WWU President answers spiritual formation accusations

Walla Walla University President John McVay issued the following letter over a week ago on the university's website. McVay shares his perspective on the accusations about WWU people concerning spiritual formation and the emerging church.

November 20, 2014

Dear Friend,

Allow me to share a personal word about accusations now all-too-regularly offered against people associated with Walla Walla University.

I imagine you to be someone positively inclined toward the excellent, Seventh-day Adventist education offered at Walla Walla University, and positively inclined toward me. Perhaps you have been a student on the WWU campus, or know me from my time at Pacific Union College or Andrews University. If so, you know what I stand for. But, of late, you may have heard floating about some pretty sinister accusations about WWU people concerning “spiritual formation” and the “emerging church.” These accusations have been shared often enough, and in strident enough voice, that you’ve begun to worry whether or not something sinister is going on at WWU.

I will offer my straightforward assessment of the situation and then suggest some strategies for you to explore these issues for yourself (because to do them justice you will need to do just that).

The attackers—“the accusers of the brethren,” if I may call them that—offer criticisms that are low on content and high on innuendo, half-truth, and damnation by association. They offer their accusations from afar without engaging the people they accuse (see Matthew 18:15-17). Those of us who know the people being attacked, who regularly listen to them teach Sabbath School classes and preach and participate in committee meetings, simply do not recognize the extreme caricature the attackers offer. We know these people they attack to be godly and faithful Seventh-day Adventists who are working hard to draw others to truth.

To explore these matters further, I would encourage you to do the following:

  1. Read the statement, “Until Christ is Formed In You,” offered by the WWU Seventh-day Adventist Church and the statement offered by the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, “A Statement on Biblical Spirituality,” and ponder these questions: Does the biblical thought offered in these statements make sense to you? Should we flee from any commitment to Christ “being formed within” for fear that we might succumb to Eastern influences? Is there not a biblical and Adventist way to approach the devotional life and the effort to experience the sanctification offered by the Holy Spirit, one that should be embraced with joy and vigor?
  2. Read the article on a thoughtful faith by Bill Knott, editor of the Adventist Review, “Reclaiming the Library,” and reflect on these questions: Should thought leaders be condemned for citing non-Adventist authors and engaging the wider culture? Is Seventh-day Adventist thought so fragile that we dare not read anything from non-believers? Are Seventh-day Adventist beliefs not strong and robust, able to confront and convict?
  3. Read the Southern Adventist University School of Religion “Faculty Statement on the Emerging Church Movement” and think about these issues: Is the “emerging church” a simple phenomenon that can easily be defined and used as a mechanical litmus test? Or is it a more complex phenomenon that requires prayerful discernment and care? 
  4. The senior pastor of the WWU Seventh-day Adventist Church has now preached week-by-week for some five years. Most of those sermons are easily accessible via the church’s archives. Let me encourage you to randomly select four or five sermons, listen to them, and then ask: Are these sermons faithful, biblical, Adventist sermons, the obvious purpose of which is to draw people toward God and truth? Or are they heretical? 
  5. And, please, come to the WWU campus and experience our community of faith and discovery firsthand. Our campus ministries events and worship services are open to you. We are a highly residential campus, so we do weekends and Sabbath together. You will experience a vigorous, Seventh-day Adventist campus that offers a wide array of service and worship opportunities for our students—a campus that is bursting with active faith. Come and see for yourself! 

I would frankly prefer to ignore all this and focus on the important work at hand. I have become persuaded, though, that unjust attacks are doing real damage to God’s Church. And I very much appreciate your willingness to engage these issues carefully and prayerfully. 

If I can be of further help to you on these themes, please do not hesitate to contact me at john.mcvay@wallawalla.edu or (509) 527-2121.



John McVay
Walla Walla University 

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