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A Review of "Let's Talk" by Jan Paulsen

During his presidency of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Jan Paulsen participated in over 30 episodes of a one-hour live talk show broadcast on the church’s international television network.  “Let’s Talk” gave young adults on six continents the opportunity to ask questions of their church’s president.  It was unscripted and unrehearsed.  The “Let’s Talk” website provided additional opportunities for them to express their questions directly to the president.  These conversations in person and over email inspired this book.  In it, Elder Paulsen invites Adventists of all ages to join these timely conversations.

This book is passionate about listening. For Elder Paulsen church is family and he reminds us that in a family differences of opinion are normal, to be expected, yet we still remain family.  Each voice remains valued.  In families we listen to each other.  Paulsen believes that honest questions from family members even though they might be troubling deserve thoughtful responses, particularly when the questions are from the younger members.  They are family.  So we hear his moving refrain:  “This is what they said.  This is the church speaking to the church.”  Will the rest of us join the conversation?

The questions asked by young people in their conversations with Elder Paulsen included topics ranging widely from wearing jewelry to racism, military service, women in ministry, community activism, homosexuality and more.  The issues may be divisive and difficult, but conversation is the key.  Elder Paulsen believes we must learn from and with each other.  His frank discussion of the issues is unembarrassed, unafraid and deeply refreshing.  These are just the kinds of questions I hear when I speak at singles conventions and youth events and weekend retreats.  Elder Paulsen believes that when young people are silent and stop asking questions it does not mean that they are in agreement but rather indicates “minds closing, attitudes hardening, and communication coming to an abrupt end.”  And, “when conversation ends, people walk away from each other…”  So…Let’s Talk! 

The format of the book reflects its main points.  The actual questions of young adults begin each chapter.  Then Elder Paulsen shares his thoughtful perspective, often bringing in examples from his wealth of international experience.  Each chapter ends with “conversation starter” questions and scenarios.  In addition to his proven leadership, Elder Paulsen’s deep pastoral wisdom and skill as a teacher shine through, providing provocative questions for his readers to ponder individually, but more importantly within our faith communities.

I heard myself say, “wow!” as Paulsen quoted singer and social activist Bono when addressing young people’s concern that church is culturally irrelevant.  Then it was “yes!” in the chapter encouraging intellectual curiosity.  Even my occasional “really?” pulled me into the conversation.  I heard myself joining in. I am sure you will too.  Whether you are young or old you will find these conversations just as engaging.

The Adventist students in my classroom and in the church where I worship will love this book and will be richly blessed to read this courageous and compassionate invitation to wrestle with contemporary issues with one such as Elder Paulsen as a guide.  Paulsen shows that he has listened carefully, read widely and understands that young people are savvy with social media, sharply aware of issues in science and technology, and long for a church that leads by standing up for its moral convictions. This is just what my students need!  Elder Paulsen recognizes that issues are complex and the challenges posed by the questions may not always have neat answers, but he is still willing to listen and remains confident in the younger generation of our church family and in the God who leads them. 

This book by a deeply wise leader clearly indicates he loves his family, all of us, because he loves the Adventist church so very much.

—Kendra Haloviak Valentine is Associate Professor of New Testament Studies at La Sierra University. 

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