Last October a conference focusing on Seventh-day Adventist education was held at the church’s world headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland, and attended by […]
Last October a conference focusing on Seventh-day Adventist education was held at the church’s world headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland, and attended by church leaders from around the world. During my sermon, “Remembering God’s Plan,” I invited Michael Hasel to share his perspective regarding Adventist education. I’ve invited Hasel to share his message here.—Ted N. C. Wilson.
Some years ago the Baptist theologian Calvin Miller came to hold the Staley Lectureship at Southern Adventist University, where I teach in the School of Religion. He was impressed with our campus and had done some research about our church. He learned that Seventh-day Adventists are well known for their education system. In only 160 years we have grown exponentially into a worldwide movement that operates 8,200 schools, colleges, and universities, a system second only to that of the Roman Catholic Church. Then he asked us a question as we sat around the table over lunch: “To what do you attribute this great growth and success?”
Jack Blanco, former dean of the School of Religion, replied, “It’s quite simple. We believe that Jesus is coming soon, and this sense of urgency drives our mission and our message.” Our mission is driven by our understanding and appreciation of the precious truths of the Bible.
Yet for the past two centuries, as our church has grown, the adversary has not been idle. The Bible and biblical authority have faced an unprecedented onslaught with the rise of modernism and postmodernism in the Western world. Since the French Revolution of the late eighteenth century, a new philosophy has sought to abolish the institution of the church, and with it the Bible, the living Word of God. In its place, philosophers established autonomous reason, with its spirit of criticism and doubt; human experience, with its emphasis on the present as the interpreter of the past; and philosophical naturalism, asserting that humanity should operate without any reference to the working of God.
In 1844, just when our founders had experienced the Great Disappointment, the popular book Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation was published anonymously by Robert Chambers, and openly promoted the concept of evolution. That same year Charles Darwin completed his initial manuscript of On the Origin of Species. Chambers and Darwin did not write their influential works in a vacuum.
Biblical scholars had begun deconstructing the Bible by redating its contents and denying the very fabric of its history. The unique nature of the Bible as a work constituted in history was removed. Today postmodern literary approaches have divorced the Bible from history and relegated it to the interpretations of the shifting sands of culture.
As much of the Bible has been reinterpreted to fit these newer philosophical assumptions, its actual history was deconstructed, and predictive prophecy was deemed impossible. Because the Bible began to be studied merely as literature, and because these scholars came to believe that God did not inspire its writers through direct revelation, they asserted that biblical writers could not predict the future. Both history and prophecy were removed and reduced to metaphor and idealistic interpretations.
The prophetic Word, which gave rise to the Reformation and gave its identity to our remnant church, has been reinterpreted today, leaving Adventists as almost the only church to still teach the books of Daniel and Revelation from a historicist perspective.
The Dying of the Light
In my library I have a book of more than 850 pages entitled The Dying of the Light. It documents how great universities such as Harvard, Yale, and Princeton were founded by Protestant Reformers, and were bastions of biblical education and the historicist interpretation of prophecy. Its early presidents wrote volumes on the soon coming of Jesus. But today all vestiges of that history is gone.
Both society and our church have been beaten and battered by modernism and its challenges to the truths found in the Bible.
Will we survive the moral, social, political, and religious deconstruction that surrounds us? How do we counteract that influence as a church? How do we accomplish revival and reformation in our schools? Our students are desperately searching for mission, for purpose, for meaning in a broken world. But there has been a growing disconnect between the mission and message of the Bible and its prophetic message that gave us that meaning and mission. How are we to instill this identity in a generation that will be empowered to finish the work?
The apostle Peter wrote: “Desire the pure milk of the word. . . . Coming to Him as to a living stone . . . you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:2-5).
Jesus is the Chief Cornerstone. And for Jesus, the Bible was the foundation.
As an archaeologist I spend much of my time in Jerusalem. In the Old City is the Temple Mount, the location where the Temple once stood. It is the largest structure of its kind ever built in the Roman Empire, with a footprint six times larger than the Coliseum in Rome. On the southwestern corner of the Temple Mount is the cornerstone, placed there more than 2,000 years ago. It’s an enormous stone, weighing between 80 and 100 tons. The entire building project that Herod started, and that stretched over a period of almost a century, rests on the alignment of that one cornerstone.
So I ask my brothers and sisters who make up the living stones of this spiritual house, how are we aligning ourselves with the living Word of God today? Are our schools, which are training this generation of young people to finish the work, aligned in mission? Are we aligned with Jesus, the Chief Cornerstone?
I dream that our entire educational curriculum will be based on a biblical foundation. That our courses in psychology, history, biology, business, and literature be taught from a foundation of biblical thinking and worldview. That we do more than simply have a prayer at the beginning of class and repeat the thoughts of Freud, Darwin, and “trickle-down economics.” That our students are trained not only for Harvard but for heaven.
I dream that our students will be saturated in the Word of God, not in 12 hours of a 130-hour university education, but that in every class they encounter the living Word. That they leave our campuses not more confused about life than when they came, but with a greater sense of our mission, and a zeal for the work that God has called each of us to do in these closing moments of earth’s history.
I dream that our young people, when they leave our campuses, not only accept the Word, but that one year, five years, and 10 years after they leave our institutions, they are those living stones that obey and live by the Word.
I dream that we will educate as Seventh-day Adventists. Our name describes people who believe and teach the entirety of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. The seventh-day in our name points back to Jesus, who was the Word at the beginning. “All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made” (John 1:3). We are a movement called to uphold Jesus and His creation in six literal days. Jesus said, “For if you believed Moses, you believed Me; for he wrote about Me” (John 5:46).
The word Adventist in our name points forward to a prophetic voice called for this time to proclaim the three angels’ messages. We are a movement that proclaims the words of Jesus: “Behold, I am coming quickly! Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book” (Rev. 22:7).
I dream that the words Ellen White will be fulfilled: “But God will have a people upon the earth to maintain the Bible, and the Bible only, as the standard of all doctrines and the basis of all reforms. The opinions of learned men, the deductions of science, the creeds or decisions of ecclesiastical councils, as numerous and discordant as are the churches which they represent, the voice of the majority—not one nor all of these should be regarded as evidence for or against any point of religious faith. Before accepting any doctrine or precept, we should demand a plain ‘Thus saith the Lord’ in its support.”*
* Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1911), p. 595.
Michael G. Hasel is professor of Near Eastern studies and archaeology, director of the Institute of Archaeology, and curator of the Lynn H. Wood Archaeological Museum at Southern Adventist University, Collegedale, Tennessee.