Fragmenting of the Adventist Apocalyptic

Speaker: Categories: Nov 08, 1997


[1hr, 18min, 10sec / 41min, 23sec]


Imminent, immediate, soon-coming, at the door, within this generation. . . Terms such as these have been a part of our Adventist lexicon for generations, have they not? And were they not also a part of the lexicon of Jesus'disciples, the apostles, and the members of the churches which these zealous earlyAdventistsfounded? In fact, such terms are virtually prerequisite to the acceptance and internalizing of the concept of the eschaton, the return of Jesus in the clouds of glory.

But what's happened? Howimmediateisimmediate? Howimminentisimminent? At what point, if any, does being anAdventistlose credibility? At what point, if any, does a church, originating in the excitement of the eschaton, reexamine its beliefs? What dangers are inherent in any such reexamination?

At one time this writer, when asking questions about the apparentdelayof Jesus'return, was advised that"When the character of Christ is perfectly reflected in his people, then he will return ....” Have you heard or read similar responses? Are such reassuring or just further depressing? And what's happened since 1844 to the excitement which was about to herald the end of sin and sorrow and usher in the era of eternal ecstasy?

Ron Lawson observes,"Adventists began with a very URGENT apocalyptic -- they expected the return of Christ any day, andsoonmeantVERY soon. However, collectively, this urgency has been moderated over the years, though not in unison. This paper (the November Forum presentation) [will] chart that process over time and then carefully examine which segments of the church are still preaching about the apocalyptic today."

Aren't all segments of the Seventh-day Adventist church even now still preaching that same message? Is not the termAdventistas much a part of our name identity as is the termSeventh-day? Have we conceded, internally if not publicly, that the imminent return has beenindefinitely delayed?

Dr. Lawson notes further,"Sociologists of religion have often remarked that, as an apocalyptic religious group moves from asectto adenomination, it transforms the urgency of its apocalyptic. Consequently, when I set out to write this paper [and this Forum presentation], I looked for others covering the same material for other groups. When I could not find them, I sent my draft paper to Bryan Wilson of Oxford University, the dean in the field, asking him why I could not find them. He replied that no one had done this in detail -- that my work was exciting, breaking new ground."

Where/How would one start such an investigation? Are there church historians who could enlighten? How about other SDA sociologists, church administrators, pastors, laity? To what extent would the findings of such an investigation be beneficial to the church organization? What might be the effect of such findings on traditional SDA evangelistic endeavors?


Ron Lawson completed his Ph.D. in history and sociology at the University of Queensland Australia and then, post-doctorally, joined the Sociology Department at Columbia University, New York City. He is currently a professor in the Urban Studies Department at Queens College, the City University of New York. For over twenty years he has served as the Adventist chaplain at Columbia University, a position which also makes him the president of the Greater New York Chapter of the Association of Adventist Forums. He is completing a huge study of international Adventism which has taken him throughout the United States and to fifty-four other countries in all divisions of the world-encompassing Seventh-day Adventist Church. Over 3,400 in-depth interviews have been completed. He, is in the, midst of publishing a series of Journal articles on Adventism and is preparing a book for publication which will be entitledApocalypse Postponed. His study is the first major sociological study of an international church. By the way Ron Lawson is member of our Chapter and a previous speaker at San Diego Forum meetings.

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