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Last Generation Theology

Last Generation Theology (LGT) or "final generation" theology is a belief system held by some very conservative members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, which claims that perfection will be achieved by some people in the last generation before the Second Coming of Jesus. It is closely related to "historic Adventism", but as one supporter claims, it differs in that it forms an extension or development of "historic" Adventist beliefs, or takes them to their logical conclusion.

It teaches that Jesus Christ was not only the Substitute for man but the Example for man, insists that Christians will have to cease from sin after the close of probation just before the Second Coming, and confesses that the close of the age has been delayed by unconsecration in Christians but can be accelerated through their living of holy lives.

"Historic Adventism" formed a large portion of the church in the early 1900s. LGT has been denied by mainstream and progressive members of the church since at least the publishing of the book Questions on Doctrine by the church in 1957. Although exceptions exist, most Adventist resources published since the late 1970s have opposed the concepts identified as LGT.

History

Proponents of Last Generation Theology claim that support for it is found in Scripture, and the writings of Ellen G. White and William Miller.

Andreasen and Questions on Doctrine

In 1957 the church published the major book 'Questions on Doctrine (QOD), after discussions with fundamentalist/evangelical Christian leaders. The book has been the most controversial ever in the history of the Adventist church. Its harshest critic was M. L. Andreasen, who urged church leaders not to publish QOD. Yet the critics still agreed with the vast majority of the book. The controversial parts were the book's view of Christology and the atonement. Proponents of LGT believe the book presents substantial changes to the church's doctrinal position in these areas. The changes were destructive to the concept that a last generation could, by the power of the gospel, be made holy, and stop sinning.

Andreasen was recognized as a leading denominational scholar in the early 1900s. In his book, The Sanctuary Service, Andreasen presented his views regarding the atonement and related topics in the closing chapter, "The Final Generation".

Robert Brinsmead

Robert Brinsmead was an Australian Adventist who promoted the "Awakening" message during the 1960s of a future final perfect generation. His theology of this time has been considered to be a logical extension of Andreasen's ideas. He later changed his views several times, firstly to evangelical Adventism in the 1970s, then to liberal Christianity, and later to a rejection of much of orthodox Christian teachings. Schwarz wrote in 1979, "Although there had been dissident groups in the church from its start, none was more troublesome to Adventist leaders than [Brinsmead's]".

Robert Pierson

Robert Pierson served as a president of the General Conference. In his sermons he often presented LGT concepts. He was a driving force in the 1973 and 1974 Annual Council Appeals published by the world church for all its members - appeals that have been persistently republished since their first appearance, and which constitute a milepost in official publications by the church in advocacy of LGT concepts. He authored 28 books.

Herbert Douglass

Herbert Douglass was a prominent figure in the 1970s advocating LGT, publishing articles in what is now the Adventist Review supporting LGT, along with editor Kenneth Wood. He has been a leading theologian within the Adventist church. A key contribution to LGT by Douglass was his articulation of what came to be known as "The Harvest Principle". Pointing to , he showed how God is waiting for a ripe harvest, and as soon as that harvest has ripened, He will thrust in His sickle and reap the earth - the Second Coming of Christ will at last come to pass.

Recent supporters

Dennis Priebe came into contact with Desmond Ford at Pacific Union College in California, where they both taught in the late 1970s. The controversy surrounding Ford over righteousness by faith and soon the Glacier View controversy regarding the investigative judgment led Priebe to explore the issues involved, publishing Face-to-Face With the Real Gospel in 1986.

Priebe, in turn, influenced Larry Kirkpatrick. Certain persistent issues led to the publication by the church of its second (QOD had been the first) authors-not-named publication: Issues: The Seventh-day Adventist Church and Certain Private Ministries. The book provoked Kirkpatrick to study, concluding he disagreed with it. He entered the pastoral ministry in 1994. By 1997 he was publishing on the internet and has been active since. In 2005 he published a summary of his view of LGT in a book entitled Cleanse and Close: Last Generation Theology in 14 Points.

The morning speaker for the 2002 meeting of what what is now Generation of Youth For Christ (GYC) included several advocates of LGT, such as the morning devotional speaker, Peter Gregory. Kirkpatrick also supported the 2002 meeting.

Doctrine

The Last Generation Theology understanding is best seen in light of the doctrinal development of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Seventh-day Adventists have had four generally recognized statements of belief, prepared in 1872, 1931, 1980, and 2005 The 1872 and 1931 statements of belief were prepared for use at the informational level, for those outside the movement who desired to understand what Seventh-day Adventists stood for. Adventism is rooted in Reformationism and Restorationism.

In the 1950s, a handful of church leaders published the book Seventh-day Adventists Answer Questions on Doctrine (which came to be known simply as "QOD"). This volume, in key areas such as Christology, Atonement, and Soteriology, was felt by many Adventists to have introduced radical changes in Seventh-day Adventist belief. The book is widely acknowledged as the most controversial book in the history of the Adventist church. Many held that it introduced a "New Theology" incompatible with the last generation aspects of Seventh-day Adventist theology. Others insisted that it merely reflected a maturation of the group as it moved from sect to mainline denomination.

The denomination's 1980 statement of belief came into being at the same time the crisis introduced by the teachings of Desmond Ford had peaked. The 2005 statement added a 28th belief not impacting upon LGT aspects.

Various theologians and writers within the Seventh-day Adventist Church regularly published works in which they defined and then opposed the teachings of Last Generation Theology. Since no explicit statement of what the LGT concepts existed, rendering both criticism or promotion of LGT difficult, in 2005 certain ordained, credentialed Seventh-day Adventist workers and proponents of LGT combined their energies through the spring to prepare an LGT Statement of Belief, seven couplets completing 14 points that distinctly mark out an agreed definition for Last Generation Theology.

Cleanse and Close

Advocates of the concepts of LGT felt that those teachings were often mischaracterized by denominational writers. Kirkpatrick consulted with others and the result was the LGT14, a doctrinal list of 14 points presented as a consensus statement. In 2005 Kirkpatrick's book, Cleanse and Close: Last Generation Theology in 14 Points packaged the concepts that had been developing since the mid 19th century, and identified them as LGT.

The LGT14 represent a consensus statement developed by current and retired ordained denominational workers and other Seventh-day Adventists. According to its advocates, LGT14 is intended as a reinforcement of the church's official 28 Fundamental Beliefs, an emphasis on neglected ideas related to that list, and not as a replacement statement.

Opposition to Last Generation Theology

Since the mid 1950s, a steady opposition to the concepts of LGT is found in books and articles by notable authors and workers including LeRoy Froom, Norman Gulley, George R. Knight, William Johnsson, Roy Adams, Clifford Goldstein, Roy Naden, Woodrow Whidden III, and others. Different aspects of LGT have drawn opposition from the various individuals. Opponents also believe that a balanced reading of Ellen White does not support LGT.

Christology and perfectionism

Most persistent has been opposition to the Christology of LGT which teaches that Jesus became incarnate in fallen humanity. The Christological problem rises from the preliminary issue of how one defines sin; depending on this definition, one is either guilty because of his nature or because of his choices. Advocates of LGT are united in teaching that Jesus took the nature of humanity after the Fall and that He never sinned. They highlight Christ's role as both Substitute and Example. Those opposing LGT teach that this is an incorrect teaching and that Christ's humanity was actually that of Adam before the Fall or is a synthesis, that Christ took a kind of humanity that is neither wholly pre- or post-Fall and is thus unique. They emphasize Christ as Substitute for humanity.

This is related to character perfection, which has also been a central point of contention. Whereas advocates of LGT urge that as a result of the gospel men and women will stop sinning before Jesus returns, those opposed to LGT hold that because of the fallen nature, people will continue to sin, at least in nature, until Jesus' Second Coming. It is urged that focus on perfection distracts from Christ. LGT advocates counter that they actually are focused on following Christ as they seek to please Him by ceasing from sin.

Timing of the Second Coming

Other writers have reserved their attentions mostly for the topic of whether or not God's people have delayed the Second Coming or could, through the way they live their lives, hasten the time of that coming. Writers opposed to LGT say no on both counts, pointing to God's sovereignty. Advocates of LGT counter that since God is sovereign, He is within His rights to include as part of the evidence of His goodness the behavior of those who profess to believe in Him.

Atonement

Another key concern revolves around the relationship of the atonement to the cross and whether Christ's work in the heavenly sanctuary represents a continuation of the atonement or the application of an already finished atonement. Authors opposing LGT view the atonement as having been completed at the cross and the benefits of that completed atonement being applied to the believer presently. Whereas advocates of LGT urge the importance of God making a demonstration of His power through the last generation of believers, opposers of LGT counter that through His sacrificial death on the cross, Christ achieved all the demonstration necessary.

Some have especially focused their attention at the meaning and relationship of justification and sanctification to obedience. Writers opposing LGT tend to emphasize justification and understand sanctification as a following fruit of the gospel, not part of the salvation equation. Like the previous point about the atonement, these concerns arise from the foundational understanding of whether the gospel is predominantly concerned with salvation for man as a legal matter (the satisfaction view of the atonement), or is best understood as a restoration of man to the divine image, a therapeutic motif (see also the moral influence view of the atonement).

In relation to the larger church

The existence and significance of a large group of Seventh-day Adventist believers in LGT is attested by the wide range of Adventist scholars, the publishing of books like QOD and Issues which seek to counter their ideas, the counter-publishing of the 1973 and 1974 Appeals, and the persistent historical presence of its advocates in significant church positions (M. L. Andreasen, Robert H. Pierson, C. Mervyn Maxwell, Kenneth Wood, Herbert E. Douglass, Joe Crews of Amazing Facts, Dennis Priebe, J. R. Zurcher, etc.) point to a train of thought within the larger church.

The beliefs of a church are often defined on the basis of formally voted policy statements. However, this is but one element in the development of a meaningful understanding of the identity of a religious group. The historical-theological development of a group is also very meaningful in defining the beliefs of a Church. Last Generation Theology and the discussion surrounding it offers a window to contributory streams of thought that inform the identity of Seventh-day Adventism.

Institutions

Institutions which hold to Last Generation Theology include Hope International, Hartland Institute and greatcontroversy.org run by Larry Kirkpatrick.

See also

Appendices

References

Bibliography

External links

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