Three New Books: Adventist Scholars Pushing the Envelope
By AT News Team, Dec. 19, 2014: Three new books have been published recently by Adventist scholars which expand the scope significantly of both expression and information available to believers. One is a collection of papers from 34 authors, while the other two are written by individuals. One is a personal memoir while the other two are scholarly projects. Yet all three have a shared focus: How is the Adventist faith engaging with contemporary cultural and social realities?
Beams of Heaven Guiding Me by Roy Adams
This is an autobiography of sorts, really a memoir of some particularly important events with a little continuity to give the full picture of Adams’ life. It is important not to miss the fact that Adams embodies some of the major demographic dynamics in the Adventist community. He was born on the Caribbean island of Carriacou in a time that “feels like 200 years ago,” he started in pastoral ministry in Tobago, also served as a Literature Evangelist and pastor in Canada, completed a PhD at Andrews University, taught at the Adventist seminary in the Philippines, and had the longest tenure of any individual as associate editor of the Adventist Review.
Among the most interesting chapters is his telling of the behind-the-scenes decision-making that came at the retirement of Review editor William Johnsson when many people thought that Adams would become the first person of color to have that role. Much of Part Two of the book goes into this issue, the tensions that surround the decision and the reactions of many people.
Chapter 9 is also very interesting. He tells of his involvement in the “theological crisis” with “the doctrine of the sanctuary.” He was present at the Glacier View Conference in 1980 when Desmond Ford defended his critique of the topic. Adams wrote a doctoral dissertations on three approaches to the sanctuary doctrine among Adventists which has been published, analyzing the views of Uriah Smith, A. F. Ballenger and M. L. Andreasen.
Probably the most important thing about Adams’ book is simply the issues that it raises about the role of immigrants in the Adventist Church: At what point do they become fully accepted? At what point are they no longer used in an unfair way by entrenched native-born leaders or leaders of a dominate ethnic group? How does the Adventist denomination handle its internationality in simple things like retirement policies and more complex things like discussion of theological discoveries?
Church and Society edited by Rudi Maier
This is a really big book in many ways. It is over 800 pages. It covers many issues and has 34 contributing authors. It has a long sub-title too: Missiological Challenges for the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Maier has been an Andrews University seminary professor and served as president of ADRA International, as well as a missionary in Asia. Because the Adventist denomination has missionary efforts in almost every country on the globe, it encounters almost all of contemporary social issues. This volume includes chapters on mental illness, HIV-AIDS, homelessness, human rights, immigration, war, homosexuality and domestic abuse.
Maier told Adventist Today that each chapter has three parts: a description of the topic, a biblical discussion related to the issue, and a missiological application. Each article also has discussion questions and recommended readings for further study. These chapters are categorized into five sections: (1) Lifestyle and Health Issues, (2) Development Issues, (3) Human Rights Issues, (4) Religion and Public Life, and (5) Family and Domestic Issues.
Maier stated that the purpose of the book is “to help students, pastors, social workers and concerned church members to understand some of the issues people are facing inside and outside the Church.” He continues, “Our goal is to help people understand the reality of this world and some of the issues people are facing. There are many uncomfortable issues the Church needs to address, and in this book we have highlighted some of them.”
Maier hopes the book will do more than merely provide information. “This book will, I hope, raise issues to be discussed and debated because otherwise it’s just a piece of paper. I would like this book to be used as a discussion document in our classes, in our churches, among pastors,” he said.
Church and Society is different from other Adventist books on missions, in Maier’s view. “Many times we describe missions as being overseas. Mission in Africa. Mission in Asia,” said Maier. “Missions is something that is taking place wherever there are people. There are people right here in North America. There are people that need to reach other people. I’m not speaking of ‘reaching’ as in making them Adventists, but how do we minister to them? This book is about ministering to people, to their hurts, but also to their potential. In addition to that, how do I minister in a very positive way to the greater society in which I live?”
More information about this book is available in the recent interview with Maier published online by Adventist Today here.
Present Truth Revisited by Reinder Bruinsma
As the subtitle indicates, this is “An Adventist Perspective on Postmodernism,” not really a theological work. And in keeping with this contemporary topic, it is published as an e-book available at Amazon, the online retailing company. Bruinsma lives in the Netherlands and has worked for the Adventist Church in various roles and in various countries for more than forty years, including teaching at Loma Linda University and serving as president of the denomination in Belgium and Luxembourg.
Bruinsma told Adventist Today that aim of this book is “to help people … understand what postmodernity is.” He clarifies, “The perspective of the book is that (A) postmodernity may indeed present some very substantial challenges and may pose questions to which many of us have no immediate answers; but (B) that it is possible to retain our (Adventist) Christian faith in spite of these challenges; and (C) that, in fact, some key elements in the postmodern approach will help us to find greater depth in our faith and more relevancy in a number of major Adventist convictions.”
The volume begins with a short description of postmodernism. Bruinsma explains, “Postmodernism is a reality. There has been a change from a modern to a postmodern world view—mostly (but not exclusively) in the western world. It has a great impact on how we look at things and how we do things; and on how we look at the future. Most of us are, however, a mix of modernity and postmodernity. It is important that we understand what is involved.”
Adventist thought has not remained immune to postmodern influences, says Bruinsma. “I try to outline the differences between a ‘modern’ and a ‘postmodern Adventist.’ These two categories, and mixtures of the two, often have an immense communication problem. The chasm between these two is even more significant, I believe, than between liberalism and conservatism.”
Bruinsma believes the modern-postmodern divide is an important theme for leadership to consider. “The fundamental problem we face is that, even though there are large segments of postmodern believers in the pew, most of the Adventist hierarchy is very ‘modern’ and has no idea what or how postmoderns think,” he stated.
Bruisma shared with Adventist Today some of the benefits of a postmodern mindset. “A postmodern approach will make us welcome diversity. It will help us in making our faith experience more balanced: not only with an emphasis on what is rational and intellectual, but also with more space for emotion and intuition. Of course, it will call for a different way of reading the Bible and for allowing room for personal interpretation, rather than accepting a rigid methodology that is prescribed by ‘higher organizations.’”
With this description, it is not hard to see why Bruinsma decided to publish this book through Amazon. He said “it proved to be very difficult to find a publisher within the Adventist world (even though in the past several of my books were published by the mainline Adventist publishing houses). It was rejected by several of them. However, it was not rejected because the editors did not like the book. Instead, it appeared (often in between the lines) the main reason was fear that many in the higher church leadership echelon might be critical of such a publication.”
Regarding the intended audience of the book, Bruinsma shared that the book is “for a wide readership within the Adventist church. On the one hand I hope it will be read by many who are critical of postmodernity and by those who really have no idea what postmodernism is but instinctively believe it is something bad! It will, hopefully, give them the sense that it is not totally good nor totally bad. On the other hand, I hope it will also be of interest (and of help) to those (more or less) postmoderns who feel that many Christian answers to major questions are rather shaky, and that the church (in general and the Adventist version of it in particular) has not much to offer to them.”
How to Get Copies of These Books
Roy Adams’ memoir Beams of Heaven Guiding Me can be ordered online at www.outskirtspress.com.
Present Truth Revisited by Reinder Brunisma is available at: https://www.amazon.com/Present-Truth-Revisited-Perspective-Postmodernism-ebook/dp/B00QPZFWSO/
It is also available if you a Kindle app in the book search area
Church and Society can be ordered from Andrews University Press online or by Email to firstname.lastname@example.org.