Friday, August 31, 2007

A Reality Check For Progressive Adventists

by Alex Bryan

Dan Kimball could not laugh.

And yet he was laughing so violently that his body was heaving in ripples and waves, tears pouring out of his red, swelling eyes, saltwater cascading down his cheeks. How much longer could his tightly closed mouth, reinforced by both hands, which were attached to elbows braced in his lap, hold off the impending outburst … that would send us all into ill-timed delirium?

And so, in order to save himself, Dan left the classroom, leaving behind a half-dozen similarly infected victims (including myself) either to get it together or else. Our in-class, time-passing game of sending silly pictures from laptop to laptop (WiFi is dangerous) was out of hand. The professor couldn’t find out.

Dan Kimball is more than my very funny classmate at George Fox University. He is warm, insightful, deeply spiritual, well-traveled, a key thinker in the emerging church movement, and his newest book They Like Jesus But Not The Church is prophetic. It’s a book for pastors, church leaders, and anyone who thinks seriously and deeply about the challenge of church in our contemporary culture.

His major point is chilling: non-Christians have very negative views of the church (while holding rather positive views of Jesus). Dan’s interviews with non-Christians reveal that these unfortunate perceptions are often based upon non-Christians interaction with (a) highly vocal (often highly weird) Christians who do not represent Christ or the majority of Christians and (b) media portrayals of Christians based upon the worst the church has to offer. They don’t like the church because the “church” they have been exposed to is pretty disgusting!

What’s worse, these non-Christians have had no interaction with the majority of the church: people who are loving, kind, faithful, generous. Why? Because most Christians only relate at a very superficial level (work together) with non-Christians … or they have no relations at all. Christians tend only to make Christian friends.

From personal experience, I am stunned how many pastors, for example, answer “I don’t have any” when I ask them how many non-Christian friends they have. Of those I’ve asked, I can name maybe one Seventh-day Adventist pastor who has a single significant friendship with a non-Christian (or even a non-Adventist).

Last week I asked the inter-denominational pastors’ group I am part of: “What do you think of Seventh-day Adventists?” One response was powerful. “Well, Alex, I had a negative impression until I started interacting with an individual at a hospital in Florida. He is a really great person. We became friends.”

Here’s the point (and a prophetic word for so-called progressive Adventists):

If we allow stereotypes of Adventism to be the face of our faith—images and information defined by the most anti-grace and anti-Christ(like) handbills, billboards, televangelism, and by revisionist and reductionist Adventist history (many today are far less progressive than the founders of this little movement)—then we have abdicated our responsibility to help explain the real Jesus in Adventism.

If we aren’t forming relations(hips) of love with people outside the church, the public relations(hips) will determined by … who?

Progressive (or at least open) Adventists (which, I’m beginning to believe, are the emerging majority in North America), cannot sit back and mourn the negative image of Adventism held by many in the larger culture. We must get out of our homogenized havens, our carefully constructed cocoons, and “be where the people be.” If we aren’t in relationship to people outside the church, we should sit down and shut up. Our progressive musing won’t amount to anything.

As my Australian buddy David would say, “Who are your non-Christian mates?”

This is no laughing matter.


  1. That is a great reality check, Alex. Brilliant words of wisdom.

  2. Alex,
    Thanks for this message and reminder. It is funny that I read this today since I am preaching on this very reality tomorrow (Sabbath) at church.
    When I first accepted Christ over ten years ago, I began to shun my friends that didn't agree, fit, encompass, empower my fierce desire to be perfectly pure and holy; this shunning not only hurt them but led me into a great depression. Luckily it wasn't too long before my eyes were opened and I realized that Christ was friends with a bunch of "undesirables" (like me), and that if I wasn't living like Christ then of course I would be depressed. I have sought to fight the sub-culture pressure ever since and have rejoiced in my friends outside of Adventism and outside of all Christendom that I have real genuine friendships with. I read a stat by I believe Monte Sahlin that said within four years of becoming an Adventist a person will have zero significant friends outside of Adventism. Can you believe that, we aren't even friends with other Christians much less true non-believers. This breaks my heart!

  3. I am convinced that one's theology may ALWAYS be translated into his/her attitude toward and treatment of other people .... including the unsaved, the unchurched, and the "un-Adventist".

  4. Keep on working, great job!

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