Is God good? Examining an SDA defence…

More than one SDA has found something worthwhile in these (increasingly quoted) words from our of our most eminent evangelists and speakers, Ty Gibson:

Contrary to popular Christian opinion, atheism is not the worst thing in the world. Bad religion is. And within the scope of bad religion, bad Christianity is at the top of the list. The reason why is quite obvious. When those who claim to know God best really don’t, misrepresentation of the divine character is the inevitable result. Eminent historians have suggested that atheism may very well be the child of the medieval church, born into our world as a reaction to her grotesque picture of God.


Don’t get me wrong. Certainly the idea that there is no God is a discouraging thought, rather bleak at best. If there is no God, then we have no future beyond this life. Worse yet, the here-and-now is basically meaningless. All there is to life is an animalistic scratching and clawing for survival with total self-centered gusto.


But wait a minute. At least when it’s over, its over. So atheism is not a worst-case scenario. There is a picture of the great beyond that is more gut-wrenching than no God at all. And this particular outlook is not merely bleak; it’s down right terrifying.


What if there is a God, an actual superior being out there somewhere, but he is not completely good? What if He’s an unpredictable mixture of good and evil? If we’re alone in the universe, that is bad news. But if the universe is governed by an all-powerful being who is anything less than perfectly good that is horrifying news…


But consider another possibility.
What if there is a God…and what if He is infinitely powerful and at the same time infinitely good? One cannot imagine a more comforting and glorious reality! Suddenly life would become extremely meaningful.


The character of God matters. He happens to be the Person in charge of the universe, you and me included in that vast domain. Eventually we are going to find ourselves in His immediate presence…


Who is God?
What do you see?
Is He the kind of person you would want to be like?


It all depends on what you believe He thinks and feels when He looks at you.”


See With New Eyes: The True Beauty of God’s Character

Now, if I was asked who this book was written for, I’d struggle to answer. The ‘Lightbearers’ are all the kinds of evangelists who would say that if they spoke to two thousand SDA attendees at a public event, that would not be hateful, but they’d MUCH rather speak to two thousand non-Adventists. So the question can be re-worded thus: is this kind of writing efficacious in talking about God to those who share very different presuppositions to Adventists?

The ideas in this first paragraph have not only been set forth in writing by Ty Gibson in the book cited above – they also surface in part of the discussion in a Table Talk episode. And it sounds entirely reasonable (depending on a number of factors – more coming). But let’s unpack this properly:

  1. There is such a thing as ‘popular Christian opinion’ and we are to trust that Gibson is qualified to attest to such. [This is immediately complicated: in four decades on the planet I have personally experienced that more SDAs  – including in high-profile public ministry – to consistently misrepresent the teachings and philosophies of other thought-communities – including the theological positions of non-SDA Christian traditions…]
  2. Said version of ‘popular opinion holds that “atheism is the worst thing in the world.” [Would a significant majority of Christians really argue that? Is that actually  a claim that – if espoused in a classroom of a respectable tertiary institution or in a  TED talk – would actually be credible? Or is there a strong possibility that Christians might agree that atheism is a problem, but not necessarily agree on whether atheism is the worst thing in the world?]
  3. This idea is completely wrong – because the worst thing in the world is bad religion[Now, this is a second categorical statement that follows a previous categorical statement. No grounds were provided for the first, and that was complicated. For this one, it is to be expected that a religious person might argue that bad religion is the worst thing in the world, because from their perspective, all religions other than theirs are wrong and leading their adherents astray. So I question the use of the this proposition as part of an apologetic strategy…it is JUST the kind of earnest notion that skeptical-liberal Anglo-Europeans expect of sincere-and-not-especially-thoughtful North American Christians. So when a Ty Gibson – who does think – falls down a rabbit-hole of language use like this, he can only sound like yet another credulous knave trying to defend God…]
  4. In the vanguard of bad religions, it is ‘ quite obvious’ that ‘bad’ Christianity is at the top of the list. [Really? Obvious to whom? This is a third unsubstantiated statement and when the likes of me argue that Seventh-Day Adventists are (like everyone else) really good at making statements, but quite terrible at formulating arguments, most don’t like it. But when a speaker/presenter/writer at this level of profile offers this type of prose, we know that we’re in trouble, because these ideas are in a paragraph that is increasingly disseminated without being critiqued. First-level education practice requires one to be very judicious with the use of the word ‘obvious’ (and its cognates). When you come with a spiel like that, you NEED an argument. What is ‘bad Christianity’ and who is the arbiter of that? Seventh-Day Adventists are routinely accused of ‘eisegesis’ and when we fail to do the homework or be scrupulously disciplined in our hermeneutics, we actually make it easy for the charge that we have no theological method worthy of the name to stick.]
  5. If one claims to know God but doesn’t, misrepresentation of God is inevitable. [This sounds really reasonable, but as a theological statement offered without qualification or caveat, will this hold water? Here’s where I am going: some people are going to preach words that will result in another’s actual salvation but they themselves will be lost (1 Cor. 9:27). Will all of these people have known God, but then stopped being an a formative relationship with Him? Or might some of them be like those Jesus spoke about in Matthew 25 who actually do all sorts of things in the name of God – some of which might and will actually result in some person/s actually receiving salvation – but then find that Jesus – the Righteous Judge and Saviour of the World – says at that time, “I know you not?” I personally would have zero credibility with my secular friends as a religious person if this was the way I reasoned as a matter of course…because they’re not like some secular people who just want a liberal version of Christianity that they can then describe as ‘mature’ (from a secular perspective, which is intellectually arrogant but you can’t make that argument if you have no idea how to argue!). One of the greatest ‘scandals’ of Christianity is that works without relationship cannot save – even when those works include the baptism of other who genuinely turn away from sin. Add that to the scandal of grace where (this is a hypothetical example to make the point) a person can enter a family house, kill five of the six members of that family before being apprehended and imprisoned. The sixth family member refuses to forgive the murderer, who becomes a Christian in prison and receives Jesus and as such has ALL of his sins forgiven. That sixth family member becomes a pillar of society but goes to their grave refusing to forgive the murderer. We argue that this person is going to hell and the convicted murdered is going to heaven…and we think that this is ‘easy.’ It is not, but while other denominations have theological positions that seem to make grace ‘cheap’ – SDAs would never say such a thing outright but the weakness of our thinking takes one to the same place…]
  6. I have no idea who Ty Gibson believes to be an ’eminent historian’ but does he – and do those whose work he has read – know the origins (as opposed to the technical ‘etymology’ of the word ‘atheist?’ This might need researching for yourself – Socrates was one of the original ‘atheists’ who refused to believe in the Greek mythological deities. Justin Martyr wrote some powerful words c. AD 155 about the difference between being an ‘a-theist’ in terms of the Greek deities and an ‘a-theist’ in terms of the ‘one true God.’ Atheism is much older than the medieval period of Western history – and the history of European religious thought is exponentially more complicated than many realise (something now appreciated in a very different way by Gibson’s fellow ‘Lightbearer’ Jeffrey Rosario, who has been studying the history of theology at the Yale Divinity School these past few years). So if I show those words to my humanities-literate secular friends, their argument will look a bit like this: “this guy is not on top of his history…why should I bother with his religious argument?”

This is just the first paragraph!

I think that Ty Gibson is a wonderful, God-fearing man and a faithful Adventist. He may also be a much better human being than I am. But not only is there nothing for me here, there is nothing that I can share.

Why is the idea that there is no God ‘discouraging’ and ‘bleak?’ One of the slogans of early postmodernism was:

We have moved from untruthful certainty to truthful uncertainty.

At the heart of this construction is – sadly – an epic fail of the philosophical variety, and one that is endemic to Adventism as widely practised (as I experience it in more than one location, albeit in only one language). The idea (shared with some other conservative Christian communities) is that God is ‘necessary’ for an account of ‘meaning’ and ‘purpose’ in human life. In my previous post on this blog I have stated that ‘beauty’ [alone] is not ‘truth’ [in and of itself]. One person kind enough to respond argued that beauty can lead to truth. SDAs place a high value on truth above everything else. Now I knew what this brother meant, but this has become the problem with our concept of truth as expressed in language – it is only what we express in language!

And in that, we do an awesomely terrible job. You see, something is true because it is true, not because it is understood as such or decided as such. So an earnest life lived on the basis that God does not exist because the available evidence to this person points away from that is a life based on truth as this person understands it. Such reasoning includes that the very idea of God continues to be pursued as a form of ‘wish-fulfilment’ and while it would be ‘nice’ and ‘wonderful’ if God did exist, it is better to live ‘truthfully’ as if he did not than to live untruthfully as if he did.

So Ty attempts to argue the following:

  1. If there is no God, there is a) no future; b) no meaning in human life.
  2. There has to be meaning in human life, or else it would be ‘discouraging’ and ‘bleak.’
  3. That there is no God could be considered to be the ‘worst-case scenario’ for humanity, but it is not.
  4. That is because there is at least one possible scenario that is worse than God not existing: that he does exist but that he is ‘other-than-completely’ good.
  5. However, it is also possible that there is a superior being (aka God) who is simultaneously and by nature both a) infinitely powerful; b) infinitely good.
  6. This idea is a “glorious and comforting reality” and would make (by definition) life “extremely meaningful.”

What are the grounds for #1?

And #2?

It is plausible to argue in theory that #4 is indeed worse than #3.

#5 is legitimate, but what are the grounds for #6? Arguably, meaning and purpose in human life have to depend on more than an ‘idea’ but how would one ‘know for sure’ that it was true? This takes us into the complicated waters of Pascal’s Wager and while this is frequently misunderstood, there are excellent reasons why it is a staple resource for undergraduate philosophy classes in areas including logic.

That life is meaningful cannot be reduced to a short-scale and technically deficient argument of this sort.


Dear reader, please do not misunderstand. A robust theological education is no proof of a transformed life. But if you do not know that the Bible itself teaches that sincerity is not enough and that TRUTH matters, then may I please refer you to the story of Job. Despite the fact that they were actually defending the character of God, God called JOB to pray for them before He forgave them for misrepresenting His character. I believe that Ty Gibson’s intent is nothing but positive, but this kind of written material is why I say that non-SDAs have helped me in my Adventism more than SDAs.

In a future post and on another blog, I will endeavour to sketch an actual argument for God and his goodness. Thank you for getting to the end of this one.


Seventh-Day Adventists, Music and #HarryandMeghan

I have no idea who is going to read this blog post, as I have all but quit blogging. The internet is an increasingly dangerous place; truth has never been more at a premium and Seventh-Day Adventists have never been less credible. That was true before Ben Carson undid himself in public and guaranteed that all those of us who grew up inspired by Gifted Hands will not actually throw the book out (some of us will recycle it to charity), but we won’t be trying to promote it to our own kids anytime soon…

As I have removed every single SDA from my old Facebook profile, a consequence is that I have had the joy of not being exposed to what I understand to be a singularly vicious outcry against Seventh-Day Adventist involvement in the Royal Wedding 2018.

I read that in the first week of June, one popular young speaker is going to stream a defence of the lead singer’s involvement with the Royal Wedding 2018. Now, that same speaker has had plenty to say in the past about people who have not seen eye-to-eye with his specific reading of the SDA faith, but I have noted a sea-change in the rigour of his thinking and public speaking. I cannot speculate as to what has made this change, and occasionally I would take exception to some of his reasoning (he surely would reciprocate and that is fine). However, much of his public-facing argument about the problems of how Sabbath-keeping as a concept is understood and executed is light-years from the kind of argument that he and other colleagues were known for in the part with a certain ‘ministry’ enterprise. This is – by and large – to be celebrated.

I agree with this brother that if one has a problem with the fact that SDAs were involved with this high-profile event, there are ways in which one can make one’s feelings known. One does not have to castigate someone viciously in public. However, some consistency and mental on-it-ness is very useful. If a person does or says something as a ‘stand-alone’ action hat I don’t like, I can go to that person. But if a person offers a sermon that is chock-full of Biblical error (and indeed, grotesque abuse of Scripture) and this message is being publicised as an action of something inspired by the Holy Spirit of God Himself, I take the view that this is fair game and a counter-response need not require that one go round the houses trying to get an answer from the preacher whose message you are about to tear apart at the seams. But that is not how many SDAs think, and the consequences include the reality that our global community is an intellectual wasteland that continues to ship 44% of all those it baptises. So the hard-core conservatives who constantly belittle those of us with a better humanities education (never mind theologians) are part of the problem but it is always someone else’s fault…


There is a reason why this blog is titled the way that it is. I am a life-long THEOLOGICALLY-conservative Seventh-Day Adventist. I have never touched alcohol, cigarettes, or controlled narcotic substances. At this time of writing I am not married and while I have experienced sexual temptation and at times capitulated, I have never impregnated another human being (and I am heterosexual). I have eaten a 90%+ vegetarian diet for the last 13 years, memorised passages from the KJV, and served the church in a number of lay capacities, one or two being quite senior. I believe wholeheartedly in the ministry of Ellen White but I REFUSE to refer to her written corpus as the ‘Spirit of Prophecy’ because this is semantically incoherent and theologically bankrupt. And I will not be marrying a wife who wears makeup and jewellery – not because those who do are any less ‘spiritual’ than anyone else but because that’s not what I grew up with and I have my reasons why that’s not something I want in my life [for the record, I will not be asking any woman to change who she is just for me…]. Blah, blah, blah.

So yeah: despite the fact that I often don’t wear a tie to church (although I would wear one to preach in most SDA churches so that people are not distracted) – and I really like ties and have more of them than some people – I am 100% theologically conservative through and through.


But I really don’t get on with most conservative Adventists. Broadly speaking, with the exception of some of those who really do take the theological task seriously and some of those with a much more holistic outlook (but without compromise), I have never met a more limited group of people with such low levels of cultural literacy and such a huge inability to think their faith beyond epithets such as “there’s a sermon about that…” and an expanding panoply of soundbytes, and fixed hermeneutic notions that are usually not rigorous enough to be credible (these are always the most popular!). But although I prefer conversation with the ‘liberals’ and the ‘progressives’ – I’m not about to become either of those. So I am lost in this church, with more friends outside than in. But every day I learn more about what it means that my true ‘home’ is in Jesus Himself.


As such, I quite understand why various types are gunning for those SDAs who were involved in the service at Windsor Castle on Sabbath May 19th. As a lifelong conservative  Adventist, I too used to have incredibly strict rules about Sabbath. And as a professional musician for over two decades, I can tell you that nothing has tested my Adventist identity more than being both a professional musician and an SDA simultaneously. I have judged many (high-profile) SDAs for their rather more liberal approach to Sabbath-keeping and occasionally carried on like Elijah after Mount Carmel, bleating to God that there was no-one left to serve Him but me (I am SO glad that God forgives!). These days, my own approach is very different; more at the end.


This is now where the rubber meets the road. And I am not writing for everyone – I am writing for those who can hear and understand what I am saying. That does not mean that they will agree – but it does mean that they will actually understand. I am not going to be understood by everyone and that is FINE.

Had two things been different, I would have been there myself as a music-maker if I have been offered that opportunity. Here’s the first: if the preacher was going to at least ‘represent’ a vanguard of Biblical (not necessarily SDA, but Biblical) Christianity. Let me explain.

As a professional conductor of classical music, the Sabbath has been a huge problem, but it has not been the biggest.

Do you want to know the biggest problem that I have as a SDA professional conductor?

Refusing to conduct music with a message that I do not believe – ESPECIALLY sacred Christian music. I cannot conduct any requiem masses (not the same as a regular ‘mass’) or other works with text that is Biblically and theologically corrupt. I refuse to conduct any ‘Marian’ texts – hymns and prayers to Mary – because I could not preach that. {Btw, SDAs are doing this stuff all the time in Sunday churches…etc…but that’s another discussion.] So, if I know that I am to conduct an ‘anthem’ just after a sermon, then that anthem is going to be expected to reflect the sermon – so I need to know that I have some reason to trust the sermon!

In one broadsheet article I read that the choir’s director said that the choir had no idea Bishop Michael Curry was going to be there, because “he wasn’t at the run-through.” Well, neither was I. Obviously. But I knew who was going to preach, because the Archbishop of Canterbury was singing his praises prior to the wedding! So I looked him up and sure enough, he really does out to be the head of the Episcopal Church in the USA.

The Episcopal Church has sanctioned same-sex Christian marriage. Now, I am appalled at the SDA conservatives who refuse to see that if you accept that ‘Christian’ marriage cannot necessarily look the same as ‘secular’ marriage and that people have the right to choose to get married NOT in the ‘sight of God’ – which means that there is no spiritual difference between a godless marriage of heterosexuals and a godless marriage of homosexuals – we cannot possibly legislate against people’s right to choose ‘other-than-God.’ God has not forced everyone to keep the Sabbath, and we do not want the Sunday law! [It’s coming, ready or not, like it or not!] So how can we support legislation scuppering people’s rights to choose other-than-God when Jesus died for us to have the right to choose without being forced by the laws of a given nation?!

So what kind of theology can I expect from a person who leads a church that has moved against such a fundamental pillar of Scripture?

You know, there are many Christians whose theology differs radically from mine who have written and taught ideas/truths that have really, really helped me. So weird as this might sound, the fact that this preacher believes that same-sex marriage is possible within Christianity is (in and of itself) not actually the problem here. I have heard more than one Anglican clergyperson with the same belief preach an amazingly Biblical sermon in a Cathedral and I have praised God for truth and light. If that happens here, we’re still winning! BUT – what happens if he preaches something that points towards a significantly more liberal theological outlook that by following in music I will only be seen to be endorsing? What then?!

Is that a good risk for a Seventh-Day Adventist to take?

So then, what of the song itself? I have noted that the BBC website managed to publish an article talking about the ‘spiritual’ origins of Stand by Me.  Very clever. But look at the way ‘spirituality’ and ‘defiance’ are equated in that article. Look at the fact that although the song has a powerful message, it is not actually ‘doxological.’ Now, I understand that when I make music on the Sabbath, the music has to be explicitly in praise of a Holy God. Sabbath is NOT the time for amorphous spirituality and ambiguous theology. Colossians 3:16 (you know this, even if you think you don’t…”let the WORD of CHRIST dwell in you richly…in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.” So the song for the Sabbath must – without ambiguty – point to the Word. And what many SDA professional musicians appear to have either not accepted or not understood is that if you have to do any sort of ‘exegesis’ to explain that a piece of music with lyrics that everyone can hear is in fact a ‘spiritual’ or ‘sacred’ song, your argument is undermined even before you start.

Here’s another way of making the same point: if they’d sung Kirk Franklin’s ‘Love’ as writ, there could be no doubt whatsoever that the choir believed that only Jesus can show us “what it really means to love.”  If that song – or one such – had been shared in that service, I would have rejoiced from the hilltops. Why? Because the Word would have been preached through the music. This just in: can you imagine the effect if the Kingdom Choir had sung Donnie McClurkin’s All We Ask?!?!?!?


So what did we get? A sermon that talked so much about love as that which is sufficiently experiential to constitute truth as ‘intuition.’ Love ‘feels right’ when you are loved and you know it. So the object of the sermon was not the God of love (the God who both loves and makes human love possible), nor even the ‘love of God’ but of love itself as an inferential form of divinity. In a sermon like that, homosexual couples can be affirmed by the preacher.

The Kingdom Choir sang right after that, and so endorsed this spiritually sincere but Biblically-theologically unviable message. Truth is more than our experience, so when we raise our experience to the bar of ‘truth’ distortion is inevitable. As such, even some theologically-literate and spiritually-sincere Sunday-keeping Christians would have been deeply uncomfortable with the sermon as it was worded. So as an SDA, if I run with that message and sing a song that corresponds to that message  HOW EXACTLY do I then share the distinctives of my Adventist beliefs?

That is why – although I am not always in a safe (and sometimes saccharine) SDA environment every Sabbath, I am dealing with something that prosecutes the reality of Biblical Christian faith. And when I cannot do that, I am not supposed to be there!

Which is, of course, the second of the two things I mentioned above. You see, when you are a serious academic musician and you know what music actually represents and signifies, you know that what serves one purpose in one context serves a different one in another context. Some of you may not know that the writer of Something Inside So Strong was actually thinking of his homosexuality even before his race and culture when those opening words “The higher you build your barriers” came to him in a moment of inspiration. So if you heard that song in a civil rights protest event, it would have ‘semantic freight’ in that direction. But if you heard it at a 50th birthday party for a gay individual, it would signify something completely different.

Stand by Me is not the same as We Shall Overcome. This is a little disingenuous on the part of the BBC article writer, but that’s to be expected. However you spin the origins of that song, the effect was one of great emotion – experienced by millions of viewers.

But even the secular people know that truth and emotion are two different things. So here’s where I am going to conclude: I am not God. I am not the judge. I am not a judge. What makes sense to one will not make sense to another. And I have my own track record of sins and failures in the sight of both God and man. It is one reason why I have refused to make any comment about this up to now.

But, but, but: as a Seventh-Day Adventist who has been called to be a Levite – not just a music-maker – I am a servant of TRUTH before everything else. And for me to have conducted that song would be to place myself in harmony with a theological agenda that as an SDA I could not endorse for a nanosecond. The fact that this was taking place on Sabbath is itself part my theological rationale – if I can conduct, arrange and sing Stand by Me during the Sabbath, why can’t others be in the studio or onstage in other arenas doing positive secular music during the Sabbath? What does the Sabbath mean? What is our message? What is God’s message for this time of the week?

BUT let me tell you this: when I conduct sacred classical music or even straight-up gospel music outside the church walls on the Sabbath, it is because I cannot get anything like an adequate level of cooperation from SDA church members for musical or spiritual excellence. I have managed to lead atheists and agnostics in sacred music where they have suspended their disbelief to the point where audience members were convinced that the whole choir was Christian. I do not need SDAs to prosecute my calling as a Levite. But if I serve some other agenda during the Sabbath, I undermine my Levitical vocation.

So conservative Adventist ‘Sabbath music’ with its profoundly dubious, technically bankrupt and spiritually juvenile approach to both worship and music is a no-go area for me. I need to offer God something more ON THE SABBATH than will ever be possible in church. And the choir at the wedding sang beautifully! Beautifully!! All for that. But beauty is not truth. What is the witness?



Seventh-Day Adventist and Nazi Party views on African-American music – Part Three

If you have not read Part One and/or Part Two of this multi-part blog, then it could really be a good idea as you will lose a great deal of context and background.


Now, the idea is not and has never been to assert that all forms of music are equally valid and useful and spiritually applicable. This is a running argument that I have had with significant numbers of thinking and biblically-literate musicians from non-SDA churches  – but we do also have Adventists who think that there is no genre beyond redemption (and some are conservative – but not British).

Since the posting of Part Two of this post I have realised that there is limited purchase power in trying to enlighten SDA church members about musical technicalities if they do not already understand those through advanced and rigorous training. Those who know do not need to be convinced of what they have already understood, and those who don’t know might sometimes be genuinely willing to go on an arduous journey of thought to understand something new – but most of the time – in my experience – this is not the case.

I have written a personal introduction to jazz for Seventh-Day Adventists – again, it could be really good to look at that before continuing. Some of you might be wondering what the point is of any of this when these were Nazi stipulations against ‘dance bands’ and ‘light orchestras’ – both types of ensemble playing secular music of spectacularly little relevance to many conservative Seventh-Day Adventists. That is a very reasonable point on the surface – except that in this case, the point is not to ‘promote’ the music that the Nazis were so against. The point is to explore the similarities between the musical ideology of the Nazis and the musical ideology of Seventh-Day Adventists – because this author is far from alone in having recognised some very disturbing parallels…

It is also clear that each of these points deserves a blog post of its own. And instead of writing 10 blog posts of between 1000-2000 words, it is time to add these ideas to the book I am writing on the subject of music for SDA readers. As such, this will be the last post in this particular series, because what needs to happen here is too big for the blogosphere – even by this writer’s usual standards!

Here are the rules:

  1. Pieces in foxtrot rhythm (so-called swing) are not to exceed 20% of the repertoires of light orchestras and dance bands;

  2. in this so-called jazz type repertoire, preference is to be given to compositions in a major key and to lyrics expressing joy in life rather than Jewishly gloomy lyrics;

  3. As to tempo, preference is also to be given to brisk compositions over slow ones so-called blues); however, the pace must not exceed a certain degree of allegro, commensurate with the Aryan sense of discipline and moderation. On no account will Negroid excesses in tempo (so-called hot jazz) or in solo performances (so-called breaks) be tolerated;

  4. so-called jazz compositions may contain at most 10% syncopation; the remainder must consist of a natural legato movement devoid of the hysterical rhythmic reverses characteristic of the barbarian races and conductive to dark instincts alien to the German people (so-called riffs);

  5. strictly prohibited is the use of instruments alien to the German spirit (so-called cowbells, flexatone, brushes, etc.) as well as all mutes which turn the noble sound of wind and brass instruments into a Jewish-Freemasonic yowl (so-called wa-wa, hat, etc.);

  6. also prohibited are so-called drum breaks longer than half a bar in four-quarter beat (except in stylized military marches);

  7. the double bass must be played solely with the bow in so-called jazz compositions;

  8. plucking of the strings is prohibited, since it is damaging to the instrument and detrimental to Aryan musicality; if a so-called pizzicato effect is absolutely desirable for the character of the composition, strict care must be taken lest the string be allowed to patter on the sordine, which is henceforth forbidden;

  9. musicians are likewise forbidden to make vocal improvisations (so-called scat);

  10. all light orchestras and dance bands are advised to restrict the use of saxophones of all keys and to substitute for them the violin-cello, the viola or possibly a suitable folk instrument.

As an example of what is to come, lets’ appraise the very first one:

  1. Pieces in foxtrot rhythm (so-called swing) are not to exceed 20% of the repertoires of light orchestras and dance bands.

A proper lesson on American musical history in the first half of the last century can’t really happen here. However, there is a difference between the ‘swing’ that we now know as ‘early swing’ before it became modern jazz as we know it, and the ‘swing’ that is characteristic of jazz itself. This stipulation refers to the latter, but even at that time ‘foxtrot’ and ‘swing’ would not have been synonymous, so the Nazi Gauleiter writing these rules betrays his ignorance – not least because technically there is no such thing as a ‘foxtrot rhythm’ in a musical sense – only in a ‘dancing’ one. The Nazis wanted as little of the fast foxtrot dancing as possible, but their reasoning was not one of ‘morality.’ It was ‘ideology.’ Remember, Nazi ideology privileged the Aryan race = white superiority = morally obliged white supremacy. Continental Europe had its own tradition of what were called ‘salon orchestras’ that entertained people and facilitated dancing. So there was no ‘need’ to look to the USA – much less black America – for inspiration to dance! BUT – the fact that people who were neither black nor American actually wanted to dance to this music makes the point that its organic appeal was not solely restricted to its ‘native culture’ – because as the descendants of enslaved Africans, there was no way that this music could be ‘native’ in the prototypical sense of the word. The black Americans had made a new tradition that itself could not have existed without Western European musical theory – but at the same time, would never have been created by proto-European musicians! So the Germans – along with every other country where jazz had been exported by radio (they were listening to jazz on the radio in South Africa in the 1920’s!) – heard themselves in the foxtrot, but they also heard something very un-Germanic but which they really liked! The Nazis had good reason to fear this music – because whereas a conservative Adventist who has been trained to shun everything apart from the music they play on 3ABN or Bill Gaither or ‘classical music’ has no real framework to think independently about music and so ends up only being able to see as ‘holy’ what s/he has been taught to understand as ‘holy’ – the people around the world responding to this early swing music heard something more than mere ‘jive and dance and sex’ – they heard the music of a people who had found a way to express themselves despite the trauma, disenfranchisement, marginalisation and inhumanity of segregation…

…because the musicians had found a way to be free, and a global audience HEARD that. This stuff cannot be faked!

But the musical language of celebration early swing was never going to be enough, and that’s how the jazz that musicians like me play developed. As a Seventh-Day Adventist jazz musician, my job is not to entertain audiences. It is not to make people ‘feel good.’ It is not to induce them to buy more drinks. It is not to promote a secular agenda. My job is to make people THINK. [And yes: secular listeners who did not know me from Adam have been able to work out that I am a Christian by the way in which I play – even when I have not been playing actual sacred music from the Christian tradition!]

In the 1920’s and 30’s it was all dance and swing. But by the 40’s the earlier music was being explored outside the USA while ‘swing’ was becoming ‘jazz’ and audiences were moving from dancing to listening to thinking, and by the 1960’s when African-Americans sang ‘We Shall Overcome,’ the whole world could sing along with them – and white Americans found themselves disenfranchised. You know the rest: segregation ended and apartheid South Africa found itself at the wrong end of the world’s wrath. You know how that ended as well!

Just before certain types of mind think that I’ve gone off on a ramble and lost the plot – what was happening with the Seventh-Day Adventist Church through all this?

Does anyone think that as a church with an identity of God’s chosen remnant with an end-time message for a broken and dissolute world crying out for the gospel, we were different to all of that?

Well, I understand. That’s kind of what would be expected – which is why the fact that in 1944 the North American Division voted for regional conferences (i.e. to have black and white conferences). This article will give those of you not aware of this history a little more of an idea.

So instead of being light and salt, as you will read in the above article link and elsewhere,   white North American Adventism has capitulated to the prevailing culture and in 1943 a black woman dies because an Adventist hospital won’t treat her. Instead of getting on their sackcloth and ashes, the NAD papered over the cracks by offering black Adventists a route to power.

Get this straight: only deeply mentally-culturally impoverished UK Blackventists could be uncritically soaking up everything that conservative North American Adventism exports. As you will read, the black church members asked for integration WITHIN THE CHURCH and got segregation. HOW DOES ANYONE IN THEIR RIGHT MIND THINK THAT A CHURCH THAT MAKES THAT KIND OF DECISION IN THE TWENTIETH CENTURY IS GOING TO EASILY/QUICKLY APPEAL TO SCEPTICAL-CRITICAL ANGLO-EUROPEANS?!?!

And especially when both black and white leaders continue to defend this decision in the 21st century?!?! What is the message being sent to our seekers, new attendees and also our baptised members?!


So the Nazis were down on black Americans. White North American SDAs were down on black American SDAs. But it really does get worse. What does anyone think that the Seventh-Day Adventist Church was doing during the third Reich?

The German Adventists continued to support Hitler and his regime until the end of World War II. The Adventists served loyally in the armed services, but most served in combatant positions and rose within the ranks.[76] This went against the denomination belief that if Adventists participate in war it must be in a non-combatant position. The Church leaders claimed, “the pastors and members of our Church stand loyally by their Volk and fatherland as well at its leadership, ready to sacrifice life and possessions.”[77] They were willing to sacrifice their life and possessions for the fatherland, but they were unwilling to do the same for their religious beliefs. The racial policies of the Nazi regime went against what Adventists believe, but the Adventists did not voice their concern. They also did not voice their objections about not having religious liberty in Nazi Germany. The German Adventists may have served their fatherland loyally, but they did not serve the Seventh-day Adventist denomination loyally.

After the War

The German Adventists continued to believe they had done the correct thing by compromising with the Nazi government. The survival of the church was what was important to the German Adventist leaders, and in order to survive they needed to compromise. Only in May 1948, did the General Conference take a closer look at the German Adventists’ actions during the Nazi regime. The reason why the General Conference took interest was because of a letter written by Major J.C. Thompson, chief of the Religious Affairs Section of the American Military Government in Berlin.[78] The letter wanted to know why the Adventists had not removed all the Nazis from their leadership positions within the denomination.[79] It also compared the Adventists to the Catholics, saying that the Catholics did not have to remove many people because of their strong opposition during the Nazi regime. There was no opposition from the Seventh-day Adventists.

The German Adventist leaders were upset with the General Conference for ordering members to step down from their positions because they had joined a Nazi organization. In order to survive in Nazi Germany, they argued, people had to join Nazi organizations. The German leaders believed the General Conference had no right to make judgments about them because of their actions during the Nazi regime. They were especially upset because the General Conference had “adopted and enforced a policy that prevented publication of any commentaries about Nazism or even fascism,”[80] in order to assist the German Adventists. The German Adventists did not like the fact they were being blamed when the General Conference was assisting them in their survival.

The General Conference had become alarmed in 1939, when they estimated that 10 percent of the German Adventists were working on the Sabbath.[81] The Sabbath is one thing that defines the Seventh-day Adventist church. With the start of World War II there was nothing the General Conference or the German Adventists could do. The German Adventists had sent out a circular telling its members to submit to the authority of the government. While this did not meet the demands of the Nazi government, it was used as evidence in the General Conference case against the German Adventists.[82]

You can read the whole article here and follow its origins and citations.

So for those of you – including some friends – who think that this whole direction of blog post was OTT and that I was trying too hard to make links where they might not exist – you may still think that. But here we have two massive examples of situations where black people are regarded as something-other-than-equal by white Seventh-Day Adventists in both Europe and North American (and those Euro-Americans are also ‘Europeans’ – see the point I’m making?!).

Three closing points:

  1. Martin Luther was very far from the complete package as a role model for Seventh-Day Adventists. He certainly held anti-Semitic views (that was a bombshell when I learned about that while studying Kierkegaard) and he also believed in transubstantiation. Dr. Fernando Canale has also spoken about some theological challenges that we have had handed down from Luther in Secular Adventism. Was all of that enough to stop EGW from referring to Luther in the most glowing terms in The Great Controversy? Hmm. For all the things that did not work, Seventh-Day Adventists have not unilaterally decided to make a pariah out of Luther, and that is absolutely right.
  2. That takes us to the small matter of music which in some way originates from the African continent or African diaspora. Are there some aspects of some of these music forms and contexts that are deeply and profoundly against God and His best will for humanity? Yes, no question. But do we then say that there is NO GOOD WHATSOEVER that can come out of any of these music forms? And only Europe – the same Europe who enslaved black Africans and who produced the Anglicans and Episcopalians who sang hymns whilst treating black people as chattel goods and who then produced white leaders and church members who could not see past race enough to integrate the Seventh-Day Adventist Church in the USA at a time of stupendous social darkness? Has no-one noticed that the black Adventist speakers who are popular with both black and white Adventist listenerships are those who promote what is still – after all these decades – a neo-colonial brand of Adventism?
  3. I have put my hand up as a Seventh-Day Adventist jazz musician. I am grateful and humbled and proud to have been brought into this church by God. I am surprised and humbled and grateful and proud to be able to be not only a jazz musician but a conductor of classical music and a leader of gospel music whose work in all three genres is more recognised outside than inside. That’s fine with me. But please note: I am not down with most of the contemporary groove-based music that I hear in English-speaking Adventism most of the time, the majority of which would have been more edifying if it had never been thought, never mind played.

So: if you ever wondered where this incessant antipathy (from white and other Adventists) against contemporary music forms (black as well as other) has come from in conservative Adventism, by God’s grace you now know more than you did before. Put the rest of it together for yourself.

Seventh-Day Adventist and Nazi Party views on African-American music – Part Two

Here’s an important question that picks up on what was arguably the most serious assertion of Part One (which you can read here). Some of you may have already seen a discussion about this on Facebook; please note that this is sufficiently different so as to be brand new – although the argument is exactly the same. Please take a look for yourself!

Is your connection between the slave trade and classical music based on both being in the same time period? I didn’t catch a stronger connection in the article but maybe I missed it. If that is the case then what other inventions, institutions or cultural phenomena do we discount because it happened to be founded whilst other deplorable practices were going on? Hymn tradition may have come during the slave trade but so did scientific inventions…

Now, the first point to make is that this interlocutor has been clever enough to think carefully before wording this question. It makes no direct accusation and also acknowledges the possibility that something has been missed. If it were to be the case that I have made that connection on solely that basis, we will have big problems. The question is…did I do that?


Thanks for wording that question as carefully as you did. I’ve been wondering how long it would take for someone to pick up on it. 

What I haven’t done is simply suggest that because Anglo-European hymnody developed at the same time as the European slave trade, they must be connected. By my lights, that would not even qualify as an argument. What I also didn’t do in Part One was spend a great deal of time explicating this specific point – for the simple reason that it was already over 1800 words and was/is only intended to provide the wider background to the relationship between what I am loosely-but-seriously referring to as ‘conservative Adventist’ aesthetic positions on music and that list of Nazi rules about jazz. But I did, however, leave some important clues to attest to the fact that my claim that modern Anglo-European hymnody would not exist in the way we know it without the slave trade is more than short-scale speculative feeling masquerading for serious thought.

You mention ‘scientific inventions’ – particularly apposite examples of things that would not have developed in the way that they did without the “spectacular proliferation of wealth that came from the slave trade” (Part One). Of course we benefit from modern science, but even secular scholars are more and more aware of the ways in which the ‘scientific method’ which has led to much success is also a liability in certain contexts. So the ‘alpha’ status of science in Western academic culture is no longer what it was. 

For Bible-believing Christians, that’s no surprise. If ‘science’ is what makes ‘evolution’ possible, then it is ultimately limited. Unfortunately, we haven’t thought about how this works with culture and religion. Christianity is not a Western phenomenon – not in strict Biblical-theological terms – but it has become the most Western of paradigms in the way that it exists practically. 

I made the point that European sacred music is not merely music – it is culture. Now, in a sense, the history of religious thought in Europe is intrinsically linked to what would loosely be described as the development of European culture. An especially sordid example is the way in which the Catholic Church in Spain got happy about the profits from the silver mines of South America which were largely dependent on the coca leaves that the indigenous workers chewed. It was understood that the coca ingestion was not very good for those workers in terms of their health, and some Catholic priests protested. However, eventually it was decided that the material benefits to the Church far outweighed the problems. So the role of coca in the life of an indigenous South American manual labourer developed as a culture and is a foundation/precursor of the role that the modern synthetic compound we know as cocaine plays in global society –  which is why it is utterly incredible that the Roman Catholic church, no less, is the historical force at the bottom of this!

[Those of you with your heads in the sand over Christianity and colonialism need to wake up! My family used to know another family where the wife and mother was a white South African whose family treated the indigenous black people terribly whilst singing Anglican hymns every Sunday in church. For decades that lady utterly refused to take the claims of Christianity seriously – for no other reason than any religion that allowed people to treat other human beings that way could not be a religion worth following. BUT – when we was on her deathbed, she asked my mother to pray for her…]

These profits to the RC Church had a signal effect on the wider economy of Spain, which eventually overtook Italy in economic terms around 1500. But Italy still benefitted from European prosperity! Anyway: the massive expansion of European church buildings from 1500 onwards (starting with St Peter’s in Rome) is linked to the multifarious ways in which national economies of Europe were developing. It was not just the immense size and scale of these churches as structural edifices that made the funding issue so important – it was the ongoing maintenance of these church communities and all the things needed for worship and ritual. And surprise surprise…you’ve guessed it – MUSIC was a big part of that.

So when all sorts of conservative Adventist speakers lambast the poor African drum as being the epitome of straight up devil-worship and think that all forms of music with such bad origins should be banned from church, they NEED to stop the hypocrisy-by-ignorance. In fact, they need to stop talking about what they don’t know. The origins of European sacred music are not ‘holy.’ They come from a religious ecosystem that is systemically flawed from the bottom up and the inside out. Spain may have been ransacking the South American continent for silver (etc) but once Europe on the whole realised that they could turn over large parts of the world with their technology and know-how, the ransacking continued. 


Since researching this issue my own technical knowledge has expanded. It turns out that from the sixth century congregants were in fact singing in church and would do so until the eighth century when the Gregorians would take singing away from the congregations and give it to the ordained clergy. [All that was new.] It would be the Moravians (c. 1500) who began to sing in their worship services as an act of resistance as well as praise and worship, and that was what influenced Luther to push for congregational singing as a major part of the Reformation. Meanwhile, slavery and imperialism are just getting started – but the wealth of Europe belonged to a small number of folks at the very top of elite society. The Roman Catholic Church was very concerned about the effect of congregational singing and the widening of participation in the liturgy – and as a result the Council of Trent led to what very few SDAs seem to have heard of – something called the Counter-Reformation, which was ultimately responsible for much of is now regarded as some of the most amazing European sacred music and that was also partially down to the profits of colonialisation. 

[This year is the 500th anniversary of Luther’s 95 theses. It is also the year in which the Lutheran Church (and several others) are going back to Rome. How is it that we as Seventh-Day Adventists are supposed to slavishly endorse this proto-European sacred music as holier than the Christian sacred music that comes from any other part of the world when THIS MUSIC is the music of churches who have said ‘yes’ to Babylon?! The issue is not that these hymns cannot be sung with a different theological commitment. The issue is that Ivor Myers, Doug Batchelor, Dwayne Lemon, Jeremiah Davis, Stephen Bohr and several others refuse to ackowledge that other cultural-musical forms of expression could be in any way acceptable to God when those forms of music do not come rooted in the aesthetics of Babylon – unlike the music they insist is the only music acceptable to God…something is more wrong with this than we have realised!!!!]

As the second half of the last millennium continued, Protestant Europe’s economic power came to the foreground and the so-called ‘gunboat diplomacy’ of the 19th century saw more expansion in different ways into Asia even as the transatlantic slave trade came to an end (in policy long before practice). The Church was on the decline as a vital economic force as the later effects of the Enlightenment came into being and the Origin of Species did a great deal to put the status of the church at large on a lower level than before. By now the work of the missionaries in exporting European cultural, social and religious values has been so effective (I mentioned the word-concept ‘hegemony’) that we come into the 20th century with a set of values in which European sacred music is being written by more and more non-Christian composers (SDAH #91 is a great example – Vaughn Williams was completely agnostic) – but in addition, non-Western musical influences are now themselves being exported back to Europe. So some of the more recent musical innovations which influence modern sacred music have also come out of slavery and colonial expansion. Enlightenment (German: aufklarung) modes of thinking have produced both modern science and Christianity-as-culture.

As SDAs, we benefit from Western science (which makes modern technology possible) but we don’t elevate it beyond Scripture. Nor Western medicine either! So why have we elevated Western classical music as highly as we have? Why is this musical paradigm the only true way to worship God? Since when does Europe alone hold the keys to true musical worship?! And why on earth is the African drum maligned as it is (Ivor Myers is a case in point!) when not all drumming traditions are in aid of Satanic stuff? If – as Neil Nedley (his viewpoint is a complete disgrace) argues, even playing a drum in a marching band is deleterious to intellectual development, we need to get rid of Pathfinder drums immediately… but Nedley then goes and puts Tchaikovsky on his list of ‘approved composers’ when Tchaikovsky was bisexual and used music to help him work through his issues – including the first piano concerto which Nedley sells himself on CD as a product…and there is plenty of percussion in that piece – as well as very non-Christian sentiments being espoused in the music itself…

I have endeavoured to show that if one fails to understand the significance of the word ‘culture’ in a European context, it becomes hard to think rigorously about what made the development of that culture possible and what sustains it. 

Now that the groundwork has been laid properly, Part Three is going to begin unpacking the ten Nazi rules and show how the ideology behind those rules is extremely similar to that espoused by various conservative Adventists. It’s time to wake up to the fact that what is espoused as Biblical spirituality by many Adventists is rather closer to power and control in European colonialism than a defense of true Biblical worship.


Masterclass in Pseudotheology #1 – Dwayne Lemon

This is a long blog post. [Hint: it’s not really a blog post; it’s an (non-academic) essay masquerading as a blog post] As such, some pointers as to where this is going:

  1. This blog post has been written by someone with a ferocious commitment to biblical-theological truth first and music second (and by music, we mean both the ‘academic’ side as well as performance practice in multiple genres). It is not to be understood as a defence for ‘hip-hop gospel’ but it is understood that most Adventists pontificate about musical technicalities without having done the homework. This is an offense to both intellectual and spiritual integrity.
  2. The video in question is a ‘splice-together job’ that I can only assume has been done (or authorised) by the folks at the church where this was filmed. Each section contains at least one very significant problem. Unfortunately, we have not the scope to write the necessary short book required to do justice to the problems in just these few clips, so some selection has taken place.
  3. This post will focus on the first (and main) argument found in this video; one that involved two proof-texts (1 Samuel 16:23 and Leviticus 10:10). His reading of the ‘basic facts’ in 1 Samuel 16 is not disputed; however, his interpretive framework for vs.14-23 is unable to withstand scrutiny.  Related to that is the fact that one statement in particular about the main protagonists in Leviticus 10 is a wild piece of short-scale speculative thought that has no place in the pulpit because the specific evidence does not exist in the text. We will also explore a related passage found in 1 Samuel 18 that he never once mentions; a huge part of his undoing.
  4. As such, I hereby contend that his use of the passages around these two texts and his attempt to create an argument about the wrongness of certain sorts of contemporary gospel/Christian music using a sequence of these two texts that is then glued to his own personal experience (so put another way, he is creating theology out of his experience – not Scripture – and then applying this broken pseudo-theology to a technical area that he knows nothing about) is terribly flawed in concept and a total train wreck in homiletic reality.
  5. This blog post is not concerned with the specifics of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ regarding styles of music inside church services and in the Christian life more generally. There will be a theological-musicological critique of a limited range of musical specifics on another blog platform at some point. That post will include a discussion of some principles found in the writings of Ellen White that relate to conscience. I will endeavour to demonstrate that the teaching in this video (which is absolutely consistent with other positions held by this speaker that have been captured in media) is a flagrant violation of said principles (this relates to #3).
  6. Like all of us, Dwayne Lemon is entitled to his opinions. What has roused the fires of anger (Ephesians 4:28) within me is the high-handed nature of his claim to have answered the question about the wrongness of certain music forms from Scripture when his biblical argument is bankrupt even before it is circular – and all this before we even get to his technical ignorance about music.
  7. This blog post is written in the first instance for English-speaking Adventists in the UK where we have specific issues of overdependence on North American Adventism. But it can be read by any Adventists who read English to profit.
  8. I am aware that Dwayne Lemon is greatly loved by a lot of my fellow Adventists. And I am not here to decry his ministry in many ways. For example, some people have stuck their knives into him because he has firmly spoken out against the 2520 time prophecy (which does not exist). I stand with him firmly on that, and on other things (such as his emphasis on medical missionary work). Plus, in another message he says these words: “never water down the truth to win people…” and it so happens that this is the exact principle I am now applying in this post. Music has become the kicking-post for too many people who cannot possibly have been told by the Holy Spirit to stand up and preach what they have – because the Holy Spirit cannot teach contrary to Scripture. So I am genuinely sorry for the difficulties that this will cause, but I have sat on my hands for long enough. Let’s ‘test the spirits’ – shall we?!

It is clear from the outset that Dwayne Lemon is responding to a specific question: what is wrong with contemporary gospel music that enmeshes with ‘secular’ musical styles such as (this is his list in order as you will note):

  • Hip-hop
  • R’n’b
  • Reggae
  • Rock’n’roll
  • Neo-soul
  • Jazz

All of these cannot be meshed with gospel music because ‘God is not in’ those styles of music and so could not accept any such hybrid.

Dwayne Lemon’s argument is in two main parts. Here are the steps of the first part:

  • I offer no historical or musicological evidence, but I want you to see these six styles of music as a group of genres which are all clearly sinful. I say so, and I expect you to believe me.
  • God is merciful and kind and has shown me the light. Listen and understand.
  • I used to be a hip-hop dancer in the world and then I did hip-hop dance in gospel music settings (colleges and churches, usually).
  • I saw the ways these audience members behaved – putting their hands up (etc) – the behaviour and responses were just the same as the world.
  • 1 Samuel 16:14 – Saul had a demon in him
  • #16 – servants suggest that they get a dude who plays music
  • #18 – they enlist David, who is both talented and ‘godly’
  • #23 – whenever Saul is tormented, David plays, and the evil spirit goes away
  • (rhetorical) QUESTION: “did David? rhyme? Did he recite a poem? Did he ‘rap’?
  • CONCLUSION: if a godly man can play godly music to drive the evil spirit away, then an unconsecrated person can surely play ungodly music and bring an evil spirit!


Let’s look at the same text he uses in the video (we’re in 1 Samuel 16):

14 Now the spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him. 15 And Saul’s servants said to him, “See now, an evil spirit from God is tormenting you. 16 Let our lord now command the servants who attend you to look for someone who is skillful in playing the lyre; and when the evil spirit from God is upon you, he will play it, and you will feel better.” (NRSV)

Now, compare the ending of verse 16 in the NKJV:

And it shall be that he will play it with his hand when the distressing spirit from God is upon you, and you shall be well.”

So the situation is: God Himself has withdrawn from Saul.

This is a more important point than people realise, and as part of making it I’ll tell a story about myself.

For some time I was disturbed by the problems of making a living as a practising Seventh-Day Adventist musician. I tried on more than one occasion to change my career to work in psychology – specifically, clinical psychology. It felt like God Himself was thwarting me – and I would later become convinced of this. But for a long time I did not see why God would not allow me to practice clinical psychology – until my later studies in theology, philosophy and mental health merged into a devotional moment and it was like I could hear the Spirit talking…

…because I suddenly understood something with profound clarity.  In order to be registered as a clinical psychologist or as a psychiatrist you are bound by a code of ethics that does not set biblical-spiritual principles at the heart of decision-making and diagnostic conception. [This is also true for regular ‘somatic’ medicine, but the consequences are not as drastic and the Adventist health message and conventional medicine are being dovetailed with increasing skill.] There is a section of the global SDA church membership who regard conventional medicine as the literal handiwork of Satan himself – but they do not deny physical bodily (‘somatic’) illness and disease. However, a significantly bigger proportion of our members are not at all convinced that mental illness exists.

For the mental health professions, ‘mental illness’ or ‘psychopathology’ certainly exists. But as a Bible-believing Christian who is now studying the philosophy of psychiatry, I would (and do) say that we have both phenomena:

  • people experiencing real distress in both ‘psych’ and ‘neuro’ dimensions including altered brain chemistry;
  • people experiencing demon possession where the only answer comes from the ministrations of the Holy Spirit

As a practising clinical psychologist in the NHS, I could not very well recommend an ‘exorcism’ instead of one the therapeutic treatments for a patient whose troubles I understood to be spiritual rather than psychological. Worse yet, unless the Holy Spirit himself tells one, there is no way to know which is which! And I would have HATED working in clinical care under those conditions! So a merciful God kept me from what I might never have known was a bad idea until it was far too late…


Now, some of you are not used to reading sequential arguments in which the mind has to link the sections together for yourself in order to understand the net worth of the whole argument. This will be why you like preachers like Dwayne Lemon – because he keeps things nicely in soundbite form and his rhetorical style suits your aesthetic preference. But if you are going to get anything out of the exercise of reading this post, I need you to think to a higher standard that that insisted upon by both Randy Skeete and Dwayne Lemon, starting ten minutes ago. [Thank you, and God bless you!]

This is a statement rather than an argument (but the argument has to be presented elsewhere): we give TOO MUCH credit to music and we give TOO LITTLE IMPORTANCE to music – all at the same time. Now, Dwayne Lemon is saying that ‘playing music with one’s hands’ (he emphasises that) – if you are a godly person – has the unequivocal and unilateral power to bring a person back to God’s presence and heal them. That sounds good on the basis of a proof-text reading of 1 Samuel 16. But what sort of distress does Saul have? Is it psychological? Or spiritual? Or some of both? And are we sure that music can really do this?

Does music actually possess the power to make us behave in certain ways? Are you sure you want to join Dwayne Lemon in this viewpoint? Because the technical discipline of music therapy (which Neil Nedley is alleged to have studied) is clear on the ways in which music can help people with physiological, psychological and neurological distresses. So there is a pathway of argument for David’s music helping Saul in a moment of clinical depression IF that is what he is suffering from.

QUESTION: does the Bible say that Saul’s distress was psychological? Emotional? Was his problem one that we could legitimately treat in a clinical care setting? [Unlike Dwayne Lemon, I am not asking this question as a combination of a ‘straw man argument’ (by enquiry) and an argument from silence.] Or is the Bible clear on the fact that the Spirit of God had departed from Saul? What form of ‘medicalised’ (pharmacological or otherwise) or non-medical therapeutic intervention (such as ‘music therapy’) has ANY power to heal a person who is literally estranged from God?

The NRSV ending of 1 Samuel 16:16 suggest that Saul’s servants promised him that as the music played, he would ‘feel better.’ A person with terminal cancer can experience pain and be given medication which really does make them feel better – for a short while – but they are still going to die imminently thanks to those cancer cells. The NKJV ending suggests that they said that Saul ‘would be well’ as a result of the music playing. These are matters of semantics, but nonetheless, it is a stronger statement. Saul would not merely experience relief from the distress caused by the demon – he would be made to feel qualitatively better by the music.

Which would you prefer to be told if you were Saul in that situation?

Now, that kind of speculative question is no ultimate basis for theology of this sort, but I’m inviting you to think yourself into this narrative more empathetically. I would prefer the latter – to be told that I would be well, not just feel better. That’s by the by. What is not by the by is the fact that as this resource shows, the Hebrew suggests that they told Saul that he would be well!

Well, the more successful royal advisors of past and present the world over have known how to stay alive by knowing when to tell their employers exactly what they want/need to hear (the truth is often not the same thing…). So we have absolutely no theological warrant for using their statements as the basis for our understanding about the effect/affect (google that as well) of music upon the human psyche. That was a line that they fed Saul, so if you take that as ‘gospel’ – “…hey, are you feeling rubbish today? What, you have a demon inside you? Okay, get a CD of Handel’s Messiah. That should do the trick…”

No wait, I forgot something… “…get a CD of Handel’s Messiah, but it MUST be performed by genuine God-fearing, Bible Christians. Then you’re sorted!”


This is how we get to the problem of building theology out of our own experiences – as well as out of just one experience (be it ours or someone else’s). Someone recommended David, they shipped him into the palace and before any mention of his specific ministry to Saul is mentioned, we are told how much Saul likes him. Then, in verse 23, we see that after he played, Saul felt better and the ‘evil spirit left him.’

QUESTION: does that actually mean that the Spirit of God had returned to Saul?


Let’s take a look at what preceded that, shall we?

A God chooses Saul as king (9:1-10:27a)
B People accept Saul as king (10:27b-11:13)
C Samuel acquiesces to Saul as king (11:14-12:25)
C′ Samuel rebukes Saul (13:1-15a)
B′ People rebuke Saul (13:15b-14:52)
A′ God rejects Saul as king (15:1-35)

But we also have the following:

A Samuel rebukes Saul (13:1-15a)
B Victory in war (13:15b-14:23)
X Saul’s foolish oath (14:24-46)
B′ Victory in war (14:47-52)
A′ God rejects Saul as king (15:1-35)

Why does anyone think I have laid this out for you? Anyone?

Okay, another question: if you had a relative who was SDA and they were spiritually estranged from God and you wanted that to change, would you suggest that the playing of music would have the power to make that happen?

By the time we get to 1 Samuel 16, SAUL IS ALREADY REJECTED AS KING. Oh my word. I need to preach, but instead I have a blog so this will have to do. Jesus, please help me. One of the most important ways for us to understand the concept of the ‘wrath of God’ is to recognise that it takes the form of God leaving us to live as if we are God to ourselves on our own terms. So when the servants saw what bad shape Saul was in, they KNEW that he was spiritually in trouble. God was not the actual instigator of the demon’s entering Saul, but Saul’s staff were theologically savvy enough to know that if Saul was in this kind of state, it could not have happened without God allowing it to happen.

We cannot possibly know what else they did and did not understand, but if their king was estranged from God himself, state problems did not come much bigger than that. They had to come up with something, so regardless of whether or not they were really convinced that it would work, they utilised some ‘Pentecostal gospel music theology.’ What do I mean?

I mean that this school of thought holds that praise in music can change the mind of God. If someone came and played the sort of music that would appeal to God, perhaps God would relent and banish the demon for poor King Saul. Perhaps this helps explain why it was not unimportant that David was known for being truly God-fearing – i.e. a truly spiritual musician was Saul’s best hope of relief…

…so the courtiers surmised.

Did they know that Saul was on a downward spiral from which we would never recover?  Like a terminally-ill cancer patient in a hospice, the most he could hope for was some moments of relief towards the end…except, of course, that this was spiritual sickness – spiritual disease. The terrifying thing was that Saul had already been given a second chance to do the right thing by God and the fact that Samuel himself had to kill King Agag tells us that Saul failed once more. [This would be a good time to read the whole of 1 Samuel 15 if you haven’t already…]

Saul’s spiritual pathology has now gone from potentially-terminal to terminal. He’s DONE. And whoever else doesn’t know it, he knows it. This is now at the heart of the total failure of Dwayne Lemon’s pseudotheology about how a godly person can play godly music and drive evil spirits away – because there was absolutely nothing that could bring the Spirit of God back to Saul. Instead of repenting in sackcloth and ashes like the king of Nineveh, Saul pathetically asks Samuel to let him at least not lose his public dignity – for in his eyes, this was all he had left to live for. A whole legion of spiritually genuine lyre players – or indeed players of every instrument in existence – could not have brought the Spirit of God to a soul who had rejected that same Spirit. So the claims Dwayne Lemon makes after he finishes reading 1 Samuel 16:23 are so wrong it is scarcely believable. Worse yet, he tries to be a mixture of clever and humorous by asking three rhetorical questions:

  1. “Did David rhyme?”
  2. “Did he recite a poem?”
  3. “Did David rap?”

This is a classic ‘argument from silence’ – it is more than obvious that David did not do these things. When Bathsheba’s illegitimate first child with David got sick and Nathan prophesied that the child would die, did David go to the hospital and co-opt the best paediatric surgeons money could buy…etc? Or did he pray and fast?

Some SDA prayer warriors would love that if a preacher intoned those kinds of words in a message. Pray! Pray! Don’t call the doctor. Don’t go to the hospital. Just pray and fast like never before…

…but some devout Jehovah’s Witnesses would also love that, especially those who really would refuse to allow anyone to have a blood transfusion. People die all the time as a result of that belief. So we can use a Dwayne Lemon-style argument to argue that 1 Samuel 12:15-17 shows us that fasting and prayer is the way to go…not trying to do God’s work for him by getting doctors and stuff involved…

…and some of you would say: “Rubbish! the child died! It didn’t work! That’s no argument for anything!”

Really? You are positive about that? Okay. Please keep reading.

So, Dwayne Lemon is still right in this instance because Saul felt better! It worked! Read the Bible, Mr Radically-Adventist-blog-dude. Verse 23:

1 Samuel 16:23 Amplified Bible (AMP)

23 So it came about that whenever the [evil] spirit from God was on Saul, David took a harp and played it with his hand; so Saul would be refreshed and be well, and the evil spirit would leave him.

And so Dwayne Lemon riffs on that, implying that there is a specific reason (other than the fact that hip-hop had not been invented) why David did not ‘rhyme’ or ‘rap’ or even ‘recite a poem’ (not even a psalm-poem?! Really?!) – but there is a specific reason why he played music with his hand.

QUESTION: what brings the Spirit of God?

NEXT QUESTION: are God and Satan equal?

NEXT QUESTION again: does Dwayne Lemon really think that Satan has the power to read minds and hear prayer and respond to that prayer in the EXACT SAME WAY that God does?!?!?

So…godly musician plays and guaranteed, God shows up?! REALLY?

Unconsecrated musician plays and Satan shows up?! REALLY?!

Does he really think it is just that simple?

So God ALWAYS comes when He is summoned by a godly musician? Or is that too much of a stretch? Okay – how about ‘He’s more likely to come if a godly musician plays?’

No chance, my brothers and sisters. No one gets out an instrument just like that and plays and the Spirit of God comes – guaranteed. If our very prayers in words are not a guarantee that God ends suffering and trial on the timetable we would prefer, where is the argument that God has to come into Saul’s heart and mind just because David plays his harp?! The Spirit will respond to David’s praise every time – but that has nothing to do with Saul.

And Satan is a created, contingent being. He cannot read minds, so if someone prays to him in their heart but offers no external manifestation of their satanic devotion, he might ‘guess’ but he cannot ever ‘know’ until he has some evidence! Plus, if a person demands that Satan comes through their music, God can bind both the person and the music if he that ‘prayer’ cannot be ‘answered’ without divine say-so!


Let me offer a much stronger hypothesis.

Luke 13:16 King James Version (KJV)

16 And ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan hath bound, lo, these eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the sabbath day?

This is a proof-text argument which you can judge for yourself. Jesus is speaking, and because He tells us that Satan has bound this woman, we can infer that Satan can indeed bind people. Which makes sense – when the demon enters Saul, Satan owns him. Think with me: Mormon evangelists invite potential Bible study recruits to ask God if the message of the Book of Mormon is true. People say that those prayers are ‘answered.’ Who is ‘answering’ them?! How do we think some of those false healing and other forms of miracle are taking place?!

I suspect that in some cases at least, Satan is binding and unloosing, binding and unloosing. He is more than the just father of lies; he is the arch-manipulator extraordinaire. How else is it that people are going to be sufficiently deceived into thinking that they know God only to get to the judgment bar of God and be told, ‘I know you not?!?!’

Elsewhere I have shared that distraction is a narcotic – deeply spiritually addictive and as destructive to humanity as anything else we fear. We cannot possibly know the details, but on some level the music that David plays was of an order that Saul could find some sort of momentary solace. Perhaps Satan toyed with him by leaving him alone at first while David played and so it seemed that the music drove the demon away. But as I have endeavoured to show, Saul was estranged from God and music itself could not make him well. Only God himself could heal him and God was who Saul rejected first – for God only rejects us after we have rejected him.

We’re not finished yet. Turn with me to 1 Samuel 18.

10 Now it came about on the next day that an evil spirit from God came mightily upon Saul, and he raved in the midst of the house, while David was playing the harp with his hand, as usual; and a spear was in Saul’s hand. 11 Saul hurled the spear for he thought, “I will pin David to the wall.” But David escaped from his presence twice.

12 Now Saul was afraid of David, for the Lord was with him but had departed from Saul. 13 Therefore Saul removed him from his presence and appointed him as his commander of a thousand; and he went out and came in before the people.

All sorts of commentators have speculated as to what the ‘raving’ might have signified – some versions say ‘prophesied!’ Now, if Dwayne Lemon’s argument about godly music being played by a godly person had ANY WEIGHT WHATSOEVER, Saul should have been jolted out of his mad ravings and calmed down by the Spirit of God.

Dwayne Lemon rested an entire case on 1 Samuel 16:23. I’ll be an Adventist preacher and say it again: godly musician – godly music = Spirit of God and that’s how Saul got sorted.

If Saul had not ‘responded’ to David’s playing the very first time…would that have meant that David was not as godly as had been assumed? Or not as talented? How was Saul going to derive ANY spiritual benefit when he was so estranged from God?

But wait…in 1 Samuel 18, David is the same David, playing the same instrument – and this time, the music angers Saul so much that he tries to kill David. TWICE!

[David had faith and courage…man. Once would have been more than enough for me…!]

Think with me: why does Dwayne Lemon not ever mention 1 Samuel 18? Imagine that this sermon has been preached in a UK Adventist church and a new seeker whose Biblical literacy is growing hears the message. They are watching and learning from the church members. They are learning about the different modes in Scripture (e.g. you don’t read a parable as ‘history’ but at the same time ‘miracles’ are actual ‘history’ etc – and you cannot find a single (proof) text to confirm the doctrine of the Trinity and all the rest of it. Great. So they come to church, hear this message. They’re not too familiar with 1 Samuel. They’ve learned that SDAs here in the UK favour the KJV or the NKJV but they prefer to read the ESV for themselves and some have a Clear Word or a Message for helping to make sense of Leviticus, Proverbs, Job…etc. Great. They go home and start reading 1 Samuel from the beginning. Get to Chapter 9, then 12, 13, 15, 16 – oh yes, familiar – 17…18.

And then they call you up and ask you to explain Dwayne Lemon’s thesis in light of verses 10-13 of 1 Samuel 18.

How will you answer? Is that good sermon technique? Is that good Bible study technique? How is this sermon going to help a new believer who may really like hip-hop get hold of the fact that hip-hop gospel might really be a bad idea when the preacher does not have homiletic credibility (while saying all the while that ‘God has shown him something)?’ How does that fly?

But it gets even worse. Time for the second part of Dwayne Lemon’s argument.

Scroll to 5:13 or thereabouts on the video above. Dwayne Lemon tells the faithful gathered that “…the Bible says that because they were drunk they had something called ‘strange fire….”

Where in the Bible – never mind just Leviticus 10 – are we told specifically that Nadab and Abihu were drunk? The man says that “the Bible says” but the Bible says no such thing. There is no text with that information and no way to infer that as a ‘fact.’ We can speculate, but the untruth he has just told in the pulpit is why I cannot listen to this man preach – because there are a lot of these kinds of errors!

Read it for yourselves, Bible students:

Leviticus 10:1-9 King James Version (KJV)

And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took either of them his censer, and put fire therein, and put incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the Lord, which he commanded them not.

And there went out fire from the Lord, and devoured them, and they died before the Lord.

Then Moses said unto Aaron, This is it that the Lord spake, saying, I will be sanctified in them that come nigh me, and before all the people I will be glorified. And Aaron held his peace.

And Moses called Mishael and Elzaphan, the sons of Uzziel the uncle of Aaron, and said unto them, Come near, carry your brethren from before the sanctuary out of the camp.

So they went near, and carried them in their coats out of the camp; as Moses had said.

And Moses said unto Aaron, and unto Eleazar and unto Ithamar, his sons, Uncover not your heads, neither rend your clothes; lest ye die, and lest wrath come upon all the people: but let your brethren, the whole house of Israel, bewail the burning which the Lord hath kindled.

And ye shall not go out from the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, lest ye die: for the anointing oil of the Lordis upon you. And they did according to the word of Moses.

And the Lord spake unto Aaron, saying,

Do not drink wine nor strong drink, thou, nor thy sons with thee, when ye go into the tabernacle of the congregation, lest ye die: it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations:

And with the end finally in sight, Dwayne Lemon now decides that verse 10 is the definition of ‘strange fire: “when you mix the holy with the profane” (5.29).

Is that the information in verse 10?!

10 And that ye may put difference between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean;

So: Dwayne Lemon has decided that Nadab and Abihu were drunk. There is no evidence of this.

He has decided that they died because they were drunk. There is evidence that they died, yes. But no evidence that inebriation was the reason why! Yes, the Lord warns Aaron and his sons not to be drunk on duty in verse 9, but that does not tell us why Nadab and Abihu die. That would be a reasonable speculation…were it not for the fact that the Bible has told us how Nadab and Abihu died and Dwayne Lemon has refused to a) take the Bible at its word and assume that Nadab and Abihu offered an unacceptable brand of incense to the Lord; b) decided to read something into the narrative of the first ten verses of Leviticus 10 that just is not there.

You don’t agree?

Okay. Would you rather hear it from Ellen White?

“At the hour of worship, as the prayers and praise of the people were ascending to God, two of the sons of Aaron took each his censer and burned fragrant incense thereon, to rise as a sweet odor before the Lord. But they transgressed His command by the use of “strange fire.” For burning the incense they took common instead of the sacred fire which God Himself had kindled, and which He had commanded to be used for this purpose. For this sin a fire went out from the Lord and devoured them in the sight of the people.

Next to Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu had stood highest in Israel. They had been especially honored by the Lord, having been permitted with the seventy elders to behold His glory in the mount. But their transgression was not therefore to be excused or lightly regarded. All this rendered their sin more grievous.” [Patriarchs & Prophets Chapter 31, c. p, 359]

Where does the servant of the Lord speak about their drunkenness?!

How does this fit with Dwayne Lemon’s version of the definition of strange fire?!


If you have gotten this far, then God bless you. If you never got this far, God bless you too! I have said enough, and my heart is very heavy. But these shocking, calamitous errors are only one set of examples from this and other such speakers who travel the world in ministry having failed to do the homework and speaking punitively to the brethren about what God has not called them to preach.

Jesus is coming soon, and we must all give an account of our lives and of our ministries. How readest thou?!

Seventh-Day Adventist and Nazi Party views on African-American music – Part One

It has taken some time to consider how to respond to the suggestion that – as both an ‘academic’ and ‘performing’ Seventh-Day Adventist musician – I offer some thoughts about 10 music regulations from the bad old days of the Nazi Party that may yet become even more notorious than they already are. Given the spectacular limitations regarding certain types of understanding in global Adventism, I am going to try to ensure that what I write in this SDA-specific blog post can be as widely understood as possible (without watering my vibe down too much). And some people are going to like me even less than they do already; fidelity has often come at the expense of popularity.

This blog post is going to require at least two parts, possibly three. Let’s see what happens.

Click here to read the blog post in question; it contains 10 stipulations regarding jazz (with reference to other musics) that were handed down by an official of the Nazi Party during the Third Reich. Now, this is the ‘easy-read’ version, but it seems a fair few people have been reflecting on both the 10 regulations cited therein. If you were to follow the link at the bottom of the online article cited above, you will uncover some very interesting insights by  J.J. Gould. I will respond to all ten regulations in the course of this (multi)post, but for now I want to start with one of Gould’s most penetrating observations:

“If you’re a Nazi, and you can pass something you don’t like off as a “Negroid excess” or a manifestation of “Jewish Freemasonry,” it helps you with the kind of Nazi cred you need [to] insulate yourself from having to justify what’s wrong with the music as music.”

One of my best friends in ministry (it’s all his fault that you’re reading this as he tagged me into ensuring that I actually saw this in the first place) has already observed:

“Yeah, what’s scary is not so much the rules but the line of reasoning. I have literally heard a very similar line of reasoning used when discussing music in worship…”

He’s not the only SDA clergyperson to tell me that this is familiar territory in terms of the types of value-led thinking that characterise the approach of numerous SDA churches to music. This is about to get very bad indeed for several conservative SDAs who sincerely believe that the only safe and acceptable (as in, what God Himself would accept – as far as they are concerned) forms of music just happen to be those which fit a very specific proto-European aesthetic which is by definition not universal. None of these folks would argue for one second that the Bible is only valid in English – even if some would argue fiercely about which English translation is best trusted – despite the fact that a literal word-for-word translation is impossible. Now, for those SDAs who think that all theologians and Biblical scholars (those two things are not actually the same) are the handmaidens of Satan himself: while it is true that some scholars have done some very damaging things to our church, you would have no commentaries to read if some people had not invested into learning Biblical languages so you do not have to. And those of you who depend on concordances also benefit from the work of scholars. This means that most of you will not have personally invested into getting a technical understanding of the complexities of linguistic verities – and you’re in excellent company as many of the most popular conservative SDA speakers who pontificate on music don’t know that stuff either. My personal experience of English speaking Adventism includes the kinds of speaker/teacher/preacher who hold that the KJV is the only English translation worth reading but whose mastery of the English language is so weak they make the kind of arguments that would make a grammatically-literate person laugh uproariously into their (generally-speaking) non-decaffinated coffee.

This means that the church is full of people who are incapable of grasping the real ramifications of the fact that the grammatical schemas of the Biblical languages are so incredibly different to that of English that at times the very best we can do is a distortion of the original by definition. They would all be excited about the concept of the Bible being translated into every conceivable language and dialect, regardless of the ‘grammatical’ challenges – not least with various idioms that simply don’t translate!


So with ‘language’ – it is accepted by SDAs that the Islamic ideology regarding classical Arabic as the only valid language in which to understand the revelation from Allah is not the one. Likewise, the Mormon ideology which holds that the Book of Mormon and the Bible (KJV, of course!) are best read and only really properly understood in English would be thrown out immediately. Irrespective of the fact that most of us do not really understand the structures of the languages that we speak as ‘natives, ‘ we do recognise that every language that people speak matters. But we cannot ignore the fact that the West colonised the world by imperialist expansion – conquer, divide, conquer – and then imposed Western values (it is an unassailable fact that even some of the missionary endeavour that took place also did a huge amount to impose Western values). It so happens that music is one of the most important ways in which we understand (in practical reality) Antonio Gramsci’s concept of hegemony which in turn helps us understand the way in which Western musical values have been exported – then accepted – and now embraced – all over the world.

One of the consequences of this self-same ‘hegemony’ is that Seventh-Day Adventists of many, many cultures/races/educational backgrounds have bought – lock, stock and barrel – into a form of neo-colonial European imperialism. Let me try to quickly explain: ‘Western music’ as we now know it has evolved from the earliest forms of  European sacred music into the development of musical systems from which the ‘high art’ musical traditions (of Europe) have arisen – which in turn produced newer European sacred music forms that were not only being practised during the apotheosis of the slave trade [some of you REALLY need to put that into your pipe and smoke it – how can this music be the highest form of sacred music when it was so easy for Anglo-Catholics to sing it whilst enslaving Africans and plundering the Americas?!?] – it was precisely the spectacular proliferation of wealth that came to Europe through slavery that made some of the most important advances in arts, sciences and ‘culture’ actually possible in the first place – and for those of you who have no serious understanding of and involvement with classical music, please understand that for both secular and Christian Anglo-Europeans, what they refer to as ‘European Sacred Music’ is understood as both ‘music’ and ‘culture’ – which in turn helps us to understand why that music is performed by more non-Christians than by Christians – especially in the professional world.

Just in case someone missed that: MODERN ANGLO-EUROPEAN HYMNODY WOULD NOT EXIST in the way that we know it were it not for the slave trade…

This means that the much-vaunted hymnody of Anglo-Europe has come into existence at a VERY, VERY high price indeed. And before anyone is injudicious enough to accuse me of being a hater of classical music or a uncivilised, unsophisticated neophyte who doesn’t understand this music: I have invested more than most into becoming a professional conductor of classical music and to conduct Bach, Beethoven and Brahms is one of my greatest privileges – but this does not mean that I regard that music as more valid than the music of my own African-Caribbean culture, or that of African-Americans who are black like me (my first Masters degree was in jazz piano and I am very proud to be a jazz musician).

Let’s play a little game with the Gould quote cited earlier:

“If you’re a Seventh-Day Adventist, and you can pass something you don’t like off as “spiritually [and therefore biblically] inferior” or a manifestation of “Pentecostal [unbiblical] spirituality” it helps you with the kind of Adventist cred you need [to] insulate yourself from having to justify what’s wrong with the music as music.”

I am going to unpack this in some detail in the next post, I promise you. For now, suffice it to say that I am sick to death of the unbelievable levels of assumption and presumption regarding the phenomenon of music by SDAs who pontificate in public about music having invested absolutely NOTHING into understanding music properly as a phenomenon – social, cultural, historical, technical-musical, even psychological (and wider-scientific) and more. And I have serious issues with the fact that many of our church members – who would yank a preacher off the pulpit who mis-exegeted Revelation 14 and publicly discredit a health speaker who spoke againt Ellen White and the health message – frequently let people with the weakest possible level of knowledge about music and history spout utter bile and folly and fund their ministries. I hate the fact that we have spent so long serving a neo-colonial agenda that we now (in effect) think that everyone must be the same colour/race within Adventism. This now means that we cannot tolerate the idea that a conservative Adventist can think differently about music to most other conservative Adventists but still be a conservative Adventist… The forthcoming exposition of the dangerous ideology propounded in these ten regulations will indeed show just how close conservative Adventism’s musical aesthetics is to that of those espoused by the Nazi Party and how we have sacrificed biblical theology for pseudo-theology built on personal-cultural aesthetics that then masquerades as theology. For the sake of peace I will not name specific names – not now – but I will say that if the standard of our thinking about the Bible and theology was akin to our thinking about music, we would be worse off than the children of Israel were when they lost their way and lost their identity at the chosen people of God.

In Part Two we take up a specific question/objection concerning the link between European sacred music and the slave trade. And just to be clear: given that the contents of this blog post will put me at serious odds with many Adventists with whom I would like to continue positive relations, the labels ‘conservative,’ ‘liberal’ and ‘progressive’ are highly politicised and often less rather than more useful. However, I am neither ‘liberal’ nor ‘progressive’ in theological terms. This does not mean that I regard veganism as the 11th commandment and I have the most withering contempt for the idea that wearing a tie is holy and necessary. But in theological terms, I am RADICALLY biblically conservative – including in my belief in the prophetic force of EGW. So for those of you who have no idea how to read me – please try that for size.




SDAs, Christmas and theology

Seventh-Day Adventists have a very big problem.

To imply that there is only one (very big) problem might be stretching the truth somewhat, so perhaps I need to suggest that of the many problems that SDAs face (including those found in all religious communities), there might be one in particular that really hurts the work and mission of the Seventh-Day Adventist church. For the first time in a public written forum, I’m going to stand side-by-side with those who contend that it is deeply unfortunate that the Seventh-Day Adventist church has stopped being a ‘movement’ and is now a ‘church.’ While understandings (and definitions) of both ‘movement’ and ‘church’ vary widely, one may generally safely assume that at the heart of this assertion is the concept of ongoing development (and indeed, growth) that would befit a movement who have refused to enmesh their core doctrinal distinctives in the forms of ‘creeds’ (which are effectively set in stone) – instead, opting for (in our case at least) ‘Fundamental Beliefs.’

So what’s that got to do with the price of potatoes? [aka Christmas]?!

Let’s start with this link, in which Ellen White writes about the role that Christmas can play in the life and witness of a Seventh-Day Adventist.

Assuming you’ve read that – or other passages like it – then you would be clear on the fact that our most important founding pioneer saw the benefit and value of celebrating Christmas. Or to put it another way, Christmas does not have to be eviscerated from the SDA Christian life. So everyone can now make their own decisions about whether or not to have a Christmas tree without being judged by anyone else…surely?!

Newsflash: nothing is ever that straightforward when it comes to people and religion! And much of the discourse that takes place in global Seventh-Day Adventism is simply not as rigorous as would be ideal (for the record, this includes our technical discourse in areas such as systematic theology where our default setting tends to be to appropriate theological systems rather than build them). In the  21st century, the SDA church is in the vice-like grip of an anti-intellectual pandemic. As such, much of what passes for ‘thought’ is often nothing more than ‘feeling’ and what passes for knowledge is little more than selective data. And it is this particular reality which speaks to the heart of the issues which we now face regarding our whole conception of Christmas.

A post-modern type would now be reasonably expected to argue that the very idea that there is but one Seventh-Day Adventist concept of Christmas is self-aggrandising and fallacious. And in turn, this is itself a self-aggrandising and fallacious idea because it is simply not a given that the possibility of a plurality of perspectives within a given context co-existing) would automatically mean that plurality itself becomes the dominant factor for all ‘truth-conditions’ that could obtain to the questions at hand (sorry, that is a bit technical – philosophical – but hopefully you get my  drift). The question becomes: who has the final say on whether or not there is supposed to be just one ‘Seventh-Day Adventist position’ on Christmas as opposed to there being room for multiple perspectives (which may or may not be diametrically opposed) within Seventh-Day Adventism regarding the meaning and importance (or otherwise) of Christmas?

The Seventh-Day Adventist church has a number of  ‘evangelism training schools’ and a popular model for these schools is a four-month field course in evangelism including an intensive introduction to our core doctrines (AFCOE, ARISE and PEACE are three examples). In these programmes words like ‘hermeneutics’ are bandied around freely and students learn soundbites such as ‘a text without a context is a pretext’. There is an understanding that one is supposed to use the Bible’s own principles of ascertaining biblical truth in order to understand biblical truth. Of course, that sounds good. It’s what many SDAs are taught very early on. However, if (for example) you look at 3ABN for long enough (which does a wonderful job in so many ways), you will find that often opportunities for people to make biblical commitments are set up in ‘leading’ ways that a more sceptical Anglo-European mind would find enormously difficult. Britons who have drunk deeply at such wells seem to think that this style of thought and approach is what is needed…but the effect of this shoe-horning of church members to declare that the Bible is their ultimate authority actually results in teaching, preaching, evangelism and study (both corporate and individual) that is terrifyingly intellectually, ethically and spiritually bankrupt. These are very strong words. Allow me to explain.

In the first institution in which I studied theology, one of my fellow students was an Anglican priest who had previously been a lawyer. During one seminar this student described their experience of the process of theological research as ‘stirring paint with my eyelids’ and when asked to explain what they meant, they stated that in their previous legal career research essentially meant that they were only looking for anything and everything that would help make the case for what had already been decided. As such, this person was now having a really hard time reading and thinking in a context where certain things could be very clear at the start of a reading session, only to have become a lot less clear ninety minutes later – with no obvious answers to the new questions and no easy answers to the old questions. There is no greater mystery than God and His truth and far from being a means to wield power over others, the work of theology – to which each and every believer has been called – shows us how little we really know and brings us to our knees before the Creator of the universe and the God of our salvation (“…the goal of theology is doxology” – John Packer).

PhDs in astrophysics are simply not required to understand that if a person undertakes a project that is supposed to (in some way at least) constitute ‘research’ then it would usually follow that they don’t actually know the answer and the research is being conducted in order to find out a) the answer; b) an answer or c) if indeed any sort of ‘answer’ is in any way possible! So this idea that something is honest research but at the outset you already know the answer is in fact anathema to the very concept of research itself. Science has progressed on a continuum in which various ideas that have been understood as truth have then been ruthlessly interrogated with great ferocity and (in a number of cases) found wanting. My point? If you have decided – prior to investigation – that what you think is the truth really is the truth, then it is not possible for you to discover that something other than what you have already thought is in fact the truth without feeling some pain. And given that people (and especially adults) generally don’t enjoy feeling pain (and adult Adventists are often terrified of being wrong and being judged), it becomes easier to stick closely to what you have already decided is the truth – which might have come from some other source (as opposed to from your own mind) that you have decided to take as an authority.

[ Just for the record, this is why in all Christian thinking communities, it is understood that the first question that must be established with regards to the articles of faith and belief for that given community is the question of authority. On what authority are one’s faith concept and practice going to stand? It’s really nice that thinkers across denominations can agree on that particular point.]

This is, of course, a difficult question for many Seventh Day Adventists because our tactic for several generations has been to make one set of ‘learned’ statements about authority (as in: we believe in the Bible) – only then to actually live out something that is often really quite different. And the question of inspiration is also at the heart of this discourse regarding Seventh-Day Adventists and Christmas because it will explain why some people within the Seventh-Day Adventist Church have decided that – despite having said yes to the doctrines and teachings of the Seventh Day Adventist church – they are themselves the final authority on what is and what is not inspired. They might do a bit of actual research before drawing conclusions. They might not do any. But they are the authority on what is right and what is not.

It is interesting that the staunchest adherents to the (ever increasingly discredited) 2520 time prophecy were not busily lampooning Ellen G. White’s writings in general. However, despite her own clear statement that the 2300 day prophecy is the longest time prophecy in Scripture, they clearly knew better.

Not dissimilarly, many of the more ultra-conservative types (which includes several stripes of Adventist personage who would not dream of self-defining as ultra-conservative – because that sounds a bit fundamentalist and no one wants to be one of those these days!) demonstrate how to be a conservative Adventist in ways that are in fact nothing to do with theological positions and everything to do with pseudo-politicised sociocultural notions of what is and what is not acceptable. An example? The school of thought in global Adventism that believes it is of the highest importance that one wears a tie when in an Adventist pulpit as a sign of respect. This is a wonderful example of our collective folly in that we have taken a secular gold standard that is increasingly defunct and archaic and held it up as a standard-bearer within the arena in which we are already supposed to have some sort of bona fide authority – i.e. the Bible!

And we have done the same thing with Christmas. The very first comment in the link that I have cited above regarding Ellen White’s statements on Christmas is from somebody whose starts off by saying that Ellen White was a fallible woman and that it made them angry that the church was using her as a standard because clearly the origins of Christmas are pagan and we should have nothing to do with it. Of course, if they have actually read EGW on this subject they would know that she is aware of those pagan origins (indeed, the origins of the church organ are even more pagan than those of the poor maligned ‘African drum’) but she sees a bigger picture…and of course, she says that her writings are not supposed to be used as a test of faith for baptism. So you can, of course, disagree with her if you choose, but the question then becomes: on whose authority are you standing when you say that you know more and better than she does? Is there a Biblical argument for castigating other SDA Christians for choosing to be aware of Christmas given the counsels of Paul in 1 Corinthians that relate to ways in which we can interact with the world without collapsing our identity and integrity as Seventh-Day Adventists  – and also, given the very specific points the EGW outlines regarding the function of the Christmas  season?

We’re not a movement anymore. We’re a brand, and brands have to be managed. Our uniqueness needs to be preserved with a constant awareness of what others are doing and why we should not do what they do because of our pathological need to be different – when our actual message is what makes us unique – not our brand management action points (e.g. wear the right clothes, carry the approved Bible versions, eat the right foods, learn the right one-liners, avoid all semblance of similarity to other churches…)… Oh sorry, did I say ‘brand?!’ I meant church, yes of course. We’re not a movement, we’re a ‘church…’

This is a long read. I know that. Please do not waste your time messaging me to tell me that I need to write shorter blog posts so that people can get what I’m saying without any real mental effort. For the very first time in my life I know with unparalleled certainty that that I write is not for everybody. To all those who have made it to this point: if you had an idea of what I was saying and you got this far, then hopefully this journey has made some sense to you. If you didn’t know where this blog post was going and you’ve gotten this far I’m really happy that you’ve done so. Because in the end, this really isn’t about the fact that there are some Seventh-Day Adventists who think that they know better than Ellen White. We have Seventh-Day Adventists who sincerely believe that they know better than the Bible itself, so in a sense, the whole question of Seventh-Day Adventism and Christmas is a question of authority which itself is linked to the question of inspiration. So to the folks who believe that theology is unnecessary and all you need is your Bible: congratulations, you’re already doing theology and if you didn’t know that you were doing theology then you clearly have the gift of doing something without knowing you are doing it.  You might just be a genius.