Monday, July 19, 2004

A Big Desmond Ford Fan

Bill Cork writes:

In the comments at Protocols, I did a little reminiscing with Luke Ford about his dad, Desmond (see Luke's autobiography for his account of their relationship--and Luke's journey in life from SDA preacher's kid to porn journalist and J-blogger).

It was rather ironic, I told him, that a couple of posts mentioning him (one of which he linked to) were just inches from one in which I mentioned Des.

As I said to Luke,

I was a big Des Ford fan in college--Glacier View was the summer before my freshman year. What can I say? He helped turn me from a Seventh-day Adventist into a Roman Catholic. :-)

I read everything he wrote (I even read Gill's booklet, "The Soteriological Implications of the Human Nature of Christ" [Gillian Ford is Luke's stepmother, whom Des married after Luke's mom died of cancer--see Luke's autobiography]). I got all the way through "Daniel 8:14 the Day of Atonement and the Investigative Judgment." I had all his tapes and argued with students and professors about imputed justification and the apotelesmatic principle.

I wrote a couple articles about him for my college paper (and once did a cartoon of Neal Wilson, President of the SDA General Conference (and Ford nemesis) standing on the deck of the Titanic saying, "God himself couldn't sink this ship.")

I can't believe how after all the SDA church did to him he insisted on staying at its fringe, preaching his own mix of vegetarianism, Sabbatarianism, and Evangelicalism.

I remember one talk he gave where he said you could tell whether your diet was right by looking in the toilet and asking, "Sinkers or Floaters?"

Yes, Luke, you have an interesting family. :-)

(Chuckle--I just imagined Darth Vader cooing in an Australian accent, "Luke, I am your father. Do you have some Marmite?")

I was first introduced to Desmond Ford through reading Geoffrey J. Paxton, The Shaking of Adventism, which chronicled the efforts of Australians Desmond Ford and Robert D. Brinsmead to introduce the Reformation understanding of forensic justification into the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

After Paxton's book (1978), Brinsmead and Ford related this teaching to the critical Adventist doctrine of "The Cleansing of the Sanctuary." Brinsmead started the controversy with 1844 Re-Examined, which rejected SDA doctrine on the point entirely as incompatible with the Christian gospel. On October 27, 1979, Ford responded to the book in a lecture to the Adventist Forum at Pacific Union College--like Brinsmead, he acknowledged the problems with the teaching; unlike him, he thought he could still retain some significance for 1844.

But Ford's reinterpretation did not satisfy The Brethren at SDA HQ in Takoma Park, MD. He reduced the 1844 doctrine to this: "In 1844, God raised up a people to preach the everlasting gospel." It was an "apotelesmatic" fulfillment of Daniel 8:14 (by which he meant that though Daniel 8 in context refers initially to the desecration of the temple by Antiochus, Matthew 24 reapplies it to the desecration by the Romans, and we can apply it to other similar situations in later history).

Ford was relieved of his teaching position at Pacific Union College in Angwin, CA, and given a six month period to fully explain his views. He wrote a "991-page manuscript," "Daniel 8:14, the Day of Atonement, and the Investigative Judgment" (which he summarized in a November 1980 article in the liberal Adventist magazine, Spectrum).

In August 1980 Ford was made to appear before 115 Adventist scholars and administrators at Glacier View Ranch in Colorado. Not surprisingly, they weren't persuaded (see The Sanctuary Review Committee and its New Consensus, also from that November 1980 issue of Spectrum).

This criticism of the 1844 doctrine also had implications for how to understand the writings of the SDA prophetess, Ellen G. White. But Ford's theological insinuations about her inspiration did not rattle the church as much as the blistering attack on her by SDA pastor Walter Rea, in his 1982 book, The White Lie, which exposed, as never before (and with acidic prose) the extent to which she saw her visions not in dreams but in the pages of existing books. The true believers dismissed both Rea and Ford. This article, typical of the conservative SDA response, even quotes (without mentioning my name) from an article I wrote for my college newspaper in February 1982 about a debate between Walter Rea and Adventist theologian John Wood in Lancaster, MA.

The SDA denomination went on as it always had. Theologians and scripture scholars often admit that Ford had some good points, but I daresay most SDA evangelists and pastors and the staff of the Ellen G. White Estate still preach the traditional message. Ellen White's The Great Controversy is still published and read by all SDA's--this chapter gives the full traditional Adventist understanding of 1844.

Desmond Ford stayed at the fringes of Adventism, working through Good News Unlimited, an independent ministry.

Robert Brinsmead followed a curious course, rejecting the Sabbath (Sabbatarianism Re-Examined, 1981), then the traditional Christian understanding of Law and atonement (The Scandal of God's Justice, 1983), then he started writing stuff about "Christian atheism." And to think he started out in the 1950s as a radical conservative who believed in the attainment of sinless perfection before the return of Christ! (See the 1999 article, Where Is Brinsmead? for an overview). He now focuses his energy on his secular passion, Tropical Fruit World.

I couldn't stay on the fringes of Adventism like Ford; I couldn't "live in tents" like Brinsmead, always searching for the Promised Land. My criticism of Adventism, though it began with their influence, touched another point--ecclesiology. Brinsmead figured he didn't need the church; Ford thought he only needed a congregation. My experience of other Christians led me to seek out the fullest expression of the Church, first in terms of ecumenism, and then in a search for that Church which most fully realizes the promise of Jesus that the gates of hell would not prevail against it. Influenced by Ford and Brinsmead's 1970s emphasis on justification by faith, the first stage of my journey out of Adventism took me to Lutheranism, which I saw as an evangelical form of catholicism; my continued reflection on the Church--the community which preaches the Gospel--led me in 1992 to be received into the Catholic Church.

I just stopped to do some calculation and realized it was 25 years ago this summer that I first read Geoffrey Paxton and learned of Ford and Brinsmead. That was the start. That was when, like the title character in "Pilgrim's Progress," I set forth on pilgrimage.