Many Adventists like to critique the political hijacking of Jesus. For this, they do well—but have you noticed that Adventists have a particular affinity for theologically hijacking the person of Jesus?
I have attended various conferences where inevitably, a speaker or presenter or facilitator will stand up and ask—with a hint of defiance—do you know what righteousness by faith is? He will then pronounce he is ready to deliver a message about the real gospel. He might say something like, “If we only understood who Jesus was and what He is for us, then we could truly be the final generation for such a time as this.”
The presenter will use heavy Adventese—jargon that is meant to impress you with his understanding of “real Adventism.” And you will go to his presentations, and they will be impressive, but they will mostly be propaganda. But rest assured, sometimes all you have to do is go to a room next door or wait a couple months for a different presenter at a different conference to present counter-propaganda about how Jesus saves you no matter what so you can relax and not worry much about “traditional” Adventist beliefs because we’re all forgiven in the end anyway.
Now, before you get offended, let us ask, what is propaganda? Propaganda has been around since humans formed social units, but only since the mid-1900s did the term take on a pejorative tone. Technically, propaganda—from the verb to propagate—are communications that promote a particular point of view while simplifying the questions being addressed.
And both “progressive” Adventists and “historic” Adventists are prone to hijack Jesus into their theological propaganda and that hijacked Jesus is not fit to be the hub of our doctrinal wheel.
The Jesus who is only sort of our savior but mostly our example that you must replicate if you wish to join the sinless, final representatives of Jesus in these last days is not enough. Nor is the Jesus who is only sort of our savior, but mostly our lover that you must feel if you wish to join the happy ranks of Jesus students. Neither of those images of Jesus are good enough because both emphasize a particular human nature of Jesus for the sake of winning theological arguments.
But the Great Controversy neither places a good moral example nor a good moral teacher on the cross, rather, as Bruce Shelley, the great historian, said, “Christianity is the only major religion to have as its central event the humiliation of its God.” The power of the gospel story is that Jesus was and remains God incarnate; it is the mystery of the ages: God on earth with us. We would do well to let Him reveal Himself to us rather than Google search the Scriptures (and Ellen White) for enough proof texts to segment God into our theological agendas.
For those unaware, our church has never quite received from the turmoil that surrounded the preparation and publication of Questions on Doctrine. It has been over fifty years, but the various camps across our church have only doubled down in their suspicions of one another.
And while I understand that the answers to who was Jesus the human are important, I think we have to drop the post versus pre-fall debate as the primary lens through which we view Jesus the Christ.
A few years ago, while Bible working in Oregon, I went to a Kingdom Hall out of curiosity. The Jehovah’s Witnesses were Hispanic, so the Spanish program made me nostalgic as I remembered the Latino church programs I grew up in. As I sat through their Sunday school, I was amused by the lack of creative thought; you might think I am denigrating but no, honestly—throughout the class and the sermon, all they did was read the questions and answers in their literature back and forth to one another.
I chuckled. Are Adventists any better?
Although there is nothing wrong with surrounding yourself with community that will strengthen your faith, there exists theologically inbred circles that have little to do with the Jesus of Scriptures. It may have something to do with Jesus the Socialist, or Jesus the Capitalist, or Jesus the Perfect Adventist, or Jesus the Conspirator, or Jesus the Social Justice Warrior, or perhaps even Jesus the Nationalist.
Jesus resists all labels except the ones He claims.
He blesses and dignifies the poor, but is unafraid to remark that the poor will always be with us and some church splurges are justified. He made women the primary witnesses of His empty tomb despite having spoken curtly to some of them at times. Jesus was to be the pure and spotless lamb of God and yet He was often found with whores and tax collectors—accused of being a drunkard. He was full of joy, and yet a man of sorrows. He came as a man, but when He wept for Jerusalem He used maternal language to show He was beyond gender. His presence was the delight of children and the terror of evil spirits. He had the utmost compassion for the broken, but never spared His hatred against sin. A bruised reed He would not break, but He told everyone to live lives better than the ones of their religious leaders. Jesus rode as a triumphant king into Jerusalem and drove out all the moneychangers with fury in His eyes, yet later that same week was washing His disciples’ feet. His religion was fiercely concerned with the happenings of this world, and yet He never shut up about the coming day of the Son of Man.
As the Scottish theologian and preacher James Stewart said, “He saved others, yet at the last Himself He did not save. There is nothing in history like the union of contrasts which confronts us in the gospels. The mystery of Jesus is the mystery of divine personality.”
Jesus, as the highest revelation of God, must be allowed to exist outside of all propaganda and agenda—even of the Adventist variety. Like Pastor Nathan Renner once told my ARISE class: Jesus became enough like me to be my Friend, and remained different enough to be my Savior.