Recapturing Adventism’s big picture

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For the first time in more than a decade, the South Pacific Division (SPD) has held a Bible conference, taking the “Recapturing the big picture” theme on the road. The conference was held in three venues: at Avondale College of Higher Education, where roughly 120 attended, Fulton College (150) and Pacific Adventist University (160). 

Organised by outgoing SPD field and ministerial secretary Dr David Tasker, the conference served to acquaint pastors with issues like the nature and place of the spirit of prophecy, the role of Ellen G White, the establishment of doctrine such as the investigative judgement and the divinity of Christ as well as dealing with some of the controversies that have struck the Church in the past 30 years.

We have a prophetic and salvific heritage that we need to continually make afresh for each new generation. . .

Dr Tasker said the conference “reinforced the importance of gaining our understanding from Scripture and not from a pressure group”.

All of the presenters were systematic theologians, meaning that they looked at overall themes and big picture issues rather than specific or narrow fields of interest.

Guest lecturers included prolific author Dr George Knight, now retired, who presented his journey in the science of salvation; Andrews University lecturers Dr Darius Jankiewicz and Dr John Reeve, specialists in historical theology; Dr Kwabena Donker from the Biblical Research Institute; and Dr Kendra Haloviak-Valentine (who took the morning devotions) and her husband Dr Gil Valentine, author and specialist on Ellen G White.

“This was an incredibly significant event for our Church around the Pacific,” said Dr Barry Oliver, SPD president and final presenter at each event.

The Avondale program was attended by ministers with Masters qualifications or above from across Australia and New Zealand, while the events at Fulton and Pacific Adventist University (PAU) were limited to pastors with at least Bachelors qualifications.

There were breakout discussion groups after each lecture at Avondale and Fulton. This allowed participants to engage more directly, asking questions and going deeper into the issues being presented. At PAU, due to space constraints, there was an open forum Q&A session instead. “One of the strengths of these conferences was the programmed discussion groups,“ Dr Tasker said. “We’ve never had Bible conferences with this much discussion.”

One of the topics that resonated most with participants in the island venues was from Dr Kwabena Donker, who spoke about the clash of culture and the spiritualism that is a part of life for many church members across the world. The Ghanaian doctor told participants that the village he is from is the centre of spiritualism and voodoo in Ghana, a real “heart of darkness”.

“We need to do this kind of thing—speak in a safe environment, freely, without fear—we need to do this more regularly and examine these hot topics,” said Dr Tasker, who has recently taken up a position lecturing in Old Testament studies at Avondale College.

The event served as a handover of sorts. Dr Tasker’s role has been split into two: Dr Branimir Schubert has taken on the ministerial secretary role and Dr Graeme Humble is the new field secretary.

“The value of the conference is to let the pastors know that we have a prophetic and salvific heritage that we need to continually make afresh for each new generation as it comes through. [They] need to own the faith and not just blindly accept it from the ‘elders’ but carefully evaluate and internalise it,” Dr Tasker said.

The cost of the event makes it unlikely that it will be held more than once every five years. However, Dr Tasker hopes to run similar conferences at Avondale more frequently where interested pastors and lay-people can pay their own way. Until then, plans will continue for the next biblical conference some time before 2020.