Lawrence Geraty, Fritz Guy, and the Framing of Fundamental Belief #6
In 2010 Sergio Silva published an interesting article in the Journal of the Adventist Theological Society entitled, “Development of the Fundamental Beliefs Statement with Particular Reference to the Fundamental Belief #6: Creation.” In this article Silva explains the process of how the current wording of Fundamental Belief #6 of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, our statement of belief on creation, came to be.
In reviewing this topic also consider reading:
A New Statement of Fundamental Beliefs by Lawrence Geraty
Preserve the Landmarks, a summary, by EdTruth Staff
According to Silva, when the language for our fundamental beliefs was first being discussed in 1980, a committee (X–1535) was tasked with proposing the wording for FB#6. Their original proposal read as follows:
That the book of Genesis contains the only inspired, reliable chronicle of the Creation of the world, and that God [the Father], with Christ and the Holy Spirit, is the Creator of all things. In six literal days the Lord made heaven and the earth and all living things upon it with their supporting environment. The Lord then established the seventh day as the Sabbath, a perpetual memorial of His completed creative work. Man was originally created in the image of God, but his fall into sin in response to Satan’s temptation in the Garden of Eden resulted in the progressive defacement of that image. It also led to marring God’s handiwork in Creation and to the worldwide flood in the days of Noah. Through Christ, God will eradicate sin and its results from the universe and at the close of human history restore the pristine perfection of His Creation in a new heavens and a new earth.
This recommended wording was received by the “committee of twelve” for final review. Dr. Lawrence Geraty was a member of this committee as was Dr. Fritz Guy who served as secretary. According to Guy, the language originally submitted to the committee was felt to be too specific and narrow. So, as Guy remembers, Geraty produced the first draft of a completely new statement on Creation (Link) and, after editing by the committee and others, it read as follows:
God is Creator of all things, and has revealed in Scripture the authentic account of His creative activity. In six days the Lord made “the heaven and the earth” and all living things upon the earth, and rested on the seventh day of that first week. Thus He established the Sabbath as a perpetual memorial of His completed creative work. The first man and woman were made in the image of God as the crowning work of Creation, given dominion over the world, and charged with responsibility to care for it. When the world was finished it was “very good,” declaring the glory of God.
The only ‘official position’ of the Seventh-day Adventist Church is stated in Fundamental Belief #6, where the language is deliberately Biblical, and broad enough to accommodate various views about Earth’s natural history.
In other words, as Silva explains, “This means that Fundamental Belief #6, as it reads today, can be used to support any approach to the biblical account of Creation, including progressive Creationism, theistic evolution, etc.” This is important to note since both Drs. Guy and Geraty refer to themselves as “progressive” in regard to their Adventist faith. In short, Dr. Guy is an open and unabashed theistic evolutionist who believes that life has existed and evolved on this planet for hundreds of millions of years (see Understanding Genesis, p. 53). Consider, for example, comments he wrote in his 2009 article, Realities for Adventist Theology in the 21st Century:
At the present time there seems to be no good reason to doubt the gradual development and increasing complexity of life over an extended period of time. The fact that this recognition complicates our theology hardly justifies discounting the overwhelming empirical evidence… [We need to start] incorporating into Adventist thinking the idea of a gradually increasing complexity of living organisms over a long period of time as an alternative to the traditional paradigm of a six-day creation less than ten thousand years ago. We need to move beyond a jig-saw-puzzle model of theology, which involves the idea of an interlocking set of convictions such that significantly changing one part destroys the whole. If that were the case, the whole would be completely dependent on each of its parts; and the credibility of Adventism as a whole would be hostage to a short history of life on planet Earth. (pages 8 & 9)
Dr. Geraty, on the other hand, is a bit more guarded in his public statements on creation, but also seems to be quite supportive of theistic ideas or at least those who are trying to promote such ideas. Consider, for example, Dr. Geraty’s praise for the conversion of former General Conference Vice President Richard Hammill to “progressive” Adventism after his rejection of the literal creation week (Link) (It is also interesting to note that Richard Hammill happened to be the chairman of the Editorial Committee responsible for framing the Adventist Fundamental Beliefs in 1980). Such comments are very hard to overlook despite the occasional lip service that Dr. Geraty occasionally pays to the “fundamentalist” Adventist position on a literal creation week (see Link).
In this regard Dr. Geraty’s comments published in Spectrum in 2010 are most telling:
Christ tells us they will know us by our love, not by our commitment to a seven literal historical, consecutive, contiguous 24-hour day week of creation 6,000 years ago which is NOT in Genesis no matter how much the fundamentalist wing of the church would like to see it there.
Fundamental Belief No. 6 uses Biblical language to which we can all agree; once you start interpreting it according to anyone’s preference you begin to cut out members who have a different interpretation. I wholeheartedly affirm Scripture, but NOT the extra-Biblical interpretation of the Michigan Conference. Since when is salvation by correct knowledge anyway?
Dr. Geraty has also personally challenged the world-wide nature of the Noachian Flood, arguing that the author(s) of Genesis are most likely talking about a local flood. In the book, Understanding Genesis: Contemporary Adventist Perspectives Dr. Geraty wrote:
“Was the Genesis flood worldwide? There is no evidence for that as of now, but it certainly covered the world known to the author. It is the opinion of most experts, and little reasonable doubt remains (although some would dispute this) that the events of Genesis 6-8 must have taken place within a limited though indeed a vast area, covering not the entire globe, but the scene of the human story of the previous chapters.”
Dr. Geraty stands here in direct and very open opposition to the historical position of the SDA Church on this issue. He also, at the same time, challenges the SDA understanding of the inspiration of Mrs. White who clearly claims that she was shown by God that the Noachian Flood was indeed world-wide in nature and was responsible for the formation of much of the geologic an fossil records. In short, what Dr. Geraty does here is fling the door wide open for the mainstream interpretation of the fossil record as representing millions of years of life existing and evolving on this planet. How he can then claim, before certain audiences, to be opposed to theistic evolutionism and actually supportive of literal six-day creationism is difficult to understand if not downright deceptive. His mixed messages, depending upon his audience at the time, seem to me to be politically driven rather than a matter of true personal conviction (see the following Link for further discussion of Dr. Geraty’s views on creation).
It is also interesting to note, in this context, that both Drs. Guy and Geraty were presidents of La Sierra University and brought in science, and even religion, professors to teach there who also happen to reflect their own “progressive” views on Earth’s history.
In any case, when originally brought to a discussion on the floor of the General Conference Session of 1980, Ariel Roth expressed his concerns with the wording of FB#6 proposed by the “committee of twelve”, suggesting the need to include thoughts from the Spirit of Prophecy. E. J. Humphrey, who inquired about the possibility of including the words “six literal days,” which would clearly distinguish Seventh-day Adventists from many other denominations. In support of the latter, John V. Stevens stressed that one of the purposes for rewriting the fundamental beliefs and including a statement on Creation was to make what Seventh-day Adventists believe “more easily understood by those not of our faith”; thus, adding the words “six literal days” to that statement “would certainly let the world know what we believe.”
Despite these suggestions from the floor, the statement created by Dr. Geraty was voted upon and became the official statement of the SDA Church on creation. And, this more open statement has born fruit, to include the current situation at La Sierra University where long ages for life existing and evolving on this planet are taught as the true story of origins to our own sons and daughters. As David Asscherick originally observed in his now infamous letter to church leadership:
It is a matter of incontestable fact that naturalistic evolution is being taught at La Sierra University. This is not in and of itself a bad thing. Evolution should be taught at our denominational universities.” He continued, “But it should be taught as a competing and inimical worldview to the biblical worldview. (read more…)
The situation at LSU, and some of our other schools to a lesser degree, remains essentially unchanged since Asscherick’s letter was written (April, 2009). Despite the heated nature of the controversy, most of the professors of science, and even of religion, at LSU continue to support and promote within their classrooms modern evolutionary theories of life existing and evolving on this planet, in a Darwinian manner, over hundreds of millions of years.
However, some good has come from this discussion. At the very least the membership of the church at large are more aware of what is taking place in our own schools and what is being taught as truth to our sons and daughters who are being sent, at great expense and sacrifice, to supposedly “SDA” schools that advertise true “Adventist” education. Also, it was most encouraging to see Ted Wilson, our new General Conference President, propose an effort to reword FB#6.
Certainly unexpected by many was the motion brought to the floor by Dr. Ted N. C. Wilson, the newly elected president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. On the one hand, Wilson’s motion was in part a response to various requests to clarify the Fundamental Belief #6 as requested by some voices in the International Faith & Science Conferences (2004), the Faith and Science Council, the Michigan and Northern California Conferences. On the other hand, his motion reflected his comprehensive vision for the church’s mission and his life of service to the church.
Wilson’s motion included a request to approve the statement “A Reaffirmation of Creation,” which more clearly stated the Adventist understanding regarding origins, based on the interpretation of Genesis 1-11. In addition, his motion included a request that the General Conference Administration initiate the process of integration of Fundamental Belief #6 and the statement “A Reaffirmation of Creation.” The motion was enthusiastically carried and strongly supported.
In summary, it is not an overstatement to say that Wilson’s motion voted on the floor of the General Conference in Atlanta, GA on June 30, 2010 is a remarkable development to be remembered in Seventh-day Adventist history as part of the great leap forward, leading us to a new reformation.