I was visiting Spectrum Magazine’s website and noticed a banner advertising the 2013 Adventist Forum Conference. The conference was titled “A Third Way” and had a reddish orange ring in the background, which looked like a reference to the Hegelian Dialectic Philosophy used to merge the traditional church with the mystical emerging church into a synthesis called “The Third Way.”
I quickly scanned the names of the speakers for the event: Brian McLaren, Samir Selmanovic, Ryan Bell, William Johnson, Gordon Bietz and Lisa Clark Diller.
I was astonished that Spectrum would invite Brian McLaren, the leader of the emerging church movement who denies the blood atonement of Jesus, the authority of Scripture and a literal hell. He also keeps the Muslim Feast of Ramadan and promotes Ignatian Spiritual Formation.
A feeling of righteous indignation started to grow inside me when I saw that the location of the conference was in Chattanooga, Tenn. I attended Southern Adventist University from 1990-1995, and still consider it to be “holy ground” as I feel many of our colleges and universities have adopted a radical liberal agenda.
I had many questions regarding the event: Why would Dr. Bietz take part in this conference? And who was promoting and organizing the event on campus? I decided to do my due diligence and visit Southern two days prior to the event.
The Thursday before to the conference I met with five professors from the School of Religion at Southern. The professors I met with voiced their concerns about the conference and had decided not to attend. Over the course of the afternoon, I was continually impressed by the faculty’s spiritual discernment and resolute stand on the word of God against this emergent deception.
I quickly learned that Lisa Clark Diller, history department chair at Southern and old classmate of mine, was the organizing force on campus for the Third Way conference. I later learned from students who had attended the event that Dr. Diller had sent emails to all history majors and minors, inviting them to the conference.
I had wondered how the poor, ramen noodle eating college students were going to pay for the $45.00 cover charge, which did not include meals. Students said Dr. Diller subsidized them through the history department so they could attend for free. She also provided free copies of Brian McLaren’s new book “Why did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?” If that was not enough, one of the students said Dr. Diller had signed her up to become a member of the Spectrum Forum.
Many have questioned Dr. Diller’s involvement with the One Project and her audio file on the Spectrum blog promoting Catholic Lent with Ryan Bell, but subsidizing and actively proselytizing students to the radically liberal Spectrum Forum is an activity not appropriate or acceptable at Southern.
Friday evening finally arrived and I made my way to downtown Chattanooga to the historic Sheraton Read House Hotel. There were roughly 150-170 people in attendance, including 10 students from Southern.
At 7:00 p.m. McLaren began to speak, wasting no time with his indoctrination of liberal revisionist history, which included Anglo Christian atrocities and a heavy dose of liberation theology. McLaren suggested that it was the divisive doctrines of Christianity that have caused these horrible injustices within our world. McLaren’s prescription for global restoration included the deconstruction of the core beliefs of Christianity.
Continuing with this theme, McLaren went on to deny the fall and dismiss the Adventist Church’s interpretation of the fall as Greek Platonic thinking. At this point in the presentation, I quickly glanced at my watch and marveled that it only took McLaren 30 minutes to get rid of the fall, sin, and the need of a savior.
Shortly thereafter McLaren turned to the screen and announced that the blood atonement of Jesus, in terms of a purchase or an exchange between our sins and Jesus’ blood, was an errant concept not to be found in the Bible. The core doctrine of the Christian Gospel had just been declared to be false.
I began to wonder if McLaren’s Bible was missing some pages like: Isaiah 53:11, “…my righteous servant shall justify many for he shall bear their iniquities,” or Romans 5:9, “Much more then, being justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him,” or 2 Peter 2:1, “there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.”
I knew McLaren denied these sacred truths, but nothing could have prepared me to hear these heretical blasphemies in person. As the evening drew to a close, I was left wondering what biblical doctrines were left for McLaren to deconstruct during the Sabbath morning service.
During the Sabbath service, McLaren cited the Christian doctrines of baptism and communion as examples of liturgy that divides us from others. McLaren redefined the Jewish mikvah baptism for ritual cleanliness and declared that the baptism of John the Baptist marked a decided change in the meaning of baptism, no longer distinguishing between clean and unclean, but repentance for social injustices.
After McLaren’s presentation, the deep and melodic voice of Dr. Gordon Bietz, President of Southern Adventist University, pierced through the spiritual darkness as he gave a scathing rebuttal. Dr. Bietz boldly called McLaren out on multiple points in his presentation.
The mood and tone of the meeting decidedly changed after Dr. Bietz’s rebuttal. It was as if a hypnotic spell had been broken. I approached several individuals enquiring what they thought of the morning session. They remarked that they sided with Dr. Bietz instead of Dr. McLaren.
After lunch, I spotted McLaren making his way to the table of the young freshman girls from Southern that I had just had lunch with, so I made my way to their table.
One of the students sheepishly asked McLaren, “Do you believe in the blood atonement of Christ.”
McLaren confidently and forcefully answered, “Absolutely not.”
The young female freshman looked bewildered, while two middle-aged women sitting at the table appeared to hang on his every word.
I interjected and laid out my case, “If the Bible says in Revelation 12 that we overcome by the blood of the Lamb and by our testimony, and you clearly don’t believe in the blood atonement of the lamb, and you don’t believe that we should give our testimony regarding Jesus because it is too arrogant and non-inclusive, then have you not created an alternate false gospel?” McLaren instantly denied this.
I related a story to McLaren of how God had warned my sister and I not to attend an almost identical conference to this one in 2002 called “Loving Babylon” where himself, Samir Selmanovic, and Ryan Bell and a host of other emergent Adventist pastors spoke.
Although we did not attend the event, we witnessed the spiritual fruit of these young emergent pastors. I recounted how the true Gospel of Jesus Christ, His atoning blood for sin, repentance, God’s Judgment, and the second coming had been supplanted by an alternate false gospel of community building, social justice, and a kingdom now utopia.
I recounted how Ryan Bell blogged about a conversation between McLaren and a group of young Adventist pastors.
I said, “You wanted them not to leave the church, but to become change agents within the church.” McLaren attempted to deny this, but looked concerned.
McLaren turned his back to me and directed his attention to the two girls at the table and said, ”You don’t have to fear God. The idea that God has wrath is not found in the Bible.”
I immediately blurted out a reference to Matthew 10:28, “Do not fear him that can kill the body, but him that can destroy both body and soul in hell.”
McLaren turned around and with a look of astonishment declared, ”You did not come over to this table to learn from me.”
I replied, “Brian, what would I have to learn from a man that denies the blood atonement of Jesus, the authority of scripture, and the existence of hell?”
“Then why did you come over to this table?” He asked.
“I saw you coming over to prey upon this young group of students,” I replied, and with that, the conversation ended.
Samir Selmanovic was scheduled to speak next. I was all too acquainted with Samir and his pursuit of finding God in the “other.” During my time at Loma Linda Medical School, Selmanovic came to Loma Linda’s Crosswalk Church, and every Sabbath that Samir spoke, he brought a bizarre blend of new age mysticism and ecumenical inclusiveness that made me wonder if I had accidentally walked in on a Bahai service. As the numbers of attendees at Crosswalk began to dwindle, Samir parted ways and went to New York where he started Faith House Manhattan.
Faith House became a veritable melting pot of mysticism. One night they would worship with Wiccans, another night Sufi Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and Atheists. Samir’s life thesis for the past decade can be condensed into the idea that we will become stronger Christians and better Adventists if we worship and learn from the mystery of “the other.”
At 3:00 p.m. Selmanovic took the stage. In a moment of self-introspection, Samir admitted to the crowd, that he has actually become weaker in his own faith tradition as a result of this spiritual quest of finding God in “the other.” After a long pause, Selmanovic declared, “I once could see, and now I am blind.” It was a stunning admission, the exact opposite of the song “Amazing Grace.” Selmanovic ended his presentation with a prayer to the Universe, not the God of the universe.
Next on the schedule was an emergent version of speed dating, where a table of eight would spend ten minutes with Selmanovic, then McLaren, and so on. I sat at Selmanovic’s table to see if he had anything else to confess. He started off by saying: “I create sacred space in my mind, when my mind is empty that is when the good things happen.”
I felt the prompting of the Holy Spirit telling me that it was time to leave. I stood up and gathered my things and left. I decided to skip the ecumenical celebration dinner scheduled for that evening.
As I left Spectrum’s conference, I found myself spiritually exhausted from the darkness and spiritual oppression of the event. In a moment of reflection, I pondered the disobedience and rebellion toward God that such a group must have to seek wisdom from blind guides and heretics that worship with witches and deny the atoning blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and found myself weighted down with a burden for the young students that had just been exposed to such evil.
Monday afternoon I met with Dr. Bietz to discuss the weekend event, and have a follow-up meeting with some of the theology professors. Since the Third Way Conference, I have been contacted by prominent members of ASI, major donors to Southern Adventist University, alumni, professors and students, all of whom share the same concerns about the Third Way conference and its effect upon the university and our church.
Aaron Muth is the producer of the documentary called “The Shaking," a film on the invasion of the Emerging Church and Spiritual formation within the Seventh-day Adventist Church.