Are Adventists Old-Covenant Christians? (Part 6)

In the previous post we began exploring the uniqueness in Adventism, beginning with its presuppositions. In this post we will look at how those presuppositions impact the way in which Adventism understands the narrative of Scripture. We will focus on the Big and Middle stories today. In the next and final post we will bring it all together into the Little Story.

Big Story

Character of God: 

Adventism’s story begins with John’s simplest description of God’s essence “God is love” (1 Jhn 4:8). While God is infinitely mysterious, Scripture presents Him here as unequivocally simple. John’s use of agape to define the quality of this love further speaks to the character of God as one who is, at His very core, other-centeredness in its purest form. Indeed, this is Scripture’s definition of agape love – “it is not self-seeking” (1 Cor. 13:5). This concept of an other-centered agape God is the foundation upon which the rest of Adventism’s narrative is based.

Mystery of God: 

God’s simplicity, however, paves the way to God’s mystery. Because agape love is not “self-seeking” and, if God is agape love, then He is by definition not “self-seeking.” Nothing God does is for Himself, but always for the other. However, the declaration that “God is one” (Deut. 6:4) presents a logical fallacy. How can an other-centered being exist in a singular state? If God were a strict singularity, then we could say He is “loving” towards His creation from the moment He brought it into being. But we cannot say He is “love,” for that would imply other-centeredness from before creation, which would demand a plural existence, not a singular one. And it is out of this agape love foundation that the mystery of the Trinity emerges with beauty and relevance. While Adventism does not pretend to fully explain such a mystery the concept of a being who is a singular plurality reinforces the truth that God is “love” and has forever existed as an eternal community of other-centered love. It is from this foundation that Adventism relates to and understands the attributes of God.1

Law of God: 

According to Adventism the Law of God is based on His character of agape love.2 Thus, creation is designed to operate in harmony with other-centeredness. God’s law is a law that is built into the way reality operates – it is a reflection of His very character.. It is not arbitrary or coercive, for that would not be compatible with agape love. Rather, His law is the natural order of things, the rhythm He has placed in His creation, to glorify Himself – not in an egocentric sense but in an other-centered sense. By glorifying Him, His creation can grow in the intensity of this love for eternity.
 

Eternal Covenant: 

This view leads into Adventism’s understanding of an “Eternal Covenant,” in which God’s desire to shower grace upon His creation is as eternal as God himself. In other words, God never had in mind to create in order to control, manipulate, coerce, or arbitrarily force His will upon lesser sentient beings. Rather, His desire to create is parallel to His desire to shower His creation with gift upon gift. This is why, for Adventism, the Sabbath is seen as such a gift. In Eden, there was no tablet of stone upon which was written: “Thou shalt honor the Sabbath.” Rather, the Sabbath was a gift along with everything else God made in creation week. It has ever been God’s desire to interact with His creation in this way. The fall of man saw a demand for a negative law that clearly spelled out the conditions for life, but before the fall it was not this way. Likewise, in the New Covenant, with the law being written in our hearts, a return towards the way of Eden begins. And the law increasingly becomes a part of our natural state once more so that we are not dependent on “tablets of stone” but on the “indwelling Spirit” which brings us into harmony with God’s design (law of love). This journey culminates with the parousia in which the redeemed are forever liberated from their fallen nature and thus return to a state of holiness that responds selflessly to God’s gifts and no longer needs a negative law, even though the law continues to exist as the eternal order of nature based on the character of God.
It was also in this eternal state that the Covenant of Redemption was made for fallen man. God foreknew this fall and, before the foundations of the world, had already formulated a plan of salvation to redeem the human race. However, recall Adventism’s Sanctuary hermeneutic which has, at its core, both a Christocentric and anthro-peripheral presupposition. This hermeneutic influences Adventism’s view of the Covenant of Redemption and the Atonement. For Adventism, redemption history is not centered on man’s salvation but on the character of God and the full restoration of all of creation to God’s original design. Thus, Adventism sees the sanctuary in heaven as the story of salvation pointing not simply to the cross but to the entire and complete vindication of the character of God and the redemption of the entire universe. The sanctuary on earth is, therefore, a little version of the Sanctuary in heaven which is connected to the Covenant of Redemption of the Big Story. We will revisit this concept when we discuss the Little Story in the next post.
 

Creation Motive: 

Due to the Eternal Covenant which reveals God’s grace-centered relation to all of creation, His motive for creation must be divorced from any self-seeking ideology. His deity is absolute and His other-centeredness is infinite. He did not create us because He was lonely, for He was not (The Trinity doctrine demonstrates this). to worship Him as some egotistical being for He does not need our approval or adoration as though His self-esteem was low, to serve Him as though He were tired and needed slaves, or to do anything for Him whatsoever for God “is not served by human hands, as if He needed anything” (Acts 17:25). God is self-sufficient and self-existent. Therefore, if God did not need creation the only logical conclusion is that He created it, not to receive something from it, but to give something to it. Being that Adventism’s view of the Eternal Covenant shows God to exist with a desire to give that is as eternal as himself, the idea that God created in order to give rather than to receive is not seen as an afterthought on Gods part but as His eternal desire rooted in His agape love essence. It was this agape love essence that existed forever within Gods singular plurality that He willed to share. Thus, all of creation was brought to be “for His glory” (Isa. 43:7) which is His character of agape love. We exist to be the recipients of that love, not to earn it, but to receive it as a gift. This is the creation motive which is revealed in the Eternal Covenant.
 

Middle Story

The Middle Story deals mostly with the angelic realm and the battle between good and evil. However, as will soon be evident, the Middle Story cannot be understood independently of the Big Story. Rather, the Big Story is the interpretive lens through which we understand the Middle Story.
 

Parametric Design: 

Because God is love and He created in accordance with His love, God is understood to be sovereign over all creation in love. In other words, love is the foundation of reality. God’s sovereignty is not understood to be coercive, manipulative or deterministic. Rather, it is understood to be the supremacy of His love reflected in His Eternal Covenant of Grace with all of creation. As a result, the law of God is not an arbitrary law created in order to control or “lord” over creation. Rather, the Law of God can be understood as a law of parametric design. In other words, reality was created to celebrate agape love and it operates based on the other-centered parameters that such a law contains. However, this Eternal Covenant and parametric design is not for mankind only but for all creation, including angelic beings and any other intelligences that God has created. All of creation testifies – in natural and moral law – of the infinite love of God.
 

“God is love” is written upon every opening bud, upon every spire of springing grass. The lovely birds making the air vocal with their happy songs, the delicately tinted flowers in their perfection perfuming the air, the lofty trees of the forest with their rich foliage of living green—all testify to the tender, fatherly care of our God and to His desire to make His children happy[White, Ellen G. “Steps to Christ”, p. 10].

Freedom of the Will: 

Determinism is incompatible with Adventism’s central emphasis on God’s character of other-centered (agape) love. Thus, Adventism is naturally an Arminian-Wesleyan approach to Scripture. According to Adventism, in order for God to have a universe that operates on a law of love that universe must be free, for love cannot be coerced, forced, programmed or manipulated. Love, in order to be true, must be free to develop. Consequently, God’s creative act is, in human terms, a risk. There is room for rebellion to take place in a universe governed by God’s love which, by definition, grants moral freedom to its inhabitants.
 

Mystery of Iniquity: 

Nevertheless, freedom of will does not of itself explain the origin of sin and evil. These remain a mystery for which no explanation can ever be given. Rather, what the character of God, His creation motive, His parametric design, and creaturely freedom do is to enable men to know that God is not morally responsible for the entrance of sin. However, to attempt to fully explain its origin is almost to find justification for it.

It is impossible to explain the origin of sin so as to give a reason for its existence. Yet enough may be understood concerning both the origin and the final disposition of sin to make fully manifest the justice and benevolence of God in all His dealings with evil. Nothing is more plainly taught in Scripture than that God was in no wise responsible for the entrance of sin; that there was no arbitrary withdrawal of divine grace, no deficiency in the divine government, that gave occasion for the uprising of rebellion. Sin is an intruder, for whose presence no reason can be given. It is mysterious, unaccountable; to excuse it is to defend it. Could excuse for it be found, or cause be shown for its existence, it would cease to be sin[White, Ellen G. “The Great Controversy” pp. 492, 493].

Thus, Adventism affirms that while freedom of will may provide a permissive pathway for rebellion, freedom of will cannot, in and of itself, be used to explain the entry of sin. God created a perfect universe and every gift for goodness was given to its creatures via His Eternal Covenant. There was no loophole or defective blueprint that led to the entrance of sin. And yet sin is exactly what we find in Revelation 12, Isaiah 14, Ezekiel 28 and Genesis 3. An angel named Lucifer chose to rebel against God and His government. He became proud and sought to overthrow the throne of God by usurping His place. This creature managed to convince a third of the angelic host to side with him in rebellion and thus began the great war in heaven which has since relocated to the earth. At the center of this war is the character of God himself. 

Image © Lars Justinen from GoodSalt.com

This truth is most clearly seen in Genesis 3 where, in order to lead man into rebellion, the serpent casts doubts upon the goodness of God and goes so far as to lie about him. This deceptive act on Satan’s part is what led to man’s fall. Once the picture of God was marred and lies about Him were embraced, man had no chance against the devil. The creation, founded on the law of other-centered love, can only operate in harmony with love. But once love was broken, the result was a planet ever tending toward greater depths of depravity, selfishness, and darkness. Is it no wonder that Jesus came to reveal to us the father? Healing begins, not at the cross, but in the skins used to cover Adam and Eve’s nakedness in Genesis 3:21. There the heart of a defamed God begins to cry out to its creation with tender love. And all throughout the life of Jesus, it was this other-centered love that is exemplified over and over until it culminated, in its greatest demonstration, with His selfless sacrifice on behalf of man upon Calvary’s cross – a substitutionary atonement for a fallen race.

Vindication of God’s Character: 

This, Adventism believes, is why Jesus is so central to the entire story of Scripture. From the animals sacrificed after man’s fall in Genesis 3 to the ram provided to Abraham in the place of His son, to the sanctuary services in the Hebrew temple, to the tearing of the veil upon Jesus death and the outpouring of the Spirit for the proclamation of the gospel to all men – all testifies of Jesus. Why? Because Jesus is the vindication of God’s character. In Jesus, we discover what God is truly like. In Jesus, the lies of Satan are dispelled. In Jesus, Satan’s accusations meet their end. In Jesus, sinners find their refuge and strength and in Him, all of Scripture converges with explosive power. Jesus, God-made-man, is the only one equal with the Father who has condescended to humanity. He is Jacob’s ladder – the ladder between heaven and earth. He is the bright and morning star, the culmination of the Old Testament narrative and the fulfillment of all of its ceremonies and laws. Jesus is the answer to the question over the fairness of God’s character. In Him we discover the truth – that God truly does love others more than He loves Himself.

The Great Controversy: 

This entire drama is what Adventism refers to as “The Great Controversy.” It is the battle between good and evil that began in the angelic realm and now infects the earthly. This entire battle is centered on the character of God and the fairness of His government. Thus, for Adventism the most important truth to discover is the heart of God. What is He really like? Satan’s war against God has never been about power. If it were, the war would never even have materialized. After all, God could have conclusively demonstrated His greater power by annihilating Satan with a word.  There is no doubt that God is sovereign and omnipotent over all creation. The war is about God’s goodness. Had God destroyed Lucifer the moment Lucifer began charging His Creator with unfairness, He would have broken the Law upon which reality had been designed. Moreover, He would have acted against His own character and for a God who “changes not” (Mal. 3:6) the immediate destruction of a rebellious angel would be illogical. Thus, the very agape-character of God, which was the foundation for the laws of the created order, meant God would give Lucifer time and voice. As a result, God’s defense, rather than based on power, would have to be based on revelation. Lucifer and his angels continued to reject God’s revelation until the war in heaven was lost and they were cast out. But Lucifer, now turned Satan (adversary/enemy), did not give up. His war continued and spread to the earth. With the deception of Adam and Eve, Satan claimed ownership of our world (Job 1) in Adam’s place and continued to spread lies about God throughout the nations. All of mankind is buried in darkness over the character of God. What is He really like? While the Big Story answers that question, the presence of evil casts doubt upon it. Thus, the Middle Story is the means by which the presence of evil is explained, and together with the Big Story, they form the interpretive lens to understand the Little Story.

In the next post we will bring all of these elements (presuppositions, Big and Middle stories) together and explore how these impact Adventism’s covenant thought.


Note: This article was originally published at www.pomopastor.com as “The Hole in Adventism: Identifying our Place in the Continuum of Protestant Covenantal Thought.” It has been edited for republication on Sabbath School Net.


 

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Source: Daily Sabbath School Lessons