Starving for Agape Love in a Culture of Rape

Jacob_Savery_the_Elder_-_Garden_of_Eden_-_1601We live in interesting times – especially when it comes to society’s attitude toward love and sexuality. In some ways, quite ironically, it seems we’ve almost come full circle as the proverbial chickens from the “free love” movement have come back to roost.

What I mean by this is that the “free love” movement has now been outed as a failed project to the point that radical feminists, who once craved the freedom and empowerment to throw caution to the wind when it came to their own sexuality, are now almost clinging to complete chastity because they are unsure if they are even capable of really meaning “yes” when they say “yes” to sex.

But let me take a step back and set the scene for you as I try to somewhat coherently articulate a few disjointed thoughts that are swirling around in my head.

Last week, a friend of mine linked to an article from The Washington Post that aimed its guns at feminists who seemingly want to label every sexual encounter as rape. Many are now no doubt familiar with the “yes means yes” campaign that has turned into laws in many states in America. Essentially, the movement wants to criminalize any sexual encounter where one of the participants – usually the female – doesn’t clearly and explicitly affirm that she wants to have sex.

In The Washington Post article, the writer cites a number of examples from her own past that, were today’s criteria in place back then, would have been considered “rape.” She balks at such an idea, though, saying that sex is a lot more complicated.

Despite its scorn for reticence, the new sexual revolution has a deep puritanical streak. Consensual sex is viewed as always under control, the result of a rational, fully autonomous choice. In this vision, there is either unequivocal “enthusiastic consent” or reluctant submission. In real life, though, there are many other possibilities.

You could agree to have sex to please your partner, despite not being in the mood, and get enthusiastic later. You could be sexually eager but emotionally ambivalent, or vice versa. You could be torn between passionate desire and ethical or practical reasons not to act on that desire. You could get drunk to quiet your scruples, or you may hope to be coaxed into surrendering to temptation. (Obviously, “coaxed” does not equal “physically overpowered.”) Some of this behavior may be unhealthy or immature. But if it involves consenting adults — who can refuse sex without reasonable fear of harm — those adults should be free to make mistakes.

What I found even more intriguing, however, was an article the writer linked to by a young lady from Harvard who is now grappling with whether an explicit “yes” is even enough; whether “yes” can ever really mean “yes.”

In her article, the young lady from Harvard concludes:

Here’s the point. Feminists sometimes talk about “yes” and “no” like they’re uncomplicated. That’s a messaging thing, and it works: We want everyone who hooks up with anyone ever to do so only with an affirmative, active yes. Teaching that consent is always clear is a tool in making it so, by mandating explicit and affirmative articulation.

But ethical sex is hard. And it won’t stop being hard until we make cultures that enable meaningful choice, cultures wherein we minimize, as much as possible, power imbalances related to sex. That’s a tall order, but we’ve got to get there. For all the confused queer kids and weird mornings after. For all of us to feel safe and valued and of worth.

Such sentiment, for the Post writer, where “yes” may not even mean “yes,” is just too much to bear. In fact, even aside from that, the whole “yes” campaign is madness for the writer which turns sex into a mechanical encounter, sucking all the spontaneity out of it, and oversimplifying things.

As I read both articles, though, something interesting happened in my thinking. My natural instinct would be to heartedly affirm the contrarian views of the Post writer as she aimed her guns at a demographic that I sometimes struggle with: radical feminists who seem to always cry victimhood and are seeking to destroy historic biblical values.

But then a few jarring thoughts suddenly surfaced in my mind; thoughts which I’m still grappling with.

1. While the world argues about what constitutes “rape” from a legal perspective, the giant elephant in the room is that the moment a person propositions another person who is not his/her spouse, even under perfect conditions, that person’s spiritual personhood and innocence are being “raped” and a certain level of coercion is already at play.

As human beings, both male and female, who are created in the image of God and designed to live by the law of love, any time another creature invites us to step outside the bounds of that law of love, our innocence is already being compromised. We are already being dehumanized.

In that regard, all sex outside of heterosexual marriage – and despite what Donald Trump’s people say, even some within – is in some sense “rape.”

So questions of “yes” or “no,” even if answered with great sobriety and lucidity, are somewhat irrelevant. So far has society departed from the sexual laws that protect all – or, as the Harvard writer calls it, “ethical sex” – that we have a hard time even comprehending that extramarital propositions have the seeds of rape inherently contained in them.

So we cannot – and must not – celebrate a philosophy which itself celebrates a loose sexual ethic, even if we are growing tired of the voices that seem to cry victimhood ad nauseum. 

2. Reading the article from the young lady at Harvard all of a sudden helped me realize that feminism – radical or otherwise – didn’t simply arise in a vacuum but is, in many ways, a natural and appropriate reaction to a gross masculinity that has wreaked havoc on society since Adam joined Eve in eating the fruit. Feminists are confused about sex – to the point that they are not even sure whether “yes” really means “yes” – because we as men have made it confusing and treated it and them as tools for our insatiable hunger to gratify our sexual selves.

Think about it. In many ways, Adam was the first male chauvinist. When God came to him in Genesis 3 and asked him why he ate the fruit, the first two words (or one in Hebrew) that Adam said was, “The woman . . . ” (v. 12). And men have been blaming women ever since – even, or maybe especially, in the area of sexuality. “She wanted it . . . ” “If she hadn’t been wearing that . . . ”

The reality is, men have spent the last six thousand years failing to show true masculinity – a masculinity that embraces all the good qualities of maleness as Scripture defines it and rejects those which Satan has installed.

So, while I am certainly not advocating that we embrace everything that radical feminism affirms, we men must forgive women for refusing to celebrate – and, in fact, passionately fighting against – what passes as masculinity and our sexual heteropraxy.

3. It shouldn’t surprise us that what really lies at the root of all this confusion about sexuality, and our confusion about what constitutes rape, is a yearning for agape love. Simply put, the world is starving for it – that love which “seeks not its own” (1 Corinthians 13:5, MEV); that “self-renouncing love” which Ellen White says is “the law of life for earth and heaven” (The Desire of Ages, p. 19).

Such love makes all the questions of “yes” or “no” obsolete because, to begin with, no man would ever put a woman who is not his wife in a position to decide “yes” or “no” – and, in the context of marriage, no spouse would ever push beyond a “no.” Within the framework of agape love, if sex is seen as something one gives for the benefit of the other, rather than something one gets for the benefit of self, then the world would be a lot less confused about love and sex. And women – feminists or otherwise – wouldn’t be constantly wrestling with the question of whether they were raped or not.

But so long as sex continues to be of the self-serving variety, there will always be underlying feelings of violation and rape in the minds of those who are not its initiators.

Ellen White, in Ministry of Healing (her aptly named back whose title and topic has great relevance to the present discussion), pulls back the curtain on this question of what the world is starving for. “The world needs today,” she writes, “what it needed nineteen hundred years ago – a revelation of Christ” (p. 143). A revelation of Christ, of course, which reveals the heart of a completely other-centered, self-giving God.

How does this happen? She continues: “A great work of reform is demanded, and it is only through the grace of Christ that the work of restoration, physical, mental, and spiritual [and we might add, sexual], can be accomplished” (emphasis added).

Through the grace of Christ, we are thus primed to show and give the world what it so desperately longs for: a revelation of God’s agape love, which manifests itself, among other ways, in – using the words of the young lady from Harvard – truly “ethical sex.”

Postscript: if you are interested in exploring further thoughts I shared on sexuality, you can listen to a whole sermon series I preached a few years ago called “Everyone’s Battle” by clicking here

Why I Love Maine!

Every once in a while, I feel the need to highlight the “New England” part of my blog title – and this will be one of those instances. Everyone probably knows, of course, that I have a real affection for the region of the United States in which I was born and in which I’ve spent almost my entire life. But after returning from a brief family camping trip last night to a new part of Maine to which I’ve never been, I thought I would both share some pictures I captured (simply on my iPhone) and explain why it is that I love Maine so much – all the while trying to draw some type of spiritual lesson.

Though there are many, many reasons why I love Maine so much, here is one of those reasons which is chief: there is so much of it to discover! It is actually quite astounding: Maine is a very, very big state – especially for the standards of the northeastern United States – and it is very sparsely populated (the most sparsely populated state east of the Mississippi River). As a result, there are some very hidden and out-of-the-way places here, and I seem to be discovering some of those places a lot lately.

The chief reason for this, which many people “from away” don’t recognize and appreciate, is that though Maine’s coast, from its southern point to its northern point, is only 228 miles if one were to draw a straight line. But taking into consideration all the peninsulas and coves and harbors and islands, that coast actually stretches out to 3,478 miles – which is the fourth longest coastline in the entire United States (only Alaska, Florida, and Louisiana, have a longer coastline).

This means that there are so many hidden nooks and crannies on the Maine coast, with charming coves seemingly around every corner.

Take, for example, the new place we enjoyed this weekend: Deer Isle. You can see, based on the map, just how intricate and zig-zagging the coastline is. It seems that around almost every turn in the road there was another cove, dotted with fishing boats and sailboats, and small islands. Such beauty!


And yet this is just one of literally thousands of islands off the coast of Maine!

So there is always some beautiful new place to explore and discover – with coastal variation all along the way.

But let me tell you a little more about our trip this time, with a few accompanying pictures.

After enjoying an absolutely fabulous anniversary trip last weekend with my wife, Camille, in our all-time favorite – Mount Desert Island/Acadia National Park/Bar Harbor – we joined Camille’s two brothers, their wives and children, on a campout last night on Blue Hill Peninsula, with intentions to continue on to Deer Isle and Stonington this morning.

A word of explanation: Deer Isle is the major island which lies most immediately to the southwest of Mount Desert Island (MDI) – which is considered by many to be the “jewel” of the Maine islands, being the home of Acadia National Park. MDI is my wife’s and my favorite at this stage in our lives because there is so much to do with our kids: it has amazing hikes, spectacular coast, nice restaurants, amazing resorts. But it is, admittedly, very touristy. When we’re in Acadia, we seem to frequently be the only ones from Maine!

But Deer Isle, and especially its crowning town Stonington, is a whole other animal. It is frequently named as a favorite place in Maine for photographers and travel guides, but it is still very much unspoiled. Indeed, as I discovered, it is probably Maine’s most authentically charming place.

So when we woke up this morning, which, with a 15-month-old, was way too early (4 AM – or roughly the time when the light started making its presence known in our tent), we headed for Deer Isle. Our initial destination was a remote beach that my brother-in-law and sister-in-law rave about: Barred Island Preserve, located in Stonington.

The drive there was worth the price of admission itself, practically. I am a hobby photographer and I know that lighting is everything! And the lighting was perfect during our drive (aided by two things: first, young children who wake up at first light when you’re camping; and secondly, paying close attention to the tide since we need low tide to enjoy Barred Island). My only regret was that we were unable to make any stops to take pictures!

But here’s the first little shot, taken from my car, as we crossed over the mainland to Deer Isle via the Deer Isle suspension bridge (an impressive sight in its own right):

FullSizeRender 37

We soon found the parking lot for Barred Island Preserve and proceeded to embark on our one-mile walk through the coastal forest to the beach. This, itself, was quite a trek and was entirely enjoyable. We walked through a characteristically lush and green forest, hearing sounds of a fog horn getting louder, and smelling the salt of the ocean more poignantly, the closer we got. (Make sure you click on each picture in order to appreciate a much larger and fuller view of these sites!)

FullSizeRender 42

When we finally got to the end of the trail, which, with young children, seemed to take longer than a mile should, the sight that greeted us did not disappoint! There, before us, was a completely serene, idyllic, and lonely beach – created only by the low tide with water lapping the sand on both sides.

FullSizeRender 40It was all ours! The only noises interfering were the sounds of seagulls and a lone lobster boat setting out for the open waters. There was also a sail boat, just to the left of Barred Island, that was slowly moving across the horizon.

The kids immediately got into their bathing suits and we all began to explore.

These were the rocks just around the corner of the beach.

FullSizeRender 45

At one point, we noticed a seal swimming around a few hundred feet out (you’ll notice some of our party in the upper right-hand corner, just relaxing on the rocks, looking out at the seal.)

FullSizeRender 38Of course, there is one minor detail about the Maine coast that doesn’t sit well with many people: the water is very rarely warm. Such was the case today – with the temperature of the water probably around 55 degrees. But this didn’t stop the kids from splashing around the whole time we were there (with my littlest one, Winslow, in it practically the whole time). And Cameron and I, before we left, actually did go all the way in. It was cold but refreshing!

Here’s one last view from Barred Island Preserve before we left after staying for about two hours. During our whole time there, there was one other party that joined us. But, other than that, we had the whole place to ourselves! And this was July 4 weekend!

FullSizeRender 39After we got back to the parking lot, we proceeded to Stonington – that famed fishing villages that has captured the imagination of so many. Before we even got to the downtown, we saw some spectacular vistas. Just beautiful.

This is a classic Deer Isle – and coastal Maine – scene: a beautiful Cape style house overlooking an island-studded and rocky cove (the only thing missing are lupines, but those probably peaked a few weeks ago).

FullSizeRender 46Here is one of the first views of the actual harbor of Stonington.

FullSizeRender 48Unfortunately, we stayed in Stonington for a pretty limited time – and there was much else to explore. But I did have one neat experience during lunch: I met an old Mainer who was sitting next to us in the classic Maine diner. He was 88, having been born on Deer Isle and returning when he retired in 1991. He served in the Air Force for many years and then worked for the city of Lewiston, Maine. When I asked him what he did to stay busy these days, he said that he volunteered at his church. It turns out that he’s a deacon for the Advent Christian church – a denomination that is cousins to us Seventh-day Adventists.

What I found most surprising is that he says that the little Advent Christian church on Deer Isle averages about 80 persons each week. I thought that was remarkable for that off-the-beaten path location!

Here’s another shot of the harbor in Stonington.

FullSizeRender 50And a classic looking store in downtown, displaying its patriotism.

FullSizeRender 43As I said, we didn’t spend enough time in the village of Stonington. We must return some day.

But as we drove out, this was our parting shot: you probably can’t appreciate it as much, but we saw a kayaker paddling off into the open seas.

FullSizeRender 41For good measure, we added a bonus on the way home: with the day being so hot, we stopped by our favorite swimming hole, Branch Lake, and spent about 30 minutes cooling off. Branch Lake, which is about 30 minutes from our house, is a beautiful and somewhat-remote lake that has a clear bottom. It’s simply gorgeous!

FullSizeRender 47So why do I love Maine so much? Because it seems like there is always something more to discover.

And, even though Camille and I have our go-to place (MDI/Acadia/Bar Harbor) because it’s so family-friendly, I continue to be thrilled with making new Maine discoveries periodically!

And here’s the very sappy spiritual lesson: Maine is like the Bible! No matter how much you experience it, there is always something more to learn and discover about it. Plus – and this one is not a stretch nor is it sappy at all – spending time in Maine, enjoying its unparalleled beauty in nature, truly revives one’s spirits.



“What Will Be” – My Prayer for San Antonio

IMG_0473In a little over a week, thousands of Seventh-day Adventists—among whom will be nearly three thousand voting delegates—will gather in San Antonio, Texas, to conduct the business of the Church. Many eyes, both within and without Adventism, will be on that gathering in anticipation of a vote that will decide whether the executive committee of each division can decide whether or not to ordain women to gospel ministry.

A lot of opinions have been volleyed back and forth about the subject. Many people are anxious about which way the vote will go; others are bracing for the vote’s aftermath fearing it may cause irreparable damage either way.

But, while I’ve certainly kept abreast of the developments, my thoughts and prayers about San Antonio have been along completely different lines. In fact, for a few months now I have been daily praying a very specific prayer that has nothing to do with ordination.

The prayer has simply been this: I have been claiming Zechariah 12:10 on behalf of the Church, its delegates, and leadership:

And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn.

Though a lot could be brought out from this powerful verse—which, for my money, is one of the greatest, and perhaps most unexpected, promises in Scripture—the overall gist of it is that God will someday, hopefully soon, bring us to the place of supplication and intercession for Him; that we will look upon Christ, whom we have “pierced,” and we will feel a deep sorrow, pain, and sympathy for Him; that we will recognize our true condition and need—issues which cannot be resolved through simple majority vote.

In short, my prayer is that we will recognize our Laodicean condition and how we’ve kept Christ waiting from claiming His reward, which He purchased with His blood.

Indeed, think about this: even if we perfectly resolve the question of women’s ordination, we will still not have resolved our greatest problem—that of our Laodicean condition.

I would hate to be the one who says the emperor has no clothes, but I’d simply be quoting what the “Faithful and True Witness” of Revelation 3 has said. In fact, He goes even further than this, saying that we are not only naked, but that we are “wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked”—problems that ordaining or not ordaining women would not resolve. I say this with all due respect.

Such a reality is confirmed by Ellen White, in Early Writings, when she pointed out the one issue upon which the Church’s destiny hangs. Writing over 150 years ago, she shared this sobering thought:

I saw that the testimony of the True Witness has not been half heeded. The solemn testimony upon which the destiny of the church hangs has been lightly esteemed, if not entirely disregarded. This testimony must work deep repentance; all who truly receive it will obey it and be purified” (p. 270)

Notice this bombshell! Ellen White fingers the issue upon which the “destiny of the church hangs,” and it’s not women’s ordination—as important a subject as that might be. It’s in heeding the testimony of the “Truth Witness” and experiencing deep repentance over what the True Witness reveals to us.

Sadly, tragically, this message has been “lightly esteemed, if not entirely disregarded.

Those are some sobering words!

Such a rejection is seen in our history as a people, especially thinking of the “most precious message” that God sent through Elders A.T. Jones and E.J. Waggoner, and Ellen White. Indeed, Ellen White plainly stated in 1892 that “the message given us by A. T. Jones, and E. J. Waggoner is the message of God to the Laodicean church” (1888 Materials, p. 1052).

Yet that same message which, according to Ellen White, was the “light that is to lighten the whole earth with its glory,” was “resisted and by the action of our own brethren has been in a great degree kept away from the world” (Ibid., p. 1575).

And how heaven weeps!

So this has been my prayer for San Antonio: I am praying that we, as a people—and especially we as leaders, since the message of the True Witness is to the “angel of the church of Laodicea,” which Ellen White identifies as us as leaders (see Gospel Workers, pp. 13, 14)—would allow the “Spirit of grace and supplication” to run its full course on our hearts and that, with hearts broken from piercing our Savior through continued resistance, would experience “deep repentance.”

Imagine if such a thing happened! I mean, wouldn’t it be amazing if the Holy Spirit outfoxed the Devil and, instead of showing up to San Antonio to fight over women’s ordination, as the Devil thinks he’s set us up to do, we arrived to discover that heaven was poured out and that that “most precious message” was uplifted mightily, leading us to a place of denominational repentance over the way we have “wounded” Christ “in the house of His friends” (Ellen White’s words, quoting Zechariah 13:6, of what happened at the Minneapolis General Conference of 1888 and its aftermath—cf. 1888 Materials, p. 296).

It would, perhaps, be the greatest upset the universe had ever witnessed—and, of course, with our hearts humbled by the beautiful Gospel, the question about women’s ordination—and all others—would be easily clarified.

I do believe we are on the verge of witnessing this very thing happening. No, I know it!

One reason I think this is because the amazing video the General Conference produced (viewable below), which they will be showing at the GC session in a few weeks. It’s a beautiful acknowledgment of our collective failure to accept Christ’s assessment of our condition, and His solution to our problem: His righteousness.

With Mrs. Nancy Wilson I, too, believe that this GC session will be the launching point for eternity—and result in incredible good, reaching far, far beyond what may be decided about women’s ordination.

And along with Elder Ted Wilson, I not only say that “what might have been . . . can be”; I say, what might have been . . . will be.

Will you join me in claiming that promise and prayer?

Waggoner On Prayer


I was reading this morning from Living by Faith, which is a selection of writings from E.J. Waggoner and A.T. Jones. It serves as a sequel of sorts to the compilation Lessons on Faith. Both are absolutely pivotal for a person who is on the journey of faith.

This morning’s reading for me was simply called “Prayer,” and it was an article Waggoner wrote in 1893. It is absolutely fantastic and is probably one of the best things I’ve ever read on prayer, confirming the very realizations and experiences I’ve been having lately – namely, that prayer and helplessness go hand-in-hand and until one feels his/her helplessness it is pointless to urge prayer. This thought, in particular, speaks to that powerful point:

[God] waits for you to realize your need of Him. He cannot consistently, with the infinitely wise principles by which He works, bestow on you spiritual blessings that you would not appreciate. . . . Your heart must be in a condition to receive an appropriate gift before it can be bestowed. And when it is in that condition, you will feel an earnest longing that will naturally take the form of prayer.

This has been my precise experience!

But read the whole quote in context. I am simply going to reproduce the short article here. Read it and be blessed – and challenged! (This is taken from The Present Truth, October 5, 1893):

Prayer is the channel of the soul’s communion with God. Through it our faith ascends to God, and His blessings descend to us. The prayer of the saints ascend as incense before God. They come actually into His presence. Ps. cxl. 2; Rev. v. 8; viii. 3, 4. Prayer is the index of the soul’s spirituality. There is “the prayer of faith,” spoken of by James, and there is also the wavering prayer, mentioned by the same writer. There is “the effectual, fervent prayer,” which “availeth much,” and there is also the cold, formal prayer, which avails nothing. Our prayers show the exact measure of our spirituality.

The effectual prayer takes hold by faith upon the word of God. Faith not only believes that God is, but that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him. Heb. xi. 6. It is offered not formally, but with a sense of need; not doubtingly nor despairingly, but with full confidence that it is heard, and will receive an answer in due time.

The effectual prayer is not argumentative, for it is not the province of man to argue with God. Its statements are not for the purpose of conveying information to God, or of persuading Him to do what He had not intended to do. God cannot be persuaded by man. The arguments and appeals of a finite man cannot change the mind of the Omniscient. The man of faith does not plead with God for any such purpose. He does not want to persuade God to work in man’s way, for he believes God’s statement that as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are His ways higher than man’s ways. His prayer is ever, Thy will, not mine, be done.

What then is prayer, and what the purpose for which it is offered? It is the expression of our assent to that which God is willing and waiting to do for us. It is expressing to God our willingness to let Him do for us what He did wants to. It is not left for us to instruct the Lord in regard to what we need. “Your heavenly Father knoweth what things ye have need of before ye ask Him.” He knows what we need much better than we know ourselves. “For we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings that cannot be uttered.” Rom. viii. 26.

God knows every need that we have, and is ready and anxious to give us that which will supply them; but He waits for us to realise our need of Him. He cannot consistently with the infinitely wise principles by which He works, bestow upon men spiritual blessings of which they would have no appreciation. He cannot work for man without man’s co-operation. The heart must be in a condition to receive an appropriate gift before it can be bestowed. And when it is in that condition, it will feel an earnest longing which will naturally take the form of prayer. And when this longing is felt, when the soul feels an intense desire for the help that God alone can give, when the language of the soul is, “As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after Thee, O God,”-the effect is to open the channel between God and the soul and let the flood of blessings which was already waiting to descend. And it is the intensity of the desire that determines how wide the door shall be opened.

We need to realise more the great truth that God sees and knows everything that we need and has every provision made for all our wants, before we have even considered those wants ourselves, and that our work is not to determine what must be done to relieve them, but to place ourselves in a position where God can relieve them by the means which He has provided; to conduct ourselves with Him, to know His mind and thus to move according to His plans, and not set about the fruitless task of trying to make Him work for us according to some plans of our own.

The One Common Characteristic of History’s Greatest Men

Roger_Williams_and_NarragansettsOver the last seven or eight years, I have been drawn to reading biographies of some of history’s greatest men (apologies to history’s greatest women – I just have a harder time relating). I’ve read Doris Kearns Goodwin’s biography of Abraham Lincoln, Team of Rivals, Eric Metaxas’s biography of William Wilberforce, Amazing Grace, his biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and I just finished John M. Barry’s Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul: Church, State, and the Birth of Liberty.

Even a little farther afield, I read Unbroken a few years ago, which – if you haven’t heard by now – is the inspiring story of Louis Zamperini who, after a short career as an Olympic runner, suffered one of the most harrowing and grueling journeys after his plane crashed in the middle of the Pacific Ocean during World War II. And I could perhaps also add that I’ve gathered a few gems while reading a recent biography of E. J. Waggoner.

I read biographies for inspiration. I read them to glean insight on what makes great men great.

Because, the truth is, I make it no secret: I aspire to greatness and want to change the world insofar as it can bring glory to God and help hasten His return – recognizing, of course, that I am falling infinitely short of this goal (if my wife and kids won’t confirm my failings for you, certainly the churches I pastor could).

As I’ve gone through these biographies, though, I’ve noticed that these great men seemed to all share a number of common characteristics that made them great. I could list many.

But through it all, I’ve noticed one characteristic in particular that seems fairly ubiquitous, standing out above the rest.

I’m probably late to the party, and it may not be all that profound to you, but this characteristic has stuck out to me quite poignantly. It is simply this: all these great men were willing – no, eager – to relentlessly pursue their convictions even at the risk of great personal loss, some of them even death.

They had convictions, of course. We all do. But what separates a person who is merely a historical footnote and those who are memorialized – and here we could add people like Martin Luther and Martin Luther King, Jr. and Nelson Mandela, and of course Moses, Elijah, Paul, and Jesus – is that the latter were willing to not only do something about their convictions, but follow them to the point of personal loss.

Their convictions weren’t merely armchair convictions. They didn’t follow them when it was only convenient, trendy, or popular. They were sold-out and devoted to them, and would not waiver from passionately pursuing them. Indeed, the refused to play it safe. A life of ease and comfort was not an option for them so long as their convictions remained unfulfilled.

In short, they all exercised unparalleled courage – starting, of course, with an absolute disdain for the status quo, followed by an equal obsession with ferociously pursuing change.

The experience of Roger Williams is, of course, fresh in my mind.

After arriving in the New World in 1631 and immediately being courted to become the pastor of the church in Boston – the New World’s most prestigious pastorate – which he declined, he was soon banished from Massachusetts for promoting what he would later call “soul liberty,” i.e., a person’s right to freely follow his or her conscience in matters of worship and faith. Such an idea was extremely radical for his time – and Massachusetts, believing they were in covenant with God to stand as the “city on a hill” that showed the whole world what a Christian nation looked like, would have nothing of it.

They at first decided to send him back to England, but when they issued him a summons, Williams sensed that his life was actually in danger and, leaving his wife and kids in Salem, escaped into the Massachusetts wilderness. For the next fourteen weeks, during the harsh winter, he was sustained by the care and kindness of Native Americans.

Life didn’t get a whole lot easier for him, however, when he emerged in the land south of Massachusetts and ultimately started Providence Plantation and what would later become the state of Rhode Island. For the next two decades, the surrounding New England colonies pressured and harassed, sometimes violently so, Williams and those who took up residence within his borders – all because Williams and his colony promoted “soul liberty” and welcomed people of all stripes and persuasions.

Yet he never relented. In fact, even till his last dying day he never relented. That last dying day came during a time of great poverty, after Native Americans in Rhode Island – many of whom Williams had personally helped for many years – wiped out his home and left him destitute. In a moment of sympathy, his old arch-nemesis Massachusetts offered to lift his banishment if he agreed not to disseminate or vent “any of his different opinions.”

But even to the end, instead of surrendering his convictions, he chose poverty.

It’s no wonder that, of Roger Williams, John M. Barry writes: “Roger Williams never conformed – not even as a child, for even his father had persecuted him for his beliefs as a young boy. Yet for all his conviction, for all his commitment to his own way, it was not certainty he had clung to much of his life. . . . As he had told [John] Winthrop so many years before, I desire not to sleep in security and dream of a nest which no hand can reach” (p. 345).

And such could be said of all of history’s great men. They didn’t stay on the sidelines, privately holding their convictions. They followed them to their logical conclusion, staring straight into the face of danger and putting it all on the line if that’s what it took.

It deserves mentioning, however, that these men didn’t themselves go courting persecution for persecution’s sake. They didn’t intentionally look for trouble. Their goal was not simply to try to incite people.

Their goal was to relentlessly pursue their convictions, come what may.

Neither did they stand on the periphery of society as outsiders or outcasts, unable to gain an audience. They didn’t simply shoot arrows from the outside, trying to pick people or ideas off. They used tact and got into the trenches with people, trying to capitalize – for the sake of their ideals – on the relationships they had cultivated. Again, Barry writes of Williams that when he interacted with his foes from Massachusetts, he was “subtle, charming, gracious, and yet determined” (p. 369).

All this inspires me with the idea that a life free from adversity and risk is not a life worth living. People who play it safe don’t make a difference. They may make a living, perhaps even make a name for themselves, but they don’t make much of an eternal difference.

It somewhat reminds me of what C. S. Lewis wrote about tithes and offerings – which he called “charities.” “If our charities,” he wrote in Mere Christianity, “do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small” (p. 86). And if our convictions and ideas don’t challenge and disquiet the status quo – and as long as we’re this side of heaven there will be a status quo to challenge – then perhaps they’re also too small.

Indeed, people who merely flirt with ideas from ivory towers or quiet, idyllic pastorates, dispassionately and casually debating philosophical and theological minutiae, may tickle the intellect or the funny bone, but they don’t incite revolutions or revivals.

And that, to me, is no existence at all.

Whatever Happened to the Second Coming?

Second ComingThis morning, as I was playing with my kids, I decided to ask the old “where do you want to live when you grow up?” question. Mind you, my kids are almost-six, four, and 13 months.

Nevertheless, without hesitation, they blurted out, “Florida!” Being a dyed-in-the-wool New Englander, I felt somewhat like a failure, though I did feel a little comforted when they added that it was because their cousins, Calleigh, Aubree, and Brady, live there. (In her defense, Winslow, the 13-month-old, pleaded the fifth – and I could tell by the twinkle in her eye that she just wants to live with Mommy and Daddy for the rest of her life.)

After sharing with the kids that they should really want to live wherever Jesus wants them to live, I then paused and asked, “But do you know where you should really want to live when you grow up?”

With innocent curiosity they asked me where – to which I simply responded, “Heaven.”

I didn’t say it to be cute. I didn’t say it as a rote catechetic obligation.

I said it because every part of my brain wants to mean it.

And I said it because, as I added a few minutes later, we should want Jesus to return soon because He’s terribly sad right now not only about being apart from us, but also about all the pain and suffering that hurts Him on a deep emotional level as He witnesses the misery that continues to characterize this planet.

Yet here’s the reality: we don’t talk much about the Second Coming these days. Indeed, the Second Coming is seemingly only the hope of those with white hair or cancer – at least within Western Adventism. By and large, we feel pretty content with being on this planet. We plan for the future as though we assume we are going to be here a long time – only to then some day die after that. We don’t preach with any sort of urgency. We, as Adventists, adopt the evangelistic methodologies of non-Adventists (i.e., people who don’t believe Christ’s Second Coming is imminent – as the name “Adventist” implies), as though people who don’t sense the urgency of Christ’s return could somehow teach something about evangelism to those of us who do. We even invite them to speak at our conferences. (I’m not against interfacing with, listening to, or reading non-Adventists, per se; I just wonder how people who are ignorant of the three angels’ messages could really contribute much to a body that has been called to herald those three angels’ messages.)

And we argue about topics that may or may not have any bearing on whether Christ’s return happens sooner rather than later.

I don’t write this to be critical. I’m as guilty as the next person. In fact, just a few months ago, when I was in Florida, my very outspoken Aunt (whom I love dearly) put me on the spot in front of my whole family by asking me how many times I had preached on the Second Coming in 2014. I embarrassingly said zero. (She’s an octogenarian, by the way.)

But what happened to our prophetic urgency? What happened to the deep longing that the early apostles and the early Adventists felt that produced a yearning in their soul to see Jesus – and soon?

Perhaps we’re too content pursuing the “American dream,” which has seemingly usurped the “Adventist dream” of living to see Jesus return – and doing all we can to increase the likelihood of that happening.

Two caveats are in order, though.

First, when I say that we don’t talk much about the Second Coming anymore, I’m not necessarily talking about the requisite sermons, books, or articles about the “signs of the times.” We seem to have plenty of those still. And they have, perhaps, been the reason why we have been jaded about talking more about the Second Coming.

In other words, though I firmly believe in the importance of these prophetic signs, I also recognize that there is only so many times we can cry “wolf.”

Secondly, what I am urging is not a sort of Christian or Adventist “escapism” where we think the whole goal of Christianity is simply for God to be able to get us off this lousy planet – which He’s going to burn up anyway. I don’t speak of the Second Coming as some type of alternative to caring for the planet or the people on it.

What I’m talking about is the deep yearning of soul to be with Jesus – literally, in person.

I’m not talking about trying to escape this world so that we can slide down giraffe’s necks. I’m not talking about trying to get out of this world as a way to ignore and escape the suffering all around us.

I’m talking about feeling on a visceral level the desire for Christ to return for Him, not for His stuff. (The apostles were somehow able to experience this urgency, even though they lived at least two thousand years before Christ’s second Advent.)

Even more to the point, I’m talking about having a deep longing for His return for His sake.

After all, if we understand Christianity as a relational experience, and we truly believe God is a relational Person, we would thus have to recognize that, as a relational Being, God longs to be with us.

In fact, the cross demonstrates as much. If God was willing to give up His Son for the sake of our eternal life, doesn’t it stand to reason that He would want to retrieve the possession that He purchased with His Son’s blood as soon as He could?

Despite our many attempts to rationalize away the delay in the Second Coming by pointing out that a day is as a thousand years to God, time does matter to Him. The yearning I feel to be reunited with my wife and kids when I am away from them merely for a weekend (as I was last weekend) is but a drop in the bucket compared to the yearning that God feels about being with us, in person.

Similarly, as a relational Being, isn’t it clear that every time a child is hurt or a wife is abused God feels it on a deep emotional level? If we thus truly love God as much as we many times claim to, wouldn’t we thus want to do all we could to hasten His return as a way to bring an end to the pain that resides in His heart?

Ellen White makes this very point in her classic book Education:

Those who think of the result of hastening or hindering the gospel think of it in relation to themselves and to the world. Few think of its relation to God. Few give thought to the suffering that sin has caused our Creator. All heaven suffered in Christ’s agony; but that suffering did not begin or end with His manifestation in humanity. The cross is a revelation to our dull senses of the pain that, from its very inception, sin has brought to the heart of God. Every departure from the right, every deed of cruelty, every failure of humanity to reach His ideal, brings grief to Him. (p. 263).

Perhaps even more fascinating, for the 1893 General Conference, she had these words delivered to the attendees (she was living in Australia at the time), betraying just how burdened she was by the topic. Almost uneasy about putting it in these terms, she nevertheless wrote, “All heaven, if I may use the expression, is impatiently waiting for men to co-operate with the divine agencies in working for the salvation of souls” (General Conference Daily Bulletin, January 28, 1893, emphasis added).

Where we sense no urgency, content with bolstering our 401(k), heaven actually gets “impatient.”

And it’s no wonder: the angels, who love their God, long to see His pain, frustration, and agony cease. They’ve watched Him for the last 6000 years agonize over the sin that Has infected this universe. They’ve seen the rebellion of Lucifer, the fall of Adam and Eve. They’ve seen the genocide, the holocaust, the atrocities of war. Most significantly, they’ve seen the cross as the culmination of the sin project, heart-broken over the pain that has pierced the heart of Him whom they adore. And, like Peter, I’m sure they are tempted to pick up their swords and fight if it could somehow hasten the obliteration of the pain in the heart of their God.

What about us?

What if we, as Adventists, somehow recaptured the Adventist vision of Christ’s soon return?

It starts, of course, with encountering the love of that Christ as seen on Calvary. When we go to the cross and see the logical conclusion to what our present existence produces – death to God Himself – it will stir our hearts to the point that we will want to do all we can to hasten the end of God’s misery and woe.

In other words, encountering Christ’s First Coming in all its beauty, depth, and agony will propel us forward to do all we can to usher in His Second Coming.

So let’s go to the cross, you and I, so that Christ might soon come to us.

(If you’re at all interested in reading more extended thoughts on this topic, you may want to check out my first book, Waiting at the AltarOr if you simply want further inspiration, check out a song that always inspires and reorients me. It’s William Miller’s words after the Great Disappointment set to music, sung by Reggie Smith and accompanied by a choir with which I used to sing [Andrews University Singers]).

This is James.

IMG_3527I’m inspired by James every time I talk with him – and it’s not just because he is bald like me.

Through a series of very unexpected and somewhat unfortunate events, he started coming to our church about ten months ago. For the last four months or so we’ve been studying the Bible together.

And I’m quite sure he drew the short end of the stick.

There is no way – absolutely no way – that he is learning half as much, or being half as blessed, as I am by our time together. So in that regard, I feel sorry for him.

But let me tell you about him: James used to be a drug-dealer in Bangor. Everything he did was to satiate his addiction to drugs and alcohol. Life was only about himself.

Then something happened. He was arrested and found himself in jail. That was all it took. “Going to jail was the best thing that ever happened to me,” he told me last night. It was right there, in a little cell in Bangor, Maine, where he hit rock bottom. He realized his life needed to change. He realized he needed to be freed.

That one night in jail is all it took.

For the next six months, as he lived in a homeless shelter, he did a hard detox – which he said was actually pretty easy compared to getting over the real root of his addictions. Getting rid of the emotional and psychological demons was another thing altogether. It took going to AA and joining up with other support groups to help him deal with those demons.

And then one night it happened, like someone turned a light on. He decided to stay in a hotel room for a week in an attempt to finally break free from the addictions. As he sat in that lonely hotel room, reading his AA book, something clicked: his past was his past. It didn’t need to be his present. He didn’t have to hang on to it anymore. He didn’t have to carry the weight of his history anymore.

Since his past didn’t need to be his present, he didn’t need to medicate himself in the present anymore in order to drown out the cries of his past.

And with the weight of his past off his shoulders, it was as though someone turned a light switch on and deleted his craving for drugs and alcohol. It no longer enslaved him. His taste for it was gone, never to return.

He has been clean ever since.

As awesome as this is, though, what inspires me even more is his new craving to help deliver people from the life he onced lived. It’s an all-consuming passion of his. He now works at the homeless shelter that once housed him as well as a soup kitchen.

What excites him the most is traveling the streets of downtown Bangor in a canteen truck, setting up shop a couple times a month and bringing food directly to the demographic that he used to be a part of. I’ve been with him on this mission and his compassion and excitement for these people are contagious. James is normally a pretty quiet guy, but when he gets with these people and hands them chilli or a sandwich, he lights right up. He cares for them, invests in them, wants to help them live a better life.

It’s inspiring.

He’s also inspired me in other ways. He doesn’t own much – not even his own teeth – but he says he’s never been happier. He’s also thankful for his past because it helps him better relate to and sympathize with those he’s now trying to reach. And just last week, after I backed into my neighbor’s car and I had to call James to let him know we would have to cancel our Bible study, he said to me, “Hey, just remember: you can’t change the past. What’s happened has happened. Don’t let it own you.”

Whether fully understood or not, James knows – and more importantly, lives – the Gospel. And his burden to reach the down-and-outers of Bangor – a city that, though fairly small, has big-city problems with lots of drugs and homelessness – inspires me to be a better person and a better pastor.

And I can’t help but wonder how many Jameses there are in Bangor and in the world who are one night in jail away from finally being free.

Will we be there to point them to the One who can bring freedom?

James’s story reminds me of something I read just yesterday from another “AA” book – Acts of the Apostles – which I have just started reading again: “The church,” Ellen White writes, “is the theater of [God’s] grace, in which He delights to reveal His power to transform hearts” (p. 12).

What a thought! And what a reflection of James’s story. He’s been transformed – and now he wants nothing more than to be a conduit through which God’s grace can transform others’ hearts.

As we were about to end our Bible study last night, he shared a simple thought with me that often seems cliche but in his mouth seemed profound. “I figure that if I can touch just one person,” he said, “then I can change the world.”

That’s what it’s all about.

“Making Bargains With God”

As I wrote just a few minutes ago in my last post, I came across this brief, two-paragraph article from E. J. Waggoner when looking for another article that was included in the compilation Living by Faith.

This is from The Present Truth, March 9, 1893.

Be blessed!

“If God will forgive me for this, I will never do it again,” is an expression often heard. No doubt those who say so have a feeling of pity for the poor, benighted souls who do penance, and offer money in order that they may receive forgiveness of sins, totally unconscious that they themselves are doing the same thing; for to say that we will not do a certain thing again if God will forgive us for this offence, is to try to bribe God,-to buy His favour.

“God says: “I, even I, am He that blotteth out thy transgressions for Mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins.” Isaiah 43:25. God is rich in mercy, and He forgives us because of “His great love wherewith He loved us, even when we were dead in sins.” Ephesians 2:4, 5. But to try to make a bargain with God, that we shall receive His forgiveness in return for some good that we shall do, is to try to deprive the coveted forgiveness of all the quality of mercy. If God should agree to such a bargain, there would be no gratitude on the part of the man. He would feel that God had simply given him what he deserved, and had blessed him because he was so good that He could not consistently do otherwise. Thus the man would be confirmed in sin. Since God has provided so full and free a salvation, how much better to receive forgiveness upon His own terms, and trust Him to keep us from repetitions of it.”

“The Christian Life”

Living by FaithI have started reading, for my devotional time, Living by Faith, which is a compilation of writings by Jones and Waggoner. It was recently published as a “sequel” to Lessons on Faith, which was one of the most impactful books I’ve ever read.

Each chapter is “bite-size,” and easy to read, but it’s packed with incredible power. This morning, I read a selection from E. J. Waggoner called “The Christian Life,” which was originally an article from The Present Truth, from March 9, 1893. It is powerful!

So I thought I would reproduce here it in its entirety.

Incidentally, when I went to find the article online, I also came across another two-paragraph article from Waggoner which was also in the same issue of the The Present Truth. I will also share that in my next post.

But first, Waggoner’s “The Christian Life.” See if his words resonate with you – as they did with me:

Someone says:

“The little boy or girl, at school, looks at the copy in the writing-book, and imitates it, trying to write each following line better. That is the Christian life, and that is all of it.”

Not by any means. If it were all of it, there would be no hope for anybody; for the pattern is Jesus Christ, in whom dwelleth “all the fulness of the Godhead bodily, and no human being could ever successfully copy that life. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8, 9. He who would copy the life of Christ as the schoolboy copies his lesson, and do it successfully, must have power equal to that of God.

If the boy whose hand the master holds and guides in imitating the copy, were used as an illustration of the Christian life, it would be a step nearer the truth; but even that would not be the truth. That is mechanical. The boy may yield his hand willingly to the master, that it may be guided, but the writing is after all not his own. God does not use men as dead instruments to be operated upon, although men are to yield themselves as instruments of righteousness unto Him.

The Christian life is simply the life of Christ. If the master who sets the copy for the schoolboy, could put all his own skill and power into that boy, so that what he writes will not be merely an imitation of the master’s copy, but the master’s own writing, and still the free act of the boy, we should have an illustration of the Christian life. “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure.” Philippians 2:12, 13. “I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me; and the life that I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me.” Galatians 2:20. “He that saith he abideth in Him ought himself also so to walk even as He walked.” 1 John 2:6. And how was it that He walked? Christ Himself said, “The Father that dwelleth in Me, He doeth the works.” John 14:10. Christ has set us the copy, but instead of standing off and watching us try to imitate Him, He gladly comes in to our hearts, becoming one with us, so that His life is our life, and His act is ours. This is life-the Christian life.

Did E. J. Waggoner Adopt a Mystical View of the Atonement?

cross-556146_1280Every once in a while I discuss theological, biblical, and philosophical minutiae on my blog – mainly because, well, mainly because I enjoy a discussion of such things! Plus, sometimes that minutiae has farther-reaching implications than the average layperson realizes, ultimately influencing what the person in the pew understands about God and His ways – and, by way of extension, how the person in the pew lives.

In this case, I have been challenged recently by a few people (all good friends of mine) with the claim that E. J. Waggoner adopted a “mystical” view of the atonement in the early 1890s that served as the foundation to his allegedly heretical conflation of justification and sanctification, leading to his heretical views on the vindication of God. And when he started wading into panentheistic waters – the belief that God exists in everything – it all came together as a highly potent and toxic mix.

So what are we to make of this claim? Did Waggoner adopt a “mystical” view of the atonement?

First of all, let’s define our terms: what is meant by the the phrase “mystical view”? To put it in simple terms, a “mystical” view of the atonement focuses solely on the subjective aspects of Christ’s atonement on the cross. That is, Christ died not to satisfy any objective demands of justice; He died only to somehow work a change in our psyches and reconcile us to Himself. The atonement merely revealed God’s heart to us. Christ didn’t bear the penalty of our sin, serving as our Substitute. Salvation has nothing to do with Christ redeeming us from some external punishment from which we need to be delivered; salvation consists solely of subjective sanctification where we are freed from an internal conflict.

The real watershed moment in Waggoner’s “mystical” views on the atonement came in 1893, it is postulated, when he wrote an article in The Present Truth – a publication he edited in the United Kingdom – where he sought to answer the question “Why Did Christ Die?” When one reads this article, it seems as though Waggoner was starting to adopt an exclusively mystical, subjective view of the cross and the atonement. He says, for example, that the Scriptures “never once hint of such a thing as the necessity for God to be reconciled to man” (Sept 21, 1893). No, he says, the cross was not for the purpose of reconciling God to man, but to reconcile man to God.

When one reads the whole article in context, however, and compares it with Waggoner’s continued views on the atonement expressed later, it becomes apparent that if he’s guilty of anything, it’s that he is setting up a straw man that is, as an isolated article, perhaps a little unbalanced.

It is not, however, the watershed moment, or the smoking gun, signaling Waggoner’s hard break – or even soft break – with his objective views of the atonement.

Notice, for example, all the qualifiers he uses when describing the “Substitutionary” model of the atonement that he is setting on fire (all emphases mine):

But,” someone will say, “You have made the reconciliation all on the part of men; I have always been taught that the death of Christ reconciled God to man; that Christ died to satisfy God’s justice, and to appease Him.” Well, we have left the matter of reconciliation just where the Scriptures have put it; and while they have much to say about the necessity for man to be reconciled to God, they never once hint of such a thing as the necessity for God to be reconciled to man. To intimate the necessity for such a thing is to bring a grave charge against the character of God. The idea has come into the Christian Church from the Papacy, which in turn brought it from Paganism, in which the only idea of God was of a being whose wrath must be appeased by a sacrifice. . . .

“But to speak of the necessity for God to be reconciled to man is not only to say that He cherished enmity in His heart, but to say that God was partially in the wrong, and that a change had to take place in Him as well as in man. . . .

“It is very difficult for the mind to rid itself of the idea received as a legacy from Paganism, through the Papacy, that God was so angry at man for having sinned, that He could not be mollified without seeing blood flow, but that it made no difference to Him whose blood it was, if only somebody was killed; and that since Christ’s life was worth more than the lives of all men, He accepted Him as a substitute for them. This is almost a brutal way of stating the case, but it is the only way that the case can be truly presented. The heathen conception of God is a brutal one, as dishonouring to God as it is discouraging to man; and this heathen idea has been allowed to colour too many texts of Scripture. It is sad to think how greatly men who really loved the Lord, have given occasion to His enemies to blaspheme. . .

“Remember that in giving His Son, God gave Himself, and you will see that a sacrifice was not demanded to satisfy God’s outraged feelings, but that, on the contrary, God’s inexpressible love led Him to sacrifice Himself, in order to break down man’s enmity, and reconcile us to Himself.

It is apparent what He is doing: tracing this particular model of the atonement to Roman Catholicism and Paganism, using terms like “appease,” “mollified,” “God was angry at man,” He had “outraged feelings,” He “cherished enmity in His heart,” etc. No honest reader of Scripture – at least none who agrees with the hermeneutical approach of Adventism – would disagree with Waggoner that God didn’t have outraged feelings, or that He had enmity in His heart toward us.

No Adventist reader of Scripture would then disagree with Waggoner’s desire to expunge this horrific explanation of God and the atonement (though one could, I suppose, question whether Waggoner accurately described a model that any Christian really subscribes to – but that’s a different topic). Further, such a desire was merely in concert with what Ellen White herself described, noting, for example, her words in Steps to Christ that Christ’s “great sacrifice was not made in order to create in the Father’s heart a love for man, not to make Him willing to save. No, no! . . . . The Father loves us, not because of the great propitiation, but He provided the propitiation because He loves us” (p. 13).

Such a distinction needs to be made, Ellen White says, because “Satan led men to conceive of God as a being whose chief attribute is stern justice – one who is a severe judge, a harsh, exacting creditor. . . . It was to remove this dark shadow, by revealing to the world the infinite love of God, that Jesus came to live among men.” Indeed, “the Son of God came from heaven to make manifest the Father” (p. 11).

So Waggoner, even though he may have overstated the case a little too much for some people’s liking, wasn’t necessarily ridding his theology of the substitutionary model of the atonement in 1893. Like Ellen White, he was decrying the despicable classic explanation of God that places the atonement as the apex of God’s inner need for some type of appeasement and mollification in order to love sinners and feel right toward them.

It’s not simply a contextual reading of Waggoner’s 1893 “Why Did Christ Die?” article that helps us realize his true views on the objective and substitutionary aspects of the atonement though; his views also become apparent when one does a simple search of his writings from 1893 onward, starting – surprise, surprise – with the very last paragraph in this very same article that critics cite as Waggoner’s departure from the objective model. “We have not a God who demands a sacrifice from man,” Waggoner summarizes, “but one who in His love has offered Himself a sacrifice. We owe to God a life perfectly in harmony with His law; but since our life is just the opposite of that, God in Christ has substituted His own life for ours.

Can it get any clearer?

Waggoner would express very similar sentiment throughout the rest of his ministry, repeatedly affirming the objective aspects of the atonement. Here is a sample of his affirmations of such a thought, starting in the year 1893 (though a few months before this “watershed” article was published):

  • March 9, 1893: “This is the message of these days. It is to present Christ as the power of God, and the righteousness of God by faith of Jesus Christ as the only righteousness which will cover men from the wrath of God” (The Present Truth – unless otherwise indicated, all quotes are from this same magazine).
  • October 26, 1893: “What an exchange is this! We are offered everything for nothing; yes, for worse than nothing, for our load of sins would surely sink us in perdition unless we should become freed from it. And Christ simply asks us to give it all to Him; for He has purchased us, and our sins with us. He has paid the penalty of our sins, and He knows what to do with them. He will remove them as far from us as the east is from the west; He will cast them into the depths of the sea.”
  • November 9, 1893: “Man has no power to forgive sin, for sin is the transgression of the law of God, and no man has authority to say that the claims of that law are satisfied. Even God Himself could not say so had not the demands of that holy law been met in the death of Christ.” (NOTE: This one is a biggie: it clearly demonstrates that Waggoner firmly believed God could not simply forgive us unless the “demands” of the “holy law [had] been met in the death of Christ.” If that’s not “objective” talk about the atonement, I don’t know what is.)
  • February 1, 1894: “[I]t took nothing less than the Divine life of Christ to meet the demands of the law. . . . [O]ur sin was put upon Him, He was cut off from the favour of God; and when upon the cross He cried out, ‘My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?’ it was no fanciful utterance. God had forsaken Him. He had hidden His face from Him. In that last dreadful hour spent in Gethsemane, Christ passed without the pale of the mercy and favour of God; and it was this that caused His sufferings. He felt what the wicked will feel at the last day when they, because of sin, experience the wrath of God” (NOTE: Some have also claimed that Waggoner’s alleged mystical views of the atonement would also lead to his rejecting of the destruction of the wicked – as other modern theologians have done. But this quote, along with scores of others, clearly demonstrates that Waggoner fully affirmed the idea that God will ultimately destroy the wicked [as opposed to the wicked destroying themselves], as further quotes will also demonstrate.)
  • February 8, 1894: “In Christ, the sinner exchanges his sins for God’s righteousness, which is the righteousness that the law demands. In Christ, also, the penalty for sin has been paid. Christ is the law freed of its terrors, and human flesh divested of its sin. We meet Him as sinners and lose our sin, and also meet the law without meeting its penalty.
  • July 18, 1895: “[A]lthough sinless, ‘he was made to be sin for us,’ counting our sin as his. We had gone astray, and the Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all. So when he was crucified, he was crucified for our sin” (Signs of the Times).
  • March 31, 1898: “[L]ife for us depends not simply upon the fact that He bore the curse of death for us, but our hope centres in the fact that He was able to do this and still live. ‘Fear not; I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I became dead, and behold, I am alive for evermore, and have the keys of death and of Hades.’ Rev. i. 17, 18, R.V. ‘Sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death’ (James i. 15), which is the curse, and so our sins caused the death of Christ, ‘who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree,’ but since He ‘did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth,’ He was able to pay the penalty for our sins and pass through the grave.”
  • May 18, 1899: “Great as is God’s power to destroy, so great is His power to redeem. The destruction of the wicked is only one part of the great work of redemption. This is shown in the death of Christ. Christ died for the world of sinners. He was made to be sin for us, and therefore He suffered the penalty for sin. He was made to be sin for us, in order that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him, and even so He suffered as a sinner, in order that guilty sinners might be saved from wrath through Him. In giving His only Son to die for sinners, and giving Himself in His Son, God showed us not only the inevitable fate of sinners but also how much He longed not to see a single sinner punished. He has no pleasure in the death of any.”
  • July 6, 1899: “Our sins are forgiven by the substitution of the righteousness of Christ, which means that it is by God’s giving us His life instead of ours. That means a complete transformation.”
  • September 14, 1899: “So although the last day will be the most terrible, it will contain nothing but joy for those who have accepted the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. Do not the righteous joy in the cross of Christ? Is it not the one thing in which to glory? Yet the crucifixion of Christ was a most terrible event, and all the terrors of the wrath of God raged round the cross where Christ died. But for His death on the cross, the Son of man would not have the power to sit in judgment and to execute judgment on the ungodly.”
  • August 2, 1900: “Justification is a free gift, but so also is sanctification. Christ died to pay the penalty of our sins, but He has risen from the tomb, and desires to live over again, in the person of His obedient follower, the same perfect life that He once lived upon this earth.”
  • October 31, 1901: “We need not now go into a consideration of how and why it was that God must needs give His life; suffice it for the present that He did it, taking the guilt of the world upon themselves; for ‘God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them.’ 2 Cor. v. 19. And as He took the sins of the world upon Himself, so He took upon Himself the penalty for sin. ‘He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon Him, and with His stripes we are healed.’ Isa. liii. 5.

    “On the cross Christ, and God in Christ, takes the punishment that is naturally due to sin, suffering all that any sinner, and all sinners together, can possibly suffer in being cut off for their sins. ‘Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust.’ 1 Peter iii. 18. ‘He was cut off out of the land of the living’ (Isa. liii. 8), and that is the utmost penalty that can be visited upon any sinner.

    In the cross we see the judgment and the execution of the penalty against sin: ‘The soul that sinneth it shall die.’ The cross brings salvation; but salvation is the destruction of sin; and the destruction of sin necessarily involves the destruction of those who will not allow sin to be separated from them. There was the same awful terror at Calvary when Christ offered up His life, that there will be at His second coming.” (NOTE: From 1893 onward, Isaiah 53 – which presents a very explicit picture of the substitutionary aspects of the atonement – was a favorite passage for Waggoner, quoting it no fewer than 70 times. [Actually, technically speaking, I only searched for the phrase “iniquity of us all,” which is v. 6. This means that he quite likely quoted other parts of the chapter that demonstrate substitution – like the one above, “He was wounded for our transgressions” – quite frequently as well, meaning that he liked the chapter even more than my quick search demonstrates.])

  • February, 1902:The sins of the world were on him, and he could not have put them off without dying, except by denying himself, which he cannot do. But now, having given up his own life, thus showing not only his hatred of sin, but also the immutability of the law of righteousness, he has a new life, that has not been tainted by sin, to give to every one who will accept it. His grace is as free as the air we breathe, and therefore there is no excuse for anyone who does not accept the new life in Christ. Whoever clings to the old life of sin must necessarily go to destruction, suffering the same penalty for sin that God himself suffered” (The Medical Missionary, vol. 4).
  • January 15, 1903: “Christ suffered for sins – the Just for the unjust.”

After doing this quick search of Waggoner’s writings, post-1893, it is evident to me that, contrary to the views of some (views that, I might add, have been gaining traction of late), he did not at all abandon the substitutionary aspects of the atonement. Indeed, he clearly enunciated this teaching – even as late as 1903, when his panentheism was in full force.

It cannot – nor should not – be denied, of course, that he placed a great deal of emphasis on the subjective aspects of the atonement. But he was not here even departing from what Ellen White herself did so frequently. In fact, I would propose that if the average evangelical theologian – especially those of stronger Reformed persuasions – picked up her works on soteriology, they, too, would say she waded deeply into “mystical” waters (I once had a Calvinist friend, who was simply a layperson, tell me that he was scandalized when he read Steps to Christ, feeling that it was way too subjective).

One example, from her book Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing, will suffice at this point to demonstrate how Ellen parts company with the classic, forensic-only models of the atonement that are common within mainstream evangelicalism. “But forgiveness has a broader meaning than many suppose,” she states in chapter 5, “God’s forgiveness is not merely a judicial act by which He sets us free from condemnation. It is not only forgiveness for sin, but reclaiming from sin. It is the outflow of redeeming love that transforms the heart” (p. 113, emphasis original). If such a definition of “forgiveness” wouldn’t cause a Reformed theologian to break out in cold-sweat, I don’t know what would (and, sadly, also many Adventist theologians)!

And yet such an explanation was perfectly consistent with the rest of her theology, remembering how she warned that “many commit the error of trying to define minutely the fine points of distinction between justification and sanctification” (1888 Materials, p. 897 [written in 1891]).

Thus, it is clear from this brief survey that Waggoner was in harmony with Ellen White – and, I might add, of course, the Bible – as it relates to both the objective and subjective aspects of the atonement. It shouldn’t thus surprise us that, as late as 1898, Ellen herself was praising Waggoner for editing the “best paper published by our people,” (a paper, of course, in which Waggoner was supposedly disseminating his great mystical heresies since 1893) and urging him to visit her in Australia (see Manuscript Releases, vol. 17, p. 217).

Furthermore, contrary to what some have proposed, if Jones or Waggoner – who were Ellen’s two closest companions in the gospel – at any time delved into troubling theological waters, Ellen was very quick to correct them, even if she had to write a letter from Australia. She did this in 1893 with Jones when he seemed to say that works didn’t matter when it comes to salvation. She did it again with Jones a short time later, when he, for a short time, heralded Anna Rice as a prophet. And she did it with Waggoner, when, at the turn of the century, he started promoting his panentheism. Indeed, she was quick to correct the errors of Jones and Waggoner, precisely because she knew that if the message was to succeed, they needed to stand as far above theological error as possible.

Nowhere do we read, however, Ellen correcting Waggoner over his alleged mystical views of the atonement, or the nature of Christ, or the danger of him conflating justification and sanctification, or the vindication of God.

Thus, the bottom line is that any intimation that Waggoner’s views on sanctification and the vindication of God were faulty because of a “mystical” view of the atonement are entirely misguided. Simply put, Waggoner maintained throughout his ministry, at least until 1903, the objective aspects of the atonement.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 141 other followers