As I mentioned before, some more traditional members bristle at the word “relevance.” For them, it means changes. Often, they have difficulty distinguishing between changes in emphasis or methodology versus changes in doctrine, in basic beliefs.
Of course, Ellen White had to deal with these same concerns in her day. And her list of basic beliefs, or “Old Landmarkss,” was considerably shorter than most of her contemporaries. But more of that later.
A legitimate concern is that, in adapting methodology or emphasis to appeal to contemporary people, we will in fact abandon the central core that makes up our Adventsist identity. Here again, we come up against a complex question with no simple answer, at least not one I will attempt here, today.
I do want to address something else that I believe is pertinent to this question. Both the traditionalists and the progressives have lost sight of one important thing: the gospel confronts every culture.
Traditionalists tend to see how their understanding of the gospel confronts contemporary culture, while progressives tend to focus on how the gospel confronts the traditional Adventist culture. Both have half the truth.
The traditionalists who believe in “absolute truth” forget that though God’s truth may be absolute, our comprehension of that truth is partial. As Paul reminds us, “We know in part and we prophesy in part,” 1 Cor. 13:8. We spend so much time accumulating correct Bible knowledge forget that “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” 1 Cor 8:1.
So when traditionalists try to appeal to contemporary culture which rejects absolute truth, by telling them we have “the Truth,” with a capital “T,” this approach not only fails to confront contemporary culture, it fails even to engage that culture. We might as well tell people we possess “Authentic Lunar Green Cheese.” At best, they consider us deluded; at worst, dangerous. They never consider us serious.
Now, I’m not saying that “the Truth” doesn’t exist, or that it’s equivalent to “Lunar Green Cheese. ” I believe absolute truth exists. How much of it I have is another matter. The point is simply this: as long as they think we’re peddling “Authentic Lunar Green Cheese,” they will not listen. And if Adventists cannot engage the present culture, then we’re not faithful stewards of ‘present truth.’
It’s our job to make the gospel accessible to the contemporary culture, to put “present truth in the present tense.” That’s the challenge for all Adventists to undertake, to reach our own children, if no one else.
But what about the progressives? How does the gospel confront contemporary culture? Next time.