Editorial Note: The following paper was presented at the 2017 Adventist Society for Religious Studies (ASRS) during the Sabbath morning Panel Discussion on the topic of William G. Johnsson’s book Where Are We Headed? Adventism After San Antonio. Read more about the six young scholars who presented and the publishing schedule for the papers here.
Dr. William Johnsson’s work can be described as many things: timely, needed, powerful, controversial, straight-forward, Christ-centered, and even apocalyptic (it definitely reveals many things about us as a Church). Its success lies in the fact that it truly gives voice and life to what I would call “the Adventist question.”
Johnsson’s title, “Where Are We Headed?” informs us less of a fact (where he believes we are) than it raises us to the awareness of a need to stop and reassess where we are, and more importantly, where we are going (something we as Adventists have often taken for granted). Likewise, his title evokes a double meaning, a more worrisome one, for it questions whether we are going somewhere spiritually (in the ultimate sense) that we may not wish to. It forces us to discover who it is that is guiding us to the direction we are going. Who is truly at the helm of our ship? The Spirit? Which? Like any good question, Johnsson’s work opens up more questions than it provides possible answers to. Those questions are needed now.
What is at stake in this question of Johnsson’s is nothing less than the soul of the Church he, and all of us, so dearly care about. It’s an issue that I care deeply about. Many are surprised to hear me, a Millennial, sounding passionate about a subject such as this. It’s certainly not common. Johnsson’s book touches on the Adventist Millennial problem a number of times. Don’t most of my generation reject the church because of what they see happening within it, you wonder? Aren’t Adventists losing hold on them quicker than sand slips through fingers? The answer: Yes! We are. And that’s exactly why Johnsson’s work must be given ear.
Here’s the diagnosis we don’t want to accept: Millennials are not likely coming back any time soon (short of a miracle). There will not be a revival that we can plan that will accomplish this. The damage has been done: spiritually, theologically, and personally. We must learn and grow from this and only so that we have a potential chance to keep the ones we still have. That struggle is already one of our greatest.
Johnsson warns we are ready to lose the youth. He is most certainly correct. I know of countless Adventist Millennials, both those still in school and those already employed in our church as ministers, who speak openly with me that they are losing faith in serving our church. They are ready to quit or change denominations, especially since San Antonio’s vote. Mind you: these are not disconnected youth who simply have stopped caring. These are deep thinking and faithful servants of Christ (the future of our church)! They are some of the brightest Adventists I’ve seen. They are our future, prophetic voices for our church who Christ is ready to use for His causes, those who could steer our Church in the right direction. Yet just when we are in need of these voices and the light they bring, that star is fading and doing so fast.
They see the Adventist Church as a patient dying in a hospital. This patient is not incurable but the patient is obstinate, refusing to even acknowledge the true sickness it suffers from and thus, to accept the correct medication. They don’t want to leave it, but they do not want to waste their time sharing its fate when there is a gospel to still be preached.
Is Adventism already dead? Some are asking this increasingly. I would argue no. It is however dead to many, even if not ultimately. Johnsson is reminding us in his work that there still is a future for this Church. It doesn’t have to be this way. We can find our soul again. Yet, as he also wisely notes, “the Lord will not save us from ourselves.” We have to make the choice. Will Christ be at the helm of our Advent ship (keeping the main thing the main thing) or will a new sense of papal power, like an iceberg, threaten any potential God might still have for us? Johnsson’s work is a gift because it helps us to start this much needed conversation (truly commence it) so that the Holy Spirit may have a chance to lead us to answers that God would have us hear.
Matthew Korpman is an undergraduate student at La Sierra University majoring in religious studies, archaeology, philosophy, and film & television.
Image Credit: ASRS / Oak & Acorn Publishing
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