by Ervin Taylor
December 23, 2013
My friend Clifford Goldstein entitled his most recent epistle in the Adventist Review, “The Best and the Brightest: How Can They Get It Wrong?”
Cliff begins by making a most amazing statement—amazing even for him. He says that he had “recently discovered something new (new at least to [him]): the best and brightest, the feted experts, the world’s most educated, knowledgeable and informed—they often get it so wrong. And, as a people entrusted with truth, a people called to proclaim truth . . . [Note to reader: In case you are not sure who exactly are the “people entrusted with truth” and “called to proclaim truth” might be, Cliff tells us. We – the Adventists – are the ones entrusted with the truth. At least, that’s what Cliff thinks. But, I interrupted his sentence in the middle. Here is the rest of it] . . . it’s naïve for us [us Adventists] to underestimate the importance, not just of these errors, but of the fact that the best and the brightest make them.”
And what do we Adventists have the truth about and what are the best and brightest, the best educated, knowledgeable, and informed so wrong about? Are they wrong about some important moral or ethical issue? Is it that they are not sufficiently concerned about the poor and marginalized in our society? No, the brightest and best are wrong about something that Cliff ranks as a much greater issue, an issue of cosmic significance.
According to Cliff, we Adventists are the only ones who know the truth about the fourth kingdom mentioned in the Old Testament Book of Daniel 2, 7, and 8. It is Rome. Now what do the “best and brightest, the feted experts, the world’s most educated, knowledgeable and informed” scholars believe? The almost universal view of the Old Testament scholarly community, including most non-fundamentalist Adventist scholars, is that the individual who wrote the Book of Daniel is talking not about Rome, but about a Syrian King by the name of Antiochus IV Epiphanes. He is the “little horn.” But, of course, according to Cliff, “the experts, biblical scholars who have spent their lives mastering Old Testament languages, history and exegesis” are absolutely wrong about this.
What else, according to Cliff, are the best and brightest wrong about? What are, as he expresses it, the “world’s greatest scientists, Nobel laureates, undisputed intellectual giants renowned for their knowledge, skills, and vision” also wrong about? It is Cliff’s favorite topic, so I knew he had to include it somewhere in this piece. What these individuals are wrong about is that “life evolved by chance over billions of years.”
What is Cliff’s point? His point is “that, sooner or later, the end-time persecution centering on the “mark of the beast” (Rev 19:20) and the commands of God (Rev. 14:12) will come. And when it does—the world’s best and brightest, the feted experts, the renowned masters, scholars, historians, philosophers, linguists and scientists will unite against Sabbath-keepers.”[Note to Reader: When I first read this sentence, I thought I had misread it. I had to read it several times. I could not believe that even Cliff could hold this position.]
At “The End” of his piece, Cliff invokes one of the favorite verses cited by fundamentalists—almost their most-quoted proof text. It is 1Corinthians 1:20, which is a statement of Paul that “God has made foolish the wisdom of the world.”[I guess Cliff doesn’t care that Paul is talking about the nature of Greek philosophy in his time.] We are assured that “God has made it [the wisdom of the world] foolish, and it remains foolish even when the “wisdom of the world” enters the church, including our own.”
Like much of what my good friend writes, I often personally do not know whether to laugh or cry. Reading this piece for the first time, I wondered what might have happened to make him publish such a blatant, hyper-anti-intellectual broadside. The extreme levels of equal parts of colossal chutzpah and paranoia contained in this relatively short piece are the highest I have ever had read in the large corpus of his writings for and about the Adventist Church. Another Adventist apologist once expressed the view that this kind of opinion is called “sanctified arrogance.”
I must admit that I briefly entertained the thought that this piece was a spoof. Perhaps it was an indication that Cliff had had some type of epiphany. Perhaps reality had come crashing in and he wanted to go out with a bang. Perhaps it got though the editorial process at the Adventist Review by some fluke. Then I came back down to reality.
My current best guess is more likely that this piece reflects the fact that the current ethos being projected by the current General Conference leadership establishment is now both culturally and intellectually retrogressive and triumphalist at the same time.1 And my friend Cliff has apparently bought into it, hook, line and sinker. This is “Adventist Exceptionalism” raised to new heights. It is the “Remnant Church” concept on steroids. To adapt a comment made by a modern cynical commentator about the human future2as applied to the future of our denomination if this ethos becomes dominant: “ More than any time in history, Adventism faces a crossroads. One path leads to complete irrelevance, the other to total extinction. Let us pray that we have the wisdom to choose correctly."
1One can read a detailed account of this new retrogressive and triumphalist Adventist ethos in a book written by its chief public proponent, the current President of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. The book is Ted N.C. Wilson. Almost Home: A Call to Revival and Reformation. Nampa: Pacific Press Publishing Association 2012.