Apologies for Jesus

The following is a contribution I made to a discussion in the comments section of spectrummagazine.org

Apologists for Jesus abound today. It’s fashionable now to re-imagine the Jesus of the Bible into a more familiar kind of progressive, humanistic, socially responsible guy. Not that he wasn’t already a kinder, gentler deity than the disciplinarian OT Almighty, but now he needs to be somehow more like us. And by us, I mean us LIBERALS.

When they (the SDA progressives) want to claim biblical authority for a Christianity Lite makeover, they have to seriously twist the Scriptures. I remember doing it when I counted myself among the SDA liberal apologists. Now that I’m out from under any religious connections, I look back on the Christianity Lite I was pushing and realize how far removed I had to get from the plain reading of the Bible in order to be able to recreate Jesus in my own image.

David Read, Kevin Paulson, and their more anonymous supporters catch hell here at Spectrum in part because they call BS on this version of Christianity Lite. As an ex-Christian, former SDA Bible teacher, and current liberal and skeptic, I side with them, even though our conclusions about the veracity of the Bible are very different. Even if you don’t accept the Bible as authoritative, you can tell when its more creative interpreters have done damage to the text.

The ardent EGW apostles and LGT/historic Adventists are the true spiritual descendants of the SDA pioneers. Ted Wilson is a very logical choice for denominational leader. I don’t think there is any other way to honestly read and interpret SDA Theology and the history of the movement. And if you take the Bible as it plainly reads, and follow its own rules for interpretation, then the more conservative Adventists (IMHO) are the ones getting it right.

That’s assuming you accept the claims of Scripture as factually true and morally binding on your life (which I no longer do). And if you’re interested in sharing the Bible with those who’ve never studied it, those who didn’t grow up singing and playing in Cradle Roll Sabbath School, don’t try to make the Bible say what it obviously does not say. They will see through it eventually, and their commitment to your cause will suffer.

The Bible actually doesn’t need apologists, and neither does it call for them. But I guess Christians get bored with the simple meaning right on the surface. And there is always money to be made teaching people things they could figure out without teachers. So, there will always be theologians.

UPDATE, 6/14/2014

The following exchange on Spectrum took place on June 14, 2014. It is transcribed directly here, since it relates so well to this post. The last name of the person with whom I was conversing is omitted for privacy reasons.

ME (JIM): "You seem to have the by-the-book SDA formula down. Ellen White would be proud of you." 
DAVID: "Hi Jim, I will take that as a compliment. Though I rather have God be proud of me, and be in His book of life. Ellen White has much good counsel for the church, if we only heeded it... but as she said, her counsel would be spurned in the last days, and it is happening..." 
JIM: "I meant it as a compliment. I count you as one of the true Adventists. The ones you fight against here-- the progressives, the liberals, the Spectrumites, the Laodiceans, the backslidden (choose your favorite label-du-jure)-- are not 'true' by-the-books Adventists. They, of course, disagree with me, and with you, and their post-modern relativism encourages them to feel good about a Big Tent Church and to claim it's the will of god. But you have the General Conference, Ellen White, and nine-tenths of the membership of the world church on your side. 
The Bible is up for interpretive grabs, but not the others I mentioned. The function of 'Progressives' of every religion seems the same to me: present the safest public face possible. I'm uninterested in the facade of religions; I was always about what's really going on inside, what's driving it. You're driving it, David, you and your most conservative compatriots. It took me a long time to recognize that, and I didn't want to accept it at first, any more than the most unshaken progressives dominating the AAF/Spectrum world. 
But as abhorrent to them as it sounds, they are the fringes, you (plural--your kind of SDA) are the core. When outsiders evaluate a group's truth claims, they seek the heart, the core, the original documents and those still following the original disciplines. They don't usually bother with nuance, with comparing all the fringes allowed into the tent. They judge a church by its true believers, not its skeptics and revolutionaries. 
I speak as an outsider who once was a true believer, and then tried to remain inside as a progressive. Now I'm an atheist, having taken what I feel is the only rational final step in the journey begun by one who leaves the ranks of the true-believing conservatives (the conservators of the faith, who preserve it's true form), who marks those steps as the progress of the progressive. However, I left behind many who refuse to take that final step; they remain stuck where they are, and have dug in, and even taken upon themselves (at times) the mantle of the 'true Adventist'. They can't accept how close they are to being me."