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Book review: The Word Made Flesh: One Hundred Years of Seventh-day Adventist Christology: 1852-1952

Eric Webster

 

In this book Larson endeavors to give a historical survey of Christology in Seventh-day Adventism during the period 1852-1952, with special emphasis on the humanity of Jesus Christ.

The book consists of eight sections, the main one being section 3, which covers 184 pages. This section consists largely of statements on the humanity of Christ gathered from Adventist authors (including Ellen White) of the period 1852-1952. Larson is convinced that the consensus of opinion among Seventh-day Adventists during this period was that the incarnate Christ came to earth in the human nature of fallen man.

In section 4 Larson proposes that a different view on the humanity of Christ was introduced into the Adventist Church beginning in 1952. He suggests that this change was introduced by F. D. Nichol's editorials in the Review and Herald during 1952, extended by certain Ministry articles during 1956 and 1957, and climaxed with the publication of Questions on Doctrine in 1957. Larson then proceeds to examine these sources and to analyze the evidence. He concludes that a faulty methodology produced invalid interpretations and led the church into the new position that in the Incarnation Christ took the sinless nature of Adam before the Fall.

In the last three sections of the book Larson shows the link between Christology and soteriology. He believes that the shift in our Christology has thrown us off course in our soteriology. He believes that the church is at fault and must move back to the 1852-1952 position. Larson views the members in the pew as the best hope for this turnabout.

Section 8 is devoted to appendices in which Larson analyzes the Baker letter and deals with original sin and with Paul's presentation of Romans 7.

In reading Larson's book one has the feeling that he has ignored the fact that the Christian world at large had understood Adventists to say that Christ had not only come in fallen human nature but that He Himself possessed a sinful human nature. They understood us to say that there was something sinful about the person of our Lord. Larson appears unconcerned about public opinion, whereas many of our leaders during the 1930s to 1950s became convinced that we had a responsibility to let the world know that we believed in a sinless Saviour.

Larson's book also reveals a sharp contrast between Ellen White and some respected Adventist writers. Whereas some of the latter used unfortunate or ill-chosen expressions concerning Christ, Ellen White was far more guarded and careful in her terminology. For example, she always used the biblical expression "in the likeness of sinful flesh" when referring to our Lord rather than the common expression used by many Adventist writers, "in sinful flesh." Likewise, she never used the expression "propensity to sin" or "propensity of sin" when referring to Christ.

The Baker letter has proved to be somewhat of a thorn in the flesh for Larson. Throughout the book he approaches it gingerly, only to drop it again. He endeavors to minimize its importance and eventually tackles the letter in the appendix. I believe that his treatment of the Baker letter is open to criticism.

After reading the book, one gains the impression that Larson believes that almost everything written by Adventists during 1852-1952 is without fault. Surely truth is dynamic and not static. God's revelation is progressive, and our human understanding of truth can grow and change.

Larson's lack of confidence in Adventist theologians, church administrators, and pastors appears unfortunate. His appeal to the masses of church members to rectify the theological scene could be misdirected. I have confidence in the Lord's ability to guide the church and its leadership, and I believe that our dedicated Adventist theologians are well situated under the blessing of God to give guidance in the ongoing task of doing theology.

Perhaps this book will challenge Adventist theologians to endeavor once again to put in words the Adventist understanding of the Incarnation. And let us remember that in this world of sin, no Christological statement will ever reflect the ultimate truth.

 

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