Geoffrey J. Paxton


Geoffrey Paxton served as the first resident minister at The Gap Anglican Church in Brisbane and was principal of the Queensland Bible Institute. Paxton did an outstanding job of providing insight into the Seventh-day Adventist movement. It is considered by many to be the first serious research into the real Adventist mentality that has ever been produced. He has had significant interaction with the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and a “keen interest” in its theology. He published The Shaking of Adventism in 1977, about the struggle within the Adventist church over what it means to be saved, and also over the nature of Christ. Paxton lost his job at the Bible school because of his refusal to lay aside his interest in the Adventist theology.


Off to an auspicious start: the 1950’s 1

Around the very beginning of the contemporary period, the feeling was again present among some influential Adventist leaders that all was not well with the “remnant” movement that had been called by God to further the arrested Reformation of the sixteenth century The “loud cry” had not been given. The Lord had not come. In this respect the time to which we refer was akin to the period prior to 1888 when Ellen G. White was drawing attention to the Laodicean state of the movement.

Ernest D. Dick gives an interesting diagnosis of the problem in the publication, Aflame for God.2 He writes on the topic, “The Heart of Our Message.”3 Dick says, “Righteousness by faith [is] the heart of the [Adventist] message,” and he points out that this was the basic issue in the Protestant Reformation and in the 1888 Minneapolis General Conference Session.4 However, from 1844-1888, says Dick, the Adventist Church had not experienced Christ-centered preaching and had therefore fallen prey to legalism and a low spiritual tone.5 Dick cites Mrs. White, who said that “the doctrine of justification by faith has been lost sight of by many who have professed to believe in the third angel’s message.”6 But what of the time up to 1950? Dick says, “We have not yet laid hold of that important message of the 1888 conference as God would have us… “7 The church was still in the Laodicean state.

Roy A. Anderson urged that the answer to the dilemma lay in “Christ-centered preaching,” and he adduced much support from the writings of Mrs. White to show that Jesus should be the center of every doctrine—a fact which, as Dick pointed out, much traditional Adventist preaching and teaching had not honored to the degree it should have. Ministers of the gospel must be “aflame for God.” This emphasis was given expression in Seventh-day Adventist study conferences both in the United States and Australia. It was believed that this Christ-centered preaching was what the church lacked. It would revive her out of the “poor and naked state” in which she largely stood.

Robert J. Wieland returned from his post in Africa and encountered the Christ-centered preaching emphasis with its attendant fervor and enthusiasm. But he was not impressed. As far as he was concerned, the church was in confusion—a confusion which expressed itself in the failure to distinguish the difference between preaching Christ and preaching antichrist. To Wieland, this emphasis was no better than the way of the “Babylonians” (i.e., evangelical Protestant denominations).8 This was expressed by Mr. Wieland in a letter to the General Conference of the church. Naturally, the leaders were shocked at the suggestion.

Wieland followed up his letter with a monograph prepared in company with D. K. Short. 1888 Re-examined was presented to the officers of the General Conference as a private manuscript. The fact is, however, that it infiltrated the wider constituency of Adventists and caused no little stir. The material was explosive. The authors had gained access to facts concerning 1888 which had not reached the ears of Adventists prior to this time. As indicated in Appendix A of A Warning and Its Reception, this manuscript brought forth formal replies from the General Conference of the church. Here, in 1888 Re-examined, was the assertion that the trouble with the church was her rejection of the message of the Lord in 1888. She was called to corporate confession of her guilt.

While the “Christ-centered preaching” motif could have become little more than a cliche to many, it appears that L. E. Froom and R. A. Anderson felt constrained to give the matter some substance. Dr. Froom, being a historian, became convinced that the Adventist movement prior to 1888 had lacked true catholicity He viewed 1888 as an attempt to get the church established on what he called the “eternal verities” (the Trinity, the deity of Christ, the humanity of Christ, and the atonement). Froom saw 1888 as an advance in that it purged the movement of anti-Trinitarianism and Arianism. But he also saw that the opposition of Adventist conservatism had prevented a restoration of all the “eternal verities.” Froom thought it was time for Adventism to move forward again by an uninhibited confession of Christ’s sinless human nature and finished atonement.

It is important to note that Froom’s emphasis concerning 1888 was catholicity and not justification by faith. Thus, the first event of great significance in the contemporary period was a focusing on catholicity.

At this time of renewed ferment over the whole question of 1888, two evangelical scholars made their way to the Adventist leaders to clarify their thinking on the actual status of Adventism. (Was it a cult or an evangelical church?) Donald Grey Barnhouse and Walter Martin were warmly received at General Conference headquarters.

The major concerns of Barnhouse and Martin were (1) the man nature of Christ, (2) the atonement, (3) the concept of “Babylon,” and (4) the idea of the “remnant.” After discussion, Barnhouse and Martin were surprised and somewhat impressed at the answers they received on these aspects of theology Froom and Anderson denied that Adventism had fundamentally taught either the sinful nature of Christ or that the atonement had not been completed at the cross. Froom said that such deviations belonged to what he called the “lunatic fringe” of the church.9 One only had to note the many statements from Mrs. White concerning the sinless nature of Christ and His atonement on the cross. Thus, Barnhouse and Martin were satisfied that the Seventh-day Adventist movement should be recognized as an evangelical denomination in spite of its heterodox features (e.g., the non-immortality of the soul).

This was a historic meeting for Adventism. There had not been a meeting like it since the inception of the movement. The leaders of the church (in actual fact, the authors were apparently L. E. Froom, R. A. Anderson, and W E. Read) published the historic volume, Seventh-day Adventists Answer Questions on Doctrine.10 Walter Martin published a book called The Thuth About Seventh-day Adventism.

This historic meeting and the publication of Questions on Doctrine brought a mixed reception among Adventists. Some welcomed the turn of events as at last vindicating the movement as a legitimate evangelical denomination, while others (e.g., M. L. Andreasen) saw it as “selling the movement down the river.”11 A. L. Hudson in Witnessing a Metamorphosis12 saw the Adventist church undergoing a metamorphosis from a cult status to a recognized evangelical status, and he was obviously unhappy with the new fraternity.

An examination of Christianity Today around the time will show that Adventists were not the only ones who were divided over the status of Adventism and the significance of the Barnhouse and Martin meeting with the General Conference leaders.13

Questions on Doctrine was a notable turn in the direction of the Reformation on what Froom called the “eternal verities.”14 Definite advancement took place on the subjects of the incarnation and the atonement. In this respect the book furthered an important aspect of the revival of 1888.15 This fact gives to the contemporary era a distinct superiority over the previous two periods we have looked at.

The importance of Questions on Doctrine is less, however, when we come to ask whether or not there is advancement over the previous two periods on the Adventist articulation of justification by faith. There is no significant advance in the volume on soteriology (the doctrine of salvation) and, in particular, on grace.16 The book subordinates justification to sanctification and embraces what Niebuhr called “the Augustinian view of grace”:

… That one is justified, not by obedience to the law, but by the grace that is in Christ Jesus. By accepting Christ, man is reconciled to God, justified by His blood for the sins of the past, and saved from the power of sin by His indwelling life.17

The section just quoted is followed by the statement:

Thus the gospel becomes “the power of God unto salvation….This experience is wrought by the divine agency of the Holy
Spirit…. The honor and merit of this wonderful transformation belong wholly to Christ.18

Since Dr. Froom was one of the authors of Questions on Doctrine, it is not surprising to find him speaking of “initial justification” in his later Movement of Destiny.19

It was undoubtedly the firm conviction of Dr. Froom that the whole matter of the Adventists’ relation to the “eternal verities” had to be put right. With his usual thoroughness he documented the great lack in this area in the pre-1888 period of the movement,20 obviously believing that the rectification in Questions on Doctrine would finally honor the 1888 message in Adventism. Hence, in LeRoy Edwin Froom we have a going back to the catholic emphasis of 1888. Yet while this going back must not be underestimated as to its significance for the Adventist movement, it seems that Dr. Froom did not realize that it is possible to be a “catholic” and still be a “Roman Catholic” in one’s soteriology.

Questions on Doctrine clarified the position of Adventists as Christians in the eyes of many who up to this point were somewhat doubtful. But in terms of any real advance on the theology of the Reformation gospel, its significance was limited. Whereas the “catholicizing” of the movement made it clear that Adventists were Christians, it did not make it clear that they were Christians standing in the worthy line of the Reformation rather than in the Roman Catholic tradition. Questions on Doctrine did little to substantiate the Adventist claim to be special heirs of the Reformers. However, Dr. Froom apparently did not realize this.

The soteriological inadequacy of Questions on Doctrine concerning righteousness by faith is reflected elsewhere in the period. For all the good intentions of Aflame for God, it does nothing to enhance Adventism as being a great exponent of justification by faith. It contains much talk about the need to preach the message, but seldom does one find a passage which even clearly seeks to outline what that message is. Ernest Dick’s contribution on “The Heart of Our Message,”21 mentioned at the beginning of this chapter, is a case in point. Dick says that the message of the Adventist movement is …. .justification by faith; … sanctification by faith; … glorification by faith; … all of it together.., is righteousness by faith”! 22

The view of justification as only for the sins of the past was clearly indicated, for example, by the Executive Committee of the Australasian Division of Seventh-day Adventists in 1959. We read:

The experience of justification is often spoken of as imputed righteousness. Justification or imputed righteousness deals only with the past. Sanctification or imparted righteousness deals only with the present and future. Justification is God’s method of dealing with a man’s past life of sin.23

Likewise, A.V Olson in Through Crisis to Victory shows that he does not understand the Pauline or Reformation doctrine when he cites the position of G. I. Butler—a position obviously at odds with the Reformation—to prove that he believed in righteousness by faith.24 Olson also quotes J. H. Waggoner’s comments on Romans 3:21 to show that he really believed in righteousness by faith as well. Here Waggoner says that the righteousness of God means His own attributes, the revelation of His will, “and thirdly, … the righteousness of his saints, whose characters are made conformable to his will. In this latter sense it is used in 2 Cor. 5:21, ‘That we might be made the righteousness of God in him’. . . . “25 These old Adventist statements, cited approvingly by Olson, are inimical to the position of true Protestantism, but they are a fairly good expression of classical Romanism.

In his Drama of the Ages, W H. Branson reveals his belief that acceptance in the final judgment is on the basis of the law-keeping of the believer:

But since the law does exist, it serves as a witness to the righteousness of those who, through the power of the indwelling Christ, comply with its requirements . . .

That is to say, when a man breaks even one of the least of the commandments and teaches others that it is not necessary for them to keep the moral law, God and the holy angels in heaven count that man least among the people of earth. He is established in sin. But when a man keeps them—all of them—himself and teaches others the importance of this obligation, the heavenly host look upon him with approbation. He is called “great” in the kingdom of heaven. This will be the basis of the decisions in the final judgment.

“This is the end of the matter; all hath been heard: fear God, and keep his commandments; for this is the whole duty of man.” Ecclesiastes 12:13, ARM A Christian who through faith in Jesus Christ has faithfully kept the law’s requirements will be acquitted; there is no condemnation, for the law finds no fault in him.26

In the significant Bible conference convened by the church in 1952,27 Dr. Edward Heppenstall presented a paper called “The Covenants and the Law.”28 In this he sees righteousness by faith as being justification and sanctification, but mainly the latter:

The other method of bringing harmony between man and the law is to change the sinful nature of man, so that it becomes again in accord with the divine law There is only one method by which this can be done. That is the method of free grace, or righteousness by faith.

Therefore, if we depend upon God’s power, the method is one of grace.29

For Dr. Heppenstall, “the gospel works holiness in man.” It is what God does in the soul.30 Heppenstall sees the contrast between letter and spirit as a contrast between “righteousness by works” and “righteousness by faith.”31

Dr. Froom, for all his stature (within and without Adventism), concurs with traditional Adventist teaching when it asserts that acceptance in the judgment is based at least partly upon the inward obedience of the believer (wrought, of course, by Christ):

4. Christ’s Perfect Obedience and Righteousness. — Meticulous and intensive obedience to the moral law will never produce the requisite Righteousness in us, without which no one can endure in the presence of a holy God. It is only the perfect obedience and spotless Righteousness of Christ —as God and man-both imputed and imparted to us, that will satisfy the demands of the sacred law and the requirements of a holy God.32

Notwithstanding that in the 1950’s Questions on Doctrine turned toward the true catholicism of the Reformers, the Adventist community did not correct the failure in the preceding years of its history to make good its claim to be the special heirs of the Reformation gospel. This is further indicated by the presence of perfectionism in the era of the 1950’s.

Perfectionism is to be found in more than one contributor to Our Firm Foundation.33W H. Branson deals with imputed and imparted righteousness.34 On the former he appears to be quite Protestant. But when he moves on to discuss the latter, he shows himself to be at variance with Reformation thought. Following the fundamental direction of the movement from 1888 onward, Branson sees the demands of the law as being met by the Christ within:

And what is to be the result of the abiding presence of Christ in the human heart and life? He is to work in us, doing the will of God through us. “It is God which worketh in you.” Phil. 2:13. By Christ’s living and working in us we shall “be filled with all the fulness of God.” Eph. 3:19.35

In our brief theological appraisal of the previous two periods, we mentioned that the relation between the indwelling Christ and the believer is always (suspiciously) ambiguous. Here is a classic example from Branson:

He is able to do “exceeding abundantly” We can do nothing, but He is mighty to save. His omnipotence is united with our humanity, and our success in producing righteousness is in accordance with “the power that worketh in us.” Since that power is now Christ, our lives will reflect His virtues and beauty He is able.36

Does this mean that we have a peccable Christ or an impeccable believer?37 Branson is explicit:

Perfection, then, is possible for us. The God who demonstrated His power by bringing Jesus from the dead can also make you perfect—perfect in every good work to do His will. How is this accomplished? It is by Christ working within us. He does within us and through us the things that are well-pleasing in God’s sight.

Thus we receive His righteousness. It still does not come by our own works but by what He does for us and through us.38

A Transformation

This experience brings an entire transformation of life. We become partakers of the divine nature, and the virtues of Christ take the place of the works of the flesh.39
Further on in the same work, Branson spells out his logic: “So long as Christ remains in full control, sin is not committed, since He is not a sinner.”40

J. H. Jemison, in the same Our Firm Foundation,41 develops in a most explicit fashion the concept of M. L. Andreasen that the final generation will match the Saviour in sinlessness of character.42

Though we shall not go into an exposition of Edward Heppenstall’s position in his contribution to Our Firm Foundation on “The Covenants and the Law,”43 it is important to note that it seems to be in harmony with the perfectionism of Branson and Jemison. We draw attention to this because Dr. Heppenstall emerges with an anti-perfectionism stance in the next decade.

It is interesting to note still another advocate of perfectionism in the decade of the 1950’s—the Defense Literature Committee of the General Conference.44 (We say “interesting” because the committee later reversed its stance and published anti-perfectionism material against the “Awakening” in the 1960’s.) The committee approvingly reproduces paragraphs “which appear in a letter received recently from Elder A.W Spalding, one of our older, experienced and highly honored brethren… .” One paragraph reads as follows:

It is clear that this experience [of perfection] has not come to us as a people, and who can claim to see it in himself or in any other individual? This state of perfection, indeed, will not come while we are looking either at ourselves or at other men; it comes only to him whose eyes are fixed upon Christ, who forgets self, who is utterly emptied of self, and who is filled with Christ. “Christ in you the hope of glory”45

The Brinsmead Agitation: A Search for the Way to Stand in the Coming Judgment

In many respects the spiritual struggle of Robert D. Brinsmead and his supporters was the microcosm of the Seventh-day Adventist macrocosmic struggle today. An investigation into the “Brinsmead agitation” will therefore provide an important background for what has been said concerning the previous two periods and what is to be said about Adventism’s theology of the gospel in the modern era.

We first need to look at some unique features of Adventist eschatology Like many evangelical pre-millennialists, Adventists believe that the great tribulation will precede the visible second coming of Christ. They call this the “time of trouble” —a time just as awesome, perhaps more so, than the coming tribulation expected by other evangelicals. Adventists believe that it begins at the close of human probation, or end of the time of grace, when there will be no Intercessor in the heavenly sanctuary—not even for the saints. Whereas many pre-millennialists believe that God’s people will be raptured out of this world before the tribulation, Adventists believe that the saints will have to live through that awful time. Instead of a pre-tribulation rapture, there is to be a special pre-advent judgment of all the professed people of God, and in that “investigative judgment” a “mark” or “seal” of protection will be placed upon the faithful.

Just as other pre-millennialists look for an any-moment secret rapture of the saints out of the world, Adventists look for an any-moment final judgment in heaven to seal the righteous for the time of trouble. They feel that it is their special commission to proclaim everywhere that this “hour of God’s judgment is come” (Rev. 14:7). As well as preaching the literal coming of Christ in power and glory, they see it as their great work to prepare people to stand in this judgment and in the coming tribulation, when Christ will no longer be pleading His blood for sinners.

As Norval Pease frankly acknowledges, the Adventist soteriological emphasis falls on sanctification and imparted righteousness rather than on justification and imputed righteousness. (46)46 Our investigation into Adventist literature of the previous two periods has confirmed that what Pease says is true. As we have noticed, there has been a very strong current of perfectionism running through the movement. It has generally been believed that if one were going to pass through the time of trouble, he would have to be sealed—and only those who would reach a state of moral and spiritual perfection would be sealed.47 It is true that Adventists have talked about salvation by grace and by Christ’s righteousness, but this has generally meant having Christ’s indwelling grace in order to keep the law well enough to meet the judgment’s scrutiny, and having Christ’s indwelling righteousness (i.e., sanctification). Justification has been seen as only the initial step taken by the novice Christian. Justification merely makes one a candidate for the “seal,” but this supreme attainment depends upon becoming sanctified enough to qualify at God’s awful tribunal.

As an example of this emphasis, we only have to recall the teaching of Branson cited near the close of the previous section of this chapter. Branson is rather typical of Adventists who have taught that Christ in them could keep the law just as perfectly as He did two thousand years ago, if only believers would “let Him.” The doctrine of original sin has been conspicuous by its absence, especially as simplistic appeal has been made to Christ’s power to do “all things.”

It was in 1955 that Robert Brinsmead, a young Australian farmer, decided to go to Avondale College to study theology in earnest. He took seriously all the talk of his church about getting ready for the judgment, the time of trouble, and the Lord’s coming. For him, the question of “how to stand in the judgment” was a burning issue.48

Brinsmead was troubled by the knowledge of original sin in very much the same way as was Dr. Luther in the sixteenth century In A Review of the Awakening Message he made these revealing comments:

Back in the 1950’s, I came to the settled conviction that this general view of reaching perfection was impossible and futile, whether one looked at certain statements of Inspiration or history, or experience. Because of this doctrine which was still being taught when I went to college in 1955, very few people that I questioned had any real buoyant hope of being able to pass the scrutiny of the soon-coming judgment of the living. It is no exaggeration to say that most lived in real fear and dread of the judgment, having no way of knowing how to be ready except to “try harder by God’s grace” and to hope that such judgment would not come too soon.49

Brinsmead could not find a great deal of solace in the optimism and simplistic answers of those to whom he looked for counsel. However, he lacked at that time the necessary theological expertise to articulate the problem of original sin. He spoke of the “scars of sin” and the “record of sin,” and later, adding a dash of Freudian terminology, he spoke of “subconscious sin.”

As already indicated, Brinsmead could find little help within Adventist theology on the subject of original sin. Our investigation into the theology of Adventism has revealed that, apart from some occasional references in Mrs. White,50 the subject of original sin has been almost entirely absent. Brinsmead therefore turned to the Reformers for guidance.

It seems that Brinsmead was the first within Adventism to develop and set forth the doctrine of original sin in a systematic way.51 It is clear from his writings that the anthropological problem loomed large in his thinking. This anthropological problem was accentuated, no doubt, by the Adventist teaching on the imminent judgment, the tribulation, and the coming of Christ.

Brinsmead’s answer to the problem of original sin became known as the “Awakening message”—an intra-church agitation which disturbed Adventism during the decade of the 1960’s. When we examine Brinsmead’s answer, it turns out to be a curious combination of Reformation Protestantism and an Adventist understanding of the pre-advent judgment. The element of Reformation Protestantism was the doctrine of justification, while the Adventist element was the idea that God will perfect the final generation of saints before Jesus comes. Brinsmead’s works show a monumental effort to harmonize these two streams of thought, to resolve the impossible tension between the Reformation view of righteousness by faith and Adventist perfectionism.52 His theology was not a circle with one focal point, but an ellipse with two focal points—Protestant-style justification and a second experience of perfection, Wesley-Adventist style.

The awareness of original sin caused Brinsmead to reject the whole idea of reaching a state of perfection in order to be ready for the judgment. Here was a clear break from the general view of sanctification which we have encountered thus far in our investigation. For Brinsmead, no amount of inward grace or “imparted righteousness” would qualify one to stand in the judgment. Christ alone had enough righteousness to pass the final judgment, and, said Brinsmead, He stands in the judgment as the Representative of the believer. Brinsmead put it like this:

The idea of coming to the judgment in need of mercy or, more especially, that repentant yet sinful men could boldly and gladly enter in by faith in the righteousness of a substitute, was a new thought to many More than that, it was the most sweet and joyful news that many had ever heard. Neither time nor circumstances, nor the limitations of erroneous conclusions, can efface the memory of souls weeping for sheer joy at the simple revelation that Christ is our righteousness in judgment, that this judgment is for us, that the door is open, and that, looking to Christ, we can say, “All things are ready: come unto the marriage.”53

Brinsmead goes on to intimate, in words reminiscent of Niebuhr, that this discovery was a very new way within Adventism, and a way which seemed to deny the power of God to make the believer righteous.

We therefore utterly rejected any here-and-now perfectionism. We clearly perceived that it was impossible within a believer’s probationary life, except in Jesus Christ (see Testimonies, vol. 4, p. 367). To many it seemed that we were denying the power of the gospel to make us perfect now, and in the words of one critic, some derisively spoke of our vain hope of going into judgment “on the coattails of Christ’s personal righteousness.”54

Instead of looking upon the imminent judgment with only fear and dread, Brinsmead taught that it was to be anticipated with great joy and gladness. Believers should say with Luther, “O happy Judgment Day”. The following stanzas from a hymn written by Brinsmead found in the Awakening song book , “Awake and Sing” summed up Brinsmead’s thought:

Jesus stands for me in judgment,
He the Lamb all bleeding, torn,
Pleading now for me His merits
There before His Father’s throne.

Jesus stands for me in judgment,
Naught have I to pass the test,
But in Him is all perfection,
He is all my righteousness.55

The other element in Brinsmead’s theology was perfectionism. It will be remembered that the Awakening adherents rejected here-and-now perfection. However, Brinsmead was at this time too steeped in Andreasen’s concept of the final generation to deny that those who live in the “time of trouble” Would be altogether without sin. In Brinsmead’s own words:

Yet at the same time we did not, could not reject the hereditary Adventist idea of being sinless in order to live without Christ’s mediation after the close of probation. As far as we were concerned, that part still remained “fundamental Adventism.” We concluded that this final “unattainable” experience would be a gift of our Judge’s gracious mercy, i.e., effected in God’s people by the “final atonement” and latter rain.56

As indicated here, the peculiar contribution made by Brinsmead was to see those of the last generation as having original sin blotted out of them in the pre-advent judgment. In other words, what orthodox Protestantism saw as taking place at the second advent of Christ, Brinsmead saw as taking place in the judgment that precedes the advent in Adventist eschatoiogy Despite what he said about the all-sufficiency of the righteousness of Christ, he still maintained that, after the pre-advent and pre-tribulation judgment, perfectionism would be a reality Unlike Wesley, who left his “second blessing” hanging in a mystical “nowhere” or “sometime,” Brinsmead tied perfection to an imminent eschatological event.

In all of Brinsmead’s theology prior to 1970, the two elements of justification and perfection are both present.57 They are strange bedfellows indeed! Within the context of the Reformation the former demands the exclusion of the latter, and the latter is inimical to the former because it has no place for the Reformation simul justus etpeccator (at the same time righteous and a sinner). Before 1970, Brinsmead attempted to hold together “historic Protestantism” and what he saw as “historic Adventism.” In his publications some excellent reproduction of Reformation theology is vitiated by an inconsistent eschatological perfectionism.

Notwithstanding the opposition of church leaders to Brinsmead’s theology, it appears that he made a lasting contribution within Adventism.58 There emerged a small group of Adventist scholars who acknowledged the original-sin problem and who said it would remain until the coming of Christ.59 These scholars opposed Brinsmead’s new approach to perfectionism while he was opposing the traditional perfectionism of men like W H. Branson.

However, despite the contribution of Brinsmead, the agitation became strained and somewhat belligerent. All over the world, people who showed any sympathy with the Awakening message were relieved of their positions and/or removed from church membership.60

The situation was somewhat similar to 1888. Those who rejected E. J. Waggoner and A. T. Jones rejected an emphasis that may well have helped future generations make good their claim to be the special heirs of the Reformation gospel. Likewise with Brinsmead. He was striking a high note in Reformation theology—the note of the all-sufficiency of the doing and dying of Christ as man ‘s Representative-a note that Waggoner and Jones had struck. However, Brinsmead had to go outside of the Adventist church, and this fact has made an objective look at his Reformation emphasis the more difficult for those who have remained loyal to their denomination.

Brinsmead Completes the Pilgrimage to Luther and Calvin

In 1970, Brinsmead undertook an intensive investigation of the theology of the Reformers. Not only did he read the Reformers, but he made a study of Roman Catholic theology as well. For the first time he came to understand the real difference between the Reformation and the Roman Catholic Church. He was surprised to learn that Roman Catholics do not teach a bald doctrine of salvation by human merit.

Luther’s “Lectures on Galatians” taught Brinsmead the Reformation meaning of righteousness by faith as being justification alone. Previous to this point, he had thought that righteousness by faith meant imputed and imparted righteousness. Hence, his eschatological perfection was the end (albeit by grace) of a gradual process of sanctification. But now he learned the Reformers’ concept of righteousness by faith. He saw that righteousness by faith and sinlessness in the believer were mutually exclusive.

Prior to this, none of Brinsmead’s critics (not even Heppenstall, Ford, or LaRondelle) had been able to shake his eschatological perfectionism, for they also viewed righteousness by faith as being both justification and sanctification. But now Brinsmead was faced with a serious decision. He had come to see that the Reformation sola fide (faith alone) was opposed to ontic perfectionism in the historical process, even if it be a last-generation perfectionism. One element or the other had to go. Brinsmead surrendered up his perfectionism and kept the Reformers’ sola fide.

A study of Brinsmead’s theology after this turning point reveals a passionate antagonism toward the medieval gratia infusa (infused grace) and all forms of perfectionism. An attempted reconciliation with the leaders of the Adventist Church in 1971 was apparently abortive, and Brinsmead turned his attention to editing Present Truth magazine, where he has articulated his discovery of Reformation theology for the past six years. It is the Present Truth Brinsmead that now engages the Adventist Church in theological dialogue—a dialogue concerning that which is truest to the movement’s purpose in the world.

The theology of Seventh-day Adventism in the 1960’s and 1970’s—especially (though not exclusively) in the Review and Herald —has been theology in dialogue with Brinsmead without the church and with those of his supporters within the church. It is to this dialogue that we must now turn.


1. This title, “Off to an Auspicious Start,” is taken from Aflame for God, addresses and panel discussion of the 1950 pre-session council of the Seventh-day Adventist Ministerial Association. In 1950, at San Francisco, Calif., thousands of Adventist leaders and ministers from all over the world gathered together for the quadrennial General Conference Session of the church. The Ministerial Association conducted a pre-session which addressed itself to the theme, “Christ-Centered Preaching.”
2. See n. 1 above.
3. Aflame for God, pp. 81-5.
4. Ibid., p. 82.
5. Ibid., p. 85.
6. Ibid.
7. Ibid., p. 86. Emphasis supplied.
8. This comment by wieland (and his subsequent writings) reflects a feeling—shared by not a few Adventists —of suspicion toward modern evangelical Protestantism. Granted that much modern Protestantism is deserving of criticism, Mr. wieland nevertheless tends to regard all Protestantism as suspect.
9. The historical facts will not support Froom’s alibi. Prior to the 1950’s almost all Adventist authors taught the sinful nature of Christ and His uncompleted work of atonement.
10. Hereafter Questions on Doctrine.
11. E.g., M. L. Andreasen in his Letters to the Churches opposed Questions on Doctrine on the incarnation and the atonement. Cf. Roy Allan Anderson, “Human, Not Carnal,” The Ministry, Sept. 1956, pp. 14-15. Cf. also Francis D. Nichol, Answers to Objections, for the doctrine of the atonement from 1888 to the 1950’s.
12. This work is a compilation of articles by Donald Grey Barnhouse and walter Martin appearing in Eternity magazine and articles by E. Schuyler English and walter Martin appearing in Our Hope magazine. There is also the record of a conversation between Barnhouse and A. L. Hudson “relative to the relationship between the editors of Eternity magazine and the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists” (pt. 3). It is claimed that Barnhouse and Martin gave assurance to Hudson that they had received written approval of the accuracy of their articles before they were published. The significance of this citation lies in the fact that there is considerable disagreement among Adventists concerning just how official Questions on Doctrine actually is. Some take the position that it is as official as any publication that has been put out by the General Conference of the church, while others take the view that it merely represents the opinions of a few very catholic-minded church leaders. This difference of opinion remains even to the present and is significant in no small degree for the latest phase of the crisis within Adventism concerning the nature and meaning of righteousness by faith. We shall have occasion at a later stage to point out the precise relation of Questions on Doctrine to the present conflict.
13. Christianity Today carried quite a full coverage of the Questions on Doctrine publication and related subjects, giving both evangelicals and Adventists the opportunity to express their opinions. See John H. Gerstner, “Current Religious Thought,” Christianity Today, 3 Mar. 1958, p. 39; Harold Lindsell, “What of Seventh-day Adventism?” pt. 1, ibid., 31 Mar. 1958, pp. 6-5 (At this time Lindsell was dean of the faculty at Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, Calif.); O. J. Ritz, “The Problem of Prejudice,” ibid., 31 Mar. 1958, pp. Sf.; Lindsell, “What of Seventh-day Adventism,” pt. 2, ibid., 14 Apr. 1958, pp. 13f.; Herbert S. Bird, “Another Look at Adventism,” ibid., 28 Apr. 1958, p. 14; “Adventists and Others,” in “Eutychus and His Kin,” ibid., 12 May 1958, p. 23; “Adventist Avalanche,” in “Eutychus and His Kin,” ibid., 26 May 1958, p. 16; Frank H. Yost, “A Seventh-day Adventist Speaks Back,” ibid., 21 July 1958, pp. 15-18; “First Day of the Week,” in “Eutychus and His Kin” ibid., 21 July 1958, pp. 25-6; Herbert S. Bird, “Reply to an Adventist,” ibid., 18 Aug. 1958, pp. 24-5; Frank A. Lawrence, “Exhaustive Research,” book review of Walter Martin, The Truth About Seventh-day Adventism, ibid., 4 July 1960, p. 36; Walter Martin, “Questions on Doctrine: A Cleft in Seventh-day Adventism?” editorial, ibid., 19 Dec. 1960, p. 24; Francis D. Nichol, “On the Fringe” (written by Nichol, editor of the Review and Herald, concerning Martin’s book), and Walter Martin, reply to Nichol, ibid., 30 Jan. 1961, p. 16; Francis D. Nichol, “Reminder to Rejoinder,” ibid., 13 Mar. 1961, pp. 19-20; “Adventist Literature,” ibid., 26 Mar. 1961, p. 38; Walter Martin, “Years Too Late,” book review of Herbert S. Bird, Theology of Seventh-day Adventism, ibid., 2 Mar. 1962 (Martin’s point is that Bird did not research contemporary Adventist literature, otherwise he would have realized that Adventists had expunged the Christological aberrations that Bird charged them with.); Harold Lindsell, “The Best Four-in-One,” book review of Hoekema, Four Major Cults, ibid., 31 Jan. 1964 (Lindsell criticizes an otherwise excellent book because it takes no note of the “Brinsmead brothers” and the Awakening agitation, which will be treated later in this book.); A. J. Escobar (an Adventist), “Eschatology—Great Divider” ibid., 27 Mar. 1964, p. 21.
14. See esp. “Questions About Christ” and “Questions on Christ and His Ministry in the Sanctuary,” Questions on Doctrine, pp. 33-86,339-445. See also appendixes, pp. 641-92, for Ellen G. White citations on controverted issues between evangelicals and Adventists.
15. The human nature of Christ and the nature of the atonement were the matters left unsettled in 1888.
16. The difference between Questions on Doctrine and the Reformation on grace may be seen in the following quotation from under the heading, “Bible Definition.., of Grace”: “This is the grace of God in its peculiar New Testament sense. It is God’s unlimited, all-inclusive, transforming love toward sinful men and women; and the good news of this grace, as revealed in Jesus Christ, is ‘the power of God unto salvation’ (Rom. 1:16). It is not merely God’s mercy and willingness to forgive, but it is an active, energizing, transforming power to save. Thus it may fill a person (John 1:14), it may be given (Rom. 12:3, 6), it is all-sufficient (2 Cor. 12:9; compare Rom. 5:20), it reigns (Rom. 5:21), it teaches (Titus 2:11, 12), it establishes the heart (Heb. 13:9). In some instances ‘grace seems almost to be equivalent to ‘gospel’ (Col. 1:6) and to the working of God generally (Acts 11:23; 1 Peter 5:12)” (Questions on Doctrine, pp. 137-38). Emphasis supplied.
17. “Fundamental Beliefs of Seventh-day Adventists,” Questions on Doctrine, p. 13. Emphases supplied.
18. Ibid. Emphases supplied.
19. Froom, Movement of Destiny, p. 650.
20. See ibid., pp. 148-87. Yet see pp. 526, 530 for Froom’s endorsement of E. J. Waggoner’s Glad Tidings and his other books.
21. Aflame for God, pp. 81-5.
22. Ibid., p. 84.
23. Executive Committee of the Australasian Division, Righteousness by Faith, pp. 7-8. Emphases supplied.
24. Olson, Through Crisis to Victory, pp. 45-7.
25. The section Olson cites is from Review and Herald, 23 Sept. 1884, pp. 616-17.
26. Branson, Drama of the Ages, p. 308.
27. Reported in Our Firm Foundation.
28. Edward Heppenstall, “The Covenants and the Law,” in Our Firm Foundation, 1:435-92. See pp. 464, 484, 489.
29. Ibid., p. 464. This is the Augustinian view of grace and not the true Protestant view.
30. “The law and the gospel become inseparable as light and heat in the sun. God demands obedience under the law. God works obedience through the gospel. The law of God demands holiness of men. The gospel works holiness in men. As long as the law remains written merely on stone, men find the commandments hard to obey While the heart is stony, the commandments appear stony” (ibid., p. 484).
31. “In the third place, the fact that the Holy Spirit writes the law of God on the mind and heart proclaims in no unmistakable terms that this experience comes only by supernatural means and never by naturalistic means. The issue between letter and spirit, between righteousness by works and righteousness by faith, is this: Does man save himself, or does God save him? The union of the law and the gospel in the life is something that God does for man, and that man cannot possibly do for himself” (ibid). “The Sabbath commandment, more than any of the others, signifies the unity of the law and the gospel. It signifies the rest of the completed work of God in the soul, the rest of righteousness by faith. It is the seventh-day Sabbath that is appealed to throughout Israel’s history as the test of the work of the Spirit through the everlasting covenant” (p. 489).
32. Froom, Movement of Destiny, p. 670.
33. Our Firm Foundation is a report of the Seventh-day Adventist Bible conference held
Sept. 1-13, 1952, in the Sligo Seventh-day Adventist Church, Takoma Park, Md.
34. W H. Branson, “The Lord Our Righteousness,” in Our Firm Foundation, 2:573-618.
35. Ibid., p. 594.
36. Ibid. Emphasis in original.
37. Not to raise the further question of whether or not we have a new hypostatic union here!
38. Branson, “The Lord Our Righteousness,” in Our Firm Foundation, 2:595.
39. Ibid. Emphases supplied.
40. Ibid., p. 597. Branson, like all perfectionists (i.e., those who believe in here-and-now perfection), does not seem to realize the dilemma that such a position poses. If Christ is in full control and the believer sins, then such sin has to be attributed to Christ; otherwise, the full control that Christ is said to exercise has to be qualified. This is one of the basic weaknesses of Adventist perfectionism prior to 1950 and of the evangelical “holiness movement” perfectionism, from which Adventism has heavily drawn. This same weakness is evident even in Froom. See LeRoy Edwin Froom, The Coming of the Comforter, pp. 144, 150. See also idem, Movement of Destiny, pp. 320-22, where Froom acknowledges his debt to the holiness movement.
41. J. H. Jemison, “The Companions of the Lamb,” in Our Firm Foundation, 2:403-24.
42. “….. an experience matching that of the Saviour…. His life [was] sinless” (ibid., p. 412).
43. See n. 28 above.
44. See the Defense Literature Committee’s answer to Robert J. Wieland and Donald K. Short, 4 Dec. 1951, in Hudson, A Warning and Its Reception, pp. 248-51.
45. Ibid., p. 249. Cf. “…. because we have not received the fulness of Christ, therefore we have not finished the work and gone to glory” (p. 250). Cf. also p. 251.
46. Pease, By Faith Alone, p. 207.
47. Official and unofficial Adventist publications advocating this, both past and present, are legion— e.g., Gordon Collier, LeRoy Edwin Froom, W H. Branson, and M. L. Andreasen.
48. Reminiscing on his college days, Brinsmead said: “I remember an illustration from college to demonstrate the difference between imputed and imparted righteousness. The lecturer would place a glass on the desk in front of the class. Then he would say, ‘We are like that, but we need a covering.’ Out of his pocket he would take a clean, white handkerchief and cover the glass, remarking that that is justification, the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ. Then he would say, ‘As we remain under the covering of Christ’s imputed righteousness, He begins to fill us with His righteousness (imparted righteousness) for sanctification so that we grow more and more like Jesus Christ.’… This dear old man would lift off the handkerchief and take a peek at the glass, explaining, ‘As we near the end of time, the close of probation, God takes a look at us.’ He would demonstrate by lifting the handkerchief (the imputed righteousness) and looking at the glass. But God would say, ‘Ah, no—they are not quite ready yet. They can’t stand without imputed righteousness at this juncture; they haven’t got enough imparted righteousness, not quite…. leave it on a little longer.’ So God gives His people a little more time. Finally…he would remove the covering, and God would remark, ‘There they are. Just like My Son.’ Now the strange thing about the illustration was that the glass was just as naked at the end of the demonstration as it was at the beginning. In actual fact he was proving something that he did not mean to prove, and that is that if you take the best saint that ever lived on the earth and remove from him God’s covering of… the merits of Jesus Christ … how does he stand? Like a Laodicean—naked (Rev. 3:17). Now we had some difficulty with this idea, because we were convinced that the hour of God’sjudgment had come. … In the most holy place was the holy law of God, … higher than the highest human thought can reach.. .” (Robert D. Brinsmead, “All Things Are Ready,” sermon report, Dec. 1976).
49. Robert D. Brinsmead, A Review of the Awakening Message, pt. 1, p. 4.
50. See Ellen G. White, Review and Herald , 16 Apr. 1901; 19 Aug. 1890; 29 Nov. 1887; idem Child Guidance, p. 475; idem, Testimonies, 2:710; 3:343; 4:496, 587; idem, My Life Today, p. 261; idem, Great Controversy, p. 505.
51. See Robert D. Brinsmead, Sanctuary Institute Syllabus IV: Original Sin, pp. 5-47. Brinsmead’s teaching in this section of the publication is as strong on original sin as one will find anywhere, including Luther and Calvin.
52. See the syllabus cited in n. 51 above.
53. Brinsmead, Review of the Awakening Message, pt. 1, p. 4.
54. Ibid.
55. Robert A. McCurdy, Jr., “Jesus Stands for Me in Judgment,” in Awake and Sing! p. 4. Cf. Robert D. Brinsmead, The Open Door, pp. 4-5; idem, Tidings of Great Joy, pp. 15-16. Note the following: “How many are endeavouring to enter the marriage by living up to all the standards of the law! Christ is robbed of His glory There is only one Man Who can stand in the judgment—the Man Christ Jesus” (idem, Tidings of Great Joy, p. 16).
56. Brinsmead, Review of the Awakening Message, pt. 1, p 4.
57. In the early 1960’s, Brinsmead did confound justification with regeneration at the point of the sinner s conversion. But his Reformation concept of original sin caused him to articulate a clear teaching of how a believer is accepted in the judgment. He taught that this is solely by the righteousness mediated for him in God’s presence. This was the vital and valid aspect of Brinsmead’s contribution.
58. Brinsmead’s theology was seen as a threat to “denominational integrity” Some attacked Brinsmead because, in their eyes, he was limiting the power of God to ontically sanctify His people.
59. Such scholars were Dr. Edward Heppenstall, Dr. Desmond Ford, and Dr. Hans K. LaRondelle. We have already made reference to LaRondelle’s doctoral dissertation on perfectionism under the Reformed scholar, G. C. Berkouwer, at Amsterdam (see chap. 1, n. 16).
60. A. L. Hudson was no doubt correct when he said that “the unpleasant controversy was caused by the sinful nature of those advocating the matter and the sinful nature of those resisting the matter.” In 1969, Brinsmead wrote: “It would be exceedingly naive and unrealistic to imagine that our discoveries were made known in perfect tact. Unfortunately, the church officials did not look upon our activities with the least degree of benign indulgence. Oppositon was just as swift and enthusiastic as the agitation of the Awakening message” (Robert D. Brinsmead, The Timing of Revelation 15 and the Perfecting of the Saints: An Answer to Dr. Desmond Ford and Pastor L. C. Naden, p. 34).