A. Graham Maxwell's Contribution to Theology by Eugene Shubert

This article is divided into four sections. The first three sections cover A. Graham Maxwell's contribution to

  1. Second Century Gnosticism
  2. Medieval Moral Influence Theory
  3. The New Age Interpretation of the Cross
  4. Graham Maxwell's indebtedness to the pantheism of John Harvey Kellogg.

Second Century Gnosticism

The foundation of Maxwell's theology is essentially Second Century Gnosticism:

"A rejection of all legal categories pertaining to God, leaving sin as ignorance and salvation as a healing of the mind through accurate information about God and His purposes, was the core teaching of the Gnostic movement in the second to third centuries, and is the basis for most Eastern religions, such as Hinduism and Buddhism." —Richard Fredericks, Ministry, March 1992, pp. 6-10 : The Moral Influence Theory—Its Attraction and Inadequacy: The distorted attraction of one popular theory of the atonement .

“The name ‘Gnosticism' is given to all those different theories of the universe which professed to be Christian, but amalgamated elements of Christian belief with Hellenistic ideas regarding an intermediate world of superhuman beings between the Supreme One and men, and regarding the human soul as a part of the Divine which had fallen into the dark and evil world of Matter. Each Gnostic sect claimed to have a special ‘knowledge' (gnosis) to communicate, by which the Soul could get deliverance from matter and win its way back to the Upper World. Most of the Gnostics represented the God of the Old Testament as an inferior Being, often a Being hostile to the Supreme God, ruling in the lower world, from which ‘knowledge' enabled the Soul to escape.” — The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary , Vol. 9, article 785:‘Gnosticism.'

“The basic premise common to the many varieties of Gnostic belief was that since God is good and the material world is evil, he cannot have created it” ( David Christie-Murray, A History Of Heresy, p. 21 ).

The basic premise of Neo-Gnostic Adventism (and Maxwell) is that since God is good and retribution is evil, then God has nothing to do with meting out punishment in a final judgment.

“These systems were philosophical in that the problem which concerned all Gnostics was the reconciliation of the existence of evil with God who is good; religious because they offered salvation”, salvation by gnosis. (Does that sound familiar)?

The Medieval Moral Influence Theory and Socinian Theology

“The moral influence theory (m.i.th) has its roots in the teaching of Abelard (d. 1142), one of the keenest medieval minds. According to this view, the purpose of Christ's death was in no way a substitution to meet the proper demands of a righteous God for judgment on sin but solely a demonstration to provide such a moving expression of God's love that it would melt the sinner's enmity against God, awaken responsive love in his heart, promote true repentance, and thus pave the way for forgiveness of sin. Reconciliation, in this theory, means only the setting aside of man's hostility toward God.” Raoul Dederen, The Sanctuary and the Atonement , p. 310.

The Focus of Socinian Theology

“A formidable attack was made on the doctrine of the Reformers by Socinus. He began with an attempt to remove the very foundation on which it was based, namely, the idea of justice in God as understood by Anselm and the Reformers. He denied the presence of any such justice in God ‘as requires absolutely and inexorably that sin be punished.'

“...He also holds that, since guilt is personal, substitution in penal matters is impossible; and that, even if it were allowable, it cannot be said that Christ bore the exact penalty of the law, since this would mean that He died as many eternal deaths as there are sinners. And yet He did not even suffer one endless death...

“Socinus never tires of saying that the forgiveness of sins is an act of pure mercy, simply on the basis of repentance and obedience. The only conditions are sorrow for sin and an earnest desire to obey the law. ...This theory establishes no direct connection between the death of Christ and the salvation of sinners. The death of Christ did not atone for our sin. ...The forgiveness of sins depends exclusively on the mercy of God. But because Christ received the power to bestow eternal life on believers immediately after His death, Socinus considers it possible to maintain that this death expiated our sins.” Louis Berkhof, The History of Christian Doctrines , pp. 184-185.

Here is just one example of the devilishly brilliant way that Graham Maxwell uses Socinianism to mock vicarious substitutionary atonement:

There is much friendship talk in the Bible, but there is much legal talk too, isn't there? Much servant talk. Isn't it true that sin is breaking the law? And the just penalty for breaking the law is death. See, God's minimum penalty is death. If He were running the highway patrol, and you were caught breaking the speed limit, the penalty would be death. That is His minimum penalty. You steal a cookie—death. Speak a cross word—death. Right there one begins to feel uncomfortable, but this person proceeds stoutly on and says, Didn't Jesus die to pay that penalty? So isn't the legal model of the plan of salvation correct? Justice requires this. The law requires this.

Well, what should we do about all of that talk? One suggestion. What is this death that is the penalty for sin? That is what we call the second death. And what's so terrible about that is there is no resurrection. That death is eternal. Did Jesus pay that death? Well, did He stay dead for eternity? He rose on Sunday. And He went up to heaven, and He said, Was it enough? And they said, No, you are not supposed to have done this. Get back down and we won't tell anyone we saw you out. You are supposed to stay in the grave forever. — The Serpent Speaks , p. 12.

The New Age Interpretation of the Cross

A. Graham Maxwell's Contribution to Kellogg's New Age Spiritualism:
John Harvey Kellogg wrote: The idea that God inflicts pain, or that pain is in any sense an arbitrary or retributive punishment, is a notion altogether foreign to a proper conception of God. – The Living Temple , p. 441.
The death that results from sin is not an imposed penalty. – A. Graham Maxwell

Expanding on Kellogg's pantheistic theories

Graham Maxwell's Contribution to the Pantheism of John Harvey Kellogg

Re: A. Graham Maxwell's Contribution to Theology

Arthur Graham Maxwell is a Seventh-day Adventist theologian, and the emeritus professor of New Testament studies at Loma Linda University. In a 1985 questionnaire of North American Adventist lecturers, Maxwell tied for fourth place among the Adventist authors who had most influenced them. [ 1 ]

Some Adventists Refuse to Acknowledge Maxwell's Sources

Many charges have been made that Maxwell teaches the moral influence theory of the atonement although Maxwell has denied it. [ 2 ]

Alden Thompson has compared various different Adventist theologians to either Peter, Paul or Apollos. He compares Graham Maxwell to Apollos, because of their shared emphasis on God's love. ( Alden Thompson , "The Adventist Church at Corinth", sermon at Walla Walla College Church on December 9, 1989 cf. "The Adventists at Corinth and Their Favorite Preachers" September 30, 1991).

Criticisms of Maxwell's theology

Adventist scholar Dr. Desmond Ford and his wife Gillian Ford explain the essence of Maxwell's theology in the book The Adventist Crisis of Spiritual Identity (1982) pp. 124, 141, 142. Chapter 9 in this reference is titled Enquiry's Progress. Here, Gillian Ford tells a story of an Adventist journey written in the style of the classic book Pilgrim's Progress. Gillian Ford's wonderful story begins as follows:

An earnest seeker for truth, Enquiry was his name, was wandering through a certain country, looking for sign-posts along the way. In the midst of a desert, he saw afar off a man seated on a rock with his head in his hands. "Maybe this man can direct me to some more fertile place," thought he to himself and hastened towards him.

"Good-day friend. My name's Enquiry, and I am seeking for the garment which will protect me in the coming earthquake. Can you help me?"

The man seated on the rock, Confused was his name, sighed deeply and wrung his hands.

"I wish I could, sir, but I need help myself. For I too have heard that there's an earthquake coming. They say that it's already rumbling, and folks round here are afraid that the whole town will be destroyed." Enquiry and Confused then gather up their belongings and set off to travel along the highway. After many Adventist adventures, they eventually arrive at Maxwell's house (pp. 141-142).

As they trudged south, they came to a place called Pretty Hill, and seeing a light, thought to ask for rest that night. They approached timidly, fearing that they might be turned away, but were warmly greeted from afar off by two figures on the porch who greeted them most cordially, and welcomed them like brothers.

Tender-heart: "Our names are Love-alone and Tender-heart. There are no words used in this house such as blood, or wrath, or penalty, or punish, or propitiate. We teach that the architect can be trusted."

Enquiry and Confused found the hosts most congenial, the stay most comfortable, the beds soft and the food easy to digest. And as they talked together, Confused especially felt at ease, for he had often been told that the architect was a stern judge, ready to throw a ton of bricks at all who displease him. Thus he had grown up afraid of him. But Enquiry grew very quiet and thoughtful, and caused Confused to ask if all was well.

Enquiry: "It seems to me that I could not really trust a God who took evil lightly and did not punish those who murdered, stole and dealt unjustly. The blueprint speaks with those words of which you do not approve."

Love-alone: "But those words are mere figures of speech. For though the blueprint speaks of judgment—such judgment men bring on themselves. They reap what they sow. The architect himself does not act out in judgment, because he is love and cannot act against himself. As for wrath—it is merely that the architect gives up on men, when after much patient coaxing, he cannot win them. And blood and penalty! Did the son of the architect have to die to 'pay for our sins'? We say not. It was to show that he loved us so much that he would die to prove it.

The reference to Maxwell is unmistakable in Gillian Ford's story. This part of Enquiry's adventure is mocking a very sentimental view of moral influence theory. "Loma Linda" is Spanish for "Pretty Hill".

David McMahon wrote:

The most remarkable revival of Waggonerian-like views on the atonement has taken place in the Division of Religion at Loma Linda University. In this department are those who repudiate the historic Christian doctrine of the substitutionary atonement in order to embrace "the moral influence theory." In fact, the moral influence theory has widely permeated West-Coast American Adventism. It has such a stranglehold on the church's principal financial base that the leaders of the church appear paralyzed and frightened to touch it.

A. Graham Maxwell's recent denominational book of the year, Can God Be Trusted? is conspicuous for what it omits in discussing the atonement. The chapter, "Why Did Jesus Have to Die?" should be compared with an article of similar title written by Waggoner in the British Present Truth of September 21, 1893.

Samuele Bacchiocchi is another Seventh-day Adventist scholar that equates Maxwell's Can God Be Trusted? book with the moral influence theory: Samuele Bacchiocchi wrote:

Adventists are not exempted from the controversy over the reason for Christ's death. As mentioned in the April 2004 issue of REFLECTIONS—the monthly newsletter published by the Biblical Research Institute of the General Conference for church leaders and scholars­— “the idea of a substitutionary sacrifice of Christ is rejected by some Adventists and replaced by the so-called moral influence theory.” An example of the latter is the book Can God Be Trusted? by Graham Maxwell. It is widely believed that the drawing power of Maxwell's theology is secret knowledge. Richard Fredericks compared Maxwellian moral influence theory with Gnosticism in his article, The Moral Influence Theory—Its Attraction And Inadequacy: The distorted attraction of one popular theory of the atonement , published in Ministry Magazine (March, 1992 pp. 6-10) .

Colin Standish wrote: The Moral Influence theory and its associated claim that God does not destroy, has swept not only through certain academic areas of our church (for example, Loma Linda University) but also among a few self-supporting workers.

At the Sanctuary conference held at Andrews University, 1997, Dr. Woodrow Whidden, Professor of Religion at Andrews University, made a stirring attack upon the manifest error that God does not destroy.

The new book, The Character of God Controversy by Steve Wohlberg and Dr. Chris Lewis, is the denomination's most recent response to this controversy.