The Seventh Day Adventist Connection to New Calvinism
The Seventh Day Adventist connection to new calvinism
I have documented this connection to some extent elsewhere; however, it is necessary to demonstrate the extent to which the Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) teaching on daily justification has influenced the development of new calvinism.
“Seventh Day Adventists Believe …..”
Daily Justification. All believers who are living the Spirit-filled sanctified life (Christ-possessed) have a continuing need for daily justification (Christ-bestowed). We need this because of conscious transgressions and because of errors we may commit unwillingly. Realizing the sinfulness of the human heart, David requested forgiveness for his “hidden faults” (Ps. 19:12, RSV; cf. Jer. 17:9). Speaking specifically of the sins of believers, God assures us that “if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1).
SDAs believe that it is necessary for them to continue to obey the Law of God in order to demonstrate that they are saved. They do not necessarily believe that the works of the Law save them; rather, they believe that if they are truly saved, then they will indeed obey the Law. Effectively it results in their obedience to the Law of God being that which saved them, because that is what they have to demonstrate in order to be considered saved. Obedience to the Law is theoretically a consequence of their salvation, yet in practice it becomes the cause! Therefore, if you sin, you may demonstrate your lack of justification and so you must repent, confess and renounce your sin in order to be restored to justification with God. The act of repentance remains the responsibility of the SDA believer, though.
The SDAs were not the only ones to perceive a need for daily or ongoing justification to maintain their salvation. Luther also taught that justification was ongoing: On no condition is sin a passing phase, but we are justified daily by the unmerited forgiveness of sins and by the justification of God’s mercy. Sin remains, then, perpetually in this life, until the hour of the last judgment comes and then at last we shall be made perfectly righteous. (Luther’s Works Vol.34, p.167.)
Daily we sin, daily we are continually justified, just as a doctor is forced to heal sickness day by day until it is cured. (Luther’s Works Vol.34, p.191.)
Of course, Luther was still very catholic in his doctrines, being an Augustinian monk, and hadn’t quite broken free of the need for daily or regular confession for justification.
Even Calvin couldn’t clearly rule out ongoing justification when he claimed that justification and sanctification couldn’t be separated. “Christ cannot be divided into parts, so the two things, justification and sanctification, which we perceive to be united together in him, are inseparable.” (Institutes Bk 3 Ch 11 Section 6)
Reformed writers such as John Murray also taught (in his document “Law and Grace”) that continuing obedience to the Law was necessary to maintain your elect status.
Puritan Anthony Burgess in 1654 wrote Thus it is here, God out of his mere grace did upon our believing put us in a state of Justification, from which favour we should fall every moment, did not God continue us therein. Hence in the Text its (unclear word) God that is continually justifying of us; ….. thus it is in our Justification, we need a constant remission, we want a perpetual imputation, because our sins and imperfections are renewed daily. (The True Doctrines of Justification Asserted & Vindicated – Anthony Burgess)
And the Gospel Coalition (of new calvinist leaders) states:
As we sin daily, so he justifies daily, and we must daily go to him for it. Justification is an ever-running fountain, and therefore we cannot look to have all the water at once.
(Quoted from puritan William Fenner, by Ray Ortlund, Renewal Ministries, www.ortlund.net, at the The Gospel Coalition National Conference, 13 April 2011. Ortlund’s website states that he is a Council member with The Gospel Coalition.)
It is reasonable to assume that the Gospel Coalition believes in both a once-off justification when born again, and an ongoing justification (by God) to maintain our righteous status before a holy God.
It was the SDA teaching of an ongoing justification process that Robert Brinsmead (an Australian who declared himself to be a Reform SDA) would take to USA with the Australian Forum around 1970. It was also in 1970 that Jay Adams, a professor at Westminster Theological Seminary (USA) wrote “Competent to Counsel”, a book that would abruptly change the direction of church counselling. And it was Jon Zens’ connection with Robert Brinsmead through Westminster Theological Seminary where he completed studies in 1972. It was at Westminster that he read Brinsmead’s Present truth magazine (which outlined Brinsmead’s views in the Australian Forum). Zens was reformed Baptist, but saw no real conflict with Present Truth which was reformed SDA.
It was Zens who was to do much of the pioneering work in the development of New Covenant Theology, which would play a major role in the development of Sonship Theology, which would, in turn, become known as new calvinism.
Zens’ groundbreaking articles in the late 1970s, “Is There a ‘Covenant of Grace’?” and “Crucial Thoughts on ‘Law’ in the New Covenant,” were highly instrumental in developing what came to be called “New Covenant Theology.”
The Sonship movement finds its roots in the ministry of the late Dr. Jack Miller, founder of World Harvest Mission, a sending missions agency.
(Christ Covenant Presbyterian Church’s position on Sonship Theology)
(Jack Miller) served as pastor of New Life Presbyterian Church in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania, and taught practical theology at Westminster Theological Seminary. Miller founded World Harvest Mission (now named Serge) and the New Life Presbyterian network of Orthodox Presbyterian churches. He was known for emphasizing the Christian’s status as a child of God, a view known as sonship theology. (Wikipedia)
However, it was Prof Jay Adams who would be the pivotal person in the development of counselling that would support this new theology at Westminster. His ground-breaking book “Competent to Counsel: Introduction to Nouthetic Counseling” came around the same time as the SDA input from Brinsmead, and the New Covenant Theology of Jon Zens. From Adams’ input came nouthetic counselling which was designed to provide counselling support for the new thinking that was developing at Westminster Seminary.
But the new nouthetic counselling movement apparently wasn’t as supportive of the developing Sonship Theology as it could have been. Jay Adams himself appears to have had strong views on the justification being a once-off event; thus his counselling methodology was going to be a problem for a theology that had taken the SDA doctrine of an ongoing or daily justification on board. If nouthetic counselling were to be an integral part of the new theology, then it had to be able to counsel for ongoing repentance and restoration by God’s grace. Nouthetic counselling allowed for God’s forgiveness, but it also assumed that God’s elect were justified once at regeneration, and that such people would demonstrate this by their puritan lifestyles. A puritan lifestyle didn’t really permit those with serious sin to continue to be declared God’s elect. If you sinned badly, you were out, off the list of elect! The nouthetic counselling of Jay Adams was therefore more suited for keeping people living within the puritan lifestyle, rather than counselling for restoration back to the puritan lifestyle if they had departed from it!
Adams didn’t actually see a problem with the name Biblical Counselling; rather, it appears that his disagreement would eventually be over its application to a doctrine of an ongoing justification for ongoing restoration.
In a 1976 book, What About Nouthetic Counseling, Adams said he actually preferred the title “biblical counseling.”
Powlison was to take over Adams position in the development of Biblical Counselling. Note that “Pastoral Practice” now becomes “Biblical Counselling”!
The next big leader in Adams’s counseling movement was David Powlison, who succeeded Adams as the editor of The Journal of Pastoral Practice and immediately renamed it The Journal of Biblical Counseling.
The new Biblical Counselling movement was then developed further by Powlison, Welch and Tripp into the Biblical Counselling in churches today.
Biblical Counsellors identify with second-generation leaders like David Powlison, Ed Welch, and Paul Tripp.
(All these quotes from https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/two-sides-of-the-counseling-coin/)
All of this (that is, Sonship theology/new calvinism) has come about as a result of the fusion of ideas at Westminster, ideas such as (a) the ongoing justification of the SDA, (b) the traditional calvinism upon which Westminster was commenced (but which same doctrine was losing popularity to the young evangelical fundamentalists), and (c) the need for a church counselling model that was supportive of the doctrines taught. In fact, new calvinist John Piper says that There would be no New Calvinism without Westminster Seminary. (https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/5-reasons-why-the-new-calvinism-is-worth-supporting/)
The fusion of these ideas initially produced nouthetic counselling which was to become Biblical Counselling, and from these counselling models developed the Sonship Theology which would then become new calvinism. It was the early development of Biblical Counselling which came first, which then required a new theology framework in which to present the new counselling model. Biblical Counselling was not greatly supportive of any theology which required living a good life (which automatically cancelled out traditional calvinism). Instead it was more supportive of a theology that catered for people who sinned regularly. Traditional calvinist theology strongly discouraged people from committing sin in the first place, and frowned upon a lifestyle that appeared to condone, even encourage sin among God’s people. But Biblical Counselling was best used to restore sinful people back to a righteous relationship with God. And, best of all, people who sinned badly didn’t have to be removed from church membership, that is, if they repented and were restored again (by God’s grace, naturally).
See New Calvinism is Biblical Counselling
The most effective theology platform for Biblical Counselling to use was therefore one that permitted God’s people to sin, yet also to repent and be restored, all by the grace of God. Such theology may not actually openly encourage people to sin – it was always accepted that proper theology should appear to discourage sin – but it should make it much easier for people to repent and be restored to fellowship in the event of them sinning.
The New Covenant Theology of Jon Zens was indeed supportive of Biblical Counselling. New Covenant Theology was refined further to become Sonship Theology, which taught that no matter how much God’s elect sinned, God’s grace would always be sufficient to overcome their sin. Basically, no matter how much you sin, you cannot ever lose your salvation if you are one of God’s elect.
Sonship Theology is an attempt to elevate grace, the assurance of salvation we have in Jesus Christ, and the intention of God to preserve Christ’s sheep so that not one is ever lost. (https://covenant-presbyterian.church/articles/from-the-pastors-desk/sonship-theology)
Sonship Theology was a perfect consequence of the development of Biblical Counselling. Sonship Theology was an effective tool for Biblical Counselling. But many calvinists were not as supportive as they could be. It just didn’t have the right image to get people’s attention. It needed a new marketing image in order to escape the obvious accusations that it was only an excuse to be able to sin without penalty from a holy God. New Covenant Theology had been seen as a development of traditional Covenant Theology; it wasn’t an alien theology but just a “new” upgraded version of the “old”. And likewise, the new marketed image of “new” calvinism (instead of Sonship Theology) was seen as an upgraded version of the “old” calvinism. And in the past 12 or so years, new calvinism has become the name of the theology that was developed to support the doctrines of Biblical Counselling in the church today. The marketing has indeed been very successful, so far.
For further related reading please go to:
New calvinism is Biblical Counselling
Biblical Counselling as an Aid to Control the Church
Biblical Counselling & New Calvinism today
Also try these:
The False Calvinist Gospel blog
List of all my posts on this site.
If you wish to read other documents on the heresies of calvinism, please use this link.
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