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Cliff Goldstein

is editor of the Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide. His next book, Baptizing the Devil: Evolution and the Seduction of Christianity has just been released by Pacific Press.

Seventh-day Platonist

I’m a seventh-day Platonist. What’s that? Let me explain.

Plato (c. 428-348 BC) was the middle child of the Greek Enlightenment triumvirate of Socrates (his teacher), Plato, and Aristotle (his student). Plato wrote numerous and often fascinating dialogues that remain influential today. In the twentieth century Alfred North Whitehead asserted: “The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.”

Plato’s most enduring concept is that of Forms. For Plato, we exist in a world of hazy, fluctuating, and impermanent images or shadows of eternally existing and perfect Ideas or Forms. A triangle here is but an imperfect copy, an image of the perfect triangle, a circle an imperfect shadow of a perfect circle. Perhaps the closest concept to Forms are whole numbers or pure geometry itself, perfect, eternal, and “existing” in a transcendent realm of their own.

Plato’s metaphor for the Forms is the allegory of a cave. We are like people who have lived our whole lives shackled in a cave with our faces able to look just at the inner wall. The only reality we know are the shadows on this wall cast by a fire outside the cave entrance. Any real objects that pass between us and the fire would appear as shadows; that’s all we would ever know of them. Talking about the people in the cave, Plato asked: “How could they see anything but the shadows if they were never allowed to move their heads?” The way to escape the cave and approach the Forms was, he argued, through the study of philosophy, which just a few elites could ever attain to anyway.

For 2,400 years, the pros and cons of Plato’s Forms have been hotly debated (Do they exist? If so, where and how? etc.). So I’m hardly going to resolve anything here. Instead, I call myself a seventh-day Platonist for the following reason.

For 2,400 years, the pros and cons of Plato’s Forms have been hotly debated (Do they exist? If so, where and how? etc.). So I’m hardly going to resolve anything here. Instead, I call myself a seventh-day Platonist for the following reason.

Suppose the General Conference session in San Antonio formally voted to reject the validity of the seventh-day Sabbath. Would that mean the seventh-day was no longer God’s weekly memorial to the six-day creation of life on earth? Is this truth’s existence in any way dependent upon human minds believing it? Of course not. Like Plato’s Forms (whether they are extant or not), this is a transcendental truth that exists in and of itself, regardless of what any humans might or might not believe about it.

Or suppose the General Conference votes to reject the existence of Christ’s High Priestly ministry in the heavenly sanctuary. Suppose all our theologians disbelieved it. Suppose everyone in the world did too. Would this rejection impact the reality of this Christ’s High Priestly ministry? Hard to see how, any more than disbelief in the moons of Jupiter means that the moons Jupiter don’t exist.

Let’s get a bit closer to earth. Suppose the church abandoned belief in Christ’s substitutionary death on the cross for a subjective view of the atonement in which Christ’s death was just an expression of divine love and had nothing to do with Him facing God’s wrath on sin and evil in our place. Again, Christ’s substitutionary atonement is a truth that exists independent of whatever we as a church, or even humanity as a whole, believes or does not believe about it.

One more: the dead. Suppose the Seventh-day Adventist Church rejected the biblical teaching that the dead sleep until the resurrection of Jesus, accepting the popular notion of an immortal soul ascending at death to heaven (ironically, a teaching derived from Plato) or descending into hell. So what? The fate of the dead remains the fate of the dead regardless of what any, or even all, of the living think about it.

What does exist are eternal truths in Christ Jesus.

Hence my claim to be a seventh-day Platonist rests on my belief, not only in the existence of eternal transcendent truths, but that the Seventh-day Adventist church, more than any other organized body, understands and promotes these truths (with all due respect, most other churches don’t even have the Sabbath right). It’s these propositional, biblical, and “transcendent” truths—no matter how fuzzy mine and others’ grasp of them are (as Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13:12, “We see only a reflection as in a mirror”)—that constitute the sole reason for me being a Seventh-day Adventist. A “cultural Adventist” makes about as much sense as an overweight person joining a gym only for the snack bar, but never lifting a barbell, stretching a muscle, or jogging on a treadmill.

Who cares whether or not a perfect triangle or a perfect circle exists in some transcendent realm? What does exist are eternal truths in Christ Jesus, in whom “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28); truths that, alone, give us the reason for our existence as a church.

Clifford Goldstein is editor of the Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide. His next book is tentatively titled Baptizing the Devil: Evolution and the Seduction of Christianity.

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