Progressives typically question one or more of the church's more peculiar, or "distinctive" beliefs such as the investigative judgment, the remnant, a future global Sunday-law, or an overuse of Ellen G. White's writings. A major factor in its rise was as a result of Adventists mixing more widely with other Christians, which was sparked by the need for government accreditation for its educational institutions. However it is an emerging movement with an emerging definition, and its proponents resist drawing up any formal belief statement. Perceptions and definitions of it may differ somewhat depending on the author, although much in common is also clearly discernible.
Many scholars of the church are progressive, and progressive Adventism has strong connections with Adventist higher education. Numerous magazines and conferences support the movement. A higher proportion of younger generations may be progressive. As the church varies by the demographics of location, culture, ethnicity, age group and other factors, progressive Adventism has a stronger presence in some places (such as the West Coast of the United States) than others.
Madelynn Jones-Haldeman wrote in 2001,
The younger generation of Adventists is often acknowledged as thinking differently to earlier Adventists. See for example, " Young Adults Make Adventism Their Own" by a twenty-something Adventist, with responses " Out on a Limb!" and " Right On".
Inclusive. Progressives are inclusive of other types of Adventists, and believe different types should be welcomed as part of the community.
That being said, the common factor shared by all progressive Adventists is some degree of discomfort with certain of the church's official or traditional doctrinal positions.
Ron Corson identifies four common areas of progressive belief:
Madelynn Jones-Haldeman defines the six points:
Present Truth. Progressive Adventists appreciate the church's pioneers particularly in their concept of "present truth", rather than specific beliefs themselves. They believe the church should not be limited by its founders' teaching. Present truth refers to the ongoing search for truth and an attitude of humility that there is no time at which the church's beliefs are perfect.
Young earth creationism. Other traditional teachings may also be challenged, such as young earth creationism. In a 1994 survey of North American Division science educators, 43% of the respondents affirmed the statement "God created live organisms during 6 days less than 10,000 years ago. The book Understanding Genesis: Contemporary Adventist Perspectives edited by Brian Bull, Fritz Guy and Ervin Taylor challenges the traditional beliefs. However other progressive Adventists believe in a more traditional view. Clifford Goldstein has argued that evolution and Adventism are incompatible, while Ervin Taylor disagrees.
Bible. The same survey showed close agreement on the nature of the Bible, with 92.6% affirming the moderate statement "Bible is God's word with human thought forms and perspectives." Only a minority affirmed the competing statements, "Bible is the actual word of God, to be taken literally word for word" or "Bible is ancient book of myths, history, and moral precepts." Alden Thompson argues for a small use of the historical-critical method.
Church structure. Progressive Adventists typically believe the present church structure is very "top heavy" with too many levels of leadership, and possibly too much hierarchical control. (Many mainstream Adventists such as George Knight have also called for change in this area.)
Reporting of events. Progressive Adventists typically believe in candid reporting of news and information about the church. They believe in open discussion in a free press. (This view is also shared by many more mainstream Adventists such as former editors of the Australian Record James Coffin and Bruce Manners. Coffin was also on the staff of the Adventist Review.)
Music. Progressive Adventists are typically open to a variety of styles of worship music in church including contemporary Christian music.
According to one author, Progressive Adventism
Fritz Guy wrote " Four Ways Into the Next Millennium and forecasted " A More 'Liberalized' Adventist Future 24" in 1994. See also the definitions by Julius Nam (also his forecast future changes in " Change: The Adventist Constant") and by Johnny A. Ramirez who resist the idea that Progressive Adventism is about a political agenda and present it as an historically Adventist ethos, an attitude towards change which is beyond present definitions of liberal and conservative. See also the description by Raymond Thompson, the description by evangelical Kenneth Samples, the " Generous Adventist Orthodoxy" from Re-inventing the Adventist Wheel, Jim Walters' definition, and the (unpublished) definition by Raymond Cottrell.
Clifford Goldstein has declared,
Compare "Cultural Christian".
According to evangelical Kenneth Samples, "It should also be mentioned that, though small, there was and is a segment in Adventism which could be described as being theologically liberal" or even "very liberal".
Ron Corson wrote,
Usually the phrase "liberal Adventist" means liberal for an Adventist, so in the context of the Adventist church being a conservative denomination, this usually does not mean "liberal Christian". However, less commonly, it may.
Progressive Adventists may be contrasted with "historic Adventists", who lie at the other end of the Adventist theological spectrum, and more mainstream Adventists who lie somewhere in between. While progressive Adventists may not be mainstream in the context of the theology of the world church, they are mainstream in the sense that many are employed as university lecturers in church operated institutions. By contrast, historic Adventists generally operate outside of the official church structure.
Other terms such as ecumenical Adventist and evangelical Adventist have been used, with presumably related meaning. (Compare the much broader movements "Ecumenism" and "Evangelicalism" within Christianity as a whole).
General Conference president A. G. Daniells showed many Christ-like and progressive tendencies regarding White's inspiration (such as exhibited at the 1919 Bible Conference) and other matters. His 1926 book Christ Our Righteousness moved towards a Reformation view of righteousness by faith. Willie White had a moderate understanding of her inspiration. W. W. Prescott had quite progressive views for his time. Many of these leaders resisted the influence of Christian Fundamentalism on the Adventist church during the early 1900s.
The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary published in the mid-1950s marked the period when, according to Raymond Cottrell, "Seventh-day Adventist study of the Bible came of age", and the so-called 'proof-text' method of defending Adventist beliefs "began to give way to an objective investigation of Scripture using the historical-contextual-linguistic method.
At least one author considers the various streams existed earlier, but the book polarized them.
According to one author, this group was united by belief in righteousness by faith alone, the sinless nature of Jesus (who was primarily our substitute rather than example), assurance of salvation, perfectionism impossible, Jesus ascended straight to the most holy place (heaven) at his ascension (although opinions varied on a pre-advent judgment), Ellen White had the gift of prophecy but was not infallible nor should be used for doctrine.
As part of the broader social and political changes during the 1960s, many Adventists began to challenge their tradition as well. During the 1960s many Adventists completed PhDs at secular universities. This occurred partly because of a new requirement that feeder colleges to medical institutions needed to be accredited, which meant that a large number of professors at the union colleges were required to take PhDs in secular universities. Percy Tilson Magan pushed for accreditation. Pacific Union College was the first to receive accreditation in 1932, although the General Conference did not allow this for all senior colleges until 1936. Union College was particularly open to the concept of accreditation. This interaction allowed a widening of ideas and a greater degree of open-mindedness, and a greater appreciation of other Christians. Groups of these students started to meet. They merged to form the Association of Adventist Forums (now Adventist Forums) in 1967, and the founding of its publication Spectrum magazine in 1969.
In the 1970s, scholars such as Walter T. Rea and Ronald Numbers did much study on how White's background impacted her writings. While Rea's book is regarded as caustic by many Adventists and non-Adventists alike, his work did increase understanding of White's work.
Raymond Cottrell was a progressive, and an associate editor of the Adventist Review and the Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary amongst other major positions, and later a founding member of Adventist Today. He described a "triumvirate" of Robert H. Pierson, Gordon M. Hyde and Gerhard Hasel were the "architects" behind "the decade of obscurantism (1969-1979)". According to Cottrell, this trio attempted to gain control of Adventist biblical studies, and Hasel (who was dean of the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary) made Drs. Sakai Kubo, Ivan Blazen, Fritz Guy, and Larry Geraty feel very unwelcome. Scholars at other institutions were also moved on or pressured.
When Fred Veltman was called to closely investigate literary parallels in Ellen White's writings following the plagiarism charges of the 1970s and 80s, he was highly concerned about his ongoing employment in the church, due to the controversial nature of Ellen White studies. He was also concerned that the results of his study might be swept under the rug and not publicized to the church, as he believed had happened to many other studies. He writes that he was constantly reassured by then General Conference president Neil C. Wilson that both his employment was secure and that his work would not be in vain. Sure enough, his study is now available online from Adventist Archives.
The fundamental beliefs of the church, established in 1980, contain a preamble allowing for change. The controversial dismissal of Desmond Ford from ministry over the investigative judgment was viewed with concern by some outside observers who questioned if the church was still gospel-centred or "evangelical". Ford founded the ministry Good News Unlimited. Ford retains many Adventist beliefs, such as the Sabbath, the inspiration of Ellen White, and a healthy lifestyle. While he rejects the investigative judgment and the day-year principle, he believes they were providential – that is, God used them at the time. As of 2008, Ford still writes and preaches regularly.
In 1980, Brinsmead compared progressive and traditional Adventists in Judged by the Gospel (Verdict 1980).
While harsh in tone, Walter T. Rea's work on Ellen White caused a shift in the church's position, along with other authors. Fred Veltman was concerned about the implications of his research into her writings, yet was constantly reassured by then General Conference president Neal C. Wilson that both his employment was secure and that his work would not be in vain. His study is now available online from Adventist Archives.
Richard Rice's book Believing, Behaving, Belonging: Finding New Love for the Church was published by the Association of Adventist Forums. He is a leading contributor to the open theism understanding of God, a term he created, which is supported by many progressive Adventists. Alden Thompson publishes regularly for Spectrum and Adventist Today. Bonnie Dwyer, the editor of Spectrum as of 2008, is known as a "liberal".
In Adventism for a New Generation, Steve Daily argues strongly for changes in Adventism for it to remain relevant, and denies many traditional Adventist beliefs. Ervin Taylor is the emeritus professor of anthropology at the University of California and as of 2007, executive editor of Adventist Today. He rejects young earth creationism and a recent global flood, and could be described as a theistic evolutionist.
Adventist Forum groups meet regularly around the world.
The first camp meeting was held in 1998 in Riverside.
A number of articles in Spectrum critiquing the church's structure were met with opposition.
According to conservative scholar Samuel Koranteng-Pipim, a significant number of Adventist scholars are "liberal". In an 1980s survey of Adventist theologians, 45% described their beliefs as "liberal" compared to other church members; 40% as "mainstream", 11% as "conservative", and 4% did not respond to the question.
Progressives believe in academic freedom for the church's theologians and scientists. Progressive Adventists and many other church scholars have reacted against certain proposals to introduce centralized oversight of theological education, such as former General Conference president Robert Folkenberg's " Total Commitment to God" initiative, which was voted by the Annual Council at Costa Rica in 1996.
The relationship more progressive Adventists have had with church administrators tends to depend on the nature of the administration at the time. General Conference Presidents, editors of the Adventist Review, book editors at Pacific Press and Review and Herald etc. have been of varying theological persuasions at different times.
See also the official church statement " A Statement on Theological and Academic Freedom and Accountability", 1987.
At times there has been intense discussion between educators and church administrators.
Raymond Cottrell describes "the decade of obscurantism (1969–1979)" as when a "triumvirate" consisting of General Conference President Robert H. Pierson, Gordon M. Hyde and Gerhard Hasel attempted to gain control of Adventist biblical studies. According to Cottrell, Hasel used his position as dean of the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University to make Drs. Sakai Kubo, Ivan Blazen, Fritz Guy, and Larry Geraty feel very unwelcome.
Fred Veltman, who was called to closely investigate "literary parallels" in Ellen White's writings, was concerned about his ongoing employment in the church, and whether the results of his study would be publicized. He wrote that General Conference President Neal C. Wilson that both his employment was secure and that his work would not be in vain. His study is now available online from Adventist Archives.
Former General Conference President Robert S. Folkenberg's " Total Commitment to God" initiative was voted by the Annual Council in Costa Rica in 1996. In 1998 Folkenberg's action to establish a "Board of Ministerial and Theological Education" in every Division of the church to oversee its theological seminaries "has evoked significant criticism in some areas, including North America", and was put on hold. There was concern over the document International Coordination and Supervision of Seventh-day Adventist Ministerial and Theological Education. GC (General Conference) Sets Standards for Ministerial and Theologic Education See a response " Toward Spiritual Assessment in Seventh-day Adventist Colleges and Universities" by Duane C. McBride, which appeared in the April/May 1998 issue of Adventist Education.
According to one article, at the 2001 annual meeting of the Andrews Society for Religious Studies, "not a single person had anything good to say about this program. No one. Perhaps there was secret support for it, but no one spoke out loud expressing the slightest support". This is despite a range of people being present.
See also 2003 Conference on Religious and Theological Education, Adventist Today article. See the 1997 articles Tensions Peak in Adventist Higher Education and Religion Professors Face Conference Presidents
See also the official church statement " A Statement on Theological and Academic Freedom and Accountability", 1987.
The evangelical Christian Research Institute has offered "a hand of fellowship and encouragement" to what they describe as Evangelical Adventism.
Former Adventist J. Mark Martin gave talks entitled, "An Evangelical Adventist?