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Evangelical Reflections on Seventh-day Adventism



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Evangelical Reflections on Seventh day Adventism Yesterday and Today Kenneth Richard Samples This brief essay presents some broad reflections on the history and theology of Seventhday Adventism specifically focusing upon issues relevant to the evangelical Adventist dialogues of the 1950s It also offers some comments on how the theological content of those interactions still carries important lessons for today concerning the biblical gospel of grace As this conference clearly confirms the writings of the evangelical Baptist theologian and apologist Walter Ralston Martin 1928 1989 significantly shaped the way most evangelical Protestants came to view Seventh day Adventism So I ll begin by briefly tracing how I became acquainted with Adventism through my relationship with Dr Martin the central figure in the ongoing evangelical Adventist discussions through the decades An Evangelical Perspective on Adventism Of all the religious groups that emerged in nineteenth century America including the Mormons Christian Scientists and the Jehovah s Witnesses among others I have found the Seventh day Adventists to be the most intriguing As a student and an interested observer for more than twenty five years my first studies in Adventist history and theology came about when I was an undergraduate student at Concordia University a Missouri Synod Lutheran educational institution in Southern California Enrolled in a religion course that focused upon cults and new religious movements I wrote a term paper on Seventh day Adventism In particular I evaluated the controversial position taken by the evangelical counter cult specialist Walter Martin He claimed that Seventh day Adventism should not be classified as a non Christian cult but rather as a somewhat heterodox Christian church body 1 A few years later I had the privilege of working closely with Dr Martin at the Christian Research Institute CRI an evangelical apologetics organization that specializes in the study of cults and new religious movements My duties included assisting Martin as a research specialist on Seventh day Adventism With Martin s encouragement and support that research ultimately led to my writing an updated evangelical appraisal of Adventism in CRI s Christian Research Journal After Martin s untimely death I also wrote The Recent Truth About Seventh day Adventism for Christianity Today 2 These articles led to opportunities to dialogue with Adventist scholars pastors and administrators at such places as Loma Linda University La Sierra University and here at Andrews University I also interacted with the former editor of the Review and Herald and dialogued with a large number of Adventist pastors from the Southeastern California Conference In light of the Questions on Doctrine 50th Anniversary Conference I d like to publicly thank my Adventist friends for inviting me to participate and for their continued openness to discuss issues relating to biblical truth I hope this conference leads to more open and frank discussion about where evangelical Protestants and Seventh day Adventists agree and disagree on important theological matters Before remarking specifically about some of the theological issues relevant to the relationship between Adventists and evangelicals I want to provide a few personal insights about Walter Martin and his relationship to Donald Grey Barnhouse 1895 1960 I will also offer a 2 brief qualification of Martin s personal theological views in contrast to Barnhouse In addition I also want to note Martin s view of the Adventists leaders that he met with in the 1950s and convey the significance that Martin placed on those historic meetings I ve come to conclude that Walter Martin viewed Barnhouse in much the same way I view Martin One of Martin s early teachers in the Christian faith Barnhouse not only served as Martin s boss at Eternity magazine but was also a spiritual and intellectual mentor and a supportive friend Martin viewed Barnhouse as a courageous and insightful Christian thinker preacher and apologist Walter was one of my first teachers in the Christian faith In working with him he was a type of mentor to me as well as to many other young evangelicals interested in studying new religious movements Many consider him today to be the father of the counter cult apologetics movement within evangelicalism I especially admired Martin for his courage to stand up for the truth of historic Christianity A number of Adventist sources have identified Barnhouse and Martin as being Calvinistic in their theology as well as embracing certain dispensational doctrinal distinctives 3 While that description holds true for Barnhouse it is not true of Martin at least not the Martin I knew since the late 1970s When it came to the classic Calvinism Arminianism theological debate Martin was quite fond of referring to himself as a Cal minian As long as I knew him he was always very critical of the traditional Reformed theological system I know this because I am a card carrying Calvinist a member of the conservative United Reformed Churches of North America URC and Martin and I differed over some of the relevant theological issues I think Martin s understanding of and appreciation for the more Wesleyan Arminian tradition within Christian history allowed him to relate more easily to Adventist theology Martin was certainly more sympathetic to non Calvinistic theological systems than were 1950s evangelical scholars Anthony Hoekema and J K Van Baalen who were staunchly Reformed in their theology Martin was also quite critical of the eschatological distinctives of traditional dispensationalism For example he rejected dispensational premillennialism in favor of the historic premillennialism as set forth by the evangelical New Testament scholar George Eldon Ladd Martin spoke very highly of his Adventist friends specifically leaders such as Leroy Froom W E Read and especially R A Anderson Though Martin vigorously differed with them over some important doctrinal issues he considered these men to be genuine brothers in Christ He respected their intellectual and spiritual integrity Martin once said that he considered the evangelical Adventist dialogues and his subsequent theological assessment that Seventh day Adventism was a heterodox yet Christian church body to be one of the most significant accomplishments of his career and ministry I think he would be both surprised and pleased to hear of this conference Adventist Theological Development


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