Is Last Generation Theology the Answer To Progressive Adventism?
Since the concepts of Last Generation Theology were thrust to the forefront of my consciousness a couple of years ago, I have spent considerable time pondering their meaning. In recent years, more and more Seventh-day Adventist leaders have proclaimed their support for Last Generation Theology. I have wondered, “Am I missing something?” Everything they say sounds good—it sounds wonderful in fact! I have always believed that the gospel teaches not only forgiveness, but deliverance from the power of sin. I’ve always believed that Christ took on the nature of man and demonstrated the possibility of perfect obedience to God’s will. Consider these verses:
1 Corinthians 10:13 “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.”
Hebrews 4:15 “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.”
Paul teaches that the world and the universe are looking on with interest at the events of our lives on earth: “for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men.” 1 Corinthians 4:9
Many conservative teachers speak of the “maturing” of the harvest immediately prior to Christ’s second coming—another concept that is rooted in scripture. (See Matthew 13, Mark 4, Revelation 14:15)
Two quotations from the writings of Ellen G. White have been rehearsed so often, we could probably quote them by heart, forwards and backwards:
Christ’s Object Lessons, page 69:
“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.”
Great Controversy, Page 425:
“Those who are living upon the earth when the intercession of Christ shall cease in the sanctuary above are to stand in the sight of a holy God without a mediator. Their robes must be spotless, their characters must be purified from sin by the blood of sprinkling. Through the grace of God and their own diligent effort they must be conquerors in the battle with evil.”
Sobering thoughts, indeed! As we look back across the history of Adventism, we continue count the years since the great disappointment. Still our Lord has not returned! And looking at the condition of our people, it might appear that we are no closer now than we were over 170 years ago!
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Last Generation Theology
Enter the teaching of Last Generation Theology (Also known as Final Generation Theology or Final Generation Vindication). Last Generation Theology teaches that, in the last days, God will work mightily through the last generation of Christians living on the earth, bringing them to an unprecedented state of completed character perfection. Through this perfection of His people, God finally vindicates the justice of His requirements before the universe. Satan’s claims in the Great Controversy are at last defeated when this generation of righteous followers demonstrates that God’s law can be perfectly kept. This completes the final atonement of Christ, by casting sin out of the lives of His last-day people, and prepares the way for the close of probation and the Second Coming.
Given the evidence, Last Generation Theology makes a compelling argument. It answers the questions that so many of us have been asking for so long:
- “Why has Jesus not returned?”
- “What must I be doing to prepare for and hasten His return?”
- “How do I reconcile the gospel of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus, with the necessity right living through the close of probation?”
- “Can I really have victory over sin in this life?”
- “If we are saved by grace, what purpose is there in obedience?”
The teachings of Last Generation Theology provide powerful and compelling answers to these questions, and seem to fit “hand-in-glove” with our traditionally held Adventist beliefs. Not only that, but they thrust the last-day remnant believers to the forefront of the Great Controversy—focusing the limelight of the universe on the work God is doing within His last-day people.
The Final Generation phenomenon has swept up conservative Adventism in its embrace, until the one has become almost part and parcel with the other.
The more “Progressive” side of Adventism has long held Conservatism in general, and Last Generation Theology in particular, as nothing more than re-branded legalism and perfectionism. “Liberals” point to the love of Christ, and contrast His love and acceptance with the apparent cold-hearted intolerance of conservatives, who refuse to see more than one side of the picture.
On the other hand, Conservatives advocate Last Generation Theology as the clear response to the worldly and compromising attitude of progressive Adventism. While Progressives embrace pluralism, Last Generation Theology points to a straight and narrow way. It seems as if there were an invisible line drawn through the heart of Adventism. Each side claims to have the “true” Adventist message, while blaming the other for all the ills in the church.
How did this happen? How did we get to such a deeply divided condition? Furthermore, who has the truth? Is Last Generation Theology the answer to the “Laodicean” attitude and lifestyle of Liberal and Progressive Adventism? Or, is Progressive Adventism the answer to the legalism and perfectionism of Last Generation Theology?
A brief review of some Adventist history might help us to understand how this happened, and hopefully shed some light on the truth.
Before I begin, let me just say that my intention is not to hurt or insult any individual or group of people within the Adventist church. In this article, I make a few broad generalizations, which is always a dangerous thing to do. I feel it necessary to do so, in order to express my concerns for some growing trends I have seen within the circles of Adventism that I associate with.
I must also confess that I come from a generally conservative Adventist background, and I write this article primary with other conservative Adventists in mind. As such, I may make overly broad characterizations of the “Progressive” or “Liberal” branches of Adventism. While I choose to disagree with the viewpoints of progressive Adventism, it is not my purpose in this article to enumerate these points of disagreement. My primary purpose in setting forth this article is to discuss, in some depth, the viewpoint of Last Generation Theology, and how it relates to Adventism in general, and conservative Adventism in particular.
One final clarification: the term Last Generation Theology has come to be an umbrella for a very wide range of conservative teachings within Adventism. There are many variations on the theme, but in general most promote the theme of overcoming sin and a final vindication of God’s character. For the sake of discussion, I have leaned heavily on M. L. Andreasen’s writings such as his book The Sanctuary Service. Larry Kirkpatrick’s book, “Cleanse and Close: Last Generation Theology in 14 points,” also provides a backdrop for understanding contemporary Last Generation Theology as outlined in this article. (Please refer to my previous article which takes a critical look at Kirkpatrick’s teaching and provides a more thorough definition of LGT.)
A Bit of Adventist History
On the theological side, Last Generation Theology harks back to a debate from the 1950’s that started with the publication of the book Questions of Doctrine (or QOD). Space and time prohibit a thorough recount of all the events surrounding QOD, but I will attempt a brief overview:
QOD was the result of ongoing discussions between a few Adventists, primarily Le Roy Froom and W. E. Read, and evangelical author Walter Martin, who had been commissioned to write a book about Seventh-day Adventists. QOD re-iterated traditional Adventist beliefs in a framework intended to be understood by evangelical Christians. This was all well and good in theory. In practice, however, QOD compromised some of our fundamental beliefs. For the first time, a mainstream Adventist publication proclaimed support for two teachings that contradicted our historical understanding of Christ’s nature and the nature of sin. QOD taught that Christ took Adam’s “pre-fall” nature, and expressed support for the teaching of “original sin.” It taught that Christ wasn’t fully and completely like man—that in fact He had advantages over you and me, because His nature was that of Adam before the fall. It seemed to teach, like the Catholic church, that man is born in a state of guilt, and that the gospel is primarily about the removal of this guilt that man is born with.
For Adventists, these new teachings became a theological watershed. Theologians such as Desmond Ford and Robert Brinsmead embraced the new evangelical slant, sweeping an entire segment of the denomination into a progressive line of thought, much more in line with mainstream protestant/evangelical teaching. The progressive theology was characterized by a leaning toward Calvinism / Universalism, with a strong emphasis on the grace of Christ, but a corresponding de-emphasis on keeping the law, works of righteousness, and Christian standards. Traditional Adventist teachings on Sabbath keeping and the investigative judgment were de-emphasized or discarded altogether. Anyone who called out the need to live a holy life, or emphasized Christian standards, was characterized as a “legalist.”
This shift was not without controversy, however. Chief among the opponents of QOD and the new theological slant it embraced was conservative theologian M. L. Andreasen. Andreasen vehemently opposed the new teaching on the pre-fall nature of Christ and original sin. He championed the cause righteousness by faith and the post-fall nature of Christ.
Progressivism quickly swept an entire segment of the Adventist church into the embrace of evangelical Christianity. Authors such as Froom and Read characterized conservatives like Andreasen, who held to the traditional views of Adventism, as the “Lunatic Fringe.”
On the other hand, conservatives hailed Andreasen as the champion of the true faith—fighting bravely against the “compromise” that was sweeping away the distinctive Adventist beliefs.
A New Theology
Through the last half of the twentieth century, conservative Adventist thought was led by great men such as M. L. Andreasen, Herbert Douglass, Joe Crews and others. It was grounded in a strong stand on the post-fall nature of Christ and the rejection of original sin. Conservatives upheld the fundamental Adventist beliefs including the sanctuary message and the investigative judgment. Central to conservative theology was an emphasis on right-living in contrast to what it saw as a “cheap grace” theology of the “progressive” or “liberal” camp.
In his 1947 book “The Sanctuary Service,” Andreasen presents a compelling picture of the mission and purpose of last-day Adventists. Andreasen describes the Great Controversy meta-narrative, with the “Last Generation” of men living on the earth having the pivotal role of vindicating the character of God and finally defeating the claims of Satan through their holy and perfected characters.
Andreasen’s teaching on the “Last Generation” gave purpose to the emphasis of high Christian standards within the church, while not overtly denying the gospel of salvation by grace through faith. “Character perfection” was necessary, not in order to achieve salvation, but so that we could finally vindicate God’s maligned character and prove to Satan and the universe that it has always been possible to keep God’s law. Christ’s “unfinished” atonement at the cross gave reason and purpose to the teaching of the investigative judgment, which was to be paralleled by the perfection of character of those living in the last generation.
Fast-forward 6 decades, to today. The split between “Conservative” and “Progressive” Adventism is as wide as it ever was. Two sides, it would seem. Which side is right? For conservative Adventists, like myself, we must reject the teachings of liberal theology. Compelling as they may appear to be, we cannot find Biblical support for the doctrine of original sin, and the “cheap grace” theology that allows no room for the discussion of Christian standards and living a holy life. Therefore, it would seem that we are left with only one alternative: Conservative Adventism, and along with it, Andreasen’s teaching of Last Generation Theology.
Recently I have seen and heard this exact argument, either stated or implied, at GYC conventions, on Internet blogs, and in discussions with friends. It goes something like this:
Either you’re liberal, or conservative. If you are conservative, you must automatically embrace Last Generation Theology. Otherwise, your alternative is to believe in original sin, reject the possibility of complete victory over sin, etc. Therefore, if you reject Last Generation Theology, you’re well on the road to liberalism.
If progressive theology is false, then Last Generation Theology must be true, right? Or is it?
Actually, there is such a thing as a “false dilemma.” Given two choices, if one is wrong, it doesn’t make the other choice right. Let me explain what I mean:
All Roads Lead to Rome
A common argument I hear from my conservative Adventist friends is that a particular doctrine or teaching “came from the Catholic church.” I’m told that the teaching of original sin “came from the Catholic church.” Actually, they’re right! So did many other elements of “progressive” or “liberal” Adventism. From the conservative perspective, the liberal Adventist agenda takes us back to Babylon (evangelical Christianity), and from there to Rome (Catholicism).
Given this context, my next statement may come as a shock to you. I would postulate that the teaching of Last Generation Theology, as taught by Andreason and expanded by many influential conservatives since then, is yet another road back to Rome.
How so? The answer might surprise you!
Let’s start by looking at two false teachings that define virtually all false systems of religion:
1. That you can save yourself by your own works, gain merit by works, or that your works play a causative role in your salvation. This is known as legalism.
Paul writes: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)
2. That you can be saved in sin—that repentance, conversion, keeping God’s law, or living a holy life is either unnecessary, or impossible, or optional. This is antinomianism.
In Matthew 1:21, speaking of the birth of Jesus, the angel says: “For He shall save his people from their sins.” (emphasis added)
Mrs. White writes, “There is no way by which you may be saved in sin. Every soul that gains eternal life must be like Christ, ‘holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners.’” (Gospel Workers 1892, p. 445)
Catholicism, of course, is a classic example of works-based salvation. While Catholics, like all Christians, look to Jesus’ death on the cross for forgiveness of sin, the Catholic religion provides an entire system of works whereby sinners can earn “merit” through works of righteousness. This violates principle number one.
The Catholic doctrines of confession to a priest, and the doctrine of indulgences, violate of the second principle above, by allowing a person to be saved “in” their sin, without true repentance and turning away from sin.
So how does Last Generation Theology lead back to Rome? Of course, many people have charged Andreasen with teaching legalism. In fact, most discussions of Last Generation Theology usually center around its legalistic tendencies—the insistence of the necessity of living a holy and perfect life. Usually, these charges come from those in the “Liberal” or “Progressive” line of thought within the Adventist church, or from Evangelical Christians outside the church. Whether true or not, it is telling that many of these same people charge Ellen White and even the apostles James and John with teaching legalism as well!
For the sake of this discussion, however, I want to lay aside the discussion of legalism, and explore an even more troubling problem. Last Generation Theology, in fact, promotes the second falsehood—that a person can be saved in sin.
“How so?” You ask. “The rallying cry of Last Generation Theology mandates victory over sin!”
Yes, precisely. And it is precisely this point that quietly gives credence to the idea that some people can be saved in sin.
The following quotation is excerpted from Andreasen’s book, The Sanctuary Service, chapter 21:
In the Bible both the process and the finished work are spoken of as sanctification.’ For this reason the “brethren” are spoken of as holy and sanctified, though they have not attained to perfection. (1 Corinthians 1: 2; 2 Corinthians 1: 1; Hebrews 3:1) A glance through the Epistles to the Corinthians will soon convince one that the saints there mentioned had their faults. Despite this, they are said to be “sanctified” and “called to be saints.” The reason is that complete sanctification is not the work of a day or of a year but of a lifetime.
It begins the moment a person is converted, and continues through life. Every victory hastens the process. There are few Christians who have not gained the mastery over some sin that formerly greatly annoyed them and overcame them. Many a man who has been a slave to the tobacco habit has gained the victory over the habit and rejoices in his victory. Tobacco has ceased to be a temptation. It attracts him no more. He has the victory. On that point he is sanctified. As he has been victorious over one besetment, so he is to become victorious over every sin. When the work is completed, when he has gained the victory over pride, ambition, love of the world-over all evil-he is ready for translation. He has been tried in all points. The evil one has come to him and found nothing. Satan has no more temptations for him. He has over come them all. He stands without fault before the throne of God. Christ places His seal upon him. He is safe, and he is sound. God has finished His work in him. The demonstration of what God can do with humanity is complete.
Here Andreasen describes two types of sanctification: “complete” sanctification and a “process” of sanctification. He points out that the Corinthian believers were said to be “sanctified” in 1 Corinthians 1:2, even though they still clearly had faults.
Andreasen makes a distinction that the Bible does not make. If “sanctified” doesn’t mean “completely sanctified,” then what is it? Andreasen describes “sanctification” as an ongoing process, but “complete sanctification” as a static goal and a prerequisite for translation. It begs the question—if “complete sanctification” is a necessary prerequisite to translation, then how does one attain to it? How does one know when the process is completed, or how much further he has to go?
Furthermore, if a person is sanctified on some points—that is, if a person is in the process of sanctification, but not “completely” sanctified, then wouldn’t that person be still in sin? Is “salvation” withheld from that person until the person reaches “complete” sanctification, or is the individual “saved” while still in sin?
Andreasen doesn’t answer this question directly—instead, he argues that in the last generation, those who are translated will be those who have attained to “complete” sanctification. Hence, we can assume that, in previous generations, believers were saved “in sin.”
The only other alternative is assume that the Lord miraculously timed the death of every believer in history to coincide with the moment of their reaching “complete sanctification.” This idea itself is preposterous—for if true, how can one have the assurance that Paul had, when he told Timothy “I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day”? (2 Timothy 1:12)
Look at the life of Peter, for example. Peter had a conversion experience at Jesus’ trial, after he had denied Christ, when he “went out, and wept bitterly.” On the day of Pentecost, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he delivered a powerful message, and three thousand souls were converted! Yet, even after Pentecost, his heart was still filled with prejudice against Gentiles. The Lord had to work with him, giving him a vision and calling him to the home of Cornelius. Not long after, Peter was miraculously delivered from prison. Yet even much later, Peter had to be reproved by Paul for being two-faced in his dealing with the Gentiles! (Galatians 2:11)
What would have happened to Peter, had he been killed (like James) when he was thrown into prison in Acts 12? Would Peter have been saved, although he later demonstrated that his character was imperfect? Did God deliver Peter from prison because he knew Peter needed more character development in order to be saved?
I think we need to take a careful look at our understanding of the nature of sin and perfection. I’ll deal with this more later in this article.
A Final Dispensation
Another cause for concern in Andreasen’s Last Generation Theology, is the re-introduction of dispensationalism into Adventist thinking. In dispensationalism, Biblical history is divided into different ages, in which God works with people on different principles. In the evangelical world, dispensationalism is used to teach antinomianism—that the Ten-Commandment law was done away with at the cross, and is no longer binding in the “Christian era.” Adventists are well versed in meeting these objections. And well we should be! Consider these well-known verses:
Malachi 3:6 “For I am the Lord, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.”
Hebrews 13:8 “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever.”
Acts 4:12: “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.”
Yet in Last Generation Theology, a new form of dispensationalism is introduced—a dispensation of the “Last Generation.” This “Last Generation” relates to God on different principles than did previous generations.
Andreasen argues that the early church was “sanctified” but not yet “perfected” But, in the Last Generation an imperfect sanctification is not sufficient—God demands a “completed” sanctification. It is through this unprecedented “completed” sanctification that His character is finally vindicated.
Andreasen is describing a new dispensation: a dispensation of the Last Generation. It is not a quantitative difference from prior generations but a qualitative difference. The sanctification required for translation is of a different kind than the day-to-day sanctification of believers who keep falling into sin.
What precedent do we have in the Scripture of people who were translated?Truly, only two Bible characters (besides Christ) were translated to heaven. It would seem that these two would be our only examples of attaining to this kind of “completed” sanctification. These two characters are Enoch and Elijah.
Elijah we know a fair bit about. But, Elijah was a prophet. He was a lot like our modern-day prophet, Ellen White. It’s hard to follow the example of someone who was a prophet, unless, of course, you claim to be a prophet as well. Elijah also made some pretty major mistakes, so not all of his life is an example of complete perfection. But Enoch—Enoch was a common man! “Enoch,” says the Scripture, “walked with God!”
So Enoch has become the role model for the Last Generation of believers. We hear sermons about the life of Enoch. We study Ellen White books on the life of Enoch. We hold seminars on living the life of Enoch.
But in all this, we neglect one overwhelming fact. The scriptures are almost entirely silent on the life of Enoch! There are six short verses in the fifth chapter Genesis that mention Enoch, the crux of which simply states that “Enoch walked with God, and he was not for God took him.” (Genesis 5:24) Enoch is mentioned again in the hall of faith in Hebrews 11, and a quote from an apocryphal book attributed to Enoch is found in Jude 14.
That’s it! That’s all the Bible has to say about Enoch! Is Enoch the only role model for those living in the last days? Mrs. White, of course, expands much on the life of Enoch, and used His life as a basis for many of her messages on righteous living. Even still, if 99% of the stories in the Bible aren’t applicable to the Final Generation, I’d say we’re left on a pretty shaky foundation!
Advocates of Last Generation Theology have always had a high regard for the teaching of the investigative judgment. However, we find in the writings of Andreasen a subtle re-interpretation that actually undermines the fundamental Adventist teaching. Along with dispensationalism,Last Generation Theology introduces an element of futurism into our prophetic interpretation.
If you read the writings of Ellen White, she described the third angel’s message as the “banner” of the Seventh-day Adventist movement. She referred to herself and fellow Adventists as being part of the 144,000.
Andreasen takes a more nuanced approach. He applies the 144,000 of Revelation 7 & 14 specifically to the Last Generation. He applies the group described in Revelation 14:12—those who keep the commandments of God and have the faith of Jesus—specifically to the Last Generation. In doing so, he has hijacked the historical identity of the Second Advent Movement and the Seventh-day Adventist church, and applied it to an indefinite and possibly future group of people. Indeed, many aspects of the investigative judgment, that began historically in 1844, are stripped away and made to apply particularly to the “Last Generation.”
The name “Last Generation,” and its application to end-time prophecy, detract from the 1844 message and our identity as Seventh-day Adventists. It’s an Adventist brand of futurism, and it could be deadly! The Adventist pioneers saw no distinction between a “last generation” or “last day people” and themselves. Of course, they could not know that it would be over 170 years before the final events would take place. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that there is not another defined, prophetic group of people to take the place of the group described in Revelation 14:12—a group defined by the judgement hour message of 1844.
In place of the Biblical emphasis on the third angel’s message in conjunction with 1844, Last Generation Theology instead emphasizes the unfinished atonement of Christ. The idea that the atonement was unfinished at the cross is not unbiblical—it simply a way of understanding the investigative judgment as another “phase” in the atonement process.
Andreasen takes the argument of the “unfinished atonement” a step further, by stating that the perfection of the last generation is an integral part of completing the atonement. In the first chapter of his 1948 commentary on “The Book of Hebrews,” Andreasen argues that there are “three phases” in Christ’s work of Atonement:
“In the first phase He bore sins for the purpose of conquering them and eliminating them from the life. In the second phase He bore sins for the purpose of suffering and dying for them, that in His “death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil.” Hebrews 2:14.
“In the third phase Christ demonstrates that man can do what He did, with the same help He had. This phase includes His session at the right hand of God, His high priestly ministry, and the final exhibition of His saints in their last struggle with Satan, and their glorious victory.”
In this view, Andreasen goes further than our pioneers taught, and puts a new slant on the investigative judgment. Rather than being an event which takes place in heaven, during which time we on earth are to search our hearts and proclaim a fast, the Investigative Judgment becomes something we play a vital role in, by allowing God to accomplish a special demonstration to the universe through us.
A Third Option
So, that brings us to today. Amongst the wide diversity we see within the Adventist church, it would seem that two branches of thought are still alive and well. Progressive Adventism still has its followers, who tend to minimize doctrines and emphasize love, unity, and ecumenism. Conservative Adventism seems to have become synonymous with Andreasen’s Last Generation Theology. My questions is this: are these our only options? If one is wrong, is the other right? Or is there a third option?
I would like to propose that there is a third option. No, it doesn’t have a fancy name like Last Generation Theology. It’s not conservatism; It’s not progressivism, nor is it a synthesis of the two. It’s something entirely different—and if it had a name it would simply be called “Seventh-day Adventism.”
I think it’s high time that we get back into the Word of God and examine what we believe. I think we will find that the truth is in what we’ve always believed. The truth is found in an understanding of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, “and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God. Not of works, lest any man should boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9
I think we need to get back to the study of Righteousness by Faith. We need to study the nature of Christ. We need to go back and study the meaning of the atonement and of the investigative judgment.
We need to study last day events, and especially our role as Seventh-day Adventist believers in Bible prophecy. But as we do this, let us not be quick to jump to new conclusions or invent new theologies. Let us not flatter ourselves that we are inherently more privileged, or live in a different light before God, than did the Apostles, or the founders of this great Advent movement.
Let’s get back to the basics and study, “What does it mean to be a Seventh-day Adventist?” No, even before that, make sure to answer this question in our minds: “What does it mean to be a child of God?”
Let’s study last day events. Connect the dots in prophecy, and understand where we stand in history. Then as we read of the terrible calamities about to fall on the world, we won’t have to look on in dread and fear, but in the assurance of knowing Jesus’ love. When Jesus stands as our High Priest before the throne of God in heaven, He bears our names there on His breast. He has provided for our every need, and we can be sure that during the final days He will still be with us. “Lo” He says, “I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.”
And let us not forget the great commission: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations.” (Matthew 28:19) As we reflect the character of Christ in our lives, He will lead us to those who are seeking, and will use us as instruments to His glory. He has given us a work, and the completion of this work is directly connected with His eminent return: “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.” (Matthew 24:14)
Is Last Generation Theology the answer to Progressive Adventism? I would submit to you, the answer is “No.” Last Generation Theology is yet another fork in the road. The answer is to get back to a biblical, true Seventh-day Adventism—to understand where we came from, to embrace our fundamentals, and to look forward to Christ’s soon return.
Over the next few sections, I want to take up several biblical teachings that answer the issues raised by Last Generation Theology, and discuss how they relate to the topic at hand.
Righteousness by Faith
Mrs. White makes a beautiful presentation of the gospel in her classic book, “Steps to Christ.” I’ll try to make a brief summary here.
First of all, there’s nothing we can do to “merit” or “earn” salvation. We are sinful—hopelessly sinful. We behold the law, and we see that our inevitable fate is death. We can’t even come to Christ on our own—we are so weak and helpless. But Christ loves us, despite our sin, and He draws us to Himself. The only thing we can do is to choose. We must choose not to resist His drawing.
By the merits of His death on the cross, Jesus forgives our sin, and credits to us His righteousness in place of our past sin. We are justified—but not only that, by entering into relationship with Him, we become sanctified.
When we enter into a relationship with Him, Jesus changes our desires and fills our hearts with His love. As a result, we fall in love with Jesus so much that we would rather die than to hurt Him. Then, as we behold His character and understand His will, He changes our lives by guiding and empowering our choice to remain committed to Him. He doesn’t force the will, but by cooperating with Him, He enables us to live a holy life. We keep the law, not in order to be saved, but as a result of the work of salvation that Christ continues to work out in us.
“Those who become new creatures in Christ Jesus will bring forth the fruits of the Spirit, “love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance.” Galatians 5:22, 23. They will no longer fashion themselves according to the former lusts, but by the faith of the Son of God they will follow in His steps, reflect His character, and purify themselves even as He is pure. The things they once hated they now love, and the things they once loved they hate. The proud and self-assertive become meek and lowly in heart. The vain and supercilious become serious and unobtrusive. The drunken become sober, and the profligate pure. The vain customs and fashions of the world are laid aside. Christians will seek not the “outward adorning,” but “the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit.” 1 Peter 3:3, 4
“There is no evidence of genuine repentance unless it works reformation. If he restore the pledge, give again that he had robbed, confess his sins, and love God and his fellow men, the sinner may be sure that he has passed from death unto life.
“When, as erring, sinful beings, we come to Christ and become partakers of His pardoning grace, love springs up in the heart. Every burden is light, for the yoke that Christ imposes is easy. Duty becomes a delight, and sacrifice a pleasure. The path that before seemed shrouded in darkness, becomes bright with beams from the Sun of Righteousness. (Steps to Christ, page 58-59)
What About Perfection?
What does it mean to be perfect? What does it mean to be sanctified? Are there different “levels” of perfection and sanctification? Is it necessary to be perfect in order to be saved?
Christ told His disciples, “Be ye therefore perfect.” Obviously, if He commanded His disciples to “be perfect,” He must have thought it was possible. But, to better understand this, we need to understand the principle that Christ taught in John 15:4-5:
“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.”
In the same chapter of Christ’s Object Lessons where Mrs. White says “the character of Christ [must be] perfectly reproduced in His people,” she writes these words:
“The germination of the seed represents the beginning of spiritual life, and the development of the plant is a beautiful figure of Christian growth. As in nature, so in grace; there can be no life without growth. The plant must either grow or die. As its growth is silent and imperceptible, but continuous, so is the development of the Christian life. At every stage of development our life may be perfect; yet if God’s purpose for us is fulfilled, there will be continual advancement. Sanctification is the work of a lifetime. As our opportunities multiply, our experience will enlarge, and our knowledge increase. We shall become strong to bear responsibility, and our maturity will be in proportion to our privileges.”
There are three principles in this paragraph:
- There can be no life without growth.
- At every stage our life may be perfect.
- There will be continual advancement.
Where do we get the concept of perfection as a static, distant, and absolute attainment? Certainly not in this chapter.
This continual growing in grace is the experience of sanctification. “Sanctification is the work of a lifetime,” not because it takes a lifetime to get there, but because the process continues our entire lives. This, I believe, is how Paul could say that the Corinthian believers were “sanctified,” even though he later reproves them by pointing our sin. It is not a “goal” to eventually reach sanctification, but a daily habit of entire surrender—doing everything Jesus requires of us, submitting to every new area of light, each and every day of our lives.
What Happened to 1844?
As Seventh-day Adventists, the 2300-day prophecy of Daniel 8:14, and the message of 1844, is a key part of our history. Although the early Millerite Adventists misunderstood the event heralded by the prophecy, an understanding of the investigative judgment and its connection with the three angel’s messages of Revelation 14 helped lay the foundation for the system of belief that became the Seventh-day Adventist church.
To summarize this belief briefly, we understand that October 22, 1844 marked the beginning of the antitypical Day of Atonement, when Jesus begins His ministration in the second compartment of the heavenly tabernacle.
This corresponds to a time period in Daniel’s vision during the time of the “little horn” power. Daniel looks up into heaven to see thrones set in place and the Ancient of Days taking His seat; when “the judgment was set and the books were opened.” (Daniel 7:10) This is the same time period spoken of in Revelation 11:18-19:
“the time of the dead, that they should be judged, and that thou shouldest give reward unto thy servants the prophets, and to the saints, and them that fear thy name … And the temple of God was opened in heaven, and there was seen in his temple the ark of his testament: and there were lightnings, and voices, and thunderings, and an earthquake, and great hail.”
The investigative judgment provides a framework for the Seventh-day Adventist understanding of the law, the Sabbath, the second coming and final events, and the work that God is doing on earth in preparation for the second coming. The first of the three angels of Revelation 14 proclaims, “Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters.” The third angel’s message connects the dots for us as Seventh-day Adventists. It defines our place in history—at the time of the judgment. It defines our message—to fear God, give glory to Him, to worship Him in accordance with His commandments, and enter into His Sabbath rest. It gives us our mission—to warn the world of the fall of Babylon, and against receiving the mark of the beast. Finally, the closing words of the third angel give us an identity as the end-time people of God: “Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.”
This is our identity as Seventh-day Adventists. Since 1844, Mrs. White states that we have been living in the light of the third angel’s message. Our identity includes the keeping of the commandments of God, and the “faith of Jesus.” Our special call—to “give glory to God” through the keeping of all the ten commandments—began in 1844. This is not a new calling given to the Last Generation. This has been our identity as a movement since 1844!
The Investigative Judgment and the Vindication of God
The sanctuary message provides a framework for our understanding of the process Christ follows in eradicating sin from the universe. We see the cross as the center-piece of this process, but not the entire picture. There are a number of events that happen at specific times in history, each of which is a necessary part of this process.
We understand the death of Christ on the cross as providing full and complete atonement for all sin. Nothing could be added to His work on the cross, in the sense of “adding” merit to His sacrifice. However, we know that even though provision is made, not all will be saved. I must accept the merits of His sacrifice, by faith, in order for His atonement to be applied to me. In the Investigative Judgment, Christ reviews the record books of heaven, in a very open and transparent demonstration of His justice. In doing so, He makes a final application of His atoning blood to the case of every believer.
You could ask the question this way: Did Jesus forgive (or provide forgiveness for) your sin when He died on the cross? Does He forgive your sin when you confess and repent? Does He forgive (or blot out) your sin during the investigative judgment? The answer in each case is “yes.” Does that mean that His death on the cross wasn’t good enough, so He had to forgive the sin again? No! Of course not! They are just different “phases” in the process—and that’s the lesson the sanctuary was designed to teach.
Does the investigative judgment vindicate God? Yes, it does! How so? Not by defeating Satan in the minds of angels and unfallen worlds. That was done when Jesus died on the cross. Notice this quote from Desire of Ages, page 758:
“Christ did not yield up His life till He had accomplished the work which He came to do, and with His parting breath He exclaimed, ‘It is finished.’ John 19:30. The battle had been won. His right hand and His holy arm had gotten Him the victory. As a Conqueror He planted His banner on the eternal heights. Was there not joy among the angels? All heaven triumphed in the Saviour’s victory. Satan was defeated, and knew that his kingdom was lost. … Not until the death of Christ was the character of Satan clearly revealed to the angels or to the unfallen worlds.”
How, then, is God vindicated in the investigative judgment? By opening the books, and conducting the judgment publicly before the universe, God gives an unprecedented level of transparency into His Divine government, allowing angels and unfallen worlds to see the justice of every case that is decided. It’s not a secret courtroom, or an arbitrary decision in the mind of the Supreme Ruler—it’s an open, heavenly court of law. It insures the harmony of the universe by settling forever any question of God’s justice in deciding the cases of men.
What is the part we play in this? Remember, it is not our own goodness that vindicates us (or anyone else) in the judgment. Rather, the purpose of the judgment is to see whether we have accepted the merits of Christ to cover our guilt, and whether our lives bear fruit as evidence of a changed heart. Yes, indeed, our lives are being judged, while we are living! What a sobering thought, indeed! Listen to the words of Peter:
“The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness. Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless.” (2 Peter 3:9-14)
Here is our calling—to allow the merits of Christ’s sacrifice to cover our guilt, and in relationship with Him to live godly lives. In this way, when our names come before the judgment, God will see, not our righteousness, which is as filthy rags, but the righteousness of Christ, covering a past life of sin, and the fruit of the spirit exemplified in our lives today.
Is God’s character vindicated by the lives of those living in the last day? Yes, but in a more narrow sphere. God’s character is vindicated before men and women in this world. This is the gospel commission and the third angel’s message: to represent Christ’s character to the world. We bring honor to God by our faithfulness, as have all who have lived righteously before us. The angels of heaven rejoice over one sinner who repents. But angels and unfallen worlds have already made up their minds in regard to Satan. This part of the Great Controversy was won when Jesus declared those words of victory from the cross: “It is finished.” The last beings to make up their minds are those living here on this world, and it is for them we should be living to represent Christ.
Christian Maturity at the End of Time
The idea that both believers and unbelievers reach a certain level of “maturity” is certainly Biblical:
“When the fruit is brought forth, immediately he putteth in the sickle, because the harvest is come.” (Matthew 4:29)
“And another angel came out of the temple, crying with a loud voice to him that sat on the cloud, Thrust in thy sickle, and reap: for the time is come for thee to reap; for the harvest of the earth is ripe.” (Revelation 14:15)
The maturity, both of righteous and wicked, is what prepares the way for the close of probation. This is also referred to as the “sealing” of the 144,000. Because of His mercy, Christ continues to intercede in the heavenly sanctuary as long as there is hope of saving yet one more soul.
“Just as soon as the people of God are sealed in their foreheads—it is not any seal or mark that can be seen, but a settling into the truth, both intellectually and spiritually, so they cannot be moved—just as soon as God’s people are sealed and prepared for the shaking, it will come. Indeed, it has begun already; the judgments of God are now upon the land to give us warning, that we may know what is coming.” Ms173-1902.25, also Last Day Events page 219
The difference is not qualitative—it’s not a different kind of experience. The grain doesn’t suddenly become a fig tree. Instead, this maturing is simply a “settling into the truth” and a deepening of the experience they already began before the close of probation.
The Close of Probation
What kind of preparation is needed by those who go through the close of probation? Mrs. White has this to say, in Great Controversy, page 425:
Says the prophet: “Who may abide the day of His coming? and who shall stand when He appeareth? for He is like a refiner’s fire, and like fullers’ soap: and He shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and He shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness.” Malachi 3:2, 3. Those who are living upon the earth when the intercession of Christ shall cease in the sanctuary above are to stand in the sight of a holy God without a mediator. Their robes must be spotless, their characters must be purified from sin by the blood of sprinkling. Through the grace of God and their own diligent effort they must be conquerors in the battle with evil. While the investigative judgment is going forward in heaven, while the sins of penitent believers are being removed from the sanctuary, there is to be a special work of purification, of putting away of sin, among God’s people upon earth. This work is more clearly presented in the messages of Revelation 14.
When this work shall have been accomplished, the followers of Christ will be ready for His appearing. “Then shall the offering of Judah and Jerusalem be pleasant unto the Lord, as in the days of old, and as in former years.” Malachi 3:4. Then the church which our Lord at His coming is to receive to Himself will be a “glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing.” Ephesians 5:27. Then she will look “forth as the morning, fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners.” Song of Solomon 6:10.
The phrase “to stand without a mediator” has struck fear into the hearts of many sincere Seventh-day Adventists. Undoubtedly, this is a solemn warning, and a call to prepare our hearts! Let’s just look at a few points here:
- When it says to “stand without a mediator,” does this mean that Christians will have to live without Christ? Of course not! He has said he will “never leave” us.
- Do the last day Christians get “spotless” and “pure” characters by their own works? No! The spotless robe is Christ’s righteousness. See Revelation 7:14. Christ’s robe of righteousness still covers us after the close of probation–this is significant. Never do we stand before God in our own righteousness—always in the robe of Christ’s righteousness.
- How are we to be conquerors in the battle with evil? On our own? No! Not on our own, but “by the grace of God and our own diligent efforts.” God’s grace still sustains us in the battle after the close of probation, just as He has before.
Suffice it to say that Jesus does not cease to be our Lord and Savior when He closes His work of mediation in our behalf. The Bible is clear that there will be no “changing sides” after the close of probation. There’s coming a time when it will be too late to make wrongs right. But the life we live after the close of probation will simply be a continuation of the life we live day to day, even now. If we are abiding it Christ, we will continue to do so. If not, then soon it will be too late!
It is telling, too, to notice the context of this paragraph. This is written in the chapter on the Investigative Judgment, not on the time of trouble. In this context, Mrs. White connects the special work of purification, not with a future “Last Generation” but with the Advent Movement ever since the time of 1844. The thrust of her argument in this chapter and the succeeding chapter is the importance of keeping the Sabbath and embracing the Seventh-day Adventist message—more so now than ever before!
The Time of Trouble
Mrs. White’s narrative on the Time of Trouble, several chapters later, is also worthy of note. This has also been a frightening chapter for many sincere Adventists, but it doesn’t have to be. What Bible character represents end-time believers in this chapter? You might think it would be Enoch, but no, it’s not. Instead, it’s the time of Jacob’s trouble. Jacob! Yes, the one who tricked his brother, lied to his dad, and then ran for his life! Yet He repented, and in his night of wrestling with the angel, the Scripture says that “he prevailed.”
Don’t miss this point: during the fiery trials of the time of Jacob’s trouble, God continues to refine our characters after probation has closed:
“Jacob’s history is also an assurance that God will not cast off those who have been deceived and tempted and betrayed into sin, but who have returned unto Him with true repentance. While Satan seeks to destroy this class, God will send His angels to comfort and protect them in the time of peril. The assaults of Satan are fierce and determined, his delusions are terrible; but the Lord’s eye is upon His people, and His ear listens to their cries. Their affliction is great, the flames of the furnace seem about to consume them; but the Refiner will bring them forth as gold tried in the fire. God’s love for His children during the period of their severest trial is as strong and tender as in the days of their sunniest prosperity; but it is needful for them to be placed in the furnace of fire; their earthliness must be consumed, that the image of Christ may be perfectly reflected.” (Great Controversy, page 621)
Hastening the Second Advent
Is it possible that we, by our lives, can hasten the second coming for Christ? We read in 2 Peter 3:12, “Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God.” Mrs. White’s expands on this theme in her book, Christ’s Object Lessons. We’ve already looked at one paragraph from this chapter, in the section above on perfection. Let’s take a deeper look at the oft-repeated quote:
“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.
“It is the privilege of every Christian not only to look for but to hasten the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, (2 Peter 3:12, margin). Were all who profess His name bearing fruit to His glory, how quickly the whole world would be sown with the seed of the gospel. Quickly the last great harvest would be ripened, and Christ would come to gather the precious grain.”
Notice how the entire context of the chapter is speaking of sowing the world with the seed of the gospel. At the root of hastening Christ’s second coming is the fulfillment of the Great Commission. The more we reflect Christ’s character to the world, the sooner will the world learn of Him, and the sooner can He return!
Mrs. White writes, in Desire of Ages, page 297:
He who called the fishermen of Galilee is still calling men to His service. And He is just as willing to manifest His power through us as through the first disciples. However imperfect and sinful we may be, the Lord holds out to us the offer of partnership with Himself, of apprenticeship to Christ. He invites us to come under the divine instruction, that, uniting with Christ, we may work the works of God.
To bring it to a practical level, let me ask this, for us, living in the very end of time:
Where should our focus be?
Do we need to focus more on the development of our characters, as some of the above quotations seem to imply? Or should we not rather place our focus on the mission Christ has given to us—to follow Him in doing the work He called us to do. Listen to the words of Ms. White in Desire of Ages, page 250-251
He who loves Christ the most will do the greatest amount of good. There is no limit to the usefulness of one who, by putting self aside, makes room for the working of the Holy Spirit upon his heart, and lives a life wholly consecrated to God. If men will endure the necessary discipline, without complaining or fainting by the way, God will teach them hour by hour, and day by day. He longs to reveal His grace. If His people will remove the obstructions, He will pour forth the waters of salvation in abundant streams through the human channels. If men in humble life were encouraged to do all the good they could do, if restraining hands were not laid upon them to repress their zeal, there would be a hundred workers for Christ where now there is one.
God takes men as they are, and educates them for His service, if they will yield themselves to Him. The Spirit of God, received into the soul, will quicken all its faculties. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the mind that is devoted unreservedly to God develops harmoniously, and is strengthened to comprehend and fulfill the requirements of God. The weak, vacillating character becomes changed to one of strength and steadfastness. Continual devotion establishes so close a relation between Jesus and His disciple that the Christian becomes like Him in mind and character. Through a connection with Christ he will have clearer and broader views. His discernment will be more penetrative, his judgment better balanced. He who longs to be of service to Christ is so quickened by the life-giving power of the Sun of Righteousness that he is enabled to bear much fruit to the glory of God.
An Appeal to Leaders
Let me make this point clear: I’m not saying that our church is in apostasy. I’m not trying to slam the conservative (or progressive) segments of our church for false teaching. Many of my close friends have proclaimed their support for Last Generation Theology. I believe they are mistaken, but I do not believe they are in apostasy. Not everyone who teaches Last Generation Theology believes everything as I have outlined here. There is a wide spectrum of belief within the umbrella of this term. Perhaps no one believes it quite exactly as I have outlined here.
Nevertheless, I believe it is high time that we, as leaders within the Seventh-day Adventist church, should stop saying we support Last Generation Theology. Let’s stop trying to make excuses for it. I’m not condemning Andreasen as a person, or belittling the contribution he has made to Adventism, but I believe it’s time we stop defending his theology, and spend our energies defending the truth.
I think for many of us, this issue has caught us off guard. Most of the time, the Last Generation Theology theme hides in the background, and we don’t address it. Only occasionally can it be pointed out for what it is.
By and large, I feel that we as Adventist, whether “conservative” or “liberal”, have a sincere desire to love and serve the Lord. To myself and to you, I make this appeal: Please, study, study, study. Let us be like the Berean believers of Acts 17.11. Don’t just assume that what we’ve always been taught is really fundamental Adventist teaching. We’ve been repeating the same mantras and re-hashing the same Ellen White quotes entirely too long! And it is driving thinking people away from our church! It’s driving our most vulnerable members to extremes of legalism!
We as Seventh-day Adventist leaders need to embrace the fundamentals of Adventism. We need to be settled in our minds in our understanding of the third angel’s message and the 2,300 days. We need to have a firm grasp on Righteousness by Faith, and of end-time prophecy. Then, when these questions arise, we will be prepared to meet them.
I want to appeal to pastors, teachers, parents, and leaders in any capacity—please, be honest with the Scriptures and with the writings of Ellen White. Far too many of our people have rejected God and lost the faith because we hear Ellen White misquoted! Once we hear a quotation pulled out of context and twisted, it becomes very difficult to put it back in its proper place.
I believe the majority of our leaders have a solid understanding of Adventism. But too many of us are looking the other way, and avoiding the controversy over this topic of Last Generation Theology. We even quote these paragraphs from Mrs. White’s writings, such as GC 425 and COL 69, which have been used for years as a spiritual sledge-hammer, and we haven’t made enough effort to put them back into their proper context. In doing so, while we teach the truth, we’re pushing more and more young people over the edge into legalism, or driving them out of the church.
Friends, let us put down our wrecking balls, pick up our trowels, and become repairers of the breach (Isaiah 58:12). Let us put the Scriptures and the writings of Mrs. White back into their proper setting. Let us pick up the broken pieces of Adventism, and let us, together, work toward Jesus’ soon return. Let us restore the honor due to God, and get back to the work He has commissioned us to do.
“Even so, come, Lord Jesus.” Revelation 22:20
For Further Reading
God’s Character in the Last Generation by Andrews University
End-Time Events and the Last Generation by George Knight
Contemporary Articles and Messages Critical of LGT:
An Analysis of Larry Kirkpatrick’s “Cleanse and Close: Last Generation Theology in 14 Points” by Daniel McFeeters
QOD – A Way Forward by Mike Manea
Stubble for the Lake of Fire by Cliff Goldstein
Theology of the Last Generation by Angel Manuel Rodríguez
Viewpoint: Before Men and Angels – Sabbath at GYC by Andre Reis
Reclaiming Adventism by Pastor Marcos Torres
Overcoming the LGT Formula by Pastor Marcos Torres
Last Generation Theology: A Different Salvation? (GYC 2012) Audio Message by Nick Miller
Thesis: A Historical-Contextual Analysis of the Final Generation Theology of M. L. Andreasen, by Paul M. Evans
Contemporary Articles and Messages Supporting LGT:
A Giant Among Men by Lemuel Sapian
Perfection in the Last Generation by Eugene Prewitt
Does Last Generation Theology Amount to a Change in the Everlasting Gospel? – Audio Message by Eugene Prewitt
The Last Generation – Audio Message by Mark Howard
The Final Generation Panel Discussion (GYC 2015) Audio Message by Andy Im & others
Five Popular Myths about Last Generation Theology, by Kevin Paulson
Questions on Doctrine – 50th Annual Conference, October 24-27, 2007
Audio and PDF of historic symposium, featuring viewpoints on both sides of the QOD discussion
Ted Wilson on Q&A, December 18, 2015
The Sanctuary Service, by M. L. Andreasen – Full Book
The Book of Hebrews, by M. L. Andreasen – Full Book
Very true pastor
I have been involved with very many who believe in last generation theology for over 40 years and it seems to me that your understanding of what constitutes LGT is not what I know it to be. What you described as a third option is what we have always believed. Maybe there is another group claiming to believe in LGT that I don’t know anything about.