Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Apocalypse Then

Fuller president Richard Mouw reviews Kenneth Newport's The Branch Davidians of Waco: The History and Beliefs of an Apocalyptic Sect in this month's issue of Books & Culture.

For those of you who don't remember -- the Branch Davidians were an Adventist offshoot that tangled with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) back in 1993. When the smoke cleared, 85 members were dead, as well as four agents of the BATF . . . but even today, the movement continues.

To be sure, the Branch Davidians were not Adventists -- but as Richard Mouw points out:

One matter that impressed me particularly as an evangelical reading Newport is his insistence that the tragic errors in David Koresh's understanding of the Bible do in fact have a history, a history that can in turn be traced to a perspective that was birthed by Ellen White, whose denomination has by now rightly earned considerable respect in evangelical circles and beyond. When the Waco tragedy was unfolding, the Seventh-day Adventist community engaged in a major public relations campaign to distance themselves from the Branch Davidians. I find no fault in that effort—having done my own share of public denying that this or that person who once studied at the seminary that I lead does in fact represent our theological position! The distancing was especially important in the Waco case, since that situation was a highly visible example of theology gone awry, and it was necessary for the general public to be advised that the Branch Davidians had long departed from the mainstream of Adventist thought.

But the flames at Waco no longer burn, and the smoke has cleared. Now is a good time for Adventist theologians to acknowledge at least some responsibility on the part of their tradition for the developments chronicled by Newport, since those developments do in fact draw on important elements in early Adventism. Many of us in the Dutch Reformed communities expended considerable energy insisting during apartheid days that South African racism was not a necessary consequence of our theological convictions. But some of us also did a good deal of soul-searching during that time, checking out the ways in which those racist themes did make connections —legitimately or illegitimately—to motifs that are indigenous to Reformed theology. That theological self-examination was a healthy exercise, and I recommend a similar project to my Adventist friends.

Click on the title of this post for the article.

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