December 17, 2008

Book Review: Cultic Doctrine of Seventh-day Adventists

Dale Ratzlaff, Cultic Doctrine of Seventh-day Adventists. Glendale, AZ: Life Assurance Ministries Publications, 2003; 383 pp.

Cultic Doctrine of Seventh-day AdventistsSeventh-day Adventism has had amazing success around the world, especially in Africa. (There are some 1.5 million Adventists in East Africa alone.) Since my exposure to Adventism has been limited, due diligence demands that I become well acquainted with the movement’s history and beliefs. In this important book Dale Ratzlaff introduces evangelical Christians to the troubling doctrines of historic Adventism—and confronts Adventists with the seriousness of their error. As a fourth-generation Adventist and former SDA pastor, Ratzlaff has the insight and experience necessary to critically evaluate Adventist doctrine and the personal authority required to call Adventists to repentance.

He begins by taking us back to the Millerite movement, with its failed predictions of Christ’s Second Coming in 1843 and 1844. When the latter date came and went without Jesus’ return, a vision by one disappointed Millerite led many to believe that the prediction had been misunderstood; instead of Christ’s reappearance, it marked when He invisibly entered the Most Holy Place of the heavenly sanctuary for the first time, beginning a new phase in his atoning work. Ellen G. White was among those who embraced the new doctrine, and she quickly developed a following as one who had the end-time “spirit of prophecy.” Through her leadership and authority, the Church grew in size and influence, and further defined its distinctive beliefs of the cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary and the “investigative judgment.”

Having carefully placed these and other central SDA beliefs in their historical context, Ratzlaff provides biblical, theological, experiential, and ethical evaluations. From examining Adventist interpretations of Daniel 8:14 and Revelation 14:6–12 to showing how these errant beliefs weave themselves throughout the SDA doctrinal system, Ratzlaff leaves no stone unturned. He concludes by contrasting the cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary and the investigative judgment with the gospel of Jesus Christ, and he appeals to SDA leaders to follow God’s truth instead of their traditional beliefs.

The book is amazingly informative. I began Cultic Doctrine with little familiarity with Seventh-day Adventist teachings and ended with a substantial understanding of what makes Adventism “tick.” What’s more, Ratzlaff’s reasoning is well laid out and convincing, documented with numerous extended quotations from Ellen G. White and other major Adventist authorities.

I especially appreciate Ratzlaff’s evenhanded approach to the Seventh-day Adventists themselves. He distinguishes among different streams of Adventism, including contemporary historic Adventism, liberal Adventism, and evangelical Adventism. He admits that evangelical Adventists should, as individuals, not be shunned as cultic, but emphasizes that denominational Adventism fully deserves the label until it repudiates its teachings on the heavenly sanctuary and the investigative judgment—false doctrines that corrupt the gospel of Jesus Christ and demand biblical refutation.

Cultic Doctrine does have the usual problems one sees in independently published works, including typos and formatting issues. It also could have been more concise through robust editing. Nevertheless, these minor points should not detract from the importance of Ratzlaff’s book. Any Christian who wants to better understand Seventh-day Adventists and engage them with the gospel of Christ should read Cultic Doctrine. And Adventists themselves should wrestle through the issues that Ratzlaff raises. May our Lord continue to use this work and Life Assurance Ministries to draw people to Jesus!