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The One Project Gathering in Seattle Attracts 700
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By John McLarty


The One Project held its second American gathering February 13 and 14, 2012, in Seattle. About 700 people spent two days at the Westin Hotel in downtown Seattle. They came from all over the U. S. and from Canada, the U.K., Australia, New Zealand, Hungary, Norway, Brazil, Denmark, Switzerland. The the majority were church employees—pastors, church administrators, teachers, editors. There were over a hundred students, mostly college, but also a few from academies. There were a fair number of clergy spouses and laity. Each day's program included several sermons and extensive time in small groups around tables.
 
What was the purpose of the gathering? From the One Project website: "We are committed to the idea that a Jesus-driven, Jesus-bathed, Jesus-backed, Jesus-led, Jesus-filled, Jesus-powered, all-about-Jesus Adventist Church is the uncompromising directive from our past, the joy of our present, and hope for our future. We claim the Primal Adventist Impulse: a longing to be with Jesus. ...   The One Project seeks - through gatherings, conversations, web-based content, and Christ-focused publications - to stimulate preaching, worship, and adoration of Jesus within and through the Adventist church." The slogan of the organizers is, “Jesus. All.”
 
The first day's sermons focused on moments in Adventist history: 1844 (the early Adventists eagerly anticipated meeting their Savior), 1888 (a precious message about Jesus), 1957 (the book, Questions on Doctrine, attempted to place Jesus and the gospel more squarely in the center of our faith). The second day's sermons considered the role of Jesus in Adventist doctrines and Jesus in the church community.
 
Most of the sermons included significant references to contemporary controversies in the church, so I would expect people to evaluate the actual content of the sermons differently depending on their points of view. But for sheer force and effectiveness in communication, the preaching was superlative.
 
The speakers repeatedly called for the church to make Jesus central in everything, from our preaching to our policy making, from our identity as a people to our message as an organization. They easily demonstrated that Adventists through the decades have prized their relationship with Jesus. A comment by James White late in his life, formed the centerpiece of one sermon, “I have an unutterable yearning of the soul for Christ.” From the very beginning Jesus has been central for Adventists. Jesus, not doctrine. Jesus, not prophetic scenarios. Jesus, not rules about food or clothes or Sabbath keeping. The reason for our existence is first, last and always Jesus.
 
Many of the speakers voiced concern that this centrality of Jesus—a value they argued ought to be a given for a Christian church—was threatened by a number of elements in Adventist culture. In fact, sometimes it is challenged by the culture itself. We risk becoming so engrossed with our own identity and mission that the person of Jesus is obscured. The speakers cited a variety of instances where this obscuring of Jesus has occurred in Adventist history. Many of their challenges can be supported by direct quotations from Ellen White. But they did not stop with the failures of yesteryear. They spoke pointedly to practices and policies in today's church that seem incompatible with the mission and person of Jesus.
 
It is common in Adventist circles for people to argue we should read only Adventist authors (which, of course, means our ministers could not learn Hebrew or Greek because the grammars and lexicons were not written by Adventists). One speaker showed slides of various pages in the Seventh-day Adventist hymnal with the author's names highlighted. The Adventist hymnal includes hymns written by ancient and medieval monks, Methodists, Anglicans, Catholics, Quakers, Beethoven and Anonymous, among others. In fact, 85 percent of the hymns in the Seventh-day Adventist Hymnal were written by people outside the Adventist community. Did we really think our worship would be better if we eliminated all these non-Adventist voices? He answered his own question: No! The audience roared with laughing approval. 
 
There was similar vocal audience approval when several speakers wondered how we could imagine that Jesus would exclude women when he so pointedly contradicted the mores of his day to include them. Could we really imagine that Jesus had intended the leaders of his church to use their institutional power to keep others “in their place?” I did no survey, but my read of the mood of the crowd was that the vast majority shared the speakers' views on these issues.
 
On the other hand, some participants were expressed puzzlement at what they saw as a difference between the advertised focus of the gathering and the apparent focus of the preaching. They felt the church and its problems had somewhat eclipsed Jesus as the center of attention. These folks agreed with the critiques of church policy, but they felt a dissonance between their experience in Seattle and their expectations based on the advertising. Everyone who mentioned this dissonance to me was over forty. The reactions among younger people, both clergy and students, appeared to be universally positive. They heard the speakers giving voice to their concerns, saying what Jesus would say in our context. Many of these young people said the experience gave them renewed hope for their church.
 
When I asked Alex Bryan about the concern of older attendees that “issues” received too much attention, he said this: “This year's gathering called the church to consider how our human relationships are impacted by Jesus. How we treat one another. How we affirm the spiritual calling of both men and women. How we relate to one another across cultural and racial borders. These issues are uncomfortable--I know they are for me! But Jesus challenged the church of his day with these issues as central to what it means to follow him. We cannot talk about Jesus without talking about what he talked about.”
 
Reaction from church administrators I talked to (all over fifty) reflected the generational divide. They, too, voiced strong exception to some of the current initiatives and policies in the denomination. Still, they did not think this gathering was an appropriate venue for addressing issues of church governance. They argued these issues should be handled “in-house.” Young preachers should leave these matters to “proper church authorities.” Washington Conference president, John Freedman was concerned because he had invited many people to the gathering, including young people and people new to the church. As a pastor, he worried some of these vulnerable people might be unsettled by what they heard. On the other hand, the younger pastors in his conference told him they were energized and encouraged by the gathering.
 
Both in their public presentations and in private conversations, the leaders of the One Project evince an intense commitment to the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Like James and Ellen White, Taylor Bunch, H.M.S. Richards, Sr., and Morris Venden before them, their commitment to Jesus is supreme over all and is the ultimate spring of their preaching. 
 
The next gathering of the One Project in the United States will be in Chicago in February, 2013. It will include live translation into Spanish. According to the organizers, over a 100 have already registered. The focus in Chicago will be the four gospels. Eight speakers will explore Jesus through words of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
 
John McLarty is a former editor of Adventist Today and a pastor in the Washington Conference near Seattle.

Gresford Thomas
2012-02-19 10:00 PM

Thanks for the concise update, John.  As a theology student, I wish I could have been up there for this event to better gauge the direction our leadership is taking us in the next few years.

Elaine Nelson
2012-02-19 11:32 PM

Was this a concrete demonstration of the generational divide in the church? 

Joe Erwin
2012-02-20 8:29 AM

Personally, I very much like to see unification movements (I'm currently trying to make physicians, veterinarians, and others whose work includes or informs the health sciences, aware of the One Health Initiative). I would like to see Christians be more devoted to the principles attributed to Jesus and less intent on doctrinal division and traditions of strife. The fragmentation of Christianity is one of its least attractive aspects, and one that seriously detracts from its credibillity.

One wonders, however, how SDAs can handle Christian unification, give the profound commitment to being "a peculiar people," with unusual, and in some cases, rather brittle, traditions. There is sure to be some paranoid reaction to calls for unity as some sort of "time of the end" indicator. Even so, let's hope that a unity movement can inspire people within the church to be more open to interaction and conversations with people outside the SDA church, even if only with other Christians.

Truth Seeker
2012-02-20 4:04 PM

"1957 (the book, Questions on Doctrine, attempted to place Jesus and the gospel more squarely in the center of our faith)."

Who is kidding whom? This book did not reflect Adventism then nor does it now. Is the viewpoint with respect to QOD McLarty's view or that of One Project? If  the latter it immediately raises serious questions.

Joe Erwin
2012-02-20 4:52 PM

I recall very well when the book came out, and that it stimulated much discussion. I graduated from academy in 1958 and went off to PUC that Fall. Those who were there during that era will recall that many of our professors left within a short span of time.

If the book inaccurately reflects adventism, is there a more accurate source? I get the sense that the church has continued to fracture and fragment across the more than 40 years since I was a part of it, almost to the point of shattering. One wonders if any volume could accurately reflect all the many and diverse faces of adventism. Doesn't it seem like the time has come for a unification effort? Or, is it just too late?

Elaine Nelson
2012-02-20 5:14 PM

It would be possible to unify if there were a very few tenets that are held in common.  Most of the 28 are peripheral to the Gospel and only confuse what should be the central doctrine:  Jesus Christ.  All doctrines should answer the question:  How does this lead one to Jesus Christ and is it essential for salvation?

Kevin Riley
2012-02-20 6:18 PM

Elaine,
Have you read the 28 recently?  I wouldn't say that 'most' are 'peripheral to the gospel'.  I would also be saddened if Christianity were to be reduced to the question 'is it essential for salvation?'  Christianity is as much, if not more, about living a saved life as it is about a - often self-centred - focus on 'salvation'.

Kevin Riley
2012-02-20 6:15 PM

Much of QOD did and does reflect SDA beliefs.  That there were some problems are obvious to (almost) everyone.  We also should not assume that because in one or two places it struck out on what were, for most SDAs, new directions does not mean it was necessarily wrong.  One reason we have resisted (until recently) the idea of having a creed is the long-standing SDA belief that it is wrong to set our beliefs in concrete as that does not allow God to lead us in new ways.  There is no doubt that QOD did not, and perhaps still does not, reflect the majority view on the nature of Christ.  But the current consensus does not follow either of the views current in the 1950s.  But apart from the nature of Christ and the place of sanctifacation in salvation, what else is in dispute?

Elaine Nelson
2012-02-20 7:32 PM

Kevin, Yes, I have a copy of the 28 handy by my computer and consult it often.  When Christianity began it was far more simple but as the years progressed more and more tenets were adopted and there seems to be no end. 

Would you care to list those that are "not essential to salvtion" and why Christianity and Adventism requires so much more.  There are many qualities in life that one may possess but in defining what it means to be a Christian should not take such a large book.  Compared to the early church it is as large as an encyclopedia and no one has  shown that it makes people either better or more worthy of salvation. 

 

We should strive to live fully here today, but if there is no focus on salvation, why be a Christian or an Adventist?


L. Humberto Covarrubias
2012-02-20 10:47 PM

The Question is, as i understand it: What kind of God is Christ whom we worship? One that will fulfill our selfishness even in our having eventually eternal life or One that will lead us to value nothing more than the freedom of our fellow created beings, His children?

William Noel
2012-02-21 8:40 AM

How can we expect long-term impact and benefit from such meetings if the majority of those attending are church leaders who in a few years will be fading into retirement?  This sounds a lot like a campmeeting moved to an upscale venue.  People want something new, but have they really found it?

John McLarty
2012-02-21 11:01 PM

To William: I don't think it's accurate to say "the majority" were leaders near retirement. I'd say the median age was about forty -- half over that, half under that. I did not count, but this was my impression.

William Noel
2012-02-22 4:11 PM

John,
Please forgive my erroneous projection of local observations about church leaders onto that attendance.  Let me reposition the question: Given the historic orientation of church leadership toward the defense and preservation of traditionalism as contrasted with the amount of non-traditional creativity and attitudes among the remaining youth in our church, what long-term result do you expect from such gatherings?

John McLarty
2012-02-22 4:25 PM

William:  What long-term result do I expect, given our habits of defense and preservation?  The most I hope for (and this is a realistic hope, I think) is that individuals and networks of individuals will find renewed vitality in their spiritual life. Churches (not just the Adventist Church) are by definition conservative. They attempt to pass on the knowledge and experience of the past. The job of each generation is to extract from that heritage what is useful in carrying forward the mission of Jesus. Difficulty arises as preservationists and innovators each claim that preservation and innovation respectively is the essential work of Jesus. I think the work of Jesus is most likely to be found somewhere in the tension between the two. I see no historical example of a denomination navigating this successfully in the long run.

J. David Newman
2012-02-22 11:03 PM

I was present and found the conference the most inspiring I have attended in the past 40 years.  It renewed my faith in Adventism That Jesus will become central.  He is in our church but he is not central..  I expect to see at least 1400 at the next conference.  Doctrines are only relevant if they tell me something about Jesus.

Jack Hoehn
2012-02-25 12:55 AM

I hope we all hear this.  I suspect J. David Newman has been to say 52x40= 2.000 or more meetings by conservative estimate?  The BEST out of 2,000 is not faint praise!  Makes me sorry I missed this one and very interested in sending my children to the next one.

Ervin Taylor
2012-02-22 11:58 PM

It would seem to me that any Christian would welcome a focus that places Jesus at the center of the life and mission of the church.  However, might I suggest that one question that someone might want to address is which Jesus are you to place at the center?  Two thousand years of Christian history and hundreds of different groups that claim to be his followers have created a whole range of different images--all with the name of Jesus attached.

Is he going to be the “real” Jesus of history or the Jesus created by the faith of later followers?  Is the Jesus to be placed at the center going to be a radical revolutionary?  Is he going to be the “meek and mild” Jesus?  Is he going to be the miracle worker Jesus?  Or, is he going to be the sectarian Jewish Jesus or should he be the Jesus of Paul?  Or perhaps, the Jesus of the Book of Hebrews?  Or will he be the Jesus that speaks in Book of Revelation?
 
 Will he be the Jesus that totally ignored social customs of his day and brought women into his inner circle?   Or will he be the Jesus that later gospel writers managed to make sure that all of his disciples were male?

Since we are concerned with Adventist Christianity, we might ask: Shall the Jesus we are going to place at the center, the Jesus of the early Ellen White or the later Ellen White?   Perhaps it should be the Jesus of Graham Maxwell.  (Personally, that is the one that has my vote, but who’s voting?)
  .
I guess some will suggest the best way to deal with this issue is to ignore it and just think warm and spiritual thoughts.  That certainly would be one approach.  If this is the preferred way, then I guess I should not have brought this up in the first place.  

William Noel
2012-02-24 9:45 AM

Ervin,
Pursuing Jesus is among the most noble things we can do in our entire lives.  But that isn't what He told us to do.  There is much more to God than Jesus, who told us to pursue the Holy Spirit and the empowerment for ministry that we saw displayed most dramatically in the Apostolic Church, and who would be seen again in that power prior to the return of Jesus.  So, why so much focus on Jesus who is to return instead of the God who is here now and promises to live inside us so we can do His will?
I think the One Project is terrific, just not doing what Jesus told us to do.

Stephen Foster
2012-02-23 11:29 AM

Dr. Taylor,
Since you did bring this up, and since you made it a point to identify the Jesus for whom you would vote (Graham Maxwell’s version); would you provide a description—yourself—of Him?

Ervin Taylor
2012-02-24 1:02 PM

May I direct Mr. Foster to two books by Dr. Maxwell" "Servants or Friends?" (1992) and "Can God be Trusted?" (1978) for a reasonable description although there are several aspects of his reasaonble descriptions about which I would have to ask questions.  If we all took Dr. Maxwell's approach (while not neccessaryly accepting all of his conclusions), contemporary Adventism would be in a lot better shape than it is today. 

Stephen Foster
2012-02-24 9:35 PM

Allow me to be candid with Dr. Taylor and suggest that it is highly unlikely that I will be accessing those books anytime in the near future; for no other reason than I am not sufficiently interested or motivated to do so.
 
This is why I asked Dr. Taylor to provide a description, himself, of his preferred version, if you will, of Jesus.
 
I would like to think we are dialoguing on this site with one another, as opposed to each other’s favorite authors.

Ervin Taylor
2012-02-24 10:07 PM

I'm sorry that Mr. Foster is not sufficiently interested or motivated to read the suggested books.  That is his loss. Even though I am honored by his request,  I'm afarid that it would take too much space to provide my own description since one would need to do a lot of nuancing of statements. Thus my suggestion of the two books by Dr. Maxwell who has laid out his views in a very reasonable and readable manner for an Adventist audience. Right now, I can think of no better way of addressing the topic that he has done.   

Stephen Foster
2012-02-24 10:40 PM

I don’t get it. Dr. Taylor made a point to voluntarily identify varying versions of Jesus; as well as the type or version of Jesus whom He prefers (in a five paragraph post, no less).
 
It would not seem too much to ask for a brief description of the attributes of this particular version of Jesus that Dr. Taylor finds so appealing; comparatively.

Kevin Riley
2012-02-24 10:43 PM

Stephen

The issues addressed in those books - and others - go to the heart of many of our current 'discussions'.  Aside from the discussion here, they are worth reading simply to be able to engage intelligently with others on these issues.  You seem to have an interest in a number of the issues raised by Maxwell and others, so I am surprised you say you have neither the interest nor the motivation to read them.  I am not questioning your decision not to read every book suggested by anyone - the multitude of books not worth reading seems to grow daily - but these two books are definitely worth reading and devoting some time to considering the POV presented.  You may, like me, decide there are answers that are equally as good, if not better, but to not read books on subjects you have indicated an interest in seems odd to me.

Stephen Foster
2012-02-25 2:20 AM

OK, I’ll stipulate to the faults of parsimony, laziness, and being set in my ways. So, why not simply provide me with a “CliffsNotes” version of the Maxwellian variation of Jesus that Dr. Taylor admittedly favors over the other variations he mentioned.
 
He broached the subject. I am just requesting that he—or, at this point, anyone else who is at all familiar with this description of Jesus—synopsize it. (We are talking about Jesus; aren’t we?)

Kevin Riley
2012-02-25 4:14 AM

To give a short synopsis of a man's life work seems somewhat mean, but basically the message is that Jesus is sent to reveal God's love.  As we respond to that love, God heals us.  I don't argue with that, or with the many good reasons Maxwell gives for believing that is the focus of the gospels.  I just believe that, for once, the advertisers are right - 'but wait, there's more!'  I don't believe in interpreting all of the Bible through the 'forensic' or 'Christus Victor' or any other theme or motif, but they are there, and should not be ignored.  Rather than fitting any into a unitary view that fails to do justice to the richness of the gospel, it is better to allow all a place of equality within our thought.

Stephen Foster
2012-02-25 10:26 AM

Thanks, Kevin! I wasn’t asking for a synopsis of Maxwell’s life’s work. (I could look on Wikipedia for that.) I just wanted a synopsis of his representation of Jesus; which Ervin professedly regards so highly.

L. Humberto Covarrubias
2012-02-23 8:40 PM

Ervin, I agree 100%.

L. Humberto Covarrubias
2012-02-23 8:47 PM

Certainly, Graham Maxwell presented an admirable God Jesus.

Joe Erwin
2012-02-24 1:52 PM

I knew Graham Maxwell while I was at PUC and took Greek from him. It seemed to me at the time that he was an exemplary individual--in every way, as far as I could tell. He seemed to me to be an outstanding spokesperson for adventism, Christianity, and God. And his Dad, "Uncle Arthur" was such a funny, good-humored man. Anyone, in any walk of life or in any faith, would benefit from including such people.


Ella M
2012-02-24 9:55 PM

  As a young secretary in the religion department at LLU, I knew Graham Maxwell as the department chairman. Because of my years there I learned about my own denomination.  Dr. Maxwell and the other faculty:  R A Anderson who had worked on the QOD book, Ted Heppenstall, J. Provonsha, D. Baldwin were top theologians of the time.  They had different approaches. I appreciated them all, and they fed a growing desire to learn.  There had friendly debates over their differences on some theological subjects; but there was never any disparaging of each others' views.  They all had valuable contributions; some more evangelical; others more intellectual.  That is still my approach--learn from many views with an open mind while not accepting one individual's (or institutional) perceptions one hundred percent.
  I pray Project One turns out to be a true "revival" in the deepest sense of the word (not shallow). That will mean addressing some of the relationship issues that Christ addressed when he was here. It means letting current theological debates be our personal choices and not divisive. (IJ, nature of Christ, sanctuary, etc.) 

Truth Seeker
2012-02-25 9:06 PM

For a better undestanding of QOD go to http://qod.andrews.edu/downloads.html   Then take your pick. I would suggest listening to Larry Kirkpatrick's exposition. He states it created definte problems.

Kevin Riley
2012-02-26 12:15 AM

It would pay to read or listen to a number of presentations, as most presenters were coming from a particular POV.  As Kirkpatrick supports a number of positions that were not represented in QOD, it is perhaps not surprising he sees it as causing problems.  One of the best examinations of the issues is found in George Knight's notes to the recent re-release of QOD.  It is amazing how many people have strong opinions on QOD without ever having read it.

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