One Project: present or emergent truth?

I had made no plans to attend the One Project scheduled for February 10 and 11 in Seattle, but a mid-morning phone call stirred me from my intended Sunday morning sleep-in.  A friend on the phone urged, "I've been given two tickets to the One Project. They’re free!  Do you want to go?  Let's go! Free tickets!" That got me up and going.

Within four hours we had both put the next three days of our lives on hold and prayerfully began the drive across our freshly snow-blanketed state, eager to hear and find out what the One Project was all about. I had heard the slogans "Supremacy of Jesus" and "Jesus. All." but knew little else.

As the elevator doors opened on the Seattle Westin Hotel’s fourth floor, we were greeted with the sound of live rock music coming from the adjacent ballroom---guitars, electronic keyboard, full trap set with drums---all on overload.  My first thought was, "We’ve got to be on the wrong floor."  But no, these were our own homegrown Adventist rock musicians.  And they continued with their ‘rock,’ before, after and in between each activity during the next two days.

During registration, we were informed that all the attendees had been encouraged to read The Desire of Ages and the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John before coming.  Initially I felt unprepared, not having reread these books recently.  However, throughout the conference there was little reference to any of these books again.

The hotel ballroom, arranged with large round tables and a stage at one end, quickly filled with over 750 people.  The 2014 Seattle One Project, titled Jesus. All., subtitled "Present Truth."

Discovering “Present Truth” was to be the topic, so I began reviewing in my mind those unique beliefs revealed during the founding of our church--the sanctuary, the Sabbath, the state of the dead,  the second coming of Christ--all within the context of the three angels messages, the foundational Adventist truths I learned as a child. I began to listen for “Present Truth.”

The structure of the event included lecturers, video clips, discussion groups, and an occasional “open mic.” I quickly saw that each of these activities were overtly urging the notion of “change,” no defined change, simply change. Each video clip (about a minute in length) depicted a different person walking through beautiful nature scenes with a voiceover revealing their “dreams” for our church. During the group discussions called "recalibration," there were “trained” facilitators, guiding and refocusing conversation only toward the prepared questions assigned to each group.  Even the group discussion name “recalibration” implied “change” since only a malfunctioning machine needs recalibration.

I continued listening for an Adventist version of “Present Truth,” but instead heard a revised truth--a nebulous truth that focused on “conversation” and “dialogue,” with consensus determining direction. I heard people disillusioned with the established church structure, some seeking to deconstruct traditional worship. I heard an urging that a “narrative” truth be interpreted by “current culture.”  I heard an advocacy for a social gospel with no mention of evangelism.  I heard an urgency that we dip into “other streams” and “streams that flow both ways” for truth.  And I heard mockery of our church both in word and in tone from the platform and attendees. I heard an emergent truth.

What follows are excerpts from notes I took about several selected speakers:

Bill Knott, Editor of the Adventist Review: Knott spoke poetically about his quiet walks at his favorite time of day in communion with Christ, and then talked of the walk Christ took with two of His disciples on the Emmaus road.  Knott’s focus was on the importance of the “conversation” and “dialogue” that took place between Jesus and his disciples.  The actual message of Jesus, the plan of salvation from Genesis to Revelation, was never mentioned.

He continued emphasizing:

  • "Disagreement is important to our growth."
  • "Jesus expects disagreement in His church."
  • “We are, after all, dialogical Adventists" (dialogue and discussion)

Mockingly he warned, “BEWARE of the men in charge.”  (in Garrison Keillor, News from Lake Wobegon style)  "Where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking and the children are all above average."  (This elicited sustained laughter and applause from the audience.)

He concluded with sarcastic references of the worldwide evangelistic efforts of the church ending with "the Days of Reaping or Net anything." (This elicited even greater sustained laughter by the audience.)

Japhet De Oliviera, a One Project co-founder: De Oliviera set the tone for the conference as he welcomed the One Project attendees with some startling statements:

  • "It's time to change our minds,"
  • "It's OK to turn around 180 degrees,"
  • "Nothing is etched in stone"
  • "The more we know the more uncertain we become."

He didn’t define what should change, or what we should turn 180 degrees from. He merely sowed the verbal seeds of uncertainty and indefinite change.

Concluding, De Oliviera stated his definition of Present Truth as "the more we know the more we become a fixed, lifeless religion.” He questioned, "What do we throw away?" --- "We must grow together -- recalibrate" --- "because Present Truth is only as good as its source."
From Alex Bryan, a one-Project co-founder: Bryan first painted a beautiful scenario of the Mount of Transfiguration, where Peter, James, John, along with Moses and Elijah, viewed a supernatural event honoring Jesus. All.

Next he portrayed a distraught woman who had recently attended a Revelation Seminar. The woman, who had become fearful of the horrible beasts, the anti-Christ, and the evil that might confront her, had become “paranoid.”  Bryan, in an effort to ease her "paranoia," and others, urged that we, as a church, should not go around scaring people, frightening them with fearful views about the future.  Instead of scaring people (teaching Revelation), he urged that the church should instead “just focus on Jesus. All.”

Even though Jesus is the inspiration for Revelation, Bryan deftly dismissed the necessity of sharing the last day message for God’s people.

Present Truth as revealed by Ellen White states, “The book of Revelation must be opened to the people…The truth it contains must be proclaimed, that people may have an opportunity to prepare for the events which are so soon to transpire.”  Letter 87, 1896. (Ev. 195.4)

Randy Roberts, Pastor of Loma Linda University Church: His focus was on learning new things, yet he emphasized, “There is a force among us that says we have nothing new to learn -- That we cannot learn from “others.”  (This comment brought sustained laughter from the audience, a reference to the untrue straw-man argument that Adventists can only read self-published literature, an accusation often thrown at conservative Adventists.)

In commenting on the establishment of the church, he stated that a movement eventually becomes a church.  A church eventually becomes policies and procedures.  Policies and procedures become support for the structure.  Support for the structure becomes bureaucratic. Supporting the structure becomes more important than the mission. That’s when splinters occur.

Quoting John 16:12 (Christ is speaking), "I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot hear them now.”  Roberts continued suggesting that even today “there is more.”  “God moves us forward as we are able.”  And “how do we negotiate new truth?”  Roberts described it as short plays moving down a football field -- Old Testament moving, down the field to the New Testament, to prophecy, moving down the field to new truth” and the implication that there is “new truth.” “Be ready for it.”

Sam Leonor, Co-founder of One Project: "Who hasn't awakened from a dream afraid, fearful of the Lord's return?"  Referring to the 1844 Disappointment, he mockingly continued, "It's not for you to know the day or the hour of His return, that is except for the Adventists. (spontaneous audience laughter)  You (referring to Adventists) can make all the predictions you want." (hilarious laughter from the audience.)

“People ask me, ‘Which Jesus are you talking about at the One Project? Is there another one?’ (This comment elicited raucous laughter with many whoo whoo whoo’s)  "If I had a dollar for every time I’ve been asked that question – I’d have $10.00."  (Again the audience laughed, applauded and whoo whoo’d in laughter.)

Leonor continued:

  • “In Heaven there is no sickness –That’s the way it should be here on earth now.”
  • “In Heaven there is no poverty – That’s the way it should be here on earth now.”
  • “In Heaven there will be gender equality – That’s the way it should be here on earth now.”
  • “The new has come – and it’s constantly being renamed – it’s constantly changing.  Will we be open to the new thing Christ is going to do?  The new thing --it's just around the corner.”

Isn’t that “kingdom now” theology?

Dilys Brooks: Brooks spoke briefly about Mahatma Gandhi, quoting “My life is my message.” About Job and his life message always being good.  About David, his life message of many sins but always repentant unto God.  Brooks continued, “I wish we (speaking of the church) would “own” our stuff.”

Angrily she continued, “We (the church) are hyper-critical, judgmental, creating campaigns, doing ‘anonymous things’ without a mustard seed of truth, (This reference to Alex Bryan losing the presidency of WWU elicited whooping, hollering and thunderous applause.) doing anything to protect the purity of the church.”-- “STOP IT,” she yelled. (The applause continued.)

Leonard Sweet, guest author/lecturer: As a theologian, futurist and author of over 50 books, named as one of the “50” most influential theologians in the country, Leonard Sweet is a compelling figure before he speaks a word.  A tall, dignified, silver haired man with a signature scarf encircling his neck and a bass voice that he commands well, Sweet has been a speaker at all Adventist colleges and universities in the United States, as well other countries.  He has even been a speaker at Adventist Conference and Union meetings, teaching our pastors and workers for over 20 years.

Yet Leonard Sweet is not a Seventh-day Adventist. He doesn’t believe in any of the Present Truth doctrines on which we base our beliefs, on which this One Project event was purportedly based. His books reveal that he teaches New Age concepts, pantheism/panentheism and advances ecumenical concepts. Yet he is a featured speaker at the One Project, his books having been provided free to attendees at previous One Project events. When asked about Sweet’s theology two years ago, Alex Bryan responded, “He’s a Methodist. That’s about as close to Adventism as you can get.”  Yet it is quite doubtful that John Wesley or any of Adventism’s founders with roots in Methodism would feel at home with very many of Sweet’s concepts.

Interestingly, four out of the five founders of the OneProject—Alex Bryan, Tim Gillespie, Sam Leonor, and Terry Swenson—studied with Leonard Sweet, who also serves as an adjunct professor at George Fox University. This is where Bryan, Gillespie, Leonor, and Swenson studied for their doctor of ministry degrees in “Leadership and Emerging Culture.”

In his talk, Sweet advanced his theory of “church renewal” and its requirement that three essential things happen:

  • a return to the scriptures
  • a rereading of the scriptures in the language of their culture
  • a rediscovering of Jesus

To accomplish these things, he suggested people need to get back to the table for more “conversation” or “dialogue.”  In one illustration he commented knowingly about the Sabbath as he referred to “Duck Dynasty” and “Blue Bloods,” two Friday night television programs, as examples of families that gather for dinner together for “conversation and dialogue.”  The audience murmured a knowing response.

Concluding his “church renewal” theory, he reiterated only the second of his three major points – the importance of rereading scriptures within current culture.

Tim Gillespie, co-founder of the One Project: Gillespie’s disturbing definition of Present Truth was simply stated as “perpetuating changing theology,” which needs to include deeper study which he described as “theological spelunking.”

He expanded his notion of “theological spelunking,” revealing the following cave-like insights:

  • "To remain fresh we must be fed from many streams."
  • "Streams must flow both ways."
  • “Others must feed our truth."
  • "We must go beyond our denomination.  (continuing sarcastically) “Anybody tired of talking to themselves?"  (these several points elicited gradually increasing audience applause and then laughter)

Continuing sarcastically, Gillespie stated, "If we (the church) are to sing our own song and preach our own sermons, we'd probably better get a little better at it."  (uproarious laughter and applause from the audience)

And finally, "God is always doing something new and we wouldn’t want to mess it up!"  (Again, there was audience laughter and applause.)

As the event ended we all shared a brief communion service with only the bread and the wine, followed with a strange (to me) hand-anointing ceremony.  Each person was asked to place a drop of oil in the hand of the person to their right and read the following blessing printed from a card placed before each person.

The Blessing
May you be blessed with
Compassion for those around you,
The courage to be who you are,
Gentleness and a tender heart,
openness, understanding, and respect,
strength that shines from within,
and the power to make
Jesus.  All.

When I expressed a discomfort with the line that asks for “strength that shines from within,” and changed it to “strength that comes from God,” I was quickly admonished by a person sitting near me that “I know these people and they’re not into that kind of stuff.”  Even so, the “strength that shines from within” belief is panentheistic.

As the event drew to a close, a “charge” was given to each of us.  Not a charge to share Jesus, but a charge for “change.”  Each person was told to “go home and change your church.”  

Except for one talk about the Sabbath, there was no mention of what I understand to be “Present Truth.”


Among the thirteen speakers who spoke during the two-day event, there were many heartfelt pleas for people to return to a focus on “Jesus. All.”  Yet I did not hear the overall One Project message move beyond that initial focus on Jesus. All.  There was no focus on a continuing walk with Jesus by emulating His life, changing our lives, modifying our lifestyles, or sharing the Present Truth in the context of the three angel’s messages.  It was just “Jesus. All.”  That’s all! Without any biblical or concise definition.

Instead of the Seventh-day Adventist “Present Truth” I expected from the One Project’s advertising, I heard an emergent truth:

  • a nebulous truth that focuses on “conversation” and “dialogue”
  • a disillusionment with an established church structure
  • a desire to deconstruct traditional worship
  • a “narrative” (scriptures) being interpreted by “current culture”
  • a diminishing of church evangelism, at times even mockery
  • an urgency to dip into other “streams” and “streams that flow both ways”
  • a searching beyond our own denomination

The underlying message was an erosion of the church rather than its affirmation, stating uncertainty, instigating mockery, negation of study, recalibration (implying the church is broken). Especially defamatory was De Oliviera’s description of God’s remnant church as a “fixed lifeless religion,” diminishing respect and planting disdain.

I did not expect to draw this conclusion from a “present truth” Seventh-day Adventist event.

Although I had a chance to greet a few old friends and meet a few new ones, all good and sincere people, I was disappointed and saddened at much of what I saw and heard, and would not choose to attend again, even if provided, again, with free tickets.
FYI: Where did the "free" tickets come from?  A family of four, unknown to me, had prepaid over $750 toward nonrefundable tickets to the One Project.  A week before the event, they received an e-mail from a friend urging them to research the theology of Leonard Sweet, the non-SDA guest author/lecturer scheduled to speak. They did the research and decided not to attend, citing Isaiah 8:20 " light in them."  Their gift of two tickets to my friend enabled us be "two witnesses" to the event.

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