Date: November 12, 2007
Scholars gathered at Andrews University from October 24-27 to discuss what many consider to be Adventism's most controversial book, amid concerns that the gathering itself might lead to new controversies. Instead, they experienced what turned out to be a rich spiritual feast.
More than 200 scholars, pastors, administrators and lay members of the Adventist church met to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Seventh-day Adventists Answer Questions on Doctrine, a book released as a response to doctrinal inquiries by conservative Protestants in the mid-1950s. Over the past half-century, the book has been the subject of an intense debate among many Adventists--with the debate centering on the book’s treatment of the human nature of Christ.
Many of the participants of the Questions on Doctrine 50th Anniversary Conference had been part of that contentious debate. "I think it is safe to say that no prominent players in the controversy...were left out," said Robert Johnston, professor emeritus of New Testament at Andrews University who chaired a panel discussion. "Every possible view that could be reasonably discovered was credibly represented."
The conference, which was billed as "an engaging, reflective, scholarly dialogue about Adventist history and theology," consisted of 12 formal sessions during which 24 presenters (two of them non-Adventist scholars) read papers, engaged in panel discussion and delivered homilies. Most of the sessions featured academic papers representing difference perspectives on the history and theology of Questions on Doctrine, the relationship between Adventists and evangelicals, and the present and future of Adventism. Through all these, the goal of the gathering was "simply to listen to and understand each other better," rather than to debate or to arrive at a binding consensus, according to the organizers representing Andrews University, Loma Linda University, and Oakwood College, the three co-sponsors of the conference.
Though there were some concerns that this conference would itself lead to new controversies, the spirit exhibited by the participants of the conference was anything but contentious. "It was a wonderful conference of fellowship, clarification of issues, and inspiration," exclaimed Hubert Sturges of Woodland, Calif. Colin Standish, president of Hartland Institute who presented a paper, remarked that this was "one of the most inspiring conferences" he has attended. Roy Adams, associate editor of Adventist Review who also gave a presentation, observed that such an atmosphere was possible because "just about everyone was compelled to adjust their attitude" to be more sensitive toward each other’s views, "even if minds may not necessarily have changed."
Not only did cordiality mark each session, but also some healing took place among participants. "This conference...gave people the long-needed opportunity to share their views, listen to others’ positions, and start to heal relationships that have been damaged for so long," said Bronwen Larson, an attendee from Loma Linda, Calif. "People in our church have desperately needed to know, and experience, that it's okay to believe a little differently and still be part of God’s family," she added. Another attendee, Lisa Clark Diller of Collegedale, Tenn., observed that "there was so much tear-shedding and constant reaffirmation of the Christian love that we share that I know the Spirit moved in really powerful ways." "Hopefully from now on," she continued, "people will recognize that it is too easy to caricature people you disagree with and that face-to-face prayer and study are the way to have unity in diversity." Edwin Reynolds also of Collegedale, Tenn., echoed Diller’s sentiments: "I hope we can have more conferences like this one to bring Adventists together to talk to each other about things we value, though we may differ on the details of interpretation."
All the papers presented at the conference and the video recordings of all the sessions will be available in January on the conference web page at http://qod.andrews.edu.