Book Review: God’s Character and the Last Generation
Last generation theology (LGT) teaches that the final generation of Christians will vindicate the character of God by overcoming all sin and perfectly reproducing the character of Christ. Since M. L. Andreasen articulated its theological framework in the mid-twentieth century, scores of Seventh-day Adventists have embraced the challenge to be a part of the final company that will defeat Satan and stand in the sight of a holy God without an intercessor.
In response, editors Jiří Moskala, dean of the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, and John Peckham, associate professor of Christian philosophy, have put together a collection of essays from twelve contributors from the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University that address the major arguments of LGT proponents in a scholarly, yet pastoral way. The fourteen chapters of the book engage the major issues with pastoral wisdom and careful analysis of the biblical text and the corpus of the Ellen White writings. At the outset, the issues are set forth in the framework of the great controversy motif. Then the authors analyze the following topics, among others: a historical overview of LGT ideas and figures who have set forth its theology; the nature of sin; the meaning of justification, sanctification, assurance, and perfection; the lifestyle of end-time saints; the struggle to live a sinless life; what it means to perfectly reproduce the character of Christ; the accomplishments of Christ on the cross; the significance, meaning, and role of Christ’s atonement; what it means to live in the sight of a holy God without an intercessor; the role of Ellen White; the concept of sinless living; Adventist myths on the end-time issues; the delay of Christ’s coming; and the ultimate triumph of God’s love.
In my view, the authors have provided a solid biblical alternative to LGT that is not only intellectually satisfying but also spiritually uplifting. Through responsible biblical exegesis, they have clarified biblical teaching on the end of time and the close of human probation. One message that resonated throughout the book was that human behavior does not vindicate the character of God. As Jiří Moskala straightforwardly put it in his chapter on Christ’s atonement: “The focus of LGT is on our characters and our actions instead of being God-centered” (206, 207; his emphasis). Rather, it is Christ and His efficacious and all-sufficient atoning work that has vindicated the character of God and defeated Satan. This God-centered, Christ-honoring truth will be refreshing to anyone who has struggled existentially with LGT.
Several important features of this book stand out. First, the authors focus on the arguments of LGT rather than its historical and contemporary personalities. They are gracious and kind in their critique and are more interested in setting forth biblical truth than in making a polemical case. Second, while the authors reject the major tenets of LGT perfectionism, they clearly and unmistakably embrace biblical perfection of Christian character. One will thus find throughout the book a repeated emphasis on the importance of victory over sins through the experience of sanctification. Third, this book has a pastoral concern for those who have struggled to become sinless but failed. One chapter even deals with the psychology of striving for perfection. Fourth, because Ellen White is heavily quoted in LGT, her writings receive significant attention throughout the chapters and extensive endnotes. Several of the writers provide insightful analysis of her carefully nuanced under-standing of the state of the righteous at the end of time. It would have rounded off the subject matter, however, if an entire chapter were devoted to the Wesleyan roots of White’s view on the perfection of Christian character. Space limitations are always a factor in these kinds of books, and several authors noted this in trying to condense their extensive research into one chapter. Nevertheless, the book as a whole is a major contribution to Christian thought on the end of time and an important corrective to misunderstandings about the vindication of God’s character.
In short, I highly recommend this book to any believer who has struggled with end-time issues in his or her own life or who ministers to those who do. Preachers will find plenty of ideas for biblical sermon series, and the book will provoke one to probe deeper into Scripture. God’s Character and the Last Generation is a landmark work that will inspire a new generation of Seventh-day Adventists to give glory to God alone and proclaim the soon return of Jesus with hope and assurance.
—Reviewed by Jud Lake, ThD, DMin, professor of preaching and Adventist studies, School of Religion, Southern Adventist University, Collegedale, Tennessee, United States.
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