Mark Finley speaks out on bridging the gap

MINISTRY interviews Mark Finley whose Daniel seminars are designed to prepare hearts to receive God's truth and His will.


Q. Mark, you've developed a seminar on Daniel that you call the "Time of the End Seminar." What is the background of this concept? What led you to it?

A. One of my basic concerns, as I went from district to district as an evangelist, was the lack of adequate preparation prior to my coming. After facing the practical problem of holding evangelistic campaign after campaign with little or no preparation of the field, and after dis cussing the problem with other evangelists and pastors, there seemed to be a real need to develop some program that would serve as a bridge between the Bible studies that were already in progress in a district and public meetings.

A local pastor might be able to con duct eight or ten Bible studies a week, but when one considers the masses to be reached, that is a relatively small number. With the Daniel seminar he can easily be contacting from 150 to 200 people a week in group meetings of forty or fifty each if he is running three or four seminars a week for ten consecutive weeks.

Another concern was also developing in my mind at the same time. During the six weeks of my evangelistic meetings scores of people came who were not prepared for the doctrinal presentations I was giving. Advertising was bringing them out, but they were not usually responding with decisions. If our advertising brings out 200 people and we baptize 30, what about the other 170? I became convinced of the need of a program that would adequately prepare the mind for the unfolding of the distinctive truths of the three angels' messages when they were preached in a fuller way in public meetings. It's possible, you see, to put a ten-ton structure on a cardboard box—but the box will be crushed. I'm afraid I was doing that too often in my evangelism. I asked people to make decisions that they really weren't intellectually or psychologically prepared to make.

Q. But how did you decide on the seminar concept, and how did you come to focus on the book of Daniel?

A. Initially my thoughts turned in that direction as I began to sense that some thing unique was happening in America.

The December 26, 1977, Time cover story was entitled "The Evangelicals—New Empire of Faith." It spoke of the resurgence toward "old-time religion," and characterized U.S. evangelism as "booming." That, to me, was significant. The article also pointed out the phenomenon of hundreds of Bible-study groups going on throughout America. I began to sense that there were many such study groups in the communities where I was holding meetings, and that I was not tapping into them at all. More and more people began to tell me at my public meetings, "I'm part of a Bible study group on Wednesday night (or Friday night), and so I can't come to your meeting that night."

Now, most of these groups are not studying doctrines. They are taking a Bible book and studying it straight through. So I began to think, "What Bible book could Seventh-day Adventists present as a Bible study that would adequately prepare the way for public evangelistic meetings?" The answer was the book of Daniel.

Q. Tell us a little of your goals for those who attend the Daniel seminar. What are you actually trying to accomplish? How do you present the book of Daniel?

A. The Daniel seminar is held as a class. There's no music involved; there's no preaching. It's a classroom setting, and people may ask questions at any time.

The seminar has three specific goals that are raised in our discussion of each chapter. As we deal with each chapter of the book of Daniel we ask three questions—that's all. First, what does this chapter teach about God? For example, What does Daniel 1 teach about the character of God? What unique insights does it present? Second, what does this chapter teach us about the time of the end? And third, what does this chapter teach us about life today?

This last aspect is vitally important. How can a couple going through the trauma of a divorce listen to me lecture on Daniel 7 and leave the seminar helped? How can I help a young person who is strung out on drugs to be blessed when he hears me speak on Daniel 11? How can I meaningfully approach a man who is terribly lonely and frustrated with his job when he hears me speak about Daniel 3?

Our goals in the Daniel seminar are to lead people to Jesus Christ, to establish solid faith in the Bible, to lead to a meaningful devotional experience in prayer, and to outline chronologically the prophetic events of the past and those yet to occur before Jesus comes. This last point helps to clear up the rapture question. We don't try to disprove the rapture head-on, but we provide enough background material that people can see the Biblical position.

In the last five years in America things have changed in the area of the rapture. Prior to this time we could preach the Second Coming much earlier in a series of meetings and find almost no controversy over the literal nature of Jesus' coming. But today it's easy to stir up a hornet's nest on the subject. At least I do. I have found that the rapture is really a testing truth today. But the Daniel seminar lays down exegetical and hermeneutical principles by which to evaluate the entire message of Adventism. So those people who have come through the Daniel seminar find it far easier to grasp the truth about the second coming of Jesus when it is presented in public meetings.

That, then, is our goal—to prepare minds for the reception of truth. We get into the judgment and the cleansing of the sanctuary in 1844, but we do not touch such controversial topics as the Sabbath or the state of the dead. Neither do we identify the antichrist. In our public evangelism we definitely do deal with these things, but not in the Daniel seminar. In the seminar we want to prepare the mind to receive truth.

For that reason we don't ask objective questions such as, "In what year was Daniel taken captive?" Rather, we ask subjective questions that can engage the class in a discussion of issues that affect their spiritual life.

As an example, in our discussion of the very first chapter we ask, "Why was Daniel willing to stand alone? He stood all by himself there in Nebuchadnezzar's court; it would have been so easy to compromise. What do you think are the character qualities necessary to stand alone for principle? What do you think is the best preparation God can give you personally to stand alone at the time of the end?" We're only on the first chapter, and I'm asking these people, "If you wanted to prepare someone to stand alone, what kind of preparation would you give them now?" And they begin to say, "If God wanted me to stand alone He'd give me some tests today."

So we discuss the possibility that God might bring us into conflict today with what we have been doing; that He might give us some new insights and allow us to stand alone today. From class one we're preparing the mind, talking about what it means to be a Christian.

In the fourth class session we ask, "Does any Christian really stand alone?" And we point out that no Christian is called to stand alone, but that the almighty God of heaven stands with that person.

The class, then, is not prophetic, but practical in nature, leading men and women into a rich devotional experience to prepare them spiritually for evangelistic meetings. It prepares their hearts and minds by leading them to a commitment to God; it leads them to conversion before the testing truths are brought.

Q. Some have considered the Daniel seminar to be a substitute for traditional public evangelistic meetings. Is this true?

A. I have two specific thoughts on that point. First, the Daniel seminar is in no way designed to replace public evangelism. In fact, although I developed the program, I would not conduct Daniel seminars myself if public evangelistic meetings were not to follow, or some kind of reaping at least.

The value of the seminar is in connection with public meetings that follow. The class is designed to prepare for public meetings. Now, there are some who feel that the seminar approach is the way to go in evangelism today—the classroom approach. But, after having held all kinds of seminars, I am person ally convinced that the most effective way to reach the mind is to use the seminar program to prepare for the preaching of the Word of God. Nothing takes the place of the preaching of God's Word. I'm not of the view that we're beyond the age of public proclamation.

In fact, it's only as the three angels' messages are heralded and as the book of Revelation is preached publicly that crowds are moved. It is far more difficult to lead men and women to a decision in a seminar format than it is in a public preaching format. Seminars make a very valuable contribution to the total evangelistic process, but they in no way take the place of the proclamation of God's Word. They are, in a sense, preliminary to the presentation, preparing the mind for it; they are not the main thrust of the presentation. I have personally found a dynamic quality in preaching that I have not yet found in the seminar to move people to accept this message.

I've had pastors say to me, "Mark, I'm ordering the materials!" They're all excited and gung-ho about the Daniel seminar. And I've asked, "When do you plan your evangelistic meetings?" "Oh," they reply, "that's not in the program." I have suggested they save their money, because it's a package plan. The Daniel seminar was specifically designed to be pre-evangelism. One of the reasons some haven't been successful with the seminar is that they have tried to use it to take the place of public evangelism.

This is also the reason I have not gone to a Bible-marking class in a seminar. Once you take a person through a Bible-marking class they have come to the doctrinal message, and if they don't make a decision the first time a doctrine is presented, it's very unlikely that they will make that decision three months later in a public meeting.

So I see two problems. One is failing to follow up the seminar with public evangelism, and the other is attempting to present distinctive doctrines in the seminar setting while hoping to transfer the person into an evangelistic meeting. If the person makes a negative decision in the seminar, then it's very unlikely he will make a positive decision in the public meeting.

Q. How are your seminar programs connected to your public evangelism? How do you transfer the people from one to another, and how successful are you in this?

A. The last Daniel seminar I ran, we had four seminars going each week, with an average weekly attendance of 250 to 280. Of that number, 175 to 200 were non-Seventh-day Adventists. More than 100 of this group transferred from the seminar to the public meetings.

Of course, I'm building for this all through the seminar. For example, when I present Daniel 3 and we discuss the chapter's meaning for the end of time, I point out that when Nebuchadnezzar set up the golden image on the plain of Dura there was a world ruler who passed a death decree that whoever did not bow down to the image would be killed. To worship the image was to disobey the commands of God. Then I ask, "Will anything like this happen in the last days?" Now, I'm only on Daniel 3; we haven't mentioned the Sabbath. But I'm asking whether a world ruler will rise in the last days to coerce worship through a church-state relationship such as occurred in Babylon. Then I read just a few passages from Revelation 13 and mention that we could spend the entire night discussing who the beast is and what his mark is, but that we don't have time. However, after the seminar is over we will be following with a special lecture series on the book of Revelation. All the way through the seminar program I'm telling them about the meetings to fol low. In the later classes we hand out reserved-seat tickets for the evangelistic meetings. We send them letters. And we get them out to our meetings.

The reason for the successful transfer, I believe, is that we emphasize the Rev elation meetings from the time of the third class. They're anticipating it. We aren't conducting the seminar as a separate entity.

Q. Do the evangelistic meetings follow immediately?

A. Immediately. No two-week inter val. You cannot have any interval and have successful carry-over. In our last program we ended the Daniel seminar on Friday night and began the public meetings on Saturday night.

Q. Now, there have been a number of requests that the Daniel seminar be fol lowed with a Revelation seminar and that materials be developed for such a pro gram similar to what you have done with Daniel. What is your concept of this idea?

A. I can see some value, in a limited degree, to a Revelation seminar that fol lows the Daniel seminar. But I see a far greater value in a series of sermons on the book of Revelation. These could be beautifully illustrated with charts and diagrams, putting the book of Revelation together not so much chapter by chapter as simply delving right into the historical background of the book, dealing with the seven churches in chapters 2 and 3, then launching into the heart of the presentation as found in Revelation 14, and developing each of the great themes of the book from chapter 14.

It seems to me that, rather than go through ten weeks of classes on Daniel and then into twenty-two weeks on the book of Revelation (thirty-two weeks), it would be far better to run the Daniel seminar for ten weeks and then concentrate in a very specific way on the book of Revelation in a public proclamation. I think this would be more effective.

Q. What relationship does the Daniel seminar have to the Evangelistic Supply Center that has recently been set up jointly by the General Conference Ministerial Association and the Review and Herald Publishing Association?

A. The Daniel seminar fits into the concept of the Evangelistic Supply Center beautifully. In fact, we have used and are continuing to use some of the tools that the Supply Center has made available. Among these are the colorful four-page folders on each chapter of Daniel. We are also using each of Orley Berg's slide series on Daniel—"The Stones of Babylon," "Daniel in the Critics' Den," and "Alexander the Great and the Book of Daniel.'' We have found these presentations to be of real help in holding the interest of the people who attend the seminars. These slides capture their attention, and we use them throughout the series, but especially at the beginning and in the middle, to round out the historical and archeological background of the book. So the materials that the Ministerial Association has made available are ideal for incorporating in the seminar program.

Q. And where can a pastor obtain the seminar materials if he wants to consider running such a program himself?

A. One of the exciting things about the Daniel seminar to me is its simplicity. It doesn't require a lot of equipment. It doesn't require a lot of expertise. It doesn't require a lot of knowledge. If you can teach a Sabbath school class you can do the Daniel seminar. I've found that it is something that local pastors usually feel quite comfortable in operating. You can take the package, and if you have eight people you've got a successful program.

The seminar materials may be ordered from Concerned Communications, P.O. Box 2000, Arroyo Grande, California 93420. The folders mentioned above may be ordered from the Evangelistic Supply Center, P.O. Box 4353, Washington, D.C. 20012, or even ordered by phone, I understand. (The number is 202-291- 2035, and bank charge cards are accept able). The slides are available through Adventist Book Centers or from Bible Lands Pictures, 7319 Cedar Avenue; Takoma Park, Maryland 20012.

Q. What practical results have you ob served as you have presented the concepts of the book of Daniel, both at workers' meetings and also in public?

A. I've observed that, as Ellen White says in Testimonies to Ministers, pages 509-511, when the books of Daniel and Revelation are presented together and studied as God would have them to be studied it will put into action forces that cannot be repressed and that an awakening of God's people will result.

I believe that the books of Daniel and Revelation are to the Seventh-day Adventist Church today, and to the world at large, what the book of Romans was in the days of the Reformation. Then, the truths of Romans were present truth for that hour, and God used the book of Romans in a unique way as a catalyst to initiate and sustain a revival.

It seems to me that the books of Daniel and Revelation, along with the book of Hebrews, which speaks specifically about Christ's ministry in the Most Holy Place of the heavenly sanctuary, are the books that God has especially blessed for this hour. I believe that these books are to be the catalysts that God is going to use to prepare the world for the soon return of Jesus. The world is hungry and open for an understanding of the mes sages of Daniel and Revelation, and as we preach this unique message as Seventh-day Adventist preachers I believe God will lead tens of thousands into His last-day movement.


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April 1980

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