas capable of speaking life into societies crushing problems. I guarantee you, your “forget doctrine, Jesus love is all that matters” formula wont be able to handle the pressure.

So reason number one is that a “Jesus loves me” theology is simply too weak to interact with the complexity and agony of the human experience.

2. A “Jesus Loves Me” Theology Misses the Love of God

The love of God is the central theme of all of scripture. But that theme isn’t revealed in romanticised poetry. It’s revealed through profound metaphors, archetypes, and narratives arc’s known as doctrine. Thus, while the central theme remains the love of God, the doctrines enable us to explore that love in technicolor. A doctrinal system that overlooks God’s love totally misses this. But a focus on God’s love that rejects doctrine is doomed to forever remain shallow and consequently, it misses the very thing it claims to celebrate.

3. A “Jesus Loves Me” Theology is Corny

Doctrinal systems that ignore the love of God tend to be self-focused. Churches in this mindset are all about “right teaching” but often ignore “right action”. The end result is churches that will rush to condemn someone who steps out of their theological box, but that remain silent in the face of issues like discrimination against women, racism and the systemic suffering of the poor and marginalised in their communities.

However, a reductionist “Jesus loves me and that’s all that matters” worldview is just as incapable of fuelling individual and social transformation. As a result, we end up with churches filled with young people whose theology doesn’t go much further than the latest “Jesus loves me” worship song. This is not only a denial of discipleship in which Jesus instructs us to teach “everything” (as in, you know, ‘everything’) but a recipe for a corny faith that is incapable of sustaining our youth as they grow and encounter challenges, disappointments and attacks against their faith. In light of this, I am not surprised when Barna Research reports one of the reasons why young people leave church is that “[t]eens’ and twentysomethings’ experience of Christianity is shallow.”[1]

Barna Research reports one of the reasons why young people leave church is that “[t]eens’ and twentysomethings’ experience of Christianity is shallow.”

So then, what solution is there? I propose two things. First, we need to develop a simpler, more relevant understanding of our own faith that is likewise profound. This can only be accomplished by revisiting our theological narrative with the goal of re-experiencing it and contextualising its depth and beauty to the questions and needs to modern generations. Second, our churches need to develop discipleship strategies where our members, youth and guests can grow deeper in their experience with God in a step by step fashion that includes theology, service and missional living.

To help with this journey, I have written three books for church leaders and members. The first one, “How to Study the Bible with Postmoderns” is free and will give you insight into living missionally in our secular society. The second is “Weirdvolution: Adventism for a Post-Church Generation”. This book explores Adventist theology in depth but also in simple language. The objective of this book is to help you redesign your personal faith and also your church’s culture from either doctrine or non-doctrine focused to a truly Jesus centred expression of faith that has explanatory and applicatory power in post-church culture. The third is titled “The Hole in Adventism: Making Total Sense of the Old & New Covenant”. This book also explores Adventist theology in depth with a focus on Jesus and how the tension between the Old and New Covenant can bring our churches a renewed passion for the story we have been called to tell the world.

Regardless of whether any of the above resources work for you or not, here is my invitation - don’t settle for a cheesy expression of faith when there is so much beauty we can rediscover and offer to our broken culture. Search for that beauty. Equip your young people to search for it as well. And lets work together to bring Christ to a culture increasingly isolated from the profound story of his love.

____

[1] Barna Group. “Teens’ and twentysomethings’ experience of Christianity is shallow,” [Web: https://www.barna.com/research/six-reasons-young-christians-leave-church/]


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How Political Should an Adventist Be?
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Should Adventists have anything to do with politics?

Or, should we just focus on the gospel and forget about politics altogether?

And if we do engage politics, how should we do it?

These and other questions are explored in this weeks new podcast episode interview with Andrews University Professor Nicolas Miller.

Listen and subscribe below!


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Top 5 Annoying Things Adventist Preachers Should Stop Doing
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Today I would like to get 5 Adventist preacher annoyances off my chest. My bias of course, is that my passion in ministry is secular people. And these are 5 major turn off’s that I see Adventist preachers do more often than I wish I did.

1) Speaking in Adventese. Annoyance number one is Adventist preachers who use conservative SDA jargon as though everyone knows what they are talking about. "Spirit of Prophecy, Remnant, Reformation, Pen of Inspiration etc." These words and terms have zero meaning to anyone who is not already an Adventist and some are even theologically suspect. Not going to get into all the specifics here, but my advice is watch your language. If you must use an insider term, explain it before hand. I recommend you do this even if you are 100% sure that everyone in the room is already Adventist. That way, not only do you develop the habit of talking like a normal person but you also destroy the habit of assuming everyone knows what you are talking about. The last thing you want is for your entire sermon to speak only to the people who already agree with you. That’s not a God-thing, ever.

2) My dear brethren… Annoyance number two is connected to number one, but slightly different. It’s preachers whose sentence structure, phraseology, prose and speech rhythms are identical to people from the 1800's. Its as if they have read so much Ellen White that they have lost their own contemporary speech patterns. Some basic examples are preachers who say things like, “My dear brethren” or, “Let us now turn to the Holy Scriptures.” These are mild examples, of course, because what I am really talking about is not just how a sermon or text is introduced but how an entire sermon is spoken (something that I can’t really reproduce here). But the basic rule of thumb is, pay attention to your sentence structures. If you sound like you could add a top hat and a monocle to your outfit then you need to seriously snap out of it. Other conservative Adventists won’t have a problem, but outside of that most people will find you disingenuous and potentially laughable.

3) Thou wouldn’t, wouldest thee? Point number three is also connected to 1 & 2 and its this: lay off the KJV will ya?

Disclaimer time: I'm have zero interest in a debate over which translation is best. So please, save yourself the effort of pasting that YouTube doco in the comments below. I won’t watch it. What I'm interested in is which language is best. And the best language, hands down, is the one that the people are using. So the moment I hear a preacher whip out the old KJV my immediate thought is, Who in the world is he preaching to?

I recently had a lady stop attending a Sabbath School class because she was from a foreign country, struggled with English to begin with, and had to put up with the class wanting to use the KJV. When I visited her she asked me, “Isn’t the point of learning the Bible to be able to share it with others?” She then read me a verse from the NKJV (a more modern version) and asked me, “What in the world does that even mean? How is this supposed to provide any meaning to my friends?”

I’d say this non-Adventist was spot on. And please, leave the "the KJV is grade school reading level" argument in the bin where it belongs. Grade school reading level for who? I can read philosophical PhD's with greater ease than the KJV (also, here’s an article that debunks that claim). The bottom line is the KJV is not easy to follow and as Christians we should aim to make the gospel as accessible as possible. It's Christ we are called to proclaim, not a bygone linguistic European era.

4) Stop touching my feels! Ladies and gentlemen, the 90’s are over and with them, the one preaching practice that we must - for the love of all that is good - retire, is the cheesy emotional ballad at the end of the sermon. Yes, it get’s people all “feelsy” and responsive, but that has more to do with how the pretty hymn on the piano manipulates emotion than with an authentic spiritual experience.

David Neff aptly referred to this emotional manipulation as “comin’-to-Jesus music” which, in his experience with an evangelist, consisted of “gradually increas[ing] the volume as he turned up the emotional pitch of his invitation.”[1] The downside of course, is what happens when the emotional high collapses and you find yourself in need of another one to feel “spiritual” again. This method was used all throughout my childhood with an addictive effect that had zero impact on our faith. In fact, I remember kids in my youth group leaving the sermon because they were bored, only to return just as the music kicked in (and then go to the front!). It’s not God they were responding to. It was the emotional experience that they craved.

Finally, the culture today is the most advertised to generation that has ever lived. Companies are constantly pulling their emotional strings to get a sale from them. As a result, this generation can spot a sales pitch a mile away. The cheesy song at the end of the sermon? Yeah, totally “salesy”. Don’t do it.

5) Stop “wowing” people. Finally, to all my fellow Adventist preachers, please for the sake of the church’s soul - stop preaching “wow” sermons. Young Adventist preachers are especially prone to this. They hear their favourite celebrity preacher making applications and biblical connections they have never seen before, and then they go to the Bible and try to do that same. In the end, they come up with all kinds of super interesting ideas that make the audience say “wow” but that have zero impact on a persons spiritual health. Don’t be that gal (or guy).

Instead, I leave you with the words of my biblical exegesis professor (which as a preacher you should totally study by the way) Martin Klingbeil. “Dont preach sermons that make people say ‘wow’. Preach sermons that change peoples lives.”

Wise words, Dr. Klingbeil.

So there you have it! My top 5 list of annoying things Adventist preachers should stop doing. I have others, but I’ll leave it at that. Share your own below!

_____

[1] https://www.christianitytoday.com/pastors/2018/february-web-exclusives/billy-grahams-altar-calls-were-more-than-moments-of-decisio.html

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How to Do Evangelism in a Post-Christian, Secular Society with Shelley Poole
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I am so incredibly excited I can’t contain myself!

This week, I am releasing an interview with artist and missional enthusiast Shelley Poole where we talk about evangelism in a post-Christian, secular society. This is one of the most fun interviews I have ever done! Not only is Shelley super engaging and knowledgeable but she also brings her experience as an artist in touch with the culture and its contemporary conversations.

Here are some of the things we talk about:

  • How far behind is the SDA church in the cultural conversation? And how can we catch up?

  • What are some things we commonly do as a church that turns the culture off? Let’s name them so we can learn from them!

  • What are some things we can do to adapt our evangelism to the current cultural milieu? Plus a whole lot more :D

If you are an Adventist member, pastor, administrator, president, evangelist, youth leader, or just about anyone remotely interested in reaching post-Christian society, you don’t want to miss this interview. Listen and subscribe below! (Also on iTunes and Spotify)

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Connect with Shelley

design@shelleypoole.com

twitter @shelley_poole


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5 Things I Love About Adventism
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One thing I do often (and by often I mean very often) is challenge the Seventh-day Adventist church - particularly in the West - to… well, to do better.

Whether I am calling our local church structures to be redesigned for mission, provoking our cultural quirks and questioning their utility, or disputing unhealthy theological frameworks that exist among us the message is fundamentally the same: we have to be better.

But this week, I decided I would pause the revolutionary broadcast to share 5 things I love about Adventism. So here goes:

  1. I love our theological trajectory. I could go on and on about this, but in short Adventism is a theological narrative that is not about Adventism and I love that. Instead, Adventism is a story about God, his heart and his love, centred and strung together in Jesus. But the best part about it is that our theological narrative is not set in stone but constantly unfolding and developing. Yes, there are those among us who would prefer a more stringent, creedal kind of Adventism but its just not in our DNA. As a result, we remain committed to scripture rather than a statement of beliefs. And that commitment, I believe, has enabled us to develop an understanding of the love of God no other theological system around can match. No, that’s not a very politically correct thing to say. But hey, I wouldn’t be an Adventist if I didn’t believe there was something eccentric about what we have to say.

  2. I love that we are Historicists. Historicism has been challenged for forever by people outside and inside of our church. Today, there is a whole new gang of voices repeating the century old attacks (with some new developments I must concur). And that’s fine, I mean, everyone is entitled to their own thing right? But for Adventism, Historicism is an apocalyptic interpretive method that has transcendent efficacy. Now, I don’t pretend that it’s a perfect method, that we have it all figured out, or that it can’t be misused (because it can and is). But Historicism provides us with a kind of sociological significance unmatched by alternative methods. For example, Historicism gives us a narrative that manifests the injustice of religio-political empire in a way that is not immediately self evident. This gives us a foundation to diverge from the collective pursuit of utopianism and the ever trending move toward social reform via church-state legislation. Instead, Historicism calls us to a kind of theological and ideological remonstrance on the one hand, and social preparation (as opposed to reformation) on the other. This approach is rooted in our view of human empire, which even when united with God’s kingdom ultimately self destructs as Daniel and Revelation so aptly reveal. It is also rooted in the denial of a coming golden age for humanity. Instead, Adventists see a coming catastrophe that cannot be averted by political manoeuvres. Our mission is therefore, to prepare the world for this climactic zero-hour in which the only righteous Kingdom will abdicate the throne of humanities global res publica. Sadly, other common interpretive methods of Daniel and Revelation point in the opposite direction by envisioning a coming era of righteous human dominion which in turn leads to political power grabbing in the name of righteousness. This, Adventists believe, is the precursor to a manifestation of religious intolerance and injustice of apocalyptic proportions.

    In addition, Historicism is the only prophetic interpretive method that unveils God in action throughout the entirety of human time. Even during the Dark Ages where it appears God took a vacation (as Morgan Freeman put it in the movie “Bruce Almighty”), Adventisms apocalyptic consciousness helps us understand his presence and movement even in the darkest pages of the church’s sordid story, including the chapters yet to unfold. It’s also cool that we are the only Historicist denomination left. Some people see that as a sign that we are the only idiots left in Christendom. I see it as a sign that we are the only anti-conformists left. Of course, at the end of the day my love for Historicism is rooted in the text and not in whether I think its neat or not, but explaining that will take more space than I allotted for this short post, so I’ll move on.

  3. I love our global structure. Despite all the challenges created by having an intercontinental and cross-cultural institution I honestly can’t think of anything better. Now some of my more post-modern, anti-institutionalist friends find this appalling. They wonder how someone as forward thinking as me can be so fond of our global structure. After all, all those super cool non-denom churches are as neat as they are because they keep all the tithe in house. Why can’t we do the same? My answer revolves around the pragmatic idea that while cynical anti-institutionalism has some value it falls flat when it comes to the practical needs of a global mission. The fact is, Adventism has a message that must go to the entire world. If you believe that, then you need an institution to facilitate that mission. Those who reject the institution are often only interested in reaching their immediate, local region. But Adventism doesn’t have a regional message, it has a global one - for every person on earth. So the bottom line is, we need a global structure. Now of course, I applaud the voices that say the institution needs reform. It definitely does! But that doesn’t mean we should abandon it. The fact remains that if we have a global message, we need a global presence and the level of organisation needed for that sort of thing demands an institution. And because I accept the premise that we have a global message, then I embrace our global structure as a needed tool to that end.

  4. I love our health message. Yeah, there’s always the annoying people who are like super gung-ho and fanatical and no one likes them. I get that. Even non-Christian vegan hippies have their weirdos who will chop your head off for daring to eat your sweet potato quinoa salad in a plastic container (HOW DARE YOU??). But despite this wacko-reality, the health message is one of the coolest things about Adventism. It’s rooted in the idea that human beings are holistic creatures whose spiritual, emotional and physical nature is intertwined like the rhythm, melody and harmony of a musical composition. When they flow well together, something beautiful happens both at the individual and collective level. Even other denominations have started to pick up on the value of a holistic approach to the human as opposed to the dualist approach that has governed classical theology and given birth not only to generations of Christians with little care for physical well being, but also to doctrines like eternal torment that have driven scepticism to the heights of influence it enjoys today.

  5. I love our potentiality. Because of Adventisms theological trajectory, its apocalyptic consciousness, global structure and holistic view of man I believe its future potential is beyond anything we have yet imagined. While our beliefs exist outside our church, they do so sporadically - here, there and everywhere. But in Adventism, each of these elements coalesce to form a movement and a story unheard of in the world. And the moment that we lock into that, get excited about it and refuse to allow tradition, fundamentalism and narcissism to get in the way of it that is the moment that we will sweep the world with something grand. Our potential is overwhelmingly exciting and I pray and hope for the day it is unveiled for the world to see.

What are some things you love about Adventism? Share your thoughts below!

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Dear Adventism, It's Time We Repented Of Our Dry & Cheesy Theology
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Note: The following article is an edited sermon manuscript. You can hear the audio sermon here.

Jesus said, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32)

This verse once spoke to me and also confused me. It spoke to me because I needed freedom. Freedom from my addictions. Freedom from the seemingly endless cycle of sin, feel bad, repent, feel fine, hit rewind and replay. And it confused me because, as far as I was concerned I knew the truth. But I still wasn’t free!

I had grown up an Adventist. I had been through Sabbath School, Pathfinders, and baptismal classes. I only listened to Christian music and went to church religiously every weekend. I would even go to the local Christian book store and get some extra stuff to read. Truth was something I had in abundance.

But I wasn’t free.

Turns out, I didn’t understand Jesus’ words in John 8:32 at all. Because when Jesus spoke about truth he was talking about something quite different from what I was thinking of. But before I tell you what that is, I want to back up a bit and introduce the rest of this blog with the following statement:

All of scripture is a revelation of God’s heart.

What does this have to do with John 8:32 and truth setting us free?

Let’s find out.

THE ESSENCE OF SCRIPTURE

The foundation and essence of the Biblical narrative is to unveil, step by step, a deeper and richer picture of who God is and what he is like. And this reality is expressed through all of scripture. Not just John or Galatians or the Psalms - all of scripture is an unfolding and uncovering of the mystery that is the love of God.

Another way to put it is like this: The entire Bible is gospel.

The foundation and essence of the Biblical narrative is to unveil, step by step, a deeper and richer picture of who God is and what he is like.

Not just Matthew, Romans or Colossians. All of scripture is good news. Its there in Genesis, in Leviticus, in Isaiah and Ezra. The gospel doesn’t begin in the New Testament, and its not confined to the epistles. To the contrary, the gospel begins in Genesis and unravels itself through poetry, history and prophecy all the way through to Revelation.

What this means is that the entire narrative of scripture, from beginning to end, is about the love of God. His love is the essence, the theme, and the fullness of what the Bible is. And every doctrine that exists, does not exist independently of this love, but rather as a magnifier of it.

Picture it like this. Imagine the shape of a heart on a table surrounded by diverse magnifying glasses. As you approach the table, each magnifying glass enables you to zoom in on the heart in different ways. The main point of the whole experience is that heart. It is the hero of the story. But the magnifying glasses are there, not to take the attention, but to help you get a deeper look at the heart.

 
 

This is how the Bible is meant to be experienced. It’s not the love of God here and the doctrines there. Instead, the love of God is the centre of the entire experience and the doctrines are there to magnify that love in ways unimaginable to the human heart. If you think you have God’s love figured out, place it under the magnifying glass of the doctrine of baptism and you will walk away a totally new person, or the Sabbath, the Judgement, the Sanctuary etc. Each of these doctrines take us deep into God’s love and transform us.

DRY THEOLOGY

My biggest mistake when it came to this whole, “truth will set you free thing” is that I missed the essence of what truth was. Truth, in my mind, was a series of loosely connected doctrinal ideas. I understood the Sabbath and could defend it. I understood the judgement as well. And the sanctuary. But what I missed was how each of these doctrines came together to tell one perfectly tethered story that both discloses the heart of God and immerses the reader in it’s intensity.

In short, I had a bunch of magnifying glasses with nothing to look at. As a result, none of my doctrinal knowledge really led me anywhere. They were facts, but they were not truth in the fullest sense of the word. Although I understood them, they did not lead me to the place of freedom.

You ask, how so Marcos? Let’s look at Jesus’ words again. In John 8:32 he says, “you will know the truth and the truth will set you free”. But go down a few verses to verse 36. What does he say there? “Whom the son sets free will be free indeed.”

Jesus equates the truth that sets us free with himself. The truth that delivers us is not merely right theology or right doctrine. All that does it make you smarter. But if you want to be set free from your fears, insecurities and weaknesses then your doctrine has to lead you to Jesus. It has to lead you to God’s heart. Because true freedom only takes place in the presence of God.

Unfortunately, what happens is some people focus on the doctrines as though they are the main point of everything. This is what I did. It’s not that God’s love was ignored but rather, I treated it as a separate doctrine. God’s love and gospel are here and his law and church and end time events are over there. In this view, what I ended up with was a table full of magnifying glasses with nothing to look at. So I became obsessed with the magnifying glasses themselves and then wondered, “Why am I not experiencing freedom if I know the truth? Why isn’t Jesus’ promise working for me?”

In time, God showed me that the magnifying glasses are not designed to be looked at, they are designed to be looked through. And that’s how doctrine functions in the Bible. Doctrine is not something we look at, its something we look through. But when you remove the love of God, there is nothing to look at through the doctrines, so the doctrines, not God’s love, become ends to themselves that lead you nowhere. This results in dry theology.

 
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CHEESY THEOLOGY

On the flip side, there are those who say, “Forget doctrine! Its not important. The only thing that matters is the love of God!” Usually, they are reacting to Dry Theology which is understandable. I too went through this experience where, in my desire to taste the love of God I abandoned doctrine and treated it as the unwanted step-child of the Bible. But the downside is I ended up with a Cheesy Theology that was just as powerless to set me free.

In fact, lots of churches do this. And its sad. Its sad because while you feel a sense of self-righteousness in not being like those “dry people over there obsessed with doctrine,” you unavoidably nurture a shallow, irrelevant theology. In this model, doctrine is proudly ignored and we harp on about the love of God week after week. But the problem is we never dig into that love deep enough to discover what it has to say to the gut wrenching existential inquiries of humanity. This theology may be comfortable and marketable, but it is powerless before the atheist, the political ideologue and the sibylline like wanderer who wants to believe in God but can’t find a single Christian capable of answering his questions in any remotely compelling way.

 
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The only way to avoid dry theology on one end, and cheesy theology on the other is to embrace the tension between doctrine and love. That tension doesn’t really exist, but I find it necessary to codify it and speak of it in these terms because most of us treat them as antithetical to one another. And yet, read properly, the Bible is a progressive unveiling of the heart of God that transforms the reader. And that unveiling takes place in the harmonious dance between the overarching theme of God’s love, and the intentional presence of doctrinal magnifying glasses that give us greater, more colourful and more relevant glimpses into the bottomless ocean of his grace.

And it’s when those two are in harmony - God’s love as the central theme and doctrine as its continual magnifier - that we discover the life changing and freedom spawning nature of the Bible. In this dance we can encounter and communicate a truly relevant theology.

Why Does this Matter?

Once I discovered this, I realised once and for all why I wasn’t experiencing the freedom Jesus spoke of. It’s because I wasn’t experiencing truth. Truth and Jesus are one and the same. The Bible offers eternal life only because it offers him (John 5:39). You can understand all the doctrine you want, but if doctrine is merely something you are looking at and not something you are looking through - a portal into the presence of God - then you will never experience freedom, plain and simple. But once doctrine claims its rightful place as a microscope into the depths of God’s heart and you spend each day exploring those depths, your heart will begin to change.

But why does any of this matter? There are three answers to that question. The first is that the battle between good and evil is fundamentally rooted in the the person-hood of God. Satan spreads lies about him while God reveals truth about himself. Thus, at the end of the day, this lie-versus-truth conflict is a conflict over who God is and what he is like. And the only way to get an accurate picture that breaks the spell of Satan’s anti-God propaganda is to discover the love of God through the Biblical narrative, complete with the doctrinal magnifying glasses it provides.

In short, read your Bible! But more. If Satan cannot keep you from the Bible he will warp the way you read it. The cheesy model is one way he warps our ability to grasp the beauty of God’s character. The dry model is the other (which Adventists, I’m so sorry, tend to be most fond of.) Therefore, read your Bible but do it with a simple twofold approach. The first, to discover the heart of God in everything you read. The second, to read everything!

Read your Bible but do it with a simple twofold approach. The first, to discover the heart of God in everything you read. The second, to read everything!

The second reason why it matters is because we become like what or whom we worship. If the God we worship is strict, stoic and controlling we will become that kind of people. So Satan doesn’t really care if you go to church and read your Bible, so long as he can keep you chained to his lies about God’s character. And as you worship this god - this false god of approval, this false god who sits in heaven looking desperately for an excuse to keep you out, this false god who demands perfection of you on the threat of eternal damnation - then you progressively become like that god. Your character begins to reflect the insecurity, judgmentalism, criticism and stoicism that the god you worship exemplifies. In this sense, Satan’s lies about God have a double effect. First, they damage Gods character. And second, they damage ours. As we behold this false deity, our characters are shaped into its false image.

For those who doubt this, let me ask. Were the medieval crusaders just a bunch of blood thirsty sociopaths? Or did they worship a god whom, to a large degree, influenced their behaviour? What about the church in the Southern States - the one filled with members in good and regular standing who read their Bibles every morning and sung hymns every evening while wielding a whip on the bare backs of the slaves they purchased at the local human trafficking market? What of the faithful Christians who surrounded the steaks where men where burned alive for holding a difference of opinion? Were they stupid? Cruel? Yes, undoubtedly. But more, their actions were approved and sanctioned by the imperial god they worshipped. By beholding they became changed.

The third reason why it matters is the most shocking yet. Some of us may be thinking right about now, “Pastor, I would never participate in something like that.” Who knows? Maybe you are right. Maybe you are too squeamish. But regardless of whether you would ever do anything like the above, consider this. Jesus predicts a time in the end in which neighbours and families will betray one another. Daniel and Revelation reveal a time in which the economic cushion that keeps society sane will be removed and the survival instinct—violent and cruel as it is—will take over.

How are we to prepare for this?

The answer is simple. “If you continue in My word, you are truly My disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free… if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:31-32, 36)

How are we to prepare for this?

The book of Revelation reveals that there was a war in heaven (Revelation 12:7) followed by the displacement of Satan and his angels (Revelation 12:12, Luke 10:18). After the fall of man (Genesis 3), God formed a nation (Israel) to be his special people, set apart for him to reveal his beauty to the surrounding nations. But Satan’s war against God was not over. He “rose up against Israel” (1 Chronicles 21:1) and led it astray. By the time Jesus came, his own people didn’t recognise him. But from those who did, he gave birth to a new people, the church. And yet, the church too was corrupted. Shortly after the apostles died, the church became a religio-political Roman power. It manipulated, coerced and murdered dissenters. It suppressed the truth of God’s heart for over a thousand years until a protest erupted which gave birth to a new movement seeking to return to the narrative of scripture (the protestants). But it was only a matter of time before the protestants themselves began reflecting a false picture of God. They persecuted, coerced and killed emerging protestants for diversity of thought just as the medieval church had done. (ex: The Anabaptist’s whom early protestants and Catholics tortured and drowned for daring to suggest baptism was by full immersion and not by sprinkling[1]).

And in case you are an Adventist and find yourself tempted with the thought, “not us!” Think again. Everywhere I go I meet wonderful Seventh-day Adventists who are stuck in the mire of legalism, unsure about their own salvation. The difficult God they worship, reflected in their own difficult characters. Our churches are dying - our monotonous worship merely a reflection of our mechanical God. Our youth are leaving. Our leaders are ageing. Our church is hardly known by anyone outside our walls. I have seen broken people driven out of our churches, gossip and slander our primary weapons of choice as we dig our trenches in never-ending battle between liberals and conservatives. In our history, we have promulgated lies about God just as much as the very religious institutions we were raised to protest. We are just as prone to being used by him as was Israel of old and the church of history. Satan’s war against truth is alive and active amongst us.

What this means is that our safety cannot rest in some label like, “Adventist”. Our only safety is in Jesus. The Bible must become to us a telescope into the character of God.

So there are three reasons why a true understanding of God’s character is so important. First, because it is the foundation of the war between good and evil. Second, because we become like the god we worship. And third, because the Bible predicts a crisis at the end of time in which your picture of God will be one of the primary determiners in how you treat others.

But there is a fourth.

In the book Christ Object Lessons, Ellen White tells us something else about the end of time. She writes:

The last rays of merciful light, the last message of mercy to be given to the world, is a revelation of His character of love.
— EG White, Christ’s Object Lessons

Not only is the war between good and evil a war over God’s heart. Not only do we become like the god we worship. Not only does Revelation envision a final conflict in which professing Christians will act out the very cruelty they believe God himself demands of them, but in the midst of all this drama we are told that God, in his final act of mercy - a mercy tried and worn through thousands of years of sin, apostasy and rebellion, a mercy strained by injustice and exhausted by the murder of the innocents, a mercy strangled by human selfishness, the oppression of the weak and the exploitation of the fragile - that very mercy God will extend as he showers the earth with the truth about his character of love for the last time.

He will call out to wandering humanity, to the heart of a moribund race once more and ask, “What fault did your fathers find in me that they strayed so far from me?” “My people, what have I done to you? Testify against Me how I have wearied you!” (Jeremiah 2:5, Micah 6:3). “Oh taste and see that the Lord is good.” (Psalm 34:8)

God’s heart is the final message to the world.

He has called us to be a part of that revelation.

So dear Adventism. Its time we repented of our dry and cheesy theology and recognise that all of scripture is a revelation of God’s heart. In every prophecy and poem, in every letter and biography and in every record and parable. God’s heart is the central theme.

And somehow, as we find ourselves immersed in the beauty of who he is, not only will we find freedom from our fears, insecurities, addictions and wounds but the world will begin to see him in us.

The old British preacher Alan Redpath said it best.

He will transform you into His likeness. You do the beholding–He does the transforming.
— Alan Redpath

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[1] Woods, Mark. “Burned at the stake, racked and drowned: Why did everyone hate the Anabaptists?”, [Web: https://www.christiantoday.com/article/burned-at-the-stake-racked-and-drowned-why-did-everyone-hate-the-anabaptists/81608.htm]

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LGBT, Pop-Culture & Other Questions with Pastor Marcos
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2019 is here!

And I want to launch off with a brand new podcast episode where I answer your questions!

Just before 2018 ended, I posted a request for questions on social media and got overwhelmed with the amount that came through. It was awesome!

So for our first ep. this year, I will be answering those very questions. Here are just a few:

  1. How do Christians rid themselves of the mentality that they are better than others?

  2. How do we reach LGBT youth?

  3. How can millennials reach other millennials in or through evangelism without getting involved in pop culture?

Click below to listen in! (And don’t forget to subscribe).


What Adventists Get Wrong About Truth
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There is something Adventists get totally wrong about truth.

But before I tell you what it is, I want to lay the foundation.

The word appears 99 times in the New Testament. A few times here and a few times there. But there is one author that is obsessed with the word truth. Matthew mentions the word once, Mark twice, Luke four times and John? Yeah… he mentions it 22 times.

22! That’s a lot by comparison.

So what does this have to do with what Adventists get wrong about truth? Keep reading. It will all come together soon.

The first time John uses the word truth in his book. It reads:

And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.
— John 1:14

John says “we saw his glory”. Now John is making a play on words here. He is going back to Moses where God tells him “I will show you my glory, but only a glimpse of my backside because no one can see my face and live.” Well here is God now, John declares, dwelling among us in tangible human flesh and guess what? We saw him. We saw his glory.

But John goes further than that. In 1 John 1:1 he adds, “What was from the beginning (Jesus), what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands...”

We didn’t just see him. We touched him.

Now this is strange. It’s strange because John is obsessed with truth and yet his picture of truth is quite different from what many of us imagine. According to John, truth is not a list of ideas, ideological constructs or abstract philosophies. Truth, John says, is something you can see and something you can touch.

Correction. Truth, John says, is someone you can see and someone you can touch.

So I ask again, what is truth? And what do Adventists get wrong about it?

We live in a culture today that no longer values truth. But before I explore that, allow me to briefly describe the three main ways human beings have historically related to the concept of truth.

Pre-Modernism

The first is what some refer to as the pre-modern conception of truth. I visited a lady one time in New Jersey. She was an alcoholic. A lot of problems in her life. She was not a church goer. She was not a Bible reader. She was not a Christian at all. And as soon as I told her I was a pastor she gave me this look and said, “I just got chills running through my body”. And what she meant was, “Oh my goodness I can’t believe I am in the presence of a man of God.”

We talked about God and the Bible and she was super receptive even though she was not a believer. This lady falls into the category that we call pre-modern. Even though she is not a believer, she assumes that truth is real and that the main source of truth is God and his word. This used to be the dominant way in the west. The priest, the pastor, the preacher - they have truth.

Modernism

But with the influence of the enlightenment and the scientific revolution the world began to change. It moved from the pre-modern era into the modern era. People now believed that truth is real but it’s not the Bible or the preacher that has it. Its the laboratory and scientist. And the advancement of science promised to bring about a new Utopian era. But then science gave us the atomic bomb and the bloodiest century in history. And so the culture lost its faith in science.

Post-Modernism

There then emerged what is known as the post-modern era. The era we currently live in. And the post-modern era can be summarised like this: the church promised us truth and brought us war and horror. Science promised us truth and brought us more war and horror. Therefore, the conclusion is that there is no such thing as truth. Truth does not exist.

Truth does not exist.

Now this is the cultural milieu that we find ourselves in. People no longer assume the Bible is trust-worthy, or the church, or even the scientist. There is no such thing as truth. The best we can do is live as honestly as possible and create our own individual reality. And if you tell me that your reality is more true than my reality then that is offensive because there is no such thing as an absolutely true reality that applies to everyone.

Now this is a problem for us Adventists because we love truth. So how can we communicate the truth that we love to a culture that denies the very existence of truth?

I believe it’s not some fanciful or new theory that we need. Rather, I believe that the answer is ancient. It’s found in John’s conception of what truth actually is. So let’s go back to John.

And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.

John describes Jesus as full of truth. But notice the pattern here. Jesus was not a philosopher. He was not an academic. And he was not a lecturer. Jesus was full of truth, John says, but instead of predicating this declaration on Jesus’ supposed ideological constructs, John predicates it on Jesus’ presence. In other words, the evidence for Jesus being full of truth is not his PhD, it’s his dwelling with us. And if that isn’t enough, John quotes Jesus in John 14:6 saying, “I am the way, the truth…”

We saw him. We touched him. He was full of truth. But more, he is the truth.

Now this is challenging on so many levels. It challenges the post-modern by declaring that there is such a thing as absolute truth. But it does it in a very interesting way that challenges the church as well. I tried really hard to find the right way to express what truth is according to John and here is the best I could do:

Truth is not merely academic, Truth is personal. Truth is not merely ideological, Truth is dynamic. Truth is not merely information, Truth is friendship. Truth is not mere facts, Truth is acts of kindness. Truth is not an it, Truth is a him. A baby boy is born in a stable because truth is not in ivory towers. Truth is flesh and bone.

And that baby boy grows up. He is full of truth and he is truth. And the truth befriends drunkards. And the truth eats meals with thieves and prostitutes. And the truth blesses little children. And the truth washes feet like a servant. And the truth comforts widows and orphans, social outcasts and failures. Because the truth is not an it. The truth is a He.

Today, the culture doesn't trust the church because the church claims that it has the truth, but does not live the truth. It preaches of God’s love but does not love its neighbourhood. It proclaims Gods justice but does not defend the weak and the poor. It sings about the bread of life, but it doesn't feed the hungry. It celebrates the living water, but it does not alleviate humanities thirst.

Sometimes people will tell me, “Marcos all this meeting people’s needs and nurturing friendship and community is not important. The truth is all that matters.” And I feel my heart break just a little. It breaks because these are sincere people who say this. People who love the truth. But people who, in all their love for truth still don’t know what truth truly is. If truth was merely information then yes, forget the greeters, forget community and friendship, forget social events. Let’s just make a plan to ambush our neighbours with as much information as possible. But if truth is more than information. If truth is a verb not just a noun, if truth is a person, not just a thing, if truth is relationship not just a textbook then we need to do more than just communicate information. And when we love one another, when we care for one another, when we serve one another we are proclaiming truth.

St. Francis of Assisi once said,

Preach the gospel, and if necessary use words.
— St. Francis of Assisi

This is what Adventists get wrong about truth. We treat truth like data when in reality, it is a person. We communicate truth in doctrinal statements when in reality, it is most powerfully communicated in acts of love. All of a sudden we have to rethink evangelism. It’s not just Adventists shoving information into people’s skulls. Its Adventists serving, and caring and incarnating with others. Because when you love someone, when you smile at someone, when you care for someone you proclaim truth. Because truth is relational. Which is why God didn’t just send a lecturer from heaven. He sent a friend of sinners. A person. Not a thing. A relationship. Not a manuscript.

In that manger that we celebrate on Christmas lays a baby boy, and he is truth. And that baby boy grew to be a man who declared I am the truth. And because of that declaration his enemies conspired for his death. Hours before his crucifixion, this Jesus stands before the most powerful man in his region. Pontius Pilate.  And Pilate wants to know, what kind of King is this Jesus? So he asks him, you are a king? And Jesus replies,

You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.
— John 18:38

In other words Pilate, I am a king. Not a political king. Not a military king. A truth king. I am a king who has come into the world to proclaim truth. But then he adds, “everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.” Why? Because you cannot separate truth and Jesus. They are one and the same - intertwined so tightly that to claim truth and reject Jesus is to believe a lie.

If you preach the Sabbath without Jesus, its not truth. If you preach Daniel and Revelation without Jesus, its not truth. If you preach any of the doctrinal statements of scripture without Jesus call it anything you want, just don’t call it truth. Truth is found in the person of Jesus. And when he said, “whoever is of the truth hears my voice” he was reaffirming that truth is more than multiple choice answers in an exam. Truth is Jesus.

Pilate missed the point.

Verse 38: Pilate answered him, “What is truth?”

And then he left.

Pilate missed it. He missed the point. The religious people missed it too. Will we?

Ellen White once wrote these words,

If we would humble ourselves before God, and be kind and courteous and tender-hearted and pitiful, there would be one hundred conversions to the truth where now there is only one.
— Ellen White, 9T p. 189

Why? Why would there be 100 conversions to the truth where there is now only one? Are we not now proclaiming the doctrines? Are we not teaching the true theology? Yes. But it’s not enough. Truth is more than right belief, it is right action. And when we live out the truth in kindness and courtesy it draws the world to Christ. Because truth is not just what you preach, truth is a helping hand, a gentle touch, a needed hug. Ellen goes on,

Why do we not live in constant communion with Him, so that in our connection with one another we can speak and act kindly and courteously? Why do we not honour the Lord by manifesting tenderness and love for one another? If we speak and act in harmony with the principles of heaven, unbelievers will be drawn to Christ by their association with us.
— Ellen White, 9T p. 190

What is truth?

It is more than a list of ideas. Truth is a person. And today he declares, “by this will all men know that you are my disciples. If you love one another.” Not “if you preach the Sabbath” - although the Sabbath is true. Not “if you publish studies on the sanctuary” although that is also true. But by this will all men know - if you love one another.

As you look forward to a Christmas season and a new year, I want to invite you to proclaim truth. Not just information but kindness, acts of love and a warm spirit. Because it is that act of incarnation - that doing of life with others - that truth is most effectively proclaimed to a post-modern world.

It's Time to Burn Adventism with Josh & Jesse (Burn the Haystack)
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Have you ever looked at the message of Adventism and thought - man this is beautiful - only to be turned off by the culture and tradition that surrounds the message?

Me too.

So I have concluded that its time to put Adventism to the flame… and burn it.

Fire, in scripture, has a disinfecting role to it. It destroys yes, but it also cleans. And I believe that as a church we are in need of a disinfecting fire. An experience that can kill the parts of us that damage our missional capacity and leave us with a simple, uncluttered faith capable of fulfilling the call God has placed on us.

And it is in that sense that I say, its time to burn Adventism.

Burn the negative attitudes.

Burn the legalism.

Burn the often idolatrous commitment to traditions.

And may all that remains be a story of God’s heart that invades the culture.

That is what this weeks podcast interview is all about! I sat down with the hosts of Adventist podcast “Burn the Haystack” and we discussed:

What is it in Adventism that needs to burn?

What is it that needs to stay?

And what does the end result look like?

Join us for this weeks featured podcast as we discuss these hot questions on our journey toward an Adventism that is less about us and more about Jesus.


Why We Need to Change Our Message, Not Just Our Method
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I’m sure you have heard the following saying a thousand times: “Change the method, not the message.”

The phrase simply means that there are things as Christians that we can’t change - like the message of the Bible - and things we can change - like how we deliver that message. While the message itself is timeless and changeless, the way we deliver that message shifts and evolves over time.[1]

The problem church leaders often encounter is that, when attempting to change the method they get accused of trying to change the message. For some reason, some people see any deviation in method as a step toward apostasy. In a recent article, I suggested having churches that gather at a different hour on Sabbath besides 11 AM. As you can imagine, some folk accused me of trying to change our theology of Sabbath even though I never suggested such a thing. In my defence I appealed to the “change the method not the message” phrase as I have done countless times in the past.

And to be honest. I do still believe that this is the way to go. However, in recent months I have begun to rethink this idea and am now approaching it with more nuance. While I believe the message of the Bible is timeless and changeless there is a sense in which I think we need to change our message.

At this point, some of you may be horribly confused and possibly even alarmed. If that’s the case, relax. I don’t have any tantalising heresies to bring to the table today. Just keep reading.

During the past month I have noticed something during my social media binge sessions. Many of the Adventist pages that I follow have been consistently publishing this message:

“The seventh day is the Sabbath, not Sunday.”

 

 

Now of course, I agree. It was true yesterday, it is true today and it will be true tomorrow. But here is what troubles me - this message, true as it may be, is utterly meaningless in today’s post-Christian culture.

When Adventists first proclaimed the Sabbath message the majority of our listeners where mostly Protestants with a very high regard for scripture and the Ten Commandments. As a result, many already kept the first day (Sunday) as Sabbath. The message that the Biblical Sabbath was not on the first day but on the seventh and rooted in a continued protest of Papal oppression had value. Our listeners, most of who (once again) were already Sabbath keepers, found relevance in it because it spoke to an active part of their already active faith life.

We live in an increasingly post-Christian society.

However, we no longer live in a wold where the vast majority of people are Christian. Instead, we live in an increasingly post-Christian society which means no one gives two hoots about whether the Sabbath is on Sunday or Saturday. The entire conversation, to them, is a non-issue at best and a colossal waste of time at worst. While the “Sabbath is on Saturday” message may have had meaning to a culture that already kept some form of Sabbath, it is meaningless to a culture that never even heard of Sabbath. The vast majority of our post-Christian society has never even set foot inside a church or opened a Bible. In fact, many of them don’t even know what a pastor is.

So when I see present day Adventists constantly pushing this message of “Sabbath is Saturday not Sunday” my immediate question is - who are you talking to?[2] Is it our increasingly secular society? Because if it is, they have no idea what you are talking about. Is it to the emerging post-truth, post-church meta-modern generations? Because if it is, they hardly know who Jesus is (apart from a swear word) let alone what day the Sabbath is.

See here’s the real problem. There are too many Adventists that have zero contact with anyone outside of Adventism. We talk to ourselves about ourselves until we are full of ourselves and the whole time we have no idea what people out there are really, truly in need of. We need to change our message because what we are saying isn’t connecting at all.

Now of course, I am not suggesting we pull an emergent church relativist spin on the Bible and completely alter the narrative of scripture to placate post-modern sensibilities. What I am saying is that the message we proclaim must come from the Bible but must also be meaningful to the people who hear it. Sadly, most of the topics I have heard Adventists get all riled up over (change of Sabbath, secret rapture, speaking in tongues, human nature of Christ) are things few outside our faith community have any interest in. So while the message of the Bible is changeless, the parts of that message that we emphasise need to be relevant to our listeners or else… they ain’t listening.

Don’t believe me? Let’s just look to Jesus for a moment. Christians love preaching the gospel using the phrase “you must be born again”. It leads all our gospel presentations. But do you realise Jesus only ever used that phrase once and never again? He spoke it to a Jew who believed his natural birth as a descendant of Abraham qualified him for heaven. Jesus message to him was, “you must be born again.” (John 3) But when Jesus spoke to the woman at the well, he didn’t use the born again language. Instead he told her that he was the living water and whoever drank of him would never thirst again. (John 4) Then, in the very next chapter he tells the healed paralytic to “stop sinning or something worse may happen to you” and to the pharisees “you refuse to come to me to have life”. (John 5) In other words, he preached the same message, but it was also a different message. The foundation was the same, but the emphasis was different. To one he emphasised rebirth to another he emphasised satisfaction, to another he gave a warning and to another he presented himself as the true source of life. We see this same pattern of preaching the same foundational message in diverse ways throughout the Bible. Salvation is presented as adoption in one place, as reconciliation in another, as forgiveness (using the picture of debt and debtor), Jesus as the unknown God, and yet again, Jesus as a recapitulation from first Adam to second Adam.

So here is my point. The narrative of scripture is changeless. But the message we extrapolate from it and present to the culture has to change over time the same as our method. Today, the world still needs to hear about the Sabbath but it needs to be presented from a different Biblical angle to what our pioneers found meaningful. I have found that presenting the Sabbath in terms of anti-consumerism, social justice and equality (as some examples) connects much more effectively. I have yet to share the Sabbath with a secular person who then turns around and asks what day its on. They see it in the Bible. They like it. They move on. The argument over the day is utterly meaningless to them.

Now to be clear, this article is not about how we should present the Sabbath. Please don’t get hung up on that. I only used the Sabbath to illustrate the larger point that its not just our method that needs to adapt to diverse times and cultures but our message as well. While the foundation of what we believe and teach will never and must never change, as our understanding grows, as God reveals more, as language evolves, and as time and cultural trends shift we must be prepared to adapt our message as well in order to speak present truth into the hearts and minds of our listeners in a way that will capture the attention and lead them to Jesus.

To wrap things up, here are some basic examples of how I preach the same foundational message while preaching a different message at the same time.

Sabbath: When speaking to post-Christians, I present it in the frame work of the Old Testament minor prophets emphasis on social justice and on the overall theme of God’s desire to be with us. The increasing popularity of holistic lifestyles also makes for a simple inroad to discuss the Sabbath. Basically, if you approach the Sabbath religiously you have lost them. If you approach it relationally, you have an audience.

The Pre-Advent Judgement: The book of Daniel has an overarching theme that is very anti-empire, a sentiment many millennials gel with. The Investigative Judgement culminates as the beginning of the end of human empires (including the institution of the church), oppression, coercion and injustice.

The Gospel: The idea that in Jesus all our sins can be forgiven and we get a free ticket to heaven doesn’t connect with post-Christians whose high regard for justice goes unsatisfied. In addition, this generation has witnessed a church culture that sings cheesy songs about how forgiven it is while simultaneously mishandling (at best) and perpetuating (at worst) abuse, rape, male dominance and mistreatment of the LGBT community. Therefore, this culture is less interested in how forgiven they can get to squeeze into heaven. They want to know that God’s justice is just. As a result, I present the gospel as a dynamic, progressive restoration to creations original love design rather than a “I’m so bad but Jesus is so good he gives me a free ride to heaven” narrative that they find repulsive. This does not mean I deny the beauty and truth of justification by faith which is the foundation of Christian faith, but I am careful to present it in a more holistic way.

End Time Events: For Adventists, end time events tend to revolve around the Pope and that’s basically it. I still believe this. But for the culture today, the Pope is a foreign figure. While Luther lived in a society that was perpetually conscious of the church and its influence over conscience, politics, law and existential inquires today the culture is by and large unconscious of the Roman Church. As a result, I begin with the 1260 days and describe the oppression of empire, including the church as a violation of human rights. From there, I progress into Revelation under the same theme of injustice and present the Roman Church as playing a role, among all other oppressive empire systems, in what will be the greatest humanitarian crisis the world has ever seen - a universal regime of oppression at war with God’s kingdom. I also present the remnant church theme as a rebellious, underground movement of anti-conformists who protest in favour of God’s kingdom of love, equity and justice.[3]

State of the Dead: This is one doctrine that hasn’t required an awful lot of rethinking. That is because millennials and post-millennials tend to have a high interest in supernatural, metaphysical themes (see the book Meet Generation Z). The popularity of New Age, mystical and eastern ideologies means that questions over the human soul are still very relevant. However, because this study touches on the original holistic design for human consciousness I also find it opens the door to conversation on how God relates to gay marriage, transgender rights and gender fluidity.

While there are more examples, I think I have made my point pretty clear. It’s not just our method that needs to change. It’s our message as well. Not its foundation but certainly its contemporary proclamation. And all of us can do this. All it takes is stepping out of our SDA bubble and becoming students of, and friends with, the culture. As we engage in conversation and pour into understanding their value structures we will be more capable of presenting a message that meets their interest instead of parroting stuff people stopped caring about a long time ago.


[1] Biblical examples of method shift are clear. Paul, for example, spends a whole chapter in Acts laying the theological foundation for why circumcision is no longer necessary and then in the very next chapter, he has Timothy circumcised before going to see the Jews. Likewise, when speaking to Jews Paul makes ample use of Old Testament history while, when speaking to the Greeks he utilises a combination of a simple gospel message and their own poetry and religious practices. The tension over adapting method, while quite apparent in scripture has been contentious in post-reformation Christian history. For example, John Wesley was criticised immensely for preaching outdoors instead of in a church despite the numerous examples of Jesus doing so.

[2] Adventists who say their target audience is other Christians when they promote the message “Saturday is Sabbath, not Sunday” are also out of touch with the broader Christian world. While this message may still be met with interest in some circumstances, the vast majority of times it is discounted as a legalistic obsession. In addition, while most protestants in the days of early Adventism were sabbatarians (they believed the Sabbath command still applied, albeit on Sunday) today, most Christians are not sabbatarians at all and do not believe in any solid theology of Sabbath whatsoever. Therefore, discussing the change of the Sabbath with them is about as meaningless as discussing it with a post-Christian. Instead, the Sabbath must be approached as a celebration of the salvation story in order to be met with a positive reception that opens the door to further dialogue. The most basic reaction to the message “Sabbath is Saturday not Sunday” in both Christian and secular circles is essentially, “so what?”

[3] Some may be thinking that all I have done here is taken outmoded theological frameworks and bathed them in contemporary buzzwords. But this would be a caricature of what I am suggesting. While we do need to use new words to communicate truth, my contention is that we need to paint a whole new picture of that truth. Growing up, for example, the picture of the remnant church at the end of time was an isolationist picture bathed in religious ideas but absent of any real social impact. As I have rethought this doctrine, as well as all the others, it is not simply the language that I use to communicate it that has changed but also the big picture I see the Bible presenting and how that relates to contemporary issues. The isolationism and sectarianism of remnant theology I was taught has been replaced with an inclusivism that brings the concept to life, for example.

The 1 Thing Adventists Don't Care About (And It's Killing Us)
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Why is the local SDA Church dead?

I hear this question a lot. In fact, this entire site is dedicated to dissecting this question in search of solutions. And while I am no guru and would never pretend to have “the” answer, there is one thing that I believe lays at the foundation of it all.

But there’s a problem.

The one thing that seems to lay at the foundation of it all happens to be the one thing no one really seems to care about.

At this point you must be thinking - bro, what in the world are you talking about?

I’m happy to answer that question, but first I need you to decide whether or not you want to keep reading. This article has nothing to do with SDA church structure, strategy, logistics, culture, administration, leadership or evangelistic/disciple making pathways. It has nothing to do with outreach, innovation, creativity, methods or adaptation. It also has nothing to do with pastoral skills, the challenges of secularisation, post-modernism or emerging generations. Those are the things I have found most Adventists care to talk about. But this article is about the one thing many don’t care about. And this one thing is the fuel to all our other issues. This one thing we keep ignoring is killing us.

Well, since you are still reading I’ll take that as a sign that you have decided to stick around. I’m going to introduce a basic overview of the problem and then below I am going to offer a book that I have written which digs way deeper than I can in this short blog. For the time being though, let me paint a picture for you of the one thing Adventist’s don’t care about that also happens to be killing our missional intensity.

I want you to picture a bookcase. It’s one of those old ones, made entirely of wood, and it’s really tall and wide covering the entire wall. The case is stacked with books. Every book happens to be a story about the meaning of life. And every story is different. Some are thick, 800 page volumes. Others are short, 100 page novels. But again, they all answer the same question (the meaning of life) but tell entirely different stories with entirely different answers to that same question.

As you picture that bookcase, I want you to imagine people coming to the bookcase. Everyone who comes is searching for answers to the meaning of life. Some are old, some are young. Some rich, some poor. When they get to the bookcase they are confronted with hundreds of stories - all of them offering their own narrative - and they choose one, sometimes two or three and read the books hoping to find meaning.

Now I want you to walk right up to the book case and begin reading the book titles. One book is titled “The Path of Buddhism”. Another book is titled “The Way of Islam”. Still another is titled, “In the Footsteps of Abraham” and another, “The Wisdom of the Vedas”. As you scan the book titles you discover that all of them are religions, philosophies and ideologies. Every book on the book case is essentially a story attempting to answer the same question but all telling different stories with their own unique contribution to the search for meaning.

Next, you arrive at the Christian section but instead of finding one book, you find a whole ton of them. “The Puritan Path”, “The Baptist Confession”, “The Methodist Quest”, and on and on. Each of these books represent different perspectives on the search for meaning - for God. They each tell a different story and offer different insights into that adventure.

Finally, you arrive at a book titled “The Narrative of Adventism”.

It’s there among all the others. But here is my question to you - is there anything in that book that merits it being there? Does that book have anything to offer, anything remotely important to say that no other book is saying? Does that one book deserve to be its own book? Does it have anything meaningful, compelling or beautiful that no other book on that bookshelf has? If the answer is no, then why was the book even written? Why add to the confusion of those who already have to sort through so much by adding an unnecessary story to the shelf? But if the answer is “yes, it does have something unique to say”, then my question is - what is it about this book then that is so unique? What does it say that no one else is saying?

This I have found is the one thing many Adventist’s today don’t seem to care about. When it comes to the question of Adventism’s uniqueness - what it is we have to say that is so eccentric and needed - very few people seem to really, truly care. On the one hand, I find people who think they already know. They think its the Sabbath, or the truth about hell, or prophecy. On the other hand, there are people who find the question offensive. They want Adventism to be like everyone else and the very suggestion that it may have something unique to say is interpreted as arrogant. Both groups are dead wrong.

Now don’t get mad at me. After all, I gave you the option of opting out of this article 8 paragraphs ago. So if you are still here, it’s your fault (wink, wink). But here is my point. The 1 thing Adventists today don’t seem to care about is why we have a book on that shelf. Seriously, if we are saying the same thing everyone else is saying with a few slightly nuanced doctrines (which by the way, every SDA doctrine exists outside of the SDA church in some shape or form), then that means we are nothing more than an unnecessary distraction for those on the search for meaning, for God or for truth. And if that’s all we are, then missional intensity makes no sense. We have nothing to say to the sojourner. Nothing to add to the conversation. Nothing to offer the wanderer.

The Adventist story is a story that is not about Adventism.

That’s some pretty serious stuff. And that’s why our churches are dead. It’s not simply lack of strategies, innovation or creativity. It’s not simply traditionalism or closed-mindedness. That’s the stuff we like to talk about. But if we really want to revive our churches, we need to dig deep into the thing we don’t like to talk about. The thing that makes us uncomfortable. The thing many of us don’t want to admit and its this: Adventism has something eccentric to say that no one else is saying and it is oh, so compelling, so overwhelmingly beautiful and so profound that if someone pulls this book off the shelf they will find what their heart is searching for. And it has nothing to do with us, our history, our culture or institutions. The Adventist story is a story that is not about Adventism. It’s a story about the heart of God that no one else in all of religion, philosophy or ideology is telling and it is exactly what our culture desperately needs to hear.

Now maybe the reason why some of us don’t like to talk about this is because there is a long history of people in our church who use the uniqueness of Adventism in a narcissistic and arrogant sort of way and that’s totally not what I am advocating here. But at the same time we have to recognise that there is something about that book on the shelf - there’s a story that’s being told there about the heart of God that you simply wont find in any other book. And you have to believe that if you want your church to have passion for mission. We have to discover our story - a story that’s not really about us.

OK. I have made some pretty bold claims but have not defended any of them. Well, that’s because I wrote a book that does just that. In this book I go in depth and explore the weird, crazy story that Adventism tells and why its so unique and needed in our world, especially today. I’m so passionate about what this book says that I am donating 10% of every sale to ADRA as a way of supporting the work our church does by telling the story we have been called to tell and making a meaningful difference in peoples lives. If you would like your own copy, you can get it below and read it on your phone right away. I promise you, after you read this book you will never again wonder why our story is on that shelf and why what we have to say is the foundation of our missional success.

So here is my conclusion. You will never revive your local SDA church by simply focusing on small groups, missional strategies and leadership skills. If you want your church to be on fire, you have to go to the core of why we exist and what story God has called us to tell. If we rediscover that story - a story no one else is telling, then everything else will flow naturally.