I read this one at the suggestion of some other people, with whom I joined in a four-way conversation that will eventually be posted at the Spectrum site (I’ll add the link once it’s up there so you can listen if you’re interested).
George Knight is a familiar name to Seventh-day Adventist readers as a church historian and theologian. He’s a hero of mine because I think he’s done the church a great service by putting the stories of our founders, especially Ellen G. White, into a context which counters some of the excesses of the extremely conservative “historic Adventism” movement, and in his prolific writing and speaking career he’s always kept a clear focus on grace and the gospel as central to the Adventist message.
Now Knight has issued what he sees as a warning cry against the dangers of both conservative and liberal Adventism, and a reminder that we are first and foremost an “adventist” church, i.e. a church that teaches that Jesus is coming soon. He argues passionately in this book that the return of Jesus must remain the central focus of our teaching, otherwise we have nothing unique to offer the world and no reason to continue to exist as a denomination.
He argues that liberal and progressive Adventists risk “neutering” the Adventist message when they cease to make apocalyptic theology a key part of their message, perhaps because it is considered politically incorrect or offensive. He also says that conservative and traditional Adventists risk the same kind of “neutering” by an unhealthy emphasis on judgement without a corresponding emphasis on the gospel of grace. Knight calls for balance, and for a focus on the traditional teachings of Daniel and Revelation in the context of the gospel.
I respect George Knight and, as one of those liberal Adventists he’s targeting who is often uncomfortable with traditional apocalyptic preaching, I probably wouldn’t have listened to this message if it came from someone other than him. I don’t agree with him on every point. One of my biggest problems with Adventist apocalyptic preaching is that it relies on an extreme sense of certainty that says “We can tell you how every single verse in Daniel and Revelation is meant to be interpreted and thus, exactly how Christ will return — not when, but how.” I think this approach is arrogant and, while Knight cautions against it to some extent, I don’t think he does nearly enough to address this problem, which I think is at the heart of traditional Adventist apocalyptic evangelism.
The other problem I have is that many people use a focus on Jesus’ return as an excuse not to do anything about the world we’re living in now (except preach to it) — not to be involved in social justice or caring for the environment. Again, Knight grazes against this issue when he cites Matthew 25 and says that God expects to find His people caring for the poor when He returns — but he then goes on to caution that preparing people for Jesus’ return, not feeding the hungry, should be at the centre of our life as a church.
Mostly, I guess, I have always had a problem with the argument, “We must hold on to X doctrine, or practice, because without it we lose our uniqueness as Adventists!” Being different for the sake of different, rather than genuinely examining whether this doctrine or practice is right? I’m not sure I agree with this. But respecting George Knight and his work as I do, I am at least giving his argument some serious thought.