by Smuts van Rooyen | 9 December 2020 |
Marvin, I write this to you as one old warhorse to another.
You and I, being of roughly the same age group, are old warhorses who’ve done our best for this church. I affirm your rich and productive ministry which, though different than mine, has blessed many.
The problem with us old warhorses is that we sometimes trample on the feet of those we’ve tried to help.
You and I did our best to be faithful, but it’s hard to know how well we succeeded. I’m pleased with some things I’ve accomplished, haunted by my failure with others. My own adult children left our Adventist fellowship and I confess it perplexes and hurts me. Don’t get me wrong, they are excellent, wonderful, successful people (their mother raised them well), but nevertheless of a new culture that is alien to me.
This last has made me sensitive about my trampling feet. My feeling now is that we first must listen to other generations, try to understand them, and stop imposing the past on them if the church is to keep them at all.
Please allow me to tell you about the bees you’ve let loose in my bonnet by your response to Adventist Today’s autumn issue on prophecy. You focused on the article by Debbie Hooper Crosier, “An Apostate Like Me.” What interested me most is that you readily admit Debbie’s concerns about the Adventist use of prophecy—namely its complexity, its legalism, and fearfulness. But then you appear to deny her the right to find them so. In particular, you don’t affirm her account of the baneful effects they had on her life. It seemed to me to nullify her feelings and self-evaluation, and even to suggest that she’s been a bit too lazy to do the work required to get over those feelings and find the prophecies useful.
Personally, I found her account courageous and helpful. Though I appreciate your defense of prophecy, a subject to which you’ve devoted your life and which few know as well, I think a better response to Debbie would have been, “I’m sorry for what Adventist eschatology has done to you. We need to do it better. Teach me.”
Why did you not take on Loren Seibold, whose exegesis of Revelation could have been improved with your correction? Or Herold Weiss who, by putting the Three Angels’ Message in its original context, employed a hermeneutic radically different from the Adventist one? Or Olive Hemmings, who pulled the rug out from under the texts that identify Adventism as the remnant? Did not these writers refute the traditional Adventist way of thinking? These topics could be addressed critically and logically. I’m wondering why you addressed the writer who most honestly and courageously expressed her feelings about prophecy, and how it hurt her and damaged her Christian experience?
Let me be honest—again, as one old warhorse to another. I find your advocacy of fear-based eschatology as opposed to grace-based eschatology (and advocacy is what it appeared to me to be, though I am open to correction) to be particularly harmful, and I will even say offensive. The very first words of Jesus in the Apocalypse are: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive forever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades. Write therefore . . . .”
Clearly, the wellspring of eschatology in Revelation is the resurrected Christ who invites us not to be afraid. But what I hear you doing here (and correct me if I’m wrong) is that you seem to try to convince Debbie that she should be afraid of the future by arguing that since there is something in the future to be afraid of, she should be afraid of it! I don’t know what to do with that sort of warning. To me it is like those road signs at cuttings that warn motorists that rocks might come tumbling down. So how does one respond? Does one stop and go through slowly? Drive through fast? Pray then proceed? Not worry about it? What is the appropriate thing to do?
Yes, rocks really may come down in the future just as my car is in the way—but frankly I’m not that afraid. At least not afraid enough to stop my journey. And I feel the same way about God’s future for me and my family, and for Debbie, and for you. Bad things may—undoubtedly will—happen. But I don’t know what good being fearful will do. And so I say that Debbie may actually have chosen a happier, healthier way by rejecting the fearful stories, and choosing to live in the present. That is not what you recommend she do. But in this, I affirm her.
Marvin, I close by recounting one particularly happy day for me. I was reading about Jacob’s time of trouble—which in those days was the sum of all my eschatological fears—when to my utter delight I discovered that as Jacob wrestled with the angel through the night, he was in the very arms of Jesus all the time! Now isn’t that something!
Smuts van Rooyen is a retired pastor living in Central California. He holds an M.Div. and a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from Andrews University. His ministry was divided between teaching undergraduate religion and pastoring. He retired as the pastor of the Glendale City Church. He has been married to Arlene for a long time.