Note: This article is a follow-up to the post: “Why The Critics of the Investigative Judgment Have Failed”. Click here to give it a read first.
Adventism is a robust and beautiful system of faith that deserves thoughtful consideration and exploration. However, quite the opposite has taken place. Criticisms and attacks against our church are common place. Myths and misunderstandings abound. And website after website is dedicated to exposing what they label as a “cult”, “heresy”, and “legalistic religion”. There is almost no end to the charges labelled against us. At the center of every critique, every controversy, and every accusation is an overwhelming disdain for the doctrine of the Investigative Judgment which Adventists believe was foretold by Daniels vision of the 2300 days and began in 1844. Over the decades Adventists have responded to many of these charges and sought to vindicate the church and its history. However, our attempts have not always been successful. In this post I would like to present why our arguments have failed and how we can move forward in defending this pillar of our faith.
My experience with Adventist responses to the critics has been that they generally take the following format:
1.Here is a list of several hundred arguments against 1844/Sanctuary/Investigative Judgment (henceforth S/IJ)
2. Here is our response to each of those arguments (complete with prooftexts).
What our people have failed to discern is that, of the many arguments raised against this Adventist doctrine, 5% of the arguments do 95% of the damage. Not just this, but this handful of arguments are of such a nature that they muddy the waters, even poison the well, preventing the church from having a much needed, mature conversation on this pivotal doctrine. Therefore, for Adventists to respond by trying to answer each and every objection rather than focusing on the main arguments is a waste of time and has proven, time and time again, to be quite fruitless.
I have found that there are four types of arguments (the 5%) which have done the most to influence people against this Adventist doctrine than any others. It is these arguments which must be addressed before any real conversation can be had. I label the four arguments below as follows: the Soteriological Argument, the House of Cards Argument, the Hebrews Argument and the Eisegesis Argument.
The Soteriological Argument
As recently as his latest book, Desmond Ford states in the preface:
“This is not dry theology. It is not a matter to be left to scholars who have little contact with the ‘real world.’ This is about your personal assurance of salvation. The doctrine of the Investigative Judgment that began in 1844 denies the finality of the Cross, God’s omniscience, and the reality of saving faith. Instead of the gospel being ‘good, glad, and merry tidings, which makes the heart to sing and the feet to dance’, it is made an accompaniment to fear.”
In my opinion, soteriological objections strike at the very core of a denomination’s belief system and should have taken precedence over other objections. Otherwise, this concern tends to skew people’s perception of the issues and their ability to impartially evaluate the rest of the evidence.
As mentioned in the article “Why The Critics of the Investigative Judgment Have Failed” (please read this if you have not as this article won’t make complete sense without it) I don’t believe that the critics have met the minimum standard of evidence for this argument to qualify as legitimate. If their intention was to argue for a Calvinist or OSAS-Arminian gospel, then they should have made that clear from the start as the Calvinism-Arminianism debate had been going on for centuries prior to Adventism and had nothing to do with the S/IJ.
If however, they were arguing for an Arminian gospel, it was their responsibility to demonstrate that changing the timing of the judgment from immediately after death to just prior to the second coming, impacted the soteriology in some way. Since all Classical Arminians believe salvation can be lost, they all believe that, prior to heaven or hell, born again believes are separated into two camps. The only difference is that they believe heaven and hell happen right after you die so this differentiation has to happen then as well.
In my opinion, the conversation with the critics should not have been allowed to continue until they first either acknowledged that the Soteriological objection is baseless or they found a way to demonstrate that IJ soteriology is in some way different from Classical Arminian soteriology. The onus really is on them.
The House of Cards Argument
This argument is pretty similar to the Soteriological Argument, and tends to play on people’s fears in the same way, but its basis is a bit different. The idea here is that the Investigative Judgment is a theological construct that is entirely dependent on a long series of assumptions which, in turn, are themselves dependent on many more assumptions.
So if you picture a house of cards, the IJ is the pinnacle of the fragile structure. This pinnacle is resting on another layer of cards which represents things like Jesus entering the Holy Place in the book of Hebrews, the link Adventists make between the IJ and the Old Testament Day of Atonement and, the Adventist interpretation of Dan. 8:14. But this card layer rests on top of another layer which represents things like the correct translation of certain Greek words in the book of Hebrews, the correct translation of key terms in the book of Daniel, the Day-Year principle, the correct date for the decree to rebuild Jerusalem, etc.
The picture thus presented is that if Adventists are wrong on even one of these assumptions, the entire theological structure collapses. Not just this, but it’s not even necessary to prove these assumptions wrong. All that’s needed is to insinuate some doubt. After all, would God really expect His people to place so much trust in a theological framework that rests on such shaky a foundation? Would He expect them to preach a distinct message, to have a unique mission unlike any other denomination, to possibly even adopt a strange gospel, when everything rests on so many unsubstantiated assumptions?
The argument is made that because Adventist scholars have been unable to demonstrate each one of these assumptions with absolute certainty, the doctrine stands on too fragile a foundation to merit putting our faith in it as a denomination. No wonder our theologians have had difficulty meeting such heavy a burden of proof.
But, once again, the Investigative Judgment is not dependent on any of these assumptions. The only foundation it needs is Arminianism and Soul Sleep:
1) Arminian Soteriology – people who were once fully saved can still lose their salvation and God has to differentiate between those who remain in Christ and those who don’t.
2) Arminian Theodicy – given that created beings have free will, God must win them over rather than coerce them. Therefore, He holds open/public judgment so that all created beings can discern for themselves if God’s judgments are fair.
3) Soul Sleep – since people don’t get their reward at death but at the second coming, the judgment does not need to take place until sometime just prior to Christ’s coming.
On these three points alone, the pre-advent investigative judgment stands securely, whether or not we can offer conclusive proof for which decree starts the seventy weeks, for the day-year principle or anything else. The investigative judgment is actually the foundation of the pyramid rather than the pinnacle.
The Hebrews Argument
An enormous amount of time has been spent by church scholars trying to demonstrate that the book of Hebrews doesn’t teach that Jesus entered the Most Holy Place at His ascension. Arguments have been made that maybe He entered in only to inaugurate the Most Holy Place, not start the Day of Atonement ministry. Here is an excerpt from a Spectrum article by Andre Reis:
“The bias for interpretative tradition in regards to 1844 is illustrated by an interesting episode I witnessed not long ago. I recently visited a certain Adventist seminary and stumbled upon a class on Hebrews. The teacher was a prominent author of DARCOM and the subject was the ‘inauguration’ of the heavenly sanctuary which the teacher used to justify the fact that, although Hebrews 6 undeniably places Jesus inside the Most Holy Place at his ascension, this entering in the Most Holy Place was merely to ‘inaugurate’ it. In other words, Jesus entered the Most Holy Place at the ascension, inaugurated it, left it and then went in again 1844.
“I was disturbed to see that he was presenting views that had been debunked by another Adventist scholar in an exchange they had in one of our printed magazines. Never did he mention his dialogue with the other scholar. I raised my hand and asked him where in the OT do we see blood going into the Most Holy Place in any of the OT inauguration passages. By his reaction, I suspected he knew that there is no such OT passage. He hesitated for a second and then appealed to the book of Hebrews. In other words, the book of Hebrews proves that in the same book Hebrews Jesus inaugurated the sanctuary with blood, even though none of the OT passages mention blood within the sanctuary, let alone the Most Holy Place. I didn’t press the issue and I doubt his students understood the implications of my question. The fallacy of the argument is disappointing, if not dishonest.”
The unfortunate thing is that this was a battle that was wholly unnecessary. Adventist theology has no need for Jesus to enter any particular room at any particular time. Our only concern is with the distinction between the daily ministry and the yearly ministry of the high priest. Heavenly architecture, or geography, is irrelevant.
The symbolism of the Old Testament sanctuary was not intended to be taken as a 1:1 correlation with its antitype. To be an accurate correlation, the high priest would have had to double as the sacrifice as well. And, there should have been only one sacrifice, not many. The earthly priest was a sinful human and needed a veil to shield him from the Shekinah glory while Jesus was holy, undefiled, separate from sinners, and could sit at the right hand of the Father from the beginning. None of this in any way detracts from the validity of a pre-advent judgment firmly planted in Arminianism and Soul Sleep. And, given that the IJ is solid, the correlation with the Day of Atonement ministry is clear simply because the symbolism lines up so well.
The Eisegesis Argument
The idea behind this argument has been that Adventists needed some way to save face after the embarrassment of 1844 and, therefore, came up with a new doctrine to superimpose on Daniel 8 in place of Miller’s interpretation. Much has been put forth by the critics trying to demonstrate that the Adventist interpretation of Dan. 8 is flawed. But there is a major problem with what the critics have presented that must be addressed even BEFORE we consider their objections. And, it’s a problem with Epistemology.
Unlike most world religions, the religion of the Bible has always been a religion of evidence. God gave evidence to Abraham and to Moses before expecting them to follow Him. God sent plagues on Egypt for both the Israelites’ and Egyptians’ sake. God delivered Daniel’s friends through the fire to get through to Nebuchadnezzar. God followed the ministry of Jesus and the apostles with all kinds of signs and miracles, etc. But at this time in history, when people are more skeptical than ever and have high expectations that evidence be provided for any religious claim, what exactly do we have to offer them? What can we present to outsiders as reason why they should consider Christianity rather than hundreds of other religious perspectives?
And, the reality is that the only thing we have in Christianity that would qualify as such evidence is Bible prophecy. Without prophecy, there is no reason for people to pay any more attention to us than to other non-Christian religions. Subjective evidence like, a coherent worldview, a transformed life, help in time of trouble, etc., are claims all religions make. Now the Bible has always acknowledged prophecy as an important line of evidence, even a superior line of evidence (ex. Luke 24:13-35). And, Revelation seems to indicate that other lines of evidence, like miracles, will be hijacked by the opposition at the end of time. Moreover, a plain reading of the apocalyptic passages themselves (Daniel and Revelation), indicates that they were in fact intended to be taken as such evidence.
So before the critics bring up any problems with our interpretation of these passages, they need to first clarify how they address these epistemic concerns. What objective evidence can they offer interested outsiders in support of Christianity? Or are they really satisfied with a religion that lacks such evidence? What reason can they give against using prophecy this way when it was clearly intended for this purpose?
If however the critics do agree that prophecy should be used as evidence, then there are certain criteria that must be present before prophecy can qualify as evidence:
1) Prophecy cannot make obscure claims about nondescript events (ex. In the future someone will conquer some nation). It should address specific and major world events that are well known to history.
2) A prediction must cover events far enough into the future for us to know that the prophecy was not made after the fact or through the common human intuition of someone with a deep understanding of political affairs.
3) If the prophecy is encoded in symbols, there must be some strict rule or key of interpretation evident in the text that would prevent someone from arbitrarily interpreting the symbols in whatever way fits with history. Otherwise, any version of history could be made to line up with the prophecies making them useless as far as evidence goes. A person who doesn’t know anything about history should still be able to follow the keys/rules and come to decipher the correct interpretation.
In essence, any rational outsider looking at Christianity will not take the prophecies seriously if they don’t conform to these rules. But, by these criteria, both Preterism and Futurism as systems of interpretation are automatically disqualified.
Adventists are descendants of William Miller who, as a former deist, approached the bible from a skeptic’s point of view. Similarly, we live today in a world where many people will not take Christianity seriously unless some line of evidence can be provided for its legitimacy. In this context, Adventists do have a coherent system of prophetic interpretation that abides by these criteria. And, before we take the objections of critics seriously, they need to first demonstrate that they can provide an alternative system of interpretation that also abides by the necessary criteria. As of yet however, none of the critics that I am aware of have managed to offer a legitimate alternative. In essence, their whole system can be reduced to looking at history and then adjusting the prophecy to fit.
So no, it’s not that we’re superimposing our views on Dan. 8 in order to save face. We’re bringing a set of interpretative keys to the prophecy because this is a necessary step; something our critics also must do but have failed to do. And sure, there might be aspects of the Adventist interpretation that need additional work, but we should not allow the critics to give the impression that their approach to prophecy is in anywhere near the same class with ours. Neither should we acknowledge their critique of our approach until they can present us with a legitimate alternative
In my experience, there are significant segments of the church today that no longer see value in the S/IJ doctrine. But, their reasons for this are not based on sound arguments. If these four elements were dealt with, a more adequate evaluation of this Adventist doctrine would be possible.
And, this affects the church more than most people realize. The S/IJ, if correct, carries certain implications that impact our understanding of what our message is as distinct from other denominations. The fact that our message is unique means that we also have a unique and global mission. If we have a global mission, then we need a centralized church government that is able to keep up with the needs of the global work and to allocate resources accordingly.
On the other hand, if the S/IJ is either wrong or irrelevant, then our message is not very different from other denominations, our mission also is not very different, and so we could get by just fine with a more Congregationalist-style church government that tends to local needs. So even when it comes to issues that impact organizational structure how someone feels about the S/IJ will affect whether they are willing to jeopardize its integrity.
The church today is divided on many issues. But at the root of many of these issues is a significant difference of opinion regarding some of the foundational elements of Adventist theology, the S/IJ being one of them. I believe that until we confront these foundational differences, we will keep spinning our wheels debating everything else. And, it would be difficult to adequately deal with the S/IJ when the discussion has been muddied by these faulty arguments.
About the Author
Mike Manea studied theology at Andrews Theological Seminary and has served the church for over twenty years as youth pastor, missionary, Bible worker and teacher. He is currently a senior partner at Zahid|Manea LLC, a marketing and management consulting firm based in Southern California. He runs several theology and philosophy sites and podcasts and is co-founder of Intelligent Adventist. In his free time he enjoys spending time in nature with his wife and four year old son. You can follow his blog at mikemanea.com.
Note: This article was originally published at www.pomopastor.com
 Here is an article that makes such a case: https://adventiststudies.files.wordpress.com/2011/09/assumptions-re-1844-full-version.pdf
 For a more in depth analysis of this, see: http://mikemanea.com/conversations/bible-prophecy-for-atheists/