Good News for Seventh-Day Adventists
The Shaking of Adventism
Geoffrey J. Paxton
Part III: Adventism and the Reformation after 1950
Introduction to Part III
We have depicted the history of Seventh-day Adventism as the history of a struggle to be faithful to its goal of furthering the work of an arrested Reformation. In the contemporary era this ongoing struggle does not lessen but intensifies. Significant features emerge, including a polarization within the church concerning what constitutes the heart of true Adventism.
Some preliminary information about the period as a whole will help to keep its important aspects in proper perspective:
1. As we might expect from the material examined thus far, a burning issue of the contemporary period is the message of 1888. In some respects it is a period of return to 1888, though this return is by no means uniform in nature.
2. The modern period of Adventism is one in which the contrast between the theology of the Reformers and that of the Roman Catholic Council of Trent is shown as never before in the movement's history These two theological approaches to the gospel constitute the polarization referred to above.
3. It will be helpful to approach contemporary Adventism according to the decades it embraces. Each decade (for practical purposes we are classifying the 1970's as a decade) has its own distinctive contribution to make. For this reason we shall here give a brief overview of the entire period.
The modern era in Adventism is definitely different in important aspects from all that has gone before. Hence, it is new in a very real sense. In fact, it would not be wide of the mark to say that the present period of the 1970's is the kairos-time (the time of opportunity) for Seventh-day Adventism as far as its goal is concerned.
The 1950's was the decade of Christological advancement and a return to the catholic1 element of 1888. This advancement was spearheaded by LeRoy Edwin Froom and Roy Allan Anderson, but not without opposition. The opposition came largely from M. L. Andreasen in his Letters to the Churches, published toward the end of the decade.
The decade of the 1960's was a time of soteriological advancement, which was dependent upon the advancement of the previous decade. The 1960's witnessed an attempt to return to the soteriological message of 1888. There was intense dialogue between, on the one hand, what is known in Adventism as the "Awakening" and, on the other hand, the church administration and Adventist theologians. In certain important respects this decade broke with major emphases in Adventist thought prior to the modern era.
The period of the 1970's is one of polarization and crisis, brought about by a breakthrough into Reformation theology on the one hand, and by a return to pre-1950 Adventism on the other. The Christological and soteriological advancements of the previous two decades have received quite different treatments in the 1970's. Those who take the Reformation stream of thought see themselves as taking the findings of the previous two decades to their necessary conclusion. Those who have returned to pre-1950 Adventism have had to repudiate the progress of the 1950's and the 1960's. The 1970's is therefore the period of crisis for the Seventh-day Adventist Church-a crisis which concerns the nature of true Adventism.
1. In this sense, catholic does not mean Roman Catholic but the universal Christian church.