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 chooses..so 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.

November 2015: #3 (answering questions with the framework of faith)

The third question in this post series (but the fourth post, as #2 had two parts) is:

Will any answer we give make sense without said framework?

The framework in question is the framework of faith – as understood and defined by Seventh-Day Adventists. A large body of the groundwork for this post has been laid earlier in the series, but I will endeavour to answer this question as accessibly as possible.

If a Christian were to insist that any answers to certain questions can only make sense with the framework of ‘faith,’ they have a duty to be able to explain what faith actually is! The generally-accepted idea that questions regarding certain aspects, concepts and elements of Christianity can be explained with recourse and reference to faith without an adequate explanation of what that faith looks, sounds and smells like in either theory or practice is as big an example of the general lack of credibility of Christian faith. And Seventh-Day Adventists are amongst the worst culprits in this regard.

One concept that I enjoy teaching whenever I can is that our theological logic must itself be logical. Under no circumstances are we authorised to think and act in a functionally illogical manner and claim Scriptural justification. Stay with me as I break this down.

If a person says that prayer is illogical because God cannot be seen, heard or touched, then that’s a statement which looks like an argument. If I give a cellphone to a person who has just travelled 5000 miles out of an extremely remote territory and is still confused by Western technology and say that they could talk to someone on the other side of the world with this device, how easy would that be to believe? Much easier now that they have undertaken a journey which will have blown some of their gaskets to smithereens – they now have a framework for the impossible being possible from the airplane alone! But if they are simply in their remote area and have yet to see a Land Rover, never mind a bus or a plane – then they could be forgiven for saying that you are lying when when you say that this little thing can help you talk to someone on the other side of the world.

Why? Because there is no frame of reference. It’s not ‘logical.’ Or put another way, ” it doen’t make sense!” But this supposedly logical position is itself rumbled when we realise that it is based on large-scale ignorance. And that’s why the smart thing to do is keep asking: “what do I not know about…?”

Now, a child can play with a mobile phone and then actually use a mobile phone, but not understand how it works (i.e the science behind the technology). All they know is that it works. But now I’m about to go deeper. Let’s say that you see a name/number flash on your phone. You greet the caller by name and have a conversation. You hang up, assuming that you spoke to the person whose name is linked to that number in your phone. But supposing it was not the person? You did not see them! It could have been an impostor, or maybe even a robot…

Something as mundane as using a smartphone can throw up all sorts of issues about what know, what we assume, what we believe, why we think our knowledge is true and our assumptions/beliefs are reasonable. Whole books are being written from a secular perspective along the lines of telling people that they are not as smart, as rational or as balanced as they like to think. Much of what society thinks it knows, it does not, and cannot know. So in the same way that the faith of an honest Christian is not a reason to know that the Bible is true, the empirical argument of a skeptic is less final than could ever be the case. Why?

Absence of proof is NOT proof of absence!

No person is going to be won for the Kingdom of God by argument alone, however excellent in its Biblical and rational dimensions. But it is certainly possible to give answers which make sense WITHOUT the framework of faith. The Christians may usually have no idea what those are or what they look like, but if those answers did not exist, we would have to say that faith is blind and unreasonable, because reason and logic don’t apply to God.

NO CHANCE.

God IS the AUTHOR of cognition itself. As such, he’s the author of language. That means that our capacity to use words like ‘logic’ come from Him. Don’t think for a microsecond that God cannot be found in the realm of the intellectual. He can. But he cannot be served solely in the arena of great ideas. He can only be served in the real world. Our job is to find ways to answer the hard questions about Christianity that are both real and truthful – and as such, that speak to the actual reality of people’s lives – NOT our mashed-up assumptions of those realities!

 

 

November 2015: #2b – the rejection of questions by SDAs

APOLOGIES for the paragraphing issues: nothing I try can fix them right now. But the text is correct!

~

This is the second part of the second question in this series. Here’s a link to the first – for (necessary) context.

This is the question at hand:

Will any of the perplexities of life make sense without the framework of faith?

Now, this might seem like an unnecessarily large number of variant translations of a pretty well-known text, but this post is not for everyone. I’m writing it as a resource for those who are serious about getting to grips with a challenging reality. The updated KJV does use the same word as older KJV editions (yes brethren, there really is more than one edition of the KJV!) – ‘answer.’ But look at some other words that are used instead of answer:

But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and be ready always to give an answer to every man who asketh you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.
but sanctify in your hearts Christ as Lord: being ready always to give answer to every man that asketh you a reason concerning the hope that is in you, yet with meekness and fear:
But in your hearts set Christ apart [as holy—acknowledging Him, giving Him first place in your lives] as Lord. Always be ready to give a [logical] defense to anyone who asks you to account for the hope and confident assurance [elicited by faith] that is within you, yet [do it] with gentleness and respect.
But in your hearts set Christ apart as holy [and acknowledge Him] as Lord. Always be ready to give a logical defense to anyone who asks you to account for the hope that is in you, but do it courteously and respectfully.
But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear:
Instead, regard Christ as holy in your hearts. Whenever anyone asks you to speak of your hope, be ready to defend it.
but treat the Messiah as holy, as Lord in your hearts; while remaining always ready to give a reasoned answer to anyone who asks you to explain the hope you have in you — yet with humility and fear,
Honor Christ and let him be the Lord of your life. Always be ready to give an answer when someone asks you about your hope.
but sanctify [the] Lord the Christ in your hearts, and [be] always prepared to [give] an answer [to] every one that asks you to give an account of the hope that [is] in you, but with meekness and fear;
but set Christ apart as Lord in your hearts, being ready always for a defense to everyone asking you a reason for the hope in you,
Will the perplexities of life make sense without the framework of faith? The truth is that this question has no fixed answer. Such an answer cannot exist. In the first post I pointed out that what makes sense to one person may well not make sense to another. The traditional over-emphasis (and indeed, over-dependence) on being able to ‘give an answer’ has meant that any type of answer given to a seeker for hope and truth is deemed successful just because it was given. But one can give ‘an answer’ to a question or challenge without really addressing the question in any real way. This is why we gain much from the other translations (above) which exhort us to be ready to offer:
  • A ‘defence’
  • A ‘logical defence’
  • A ‘reasoned answer’
Let’s get to brass tacks. Before I had the privilege of studying theology formally, I spent 29 years putting up with some quite terrible platitudes, the biggest being:
Young man, converted people don’t ask such questions!
In short, prototypical Adventism has focussed so much on ‘statements’ rather than ‘arguments’ that the majority of our church members have learned that asking questions in the hope of real answers gets you no-where. It now means that this question is especially vexed because ‘the framework of faith’ is anything but a framework of Biblical faith – for the most part.
On absolute principle, it can be argued that the framework with the greatest ‘explanatory power’ is that of what we Adventists know and refer to as ‘the great controversy.’ Here’s where we go wrong: we assume that people ought to accept this framework because it makes so much sense.
‘Sense’ is going to be determined by the presuppositions already held by a given individual. If a person has a materialistic worldview, then answers which posit supernatural activity will be deemed groundless at the outset unless a route is found to connect to the foundational presuppositions. SDAs are in no position to do that because if we take the point of the previous paragraph: something may have a totally plausible explanation, but that explanation might not actually be the ‘truth’ of what is actually happening (or has/is happening). So non-academic Adventist apologetics with its myriad undercooked theodicies has gotten stuck in a gum tree with no way up or down – because the ‘faith’ being offered is not a faith with teeth, and is not faith at all. It is what I call ‘glorified acceptance.’
The process of defending the concept of the necessity of faith in a good God who cannot be known through sensory experience is absolutely impossible unless an Adventist has wrestled with very hard questions posed by the perplexities of life for themselves. I remain baffled at how we still seem to think that if we can find the right ‘answer’ we will help to win more souls to the church (not always the Kingdom, by the way). I have news for us today:
WE – SDA church members – are THE answer – GOD’s answer – to the question of the efficacy of Biblical faith when challenged by the tragedies (and lesser perplexities) of life!
Glorified acceptance is not Biblical faith and so people are indeed finding answers that make more sense to them than those offered by a conceptually toothless and spiritually inconsistent Church. The ‘answers we ourselves give are often not linked to the Truth (John 8:32; John 14:6) that alone can set us free. Result: the world will have to find that Truth DESPITE the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, not because of us. Until we change, we will continue to lose 43% of all the members we baptise.

November 2015: #2a (Faith and meaning in life’s perplexities)

Our second question in this series is as follows:

Will any of the perplexities of life make sense without the framework of faith?

Some of the introductory remarks in the first post will be very helpful to readers looking to follow the thread of thought as deeply as they can. However, the context of this question: it was asked in response to this blog post by an SDA, and it is being responded to by an SDA, so this response is very specific to the Adventist community.

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I spoke about the fact that ‘sense’ in this context is determined by the recipient of an answer. This is a fundamental element of the so-called ‘apologetic task.’ Christian apologetics is not about ‘apologising’ for the faith (sick to death of hearing folks spout that claptrap – an inevitable consequence of using words the meaning of which we don’t know!). Have a look at the following conversation:

Skeptical Friend (SF): Hey, long time! How you doing?

Seventh-Day Adventist (SDA): Hey, good  to see you! I’m well thanks, what about you?

SF: Well, I’m okay, but I’m happy to see you, ’cause I’ve got a few questions.

SDA: Okay cool, let’s sit down over here, I’ve got a few minutes. (Both parties sit down.) So, what’s up?

SF: So this business of believing in the Bible…you say that the only way to know about God is through the Bible, right?

SDA: Yeah, it’s a major part of God’s revelation, probably the most important we have now.

SF: How come?

SDA: Nature is a big way that we know God exists, and Jesus came to show us what God is like. But the skies and oceans can’t actually talk to us about God – not in words – and Jesus is back in heaven! So, we need the Bible to know who Jesus was  – and is – and what God is like.

SF: Okay, I get that the Bible is a big part of the belief system for many Christians, but I have a big, big problem with the fact that many people have died without ever reading it. And I’m still not sure that homosexuality is incompatible with Christianity. I’ve met some Christian people who see themselves that way, and they are pretty vibrant to be around! But they’re not as into the Bible as you are. I don’t know what I think…

SDA: Okay, okay, well the thing is…for the Bible to make sense, you just have to have faith.

SF: Yeah, you’re always saying that, but I still have no idea how you get faith! Where does faith come from? I once heard a story about a primary school teacher who asked her class what they thought the meaning of ‘faith’ was and a nine-year-old boy put his hand up and said, ” believing what you know isn’t true.” So, why do you believe in the Bible? How do you know its true when you can’t prove so many things?

SDA: (smiling) Well, that’s why faith is so important. I know that the Bible is true because I have faith…

SF: …but that’s my problem! I’ve been meaning to bring this up for a while, but can’t you see that just because you have faith, that faith is not proof that the Bible is true?! Your faith is not proof of anything!

SDA: Yes, but I never said it was.

SF: So how then do you know that the Bible is true? How DO you actually know? What if you’re wrong and it is all lies, or at least parts of it? I think I’m readier than I’ve ever been to say that I believe in God. But I don’t think I can trust the Bible. Of course the Bible says that it is true…because whoever wrote it wanted people to think that! But because those words are in the Bible, that’s no PROOF that the Bible – or the whole of it – is in fact inspired! And if I’m going to follow the Bible, I need to know that I can trust it. How does that happen? Why do so many Christians emphasise some bits and ignore others? I’m fed up of this, it’s just so confusing!!

[…phone rings. It’s SDA’s phone…]

SDA: …erm, sorry, I have to take this call…

So, our SDA friend managed to get out of giving an answer on that occasion. My question and challenge: how would you respond to the skeptical friend? In #2b we will consider a number of different translations of 1 Peter 3:15 and become clearer on our mission in the context of ‘contending for the faith.’