GraceLink: Origins and Ideologies
Does GraceLink add depth to our end-time Adventist message, or does its historic development reveal an attempt to rewrite Adventist theology and indoctrinate our youth with a counterfeit Adventism?
Larry Kirkpatrick. 25 October 2001
Perusing the official GraceLink website, one discovers this audacious claim: "You can trust GraceLink to give the Adventist view of history and Bible teaching because all lessons have been approved by someone in the department of Biblical Research, which is known for being doctrinally conservative."1 Let us take such a claim seriously. Remember now, the claim is that we can trust GraceLink. We can trust it to give the "Adventist view of history and Bible teaching." We are assured that we may expect this because "someone" at the Biblical Research Institute (BRI) has approved all the lessons, and the BRI "is known for being doctrinally conservative." Near the end of this document, we will hear what BRI themselves have to say. You may be surprised.
In this paper's companion document, "GraceLink: Theological Reflections and Concerns" (G:TRC), we shared paragraphs already, outlining what we felt were not Adventist viewpoints toward the Bible, and in another place, what were Calvinist concepts on the salvation experience. Mention was also of certain links to Lutheran ideology which we indicated we would be documenting in a future paper. This is that paper.
Our principle concerns with GraceLink have ever been theological. That is why the quote with which we began this paper is so striking. We are promised that what we are going to see is a product for our youth giving "the Adventist view of history and Bible teaching." Let us determine whether that assertion is borne out by the facts.
Adventist Roots Recounted
We should pause for a moment to recall where in the theological spectrum our community of faith has its roots. Seventh-day Adventism arose out of western Christianity, and Protestantism in particular. Out of Protestantism's two main divisions, the Magisterial Reformation and the Radical Reformation, we trace much more directly to the Radical Reformation. The Lutherans and the Reformed or Calvinist churches arose from the Magisterials; while the Anabaptists, Mennonites, and eventually Baptists rose from the Radicals. Our links are predominantly to the Anabaptist strain. We also have substantial links to Methodism and hence to the Elizabethen Reform. Our linkage to the Magisterials is minimal in terms of structures and groups although we do have an appreciation for many of the ideas arising there.
The Magisterials were characterized by several points, one of which was their unfortunate attitude that church-state union was no problem. Constantine's blending of church and state early in the fourth century A. D., was held by them to be no problem. On the other hand, the Radical Reformationists understood what Constantine and the church had accomplished back then was a catastrophic apostasy in Christian history -- a viewpoint shared obviously by Adventists.2
We want to realize that any emphasis on salvation limiting it to an objective, forensic experience only, comes from the Magisterial wing of the Reformation. Not just the Magisterials, but also the Radicals taught righteousness by faith, but Radicals focused on the impact of the gospel in making believers actually right with God through the new birth and continued Christian growth. In Wesleyan Methodism both issues received more balanced attention.
The main body of Seventh-day Adventists arose out of the Millerite/Advent movement in the 1840s, led by a Baptist, William Miller. Many of the early SDA preachers came also out of the Methodist Church and some from the Christian Connexion,3 Few, if any, early SDAs are on record as leaving Lutheranism to become Adventists. The question Magisterials ask about salvation is, "How am I to be counted right?" The question Radical Reformation adherents would ask is, "How am I to be made right?" Ellen White's question in Steps to Christ is of particular interest to us then, for she asked, "How shall the sinner be made righteous?"4
We need both questions and both answers to rightly live the experience of faith. But in the past century and especially the past half-century, a strange and strong shift has been manifest in Adventism toward the Magisterial Reform and an astonishing -- even deafening -- silence has reigned toward our most clear and dominant roots in the Radical Reformation. Unbeknownst to the vast bulk of our membership, certain have launched a decided re-emphasis and rewriting of our history and identity. Ford may have been defrocked two decades ago, yet core elements of his ideas are being promoted with rampant glee in some sectors and publications of the church.
Perhaps then we will not be surprised to see that great strides are being undertaken today in our youth work to bring just such changes into being, and recast the Adventism that is being taught to our young people.
GraceLink's Anti-Adventist Soteriology
As noted in G:TRC,5 the theological trends in GraceLink's salvation theology can be distinguished by the following maxims:6
The upshot of all this is simple. Grace, as presented in GraceLink, has no place for a great controversy between good and evil. It has no place for Seventh-day Adventism.
Obviously then, we must differ with GraceLink's core conceptions regarding grace. Grace does have boundaries -- it reaches out but it does not force. Those who refuse to respond to it cannot negate God's loving intent, but they do negate the full application of the gift. Grace does not license sin, or override the free will of humankind. Grace does have a cooperative component (Philippians 2:12-13). God gives, man chooses to accept or reject (Joshua 24:15). Grace does not make the gospel a strictly legal and forensic affair. Grace changes us. Our salvation includes a work of washing and regeneration accomplished by the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5).
Grace -- a free gift -- does not remove the conditions for being saved. Still we must be willing to be made willing. Grace is quite resistible, because God respects our choices. Grace and law are not opposites; they work together. God's law is, in many ways, a manifestation of grace. How directionless we would be without it!
Finally, we find it most unlikely that any rational, thoughtful, Scripture-respecting Seventh-day Adventist would propose that grace -- really -- is entirely objective in its operation. It is true that Jesus died a substitutionary death in our behalf; we never asked Him to. "While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). Jesus' action happened outside of us. It is truly substitutional and truly objective. But there are salvifically meaningful subjective realities; there remain decisions to be made by the believer for receiving or rejecting the inward work that God would accomplish in His people. Salvation means more than a narrow transaction on the other side of the universe; it means our embracing of God's healing spiritually of His people. The Bible connects grace with how we live now, in a much more than forensic sense (Titus 2:11-12).
Origins: The Strommen Connection
The story of how GraceLink acquired its ideology begins with a man named Merton P. Strommen. He was not and is not an Adventist.
He is a member of the ELCA, the "Evangelical Lutheran Church of America,"7 a liberal, mainline, Magisterial-Protestantism heritage denomination. In 1972 Strommen and associates of his published A Study of Generations. It was the report from a two year study of 5000 Lutherans between the ages of 15 and 65. This extensive study's topic revolved around Lutheran beliefs, attitudes, values, and behavior. Included among its many lines are these words: "However, this requires that the theologians of the church carefully work through the meaning of the message of God's grace for a value orientation to the world."8
Several pages in that study discuss problems Strommen and his associates associated with "Law-Orientation."9 And we would expect this. These were Lutherans. Historically, they are known to propose a very antagonistic dichotomy between law and grace. Strommen and associates make reference to what they call "gospel orientation and law orientation."10 To their mind, a gospel orientation is good, a law orientation, bad.
Thus, already in 1972 we find Strommen working on certain basic issues. He is looking at the relationship of "grace" to "value orientation." He is also working out what he sees as the deficiencies especially of what he calls a "law-orientation."
In 1974, Strommen first published another work, called Five Cries of Youth. In this work, reference is made to his viewpoint regarding "rules-oriented religion." Listen in: "A Rules-oriented religion -- which low self-esteem youth tend to accept -- must be exposed as practical atheism by contrasting it with a gospel of affirmation."11
Again, it would be difficult to fault the Lutherans for being Lutherans. We will disagree with their perspective on the basis of its incompatibility with Scripture, but we will be aware of their kind intentions even while we and they cannot agree on such a radical and unsciptural dichotomy making obedience suspect as atheism! In the development of Strommen's thought, it is well to mark the sharp antagonism toward rules and obedience that provokes him to label this area so strongly.
His ideas continued to develop. Five Cries of Youth was republished in 1979. Then, in 1985 came another volume, this time by Mr. and Mrs. Strommen as a team, Five Cries of Parents. Here, they expanded on their views. "One life direction or value orientation a parent can communicate is an approach of over-strictness that assumes that morality comes through controlling people by rules and regulations. It results in an authoritarian, restrictive approach to parenting and use of severe punishment. It tends to be unloving, unforgiving, and rigid. Though it may use the words of orthodox Christianity, its spirit is poles apart from a Christianity of grace (unmerited love). Its focus is on external behaviors and the do's and don'ts of a personal morality. . . . A contrasting value orientation is what Allen Keith-Lucas calls a Christianity of grace (meaning unmerited love). This stance focuses not on behaviors but on the underlying motivation of thankfulness for the love, the promise, the presence of the living God."12 They added that they sought for children to develop ". . . a faith that is liberating rather than moralisitic and restrictive."13
Here again stands the very sharp contrast. Grace is said to be "poles apart" from any Christianity highlighting "authoritarian," "external behaviors and the do's and the don't of a personal morality."
Three years later, in 1988, the book was published again in a new and revised edition. Among new lines added to the book were the following: "The striking advance in self-regard among church youth coupled with their lessened concern over personal faults and their relationship to God may indicate youth's greater attention to a gospel of forgiveness and grace. The gain is a significant one that may well reflect a greater gospel orientation among the 1985 youth."14
Study had revealed some changes in a group of youth. Researchers indicated a "striking advance in self-regard" among churched youth. Strommen associated the changes as possibly reflecting "a greater gospel orientation" in the subjects. Of special interest though was the report that they had "a lessoned concern over personal faults and their relationship to God." We are not as sure as Strommen that this was a spiritual advance! The gospel is not there to beat us down, but it is not given either to lesson our interest in obeying God or our anxiety when we sin.
Thus, by 1988 a Lutheran researcher had developed a theological viewpoint that placed a "gospel orientation" "poles apart" from a "law orientation." He had, in essence, already established the key paradigm today found in the Seventh-day Adventist Churches GraceLink materials. It was all there. Only a few relabelings now remained necessary.
1989: Seventh-day Adventism Infected
In 1989 the Search Institute, originated by Merton Strommen, contracted with the General Conference of SDAs to participate as key consultants for the major study of SDA youth called "Valuegenesis." A "Timeline History of Search Institute," giving a detailed history of its activities and its long-term Lutheran connections, is available on the internet. Scrolling down to 1989, you'll find the Seventh-day Adventist Church mentioned as indicated.15
In a Seventh-day Adventist newsletter called "Action," dated as "Spring 1989," we first spot the phrase "grace orientation" in our own church.16 From here on out we begin to see the phrase sprinkled through SDA literature with ever-increasing frequency.
Well, we might say, all this is interesting, but it is all circumstantial. No, not exactly. Mr. Strommen begins showing up in Adventist materials now more and more frequently. In May 3, 1990 we find him giving three out of five presentations in a "Vision-to-Action" video alongside of Seventh-day Adventist presenters.17
In another Adventist publication we find the now-crystalized "grace orientation" paradigm in full flower -- alongside its nemesis, the evil "works orientation." Let's read:
"A grace orientation is a belief that salvation is given to us only because of the goodness of Jesus, His atoning death, and the perfect life He lived on earth. It focuses completely on God's goodness in offering us this gift, which we can never earn by ourselves, and on the wonderful promises of God."18
And here is its counterpart, "works orientation:"
"A works orientation is a belief that salvation is given to us because we are good or have done good works. A works orientation focuses primarily on our behavior, on how we have obeyed the rules or followed the standards."19
We should pause here for a moment to make an observation. Reading the definition of a "grace orientation," we can only say, in all reasonableness, that much of what is said reflects sentiments about grace that we all would find to be acceptable. Let us in particular note here that the focus is on God's grace as an objective, external gift. Even so, we also notice the qualifiers with interest. This "orientation" will focus "completely" on God's side, while reaffirming that we can "never" earn our salvation. Does this begin to raise concerns? What is meant by "earn" our salvation? The definition of "works orientation" helps.
"Works orientation" is defined as a belief that we are saved "because we are good or have done good works." It focuses "primarily on our behavior, on how we have obeyed the rules or followed the standards." This sounds very much like the Strommen's antagonistic attitude toward rules and obedience noted earlier. In itself the statement roughly is true, but too vague for us be comfortable with. We weren't left long in perplexity however. Soon the Adventist Review shows our concerns to be well founded. In January of 1991 they publish the following:
"We also know that a works orientation is eroding the faith our youth have in Jesus. Eighty-three percent of youth believe that to be saved, they have to live by God's rules. It is a serious issue when a majority of Adventist youth presently enrolled in Adventist schools, and a fourth of their parents, believe that salvation depends primarily on one's behavior instead of on what God has done, is doing, and promises to do through grace. In response to this issue, a number of recommendations seem evident. . . . We must launch a comprehensive educational effort that addresses the issue of grace and works orientation."20
Should anyone doubt the transmutation here of the Lutheran principles of Strommen into the "Adventist" principles of Valuegenesis/GraceLink, consider that in the margin of the 1992 book Valuegenesis: Faith in the Balance, V. Bailey Gillespie puts a quote from Merton Strommen. The heading given there is, "What is a 'Grace Orientation'?21 Remember, Strommen called it, in his books, a "gospel orientation," but our Adventists translated that into the "grace orientation."
This is interesting, for one of the concerns that the GraceLink website has sought to address is the idea that some of the writers of the materials were not Adventists.22 Apparently, some SDAs, looking at them, were sure that the writers had not been Adventists. The theological information provided in (G:TRC) and this paper plainly show how that idea could have arisen. But what is interesting is that GraceLink's core concepts trace back so obviously to mainline, liberal, evangelical Lutheranism. The claim that the writers are all Adventists is disingenuous, when they are writing in a manner that belies authentic Adventist doctrines.
Valuegenesis: Subtle Questions Used to Drive Change
The reference Bailey refers to is found in the responses of Adventist young people to certain questions they were asked in the Valuegenesis study.23 Consider these yourself as to whether they are truth-statements:
You or I might not say that the emphasis in God's gospel is on right rules for living. But what if we had to fill out a form giving us opportunity to agree in gradations with that statement, say on a scale of 1-5 or 1-7? Because that is how most of the Valuegenesis study questions were asked. Still, you or I might not answer that with anything but the most definite "no." But isn't it possible that some of the youth filling out a question like this are not quite as theologically astute as some adults might be? This is a very subtle situation to place a young person in.
How would you parse the next statement? "I must live by God's rules in order to be saved." Here's how one Adventist pastor (myself) answers that question: "Yes, this is true." Now I wouldn't word the question that way were I doing the asking. And I certainly wouldn't put a scale of gradational answers out there as options were I doing the asking. And yet, faced with the question as asked, I would have to give a "yes" answer. No, God may not emphasize His rules like this; no, this might be a very crude form in which to express the salvation question; no, the question is not worded with any emphasis upon Jesus in it or the kind of care that should be in it. But having to answer, I would be right there beside those who answered this as being an essentially true statement. It is essentially true.
How much I prefer Mrs. White's careful expression: "While we are to be in harmony with God's law, we are not saved by the works of the law, yet we cannot be saved without obedience. The law is the standard by which character is measured. But we cannot possibly keep the commandments of God without the regenerating grace of Christ. Jesus alone can cleanse us from all sin. He does not save us by law, neither will He save us in disobedience to law."24
The Valuegenesis statement, "I must live by God's rules in order to be saved," does not say that the only aspect of salvation is the subjective. It does not say that there are no other elements in the salvation process or that there is no objective element. It does not say that the only thing that saves us is "the works of the law." It does say that "we cannot be saved without obedience." And I happen to agree with Mrs. White, who under inspiration says the very same thing. In our quote from her pen, notice how she goes on to point to Christ as the Regenerating force behind the one being saved: "We cannot possibly keep the commandments of God without the regenerating grace of Christ." Carefully she says, "He does not save us by law, neither will He save us in disobedience to law."
While I do not think Mrs. White had any formal training in logic, she appears to know the difference between what logicians call "sufficient" and "necessary" conditions. A necessary condition must be present to obtain the desired effect. A sufficient condition automatically leads to a desired effect. Put very simply, obedience is a necessary condition for one to be saved. But it is not a sufficient condition. This is because there are both, objective and subjective elements in the salvation process.
I must be obedient in order to be saved, but my obedience is not in itself sufficient to save me. Jesus died for me on the cross, and He made a sacrifice of enough value to save me, but my acceptance of His sacrifice for me must also be present. God designed the salvation plan to contain the objective element (Jesus dies in our place), and we choose to accept all that that means, the subjective aspect. All the merit toward my salvation comes through Jesus. His merit is valuable enough to save, yet that is but the objective portion of a two-element plan. My obedience is also necessary, but in itself it is insufficient to save me. It is a non-meritorious condition, a necessary but insufficient condition.
Ellen G. White might not have had a formal training in logic, but she was a praying lady who loved the Bible. She read it plainly. She never sought to trick young children with subtle arguments. So what of, "I must live by God's rules in order to be saved"? Is not "I must live" this way in order to be saved but one necessary condition among others, like Jesus' death on the cross? Or does it speak of a sufficient condition, in itself enough to save me? This is the very dilemma faced by thousands of Adventist youth who sought to answer the question without knowledge of the deep theological subtleties at hand. Their answers would be taken as evidence that they did not understand the salvation process and that legalism was rife among us -- a legalism desperately needing an immediate solution!
Remember, statements such as, "There is nothing I can do to earn salvation," were presented and instead of a yes/no answer, a graded list of options was given. Were you but a fourteen year old, how would you have filled that out? Would you mark it as a two, or a three, or a five? There is nothing I can do at all to earn salvation. But there is much I must do in order to be saved. There are -- although the Valuegenesis questions made no allowance for them -- necessary conditions to my salvation, obedience being one of them.25
Were points such as this understood by those who formatted the Valuegenesis questions? That is an important question. The results of the Valuegenesis study have been used to introduce far-reaching changes in the curriculum of the entire SDA educational system. They are being used now to justify the introduction of a demonstrably non-Adventist salvation understanding into the Sabbath school departments of thousands of our churches worldwide. Those who developed the underlying philosophies of both Valuegenesis and GraceLink were PhDs. These are not simpletons. Generally, we may expect that they have processed all their ideas and, whether right or wrong, they knew what they were trying to do. Gillespie said, "We must launch a comprehensive educational effort that addresses the issue of grace and works orientation." And the church did.
We call it into question.
Questioning GraceLink's Core Ideology
Roger Dudley wrote the main book dealing with the results of the Valuegenesis study. Let us consider several lines from that book.
"Something about Adventism seems to make it likely that young people growing up within its environs perceive salvation in terms of behaviors, good and bad. Don't misunderstand. We have a clear teaching on salvation by grace alone through faith. Obedience and responsibility, we teach, are the result of faith and not its source. And yet, with the emphasis on the significance of the law and with our concerns for the high standards of Christian living, Adventists have a very difficult time shaking the notion that we must somehow deserve our salvation. Accepting that salvation is a complete gift is often difficult to communicate to youth."26
Dudley went on to share another yet more interesting paragraph. Watch for his conclusion at its close . . .
"We recently did a survey of a national sample of adult Adventist members. One of the statements with which they could agree or disagree was: 'A person's standing before God is based on his/her obedience to God's law.' Nearly two-thirds of this representative sample (65%) agreed with this statement, and about half (51%) strongly agreed. Further, those who agreed with traditional statements of Adventist teachings were most likely to agree with this. That is, the more orthodox a member, the more likely the same member was to endorse 'works' righteousness."27 What he is saying is that authentic Adventism is built upon 'works righteousness.' That is, fundamentally, Adventism is legalism. And, measured by Lutheran conceptions of salvation, of course it is. Perhaps this explains why Merton P. Strommen never became an Adventist!
Dudley, and the ideologians of GraceLink, are quite mistaken in their notions that sharply separate grace (what they say God does) with works (what they propose man does in response to God's grace). GraceLink, with its Lutheran underpinnings, removes obedience from the gospel. Obedience becomes the negative "works righteousness." Adventism is turned inside-out of itself. In GraceLink, this is what it has been planned for our youth to imbibe.
More Observations about Valuegenesis
For years Adventists have accepted uncritically the Valuegenesis report as valid and helpful. And for years some of us have had serious reservations about it. But everyone is busy. Who has time to do a full write-up, especially when (in times past) it would likely have been viewed as just being critical? But today we are in a new place. Many of the bankruptcies are becoming interesting to our leaders. For long years we have traveled blindly on the roads marked out for us by the more progressive. But many are seeing more and more that such blind marching can produce more problems than it solves. Today we are heartened by a new willingness to rethink and reexamine. Such an attitude is overdue.
We do not have time or space here to do such an extensive write-up. But we wish to add some additional observations about the value of Valuegenesis. The author chosen to write-up the study and its results found much to harmonize with in the Lutheran-tinged study and its concepts. Professing to have been raised a legalist himself,28 he goes on to suggest that the study shows our Adventist young people to "support both law and grace as a means of salvation," and that they are "unable to harmonize logical opposites [law and grace]."29
But Adventists have never -- NEVER -- understood law and grace as opposites. As already noted, the Valuegenesis test instrument (i.e. questionnaire) never differentiated between necessary or sufficient conditions, and provided only a graded set of options by which to answer. Again, the author of the book on Valuegenesis, looking at the answers provided by the youth, concluded that those results showed "a clear lack of understanding [by SDA test participants] of the complete work of salvation accomplished by Christ."30 The language of the author evidences his regrettable insistence in evaluating a whole spectrum of SDA young people as misconstruing salvation, when it is very widely known that historically, as far back as William Miller and pre-SDAism, we have as a people seen Christ's sacrifice as sufficient but not completely processed at the cross. The benefits of His death for us are today still being mediated to us through His work for us in the heavenly sanctuary. He has yet to return, and we are not yet what we shall become by that time (1 John 3:2).
In fact, Valuegenesis: Faith in the Balance consistently attacks, if in subtle ways, the conventional Adventist understanding of standards. One senses that the authors realized that their desire to see the standards changed could not be formally realized at that time, and so they focus on urging the reader not to enforce them.31 Dudley's book raises questions about the investigative judgment doctrine, and teaches a non-Adventist understanding of salvation traceable to the descendents of the Magisterial Reformation rather than the Radical. The book contains digs against "perfection," and the straw man of "absolute sinlessness."32 Both it and the Valuegenesis study included questions about gender equality and women's ordination too.
This introduces again the question, was the student to understand "gender equality" as meaning complete equality, or ontological equality with gender-differentiated pre-fall roles? Did they mean complete gender interchangeability? What did they mean?33 And on a graded scale with seven possible answers, where would you put your mark?
In case this seems like a random excursis, remember that the Valuegenesis study and Project Affirmation served as the base information for demonstrating that the church needed to develop the all-new Sabbath-School curriculum called GraceLink. The history is given on the GraceLink website.34
The Hancock Center for Youth and Family Ministry at La Sierra university was the major administrative unit in the Valuegenesis study and now Valuegenesis 2. It also designed the gracelink curriculum and sold it to the North American Division of SDA.35
The discussion earlier in this paper of the confusion of the Valuegenesis questions regarding salvation places in question the necessity of Gillespie's 1991 call that we "must launch a comprehensive educational effort that addresses the issue of grace and works orientation." If any such effort should be launched, it should start with the ideological crafters of the GraceLink curriculum and commence by aiding them in understanding and appreciating authentic Adventist views on salvation!
Consider just two more references of interest -- these were authorized to be published in the Valuegenesis book. "In college he [a former student of Dudley's] became enamored with the teachings of a professor who presented righteousness by faith as composed of justification alone. The work of salvation was completely objective -- removed from our experience. It had only to do with the cross; nothing with daily living. . . . [after later being thrown in jail for intoxication] He was particularly sustained by his religion. Remembering what his professor had told him about righteousness by faith, he recalled, 'Not for a moment, even while drunk in that dismal jail cell, did I forget that I was in right standing with God.'" Then follows the author's analysis, and an amazing analysis it is: "Few of us understand righteousness by grace through faith in such a complete sense."36
The amazing conclusion above requires little comment. It is soul-destroying error. But here are some of the author's conclusions for us too: "I think we will have to bend over backwards, in our homes, our congregations, and our schools, to get across a grace orientation to salvation. . . . We have erred so long in the direction of law, we need to begin to focus on grace completely." Continuing, Dudley adds, "Through precept and example, we must do everything possible to clarify grace and to break the hold of legalism."37
Actually, we need to clear the decks of the contemporary antinomian push within our ranks that is at odds with the message of Seventh-day Adventism. For much too long we have permitted an untoward retreat from Adventism by those who do not even agree with its foundations.
Does BRI Really Guarantee GraceLink's "Adventistness"?
When I saw the GraceLink "BRI Guarantee of Adventistness" mentioned at the opening of this paper, I thought I should do something: namely, telephone the people at BRI. There, I spoke with Gerhard Pfandel. He said there was one person at BRI who saw these materials, and that I should call the next day when Angel Rodriguez would be in. Now I knew that whatever else I discovered, it would include the fact that the BRI guarantee of Adventistness meant that one person at BRI looked at some of these materials once. While I appreciate much of the work of BRI, I must confess that a pipe the width of one fallible person is a pretty thin pipe. If there was something wrong and it was noticed, then something might be done. Otherwise, the product advances down the line to the press and the local church.
Does GraceLink Give an "Adventist" View of History and Bible teaching? I spoke with several of our people at BRI about this. Here is what they told me about the GraceLink "guarantee." Many of the materials, especially earlier on, BRI had never seen. Some materials had in fact been read in pre-production drafts by one BRI scholar who had offered observations and suggestions in the margins and sent them back. How many of those suggestions had been implemented they could not say. One of our BRI men suggested that several suggestions had never been heeded.
On the issue of grace and obedience in particular, I was told that in some of the materials, "the strong emphasis on grace is almost so amazing that it is not biblical." And that, "The relation between grace and obedience was often completely absent" when pre-publication drafts first arrived at BRI. One recent item including a section dealing with the "remnant" concept was thoroughly reworked at BRI, and had to be "drowned in red ink," I was told, to make it acceptable.
So, there is your theological guarantee at work. BRI's good name has been mis-used and their seal of approval on these materials has been, they tell me, "vastly overstated." Not just overstated, but "vastly" overstated. I appreciated these lucid revelations from the churches top scholars. I had wondered whether they would approve the materials for their own children's use. I never asked that question, but now I think I know what answer they might give!
In a way, this is good news. It would have been a most dismal revelation were we to have found the Biblical Research Institute supporting the overt non-Adventism found in so many of these materials. There is another positive word too. I am told by the leadership of BRI that they have been promised great changes in these materials. The revisions will include substantial changes in the artwork (at last!), and a much closer attention to sounder Adventist theology in the new crop of materials. Certain items, not specified to me, were, I was told, actually going to be removed from the current editions and redone before being republished. Possibly, the materials could even become useable by Seventh-day Adventists. We rejoice at this news. We will be watching carefully.
Summary: Origin and Ideology
It is not the Lutheran's or the Calvinist's fault that we took their concepts and sought to glue them into Seventh-day Adventism. It is our fault. We have allowed those who held views antagonistic to our system of faith to enter its most holy place as-it-were -- the authoritative teaching office for our precious youth -- and bring in a theological philosophy sharply destructive of the faith once delivered to the saints. A host of books and varied materials have been published that are antagonistic to Adventism. Truly, our presses have run hot with "books of a new order."38
The good news is that this was never BRIs doing. The bad news is that for years the church has been less watchful than it ought, and has blindly promoted the views of the Magisterial Reformers -- views which in the department of salvation, cannot be reconciled with our faith as portrayed in the Bible. We trace back predominantly to the Radical Reformation -- the Anabaptist strain. This is, remember, the stream of Christianity where our affinity for the seventh day Sabbath comes from. The DNA of Seventh-day Adventism cannot be changed. It is what it is, and no amount of rewriting history or stealth re-indoctrination of our youth can change that.
Between this and our first paper (G:TRC), the reader has had opportunity to consider something of the theological underpinnings of the GraceLink materials. Regretably, we find sufficient evidence to conclude that the origin and ideology of these materials is directly traceable to those theological sources outside of Adventism that are the most incompatible with it. Those at our presses and in the mailrooms who read this will now have obtained, we think, a better understanding of what the fuss over these publications has been all about. Perhaps some of us will look into some of these points for ourselves, drawing our own informed conclusions. If this is all that is achieved, then this paper will have done its work. And yet we hope for more.
We would like to think that the powers that be would reevaluate the core principles upon which these materials are constructed, and take a very sharp knife, and deftly sever them from their place. In that place, we would like to see the much more balanced and beautiful and biblical Adventism that made this movement, reinstated. As a movement, we will finish successfully only if we remain truly Adventist. We have a right to expect this. God grant our leaders courage to be Seventh-day Adventists. God grant us materials that are not quasi-Lutheran or quasi-Calvinist, but authentically Adventist.
May He do so, starting yesterday.
Pastor Larry Kirkpatrick is an ordained minister of the gospel. Since 1994 he has served in the American Southwest as pastor to several churches. He received his BA in Religion from Southern Adventist University in 1994 and a Master of Divinity from Andrews University in 1999 with a specialization in Adventist Studies. While in Michigan he was employed by the General Conference at the White Estate Berrien Springs branch office. More important than his scholastic preparation has been his immersion in the biblical and Spirit of Prophecy materials. He is author of the 2003 book Real Grace for Real People. Presently he serves as Pastor of the Mentone Church of Seventh-day Adventists, located near Loma Linda, California. Larry is married to Pamela. The couple presently live in Highland, California along with their two children, Etienne and Melinda.