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Over 10,000 Entries Planned for New SDA Encyclopedia


Managing editor Benjamin Baker describes how the new Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists will be researched, written and reviewed before going live online at the next General Conference Session in 2020.

Question: Your office is responsible for producing an all-new, online Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia, due to be finished in 2020. Are you the initiator of this big project? 

Answer: In September of 2014 the officers of the General Conference requested that Dr. David Trim, director of the Office of Archives, Statistics, and Research (ASTR), write a proposal for an entirely new Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia. The officers’ primary reason for this request was that the last official SDA Encyclopedia was almost 20 years old (published in 1996), and thus was very outdated in its reflection of a global movement with 18 million members. Further, an authoritative reference work of the church was not available on the internet — a virtual lacuna that has resulted in much misunderstanding, and even slander at times, of the Adventist Church.

The GC officers requested that ASTR direct the encyclopedia project because the department is the archives and records center of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and therefore its official repository of history and historical preservation, and it produces the yearbook and statistical report of the church. In April 2015 at the Spring Meeting, the General Conference Committee voted approval of ASTR’s five-year proposal for the Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists (ESDA).

Why is producing a new Adventist encyclopedia important?

In a nutshell, here is why producing a new Adventist encyclopedia is not just important, but essential. First, the only available official SDA encyclopedia was published in 1996, but even that is the second revised edition of the first volume published in 1966. Simply put, it is extremely outdated. The 1966 membership of the church was about 1.6 million; in 1996 the membership was 9.3 million; today it is at 18.7 million; when the ESDA is completed in 2020, it will be well over 20 million. The current encyclopedia, unsurprisingly, reflects the membership demographics of the church when it was written, when the majority of Adventists resided in North America, Western Europe, and Australia. Its biases — the perspective in which it was written, the article choices and subject matter, the articles that were included and those that were not included — are not reflective of the church today, and are frankly unacceptable. This alone is a reason for a new encyclopedia.

Second, although a fine a job was done with the resources then available, the current SDA Encyclopedia is often unreliable on key facts, such as the date the work of Adventists started in a country, the first church workers in a country, and the foundation dates of organizational units. The majority of such facts are correct, but a sufficiently high percentage are inaccurate to make it necessary constantly to check primary sources — a task the existence of an encyclopedia is supposed to obviate. Further, the current encyclopedia includes demographic, historical, geographic, and demographic data on countries, states and provinces that is woefully out of date. 

Today, there has never been a community of scholars of Adventism as large, educated, specialized, and diverse. They will write the new Encyclopedia. 

Finally, although the 1996 SDA Encyclopedia sold fairly well, the vast majority of our membership and the public has never seen it or read it. It is not available on the internet. What we need is an accurate, honest, exhaustive authoritative reference work on Seventh-day Adventists, freely accessible on a website to anyone with the swipe of a finger on an electronic device.

You have just finished the first set of meetings with the 25-member editorial committee to put the encyclopedia together. How will the process work? How was the editorial committee chosen?

The Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists Editorial Committee (ESDA EDCOM) was chosen and appointed by the Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists Editorial Board. Convening annually in January, EDCOM is a group of 26 ESDA editors, the majority of whom are assistant editors. 

There are primarily two types of assistant editors: regional and thematic. The regional editors represent the global church. Regional editors are responsible for directing the block of encyclopedia articles, numbering in the multiple hundreds, pertaining to their divisions. Regional editors were selected through much searching, considering, and vetting by church leaders and the editor and managing editor of the ESDA, and then appointed to the position by several committees that oversee the production of the ESDA. 

Thematic editors supervise articles that transcend regions, such as music, religious liberty, media, doctrinal developments, etc.

For example, “Adventists and Espionage” is a thematic article that will be included in the ESDA. This article topic was originally proposed by an assistant editor who compiled an exhaustive list of article titles for the encyclopedia. The assistant editor’s list will be reviewed by the ESDA Editorial Board. If it is approved, the assistant editor will find a person with the requisite expertise and skill to write an authoritative, thorough, accurate and engaging article on “Adventists and Espionage.” When such a person is identified (and it would probably need to be someone who is aware of how Adventists have worked for national governments, how Adventists have come under secret surveillance by different national governments, and something about the wider history of spying), the editor will requests that s/he write the article. Hopefully the individual will respond positively. When the person accepts the assignment, s/he is given a deadline, and begins researching and writing the article. In six months to a year — however long the deadline is — the author will submit the article to the editor via a content management system designed by database developers specifically for the encyclopedia project. The assistant editor will then review the article, and send it to several peer reviewers. In most cases some edits, minor or major, will probably need to be made to the article. The author will review the changes, and make them as appropriate. Once the editor is satisfied with the article, he will mark it Approved on the content management system. “Adventists and Espionage” will then be reviewed by a staff member at the ESDA Main Office. If it passes muster, it will be taken for review to the ESDA Editorial Board. If the Board approves it, the article will be formatted and fitted for the ESDA website. The final step is for it to go live on the internet for the whole world to freely access.

The editorial committee at work

How big (how many entries? number of words?) will the encyclopedia be? Can you give us some more examples of likely topics?

We estimate that the Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists will have more than 10,000 articles at its official debut at the 2020 GC session. Of course, because the Encyclopedia will be born and live online in perpetuity, the number of articles in say, 2030, will be much greater.

The categories of entries (articles) that will be included in the ESDA are biographies (only of deceased individuals), church administrative structures (i.e., division, union, conference), the Adventist work in countries, and regions, history of theology, institutions (educational, medical, publishing, etc.), ministries, organizations/associations/societies, periodicals/books, programs/projects, etc. There will also be articles on issues and themes, which range from Adventists and Sexuality, Apartheid, Environmentalism, Nazism, etc.  

ASTR is collaborating with Adventist Review Ministries to create a crowd-sourced site separate from the ESDA website. This section devoted to Adventist heritage will feature materials, media, and memory statements on local churches, elementary schools, academies, and other facets of Adventism, submitted by church members. 

With the increased focus on Seventh-day Adventism as the church grows its membership and some members increase their public profiles (such as Ben Carson) is such a project even more valuable?

The fact is that Seventh-day Adventists, to a lesser or greater degree, have always been involved in society, and even had prominent roles. There have always been prominent figures that have been Adventist, grew up Adventist, or had family ties to Adventists. In some countries, Adventists have been presidents or prime ministers; in some regions, governors or mayors. More and more we are discovering Adventists who played important roles in social movements and humanitarian efforts. The new Encyclopedia will bring this reality to the attention of Adventists themselves and to the public.

But yes, as the membership grows, Adventists will become better known. The Office of Archives, Statistics, and Research regularly receives calls and emails from media outlets requesting information about Seventh-day Adventists. The simple fact is that it’s either not available, or if it is, it is hard to find, and know if it’s correct. The ESDA will hopefully change all that. This is an aspect in which it will be extremely valuable.

Why will it take until 2020 to complete the project? Why not sooner?

The ESDA is a global church project, with thousands of contributors, most of whom have fulltime jobs, families, and other commitments. These individuals will contribute to the Encyclopedia in many different ways. Most will do original research on a given subject, will synthesize their findings, and then put the proverbial pen to paper to write an article that is clear, coherent, and authoritative. Besides that, I mentioned before the peer-review process for the articles. With more than 10,000 articles, this simply cannot be rushed, and will take every bit of five years.

How will the $1.6 million earmarked by the General Conference's Executive Committee for the project be spent?

$1.6 million dollars sounds like a lot of money, but you’d be surprised how fast it goes over five years. The funds that the GC Executive Committee allotted to this project are being spent on assistant editors’ salaries, honoraria, and travel; regional and thematic offices, including some administrative support; main office expenses; website design, development, and maintenance; proof-editing. Writers are not being paid, simply due to the sheer number of writers and articles to be written.

You mentioned that the online encyclopedia will be continually updated online. Who will be responsible for the updates?

The post-2020 plans for the Encyclopedia are still being discussed. Most likely there will be at least one fulltime employee, located within ASTR, responsible for continual editing, updating, enhancing, and amplifying of the ESDA website. 

What are some different ways you anticipate the encyclopedia being used?

First, the Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists is a source of reliable information on Seventh-day Adventists for everyone — Adventists and the wider public. It is important to underscore here that the articles on the ESDA website will strive for honesty, transparency, and accuracy. They will depart from the previous triumphalism, and instead frankly state the church’s successes and failures, with an eye to what remains to realize in the Great Commission. Our contention is that an article that is forthright, based on primary sources, free from Adventist jargon, and reviewed by other experts, is best for everyone to consume. This is important to us.

With that being said, we anticipate that ESDA articles will be used for personal enrichment; on social media; by media outlets; in books, periodicals, and websites; by teachers in the classroom; in Sabbath school and church; in presentations, talks, lectures, sermons; for sheer pleasurable reading; and anything I left out. 

What do you personally find the most interesting thing about working on the project? What do you find to be the biggest challenge or difficulty?

After almost a year of working on this project in some capacity, several things, at once interesting and challenging, spring to mind. First, the rarity of the project, for lack of a better word. Do you know any encyclopedists? Are there any support groups for encyclopedists out there? Even Google doesn’t really yield any good hits for “How to write/make/produce an encyclopedia.” Any historian probably has some fitness for producing an encyclopedia based on doing this or that, but directing an entire process for five years on such a global scale, I am not ashamed to say, is new to David and me. 

Second, the process of doing history is always intriguing. Real historiography is a group activity. It needs supporters, it needs guidance, it needs input, it needs discussion, and it needs editing. Doing history on a church-wide scale, and trying to produce something that people of all backgrounds will read, intensifies this group dynamic. 

Finally, and kind of bringing together the first two, is this idea that together we know everything. It is fascinating how much you don’t know, and how you can’t know without others telling you. This project is about what the world church, and myriad others who are not Adventists, know about this great movement called Seventh-day Adventism. It is impossible for one person to produce by him- or herself an encyclopedia of this vast movement. The process that is in place is therefore necessary to produce a representative work for everyone. So if David or I contact you about authoring an article, or assisting with the Encyclopedia project in some other way, thank you in advance!

David Trim and Benjamin Baker can be contacted at

Benjamin Baker, Managing Editor of Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists

Top image: The Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists Editorial Committee

Left to right

3rd row: 

Michael Sokupa, Regional Editor, Southern Africa-Indian Ocean Division

Barry Oliver, Regional Editor, South Pacific Division 

Benjamin Baker, Managing Editor, Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists

Karl Wilcox, Disciplinary Consultant Editor, English Literature

Alberto Timm, Thematic Editor, Ellen G. White-Related Articles

Tim Poirier, Thematic Editor, Ellen G. White-Related Articles

Renato Stencel, Regional Editor, South American Division

DeWitt Williams, Assistant Editor, African American, North American Division

 2nd row:

Bruce Lo, Regional Editor, Northern Asia-Pacific Division

Chigemezi Wogu, Research Assistant, Inter-European Division and Euro-Asia Division

Dennis Pettibone, Subeditor, Education, Church-State Relations, North American Division

David Trim, Editor, Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists

Peter Balderstone, Regional Editor, Trans-European Division

Nikolaus Satelmajer, Thematic Editor, History of Theology

Merlin Burt, Director, Center for Adventist Research

Gordon Christo, Regional Editor, Southern Asia Division

1st row:

Patricia Brauer, Office Assistant, ESDA Main Office

Nathaniel Walemba, Regional Editor, East-Central Africa Division

Dan Shultz, Disciplinary Consultant Editor, Music

Remwil Tornalejo, Regional Editor, Southern Asia-Pacific Division

Felix Cortes, Regional Editor, Inter-American Division

Lisa Clark-Diller, Disciplinary Consultant Editor, History

Ella Simmons, Vice President, Seventh-day Adventist Church

Glenn Phillips, Regional Editor, Inter-American Division


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