Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Importance of Parody

On April 01 (April Fool's Day), a post entitled Breaking News was posted on this blog which "announced" the repealing of the Investigative Judgment doctrine by the General Conference of SDAs. It brought some interesting reactions. A few were positive but many were highly critical of the decision to post it. Many were deeply offended at the parody; maybe because it struck at the heart of what many consider to be the unique doctrine that sets Adventism apart from all other denominations. The decision was made to remove the offending post — a decision I don't wish to debate.

However, I would like to suggest that parody (and other forms of "foolishness") are essential to a healthy, robust faith. Firstly, these forms of "foolishness" confront us with new ways of looking at something. They force us to look at things in a new way that can sometimes be very enlightening.

Secondly, they prevent us from taking ourselves, or what we think, too seriously. There is always a tendency to solidify doctrine as if it is written by the finger of God on stone. But Adventists do not consider human articulations of doctrine to be infallible or immutable (see the preamble to the 28 Fundamentals). "Foolishness" can remind us that some things are not as important or permanent as they seem.

And, thirdly, they give us an opportunity to reflect on possible futures that may, or may not, confront us and where our faith truly lies.

In regard to the parody posted previously, ask yourself: What if it had been true? Would you be able to live without the investigative judgment doctrine? Or is your identity so tied up with a specific belief that it would undermine your faith in God? If you are one of those who believes that the whole Adventist movement was built on the investigative judgment — that this doctrine is the whole purpose of the movement — what would you do if it was shown to be unbiblical? What would you have left if the denomination ceased to exist? Where would you go if you had no denomination left? What is your foundation? your bedrock? Is it truly Jesus or a particular set of doctrines?

"Foolishness" is an important part of being challenged as we grow our faith. Back in 1994, Michael Frost wrote a brilliant little book called Jesus the Fool . In one of the chapters entitled Jesus the Jester, Frost draws on the role of the professional court jester to help us understand how Jesus was a "wise fool". He writes:

The professional jester was a unique and powerful member of the royal court. He was given license to utter the unutterable, to speak the word no court attendant would dare speak. So naturally he accrued great power, being able to influence policy and direct the affairs of the kingdom by highlighting the monarch's folly. It was de facto power, but power nevertheless. When the king became self-absorbed and out of touch with his own convictions in the rarefied atmosphere of the court, it was the [professional] fool who invariably was able to reframe his perceptions and find another way of seeing the situation. Of course, the fool managed such a feat by cloaking his message in the warmth of wit and laughter. (p. 53)

The essential skill of the jester (fool) is that of reframing. To reframe something means to take our present understanding of something and provoke a different perspective by changing some aspect of context, thus shifting our perception. We do this when we try to see a positive benefit associated with something that, at first sight, is negative. For example, we break our wrist and thus have to be off work for 3 months. At first, we might think this to be highly undesirable. How will we get all our work done? But then we might realise that we are overworked and close to burnout and that three months off work will allow us to rest and be reinvigorated when we return to work. The broken wrist has been reframed.

Parody, and other forms of humour, provoke us to reframe our current perceptions. Frost argues that Jesus was the great reframer. He reframed our understandings of the human condition, forgiveness, and our relationship with God and others. Jesus was a "holy fool", a wise jester, who used the unexpected to shock his hearers to reframe their understandings of God and our relationship to God. He was the reframer of conventional wisdom and religiosity in his day and the effects of his penetrating approach is still being felt to this day.

The "Breaking News" posted on this blog might have made us feel uncomfortable; it might have offended us. But Jesus brought discomfort and offense to the religious of his day. It might be worth asking ourselves just what our discomfort and offense may be telling us about ourselves when we read that "Breaking News". Maybe a reframe is necessary.


  1. I find it interesting that you prefer using the outdated terminology "investigative judgment" which has a lot of baggage to the more biblical and accurate "pre-advent judgment" to the refer to this doctrine.

    As far as the difference it would make in my life, I believe I'm saved by WHO I know not by HOW MUCH I know. So, even though my view of Christ and his work is greatly enhanced by understanding and accepting the truth behind the concept of 1844 (I don't necessarily accept the exact day of 10/22), I wouldn't be lost by not accepting it.

    You people need to stop feeling embarrassed by the pre-advent judgment and should start looking at the massive evidence in Daniel and Revelation in its favor. Stop trying to be hip and Evangelical by canceling out the apocalyptic element of our message by watering it down with "grace" or social preaching. Even Jesus didn't think the social gospel was working, he didn't come to feed the hungry forever, only his coming would fix the world.

    If the doctrine is repealed, you might as well rip Daniel and Revelation off your Bible.

    (PS.: Please, consider removing that obnoxious word verification on the leave your comment page...)

  2. Hi

    Thanks for your comments. A couple of points (well... six, actually :-):

    1. The current Fundamental Beliefs uses the term 'investigative judgment' so it is hardly outdated in an official capacity.

    2. The term 'pre-advent judgment' is a euphemism and makes the doctrine seem evangelical when it is not. All Christians believe in a preadvent judgment of some sort. The Adventist investigative doctrine is unique in Christendom and correctly describes the heart of the doctrine -- the claim that God has, since 1844, been investigating the specific details of people's behaviour to see whether their behaviour is consistent with their claim that they are Christians. A lot of semantic side-stepping has occurred around this doctrine in recent times to make it more palatable. But a rose is a rose by any other name.

    3. It is excellent that your salvation is based on who you know rather than what you know. But to be consistent with the doctrine of the investigative judgment, your salvation would have to be in doubt until your name comes up in the judgment sometime after 1844 and your every word and deed was judged to be consistent with the law. This is unbiblical and has destroyed the faith of thousands. The NT makes repeated assertions that, in Christ, believers do not come into judgment. They are judged already by the gospel and found, in Christ, to be perfectly acceptable, without condemnation, with their salvation assured.

    4. I am not embarrassed by a pre-advent judgment understood the way I believe Scripture teaches it. But the traditional investigative judgment goes way beyond Scripture in its claims.

    5. To reject the investigative judgment does not eradicate an apocalyptic element. Daniel and Revelation are in the Bible but they do not necessarily teach what everyone who has ever interpreted it claim they teach. Many, many Christian who do not accept the investigative judgment retain apocalyptic elements in their understanding.

    6. If the doctrine were repealed, it would do nothing to the legitimacy of the Bible. We shouldn't confuse our interpretations of Scripture with the Scriptures themselves.

  3. Steve:

    1. You're right but it's being replaced by the pre-advent terminology in scholarly circles and hopefully in the doctrinal text.

    2. Unfortunately people have emphasized one homiletic approach by EGWhite which has become the champion of fear-mongering. The Judgment is a good thing for the saved, it should NEVER have been preached to foster fear. That is not the Adventist doctrine, although legalists and perfectionist may have made it out to be.

    3. The Bible also says that the judgment starts with the house of God so it will include the saved, albeit for their vindication. The argument that the doctrine has destroyed the faith of thousands does not hold water. People didn't understand the Gospel to begin with. Remember that the Bible has been used for murder millions, even as it remains the Word of God.

    4. Like I said, people have used a homiletic text in EGWhite to make it into a tenet of the pre-advent judgment. This only highlights the fact that EGwhite has been misread and has been more of a curse than a blessing for the church. It's extremely sad, but God is still in control.

    5. Evangelical churches and millions of Christians are totally in the dark when it comes to apocalyptic. Their confused views, a mixture of preterism and futurism will lead many to lose their salvation, because their "Gospel" is deceiving. God will still save many of them, but most may be worshipping a false God the God of the rapture and of Sunday worship. (Rev. 13)

    6. The doctrine is based on the historic application of Daniel and Revelation. Declaring it all wrong would undermine the credibility of both books and the Bible for that matter. Just like saying Creationism is hoax would be a severe blow to the Bible.

    Did I sound too adventist in my answers? That's because our understanding of eschatology is the only contribution we can ever make in Christianity. We unite the Lamb (Savior) and the Lion (the Judge).

  4. You know, when I was a colporteur I was told I was one of the better sellers of EGW's stuff. That was a source of amazement to me because when I rifled through my bag to present the various Adventist paraphenelia, I always put EGW at the bottom and a kid's cookbook on top. When the customer would flip through, find Ellen's stuff, and ask "What's this?" I'd say, "Oh, it's a thing, a prophetess, the kid's cookbook is better."

    And strangely they'd end up buying "The Great Controversy." Human psychology is funny. I was so surprised at their interest and my boss's defense of EGW that I went and read it myself.

    I figure if God could use me to sell EGW, God can use our differences of opinion, parody/seriousness and other frames of mind to do whatever the hell he/she wants to do. I stil don't believe in EGW, but I don't feel any less close to God because I don't, AND if it's true, I sold a bunch of her stuff so have to earn brownie points in the Adventist church for that.

  5. Hi everyone

    Thanks for your comments. Just wanted to point out that the main issue of my post was not about the investigative judgment. Rather, it was about the importance of parody (and other forms of humour) in confronting us with our taken-for-granted assumptions. Would love to hear your comments on that issue


  6. I thought it was mildly entertaining but may have backfired. If the issue is too sensitive, you better leave it alone!

  7. Jim Wallis and his organization Sojourners sent out a great April fools email saying Rush Limbaugh had accepted a request to speak at the mobilization to end poverty. I read a good half of the message in confusion and disbelief before it dawned on me that it was April 1.

    I had a great laugh.

    I think Steve makes a great point in this blog. Let's hope our belief in Christ and the values he promoted are not completely dependent on whether or not the investigative judgment doctrine is true (or false for that matter).

  8. I find it interesting that you throw out the Adventist interpretation of Rev 13 but offer not viable alternative. Except of course Mr. Hanson's idea of ripping Daniel out of the Bible because it's just a novel...

    I'd be really interested in knowing what kind of interpretations of Revelation the progressive adventists in this blog really propose.

  9. Steve,
    Your second post confuses me. Number 4, 5, & 6 make sense, but the first three are your personal opinion for sure. The SDAs Believe book came out awhile back and things have changed. I assume you are a progressive Adventist but yet don't seem to understand that truth is progressive as well. A change in terminology and perception is progressive.
    I learned SDA doctrine from some of best, and never heard the pre-advent judgment described as you have done. It was always presented to me (and this is some 30 years ago) as a way of God showing His fairness and being transparent to the universe. It was not presented as salvation works as you have done. I dislike the term IJ immensely as it distorts and has been distorted by many.
    I also believe in being tolerant of other's beliefs and this was my problem with the "parody" and, no, I can't imagine Jesus presenting something like this. I don't feel that belief in this doctrine matters a thing, yet I don't find it humourous in this deceptive presentation.
    Maybe we should try to help those who have a problem with it to understand what it is trying to say about God--not about themselves. I frankly don't understand people being so obsessed with their own salvation. It seems terribly self-centered. One just has to believe God is fair, He is love, and Jesus is our salvation--and of more than our little group--but the whole human race. It's called trust.

  10. what do you think it means when the Bible says "we will judge angels"?

  11. Teologo, I assume by "interpretations of Revelation" you imply Rev. 13 in the context of the "time of trouble" and "Sunday Law" that makes up our historicist view? While I completely reject the futurist view and the rapture stuff, as you do, I don't mind expanding my understanding with the use of idealism to interpret scripture. This will neither hinder our salvation or steer others from Christ.

    Yes, keep the traditional Adventist interpretation, fine. But lets be open to other methods that further shape and enlighten our understanding of scripture. We may even gain some new friends in the process, don't you agree?

  12. I'm currently reading Marvin Moore's Could it Really Happen, which compares history and current events with Revelation 13. I highly recommend it to you, although something tells me you would write it off as fear-mongering. It's not, it's an impressive, fact filled exposé of American-Catholic affairs.

    I've been a progressive for some time and I'm reviving an interest in end times studies which progressiveness didn't give me because of its grace and social gospel emphasis. I'm fascinated and I'm now more convinced that our interpretation is the correct one.

    Jesus is the LAMB and the LION, he died but he will come as the Lion and the Gospel is lame with only of those.

  13. I guess one of the Christian writers I respect most, Frederick Buechner, displayed such parody and humanity in his remaking of the Old Testament stories, that where I am now I can't imagine Christianity without parody. I'd be lost without it. Parody is salvative. It is, in its purest form, a jerk from myself and into "other." It destroys the selfish "me", and with laughter, heals me, all in one go.

  14. Proverb 26:18-19 NIV
    Like a madman shooting firebrands or deadly arrows is a man who deceives his neighbor and says,"I was only joking!"

  15. A rather pitiful case of proof texting there, Ern. My rebuttal to you comes from a comment by pastor David Newman (he placed his comment in the wrong post), which states "Jesus used parody when he described the Pharisees swallowing camels."

  16. When Jesus said the Pharisees swallowed a camel He was teaching a spiritual lesson. It may have been parody. But He didn't say the next day, "I was only joking yesterday." His listeners understood immediately what he meant when he said it. This statement of Jesus may defend parody, but it does not defend bearing false witness. There is a difference.
    Second, the proverb I used was an application of biblical counsel to a particular behavior - deception (not parody). It was an admonition with no commentary. There was no proof texting.
    Third, your use of the word "pitiful" is derisive, and, therefore, an attempt at manipulation rather than real dialogue. Real dialogue is too often compromised when one person, perhaps offended, disagrees with another. I admire the person who can show respect to someone with whom he disagrees.