When we review the theological raids made against Last Generation Theology in recent years, we observe a repeating pattern:
- MISREPRESENTATION. What Last Generation Theology is, is misrepresented
- TAKE DOWN. The misrepresentation is next knocked down
- REPLACEMENT. A mistaken gospel is offered in replacement
This is a general pattern. Let’s consider concrete cases and provide correction.
"Another Idea that Didn't Help Anyone"
Time limits us today to but a few examples. Our first comes from September 25, 2010, offered at one of the world’s largest Adventist Churches. That presentation is part of an eight part series. Its title, "And Yet Another Idea that Didn't Help Anyone: Achieving Last Generation Perfection."
The presentation is introduced by a five minute video skit. In it, a group of church members are sitting in a pew in church on a Sabbath morning. As they converse they agree with each other that "you have to be perfect." One objects, "So what about that whole 'saved by grace,' you know, where does that come in? I mean, I heard that and it was like, ah, I have a chance now!" "That's too easy," one responds. The group discusses a page with a list of check-off boxes they have been passing around. According to them, when the check-boxes are completed, one has achieved perfection. Next, there is discussion concerning how hard one must work to be saved. God is with the Christian in the walk only "way, way at the beginning, right at the start. Then, after awhile, you just have to work really hard, all by yourself." They decide to call themselves "the perfection section." Finally, one declares "I'm not going to be perfect," and leaves. The skit is ended. And applause passes through the sanctuary as the pastor stands now to preach.
The preacher proceeds to name M.L. Andreasen as the main voice popularizing the idea of "sinless perfection" in the 1930s. (By the way, "sinless perfection" is a phrase never used by Andreasen). The claim is made that Andreasen minimized the significance of Jesus, teaching that His example was "not sufficient." According to the preacher, Andreasen's ideas were challenged and caused much debate especially in the 1950s. Andreasen, he mentions, was defrocked, although his credentials were restored posthumously. The preacher then asks: is the idea biblical? Does the Bible teach sinless perfection? The preacher tells us that "sinless perfection" means perfectly, in every detail, obeying God's requirements.
Now, a telling admission by the presenter: "if you grew up three or four generations ago it is very likely that you grew up with that very theology in place, being taught [it], reading about it," and that the idea still reverberates through the church today. Think about this. He is saying that a false idea about salvation permeated the church just three generations ago, and that it was unbiblical.
Claiming there are many texts that might be presented, he offers as evidence just one--Matthew 5:48 ("Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect" TNIV). But with hardly a pause to catch his breath he turns to the experiential argument ("Being perfect," he asks, "have you ever tried that?"). Then, a shift to the psychological argument ("seeking to attain sinless perfection will lead you either to despair or to pride"). From psychological argument he shifts to anecdote, spending almost ten minutes there. He claims to have met a student who was striving for sinless perfection in order to meet Jesus in peace, and who had worked his way through a list until he had only one more sin to cross off. He had already conquered pride.
Next, the speaker pivots. Attempting to achieve perfection is no new idea, says he, then quotes at length from 18th century Deist Benjamin Franklin. The son of Puritans, Franklin sought to practice virtue. He doubted the divinity of Jesus but thought the practice of religion necessary to keep men virtuous. (You may know Franklin was a Freemason, engaged in numerous sexual affairs, and even offered written advice on how to select a mistress.) Our speaker puts onto Franklin's lips the goal, "I'm going to shoot for moral rectitude, sinless perfection." Franklin, the preacher points out, claimed little actual success.
The speaker returns to the question of salvation, affirming that we are saved by grace alone, whether in a last moment like the thief on the cross, or after a long life closed out in spiritual victory. Those who suggest that sinless perfection is attainable, he says, don't have a proper view of sin. They reduce sin and rightdoing to mere actions, to checkboxes. In contrast, he claims that Paul says sin "is a power, a nature, a force within me that will not be overcome until I see Jesus face-to-face." He then refers to 1 John 3:1, 2 stating that we are transformed in a moment when we see Jesus.
He quotes Colossians 1:28, 29 and refers to Philippians 3:12-14, offering that the goal is not Christian perfection but Christian maturity. He returns to anecdotal argument, telling about a young person who had given up on perfection theology, and who confessed that while involved in it, he had treated others unlovingly. The speaker concludes quoting Hebrews 12 and looking to Jesus, "the Pioneer and perfector of our faith."
Since this presenter, and almost all others, identifies himself as rebutting Andreasen's LGT, out of curiosity I went through Andreasen's well known "Last Generation" chapter from his book The Sanctuary Service. I compared the texts used by the presenter with those made by Andreasen. Here is the list of verses, in order, quoted by Andreasen:
1 Thessalonians 5:23
1 Thessalonians 4:3
1 Corinthians 1:2
2 Corinthians 1:1
Hebrews 11:37, 38
Revelation 12:8, 9
Job 1:5, 6
Revelation 7:16, 17
Isaiah 43:10, 12
It happens that Andreasen, in his argument, never quotes Matthew 5:48. There is not even one place where Andreasen and the presenter quoted refer to the same verse.
This might be a good place to review some facts about Andreasen's "Last Generation" chapter. These few carefully written pages represent, without doubt, the single document best representing Andreasen's views, if not LGT in general. In those pages you find that Andreasen
- Uses the word "perfection" only once, and then to refer to those who were not perfect.
- Never refers to Ellen G. White's Christ's Object Lessons page 69 statement ("Christ is waiting with longing desire for the manifestation of Himself in His church. When the character of Christ shall be perfectly reproduced in His people, then He will come to claim them as His own.")
- Builds his entire argument from Scripture, referring to about forty Bible verses. Only at the close of the document, his main argument complete does he refer in passing to one brief EGW statement, and then not at all crucial to the whole.
- Andreasen refers to no statements by E.J. Waggoner.
- Andreasen refers to no statements by A.T. Jones.
- Andreasen carefully makes it clear from his first paragraph onward that he is addressing the significance of the role played by God's people with respect to the vindication of God's name and conclusion of the great controversy, and is NOT addressing personal salvation. Indeed, he explicitly states that a forgiven person who has not completed the sanctification process is in a "saved" situation (stated twice. See paragraphs 6 and 7).
- Andreasen explicitly states that "complete sanctification is not the work of a day or of a year but of a lifetime" (paragraph 8).
- Some claim Andreasen taught a "list" or "checkbox" understanding of sin, limiting sin to external acts. But Andreasen says, "God's law is exceedingly broad; it takes cognizance of the thoughts and intents of the heart. It judges motives as well as acts, thoughts as well as words" (paragraph 33).
Hearers might be interested in the first paragraph in Andreasen's chapter. It goes like this:
The final demonstration of what the gospel can do in and for humanity is still in the future. Christ showed the way. He took a human body, and in that body demonstrated the power of God. Men are to follow His example and prove that what God did in Christ, He can do in every human being who submits to Him. The world is awaiting this demonstration (Romans 8:19). When it has been accomplished, the end will come. God will have fulfilled His plan. He will have shown Himself true Satan a liar. His government will stand vindicated.
Understand in that paragraph Andreasen is NOT talking about personal salvation, as virtually all detractors assume, but about the vindication of the character of God
This anti-LGT presentation we have revisited is deeply flawed. It is no kind of biblical rebuttal. It uses seemingly everything but Scripture to attack the hated idea and rule it out of court for serious consideration. Perusing the presentation made by the preacher attacking last generation Theology helps us understand. It is no wonder some church members are ready to lose confidence in the church when such a parade of greasy, non-Bible-centered arguments are launched against the idea of the Last Generation. What do we anticipate members will think and feel as they compare such representations with the Bible and the writings of Ellen White?
"Theology of the Last Generation"
Consider another presentation. A prominent Adventist scholar sums up almost every controversy in the contemporary church in one sentence: "In the Bible and the writings of Ellen G. White the cosmic vindication of God is the exclusive result of the sacrificial death of Christ." He then quotes Ellen White from The Desire of Ages, p. 762 saying that "By His life and His death, Christ proved that Gods charges were refuted."
However, just a bit of care in reading shows that that scholar is making Ellen White's statement that Jesus refuted BEFORE THE CROSS charges apply to the AFTER THE CROSS charges which were not then refuted, but that will be refuted at last by Jesus working through end-time believers (Read The Desire of Ages, pp. 761-764 carefully). Then see handout.
PRE-CALVARY SATANIC CHARGES
|Charge||Who Refuted By|
|761 law cannot be obeyed||HAS BEEN DIRECTLY REFUTED BY JESUS|
|761 justice is inconsistent with mercy||HAS BEEN DIRECTLY REFUTED BY JESUS|
|761 pardon impossible||HAS BEEN DIRECTLY REFUTED BY JESUS|
|RESULT: Glory of the Son of God revealed|
|AFTER CALVARY Satan's disguise "torn away"||The Desire of Ages, p. 762|
|UNDERSTANDING: "The angels did not even then understand all that was involved in the great controversy"||The Desire of Ages, p. 761|
PRE-CLOSE OF PROBATION SATANIC CHARGES
|Charge||Who Refuted By|
|762 mercy destroys justice||TO BE REFUTED THROUGH BELIEVERS IN JESUS|
|762 Jesus' death abrogated the law||TO BE REFUTED THROUGH BELIEVERS IN JESUS|
|763 the law is faulty||TO BE REFUTED THROUGH BELIEVERS IN JESUS|
|763 some part of the law has been set aside||TO BE REFUTED THROUGH BELIEVERS IN JESUS|
|RESULT: Glory of the sons of God revealed|
|AFTER CLOSE OF PROBATION Satan "fully unmasked"||The Great Controversy, p. 670|
|UNDERSTANDING: "Christ's followers and the loyal angels behold the full extent of [Satan's] machinations against the government of God"||The Great Controversy, p. 670|
The same author, as many others, represents Andreasen as the chief person who developed and propogated LGT thinking. However, Andreasen's books were published as representing the church on the main denominational press. Numerous persons were involved in the decision-making process to commission, edit, publish and distribute the books Andreasen was chosen to write on behalf of his Church.
The only way these books could be published by the Review and Herald in those years was because what he wrote had very strong support from the Seventh-day Adventist Church. The tactic of making Andreasen the originator or at least the popularizer of LGT is seen again and again, but it is really an admission that just a few generations ago, the churches theology was very different than now--in short, that there has been a dramatic change.
The presentation here discussed appeared in the Adventist Review in 2013 and was prepared by a top church scholar. It is a misrepresentation, one that should hardly earn a passing grade even in an undergraduate religion class.
His final paragraph begins thus. "Although it would be possible for sin to rise again in heaven, this will never happen in actuality. The reason is not found in the unique experience of the last generation of believers but in the work of Christ on the cross."
Why then has God not ended the conflict between good and evil before now? Then why does Daniel nine give the Hebrews 490 years to "bring in everlasting righteousness" and to "put an end to iniquity"? Then why Revelation seven, 14, and 19 and a close of probation? Why does the author place our salvation fully in a finished work of Christ on the cross, and then let the creation pile on 2,000 more years of sin, suffering, murder and rape? Was it all finished in the cross? Read the last page of Ellen White's chapter "It is Finished" in The Desire of Ages (p. 764), and understand from her explicit statements why she disagrees.
The plan of redemption had a fuller purpose than man's salvation. Jesus did not come to earth just to save us. His purpose was not even limited to helping us better understand His law. Jesus came to vindicate the character of God before the universe. It is indeed Jesus’ vinidication. And yet, He chooses to use His people as a part of bringing about this vindication. All this is contrary to the assertion of the writer we are considering who says "In the Bible and the writings of Ellen G. White the cosmic vindication of God is the exclusive result of the sacrificial death of Christ."
The sacrifice of Christ is a necessary condition for God's vindication. Yet in the book of Revelation there is no hesitation in pointing out those who through Christ are victorious--all of which is superfluous if Jesus did it all. What role then does free will play? What roll then the sealing in relation to the marking? Or the close of probation? Nothing that the followers of Jesus do atones, nothing that they do earns personal merit. Nonetheless, the creation awaits their revealing. Heaven refuses to advance to conclusion until the character of Christ is essentially duplicated in His people.
The central feature of misrepresentation in the Review article is the misuse of the writings of Ellen G. White. None need be anesthetized by this technique. Notice again, she says "Satan's charges were refuted," after which our author refrains from quoting. But only two sentences later Mrs. White writes, "Another deception was now to be brought forward," after which she immediately elaborates on the revised, post-Calvary Satanic charges. But you would never know about those unless you checked Mr. EGW-Quoter.
We have only taken time and space here to address two misrepresentations, to unstuff two straw men. But we have provided you some helps to use when evaluating future representations about how allegedly misguided LGT is.
I return to the point made in the previous presentation. LGT, or "Last Generation Theology," is simply Christianity carried to its completion. It is simply the message given to the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Andreasen did not need, and we do not need E.J. Waggoner, or A.T. Jones, or even Ellen G. White for that matter, to make LGT work.
There are powerful, helpful things these authors say that can enhance our understanding of how to live in the last generation. But if all we had was the Bible, in its content we would also have LGT.
LGT is written into the very pages of Scripture. In the beginning God and in the end God. Christ is the end, the TELOS, the goal, the completion, the filling-up of God's purposes. When, in God's mercies, you and I have Christ formed within, our hope of glory, then it is demonstrated that divinity and humanity combined overcome sin, and that following Jesus is a joyful, friendly thing, in short, that Christianity matters in this world we live in today as never before.
Le Center MN SDA 2016-04-02