Theology of the Last Generation
The theology of the last generation was developed and popularized in the Adventist Church by M. L. Andreasen (The Sanctuary Service [Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1937; revised 1947]). Andreasen was building on insights from A. T. Jones and E. J. Waggoner. This theology introduced a strong element of legalism in some sectors of the church by claiming that the character of God, maligned by Satan in the cosmic conflict, will be vindicated through the holy and perfect life of obedience of the last generation of believers. This generation will reach a level of character development unequaled in Christian history, copying perfectly in their lives what God did in Christ. Once this happens, the Lord will return. This theology seeks to explain why the Lord has not returned and the nature and purpose of Christian perfection. It is based primarily on a particular reading of the writings of Ellen G. White.
Christ and the Vindication of God: In the Bible and the writings of Ellen G. White the cosmic vindication of God is the exclusive result of the sacrificial death of Christ. He was the only one who could reveal who God is and therefore vindicate Him in the cosmic conflict (John 1:18). White is also very clear: “By His life and His death, Christ proved that God’s justice did not destroy His mercy, but that sin could be forgiven, and that the law is righteous, and can be perfectly obeyed. Satan’s charges were refuted. God had given man unmistakable evidence of His love.”1 What Christ accomplished does not need to be supplemented; it is more than enough.
Christian Perfection: God’s will for His people has always been the same: Victory over the enslaving power of sin in their lives (Rom. 6:11-14; 8:5-8). Christ has always been the model for the Christian life. But true Christian perfection cannot be separated from the eternal efficacy of the cross and our constant reliance on its forgiving power (1 John 2:1, 2). Christian perfection is a constant growth in grace accompanied by a constant reliance on God’s forgiving grace. Notice how precise Ellen G. White is on this important theological topic: “As the penitent sinner, contrite before God, discerns Christ’s atonement in his behalf, and accepts this atonement as his only hope in this life and the future life, his sins are pardoned. This is justification by faith. Every believing soul is to conform his will entirely to God’s will, and keep in a state of repentance and contrition, exercising faith in the atoning merits of the Redeemer and advancing from strength to strength, from glory to glory.”2 We will perfectly reproduce the character of Christ in our lives through growth in grace and by absolutely relying every day in Christ’s forgiving grace.
Safety in Heaven: Although it would be possible for sin to arise again in heaven, this will never happen in actuality. The reason is not found in the unique experience of the last generation of believers but in the work of Christ on the cross. He, through the cross, reconciled the whole cosmos to God in a permanent bond of union (Col. 1:19, 20). Again, White is powerfully clear: “The angels ascribe honor and glory to Christ, for even they are not secure except by looking to the sufferings of the Son of God. It is through the efficacy of the cross that the angels of heaven are guarded from apostasy. Without the cross they would be no more secure against evil than were the angels before the fall of Satan”3 The perfection of creatures is not powerful enough to hold the cosmos together. Praise God for Christ!
- Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Mounatin View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1898), p. 762. (Italics supplied.)
- The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, Ellen G. White Comments, vol. 6, p. 1070. (Italics supplied.)
- Ellen G. White, “What Was Secured by the Death of Christ,” Signs of the Times, Dec. 30, 1889.