By Reinder Bruinsma
If you have not yet heard about Last Generation Theology, I predict that before too long you will. Perhaps you are not familiar with the term, but you are aware of some of the ideas that form the basis of this theological current that is rapidly gaining ground among Adventists throughout the world. Once you are aware of these ideas, you will notice them in lots of places. So, what is it all about?
The key premise of this “theology” is that before Christ’s return, there will be a “final generation” of true believers that has reached perfection and will thereby vindicate God’s character. The men and women of this final generation will show to the universe that, after all, God’s law can be kept and that Satan is wrong in claiming that God’s demands for mankind were unreasonable. Behind this assertion is the dubious argument that, since Christ was able to live without sin, it must also be possible for His followers, since the kind of humanity that Christ took upon Himself, when He came to this earth, was the same as the sinful nature of Adam after the Fall. Other ideas that are connected with these basic premises are that there will be a “shaking” to separate the true remnant, who will constitute the “last generation,” from those whose loyalty to their Lord proved inadequate. This final generation will have to survive the “time of trouble” without a Mediator, since “probation” has “closed.” More- over, by boldly proclaiming the unadulterated Advent message we can “hasten” the Second Coming.
Bible passages are cited to prove this theory, but its cornerstone is a quote from Ellen G. White’s book Christ’s Object Lessons: “Christ is waiting with longing desire for the manifestation of Himself in His church. When the character of Christ shall be perfectly reproduced in His people, then He will come to claim them as His own”
Last Generation Theology has its roots among such early Adventist leaders as A.R. Jones, E. J. Waggoner and W.W. Prescott, but found its clearest expression in the last chapter of the book Sanctuary Service2 by Milian Lauritz Andreasen (1876-1962). His ideas are forcefully promoted today by several prominent Adventist speakers and a range of independent ministries.
In this relatively short article we cannot begin to fully describe and critique all elements of Last Generation Theology. We will focus on just two aspects: (1) the concept of sin and perfection, and (2) the human nature of Jesus Christ.
What is sin? And what is perfection?
One of the fundamental flaws in the ideas of M.L. Andreasen, and of his precursors and those who currently follow in his steps, is their concept of sin and perfection.
If sin were limited to a list of sinful deeds, it might just be possible to reach the point when one no longer commits these acts. But sin is more than a catalogue of misdemeanors. The Bible is indeed clear that sin is the breaking of God’s law and rebellion against the Creator (1 John 3:4). But sin also includes sinful thoughts (Matthew 5:21, 22, 27, 28). And besides the things we do, sin also has to do with things we left undone: our sins of omission (James 4:17). One of the important Hebrew words that refer to sin has the meaning of “missing the mark,” i.e. of not reaching our potential. Sin is described in no uncertain terms by Ellen G. White: “Sin not only shuts us away from God. . . . Through sin, the whole human organism is deranged, the mind is perverted, the imagination corrupted; the faculties of the soul degraded. There is an absence of pure religion, of heart and holiness.”3
Sinless perfection remains out of human reach while we are on this earth. The apostle John is adamant: Anyone who says that he does not sin is a liar. Only God is perfect (1 John 1:5, 6). Through the centuries, there has been a constant stream of perfectionists among Christians. Adventism has had more than its fair share of them. The record clearly shows that perfectionism always develops into a dry legalism that tends to be devoid of the joy of a close relationship with Christ. Experience proves the idea that sinless perfection is possible as untenable. After all, who can show us some convincing examples of fully perfect men or women?
But did not Christ tell us that we should be perfect “like our heavenly Father is perfect”? (Matthew 5:48). Biblical scholars have pointed out that the Greek word that is trans- lated as “perfect” has the meaning of “being goal-oriented” or “mature,” rather than being sinless. The parallel text in the Gospel of Luke reads: “Be merciful as your Father is merciful” (vs. 36, RSV), which suggest that true compassion is the essence of a Christian life. This explains why several people who were far from morally perfect are nonetheless referred to in the Bible as “perfect” or “blameless,” such as Noah (Genesis 6:9). Ellen White wrote to a pastor, designated as “Brother B,” about the topic of perfection:
“[Christ] is our pattern. Have you, Brother A, imitated the Pattern? I answer: No. He is a perfect and holy example, given for us to imitate. We cannot equal the pattern; but we shall not be approved of God if we do not copy it and, according to the ability which God has given, resemble it.”4
She wrote at another time: “Even the most perfect Christian may increase continually in the knowledge and love of God (2 Peter 3:14,18).” And how much clearer could she have been than in this statement: “Let not God be dishonored by the proclamation from human lips, declaring, ‘I am sinless. I am holy.’ Sanctified lips will never give utterance to such presumptuous words.”5 We must conclude that Last Generation Theology suffers from an inadequate under- standing of the nature of sin and the biblical concept of perfection.
How human was Jesus?
The view of the human nature of Christ that is vigorously defended by the supporters of Last Generation Theology also deserves intense scrutiny. The official belief of Adventists on this subject is found in Fundamental Belief No. 4:
“God the eternal Son became incarnate in Jesus Christ. Through Him all things were created, the character of God is revealed, the salvation of humanity is accomplished, and the world is judged. Forever truly God, He became also truly human, Jesus the Christ. He was conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary.” This Fundamental Belief remains silent on whether the “truly human” nature of Christ was equal to Adam’s nature before or after the Fall. For the defenders of Last Generation Theology there is, however, no uncertainty: Christ assumed the kind of humanity that Adam and Eve had after they had fallen into sin. In spite of that fallen nature, with all its sinful inclinations, Christ remained sinless. Ergo, human beings can also reach that state. This assertion requires a careful study of what the Bible says, and also a meticulous analysis of what Ellen G. White has stated.
Different Bible texts emphasize particular aspects of the nature that Christ took upon Himself. I found the best summary of the biblical evidence in an article by one of Adventism’s most esteemed theologians, in an authoritative book on Adventist theology:
“[Christ] came ‘in the likeness of human flesh’ (Romans 8:3). He took human nature in its fallen condition with its infirmities and liabilities and bearing the consequences of sin; but not its sinfulness, he was truly human, one with the human race, except for sin. He could truly say, ‘He [Satan] has no power over me’ (John 14:30) . . . Jesus took human nature, weakened and deteriorated by thousands of years of sin, yet undefiled and spotless.
‘In him,’ writes John, ‘there is no sin’” (1 John 3:5).6 When looking at the many statements of Ellen G. White on the human nature of Christ, one must inevitably conclude that they are not always totally consistent, and that some of the terms she used are open to different interpretations. Most of what she has said seems to imply a pre-fall human nature, but, admittedly, some of her statements appear to point to a post-fall human nature.7 However, a careful study will show that Ellen White saw Christ’s human nature as totally unique: “In contemplating the incarnation of Christ in humanity, we stand baffled before an unfathomable mystery, that the human mind cannot comprehend.”8
In a letter to a co-worker in Australia, Mrs. White wrote: “The incarnation of Christ has ever been, and will ever re- main, a mystery. That which is revealed is for us and for our children, but let every human being be warned from the ground of making Christ altogether human, such a one as ourselves; for it cannot be.”9
Living at the end of time
There is no support for the basic ideas of a perfect “last generation,” but this does not mean there will not be people living at the end of time who are fervently expecting Jesus’ return. Even when things around them are becoming more challenging than ever before, they can rely on God’s care and protection. It is great comfort to read in Scripture that the Holy Spirit will be with us, not until the end of “probation”, but until the end of the world (John 14:16-18; Matthew 28:20).
When all is said and done, we must remember that all our knowing is always “in part” (1 Corinthians 13:9). It seems this is something many proponents of Last Generation Theology tend to forget. When it comes to divine truth “we see only a reflection as in a mirror,” and many of our questions will remain unanswered until we see the Lord face to face. We must, in all humility, echo the words of Paul: “Now I know in part; then I shall know fully” (1 Corinthians 13:12).
Reinder Bruinsma has served the Adventist Church in publishing, education, and church administration on three continents. He still maintains a busy schedule of preaching, teaching, and writing. He writes from the Netherlands where he lives with his wife Aafje. His two latest books are Facing Doubt: A Book for Adventist Believers “on the Margins” and In All Humility: Saying “No” to Last Generation Theology. Email him at: [email protected]
- p. 69. 2. Publisher: Review and Herald Publ. Ass., 1947. 3. Prophets and Kings, p. 233.
4. Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 2, p. 549; italics supplied. 5. The Signs of the Times, May 23, 1895. 6. Raoul Dederen, “Christ: His Person and Work,” in Handbook of Seventh-day Adventist Theology, (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publ. Ass., 2000), pp. 164-165. 7. See Woodrow Whidden II, Ellen White on the Humanity of Christ (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald, 1997. 8. The Signs of the Times, July 30, 1896; 9. Baker letter, see https://m.egwwrit- ings.org/en/book/6474.2000001, italics supplied.