The Seventh-day Adventist Worker and Modern Theology

ONE disturbing feature that is almost universal in its influence is the weight that some of our workers place on the statements of modern theologians. Although we should be aware of and conversant with their pronouncements, it is evident to me that we should place more emphasis on the statements of the Scripture and the writings of the servant of the Lord. . .

-Missionary, Wabag, New Guinea, at the time this article was written

ONE disturbing feature that is almost universal in its influence is the weight that some of our workers place on the statements of modern theologians. Although we should be aware of and conversant with their pronouncements, it is evident to me that we should place more emphasis on the statements of the Scripture and the writings of the servant of the Lord. It disturbs me when I see men who should know better eulogizing the virtues of a Paul Tillich, or a Karl Barth, just to mention two names. Brethren, if we are to be giants of the Word we need to know the Bible much better than we do, and we need to know the servant of the Lord and her works more thoroughly. It is my firm conviction that if one wants to be a giant in theology he has two primary sources: the Bible and the inspired writings from God's Bible commentator, Ellen G. White.

Even though some of the pronouncements of the modern theologians may appeal because of their rhetoric or philosophical content, we should not fish-like swallow the hook before we contemplate the consequences of the line that is attached. Let us look at the problem for a few minutes.

The Principle of Umdeutung

Umdeutung, or reinterpretation, is part of the foundation of much that goes under the name of theology today. 1 It has become almost fashionable to use the terminology of the historic creeds, but to mean something quite different. Klaas Runia says:

The Creeds are accepted as venerable documents; as such they are explained, but at the same time the theologian's own ideas are read into the old formulas. 2


New ideas are launched under the cover of the old formulations. Quite often the terminology used is identical with that of the older orthodoxy, but the contents are quite different. 3

When speaking of Barth and Brunner, Samuel J. Mikolaski observes:

Our appreciation for Barth and Brunner must be tempered with reserve, however, because of certain philosophical tenets that underlie their opinions. First, both Barth and Brunner seem to exhibit an uneasy tension between the historical and the suprahistorical, between fact and events that command faith. 4

The New Liberalism

Many speak of the great Christian D. Bonhoeffer, who endured much during the second world war, but few realize the heretical type of teaching put forth by this man. For example:

God is teaching us that we must live as men who can get along very well without him. The God who makes us live in this world without using him as a working hypothesis is the God before whom we are ever standing. Before God and with him we live without God. God allows himself to be edged out of the world, and that is exactly the way, the only way, in which he can be with us and help us. 5

Others frequently quote Albert Schweitzer as the high point of Christian self-forgetfulness, but have these people read his book The Quest of the Historical Jesus? It seems to me that there is much muddled thinking when people confuse simple and pure Christianity with the results of humanistic social-gospel thinking.

Take the following quotation as an example of the unbiblical thinking of Paul Tillich:

The name of this infinite and inexhaustible depth and ground of all being is God. That depth is what the word Cod means. And if that word has not much meaning for you, translate it, and speak of the depths of your life, of the source of your being, of your ultimate concern, of what you take seriously without any reservation. Perhaps, in order to do so, you must forget everything traditional that you have learned about God, perhaps even that word itself. For if you know that God means depth, you know much about him. You cannot then call yourself an atheist or unbeliever. For you cannot think or say: Life has no depth! Life is shallow. Being itself is surface only. If you could say this in complete seriousness, you would be an atheist; but otherwise you are not. He who knows about depth, knows about God.6

I could multiply instances, quoting from men such as Rudolf Bultmann, Dr. J. A. T. Robinson, and others, but I think 1 have already proved my point. One text comes to mind: "For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, . . . that can hold no water." 7 Brethren, we need to fortify our minds with truth and not error if we are going to stand the test of time, the test of the judgment. The only reason for studying these authors is that we might know at what to shoot the arrows of truth. We do not study these modern theologians for enlightenment; we study only to know what error to combat. Here in New Guinea we study the heathen customs, not that we might receive enlightenment, but rather so that we can make the presentation of truth relevant to the issues. Let us seek for truth as for hidden treasure.


1. Klaas Runia, I Believe in God (Tyndale Press, 1963), p. 51.

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid.

4. Samuel J. Mikolaski, "The Nature of the Atonement: The Cross and the Theologians," Christianity Today, March 29, 1963, p. 3.

5. D. Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers From Prison, p. 164.

6. Paul Tillick, The Shaking of the Foundations (Pelican, 1962), p. 63f.

7. Jer. 2:13.

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-Missionary, Wabag, New Guinea, at the time this article was written

October 1972

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