The World Class Straw Man, part 1

The “straw-man” technique has been very widely used in recent years by those who are laboring to introduce Calvinistic doctrines into our Seventh-day Adventist faith, but never on such a grand scale as in the recent publication, The Nature Of Christ, by Roy Adams, associate editor of the Review.

We pause to explain that in dialogue and debate, the straw-man technique is used like this: First, you misstate and misrepresent the position of your opponent, thus setting up and artificial “straw man” of your own creating. Second, you vigorously attack your misrepresentation, your straw man, and shoot it to pieces. The hoped for result is that the listeners to or readers of your attack will conclude that you have demolished the position of your opponent, when in fact you have only demolished your own misrepresentation, your artificial straw man. It must be conceded that his is an effective debating technique, but its use creates troubling ethical questions in many minds.

Previous Examples

It was the straw-man technique that was being used, for example, when the anonymous writers of the huge Issues book, which Adams endorses, alleged that:

We Historic Adventists are attacking the church, when we are actually attacking apostasy in the church;

We are setting ourselves up as examples, when we are actually setting up Jesus as the example;

We are defending our personal opinions, when we are actually defending the historic faith of our church as set forth in all of its published statements of faith, and in the new SDAs Believe, etc.

But these straw men are only dwarfs of pygmies by comparison with the world-class straw man that is being set before us in the recent volume by Adams, which requires nothing less than a rearrangement of the realities of our history, a replacement of facts with fantasies.

The Roots Question

Adams directs our attention to the two major theological issues that are troubling our church today regarding the nature of Christ and character perfection. He then poses the question, Where did these problems originate? The theses of his book is that their roots are found in the teachings of A.T. Jones and E.J. Waggoner in the 1890s, were learned from them and urged upon the church by M.L. Andreason, and were foisted upon the modern church by Robert Wieland. This places a newer and richer meaning upon the phrase “simplistic reasoning.” Here are his words, as found on the first page of a chapter entitled “Examining the Roots, the Legacy of Jones and Waggoner:”

“My thesis throughout is that the theology of these three men [Jones, Waggoner, and Andreason] has provided the spawning ground for the position on righteousness by faith and perfection held by certain Adventists today….

“Without a doubt, the roots of the present agitation go all the way back to Jones and Waggoner.” —page 29
And again on page 37:

“The perfectionist agitation within the Seventh-day Adventist Church today had its genesis in the post-1888 teachings of A.T. Jones and E.J. Waggoner. In this chapter I wish to show that the linkage of sanctification, perfection, and Christ’s nature that has become dominant among certain groups is a direct legacy of M.L. Andreason’s theology.”

To those who know that God’s chosen Messenger to the Adventist people, Ellen White, published far more material on these subjects than any or all of these men ever did, these are indeed bold and breath-taking assertions. Were the teachings of Jones and Waggoner actually the roots, the origin, of the doctrine that Christ came to earth in the human nature of fallen man and the doctrine that character perfection through God’s power is possible? Had the church members no previous acquaintance with these teachings? Can evidence be produced that they held other or opposite views? The answer to all of these questions is No.

The Evidence

Let the evidence speak. Jones and Waggoner set forth their views on these subjects primarily during the ten year period of 1891-1901. Ellen White had been vigorously promoting the same doctrines for well over thirty years, since 1858. By the end of the year 1898, she had gone into print regarding the nature of Christ a total of 141 times. (The publications, the dates, and the statements are all recorded in our research volume, The Word Was Made Flesh.)

Had all of these publishing endeavors failed of their purpose? Did they all escape the attention of the Adventist people? The journals in which she wrote were primarily the Review and the Signs, to which were added her own books. Did these journals and books have no circulation among the Adventist people? and were they unknown to Jones and Waggoner?

Not exactly. In the year 1895, when Jones made his major presentation on the subject of the nature of Christ at a General Conference session, he quoted the following lines from an as yet unpublished manuscript of Ellen White’s The Desire of Ages. (What does his possession of this manuscript indicate about his relation to her beliefs?)

“In order to carry out the great work of redemption, the Redeemer must take the place of fallen man….

“When Adam was assailed by the tempter, he was without the taint of sin. He stood before God in the strength of perfect manhood, all the organs and faculties of his being fully developed and harmoniously balanced; and he was surrounded with things of beauty, and communed daily with holy angels. What a contrast to this perfect being did the second Adam present, as He entered the desolate wilderness to cope with Satan. For four thousand years the race had been decreasing in size and physical strength, and deterioration in moral worth; and in order to elevate fallen man, Christ must reach him where he stood. He assumed human nature, bearing the infirmities and degeneracy of the race. He humiliated Himself to the lowest depths of human woe, that He might sympathize with man and rescue him from the degradation into which sin had plunged him….

“Christ took humanity with all its liabilities. He took the nature of man with the possibility of yielding to temptation, and He relied upon divine power to keep Him.”
(There are six other places in The Desire of Ages where Ellen White testifies to her belief about the human nature of Christ. See pages 25, 112, 117, 174, and 311.)
The simple fact is that Jones and Waggoner, like virtually all of our church leaders, had been guided in their thinking about the two doctrines of the nature of Christ and character perfection by God’s special messenger, Ellen White. This is clearly attested by two evidences that are a matter of record and can be easily verified by anyone who cares to visit the archives. These two evidences are, 1.) Ellen White published profusely her convictions that Christ came to earth in the human nature of fallen man and that character perfection, by the power of God, is possible; and, 2.) our other church leaders accepted these doctrines as correct and responded by publishing articles and books of their own which echoed her testimonies, and not infrequently quoted from them.

By the end of the year 1898, other church leaders had published their own views on the nature of Christ, not different from hers, a total of 76 times. (See The Word Was Made Flesh.) This number does not include statements from Jones and Waggoner. It does include statements from such other church leaders as James White, Uriah Smith, Stephen Haskell, W.W. Prescott, J.H. Waggoner, M.C. Wilcox, R.A. Underwood, Alton Farnsworth, Elgin Farnsworth, W.H. Glenn, J.E. Evans, William Covert, J.H. Durland, G.C. Tenney, G.E. Fifield, and others. These writers did not mute their messages. The total includes nine editorials and five front page editorials.
Are we to believe that all of these writers, some of whom published before Jones and Waggoner, found the roots of their beliefs in the teachings of Jones and Waggoner? And what of Ellen White? Were their teachings the roots of her beliefs? Or was it actually the other way around, that they all, including Jones and Waggoner, drew their inspiration from the writings of God’s messenger?

And let us not overlook the fact that while Jones and Waggoner were co-editors of the Signs of the Times (1885-1891), they published in that journal three statements by Ellen White that Christ had come to earth in the human nature of fallen man. In the years 1890-91, Waggoner, as sole editor of the Review (1887-91), published eleven such statements in that journal.

The Mainstream

Jones and Waggoner, far from being innovators or teachers of new doctrines, were actually standing firmly in the mainstream of Seventh-day Adventists theology regarding the nature of Christ and character perfection. Their teachings were emphatically not the root of those doctrines; they were rather the fruit.

In the years following 1901, other church leaders united with Ellen White in propaganda these doctrines with ever increasing emphasis and clarity. In our The Word Was Made Flesh, we document 1200 statements on the nature of Christ that were published by our church leaders between the years 1852 and 1952, 400 of them by Ellen White. During that same period, until her death in 1915, Ellen White published 4500 statements regarding character perfection. (See Tell of His Power.)

A Host of Witnesses

This leads us directly to the other proposition in the structure of straw erected by Adams. Was M.L. Andreason a person who accepted strange and new doctrines from Jones and Waggoner and urged them upon the church, or was he only one among a host of witnesses to generally accepted truths? The number of names presented in the previous paragraph should answer that question. We would only add enough names to the previously supplied list to demonstrate that those whose voices joined with the voice of Andreason were among Adventism’s first line of leadership.

In regard to the nature of Christ, we have documented statements by General Conference presidents Daniells, Watson, Branson, and McElhany; vice-presidents Underwood, Farnsworth, Slade, and Turner; local conference presidents Farnsworth and Evans; Signs and Review editors and associate editors M.C. Wilcox, G.C. Tenney, W.H. Glenn, Uriah Smith, F.D. Nicholl, Oscar Tait, Alonzo Baker, C.M. Snow, and F.M. Wilcox; the first president of our theological seminary M.E. Kern; seminary teacher L.E. Froom; college president W.E. Howell; other teachers and leaders including T.M. French, Merlin Neff, L.C. Wilcox, Meade Macguire, C.L. Bond, and J.E. Fulton; and many, many others. Statements in regard to the generally accepted truth of character perfection are simply too numerous to collate or count.
To view the question from its other side, in the massive research project that we engaged in and reported on in our The Word Was Made Flesh, we did not find a single evidence that any of our leaders or believers held a different view from the mainstream on either the nature of Christ or character perfection until the mid 1900s—not one. And let it be remembered that we made it our goal to examine every article or book that had been published in the English language during the period 1852-1952. We had no CD rom, we examined every page. On the basis of what we saw on those pages, we view the announced purpose of George Knight, whose work Adams applauds, to prove that before the 1920s our people held Calvinistic views of the gospel as utterly preposterous.

Simplistic Reasoning

So in the construction of his world-class straw man, Adams has apparently arbitrarily selected two persons, Jones and Waggoner, from among a large group of Adventist thought leaders, including Ellen White, and assigned to them the responsibility for creating doctrinal attitudes that were actually shared by them all and had been witnessed to by some of them before Jones and Waggoner came along. In similar fashion he selected M.L. Andreason from among an even larger group and assigned to him the responsibility for propagating views that were, in fact, shared and earnestly taught by them all. To cap the strange structure, he has then looked at the Historical Adventists of our time and selected from among them an individual minister named Robert Wieland who holds to certain views about corporate personality and corporate repentance that very few among the Historic Adventists share with him, and has set him forth as the type of and spokesman for us all.

The Technique

This is the traditional first step in the use of the straw-man technique, the use of misstatement and misrepresentation in order to set up an artificial straw man which is alleged to be the position of your opponents. The second step is to vigorously attack the straw man of your own creating in the hope that observers will believe that you have demolished the position of your opponents, whereas you have actually only demolished you own artificial straw man.

Adams faithfully follows the formula and devotes many pages to arguing against the ideas of Jones, Waggoner, Andreason, and Wieland. But what does this have to do with us? Really, nothing. Our faith is not fastened to the thinking of any of these men. Our faith is firmly anchored in the Bible and in the Spirit of Prophecy, and we may rest secure in the confidence that these bulwarks will never be overthrown.

In our next article, we will examine some of the individual and specific straw bundles that are used by Adams in the construction of his world-class straw man.

The End