04 July 2022, Bracknell UK [Roland Dan]
The 2022 Bible Conference titled Challenges, Issues, Opportunities: Adventism in the 21st Century, the first major event organised by the College since 2019, brought together a dynamic team of speakers who shared captivating presentations with their audience at Newbold Church and online over the weekend of 27-28 May.
On Friday evening, Dr Laszlo Gallusz, Senior Lecturer in New Testament, set the scene for the theme of the Conference with the opening remark, “Every society and organisation run by human beings have their own issues and challenges, which includes the Seventh-day Adventist Church. To deny or ignore the issues is equal to ignoring reality and missing the opportunity for constructive growth.” Opening keynote speaker Dr Stephen Currow, Newbold Principal delivered Seven Challenges Facing Adventists Today, based on Paul’s letters to Timothy with an appeal for all to “preach the Word, fight the fight of faith, pursue godliness, be rich in good deeds and take hold of eternal life”.
The Sabbath programme provided much food for thought, beginning with a fascinating presentation by Pastor Julian Thompson on the digitalisation of the Bible. Using the philosopher Marshall McLuhan’s famous quote, “The medium is the message,” he explained how digital technology, mobile devices, texting, and even emojis impact how people interpret biblical text and understand the Bible. Dr Ivan Milanov, Senior Lecturer in Old Testament, followed with a presentation on the pitfalls of conspiracy theories, unveiling a list of similarities between the views of some Adventists and conspiracy theorists, and showing how easy it is to be lured into a culture of conspiracy. Aware that God has already revealed Satan’s intentions and plans in scripture, he warned, “whatever conspiracy theory you are exposed to, pray for wisdom,” and pointed out that “wise people are a faithful people with a special bond with the Lord.”
Dr Laszlo Gallusz’s following presentation focused on the ‘perceived delay’ of Jesus’ second coming, challenging Adventists to hold on to the hope of Jesus’ ‘soon return,’ which is “at the very core of Adventism’s” identity, theology, and mission. Dr Laszlo noted that with “the passing of time,” the expectation of the Second Coming became harder to sustain, most notably during and after major world events such as World War I, World War II and, more recently, the Covid-19 pandemic. He said the issue “penetrates to the core of who we are” as Adventists and summed up his talk by saying, “God will not take short-cuts when he is solving the problem of the Cosmic Conflict. He knows how and when to act,” so we can say, “Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus!” at the appropriate time.
Pastor Jonathan Holder and Dr Daniel Duda were tasked with ‘preaching the Word,’ with Pastor Holder exploring further on Dr Laszlo’s theme, ‘Waiting for Jesus’ Return’ in Salisbury Hall, while Dr Duda shared a message on wrestling with identity at Newbold Church.
A notable highlight of the day included a presentation by Dutch politician Marianne Thieme who gave a warning on the dangers of the theology of perfectionism. Showing its link to meritocracy, a concept rooted in our society where people get ahead in life based on their accomplishments, Thieme noted that we live in a world “ruled by perfectionism” where “we want to have a perfect life.” Pointing to an abundance of mobile apps available for self-help, self-improvement, and people wanting to measure everything in their pursuit of success, Thieme went on to consider the roots of the ‘Adventist perfectionism narrative,’ making close comparisons with ‘the meritocracy narrative.’ “Eventually,” Thieme warned, “it leads to a ‘winners and losers’ mentality, with the tendency to become judgmental and condescending, all of which leads to frustration and spiritual burn-out.” Concluding, she said it is “incompatible with God’s grace… an unmerited gift of love,” emphasising that “it is Christ’s perfection that saves us.”
Dr Jan Barna, Principal Lecturer in Systematic Theology, considered “the problem of truth” in his presentation with the intriguing title, Google, Adventism and Algorithmic Truth. Noting that multinational technology companies and social media giants take the position that “the solution to the problem of truth is artificial intelligence” and working on better algorithms helps us discern the truth from fake truth. he argued this approach to the problem of truth is “impersonal and artificial.” Moreover, “truth in the Bible is not algorithmic” based on computational procedures, “so Adventist ecclesiology has a challenge” when delegates from churches, conferences and unions gather at General Conference sessions to vote on matters that effectively become “truth for the Church.” He pointed out that badges distributed among delegates are “given on the basis of a representational algorithm,” which effectively “becomes their proxy for truth.” Dr Barna concluded with an appeal for the Church to carefully reflect on governance and how it arrives at ecclesiastical solutions to the problem of truth.
Visiting lecturer Pilira Zapita had the honour of providing the final presentation Plugging the Deficiency of the Holy Spirit. Her premise is that Christian scholars and church members tend to agree that there appears to be a “deficiency of the presence of the Holy Spirit.” Quoting theologian Cheryl Jones, Zapita explained the term ‘deficiency’ describes “believers and faith community who neglect the Holy Spirit or do not fully open themselves to possibilities of a Spirit-filled life.” Describing the Holy Spirit as “the indispensable presence that Jesus left to empower us” for living in a contemporary world, Zapita went on to explain that “without the Holy Spirit’s empowering presence, it is impossible to become faithful witnesses of Jesus from a personal to the corporate level.” Just as Jesus urged his disciples to wait for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, Zapita appealed for the Adventist faith community to wait and “plug into the source like never before,” saying, “Come Holy Spirit, we need you.”
As the 2022 Bible Conference drew to a close, former Principal Dr John Baildam provided an opportunity for feedback by hosting a panel discussion, with questions from the audience and online viewers. As Dr Currow ended the conference by thanking the audience, all participants, and the support of the Newbold Church family, lingering in the mind was Dr Gallusz’s opening remark, “To deny or ignore the issues is equal to ignoring reality and missing the opportunity for constructive growth.”
To view any or all presentations visit Newbold website.
[Photos: Roland Dan]