by Stephen Ferguson   |  18 September 2020  |

As recently reported by CNN:

A few hours before his death, he [Mikhail Khachaturyan] had returned from a psychiatric clinic, lined up his three daughters to chastise them for the messy apartment and pepper-sprayed their faces, according to investigators and the sisters’ lawyers. That was the night that the Khachaturyan sisters – Krestina, 19, Angelina, 18, and Maria, 17 – decided to kill their father… The next day the three were arrested and confessed to the killing, saying they had endured years of sexual, physical and emotional abuse from their father.

Tragically, this tragedy is not an uncommon story.

Do some people view God as an abusive psychopath?

If a close friend were to describe their spouse or parent in such terms you would tell them to get out of the toxic relationship – immediately. You’d be right.

Yet, drawing upon the Bible’s own metaphors, of our Lord as Father or the spouse of His people, I am continually surprised how often Christians have a similar view of God; Seventh-day Adventists included; Seventh-day Adventists especially! God as an abuser who would offer eternal death for the equivalent of burning the toast.

This psychopathic view of God is best summed up in “last generation theology” (LGT). In fact, to be more specific, I mean the die-hard variety of LGT, which is the major focus of this article.

What is last generation theology (LGT)?

LGT is an idea found across wide swathes of the Adventist diaspora. At its core is the premise that the last generation on earth, just prior to Jesus’ second coming, must be perfectly sinless.

I don’t offer an exact definition of LGT beyond that precisely because, as my good friend Marcos Torres helpfully explains in an examination of the subject, there is no agreed or official explanation of the concept. There are in fact different kinds of LGT. Pastor Torres distinguishes gateway, layman, historical, die-hard and emerging varieties of LGT.[1]

For example, on the one hand the emerging LGT variety emphasises “perfection is the result of and not a requirement for salvation.”[2] That seems more biblical.

By contrast, the die-hard variety teaches perfect obedience is the means and not simply the fruit of salvation. As one die-hard admits:

Many have been subtly lured to believe we are saved from obedience and that obedience is merely a fruitage of having been saved… Obedience is both a condition for salvation and an ongoing requirement of salvation.[3]

Another like-minded die-hard pastor states:

Paul is clear that the sanctifying, regenerating work of the Holy Spirit is part of the meansnot the result—of our salvation… obedience to God’s commandments through heaven’s imparted power is the condition of salvation.[4]

Is die-hard LGT really EGT?

Importantly, die-hard LGT does not focus on the last generation of saints. Weirdly, die-hard LGT may actually undermine other versions of LGT. This is because die-hard advocates say each and every generation must be perfect, as a minimum:

..the condition of eternal life in every age has always been what it first was in Eden—perfect obedience to the law of God.[5]

In this way I think the descriptor for die-hard LGT is a misnomer. It would perhaps be better if die-hard LGT were possibly called “Every Generation Theology” (EGT).

While many commentators have already talked about LGT at length, and while many more liberal Adventists would prefer to lump all varieties of LGT together, I think there is merit in teasing out EGT specifically. Especially because this EGT variety seems to dominate the professional and clerical classes of conservative Adventism.[6]

Therefore, for those who have concerns about these EGT teachings, I think there are a few key points to emphasise:

#1. EGT proof-texts fall apart under close examination

Having spent many hours with EGT-advocates, I note that their overwhelmingly favourite proof-text is 2 Thes. 2:13-15:

But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters loved by the Lord, because God chose you as firstfruits to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you.

The problem is EGT-proponents adopt the colloquial meaning of sanctification, which is the process of becoming holier. However, the biblical term “sanctifying” (hagiasmō) here simply means to be set apart or dedicated. While it can mean a process, it can also mean a one-off event, which scholars call positional sanctification.

The terms “chosen” in verse 13 and “called” in verse 14 are all in the aorist tense, which often denotes a past one-off occasion. Furthermore, in verse 15 Paul tells the brethren to “stand firm and hold fast”, but you only hold fast to something you already have.

The broader context suggests the Thessalonians are concerned they may have somehow missed the second coming. Paul gives them an assurance they have not missed out, as they are and will remain saved. Paul is therefore not telling the Thessalonians to go out and get saved by adopting some sort of LGT-perfectionism.

#2. EGT is inconsistent with everything we know about human beings

Second, EGT-proponents can never actually tell you of any person they know who has conquered each and every known sin. Including themselves.

The Apostle Paul admitted he was not perfect (Phil. 3:12). As Ellen White wrote on April 29, 1915, just a few weeks before her death at age 87:

I do not say that I am perfect, but I am trying to be perfect. I do not expect others to be perfect; and if I could not associate with my brothers and sisters who are not perfect, I do not know what I should do… No one is perfect.[7]

When the likes of Mrs. White say elsewhere that obedience is the requirement of salvation, she later clarifies this is not our righteousness through our good works, but rather:

the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and in that wrought by His Spirit working in and through us.[8]

It might be fair to say we must be perfecting along a never-ending journey of spiritual growth. EGT-proponents twist that message by demanding a state of perfection.

#3. EGT is worse than Roman Catholicism

When pushed, EGT-proponents will also admit they basically adopt a “variation of the Roman Catholic tenet of salvation by works”, just minus the priestly rituals.[9] However, having studied this issue in some detail, I think that is an unfair view – to Catholics!

While the smallest sin requires Jesus’ death on the cross (Rom. 6:23; Jam. 2:10), Catholics[10] (and Lutherans,[11] for that matter) believe only a deliberate and wilful decision, called mortal sin, can undo God’s grace universally offered to all. By contrast, EGT-proponents see God as damning a person to eternal death for the slightest aberration (as they see it) left unconquered. Whether it be drinking a cup of coffee or eating a piece of chicken.

#4. EGT does have “fine print”, but they will be reluctant to admit it

Because EGT just doesn’t really work in practice, they do have some sort of fine print. They do this by acknowledging God will automatically excuse sins of ignorance. To this end, they will cite Acts 17:30:

And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent.

The problem, in my personal experience, is they will downplay this exception if they can help it. As it drives a proverbial truck through their perfectionist theology.

To use a practical example, a prominent EGT-proponent once told me that unless a person addicted to smoking gives up cigarettes they cannot go to heaven. Even if they accept Jesus as their personal saviour. Putting aside the question whether smoking is even a sin, assuming it is, the EGT view seems contrary to Hebrews 10:26:

If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left.

The Greek word for “deliberately” (hekousiōs) here suggests something more than acting out of an inherent weakness. An addiction, by its very nature, is an inherent weakness.

The Greek word “knowledge” (epignōsin) here doesn’t mean learning something intellectually, but rather is akin to full discernment. The Bible’s concept of knowledge denotes something intimate, as in the biblical idiom for sex, “he knew her as his wife”.

Therefore, telling a person addicted to cigarettes something as intellectually obvious and unhelpful as “tobacco kills” does not mean they are deliberately choosing the smoke with full discernment. Nicotine cravings are incredibly powerful and can cloud the mind. We are in no position to judge anyone else – or even ourselves for that matter – whether certain behaviours are done deliberately and with full knowledge.

#5. EGT is actually a counterproductive approach

Finally, the greatest irony of all LGT varieties, but especially EGT, is that to focus on perfection is the surest way never to achieve it. As the Apostle Paul explains in Rom. 4:4, to do good works to earn salvation means those works won’t actually count:

Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness.

So if EGT-proponents really thought salvation demanded conquering each and every known sin, the best thing they could do was shut up about it!

I wish they would.

[1] Marcos Torres, “The Unbearable Failure of Last Generation Theology, Part 1: The Spectrum”, The Compass Magazine, July 5, 2019.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Larry Kirkpatrick, Cleanse and Close: Last Generation Theology in 14 Points (2019: Philippians Two Five), chapter 6, pp. 62, 143.

[4] Kevin Paulson, “Does Salvation Require Human Effort”, ADVindicate, March 16, 2019.

[5] Kevin Paulson, “Perfection Theology and the Statues Debate”, ADVindicate, July 10, 2020.

[6] Simply Wikipedia “Last Generation Theology” and examine who are mentioned as the major proponents of the idea. One will examine they would mostly fall within the die-hard camp, as this article further explores.

[7] Ellen White, Pacific Union Recorder, April 29, 1915, par. 7-8.

[8] Ellen White, Steps to Christ, p. 63, which qualifies her own statement on p. 62.

[9] Kevin Paulson, “Two Conflicting Gospels”, ADVindicate, April 14, 2017.

[10] Catholics have other problems though, because while they believe it is hard to get to hell, it is also hard to get to heaven, which is why they have the doctrine of purgatory. They also ascribe a formal role to priests and rites to remove the stain of mortal sins.

[11] Contrary to some popular opinion, following the teachings of Martin Luther, Lutherans do uphold the distinction between mortal and venial sin. See Article IV of the Defense of the Augsburg Confession (1530). Of course, Lutherans approach mortal sin in a different way than most Catholics, emphasising more a state of driving away the Holy Spirit (i.e. the unpardonable sin) than an individual act.

Stephen Ferguson is a lawyer from Perth, Western Australia, with expertise in planning, environment, immigration and administrative-government law. He is married to Amy and has two children, William and Eloise. Stephen is a member of the Livingston Adventist Church. 

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