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WHAT IS NEW IN THE NEW THEOLOGY?

Gerhard Pfandl

The term "New Theology" was used by [Pastor] M. L. Andreasen in 1959 in his Letters to the Churches [Now available] which he wrote in response to the publication of the book Questions on Doctrine in 1957. In these letters Andreasen, who had been one of our most notable theologians for many years, attacked the denominational leadership for what he considered as selling Adventism down the river for evangelical recognition. What had happened?

ADVENTIST – EVANGELICAL CONVERSATIONS

In 1955, Walter Martin, a Southern Baptist clergyman, contacted the General Conference with a number of questions. Martin, at that time, was a Ph.D. candidate at New York University, researching for a dissertation on the subject "Non-Christian Religions in the United States". In connection with his research he was preparing a book against Seventh-day Adventists and wanted to ascertain as accurately as possible what we really believed and taught. This contact led to a series of official conversations between Adventist leaders and a group of evangelical leaders. The evangelicals involved were Walter R. Martin, George E. Cannon and, later, Donald G. Barnhouse. George Cannon was professor of theology at Nyack Missionary College in New York and Donald Barnhouse was then a popular radio preacher in Philadelphia, pastor of a large Presbyterian Church in the same city and editor in chief of Eternity Magazine.

The Adventist leaders who participated in these conversations were LeRoy Edwin Froom, W. E. Read, T. E. Unruh and, later, Roy Allan Anderson, then editor of Ministry.

The purpose of these discussions was to provide Walter Martin with an accurate account of the distinctive beliefs of Seventh-day Adventists for his book. The group met a number of times in the offices of the General Conference throughout the period of about one year.

[Pastor] M. L. Andreasen, who by then had been in retirement for some years, took exception to these discussions. To him, they represented a capitulation - a sellout - on the part of the Adventist leadership. A confrontation developed between him and high-ranking Adventist leaders, particularly the then President of the General Conference, Reuben F. Figuhr, with whom Andreasen exchanged a series of strongly worded letters [You can see the 1st here], especially during the year 1957 (Roy Adams, The Nature of Christ Washington DC: Review and Herald, 1994, pp. 44,45).

When he was denied a hearing, on his terms, Andreasen went public with Letters to the Churches [See Andersen's version]. In letter 1 on page 13 he wrote, "Whoever accepts the new theology must reject the Testimonies. There is no other choice:" Under "New Theology" Andreasen understood primarily the teachings of Christ's sinless nature and the completed atonement on the cross as presented in the book Questions on Doctrine..

THE NEW THEOLOGY IN AUSTRALIA

The term "New Theology" was used in the 1970s in Australia by a group of ministers and evangelists who opposed what they considered to be a change in Adventist theology at Avondale College.

While many people found the emphasis given at that time to justification by faith both encouraging and attractive, these disquieted ministers perceived that the heavy emphasis on justification by faith and assurance in Christ could well diminish the need for sanctification and the role and function of the law of God in the life of the believer.

In time, the term "New Theology" came to be used to describe people in the church who believed (1) that Christ's human nature was sinless, (2) that man is sinful from birth, and (3) that the atonement was completed at the cross.

IS THE NEW THEOLOGY REALLY NEW?

There are Adventists who honestly feel that the "New theology" is a masterpiece of Satan, and that those who accept it have apostatised.

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  • The "New Theology" is a world-wide problem. It has been used by Satan in an endeavour to derail God's remnant church. We have confidence in the testimony of Ellen White that he will not succeed, but a huge number of God's people will sadly be lost as a result of the acceptance of this unscriptural theology. (Colin & Russell Standish, Deceptions of the New Theology, [Hartland Publications, 1989], p.28).
  • It is further claimed that followers of the "New Theology" deny the Sanctuary Message and the relevance of the Spirit of Prophecy for the church today. Furthermore, they claim that the trend toward worldliness in the church is a result of the "New Theology".

    In evaluating these claims, we must first of all state that the term "New Theology" is misleading, since it implies that it is something new which the Adventist church did not hold prior to the 1950s when these perceived errors were supposed to have crept in.

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    In 1888, at the General Conference in Minneapolis, Waggoner and Jones were accused of preaching a "New Theology", when they proclaimed the Righteousness-by-Faith message: [See Appendix O] There were some, however, who felt uncertain about the "new teaching", as they termed it. They seemed unable to grasp it. They could not reach a conclusion. [See EGW statement]. As a result, their minds were thrown into a state of perplexity and confusion. They neither accepted nor rejected the message at that time (A. G. Daniells, Christ Our Righteousness, [Washington, DC.; Review and Herald, 1941], p.42). [To see some more of this book, and Daniells' understanding of the acceptance and/or rejection, click here.]

    As it turned out E. G. While had preached this message before Waggoner and Jones. She supported them, and the brethren in the end did accept the message of righteousness by faith. This "New Teaching" or "New Theology" of Waggoner and Jones is now upheld as the "Old Theology" by some of today's independent ministries.

    We will now consider the three key areas, covering the nature of Christ, the nature of man, and the atonement [Comment].

    The Nature of Christ

    Some people claim that the church changed its teaching on the nature of Christ in 1957, when the book Questions on Doctrine was published. While it is true that many of our books prior to 1957 taught that Jesus had a sinful human nature, this does not mean that Questions on Doctrine taught something new. The church in the 1950s, when challenged by nonAdventist theologians, studied the question of the nature of Christ and discovered that Scripture and E. G. White give a somewhat different answer to the one found in many of our books.

    On the one hand, Jesus' physical human nature was the nature of humanity after the fall (Rom 8:3: Heb 2:16-17). Ellen White said, "He took upon his sinless nature our sinful nature" (MM 181). That is, Jesus had a deteriorated human nature, a nature that did not have all the strength, vitality and capacity that Adam had at his creation.

    On the other hand. Jesus' spiritual nature was the sinless nature of Adam before the fall; i.e., He had no evil propensities (with which we are born), no inclinations to sin (with which we are born) and no tendencies to sin (which we all have). Concerning our situation, Ellen G. White wrote, "The result of eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil is manifest in every man's experience. There is in his nature a bent to evil, a force which, unaided, he cannot resist" (Ed 29), and "the first Adam was created a pure, sinless being.... Because of sin his posterity was born with inherited propensities of disobedience". (5BC 1128). Furthermore, she says, "In order to understand this matter aright, we must remember that our hearts are naturally depraved, and we are unable of ourselves to pursue a right course" (CT 544).

    This is why all men, including infants, need a saviour: if Jesus had been just like all the other children, he would have needed a savior too. [Comment] In Luke 1:35 the angel speaking to Mary says, ". .. that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God" (unless otherwise indicated, all texts are quoted from the NKJV). And Jesus Himself in John 14:30 says, "... the ruler of this world is coming, and he has nothing in Me:. There was nothing in Jesus that responded in any way to Satan's temptations. He was "holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners" (Heb 7:26). Our situation is completely different: [My Comment] ........... [AT Jones Comment]

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  • Sin is a tremendous evil. Through sin the whole human organism is deranged, the mind is perverted, the imagination is corrupt. Sin has degraded the faculties of the soul. Temptations from without find an answering chord within the heart, and the feet turn imperceptibly toward evil (MH451).
  • Jesus did not have a perverted mind or corrupt imagination. He did not have an answering chord within his heart which responded to evil. Ellen White in many places confirms this:

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  • The human nature of Christ is likened to ours, and suffering was more keenly felt by Him; for His spiritual nature was free from every taint of sin (ST Dec 9, 1897).
  • Christ came to the earth, taking humanity and standing as man’s representative, to show in the controversy with Satan that man, as God created him, connected with the Father and the Son, could obey every divine requirement (1SM 253).

    Be careful, exceedingly careful, as to how you dwell upon the human nature of Christ. Do not set Him before the people as a man with the propensities of sin ... Never, in any way leave the slightest impression upon human minds that a taint of, or inclination to, corruption rested upon Christ or that He in any way yielded to corruption. He was tempted in all points like as man is tempted, yet He is called "that holy thing". It is a mystery that is left unexplained to mortals that Christ could be tempted in all points like as we are, and yet be without sin. The incarnation of Christ has ever been, and will ever remain, a mystery. That which is revealed, is for us and for our children, but let every human being be warned from the ground of making Christ altogether human, such a one as ourselves; for it cannot be (5BC 1128, 1129).

    Since all our theology must be based on Scripture, let us note the following texts: 1. Peter 2:22, "Who committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth", and 1. John 3:5, "And you know that He was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin.

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    Please note, Peter says "He committed no sin", but John goes further and declares that "There was no sin in Him", i.e., His nature was sinless.

    Therefore He could be the perfect lamb which takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29), a mediator who knew no sin, but was made to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Cor. 5:21).

    In the book Deceptions of the New Theology by C. and R. Standish it is claimed that:

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  • There are over 40 statements in which the issue of the human nature of Christ is specifically addressed by Sister White. Always she refers to the human nature of Christ as "fallen" or "sinful", thus confirming the words of Scripture. Never once does she use the term "unfallen" or "sinless" in relation to Christ's human nature (p.51).
  • It seems that the authors not only missed her statement in Selected Messages, vol. 1, page 256, where she says, "We should have no misgivings in regard to the perfect sinlessness of the human nature of Christ:" but several other statements like it.

    Repeatedly she speaks of Christ's "sinless humanity," e.g., "It was the purity and sinlessness of Christ's humanity that stirred up such satanic hatred" (MR 16, p.118) or "Christ unites in His person the fullness and perfection of the Godhead and the fullness and perfection of sinless humanity" (MR 18, p. 331).

    One will search in vain for expressions like "sinful nature of Christ", "fallen human nature of Christ" or "fallen nature of Christ" in the writing of Ellen White. What she does say repeatedly is that Christ took our "fallen" or "sinful nature" upon himself (e.g., MM 181; RH Dec.15, 1896; Ms 80, 1903). At times she quotes Romans 8:3, e.g., "Christ, the second Adam, came in 'the likeness of sinful flesh"' (3SM 141; Ms 99, 1903). This is in harmony with the view that Christ had the sinful physical nature of Adam after the fall, but the sinless spiritual nature of Adam before the fall.

    Again, the book Deceptions of the New Theology claims:

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  • To separate Christ's physical nature from His mental and moral nature would take us both to the Greek pagan concept of the distinction between an evil body and a good soul. No right thinking Seventh-day Adventist dare accept that dualistic view of man. It is a satanic deception. If Christ had a fallen physical nature, and He did, then His entire nature was fallen (p 53).
  • However, this is not what we find in the writing of E. G. White. In Signs of the Times, Dec. 9, 1897 she wrote, 'The human nature of Christ is likened to ours, and suffering was more keenly felt by Him; for His spiritual nature was free from every taint of sin." She clearly distinguished between his physical and spiritual nature.

    An exhaustive search of E. G. White's writings (on computer disc) reveals that she uses the expression "spiritual nature" 129 times and the expression "physical nature" 55 times. For example, she contrasts our physical nature with our spiritual nature when she says, 'The word of God plainly warns us that unless we abstain from fleshly lusts, the physical nature will be brought into conflict with the spiritual nature" (CD 382, see also , SC 88; DA 660 etc.).

    To distinguish between these two aspects in man's nature only becomes wrong when we say that each can exist separately from each other, as is the case in the belief that the soul is immortal. After all, the Bible clearly states that man consists of "spirit, soul, and body" (2 (1?) Thess. 5:23); and E. G. White wrote that "the nature of man is threefold" (CG39), and that every follower of Christ should "dedicate all his powers of mind and soul and body to Him who has paid the ransom money for our souls" (2SM 124).

    There is nothing new in the teaching of what is claimed to be the "New Theology" concerning the nature of Christ. 100 years ago Ellen White taught what the "New Theology" is teaching today.

    The Nature of Man

    To understand the nature of sin is vital to our comprehension of the nature of man. What is sin? How sinful is the sinner? How deep is our sin? Are we basically good created in the image of God, but because of temptations we transgress God's law; or are we basically evil, with the image of God almost destroyed, and because of our evil nature we commit sin? Is sin just what we do, or is it what we are? [Comment].

    The book Deceptions of the New Theology states that "Sin is wilful or negligent violation of God's law. The proponents of the new theology present sin as any departure from the infinite will of God and as any weakness or frailty of man" (p. 77).

    What, in fact, does the Bible teach about sin?

    Generally, the Bible defines sin as an act. I John 3:4 says, "Sin is the transgression of the law" (KJV), or "Sin is lawlessness." But a great number of texts in both the OT and the NT describe sin as a state, or tendency of the heart. Jeremiah depicts sin as a spiritual sickness which afflicts the heart. He says that "the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked; who can know it?" (17:9). David In Psalm 51 expresses the thought that he was born a sinner, "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity; and in sin my mother conceived me." Not that his mother did anything wrong in connection with his conception or birth - she was an honourable woman - but he recognises that he was born with a sinful nature. He desires to be washed and cleansed from sin (vss 2,7), and asks God to create in him a clean heart (vs 10). The same thought is expressed in Psalm 58:3. "The wicked are estranged from the womb: they go astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies". Israel is called "a transgressor from the womb" (Isa 48:8). And "from the sole of the foot even to the head there is no soundness (not a sound spot NEB) in it", says God in Isaiah 1:6.

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    In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus speaks of the inward disposition as evil (Matt 5:21, 27-28). To the Pharisees He said, "Brood of vipers! How can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks" (Mat 12:34). And to His followers He declared, "If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!" (Luke 11:13). Evil actions and words stem from the evil thoughts of the heart, "For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies" (Mat 15:19). This sinfulness of the human heart, which we will call SIN, produces individual acts of transgressions which are sins. Thus by nature we are children of wrath (Eph 2:3), who are enticed to sin by their own lusts (James 4:1). [Comment]

    Note the following statement by Erickson:

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  • Paul's own self-testimony also is a powerful argument that it is the corruption of human nature that produces individual sins. He recalls that "while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. (Rom 7:5). He sees "in my members another law at war with the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin which dwells in my members" (v23). In Galatians 5:17 he writes that the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit. The word here is epithumeo, which can refer to either a neutral desire or an improper desire. There an numerous "works of the flesh": "immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like" (vss. 19-21). In Paul's thinking, then, as in Jesus', sins are the result of human nature. In every human being there is a strong inclination toward evil, an inclination with definite effects (Millard Erickson, Christian Theology, [Grande Rapids: Baker, 1983], p.627). [Comment]
  • This understanding is clearly spelt out by Ellen White when she says, "The inheritance of children [before rebirth?] is that of sin" (CG 475), or "By nature the heart is evil" (DA 172). Furthermore she says, "The result of the eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil is manifest in every man's experience. There is in his nature a bent to evil, a force, which unaided, he cannot resist" (ED 29).

    Thus we sin because we are born sinful. The only sinless human being in Scripture is Jesus. Of Him alone we read that he "knew no sin" (2 Cor 5:21), that He was "separate from sinners" (Heb 7:26) and that no deceit was "found in his mouth" (1 Pet 2:22). Thus he could be the lamb "without blemish and without spot" (1 Pet 1:19).

    Then is nothing new in the teaching of the "New Theology" concerning the nature of man. 100 years ago Ellen White taught what is taught by the "New Theology" today.

    The Atonement

    The book Deceptions of the New Theology claims:

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  • It is held by Evangelicals and "New Theology" supporters alike that the atonement was completed at the cross. In weakness we have often yielded on this point when indeed, there are compelling biblical reasons to support the Seventh-day Adventist position. Using one isolated statement from Sister White against a large number that clearly state that the atonement of Jesus is completed in the heavenly sanctuary, many have made statements to the effect that "Christ is now ministering the benefits of His atonement in the heavenly sanctuary". But this is an incomplete representation of the doctrine of the atonement. Christ's sacrifice was, indeed, the central event in the atonement, but so also is His high priestly ministry. The atoning sacrifice of Christ is completed by the ministration of His precious blood in the heavenly sanctuary (pp, 90, 91).
  • The issue of whether the atonement was completed at the cross or not, is largely a matter of definition. In theological circles the term "atonement" has assumed a technical meaning and is generally used to describe the redeeming effect of Christ's incarnation, suffering, and depth on the cross. In this sense E. G. White uses it in the following statements:

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  • The sacrifice of Christ as an atonement for sin is the great truth around which all other truths cluster (GW 315).

    He planted the cross between heaven and earth, and when the Father beheld the sacrifice of his Son He bowed before it in recognition of its perfection. "It is enough", he said, "the Atonement is complete" (RH Sept. 24, 1901).

    No language could convey the rejoicing of heaven or God's expression of satisfaction and delight in His only begotten Son as He saw the completion of the atonement (ST AUG. 16, 1899).

    The ransom paid by Christ- the atonement on the cross - is ever before them (5T 190).

  • Thus, there who teach that a complete atonement was made on the cross view the term in its technical meaning as the all-sufficient atoning sacrifice of Christ offered for our salvation on Calvary. This is the meaning of Hebrews 9:12, "Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption", and 10:10, "By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all." [Comment] [Return to "Sanctuary"]

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    It is described as a "sacrifice of atonement" in Romans 3:25 (NIV) and as a "ransom" in 1. Timothy 2:6. However, the word atonement has also a wider connotation. In Scripture this is referred to as "reconciliation", which includes the change effected in man. Thus, Paul writes to the Colossians, "For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross" (1:19,20). And to the Corinthians he says, "We implore you on Christ's behalf, be reconciled to God" (2 Cor 5:20). This wider meaning includes the application of the benefits of the atonement made on the cross to the individual sinner. This is provided for in the priestly ministry of Jesus in the heavenly Sanctuary.

    In this sense E. G. White uses it in the following quotations:

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  • The great Sacrifice had been offered and had been accepted, and the Holy Spirit which descended on the day of Pentecost carried the minds of the disciples from the earthly sanctuary to the heavenly, where Jesus had entered by His own blood, to shed upon His disciples the benefits of His atonement (EW 260).

    Our Saviour is in the sanctuary pleading in our behalf. He is our interceding High Priest, making an atoning sacrifice for us, pleading in our behalf the efficacy of His blood (FE 370). Jesus is our great High Priest in heaven. And what is He doing? — He is making intercession and atonement for His people who believe in Him (TM 37).

  • Thus, Ellen White can speak of a "final atonement" on the Day of Atonement (GC 480; PP 357). She used the word "atonement" both ways - in its technical sense as an all-sufficient, complete, once-for-all sacrifice on Calvary, and in its wider sense which includes the application of the benefits of the sacrificial atonement Christ made on the cross.

    Again, there is nothing new in the teaching of the so called "New Theology" concerning the atonement. 100 years ago Ellen White taught what is taught by the "New Theology" today. Indeed, it is a distortion of the truth to declare such teaching as "New Theology".

    As far as the Sanctuary Message and the Spirit of Prophecy are concerned, the church at large has never wavered from its commitment to these truths. While there may well be individuals within the church who have doubts or reservations or an incomplete understanding concerning these truths the church's position has not changed as is evidenced by chapters 17 and 23 in the book Seventh-day Adventists Believe .

    THE SPIRIT OF CRITICISM – AN ISSUE OF CONCERN

    The spirit of criticism exhibited by some of the critical ministries is deplorable. Church members and critics alike do well to take note of the counsel given this church long ago:

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  • The worst enemies we have are those who are trying to destroy the influence of the watchman upon the walls of Zion... Be careful lest you be found aiding the enemy of God and man by spreading false reports and by criticism and decided opposition (5T 294, 295).

    Remember that he who takes the position of a criticiser, greatly weakens his own hands. God has not made it the duty of men and women to find fault with their fellow workers (EV 634).

    The time spent in criticising the motives and works of Christ's servants might be better spent in prayer. Often if those who find fault knew the truth in regard to those with whom they find fault, they would have an altogether different opinion of them (8T 83).

    The Lord never blesses him who criticises and accuses his brethren, for this is SATAN'S work (EV 102).

  • CONCLUSION

    In this study we have seen that the claims by some of the critical independent ministries that the church in the 1950s changed its theology are not justified. What is called "New Theology" is really not new; it is thoroughly biblical. Moreover, it is the theology which Ellen White proclaimed 100 years ago. Critics of the church need to take a closer look at these teachings before claiming that they are evidence of apostasy in the church.


    Abbreviations:

    KJV - King James Version NEB New English Bible

    NIV- New International Version E. G. White:

    BC - SDA Bible Commentary CD - Counsels on Diet and Food

    CG – Child Guidance CT - Councils to Parents, Teachers and Students

    DA – Desire of Ages ED - Education

    EV – Evangelism EW - Early Writings

    FE - Fundamentals of Education GC - Great Controversy

    GW - Gospel Workers MH - Ministry of Healing

    MM - Medical Ministry MR - Manuscript Release

    Ms – Manuscript PP - Patriarchs and Prophets

    RH - Review and Herald SC - Steps to Christ

    SM - Selected Messages ST - Signs of the Times

    T – Testimonies TM – Testimonies to Ministers


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