Polarization is one of the many thieves of joy. Because of this, and how I’ve seen it affect several people in my denomination, I’m always a bit apprehensive when picking up a book written by Adventists, or about Adventism, even though I am Adventist myself. In working at a public university, however, I’ve realized that it isn’t just within denominations that we tend to lean towards two extremes; as humans, we do this naturally the more passionate we become about a cause, an idea, or a political party.
But Nathan Brown’s essays in Thinking Faith —some previously published for the Rocky Mountain Conference’s quarterly, Mountain Views —are in the middle. And by “middle,” I don’t mean lukewarm or Laodicean. I mean that Nathan Brown stands on a mountain, observing both the sky and the ground below, and can point out the path leading home. While some point fingers and argue over who’s right or wrong, Nathan’s writing is evidence that Truth only becomes more truthful when we stop chasing our arguments and go to the Source.
The strength of Nathan’s rhetoric comes from a humble, childlike faith. He addresses the church by breaking down our beliefs into key concepts, speaking to both sides of the Adventist spectrum and meeting with Jesus to mediate in the middle. Most importantly, Nathan critically engages with Scripture, addressing daily application and challenging the framework many church members, including myself, rely upon when carrying out its mission. For example, I highlighted the following quote in Thinking Faith:
By nature, we are a conservative church. But to be most true to our tradition, we are called to be progressive, in learning and in responding to the world around us, and in including everyone we can in the invitation of God. If this sounds like mere academic debate or even just an argument about defining technical terms, it might be because we have not yet put what we say we believe into practice and set about that humble task of changing the world. (Emphasis added from the essay “Our Fundamental Knots,” pg. 25)
Nathan’s essays cover a variety of topics. “God Was Dead,” which opens the book and emphasizes a basic understanding of this concept, says, “God was dead!—and that changes everything” (p.4). In an earlier essay entitled “Living by Loyalty?”, Nathan breaks down the Adventist understanding of salvation into practical, wholistic, and even apocalyptic contexts (p. 33, 34). He writes:
Loyal to the reality of Jesus, we embody the good news of the kingdom to others, we seek to live the way He taught—and we trust Him to care for our salvation. Responding to the faithfulness, grace, and love of God, we step out into our world as citizens of the kingdom into which we have been invited. As agents of goodness, truth, beauty, justice, healing and hope. As ambassadors of Him.” (Emphasis added, p. 35).
The reader moves on to other essays, such as: “Planted—And Growing,” which uses the Hebrew metaphor of the tree, its strong foundation, and its ability to live through many seasons. “Our [In]Complete Adventist Transfiguration,” points out our lack and calls us towards doing justice and loving mercy, as seen in Micah 6:8. Another essay titled with the excuse, “There Is No Law Against…” admits to our freedom to view the world in our own ways, but calls upon our greater responsibility to live by the fruits of the Spirit (p. 76).
Put together, Nathan’s essays convey one central idea: our love for God should show itself in our love for our neighbors, of the way Jesus’ kindness and compassion can heal the world. Ellen White wrote, as quoted in Thinking Faith, “If God’s word were studied as it should be, men would have a breadth of mind, a nobility of character, and a stability of purpose rarely seen in these times” (p. 25). This book, with its open critical thinking and pleas of love, is proof of just that.
Brenna Taitano is a recent graduate of Indiana University Kokomo's English Language and Literature program. She plans to begin working on her MLIS next spring, but until then, will spend her time writing screenplays and reading poetry.
Photo by Signs Publishing / Spectrum
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