Truth and Fear
Recently, a pastor friend of mine posted these three questions1 on his Facebook page:
1. Should we Adventist pastors go to learn theology from Roman Catholic “doctors”?
Yes ___ No___
2. Should we ask Jewish “interpreters,” who rejected Jesus, how they interpret or understand the passages from the Old Testament?
Yes ___ No___
3. Should we trust “Adventists” that did or do these two things?
Yes ___ No___
The post received 147 comments and 40 shares, which is really a large response, given the number of followers he has. The great majority of answers was a resounding “No” to all three questions, many of them in all capital letters and with up to three or four exclamation marks.
The post and the reaction it caused fascinated me. I debated with myself for some time whether I should respond to the post, comment on the responses and reactions, or simply observe and reflect on the phenomenon. I finally decided on the last. I am still unsure whether this was the correct decision.
Most of the respondents were very sure what the answer was or should be. They clearly identified themselves as faithful Adventists who wanted to maintain the purity of their faith. The large reaction seemed to be caused by a fear among the respondents that our church was under attack by undercover agents from outside religions. One of them, translated from Spanish, wrote that “unfortunately [theology professors in our institutions] do not go anymore [to Catholic or Jewish institutions], but now they bring them [Catholic and Jewish teachers] to Adventist universities so that they may instruct new pastors.” It was this fear expressed by some of those who answered that worried me.
Dave Grossman, an army lieutenant colonel who is an expert on physical and mental reactions during lethal combat, explains what happens in high-stress situations. When our heart rate raises to 115 to 145 beats per minute, we are at our optimal state of “arousal.” Our mind focuses and our body responds at the highest level. Ron Avery’s pulse, who is a champion marksman, is normally near the top of this range when he performs best. Athletes, who experience this arousal at critical moments of a game, report that the court goes quiet and players seem to move in slow motion. Police officers in lethal encounters have reported extreme visual clarity, tunnel vision, diminished sound, and the sense that time is moving slowly.
Grossman also explains what happens after the heart rate goes over 145. “Complex motor skills start to break down. Doing something with one hand and not the other becomes very difficult. . . . At 175, we begin to see an absolute breakdown of cognitive processing. . . . The forebrain shuts down, and the mid-brain—the part of your brain that is the same as your dog’s (all mammals have that part of the brain)—reaches up and hijacks the forebrain. Have you ever tried to have a discussion with an angry or frightened human being? You can’t do it. . . . You might as well try to argue with your dog.”2
This appears to be what happened when police officers in New York City shot Amadou Diallo 41 times. When the police confronted Diallo thinking he was a suspect, Diallo was frightened and reached to his back pocket to draw his wallet (probably to show them his ID), but the officers mistook it for a gun.3 It has also been observed that it is at the end of chases, when the heart is pumping furiously, that police officers have more often committed acts of brutality.
Fear in the Bible has both positive and negative connotations. Scripture says that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Prov. 1:7, NKJV).4 The three angels of Revelation exhort “every nation, tribe, tongue, and people” to “‘Fear God and give glory to Him’” (Rev. 14:6, 7). On the other hand, God often exhorts His people, “Do not fear.” The phrase “do not fear” appears 51 times in the New King James Version. In this second case, the object of fear is mostly other human beings.
Basically, fear is positive when God is its object and it leads to a recognition of His benevolence. Fear, in this case, produces focus on God, clarity of mind, the quieting of other voices, and a focus on eternity—not on the pressure of the moment. It produces wisdom, worship, obedience, and faithfulness. It does not impair love or trust.
The fear of other human beings, on the other hand, diverts our attention from God, numbs our spiritual understanding, quiets God’s voice, and focuses us on the present. Thus it produces aggressiveness and a tunnel vision that reduces everything to binary categories. The grays disappear, and everything is reduced to black and white. Fear of men distorts truth.
Fear led the desert generation to accuse God of bringing them to the desert to kill them and to attempt to stone Joshua and Caleb and appoint another leader instead of Moses (Numbers 14). Paul, on the other hand, as he warned Timothy about the perils of false teachers in the last days, reminded him, “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Tim. 1:7).
The questions that my pastor friend posted on his Website are important. We need to think very carefully about the theological education of our pastors. We also need to think very carefully about the theological education that our members receive through the church’s publications.
As Adventists, we believe that the Bible is our only source of truth. The Facebook questions, however, were misleading. They could not be answered simply with a “yes” or a “no.” The important thing is not “who” teaches certain things or “where” the pastor learns them, but whether they agree with the Bible.
We must evaluate every assertion from any source in light of the Bible. Whether it comes from an Adventist source or not is beside the point. Otherwise, some, in trying to defend the purity of the church, focus on the “who” or “where” and may discredit Paul because he studied at the feet of Gamaliel and quoted pagan prophets (Titus 1:12), Solomon because he quoted the saying of a non-Israelite woman (Prov. 31:1), Judas because he made reference to pseudepigraphic writings (Jude 9, 14), or Ellen G. White because she read and used writings of non-Adventist theologians.
The focus of these thoughts is not about the specific debate in my friend’s Facebook page. It is about any doctrinal discussions that, being fueled by fear, impair reason, divert attention from God, numb spiritual understanding, quiet God’s voice, focuses on the present, and impels unchristian acts. In the end, it is not the schemes of enemies that we need to fear most, but the lack of faith in God and focus on His Word that would lead us to fight one another.
“The fear of man brings a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord shall be safe” (Prov. 29:25).
NOTES AND REFERENCES