New Biography on Uriah Smith

Gary Land, Uriah Smith: Apologist and Biblical Commentator. Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald, 2014. 247 pp. + 3 pp. Appendix + 6 pp. Index. Hardcover, $22.99.

New Book by Gary LandThe late Gary Land was a master of the craft of history. After four decades of teaching history, he left two posthumous jewels, a third edition of his Dictionary of Seventh-day Adventism (Rowman and Littlefield, 2014) and this latest contribution to the Adventist Pioneer Series. Land utilizes many unpublished materials that Eugene F. Durand for whatever reason did not incorporate into his dissertation (later published in 1980 as Yours in the Blessed Hope, Uriah Smith). However, the real contribution by Land is his ability to contextualize Smith’s life and background, which in turn gives the modern reader a special opportunity to critically, yet empathetically, understand the world of early Adventism. [Read more...]

Why John Huss Matters after Six Centuries

John HusThis year marks 600 years since John Huss was burned at the stake. His remarkable life, along with his compatriot Jerome, are a compelling story of the power of God’s Word. For Seventh-day Adventists this is especially compelling as their story forms chapter six of The Great Controversy by Ellen G. White where she talks about their contribution as part of the “Great Controversy” drama between Christ and Satan. What stands out as their greatest contribution is there faithfulness to God’s Word.

Why did Ellen G. White see John Huss as significant? She gave three reasons.

First, the Bible was translated into the Czech language, but Gregory VII issued a bull forbidding public worship in the vernacular, especially with the Bible. This was during a time of great ignorance of the Bible. Instead Huss followed the maxim that “the precepts of Scripture” should “rule the conscience” as “the one infallible guide.”

Second, John Huss openly condemned corruption at that time that he saw within the Roman Catholic Church. “Huss thundered against the abominations which were tolerated in the name of religion,” noted White.

Third, John Huss had unflinching courage to face the Council of Constance and the emperor solely armed with the Word of God. On his way he reportedly said: “I have not quitted you to deny the divine truth, for which, with God’s assistance I am willing to die.”

Despite a promise of safe conduct by both the emperor and the church Huss went willingly to testify of his faith knowing that in all probability he would no return. He developed a theology of suffering that if Jesus suffered for him, then the least he could do was to suffer for his savior. After all, Huss believed, that suffering leads to purification.

Church leaders argued that “faith out not to be kept with heretics” as their justification for not honoring the pledge of safe conduct to the council. “During his long trial he firmly maintained the truth, and in the presence of the assembled dignitaries of church and state he uttered a solemn and faithful protest against the corruptions of the hierarchy. When required to choose whether he would recant his doctrines or suffer death, he accepted the martyr’s faith.”

Huss was then led to the place of execution. He was exhorted to save himself by renouncing his errors. “What errors,” he said, “shall I renounce? I know myself guilty of none. I call God to witness that all that I have written and preached has been with the view of rescuing souls from sin and perdition; and, therefore, most joyfully will I confirm with my blood that truth which I have written and preached.” And so his voice was silenced forever. Yet after six centuries his blood still speaks.

Writing a Book Review

book-reviewToday was helpful to listen to a panel of experts about book reviews: the session included some leading editors of journals and academic presses at the American Historical Association.

Several years ago I had the good fortune to sit next to a famous author who had been several times on the New York Times bestseller list while on an airplane. After a while we struck up a conversation that included advice about writing. I asked him if he ever wrote book reviews. He replied, “No, book reviews are for people who don’t know how to write. I choose to write books that are significant.”

With that in mind, and as the editor of a journal, I am forced to ask myself what is the value of the book review? I expected this panel to be a rather dour gathering, but as it turned out I was surprised at how optimistic they were as a group about the importance and future of the book review.

According to this group of experts book reviews are especially valuable as books proliferate. How does one triage so much reading material so that you can get to the best research in your discipline? Book reviews are a way to stay current in the field, identifying key trends, and debating significant ideas. It allows an author to get their ideas out there and to let other scholars in the field respond to their ideas.

What does a book review look like?

Book reviews vary in length depending on their context. Most academic reviews, panelists generally agreed, were not to be more than 700 words. Authors should be expected to receive a book and produce a review with three months, but sometimes it is worth waiting for a major scholar to take a little bit longer if the review is deemed significant enough.

One of the dangers of book reviews, according to the panelists, was that people tend to fall into the rut of simply summarizing a book as if that is a book review. In fact this is perhaps the worst kind of review. The best kind of reviews, instead, encapsulate the key arguments and then respond to them. Good reviews use critical thinking and do more than say nice things: they honestly evaluate a book pointing out its flaws, weaknesses, and challenge the author. In rare cases, this may mean pointing out shoddy or faulty research. Of course reviewers should not go out of their way to be mean. Obviously a top notch book review should maintain a professional tone.

Historic Adventist Churches in Harlem

One of the highlights of attending the American Society of Church History (affiliated with the American Historical Association) is being able to join an afternoon tour of area religious sites. Yesterday we were able to visit three historic churches in Harlem. Stops included the Church of Notre Dame, Cathedral of St. John the Divine, and Mount Olivet Baptist Church. I think that probably most people are aware that Harlem is an example of racial and cultural change in America. For example, Harlem was predominantly White in the nineteenth-century. From 1900 to 1930 it went from 10% to 70% African American community as one of the largest–some even claim it was in fact the largest at the time–center of African Americans in the United States. This is especially interesting in that many churches closed, moved, or changed with racial patterns and migration(s).Temple SDA Church

Of special interest to me was the Mount Olivet Baptist Church because it was originally a Jewish temple, but I learned from our guides, David R. Bains (Samford University) and Daniel Sack (National Endowment for the Humanities) that in the 1920s it was a Seventh-day Adventist congregation before it became the historically Black Baptist congregation that has occupied the building since about 1930.

Temple SDA Church insideIn doing some preliminary research through the online portal of the General Conference Archives I discovered that the Temple Seventh-day Adventist Church was organized here by Carlyle B. Haynes in 1920. Within a short time a Seventh-day Adventist School, Harlem Academy, was formed. The predominantly White congregation relocated to the Bronx some time in the late 1920s.

Just down the street is a series of African American congregations that during this same time period were led by James K. Humphrey. In some of the reports I noticed Haynes’ admiration for Humphrey who described the First Harlem Seventh-day Adventist Church (a congregation of some 600 to 800 members) as one of the “best organized” in the denomination. Tragically, R. Clifford Jones has documented that tragic story of race relations that culminated with his departure from the denomination.

Ephesus SDA ChurchAll the same, just down the street is the Ephesus Seventh-day Adventist Church. In 1924 the First Harlem Seventh-day Adventist Church (pastored by Humphrey) spawned a church plant called the Second Harlem Seventh-day Adventist Church. The original site, Carlton Hall (106 West 127th Street) is today a Mosque. In 1930 the congregation moved to its present site. Today the community continues to change as many of these churches that we saw are changed once again into new houses of worship, many of them Mosques. An interesting article about the Ephesus Seventh-day Adventist Church in The New York Times can be found here).

Power, Print, and Martyrdom: The Legacy of C. C. Crisler in China

Funeral of C. C. Crisler. At Brother Crislers grave. At Brother Crisler's Grave Left to Right: Harold Schultz, Chinese Worker, Brother Davies, treas. of NW Union, Doctor H. W. Miller, O. A. Hall, Pastor Appel-Supt. of NW Union, Chinese WorkerThis paper examines the life and contributions of C. C. Crisler who served as a Seventh-day Adventist missionary in China from 1917 to 1936. Crisler was a detailed statistician who put together the missionary statistics at the 1901 General Conference Session. He later worked for Ellen G. White who used the medium of print to share her prophetic messages. After her death in 1915 he went to China and concentrated his efforts on developing publications and a church structure for the denomination in the Far East. At the same time Crisler was an example of overwork, which ultimately resulted in his death from pneumonia while on a trip to Tibet. His emphasis on equating numbers in baptisms and institutions with success resulted after the 1949 Cultural Revolution with a reversal in his life work and he was largely forgotten. This paper outlines both his contributions as well as challenges as a Seventh-day Adventist missionary in China. To read the paper click here: Campbell Power Print and Martyrdom 2014-10-31.

The 1919 Bible Conference and Theological Polarization

1919All of the post in recent weeks and months about Women’s Ordination in the Seventh-day Adventist Church lead me to reflect upon other times of theological turmoil in Adventist history. Perhaps one of the more tumultuous episodes occurred at the 1919 Bible Conference. It was intended to be the meeting that would unite Adventist Bible teachers, theologians and administrators into a cohesive whole and “finish the work” so that Christ will come. Such lofty goals were quickly not realized. Issues over minute details of prophetic interpretation led to theological polarization. As far as I can tell it is the first time in Adventist history where the terms “liberal” and “conservative” are bantered about. At one point the issues were so divisive that General Conference president A. G. Daniells forbade discussion unless he was present in the room to chair the proceedings, and even commented that he wished he could just take all these topics they were fighting, place them in a balloon, and let them float away. [Read more...]

Writing for Scholarly Journals

Academic WritingEarlier this year I was asked to take over our AIIAS Seminary journal, The Journal of Asia Adventist Seminary. It is an academic journal that comes out twice a year with articles on a wide variety of topics: pretty much anything taught at our Seminary is fair game (here are some additional details).

Perhaps the most interesting part of editing an academic journal is the peer-review process. Like most journals we practice “blind” review, in other words we do our best to not reveal who the author is to the reviewer, and similarly, we try to keep the reviewers anonymous from the author, too. The goal is to make sure that the acceptance of an article is based upon the merit of the actual piece without any undo prejudice. As the editor, I typically consult with my associate editor and my dean in helping to select experts in the field who are knowledgeable enough to give candid feedback. The result is not always encouraging. In my first batch of articles that I sent out for review, two thirds were rejected. [Read more...]