Another look at Valuegenesis

Evaluating what's happening with our youth

Helmut Ott, Ed.D., is an ordained minister who chairs the Department of Modern Languages at Southern College in Collegedale, Tennessee.

The North American Division recently released an official report, Risk and Promise, 1 interpreting the results of the Valuegenesis study.2 As the title suggests, the study found much good in what the Adventist Church is doing for the religious instruction of its youth in North America, but it also found significant trouble spots. Because of space limitations, I will address in this article only one of these problem areas.

Perhaps the most disturbing of all revelations in the study is that many of our youth have no assurance of salvation. This does not mean they have no interest in religious matters since, according to the report, "most Adventist youth desire a deeper and more certain relationship with God." The good news is that the young people are open to God; the bad news is that they don't have a satisfying relation ship with Him. The resulting uncertainty about their standing with God is so deep that "the thought of Christ's return brings fear to the majority of Adventist youth, rather than eager anticipation."3

Such a revelation would cause great concern to any religious denomination, but it is particularly troublesome to the Adventist Church. We believe that our basic mission is to proclaim the "everlasting gospel" to prepare a people for the soon coming of Christ. We should enjoy great anticipation about meeting the One who died in our place to grant us eternal life. Unfortunately, the Valuegenesis study reveals that many Adventists, youth and older members alike, fail to experience such excitement. Instead, because of their uncertainty about salvation they are afraid of the Second Advent! Clearly, such a scenario calls for honest heart-searching and a close look at both the con tent and the methods we employ in religious education, both at home and at school.

Rooted in fear

To begin, we need to establish more precisely the cause of our young people's lack of assurance, the source of their fear. I have yet to find some one who is afraid either of the Second Coming itself---as the extraordinary and majestic event Scripture portrays it to be---or of the prospect of having to meet Jesus in person. Our insecurity and distress stem from a faulty understanding of events before the Second Coming, namely, the end of probation and the time of trouble.

From my observation, the major cause of consternation is not that the world in its last days will suffer unprecedented turmoil, or that the remnant church will face hostility, privation, and persecution. What really troubles our young people is the theological and spiritual aspect of the final crisis. Specifically, their anxiety is rooted in the notion that, while at the present time their eternal destiny is based upon the imputation by faith of Christ's saving merits, after probation closes, it will depend on the righteousness they developed in their personal lives.

Young people may find it difficult to articulate their apprehension, and they seldom succeed in explaining the specific theological roots of their dread. But as they describe their unease about final events, it becomes clear that they feel they are not good enough to be saved. They fear that unless they reach perfection of character and learn to live without sinning before probation ends, they will lose salvation during the time of trouble.

These observations fit right in with what the authors of Risk and Promise say quite emphatically: "Valuegenesis data strongly warns that a works orientation is eroding the faith our youth have in Jesus." The authors define "works orientation" as "a belief that salvation is given to us because we are good or have done good works," and rightly point out that it "subtly erodes our confidence in Christ. It shifts the emphasis to what we do or do not do. In such an orientation, belief in God's promises of salvation becomes a minor consideration. Rules and regulations become the major emphasis. Religion becomes self-centered rather than Christ-centered."4

In contrast, notice their definition of the opposite side of the theological spectrum: "A grace orientation is a belief that salvation is given to us only because of the goodness of Jesus, His atoning death, and the perfect life He lived on earth. It focuses completely on God's goodness in offering us this gift, which we can never earn by ourselves, and on the wonderful promises of God."5

According to the Valuegenesis study, the majority of Adventist youth in North America have a works rather than a grace orientation. "Eighty-three percent believe that 'To be saved, I have to live by God's rules.' Fifty-eight percent of Adventist youth believe that they can earn salvation through personal effort.... Sixty-two percent believe that 'the way to be accepted by God is to try to live a good life.' "6 I believe that this confusion about salvation constitutes the main factor in the lack of confidence that causes Adventist young people to fear the second coming of Jesus.

Gospel assurance

When we take God at His word and accept His gift of redemption as revealed in Scripture, we know we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ as our personal Saviour. Through our faith relationship with Jesus we are reconciled with God and adopted as His children, rejoicing as heirs of eternal life. As long as we remain united to Jesus we know that, in Him, all the gospel promises be long to us. But when we make our performance character development and behavior modification part of the basis of salvation, then we can never be sure about our standing with God.

Some Adventists are concerned that if we shift the emphasis from the law, rules, and standards, to faith, grace, and assurance in Christ, many more young people and older ones for that matter will become careless about sin. This is an ancient argument raised by some intensely religious people when they heard the apostle Paul preaching the gospel. His emphasis on faith in Jesus Christ troubled them because the law, not the Saviour, was at the center of their theological construct. Being good and doing right, rather than living in right relationship with the One who died to reconcile the world to God, was the heart of their religion. These religious moralists, well-meaning though they may have been, had become so dependent on the law as a deterrent from misbehavior that they were unable to understand how people can live shunning evil and practicing good without being constantly reminded of the dreadful consequences of disobedience.

Such confusion is understandable. After all, the shift from keeping the law out of fear, guilt, or the desire for reward, to living as true disciples of Jesus Christ is not an easy transition. In reality, a true faith relationship with the Saviour never leads to carelessness about sin. On the contrary, only those who live daily in the light of the cross are capable of rendering true obedience to God and genuine service to fellow human beings. I believe that making the Saviour central to our theology, our teaching and preaching, and to our religious experience is the only way to solve any sin problem in our personal lives and in the church.

Achieving true balance

Some suggest that in order to avoid extremes, we must place as much emphasis on the law, obedience, and "victory over sin" as we place upon Jesus Christ. While recognizing Jesus as the solution to the problem of perfectionism, the proponents of this idea obviously fail to see Him as the solution to antinomianism. They also fail to realize that it is impossible to correct one extreme by pulling in the opposite direction. Two wrongs never make a right, even when mixed in equal proportions. The only safety from both extremes of antinomianism and perfectionism is to remain centered on Jesus Christ.

According to Scripture, God did not provide a variety of remedies for sin the gospel to save us from one type and the law to help us overcome another. Instead, He provided Jesus Christ as the only solution for all sin. Jesus, the world's Redeemer, came to "save his people from their sins" (Matt. 1:21).* In our official statements of faith this fact is clearly recognized. Unfortunately, Valuegenesis indicates that it has yet to become a dynamic reality in our lives and a normative principle in our ongoing theological dialogue.

We must clearly understand that theological balance is never achieved by positioning ourselves halfway be tween legalism and lawlessness. After all, the gospel is not a "balanced" compromise between two incompatible ideologies. Instead, it is the radical proclamation that "salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). Scripture tells us that God "gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16). "Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son" (verse 18). "God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life" (1 John 5:11, 12).

Obviously, God has provided just one way of salvation, and only those who avail themselves of this way are accepted into fellowship with Him. There are no exceptions to the gospel. He who has the Son has eternal life; he who does not have the Son does not have eternal life. We are saved by grace through faith in the Saviour's merits, or we are not saved at all. Thus, "balance" results when our Redeemer is the true dynamic center of everything, when the focus is fixed on one's faith relationship with Jesus Christ, and all else is placed at the periphery, where it belongs.

Proper motivation

It seems that many of us are so accustomed to using the law, the investigative judgment, the end of probation, guilt, fear, and the hope of belonging to an exclusive group in heaven as prime motivation that we are unable to understand that true obedience is possible only when it is born in and nourished by faith in Jesus.

Of course, the artificial motivators just mentioned can produce temporary external results, but they can not foster genuine obedience. Fear does indeed keep many from commit ting sinful acts. The desire for reward even moves some to perform good deeds. But only a personal faith relationship with the Saviour can motivate and enable one to render obedience to God out of gratitude and love, the only motive that makes obedience acceptable.

So if the proclamation of Jesus Christ and the salvation He provides does not solve the problem of legalism as well as the problem of lawlessness, then nothing else will do it. As is the case with all other aberrations, love for sin can be displaced only by love for Jesus. Hence, if lifting up the Saviour so that He may draw all sinners to Himself legalists and libertines alike does not change one's behavior, then a greater emphasis on the law and on what some people call "victorious living" is most definitely destined to fail.

Revival and reformation do not come by preaching "revival and reformation"; nor does victorious living come by preaching "victorious living." And certainly, character perfection does not come by preaching "character perfection." The only way to achieve these and other worthy objectives in our youth or the rest of the Adventist membership is to restore Jesus to the center, where He belongs. Only as Christ becomes first and fore most, the subject above all subjects, the true reality of which we partake by faith, will we see spiritual life returning to lifeless souls. Then we will bear fruit to the glory of God.

* All Bible texts in this article are from the New International Version.

1. Risk and Promise: A Report of the Project Affirmation Taskforce (Silver Spring, Md.: North American Division Board of Higher Education and Board of Education, 1990).

2. Roger L. Dudley, Valuegenesis: Faith in the Balance (Riverside, Calif.: La Sierra Univ. Press, 1992).

3. Project Affirmation, Valuegenesis: A Project Affirmation Study of the Influence of Family, School, and Church on the Formation of Faith, unpublished data analysis (available at the North American Division Office of Education, Silver Spring, Maryland), p. 16.

4. Ibid., pp. 12, 14.

5. Ibid., p. 11.

6. Ibid., p. 15.

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Helmut Ott, Ed.D., is an ordained minister who chairs the Department of Modern Languages at Southern College in Collegedale, Tennessee.

February 1994

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