"Beyond Belief" by Jack Sequeira passed mostly under my radar screen from the publishing date of 1993 until the translation into Japanese came out in Spring, 2003. There are many different voices proclaiming different things, and being in Japan places me largely out of the loop of new developments in our Seventh-day Adventist church. When the translation came out in Japanese i eagerly began to read the book. There is such a dearth of good material in Japanese for SDAs, and the level of spirituality of members here is so low, any book that offers advice for God's remnant people is a valued prize. Unfortunately, this book is not a prize to lead to heaven.
I wrote an article in Japanese regarding this book on June 29, 2003, and placed it on the web 福音解体. There may be some minor things lost in the translation, but receiving this critique book in English prepared by Robert Wieland and the Editorial Committee of the 1888 Message Study Committee, shows that the main points were translated faithfully. So here i will deal mostly with Wieland's critique book.
While many excellent things are written in Jack Sequeira's book, there are 2 major problems with it:
1. Is God's love really "unconditional"? - No
2. Are humans really born "right with God"? - No
These 2 major problems need to be kept in mind as we review "Is Beyond Belief Beyond Belief?"
The first doctrinal error we find in this book is on page 15: "...in His incarnation Christ took the fallen, sinful nature which we all share...". Signs of the Times 04/04/1895: "It is impossible for man in his own unaided strength to overcome the natural propensities to evil." 1RED p.9: "God made man perfect and upright, and after his transgression there could be no sacrifice acceptable to God for him, unless the offering made should in value be superior to man as he was while in his state of perfection and innocency." 1RED p.10 (talking of Jesus): "He was of as much more value than man, as his noble, spotless character, and exalted office, as commander of all the heavenly host, were above the work of man. He was in the express image of his Father, not in features alone, but in perfection of character. As he was without blemish, he alone could become an acceptable offering for man." Testimonies to the Church #17 p.2: "He is a brother in our infirmities, but not possessing like passions. As the sinless One his nature recoiled from evil. He endured struggles, and torture of soul. in a world of sin. His humanity made prayer a necessity, and privilege. He required all the stronger divine support and comfort which his Father was ready to impart to his Son, who had left the joys of Heaven, chose his home, for the benefit of man, in a cold and thankless world."
It is plain that while Jesus condescended to become a man to save us, he did not partake of sin in the least. Those who want to have Jesus become a man with inborn sinful desires and wishes, are perhaps unknowingly placing themselves as a "possible Saviour". The fact is, is that no matter how good any of us are, even if we never commit any known sin our whole lives, we still need a Saviour - Jesus Christ. Only he can redeem us. He is the union of divinity and humanity, something none of us will ever be able to claim. Only God can know the full pain of giving up immortality, and suffering the second death for a race of rebels. What love!
Which brings us to the next big problem with this book, and is in fact the biggest problem - love. Is God's love unconditional as Jack Sequeira and Robert Wieland say?
On page 16 of this book Br. Wieland writes: "Of course God's love for the sinner is unconditional!" And on the next page he writes in italics: "This is the key issue here." True. So let's study if God's love is really unconditional or not. Actually, Br. Wieland answers the question himself in the next paragraph where he writes: "love's requirements of obedience and service". I'm not an English major, but "unconditional" and "requirements" are opposites aren't they? If in war, a country asks for unconditional surrender, and the other country lists requirements, they are not seeing eye to eye are they? If i give the keys to my car to my son with no conditions, and then tell him to do this and that with his driving, am i not speaking out of both sides of my mouth?
Granted, it gives a nice, fuzzy warm feeling to think that while our love falls short, God's love is perfect and therefore unconditional. While being perfect, God's love does not cover those who will be lost. His love will destroy them "root and branch". If it were unconditional, he would be forced to save everyone at the end, including Satan. Actually, i have had this email conversation with someone: "If God's love is unconditional, then if Satan repented now, he would be accepted back into heaven." "Of course" was the reply. This is the end result of this thinking - God's love is unconditional. It is Universalism under a different name.
If "God's love is unconditional" were applied only to the sinner who wants to repent and come to Christ - then that is perfectly correct - hallelujah! We have a Saviour who has his hand stretched out. No matter how bad we've been, no matter how many times we've hurt him and ourselves, he is willing to forgive and forget. This period of mercy lasts as long as Jesus is ministering in the Most Holy Place above. Soon Jesus will say: "It is finished!", the wings of mercy will take flight, and (1858GC chap.35): "there is nothing to stay the wrath of God, and it breaks with fury upon the shelterless head of the guilty sinner, who has slighted salvation, and hated reproof."
Many people who push the "unconditional love" theory try to say that the Greek word "agape" means unconditional love. In the New Testament "agape" the noun, and "agapao" the verb are used 116 and 142 times respectively. There are 3 meanings:
1. benevolence, love, affection, to welcome, to entertain, to be fond of, to love dearly
2. to be well pleased, to be contented at or with a thing
3. love feasts
If this means only God's perfect love, then why does it also refer to bad love - such as love of this world etc.?
John 3:19 And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.
2 Timothy 4:10 For Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed unto Thessalonica; Crescens to Galatia, Titus unto Dalmatia.
1 John 2:15 Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
So we see that neither "agape" nor any other word in the Bible has the meaning of unconditional love. That concept is totally foreign to the teaching of the Bible. Everlasting love - yes; Unbreakable love - yes; Unchangeable love - yes; Stronger than death love - yes, Praise God!; Unconditional love - not in the Bible.
Much in this book, and Br. Sequeira's book, is good. But having 99% truth, and 1% poison, is a sure way to swallow a deadly lie. Br. Wieland writes that: "Sequeira teaches that what Christ accomplished for the entire human race can be resisted and rejected by the sinner." But you have already stated that Christ's love is "unconditional". So he must save them anyway according to the meaning of the word "unconditional".
Actually, there is another lurking error in this same paragraph on page 64. Br. Sequeira teaches that everyone was saved at the cross, and only those who willingly reject this "unconditional love" will be lost. But what about those millions of people who lived all their lives without ever hearing the name "Jesus Christ"? According to this logic, they must all be saved because they did not "reject" Jesus.
Yes, the plan of salvation was laid and carried out without our input or consent. In that sense it can be called "unconditional". "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son..." 1858GC chap.5: "But I saw that if there had been but two who would have accepted Jesus as the Son of God, to believe in him to the saving of their souls, he would have carried out the plan."
Some Bible quotes that refute "unconditional love" showing that God hates sometimes too:
Psalms 5:5 "The foolish shall not stand in thy sight: thou hatest all workers of iniquity."
Psalms 11:5 "The LORD trieth the righteous: but the wicked and him that loveth violence his soul hateth."
2Samuel 2:30 "...for them that honour me I will honour, and they that despise me shall be lightly esteemed."
Hosea 9:15 "All their wickedness is in Gilgal: for there I hated them: for the wickedness of their doings I will drive them out of mine house, I will love them no more: all their princes are revolters."
Some Bible quotes that refute "unconditional love" showing that God has conditions:
2 Corinthians16~18 "And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty."
Jeremiah 7:23 "But this thing commanded I them, saying, Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and ye shall be my people: and walk ye in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well unto you."
God experiences anger too:
Deuteronomy 32:22 "For a fire is kindled in mine anger, and shall burn unto the lowest hell, and shall consume the earth with her increase, and set on fire the foundations of the mountains."
2 Chronicles 19:1 "And Jehoshaphat the king of Judah returned to his house in peace to Jerusalem. And Jehu the son of Hanani the seer went out to meet him, and said to king Jehoshaphat, Shouldest thou help the ungodly, and love them that hate the LORD? therefore is wrath upon thee from before the LORD."
Revelation 14:10 "The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb:"
But praise the Lord his anger is not his main attribute!!
Deuteronomy 7:9 "Know therefore that the LORD thy God, he is God, the faithful God, which keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love him and keep his commandments to a thousand generations; And repayeth them that hate him to their face, to destroy them: he will not be slack to him that hateth him, he will repay him to his face."
Psalms 57:10 "For thy mercy is great unto the heavens, and thy truth unto the clouds."
Joel 2:13 "And rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the LORD your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil."
On page 78 Br. Wieland writes on grace: "Only those who resist it can be lost", and gives Steps to Christ p. 27 as the quote. But in looking at this page, these words are not to be found. What is found is: "...But whenever they make an effort to reform, from a sincere desire to do right....The sinner may resist this love, may refuse to be drawn to Christ; but if he does not resist he will be drawn to Jesus; a knowledge of the plan of salvation will lead him to the foot of the cross in repentance for his sins, which have caused the sufferings of God's dear Son." It is seen from the chapter title "Repentance", that it is talking about those who are making an effort to know about Jesus, to do right. To apply that to the whole human race is quite a leap of logic.
As an example, the husband of the house where i live here in Japan died 2 days ago. Many times he heard me listening to the Japanese Bible on cassette, and listened to my invitations to study the Bible. But he wasn't interested. It's not so much that he resisted the invitation, he was happy with his lifestyle the way it was. Even tho he made no effort to reform, if "Only those who resist it can be lost", then this man will be in heaven. If heaven is full of unreformed alcoholics like he was, then i will pass. And if i have some cherished sin, i'm sure no one else would want to be around me in heaven either.
An effort must be made to be saved - 1858GC chap.35: "The last note of warning had been given. When the saints, and all heaven were interested for their salvation, they had no interest for themselves. Life and death had been set before them. Many desired life; but did not make any effort to obtain it. They did not choose life, and now there was no atoning blood to cleanse the sinner. No compassionate Saviour to plead for them, and cry, Spare, spare the sinner a little longer. All heaven had united with Jesus, as they heard the fearful words, It is done, It is finished. The plan of salvation had been accomplished. But few had chosen to accept the plan. And as mercy's sweet voice died away, a fearfulness and horror seized them. With terrible distinctness they hear, Too late! too late!"
Not only do non-Christians have to make an effort in order to be saved, those who are Christians, yes, even Seventh-day Adventists have to make an effort. 1858 GC chap.32: "I saw the angels of God hasten to the assistance of all those who were struggling with all their energies to resist those evil angels, and trying to help themselves by calling upon God with perseverance. But the angels left those who made no effort to help themselves, and I lost sight of them."
On page 80 of this book Br. Wieland writes: "The ultimate test that must come to Seventh-day Adventists is whether they will accept the fourth angel's message to complete the third angel's message." This again is why i stress the importance of the original 1858 Great Controversy. It clearly shows what the final test is for Seventh-day Adventists in chapter 32 "The Shaking": "I asked the meaning of the shaking I had seen. I was shown that it would be caused by the straight testimony called forth by the counsel of the true Witness to the Laodiceans. It will have its effect upon the heart of the receiver of the testimony, and it will lead him to exalt the standard and pour forth the straight truth. This straight testimony some will not bear. They will rise up against it, and this will cause a shaking among God's people." This is the ultimate test. Will we accept the straight testimony called forth by the counsel of the true Witness to the Laodiceans? Are we willing to exalt the standard and pour forth the straight truth? Or would we rather believe that if we just don't resist grace, then we will go to heaven? Which is easier? Which sermon would tickle our ears better?
To summarize, there are many good things in this book. We need to uphold Jesus Christ, and show his amazing love, love big enough to save everyone, to everyone. At the same time, we reject the idea that God 's love is unconditional. We realize that there must be effort, diligent effort, to "follow the Lamb wherever he goes."
Below are 3 drawings showing what i've found in inspired word revealed about God's, angels', and humans' ranking in the universe.
2003/09/25 Daniel Winters
Updated March, 2021: I believe now that the Holy Spirit is definitely below Jesus, because Jesus SENT the Holy Spirit, and the Bible says that the one who sends is greater than the one who is sent.