What if everything you thought you know about Adventism was wrong?
Marco Torres was in a really dark place when he embarked on the journey leading to his book Why is Adventism so Weird? A theology major newly diagnosed with generalized anxiety, he was desperately wondering if he was doing enough of whatever he had to do to add to Jesus’ gracious gift of salvation. Of course, he knew that we aren’t saved by works. That’s heresy. Yet, somehow it didn’t compute. Didn’t he have to keep the Sabbath enough, read the Bible enough, eat healthy enough? Wasn’t that part of being a good Adventist and gaining eternal life?
As he journeys to make sense of his faith community, Torres is shocked to find out that Adventism is not a whole lot different from our other Protestant counterparts. We come from the same roots. Then, there’s a plot twist. There’s an element to Adventism that is unique. He gets overwhelmingly excited about the narrative making Adventism so weird. And it isn’t haystacks or fake coffee.
Torres spoke to The Haystack about his book, the dark place that led to its creation, and how he wants to get the local church excited about their “weird story.”
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This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
On the dark place that catapulted him into his search for meaning in Adventism:
Why do I feel this way? Where does this belief structure come from? Why is it affecting me so strongly in a negative sense?
I was at Southern Adventist University at the time –studying to be a pastor—while I was going through this stuff. And I remember walking into the library one day and I say this book on the bookshelf in the religion section and the title of the book was: My Tortured Conscience by Martin Weber.
And I remember seeing that book and thinking that is myself: That encapsulates everything I am going through at that moment. So, I read it…. That was the point where I really started exploring. Because I wanted to know, why do I feel this way? Where does this belief structure come from? Why is it affecting me so strongly in a negative sense?” And I dug in and read. It was one of those things where I felt I either will come out loving the church more or I am done. There wasn’t any in between.
On his soul-searching journey:
When I came into this experience, the only reason that any of this became remotely interesting to me was that I was in so much pain and I had to figure it out. I went into history. I studied the history of the narrative regarding the understanding of salvation in our church and I began to find answers that made a lot of sense to me…
When I started finding these other answers, and this beautiful Jesus, and this grace, and this acceptance, and forgiveness, and assurance. I loved it, but there was a part of me that said, “Yeah, but that’s not really Adventism.”
So for me, it was like “if it’s not, then I’ve gotta go.”
But what if it is? Who is really saying that it is not?
So I started reading history and studying the history of our church. I studied the way our thoughts developed. That’s when I started to see that the theological paradigm I thought was “true Adventism” was actually the false one. That really opened the door for me.
I would go to the library at Southern and I would literally check out 10-15 books at a time. Then I would come back and check out another 10-15 books. I was reading way more stuff than what I had to read for school. This had nothing to do with school.
On the Adventist paradigm he left:
Salvation was about what Jesus did, plus what I do.
The first part of the paradigm was this idea of perfectionism. I was caught in that sort of idea. What that meant for me was that salvation was all about what Jesus did—plus what I do. If I could add my own behavior, and my own obedience to what Jesus had done, it would ultimately qualify me for eternal life –for salvation, acceptance with God. Nobody said those words to me.
Nobody ever said, “Hey, salvation is what you do plus Jesus.”
But it was just the way that my brain summarized everything that I had been taught. There was this idea that basically went, “Hey, the judgment is going on right now, and you need to make sure your behavior is on point.”
I was smart enough to know that we are not saved by works. We are saved by Jesus. But what I was tricked into believing was that it is Jesus, plus me. So what you get is basically a baptized version of legalism. Subconsciously over the years, with that “plus me” mentality you always wondered, “is my “plus me” enough?”
The second sort of theme that was really prevalent in my experience is what I have now come to discover as Eurocentrism. It’s a big word. It’s a boring word. The idea is that there is a particular picture of holiness.
What Eurocentrism is basically saying is that in order for you to be a good, righteous Seventh-day Adventist, you have to look like a European, and you have to dress like a European, and you have to listen to European music. Old-school music like Victorian music. And look, I am Latin. So, I always struggled with that.
On Why Adventism is So Unique:
Adventism gives us something that you can’t find elsewhere.
As I explored and journeyed I realized there are three stories within the Christian Protestant/Evangelical faith, and they don’t agree. Let me quickly explain two of them.
The first one is probably the oldest one. This story starts with the idea that God is super powerful, and everything builds from that. However, this story ended up evolving into the idea that God is so powerful that everything on the planet happens because he causes it to happen. And with that, there is absolutely [no element of free will]. None whatsoever.
The second story says “no, no that sounds more like the Devil than the Jesus that we know.” The second story starts with the concept of the love of God and how we are going to understand God through His love.
But the young people who are growing up in those churches want to understand a few things. “What does this concept mean in the Old Testament?” They want to understand this along with how their faith impacts issues related to social justice and economics and politics. The “God is love” folk just don’t have an answer to those questions. All they know is “God loves you.” That’s literally the only thing they know. They can’t explain the Bible cover to cover. And then what happens is all these kids are going over to the “God is power” story because at least they have answers to their questions.
What I discovered, is that Adventism is actually right smack in the middle of these ideas. Adventism is the only theological system that has ever developed in Christian history that has a beautiful picture of God and a deep theology at the same time. So in the book, I explain how that developed.
On how his new picture of Adventism affect ministry:
Focus and inclusivity.
Inclusivity is a big one. Now I can actually sit down and listen to someone. Listen not to respond, but listen to actually listen and build relationships.
Secondly, the new picture just helps me focus. I discovered in the previous mindset you end up majoring in minors. You never actually get to meaningful things that matter. I’ll give you a quick example. In this sort of mindset there are the hot topics that people love to talk about. For example they talk about worldliness is coming into the church. What did it mean that worldliness coming into the church? It meant the music was changing. They are bringing drums in. Or women are wearing too much jewelry. That’s what it meant for worldliness to come into the church.
None of these conversations said anything about racism in the church. They never said anything about sexism in the church. None of the really big issues were addressed. The adjusted picture of Adventism helps me focus on what is really important.
On inspiring Adventist influencers:
If I pulled “Adventism” out of the bookshelf, would it have anything compelling to say that none of the other books have said?
That’s a question I wrestle with the most. The book I wrote is a small contribution to the conversation. I think there’s an element of education that we need to have.
Imagine a large bookcase full of books and every single one of those books contains a story that answers the deepest existential questions of the human experience. You go up to the bookcase, and you realize they are novels –narratives, stories, each telling a different story. As each one tells a story it answers existential questions from differing perspectives. Stories from a Muslim perspective, another one from a Buddhist perspective, another one from a Scientology perspective. There are all of these different perspectives and they are all on this book shelf. There’s a whole section for Christianity, and of course you’ve got all your diverse denominations and their various novels. But in that bunch of books you find a book titled “Adventism.”
So this is what I ask people:
“If I pulled that book out of the shelf, would it have anything compelling to say that none of the other books have already said?”
If it doesn’t then all we’ve done in our existence is just add to the complication of people in their search for meaning, right? We haven’t actually contributed to the conversation, we’ve just added to the overwhelming volume of ideas that are out there. Even then, we haven’t added anything compelling. And I feel like that’s the headspace that most people in church are in.
But if there was something that the book said that was significantly more inspiring and compelling than what every other book is saying then I would be standing at that bookcase saying,
“You’ve got to read this one right here. Grab all the books you want, but don’t miss this one right here. This one will blow your mind.”
We need to get in that headspace. And I think that comes from thinking, “Okay, what is our story? How does it fit into the human experience? How did it develop historically? This weird, sort of unique take on how God is and what he is like. That’s a big part of it.
If we get that inspiration, we can look at strategies and structures [with which we can get] this story out there but first we got to get excited about it.
That’s part of my call. Let’s get our creativity together. Let’s get our musicians and our thinkers and our innovators and let just communicate this story with passion and let’s build on it because it is so overwhelming when you realize that my faith tradition is the only place that you can go in the world where you can get a full, biblical picture of the love of God. That’s huge because we actually have a reason to exist. From Genesis to Revelation, through every page, we are interpreting it through this love of God concept and it gives us this complete picture of His character that you can’t find elsewhere.
Grab your copy of Torres’ book here!