Adventist Leadership Openly Embrace ATS Fundamentalist Agenda
by Ervin Taylor
by Ervin Taylor
October 30, 2013
The Adventist News Service (ANS) recently reported that delegates to the 2013 Annual Council voted to approve a change in the wording of Adventist Fundamental Belief #6 which deals with the nature of Creation. This change had been developed by a group known as the Fundamental Beliefs Review Committee (FBRC). The current wording of Fundamental Belief #6 begins “In six days, the Lord made . . . “ It was voted to replace that phrase with one which states that “In a recent, six day creation, the Lord made . . “ Unfortunately, the article did not inform readers if the vote was by secret ballot or by a show of hands that would identify those not adhering to the current party line of the Adventist Fundamentalist Movement (AFM), currently being advanced by the Adventist Theological Society (ATS).
It also reported that there was support for including a phrase stating that creation took place within the span of “six literal days.” The ANS report tells us that “the word ‘literal’ closes what some Adventists have claimed is an interpretative loophole that could allow theistic evolution to explain the Genesis origins account.” The ANS report of this action, which will appear in the Adventist Review, contains a smiling visage of the current General Conference president, Ted Wilson, looking down as if to bless this action by the Annual Council.
The acceptance of this change in Fundamental Belief #6 will be presented at the 2015 General Conference (GC) Session in San Antonio, Texas, for a largely symbolic vote that will place this revised statement into the SDA statement of Fundamental Beliefs. There is little question that this change will be supported unanimously by Third World GC delegates from Africa and Latin America. Again, since balloting by secret ballot will certainly not be allowed on the floor in any GC general session, we will never know now many delegates from North America, Europe, and Australia would have voted against the motion if they were not afraid of recriminations that would come from the AFM.
This action of the Annual Council represents one of the final steps in a long-term, well-coordinated and, most importantly, well-financed campaign which began more than two decades ago to retard and then reverse the evolution of the Adventist denomination from a fundamentalist sect-like religious body into a mature Protestant denomination. This campaign called for the implementation of steps that would force the Adventist Church back into a retrogressive, fundamentalist mold. It was advanced openly by the Adventist Theological Society (ATS) when it was organized in 1988.
The fundamentalist theological agenda of the ATS was set out boldly in its constitution for all to read as well as in articles which described the reasons why and how the ATS was organized.1 The two most clear fundamentalist elements listed in the ATS statement of beliefs includes a commitment to the inerrancy of the Bible and a logical outcome of holding such a position, namely a belief in a “literal reading and meaning of Genesis 1-11 as an objective, factual account of earth’s origin and early history; that the world was created in six literal, consecutive, contiguous 24-hour days; that the earth was subsequently devastated by a literal global flood, and that the time elapsed since creation week is to be measured in terms of a short chronology of a few thousand years.”
The use of the term fundamentalist to define the ATS agenda, and the subsequent efforts that have advanced its agenda, is here being used as a descriptive term and not, as many may allege, as a pejorative comment. The historic formal meaning of Christian fundamentalist and fundamentalism was set out in the defining documents that launched the fundamentalist reaction to modernist elements in Christianity in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. One of the core elements of a fundamentalist approach to Christianity is the belief in the inerrancy of all biblical statements, i.e., that there are no factual errors in any biblical text. Thus, if the Bible says that God created the world in six days, it means that he created the world in six, literal, 24-hour days. If you add up all of the genealogies recorded in the Old Testament, that six-day creation must have occurred 6,000 to 7,000 years ago and certainly less than 10,000 years ago; and there was a worldwide flood in the recent past. According to that fundamentalist perspective as advanced in Adventism by the ATS, a “Bible-believing” Adventist must accept such a belief, even if such a belief is totally and completely absurd in light of a wide range of data from a vast array of scientific disciplines.
The success of the ATS in implementing its long-term objectives can be contrasted with the puzzling inability of the majority of Adventist theologians and scientists over the last 20 years to form any publically expressed, concerted effort to oppose the ATS campaign that seeks to return the Adventist Church to its fundamentalist roots. An interesting topic of discussion might be to consider why moderate and progressive Adventist scholars employed by the Church are so hesitant to address openly and in public the work of the ATS over move than two decades. ATS-oriented scholars who are employed by the Church are not bashful about publicly advancing their retrogressive cause. What is it about moderates and progressives inside the Church organization who manifest an unwillingness to publically oppose the ATS agenda? Any and all suggestions to explain this state of affairs are solicited.
1 A 1996 article by Richard Davidson entitled “The Story Behind the ATS: A Personal Reflection,” was originally published in Perspective Digest and now is posted on the ATS website. It sets out the original reasons and the founding mythic story behind the formation of the ATS. According to Davidson the originators “resolved to seek a venue through which scholars sharing the hermeneutical presuppositions of Bible-believing Adventism could gather” (as if other Adventist scholars were not “Bible-believing” Adventists). He then related how a group at Andrews University and Southern Adventist University had been thinking along similar lines and “that the Holy Spirit had been at work on both campuses prompting and leading. . . .” When the two groups first met at Southern, the “Holy Spirit took charge in a way that I can liken only to the meetings of the early pioneers of Adventism.” Charter members “recognized the need to course upon key biblical doctrines under attack within Adventism and the Christian church at large.”