Des Ford is passionate about the gospel. So much so, that he has been prepared to sacrifice much for the sake of it. He has been vilified, defrocked, and now worships outside of Adventism — the denomination he loves and has tried to move forward in its thinking about a cherished doctrine that he believes obscures the gospel. Hundreds of others within the Adventist denomination, particularly pastoral staff, have also sacrificed jobs and friends for the sake of the gospel. Now, Des Ford, collaborating with his wife, Gillian, in their book For the Sake of the Gospel: Throw Out the Bathwater, but Keep the Baby tells the story of the theological controversy that decimated the Adventist denomination through the 70s and 80s and whose effects are still felt even to this day.
For Ford, the bathwater is the doctrine of the Investigative Judgment — the belief that the Bible describes a time in 1844 when Jesus moved from the Holy Place in the heavenly sanctuary to the Most Holy Place to begin a work of judgment to identify whose lives confirmed their right to be ultimately saved. The baby is the gospel of justification by grace alone through faith alone. In a series of somewhat disjointed chapters, Ford pleads for the Adventist officials to come clean and confess the wrongs perpetrated on the members. As far as Ford is concerned, almost no scholar in the denomination believes in the Investigative Judgment anymore and it is time to jettison it completely.
In the first chapter, Des provides the transcript of a talk he gave in 1997 at the Sydney Chapter of the Association of Adventist Forums entitled My Vision for the Seventh-day Adventist Church. His vision is
that the true church will arise and proclaim the true gospel to the whole world. It's an objective historical gospel, revealing the love of God in such a way as to break the hearts of rebels so that they might hate sin, learn the purity of Paradise, that sin is insanity, and that life commends what Christ commands. It's a church teaching these things that will lighten the world with the glory of the gospel, not one fixated by dates that don't compute. Seventh-day Adventism has an opportunity and a privilege to preach the Pauline gospel. (p. 7 - emphasis in original)
Moving on from this vision, Ford reviews 22 illicit assumptions that support the Investigative Judgment, the outdated year-day principle, the question of when forgiven sins are blotted out, the New Testament's view of the Day of Atonement, the real meaning of Revelation 14:6-7 (a key passage shaping Adventist identity and mission), the way the Investigative Judgment has been "reworked" since its establishment, a critique of the view that the United States appears in prophecy, and the real meaning of Daniel 8:14 (the controversial verse on which the whole Investigative Judgment doctrine is built.
Ford then surveys the politics around the denomination's understanding of the gospel including the way (mostly) men who disagree with the church's official positions abandon conscience and follow orders to not saying anything about their views and who have to suffer cognitive dissonance.
Gillian Ford provides an interesting history on How a Seventh-day Adventist Scholar in Biblical Eschatology Found His Denomination's Prophetic Traditions Wanting and his rediscovery of the apotelesmatic principle.
There are articles on the Glacier View trial of Des Ford (rather than the examination of Ford's views — what Glacier View was supposed to be about). Appendices include "positive" presentations on the Sabbath and the Covenants for which the Fords hold traditional Adventist positions.
The above is a partial list of themes covered — hopefully giving a sense of what the book contains. By their own admission, the
'... book has been negative for obvious reasons. One cannot vote for dangerous errors which threaten the joy and well-being of the children of God. Neutrality in a religious crisis is the worst form of cowardice. (p. 195)
As I have indicated above, For the Sake of the Gospel is somewhat disjointed. Des Ford's aphoristic style is not always easy to read. But the flaws in the writing are more than made up for the following:
- Des Ford has, obviously, been at the centre of the controversy surrounding the Investigative Judgment doctrine (although he is not the first). To hear from someone with firsthand knowledge and experience, including friendships with many of the key players in the history, provides an essential perspective.
- Ford's passion for the gospel consistently shines through. In the end, Ford is not primarily concerned with controversy. He wants to see the gospel as the primary focus of our attention. In his view, dealing with the Investigative Judgment is essential because it obscures the gospel and robs Adventists of their true freedom in Christ and their assurance of salvation.
- If it is by their fruits that we know the character of someone, then Ford is a genuine Christian man. The way he has consistently and graciously dealt with his adversaries and his refusal to engage in legal battles with his beloved denomination demonstrate the fruits of the Spirit in such a way that his credibility is enhanced.
For the Sake of the Gospel is an important book because it deals with important themes, written by an important "player", during an important part of Adventist history that we are still living. For the Sake of the Gospel, those within Adventism need to read this book. For others, it provides a fascinating insight into a denomination's struggle in confronting truth and error.