Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Systematic Theology Project: One of Armstrongism's Biggest Bogeymen

James Malm (The Shining Light Blog) is presently spitting daggers at  COGaWA and UCG claiming that they both may be ready to do their own version of The Systematic Theology Project.  This is Armstrongism's biggest perceived millstone that they continue to wear around their martyr necks.  It is also their biggest bogeyman that they can dump their collective anger on (after Joesph Tkach Sr, of course).  Bob Thiel has also spent a considerable amount of time denigrating the project.

I was there when this project was being developed and knew many of the men involved in it.  They were not 'liberals' hell bent on destroying the church.  It was not GTA's pet project on liberalizing doctrine or his tool in getting rid of his father.  It was a sincere project on their part to systematically lay out in print what the Church actually believed and understood.

Part of the reason they wanted to do this was because of ministers like Rod Meredith who would take simple doctrines and add numerous legalistic attachments to them to where things were becoming a burden on the members.  HWA would say one thing, Meredith and crew would interpret in their own way and include lots of nonsense that they felt members should also be doing.  The doctrines of the Church had become encumbered by this addition of legalistic rules and regulations

Another reason they wanted to do this was to have a unique document that laid out for the members and the  society at large on what we actually thought and believed. 

There was no cohesive document that ever stated what the Church actually believed. No document laid out in simple language the core beliefs of the Church.  We had hundreds of booklets, form letters, and 900 some different interpretations by 900 some different ministers on doctrines and beliefs.  Not only were we making statement on who and what God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit was or was not, we were also laying down laws on what color of cars people could drive, make up, hairstyles, clothing styles, dress lengths, etc. 

Armstrongism was infecting peoples lives with rules and regulations that they had no business using.  This was these men's attempt to stop that abuse.

I was there in the Auditorium when this notebook was passed out.  HWA was present that morning.  HWA also knew about this project from day one to the day it was passed out.  The myth that Malm and Thiel promote  that HWA knew nothing about this project is a lie.  Each one of the project's papers went right by HWA's desk.  Some of the Church's most educated men worked on this document.  They knew how to do research and how to do in-depth study.  Meredith did not like this because he has always been anti-education.

Meredith and various of his henchmen always loved to mock higher education and ridicule it as best they could.  That's part of the reason to this very day that Meredithism, Flurryism and the rest of the COGism's are still stuck in late 1800's/early 1900's method's of biblical understanding.  That was the thinking prevalent when HWA started his six months of study.  In those six months of study, in a public library, using books written for less educated minds, he formulated a set of beliefs that carry on to this day.

Public Library's have never been founts of knowledge for intensive in depth studies.  If you went to a public library today to study doctrine, theology, hermeneutics, etc., you will find an overwhelming selection of syrupy sweet Evangelical thought and interpretations.  Serious, in depth books are not in great supply.  Public librarians are not educated in the types of in depth biblical criticism books that they need to stock.  For that kind of study you need to go to a university or seminary library. A serious student of theology will use serious, in depth books on theology written by men and women who have spent their lifetime studying and examining Christian belief.  But of course, since these men and women are NOT educated in COG thought they are deemed as ignorant morons and their works irrelevant. And, God forbid if a COG man ever read a book written by a woman!

However, not all conservative COG members are as scared of the project as Malm and Theil are.  Surprisingly there is a conservative COG member named Nathan Albright who decided to look past all the hoopla and anger directed towards it.  You can read his comments here:

While there is no doubt my understanding on certain doctrines and what Nathan believes are miles apart, I find it greatly refreshing to read his viewpoints and understanding.  If more of the leadership of the COG's were like him then there might be a glimmer of hope for the COG yet.

Comments from "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Systematic Theology Project?"

As someone who is, in principle at least, sympathetic to the idea of a systematic theology project (something which I am not afraid to openly admit and defend), I find this sort of account baffling.  Why would it be “liberal” to desire a consistent view of scriptural positions on a doctrine, so as to avoid prooftexting and an incomplete understanding of the Bible?  As readers of my blog can attest to, my own interests in consistent biblical teaching about relevant biblical laws are not liberal at all [2].  They will also know that I have a passionate desire to help provide biblical consistency in understanding and practice in a broad array of issues ranging from business practices [3] to those who struggle with addictions or the aftermath of child abuse [4].  In short, I have zero interest in corrupting doctrine, but every interest in purifying it and removing from it inconsistencies that have resulted from ad hoc decisions made over the course of decades without a full understanding of the biblical context of existing judgments and doctrine about such issues as the Sabbath.

Nonetheless, there are potential pitfalls that abound in a systematic theology project that are worth considering.  It is not only liberals but also “conservatives” who like to add and subtract from the Bible.  People may spiritualize away obligations for generosity and support unbiblical systems of class warfare against the poor and helpless, completely twisting the purpose of biblical government [6].  Likewise, people may add their own personal interpretations to scripture and then seek to enshrine those as biblical, when the biblical core of truth has been deformed almost beyond recognition by the attached speculations.  This is especially true when someone claims that a scripture can only be interpreted one way when it may have many different applications and possible valid interpretations [7].  The pitfalls generally fall into two camps:  the people engaged in the systematic theology project may have agendas to pervert scripture by applying the wrong principles to the body of scripture in order to change doctrine by stealth by getting rid of proper biblical doctrinal material under fallacious grounds.  However, let us not forget that the other (and perhaps more common) pitfall is for a systematic theology to threaten the pet doctrines and speculations of believers and leaders, and thus to lead to the rejection of religious truth on behalf of deeply held error.  There are ditches on both sides of the narrow path of proper systematic theology.
One may say this or that is a twiggy point, but it is the purpose of a systematic theology project to tie up loose ends and resolve minor inconsistencies that threaten to discredit one’s commitment to the whole structure of biblical law.  Now, whether this was what was meant by the Systematic Theology Project engaged in by the Worldwide Church of God in the 1970′s, I cannot say.  It is, however, the way in which I would support and agree with such a systematic theology project myself, and an aspect in which I believe ordinary believers should be engaged in themselves in their own lives [8].  We grow in our capacities of spiritual discernment when we begin to see the rich and full perspective of scripture and transcend our own narrow understanding and limitations of perspective, and that process of spiritual maturation makes us more capable to judge and discern, and thus more expert practical and systematic theologians, not simply out of book knowledge but out of consistency of thought, belief, and practice.

From his article "A Brief Look at the Systematic Theology Project"

Among Church of God members, the Systematic Theology Project, which can be found in its entirety online, all 400+ pages of it [1] has a legendary and cursed existence.  It is often said that this effort was intended to liberalize doctrine and water it down.  Those who were involved in the project were subject to a late 1970′s backlash by a group of so-called “conservatives” who wished to get the Worldwide Church of God “back on track” that led to the early 1980′s “rule of the Ayatollahs” that some people (myself included) find a deeply traumatic past that is too painful to want to see come alive ever again, but was a nostalgic period for others.

What is my intent is to let the mostly dead men who worked on this project speak for themselves a little bit when it comes to their intentions and goals for the project and provide some of their doctrinal statements on such areas of interest for me such as our example to the community and our views on race and ethnicity as well as the Sabbath.  After all, the men who served on this project have been slandered for decades as liberals who sought to water down the true doctrines, and as I cannot bear to let people be slandered who can no longer defend themselves, I thought it useful to let their words speak for themselves, so that we may at least give them the credit they are do for being faithful and intellectually consistent men without heretical goals.  For too long their work (and those who wrote it, or those who like me long for similar such efforts to be made) have been unjustly insulted and maligned for desiring to bring doctrine and tradition into harmony with the Bible (or to discard it, if it is unbiblical tradition) and to judge everything by the absolutely and external standard of the scriptures [2].

You can read the entire Systematic Theology Project here:  STP Project


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the comment and for the plug, as well as for your own personal eyewitness testimony about the Systematic Theology Project. I don't know what our own personal doctrinal positions are (I am widely considered a "Progressive" in UCG, but I have rather "conservative" doctrinal positions and rather "liberal" positions towards treating other brethren with love and respect and understanding of their own personal backgrounds).

Mickey said...

Wow! I didn't know that HWA was present when it was passed out. So he told a bald faced lie to the members when he said it was done behind his back.

My personal opinion as to why it was ditched was because it might have hampered HWA from putting forward "new truths" that would allow him to have his way.

NO2HWA said...

The STP was not done behind HWA's back. The process had been going on for several years. It was not something that just miraculously happened in a a few short weeks.

Ministers were asked to submit papers on the 30 some different topics. All kinds of papers came in. The research and material gathering for these papers went on for many months. They were then examined by a committee of ministers, elders and evangelists. Then the best were fine tuned to meet the doctrinal standards of the church.

It was not a process hidden in the shadows of a dark room anywhere on campus. Granted HWA was traveling around the world telling world leaders about "A Strong Hand From Someplace" but he was NOT kept out of the loop!

Anonymous said...

I was also there when it was developed. I contributed a few papers as a member of Dr. Kuhn's Doctrines of the WCG class and even helped Ellen Ware edit it a bit, one page at least.

This wasn't a movement to liberalize the church but rather a good faith effort to organize what the church believed so that we would all be speaking the same thing.

Those with pet doctrines were upset because they could no longer claim that the church believed as they did. HWA was upset because it meant that he was no longer the sole source of doctrine. Then when he wanted to purge the ranks of his perceived enemies, he found that the STP made a convenient and effective club. By lying about the origin and purpose of the STP, he demonized a large group of loyal followers.

Having said that, I admit that I was shocked when it went out because it needed much more editing. It was not nearly ready for publication.

NO2HWA said...

Thanks Anon! Glad someone verified what I have been saying. I have had two idiots email me saying I was lying.

I was also one of two people that had to sit in the third floor office of Jack Elliot, when HWA ordered all the ministry to return to Pasadena their STP notebooks.

We had to remove the STP from the notebooks and tear it into four pieces and then put into special bags.

Thankfully not everyone sent theirs back in.

This was also when I snagged my own copy!

Why they would not let us use a shredder is beyond me!

Anonymous said...

Same Anonymous here.

I was a member of Dr. Kuhn's first Doctrines of the WCG class. (The rumor was that he was the only one brave enough to teach that class.) He told us he got the idea of the STP one day at the beach. He pulled out his pad of paper (don't we all carry a pad of paper to the beach?) and wrote down every theological term he could think of. He organized the list and sent it out to the ministry asking for papers on what WCG taught on these topics. He got hundreds of papers in response; I saw the stacks of papers on some of the topics. No one can claim this project was done in secret.

Most of the students in the Doctrines of the WCG class were sabbatical ministers. Those of us in the class that first year submitted papers. The students during the second year organized the papers and boiled them down. I don't know personally who else was involved in the editing other than Dr. Kuhn.

How much HWA knew about it, no one can say. There are still several people around who could tell us what he was told but he probably only half listened to what he heard and didn't grasp the scope of the project. All I can say is that the people involved in it were truly shocked when he claimed that he had known nothing about it.