A Less than Satisfactory Guide
By Andy Hanson, December 6, 2015: The Adult Bible Study Guide is the most important publication of the Adventist Church. Back issues find their way into the most isolated mission outposts. Its biblical references and Ellen White quotations are the Adventist Bible for many. But it pays only lip service to the claim that our faith is based on sola scriptura.
The content of the Quarterly’s Lesson 13 on The Book of James motivates this appeal to Editor Goldstein for Quarterly revival and reformation!
No verses from James are cited in “This Week’s Study” of The Everlasting Gospel, and Jeremiah 31:13 was the “The Memory Text.” In the author’s argument that James’s gospel message is “faith alone,” he substitutes the words “obedience” and “faith that works” for “works” (1), and includes an Ellen White quotation in Friday’s lesson that seriously questions the notion that salvation requires faith alone. (2)
I’ve included in a footnote some of the words and passages that left me searching for clarity and context. (3)
Finally, a definition of “The Gospel” remains elusive. The lesson describes it as “everlasting,” “the foundation of our last-day commission to preach,” and “the good news.” We are told that “different people can hear the same gospel very differently,” and that it is only by “surrender[ing] ourselves in utter faith…we hear it correctly.” “The gospel is the power of God to save all who believe,” “the proclamation of good news” and “Abraham’s obedient faith.” We are informed that “the gospel is the same from Genesis to Revelation.”
But what is the gospel? Is it The 28 Fundamental Beliefs? Ted Wilson seems comfortable with that definition. I’d vote for something like the Golden Rule in keeping with the “Son of Man’s” declaration in Matthew 25:31-46. However it’s defined, the gospel’s influence in a discussion of Adventist theology is of prime importance. Perhaps a Quarterly discussion of possible definitions would be appropriate.
Note: readers interested in my take on the Book of James can check out “Some Thoughts on the Book of James,” May 1, 2013 Archives
1. “Obedience to the commandments (including the Sabbath) through the faith of Jesus signifies those who remain faithful to the end. True religion demands both faith and obedience.”
2. “No Christianity is so lofty that it can soar above the requirements of God’s holy law. That would be beyond Christ’s power to help.” E.G. White, Signs of the Times, March 31, 1890.
3. Sunday’s Lesson
The good news of the Gospel isn’t really “good news” until “we surrender ourselves in utter faith to the teaching of the Word so that when the gospel is preached we hear it correctly.”
“In other words, Jesus was saying [to the Pharisees], You need what you do not have. Your works are not good enough.”
“The ‘righteous’ Pharisee is ignored by God, while the ‘sinful’ tax collector is not only accepted but leaves justified, forgiven, and free from guilt.”
Jesus “describes the cup of crushed grapes as ‘My blood of the covenant….’”
“Amazingly, God, through the sacrifice of Christ, proves Himself to be just in justifying the ungodly who have put their faith in Jesus.”
“The book of Hebrews describes the new covenant as ‘better’ than the old covenant (Heb. 8:1, 2,6 NRSV). The obvious question, then, is ‘Why did God establish the old covenant if it was faulty?” The problem, however, was not with the covenant but with the response of the people to it.”
“The animal sacrifices of the old covenant could never take away sins, including those committed under the old covenant.”
“In one sense, the new covenant is not new at all….”
“Without faith, bringing animal sacrifices was almost like making payment for sins.”
“[The new covenant] is not really new (Lev. 19:18), except in that we are not just to love our neighbor as ourselves, but ‘as I [Jesus] have loved you’” (John 13:34).
“As we have seen, the gospel is the same from Genesis to Revelation. The law is the same. The covenant is the same. Jesus, Paul, and James all affirm that the gospel is the same one believed by Abraham (John 8:56, Rom. 4:13, James 2:21-23). Some have difficulty with this assertion only because they define the gospel more narrowly than Scripture. Abraham’s obedient faith, however, originated through his foreseeing Jesus’ sacrifice. We do not need to balance faith with works in order to be saved. Faith alone is sufficient, but it must not be intellectual faith as the devils have, nor a presumptuous faith that claims the promises of God without complying with the conditions of salvation; rather it must be a faith that works.”