Cognitive Ministries is an independent, supporting ministry of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church. It seeks to promote a deeper “thought-life” within Bible-believing Adventism and to ultimately operate beyond the artifices and edifices of categories such as ‘conservative,’ ‘liberal’ and ‘progressive.’
We recognise that some church members have no framework to think outside of the usual categories. Consequently, we wish to make it clear that in theological terms this ministry is rooted and grounded in ‘conservative’ Adventism – while asking some very, very radical questions about the ways in which theological processing and Scriptural interpretation take place within conservative Adventism. Too many regions of the world church are overly dependent on the output of traditional (conservative) North American Adventism – much of which is based on incredibly binary ways of thinking and inadequate constructions of ‘knowledge.’
However, ‘liberal’ and ‘progressive’ Adventist schools of thought may be more literate in areas such as Continental philosophy and contemporary cultural theories, and they have indeed largely avoided the intellectual wasteland that currently characterises ‘conservative Adventism.’ However, in shifting away from the foundational presuppositions of the Seventh-Day Adventist church they have created a huge divide amongst Adventist theological thinkers.
We are not at all interested in alienating those who belong to such schools of thought – they have the same rights before God as we do. But as we engage in open and honest discourse, we must acknowledge that their intellectual presuppositions have taken them to certain positions that this ministry cannot endorse. They are the primary reason why Bible-believing Adventists consistently misinterpret Colossians 2:8 and assume that all philosophy is a deception.
Most Bible-believing Adventists are aware of the revolution that has begun in our church with regard to personal prayer and Bible study – which has in turn led to increasing numbers of SDA laity studying precisely what they believe (doctrinally) on a basic level. However, we believe that there has to be a revolution of thought-life within Adventism that goes much, much further. If there is one thing that many of our people simply do not do, it is THINK.
Cogito (Latin: to think) is the basis of ‘cognitive.’ This ministry has come into existence to sound a clarion call on the walls of Zion for a radical rethink of what it means to think in faith and through faith – as well as to faith (which is the work of God; John 6:29).
There are two Bible texts which contribute heavily to the basis for our existence:
English Standard Version (ESV)
And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.
Many Christians are very aware of the need to love God with all their ‘heart’ and ‘soul’ – but we have found that there are many minds which really have not surrendered all to Jesus Christ, and the depth of actual mental engagement with Christian faith is not always deep enough for that faith to become truly transformative. This has had (and continues to have) a monumental impact on the life and mission of the Church.
1 Peter 3:15
English Standard Version (ESV)
15 but in your hearts honour Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect
That word translated ‘defense’ is in fact the Greek word apologia, from which we get the English word ‘apologetics.’ Seventh-Day Adventists tend to be rather better at making statements than arguments, and so English-speaking Adventism’s traditional dependence on the KJV translation of this text (which uses the word ‘answer’ instead of ‘defense’) has meant that we have generally only been concerned to ensure that we have the basic capacity to offer some sort of answer.
Very little work is usually invested into developing our ability to actually articulate and defend what we believe to any serious standard. We are truly concerned about the fact that so many of our church members have yielded their own abilities to think in and through their Biblical faith to those who were never qualified to think on their behalf – with disastrous consequences.
The result of all this?
a) a chronic anti-intellectualism within many sections of the Bible-believing Adventist community that is every bit as unfortunate as the multi-dimensional left-field theological spectrum that shapes the thinking of many Adventists across the board who deny some of the fundamental theological positions of the church in favour of theological positions that are more intrinsic to other Christian communities;
b) a pseudo-intellectualism that is characterised by certain (some high-profile) Bible-believing Adventists who are able to refer to major thinkers of both past and present in various ways, but whose reference to such thinkers and their ideas is often not academically honest – because they have not taken the time to really study these things properly – but they are able to wield enough influence to convince people that they have engaged with such ideas seriously when often this is anything but the case;
c) Biblical-hermeneutical positions on all sides of the divide which are frequently less rigorous than integrity would demand – and which are short-changing our congregations.
Ellen G. White:
“The times demand an intelligent, educated ministry, not novices. False doctrines are being multiplied. The world is becoming educated to a high standard of literary attainment; and sin, unbelief, and infidelity are becoming more bold and defiant, as intellectual knowledge and acuteness are acquired. This state of things calls for the use of every power of the intellect; for it is keen minds, under the control of Satan, that the minister will have to meet. He should be well balanced by religious principles, growing in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. Too much haphazard work has been done, and minds have not been exercised to their fullest capacity. Our ministers will have to defend the truth against base apostates, as well as to measure Scripture evidence with those who advocate specious errors. Truth must be placed in contrast with bold assertions. Our ministers must be men who are wholly consecrated to God, men of no mean culture; but their minds must be all aglow with religious fervor, gathering divine rays of light from heaven and flashing them amid the darkness that covers the earth and the gross darkness that surrounds the people” (5T 528).
We are very interested in reaching out to and interacting with two groups of people:
a) those whose beliefs and persuasions are not the same as ours – which will itself divide into two groups: i) those who may have rejected Christian faith because they needed better answers to and more thoughtful engagement with the very serious questions that are frequently completely fudged by many Christians (including Seventh-Day Adventists) – in part because those Christians have not been willing or able to think more rigorously about what they actually believe and why; ii) those from other Christian communities who are interested in honest theological discourse, regardless of whether or not they share our Bible-believing convictions in any way, shape or form;
b) those within the Seventh-Day Adventist Church who really want to know God more deeply through the life of the mind that is His gift to us, and to understand their faith ever more deeply, and thus own their faith more substantively. We actively seek to engage thinking church members who have struggled to interact with other church members who literally refuse to think in a straight line when they enter the church community circles and thus who are only capable of making statements, but never an argument!
We actively seek to encourage our fellow church members to move away from archetypal traditionalism. We have comprehensively rejected the insularities and myopia which have led so many honest Adventists to this aforementioned intellectual wasteland.
It is our absolute conviction that God has called each and every believer to a life of the mind as well as of the heart and spirit, and we are committed to the principle of “reasonable faith” as opposed to “blind faith.” Unlike Anselm, we are not setting out to actually prove God’s existence, but we are greatly enamoured by that famous Prosologion entitled Fides Quaerens Intellectum – faith seeking understanding. And we would certainly say with him that “…we do not seek to understand that we may believe, but we believe so that we may understand. For this we also believe, that, unless we believed, we would not understand.”