In 2015 the Friendly Atheist published a video called “10 Things You Should Know about Seventh-day Adventists”. I had no idea the video existed and honestly, I don’t really care too much since there are like a million videos out there disparaging Adventism and I don’t waste my time watching them. But I like the Friendly Atheist. He’s friendly.
After seeing what he had to say my first reaction was, maybe he should focus on being accurate and not just friendly? Critiquing a worldview is something that needs to be done carefully and humbly. It’s OK to challenge ideas but its not OK to misrepresent them. I personally don’t mind being laughed at because of my faith. What I don’t like is when I’m laughed at because of a caricature of my faith.
So here we go. 10 things our friendly neighbor got TOTALLY wrong about Adventists.
1. Jesus is coming back very soon. Like not in our lifetime soon… but like now soon. The word they use is “imminent.” And only people who rest on Saturday will be saved.
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Yeah. No. Like, wow. No.
Allow me to elaborate. Adventists believe that Jesus is coming and that he is coming soon. But we also believe that a number of things need to happen first. So while we believe his coming is “imminent” we don’t believe he is coming “like now soon”. Our emphasis on end-time events and prophecy makes it pretty clear that before Jesus returns a whole bunch of stuff will happen in the social, political and religious world. So he was way off on this one.
But that’s not as bad as the thing about “only people who rest on Saturday will be saved.” Seriously, which Adventist were you talking to bro? I have been an Adventist all my life, have a theology degree from an Adventist university and am an Adventist pastor. And this is like nowhere on the periphery of Adventist thought. Sure, there are a few fanatics who self-identify as Adventist’s who may say that but they don’t count because, well… they are fanatics. Adventists believe that salvation by is the free gift of God, not by keeping the law. In addition, many believe that heaven will be filled with people of diverse denominations and religions. We do believe that Jesus is the only way to heaven (as every Christian does) but we also reject the idea that God has consigned the millions of people who never heard of Jesus to automatic hellfire.
So yeah. Moving on.
2. Saturday is their holy day. Most Christians reserve Sunday as their holy day. But SDA’s are insistent that it’s Saturday. Screw those heretics who disagree! Remember how God created the universe in six days and rested on the seventh? Obviously that was on Saturday.
Yes we do believe that the 7th day Sabbath is the day God especially set apart to celebrate his creation and redemption. He got that part right. And if only he had left it there… sigh…
But the “screw those heretics” vibe is not one you will find in any emotionally healthy Adventist. It’s not part of our theological worldview. Part of Adventisms narrative is a celebration of God’s “time-fondness”. In other words, the God of the Bible is constantly revealed in an intimate relationship with time and space.
While other Christian traditions interpret God primarily as a being outside of time and, in many instances completely disconnected from it, Adventism allows his “time-fondness” in scripture to lead our understanding of his nature and character. The Sabbath, being a recurring moment in time and space, takes on a relational/ romantic tone rather than a religious/ dogmatic one.
And finally, no one debates whether or not Saturday is the Sabbath. Christians all of traditions readily admit that the 7th day is the original Sabbath of creation. The disagreement is on whether its celebration is still relevant. Adventists (along with other Christian traditions like the Seventh Day Baptists) say yes, its still relevant while some others say it isn’t. But the 7th day being the original day the Sabbath fell on is beyond dispute.
3. They don’t believe that you’re going to Heaven when you die. The only way anyone’s going to Heaven is when Jesus returns for the Second Coming. What if you die before that happens? Then you just have to sit there unconscious in your grave until the day comes. Which I hear will be very soon.
This was a tough one. In one sense he got it right. Adventist don’t believe humans have an immortal soul separate from the body. So when a person dies there is no floaty part that finds itself in heaven or hell. Rather, when a person dies they are unconscious until the resurrection. Due to the influence of Platonism and the immortal soul doctrine that came with it many Christian traditions tend to believe that a persons soul goes to heaven or hell after death and remain conscious. But with a rejection of Platonism, Adventists found the idea totally not in the Bible. So we chucked it in the bin.
So in a sense, you could say he got this one right. But while he did get the “concept” correct, he messed it up with the whole, a dead dude “just sit[s] there…” thing. That implies the person is aware and really, really bored. This was most likely said in humor, but it caricatures the doctrine which leads to a misrepresentation of a view he otherwise explained quite well. Unconscious is the key and if he had highlighted that, I would have named this article “9 Things…” instead.
4. Bad people don’t go to Hell. No, it’s much worse. They’re just going to be permanently destroyed. Because God grants us eternal life… so if you don’t accept God, you don’t get the joy of burning in Hell forever. When Jesus comes back — which is soon — God’s gonna commit the biggest act of genocide you’ve ever seen. Which also means they don’t believe in Hell. Because no one could end up there.
Seriously? OK. I got to take this one one by one. Let me catch my breath first.
What could be worse than being tortured for all eternity with no end in sight? The traditional Christian teaching of eternal torment in hell has done more to make people hate God than any other teaching. So I’m not saying the Adventist view is like awesome and peachy. But dude, it’s definitely not worse than the traditional view.
When people are tortured for long periods of time they get to the point where they just want to die in order for the suffering to end. Forget torture. You beg for death after a few hours of diarrhoea. Imagine being tortured by a psychopath who also has the capacity to keep you alive for the ceaseless ages of eternity? Nothing can be worse than that.
The Adventist teaching is basically this: God has given every human the opportunity to choose life or death. Those who choose life are granted life. Those who choose death are granted death. God respects their decision and grants them their desire. Were he to keep them alive in heaven his precense would be torture to them. So he gives them what they want.
5. God’s going to determine your faith through a process called Investigative Judgment. Basically, until the time when Jesus comes back — which is happening any moment now — God’s investigating your life to figure out your fate. It’s not enough that you believe in him. You also have to live a life in accordance with his rules. He’s always judging you…
I don’t know whether to laugh or cry over this one. Has there been a heretical influence in the church that has taught this? Yes. But they are nut-jobs. The Investigative Judgement doctrine is actually the exact opposite. God is not investigating to figure anything out. He already knows everything. Rather, he is conducting his judgement transparently before all the universe. The IJ is about God defending our eternal destiny, not about him questioning it.
If anyone wants to get a better grasp of this teaching, check out my ebooks on it.
6. They’re health nuts. Which isn’t exactly a bad thing. They abstain from alcohol and tobacco… and coffee and soda… and unclean meat like pork. Because those things defile your soul. Not bad ideas… but the reasoning is horrible.
The reasoning is horrible? Maybe if you are some ultra-conservative/ fundamentalist who doesn’t know how to think. But the Adventist reasoning for health is actually really deep and robust. Here is a snippet.
Greek Philosophy introduced the idea that the soul and the body are separate from each other (which is where the floaty thing when you die comes from). The soul is important. The body not so much. Christians took this idea and applied it to their reading of the Bible. As a result, they emphasised the health of the soul and ignored the health of the body.
Once again, Adventism originated with a rejection of Greek Philosophy as a method of interpreting the Bible. With that came the rejection of the soul/body separation. From the Bible, we discovered that the soul and body are intertwined and that one is not more important than the other. Caring for one results in better health for the other. Ignoring one results in a breakdown in the other. Its a holistic approach rather than a split one.
While we can’t take care of our bodies perfectly, if we are intentional about living healthy lives that glorify God it involves not only the spiritual but also the physical, emotional, sexual and social aspects of health. When we allow his grace to transform each of these we reflect his character of love more clearly than if we only focused on the spiritual. So it ultimately has nothing to do with rules or even with being strict. It has to do with relationship – upward, inward and outward.
7. Their prophet was a woman. Ellen G. White. So that’s different. And kind of cool in a way. But that’s the only way she’s different. She saw visions in 1844 and the religion sprang from there. Those visions came after she suffered a traumatic brain injury as a child and was in a long coma which many people believe led to epileptic seizures. But I’m sure that had nothing to do with it.
If you think the only thing that made Ellen White different was her sex, then you have no clue who she was, what her contribution to Christian thought is or the legacy she left. Smithsonian Magazine named her one of the 100 most significant and influential Americans of all time. You don’t have to like her to be objective about her. Just sayin.
Also, the idea that Adventism originated with Ellen White or that her visions had anything to do with her injury has been disproved so many times I seriously don’t even want to respond to it. It’s evidence our friendly friend did not do his research. Needless to say, not a single teaching of the SDA church depends on Ellen White as a source of authority. They all come from the Bible and can be defended as such without ever appealing to Ellen White. So even if all her visions were bogus, it wouldn’t change any of our teachings.
However, research has been conducted regarding the supposed connection between her accident and her visions. You can read it here, here and here. The conclusion? No connection. It’s an ad-hominem argument used by critics eager to throw her under the bus.
Check out ellenwhiteanswers.org if you want to do some legit digging.
8. They think the Catholic Church is the Whore of Babylon and the Pope is the Anti-Christ. They think less of the Catholic Church than most atheists do!
I’m not going to go into it here, but this is another caricature of what we believe. By taking the most emotive language of the conversation and narrowing the whole thing down to one sentence it paints a totally off the wall picture of what we actually believe. So here is a quick summary for the sake of correction:
Our views on Catholicism have to do with narrative and systems, not with people or personalities. Adventists believe that Catholicism as a narrative and system of thought/ political power embodies lies about God and his story (in the Bible, whenever God’s people went after political power and compromised their relationship with him and his truth God calls it “adultery” and “whoredom” so that’s where the language comes from). Seriously, look up any Protestant reformer from Luther all the way to Wesley and Spurgeon and they all believed and taught the same thing.
To understand Adventisms apocalyptic narrative more, I recommend the books Prophecies of Daniel Made Simple and Prophecies of Revelation Made Simple by Seth J. Pierce.
9. They think masturbation is really horrible. Like, really horrible. Like John Harvey Kellogg was an Adventist who created Corn Flakes because he hoped eating them would prevent kids from touching themselves.
Alright. After taking a deep breath I have finally regained my composure and can now type again.
First of all, this statement gives the impression that Adventists are like anti-masturbation crusaders. We are not. It’s not a big thing really. In all my years as an Adventist, I have never known this to be a thing.
Second of all, Adventists are FAR from the only Christians who believe this.
Third of all, Kellog was a weirdo. So don’t use him as a representation of healthy Adventist thought.
Fourth, if you want to critique a worldview my advice is you do it from within the internal logic of the worldview and not from outside of it. Of course, that requires you to actually spend the time trying to learn that internal logic which means suspending your biases and eating haystacks with us – which probably requires way more intentionality than you have time for. But failure to do this, at least to some degree, will result in more inaccurate videos like this floating around.
Anyways, back to the solo-sesh thing. Remember what I said about Adventists believing that human beings are holistic beings? That plays a role here. For Adventists, masturbation involves much more than a mere physical hand-on-genitals act. Generally speaking, when a person does the deed, they are doing it in isolation from real sexual intimacy. That’s where the problem really begins. As such, it involves a self-centered/isolationist expression of sexuality as opposed to an other-centred/intimate one. In addition, it involves the objectification of the opposite sex (the fantasising that goes on during the act) which, 9.9 times out of 10, is not even a persons life-partner. So it involves lusting after another person who is not in covenant with you in your thoughts and imagination – an act which Jesus referred to as adultery. This kind of repeated objectification not only degrades ones perceived value of people but also degrades the person engaged in it by nurturing self-centred sexual habits. In addition, it develops patterns of instant gratification rather than self-control and, in some cases (depending on a persons inclinations), it can fuel unhealthy sexual obsession. Add the modern porno-plague to that and you’ve got issues.
Is this the case for every single person? Probably not. But the church has the responsibility to be a voice toward the mass of society, not the odd ball here and there who has a different experience. Generally speaking, masturbation results in these and other negative patterns. We were created for reciprocal relationships. This “give and receive” design involves every part of us and when it is ignored the results are always a greater degree of self-focus and a lesser degree of self-sacrifice. So we don’t promote it.
Has science found some sort of benefit from masturbation? Physically speaking, you can make that argument. But Adventists think about way more than the physical. We promote the optimal health of mind, body and soul. Engaging in any sexual act outside of sexuality’s other-centred/ covenant design doesn’t really promote health of any kind.
But again, it’s one of those things that’s there but no one really goes on about it. I almost get the feeling you ran out of stuff to say so you went fishing, caught the tiniest fish in the pond and photographed it with a macro-lens to make it look really big. Not friendly man. Totally not friendly.
10. Dr. Ben Carson, one of the Republicans running for President, is a Seventh Day Adventist. So he believes all this stuff. I have to say, though, given the other things I’ve heard him say so far, these are probably some of the more sensible beliefs he has.
I doubt Ben Carson believes any of this stuff because, um, no one does?
OK, that’s a bit unfair. The fanatics do here and there. But again, they don’t count.
Anyways, Trump won so now we have other more fun things to discuss.
Note: This article was originally posted on pomopastor.com. It has been reposted with permission.
Author: Pastor Marcos is a millennial Adventist pastor with a passion for Jesus, the narrative of Adventism and the relevancy of the local Adventist church. He pastors in Western Australia where he lives with his wife and children. You can follow him on Facebook and Instagram. He also blogs weekly at pomopastor.com