June 19, 2018

Ethics, the Remnant and Evolution

Costin Jordache, director of communication & news editor, Adventist Review

The following article is part of a series of reports from the Fourth International Bible Conference, hosted in Rome, Italy from July 11-21, 2018. The theme of this particular conference is eschatology, a word that literally means “the teaching of the last things” and describes the study of last day events and associated subjects. ~ Editors 

Among the memorable aspects of the Rome Bible Conference is the shear number of papers that are being presented in six parallel tracks. Scholars from all parts of the world are presenting a total of 102 papers on a variety of topics, not including plenary sessions. The tracks allow attendees to chose from seminars among the following areas of specialty: Old Testament, New Testament (2 tracks), Theology, Church History, Missiology, and Adventist Studies (2 tracks). Below is a sampling of several of the papers presented on the first full day of the conference.

Ethics and Eschatology

Presenting in the New Testament track, Larry Lichtenwalter, dean of the faculty of philosophy and theology and newly installed president of Middle East University, shared a paper entitled “The Apocalypse and Ethics: Eschatology and Moral Imagination in the Book of Revelation.”

Lichtenwalter unpacked a theme that was touched on by multiple presenters throughout the first few days: the connection between ethics and eschatology. The question that forms the relationship between the two words is: how do believers live while waiting for the eschaton and does eschatology itself give believers ethical guidelines?

“Eschatology inevitably casts a moral vision,” argued Lichtenwalter, “generating a corresponding ethic and giving promise of offering a unity of life and the possibility of total fulfillment.” He continued by focusing specifically on the book of Revelation. The biblical book puts readers in a moral context—the cosmic conflict between Christ and Satan—shared Lichtenwalter.

Thus, the book’s “eschatology and ethics interweave,” creating a set of “moral realities.” They include “character (being and doing), freedom and choice, truthfulness, worship, covenant faithfulness, ethical practice, reconciliation, ethical norms, moral dilemmas, and moral agency.” According to Lichtenwalter, these moral realities unveiled in Revelation raise critical questions and provide guidelines for the life of the believer awaiting the Second Coming of Christ.

“No biblical text offers such incredible practical insight into the link between eschatology and ethics,” concluded Lichtenwalter.

Adventist Identity and Remnant Heritage

Yet another paper delved into the subject of the remnant, a concept core of Adventist eschatological teaching. Richard Rice, professor of religion and theological studies at Loma Linda University, grappled with the question of what a remnant identity implies for the current Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Rice shared that for Adventists, the notion of the remnant brings to mind several key themes and “reinforces the sense that we are a unique group, endowed with special gifts, presenting a distinctive message at a particular time in response to a specific divine mandate.” However, Rice said, “there are interesting variations among Adventists as to just what remnant identity involves.”

Some of those variations, he said, are due to the growth of the Adventist Church resulting in a large, well-known global denomination. “We are no longer a beleaguered minority on the outskirts of Christianity,” Rice shared. His paper sought to highlight a few current perspectives on the remnant, while suggesting ways in which Adventists could continue to embrace their “remnant heritage.”

Among several points, Rice argued that one way to re-discover the Adventist remnant identity is to draw inspiration from the way early pioneers lived out their remnant identity. Referencing Adventist perspectives of the late nineteenth century and the counsel of Ellen White, Rice suggested that early Adventists understood their remnant identity to include challenging the apocalyptic powers described in the book of Revelation.

This catalyzed pioneers to take active roles in their societies, engaged in preaching a last-day message, while working for the benefit of society. “Just as the early Adventists who saw themselves as the remnant were deeply involved in the issues of their time,” argued Rice, “we who see ourselves as the remnant today should be actively engaged in the issues of our time.”

“Our remnant heritage both inspires us with a sense of identity and provides us a wholistic vision of Christian life, witness, and service,” concluded Rice. “To be faithful to the full range of our forebears’ concerns we must embrace an expansive vision of the remnant.”

Darwin and Salvation 

Further elaborating on the relationship between eschatology and science, Raúl Esperante, paleontologist on staff at the Adventist Church’s Geoscience Research Institute, discussed Darwinism and its effects on Christian theology.

Esperante shared a historical sketch, which outlined a progression of developments which challenged the Judeo-Christian teaching of history and the value of the human being. “Historically, and since its inception, Darwinism has hurt the Christian faith,” he said. “It has helped to undermine confidence in Scripture and has promoted a naturalistic view of biological existence and the universe that alienates humans from salvation.”

Esperante chose to focus in large part on the relationship between Darwinism and the Christian concept of salvation—a theme intricately related to eschatology. Darwin’s proposal of evolutionary development and natural selection, “shook the contemporary theological foundations by removing humans from the natural scheme of Creation and stripping them of the need for salvation,” he said.

This creates both a missional problem and challenges the rationale of Christian theology. “The problem is that extreme Darwinists do not feel 'lost’ but evolved,” explained Esperante. “As such, they have reached an organic level in nature that gives them superiority and advantage, and they know that there is nothing beyond the organic, the finite and this earthly existence.” In essence, “there is no concept of salvation for those who believe that there is nothing to be saved from.”

While recognizing the challenges, Esperante concluded by affirming the biblical notion of hope, grounded in the promise of salvation, which speaks against the “existential emptiness and despair” associated with Darwinism.

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