In my previous article, Pastor Sam Leonor mentioned that he had met with Pastor Steve Wohlberg and conversed with him about his concerns with the One Project. I emailed Pastor Wohlberg’s ministry a few days after I returned from the One Project, to hear his side of the story. He emailed me back within a day or two, however, I was running a healthcare tech startup at the time, working up to eighteen hours a day. Additionally, I felt that I should wait to hear from other founders of the One Project before talking to Pastor Wohlberg.
As I was getting ready to publish Pastor Leonor’s interview, I saw the reference in my notes, and remembered that I hadn’t yet followed up with Pastor Wohlberg. I emailed him about the specific mention of him in the interviews and of my past attempt to reach out. He called back the next day on April 3, 2017. We talked for close to an hour and covered a wide range of topics that were both on and off-the-record. After the interview, I wrote down what he and I had discussed and agreed was on the record, and sent it to him for editing. He sent back his final edits which are reproduced below. In addition my reactions to the interview are written below as well.
Context for the Interview
In the interview, he discussed his conversation with Pastor Sam Leonor, and his decision to change his classification of the One Project. Notwithstanding the change in classification, he continues to believe that there are theological issues that need to be addressed regarding our Adventist distinctive beliefs and that some in the One Project may still be influenced by Emergent literature. He stated that despite his focus on the One Project in the past, he has now moved on and considers Sam Leonor a friend.
In a sermon, “The Perils of the Emergent Church”, delivered at Southern Adventist University in 2013, Wohlberg asserted that he had proof that the Emergent Church has “definitely come into the Seventh-day Adventist Church.” [i] After discussing some of the distinctive Adventist beliefs, Wohlberg turned to describe the Emergent Church and a few of the leaders of that movement. As part of his proof that the Seventh-day Adventist Church had been infiltrated by Emergent Theology, he asserted that Dr. Leonard Sweet was a part of the Emergent Church due to Sweet’s co-publishing several books with known Emergent Church leaders. He then linked the One Project founders who studied under Dr. Sweet, at George Fox University for their Doctor of Ministry program, as part of the evidence of the Emergent Church coming into the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Some of the Omega Apostasy symposium speakers on the Emergent church and the One Project cite an early book by Sweet, Quantum Spirituality. In this book, these speakers, including Wohlberg, saw a link between the New Age and the coming Omega Apostasy. That Sweet taught four of the five founders of the One Project has been taken as bona fide evidence of links to the coming Omega Apostasy as predicted by Ellen White.
In reality, Dr. Sweet, is a member and theologian of the United Methodist Church. Intellectually gifted, he rose quickly in his denomination to become provost of a university in his late twenties. His book Quantum Spirituality was written at a time when the New Age Movement was ascendant in Christendom. Seeking a way to win New Agers to Christ, by using the Apostle Paul’s method of quoting Greek pagan authors and poets to persuade the Greeks at Mars Hill, Sweet quoted from widely well-known mystic theologians and new agers in his book. Today, calling the New Age Movement, “Sewage,” Sweet acknowledges that he would have “writ[ten] it differently” but maintains that quoting new agers or mystics doesn’t make him one, anymore than Paul quoting Greek pagan poets made him a pagan poet. Attacks on Sweet and on the One Project founders largely through guilt by association have been the focus of Adventist symposiums on the topic of the Emergent church. Many of these talks have their evidentiary basis from Sweet’s Quantum Spirituality.
In 2006, Sweet publicly confronted Emergent Church leader, Brian McLaren, for views that he considers to be unbiblical and antithetical to the Gospel.[ii] And as late as 2007, Relevant Magazine, published an article in which he and others criticized the Emergent Church. Sweet then viewed his attacks as “accountability” while still calling himself a “friend” of the emergents. He was quoted saying that,
“The emergent church movement has “increasing obsession with politics… It really bothers me when Jesus is portrayed as having a political agenda.” Maybe it’s my unjust hopes and dreams,” Sweet says. “I just expected Emergent to be more sophisticated. I thought this thing would be something entirely new, something that would move us beyond postmodernity’s deconstructive critique and into a post-postmodern construction. We got to this point in the ’70s where you could not tell the difference between the Democratic Party platform and the Church’s portrayal of the Kingdom of God. I think that any intrusion of Christianity into politics—whether Right or Left—is ugly. So I don’t see Jesus as coming with a political agenda. Yes, there are radical social and economic consequences to His message, but to claim that Jesus’ message was a political one [is incorrect]. It’s Jim Wallis’ evangelical updating of the Social Gospel movement, or liberalism’s liberation theology of the ’70s and ’80s.”[iii]
Sweet’s critical views of the Emergent Church coincide at least, but I would say most likely predate the time that the first two co-founders, Pastor Terry Swenson and Pastor Alex Bryan, attended George Fox to study under him. It seems illogical for Sweet to publically criticize the Emergent Church while simultaneously teach Swenson and Bryan the opposite. I have read a large number of his books and find most of what he has written to be Biblically based and appropriate for his denomination. We cannot hold Sweet to the Adventist standard because he is not a Seventh-day Adventist.
During my interview with Wohlberg, he conceded that he had only read the book Quantum Spirituality and formed his views of Sweet from it. Sweet, by contrast, has published over fifty books on a wide variety of topics related to sharing the Gospel in today’s postmodern culture.
To refresh your memory, here are a few representative quotes from Wohlberg’s “The Perils of Emerging Church” sermon, delivered in the Spring of 2013, at Southern Adventist University.
“I’m about to show you some shocking information, that the emerging church has definitely come into the Seventh-day Adventist Church.”
“I’m glad I’m here at Southern because I have a belief…I’m assuming I’m right that I am here among friends. Conservative Friends. If I gave this talk in some other circles, I might not get out alive. If my job was at stake, and my employers were sitting in the audience, I don’t know if I would keep my job.”
“I would say that the true Third Way, is to maintain our strong identity and our belief system and yet to be humble and to do it in a loving way. That really is the Biblical Third Way. Speaking the Truth, in love.” [Commenting on Adventist Forum’s ‘Third Way’ Conference]
“Let me say that I certainly want Jesus to be all in my life. But I want it to be the Bible Jesus.”
“If those involved in the emerging church, and there is no stopping them, then I urge you to please leave our Church. But again, we want you with us, but if you are committed to this course, don’t stay inside the Church, God will hold you accountable to that.”
In addition, after making a “connection” between Leonard Sweet and the Emergent Church, Pastor Wohlberg then made another “connection” between Sweet and the One Project.
Here is something that is significant to know. Without judging anybody, the fact is, all of these men [the board members of the One Project] have gone to George Fox University and they have all received doctorates under Leonard Sweet.
He went on to show that Leonard Sweet had been invited to speak at the One Project’s Seattle Gathering and was advertised as one of the main speakers. He also showed a few photographs of Pastors Alex Bryan, Tim Gillispie, and Sam Leonor with Leonard Sweet at various retreats.
A Note About Citing This Interview:
A word to those who may want to use this interview for their own purposes: If you are going to use this material from this interview please include in your citations, a link to the original series published at The Compass Magazine as we are covering the One Project and also to Intelligent Adventist where we are simultaneously covering issues related to the Emergent Church, so that your audience can get the full context.
Phone Interview Notes: April 3, 2017
Adrian: Thank you for calling me. What was the timeline of your interactions with the One Project?
Pastor Wohlberg: In 2013, I was asked by GYC-Southeast at Southern Adventist University to speak about the dangers of the Emergent Church (EC) to Adventists. When I first said yes, my plan was to address only [the] Bible vs. EC principles, but not to mention organizations or names within our Adventist Church. But as the date for my talk drew closer, I learned more specifics, such as the holding of a Spectrum-sponsored conference called The Third Way near SAU (some SAU students would attend) featuring Brian McLaren, a well-known EC leader. After much prayer, I finally felt deep conviction that God wanted me to include specifics in my message. In 2014, I was also invited to be one of the speakers at a symposium at the Sacramento Central Church on the same basic subject. During 2013-2015 primarily, I spoke about these matters a few times, but since then, our ministry has largely moved on to other topics.
Adrian: Could you confirm that you and Pastor Sam Leonor met?
Pastor Wohlberg: Yes. He reached out to me, and I responded immediately. We first talked on the phone for about an hour. We then met in person at the GC [General Conference] in 2015. In December 2015, Sam came to hear me speak at Loma Linda, but had to leave early.
Adrian. What was the substance of the conversation at the GC?
Pastor Wohlberg: It was a productive conversation. We dealt with some hard questions. We were able to share our views with each other in an open way. I shared my concerns regarding some of what I had heard about their Gatherings and especially some statements in their OP [One Project] book, For The One, which includes articles from many of their leaders. I consider Sam to be a friend now. We keep in touch off and on.
Adrian. Did his answers to your queries change your opinion of the ministry? How would you classify The One Project Ministry?
Pastor Wohlberg: They are not part of the conservative Adventism that I identify with. I was told that when Dwight Nelson came to speak at one of their Gatherings some were upset because they felt he was too conservative (he preached on obedience). If you want a good example of conservative Adventism, you can see the ministries at ASI, GYC, and hear good sermons on AudioVerse. I haven’t seen the OP involved or speak at events held by these conservative organizations.
As for their ministry, I consider them somewhat as a disillusioned-with-conservatives, more liberal/progressive Adventist group. I’ve never been to one of their Gatherings, but I’ve read a lot and heard comments from others who have attended and have had concerns about some of their music, and about derisive comments against conservative Adventism made by some of their speakers. One of my basic concerns is that OP leaders are in danger of drifting from the pillars of our Message. The ONE Project seems to be a rather complex organization, but I currently think that it would be an oversimplification to classify them as fully “Emergent,” although some of them have exposed themselves to Emergent literature, and have most likely been affected by it. I believe this is a dangerous path for any Adventist to travel on or experiment with.
Adrian. Did you share the contents of your discussion with your fellow colleagues from the symposiums? If Yes, who were they? If no, why not?
Pastor Wohlberg: No. The ONE Project isn’t our hobby horse. We have other things to talk about. I don’t keep track of what other conservative ministries are saying about it, or about what the OP is doing from day to day. Most of my discussions with OP leaders occurred a few years ago, and I can’t say for sure what they are doing today. I don’t really follow them now.
Adrian: Some in the symposiums have mentioned that The ONE Project could be the beginning of the Omega Apostasy. Are they the Omega?
Pastor Wohlberg: I wouldn’t specifically say they are THE Omega, for Mrs. White doesn’t specify exactly what it is, but she does describe the Alpha, and then she goes on to give characteristics of the Omega, some of which seem to fit. Her warning about “books of a new order” should receive careful consideration. [Wohlberg then reached for the ONE Project’s book FOR THE ONE and read a couple of lines (Pages 31, 41) from it as representative of his concerns, such as the book’s assertion that Adventism finds its uniqueness in “Jesus” only (p. 31) whereas the uniqueness of true Adventism is in its Christ-centered focus on the 3 Angels Messages]
Adrian: If they aren’t emergent or omega, but fall under some broad umbrella of Adventism, what do you think of the personal attacks, and professional setbacks that some of the founders have experienced where the attackers have cited Symposium research asserting that they are indeed emergent etc.?
Pastor Wohlberg: We here at White Horse media want to share the Truth and keep the focus on the Bible, the cross, and the 3 Angels Messages. We don’t condone any harsh personal attacks made by individuals against anyone, including the founders of the ONE Project. I preach about the 10 commandments, and one of those commandments has to do with not bearing false witness. I always try to be careful in these matters. Truth and love should always be combined. If not, we’ve missed the boat, whatever we profess.
Adrian: Thank you for your time.
Pastor Wohlberg: Thank you, God bless.
Reactions to the Pastor Steve Wohlberg Interview
Change in Classification
While in the past, the One Project was “Exhibit A” for proof that Emergent Church theology has infiltrated the Church, Wohlberg has now shifted to a more nuanced view of the One Project. Due to the sensational claims being made against the One Project it would have been appropriate for Wohlberg to inform his audience of his updated view of the One Project.
Theological Concerns & The Importance of Dialogue
As the interview with Pastor Sam Leonor showed, as well as what others have noted in the past, there are some areas that are of genuine concern that require further clarification and explanation from the the One Project. However, as can be seen from the exchange between Pastors Wohlberg and Leonor, many concerns about various ministries, including the One Project, can be alleviated by simply sitting across the table from each other and clarifying views through conversation. A single conversation can clear up a whole host of assumptions and misconceptions. Especially when constructive conversations occur in an atmosphere of trust. That being said, in regards to the One Project there are more issues that require additional constructive dialogue. Thankfully Pastor Leonor, to his credit, has shown his openness to having such conversations.[iv]
[i] Wohlberg, Steve. ‘Perils of the Emergent Church.’ https://www.audioverse.org/english/sermons/recordings/5240/perils-of-the-emerging-church.html.
See minutes 51-55 of the presentation for Wohlberg’s comments on the One Project.
[ii] Sweet, Leonard. ‘A Response to Recent Misunderstandings 2007.’ He states that the emergent church is young movement that has ‘grown old quickly’ because: ‘It is prone to cause political ruckus when it should be rocking the world for Christ; It is missing a hunger and longing for the salvation of others, a passion for others to fall in love with Jesus and the sense that there are things at stake here that have both earthly and eternal consequences . . .It appears more and more to be a new evangelical form of the old 70s liberation theology. It makes the mistake of separating the Person of Jesus from His teachings. It deconstructs everything, including the historic creeds of the church and the divine inspiration of the entire biblical canon. It revels in spreading doubt more than faith.’ Source: https://leonardsweet.com/response-recent-misunderstandings-2007/