Out of Adventism

My wife and I are currently spending some time in California. I had been invited to give a few presentations based on my book FACING DOUBT, first in San Diego and then in Glendale, near Los Angeles. A friend whom we got to know a number of years ago, and who visited us last year in the Netherlands, invited us to stay with her. I am now sitting at the kitchen table in her fabulous house in Redlands, not far from Loma Linda, writing this blog. We will have left from here to go to San Luis Obispo by the time this blog appears on my site. San Luis Obispo is a relatively small town some 400 kilometers Northwest of Redlands. I am scheduled to preach there on Sabbath and to give a presentation about the theme of my book.

Many of those who attend these presentations have already read my book or have at least heard about it. In the Glendale City Church my book has been used in one of the main Sabbath school classes during the previous quarter as a guide for the discussions. For me these presentations and the question-and-answer periods that followed, and also the numerous conversations of the past few days, were once again a clear confirmation of the fact that a large number of Adventists are stranded ‘on the margins” of the church, and that this group needs special attention.

Shortly before leaving on this California trip someone called my attention to a book written by a former Adventist pastor and theologian, Jerry Gladson. It is entitled Out of Adventism and describes how Gladson came to the decision, after a long process, to quit as an Adventist pastor and to become a minister in another Protestant denomination. I ordered the Kindle-edition. (Since I got a Kindle e-reader a few months ago as a birthday present from my wife, I am using it rather intensively). In between other things I read Gladson’s book during this past week.

I had never heard of this Gladson, but I hear from people in California that is he quite well known. After having served for a number of years as a church pastor he was invited to join the theological faculty of one of the colleges in the South of the USA (now called Southern Adventist University. He was given the opportunity to continue his studies and to pursue a doctorate in Old Testament studies.

Gladson describes in detail how he gradually began to question some traditional Adventist doctrines. A few chapters chronicle the tumultuous situation that followed the activities of Brinsmead and his followers and, subsequently, the controversy around the ideas of Desmond Ford. In addition, the church was confronted with people like Ronald Numbers and Walter Rea, who with the books called many aspects of the work and person of Ellen G. White into question. Gladson was not only trying to resolve many issues in his own mind, but became theologically more and more suspect. It is sobering to read about the process he went through, but it is absolutely dumbfounding to read about the toxic climate in some of these institutions for higher learning. ‘Spies’ would infiltrate the lectures of some of the professors in an effort to collect evidenced through recordings of their alledgedly ‘heretical’ views. Church leaders were all too often inclined to take sides with the conservative church members who urged that these theology professors would be fired.

Much of what Gladson writes about his pilgrimage through Adventism parallels my own experience. However, I worked in the Netherlands at the time of the controversies around Brinmead, Ford and Walter Rea and others, and there the conflict was much less bitter and did not make any casualties among the pastors. At that point the experiences of Gladson and my experiences were different.

Gladson decided, like many others, to leave the Adventist Church. The church lost many competent and fine workers as a result of the intolerance and often unchristian attitude of church leaders. In the past few years I have met many of them and listened to their sad stories. But I am glad to be able to say that I have also met many who decided to stay and who have done all they could to help improve the spiritual climate in the church. And I am grateful that, in spite my reservations with regard to certain doctrines and my aversion against particular trends in the church, I have found the strength to remain and to continue to play a positive role. However, books like Out of Adventism remind me of that fact that power play and intolerance continue to make victims and damage many good people for the rest of their lives. That made my reading of this book in the past few days into a painful and sad experience.