If you know an Adventist book editor who has earned degrees in law, literature, English and writing — and written or edited 12 books, including a novel — then you know Nathan Brown. For six years he edited church magazines for the South Pacific Division, and for the past five years has been book editor of the Signs Publishing Company, near Melbourne, Australia. He is also a monthly online columnist for Adventist World.
His several degrees have pushed him, he says, “to read and write in ways I would not necessarily choose or stumble into.” His latest edited volume explores the theme of “justice,” one central to scripture and often neglected in Adventism. Another, released in 2013, bears the title Manifest: Our Call to Faithful Creativity, and reflects his work as co-convener of an annual creative arts festival coordinated by Adventist institutions in the South Pacific. (The next festival, set for March 20 – 22 on the Lake Macquarie campus of Avondale College of Higher Education, will again focus on choral and instrumental music composition, songwriting, creativity in worship, fine arts, photography and writing.)
Here is his perspective on the Adventist publishing scene and his latest book:
Question: Signs Publishing has just come out with Do Justice, a volume of essays by various Adventist authors from the United States, as well as Africa and your own Australia. You’re ploughing a new field here, or one that gets little attention in Adventism. Say a little about the project, the writers, and how you hope to serve your readers and the wider church.
Answer: Do Justice followed on from a similar book I co-edited with Joanna Darby — Manifest: Our Call to Faithful Creativity — in our respective roles of co-conveners of the Manifest Creative Arts Festival in Australia, an annual arts event sponsored by Adventist Media Network and Avondale College of Higher Education. We had strong interest in and support for the Manifest book and, in our thinking, doing creativity and justice are theologically conjoined. With the first book in hand, we approached ADRA Australia about their potential interest in a justice-themed collection and they were enthusiastic, contributing to the initial planning of the collection of essays that became Do Justice and supporting the project throughout the development and publishing process.
Do Justice is a collection of 29 chapters by a variety of Adventist writers, leaders, academics, activists and experienced ADRA personnel. We ended up with quite a collection of contributors and felt the privilege of curating this quality of material. In the editing process, we were inspired, educated and humbled.
We wanted to establish the call to do justice as biblical and Adventist, as well as a key attitude toward the world around us and practical action we take to engage with our communities. While there are many who do justice in different ways in and around our church, doing justice has been something of a blind spot in much of our theology, despite being an essential focus of the Bible itself and having a much larger place in the practice of early Adventists. In more recent years, this is certainly something we have struggled to prioritize in our ecclesiological and corporate priorities.
We hope this book can help our church talk, re-prioritize and act. This could change us, change our church and even change our world. Somewhere in the world, we hope a hungry person is fed, voices are raised and some injustice is undone — because of people responding to the ideas in this book. We hope someone’s life will be changed — and with God’s blessing, even more than one.
Question: What about your publishing house? Adventist publishing in the United States seems to be struggling, and I’m sure it’s a struggle for you, too. But what strategies are driving what you and your company are doing?
Answer: The publishing industry as a whole is facing challenges. We are all trying to work out how to make it work. But books still matter: books still change people and change the world. We see significant opportunities. By church policy, we have been limited in the books we publish and markets we have access to, so there is much of the reading world we have not had any contact with. We are working to expand our market reach — with which we have had some small initial success in the past few months — and are working on a number of significant book projects that are intended primarily for mainstream book markets. We also believe that Adventist publishing can and should be broader than it has become, with Do Justice an example of a book with different voices, bigger ideas and even a little more creativity with the format and cover (an original painting by Joanna Darby).
Question: How is the distribution of Do Justice progressing?
Answer: We have been excited to partner with the ADRA network around the world and thousands of copies of Do Justice are being distributed through ADRA’s international and regional offices. We have received some very positive initial feedback and, of course, want to share this as widely as possible. However, our initial approach to a distributor to the Adventist Book Center market in North America has been unsuccessful; the distributor cited limited potential sales. Naturally, every author and publisher thinks their book is the book that everyone should be reading but this seems a sad reflection of where our church is at on these issues — ironically, highlighting the need for such a book and this kind of thinking.
We are exploring on other possibilities in the meantime, supplying some bulk orders directly and making the ebook available at www.amazon.com/dp/B00OKERKOG.
Question: What does your experience so far tell you about how we are doing as a church in meeting the challenge of educating our members and sharing our perspective with others?
Answer: The Bible’s call to do justice is one of the dominant themes of the Bible (referred to on average at least once in every 15 verses throughout the Bible) but somehow we have missed it, particularly theologically and maybe only a little less so in practice. There are many people within our church community who seek justice for others but not always with the theological understanding to support it. I believe this is something that needs significant biblical education across our church, as well as prioritizing in our practice, planning, budgets and our understanding of mission. This is the gospel practiced and shared, enacted and proclaimed. How can we shift our thinking on this? Some of us are trying. We are writing, preaching, talking and acting. To be honest, it’s often not a popular topic. It’s uncomfortable, difficult and messy. But in a survey of the Bible, it isn’t optional. It’s the definition of what it means to be the people of God (see, for example, Micah 6:8). So we need to keep working on it, despite the challenges and setbacks.
I have had the opportunity to work with ADRA on a few projects on these topics, one of which is a Sabbath school quarterly that has been scheduled for publication in a couple of years’ time. But it’s something we need many of us working on, speaking about and putting into practice in our churches and communities. The theology is important; the careful, faithful practice is vital.
With the increased interest in justice issues in the wider Christian community, I also believe we should have the opportunity to share aspects of our theology as a valuable contribution to the understanding and practice of biblical justice. Adventist beliefs offer valuable and sometimes unique insights and motivation to justice doing. But we will be unheard if this is not how we understand our beliefs, we are not able to express them in these terms or our limited focus on justice-doing undermines our credibility to speak on this issues.
Question: You are a relatively youthful church leader. What keeps you passionate about your Adventism? In terms of keeping younger Adventists engaged in their church’s life, what, do you think, matters most?
Answer: Hope — perhaps a stubborn kind of hope. My passion for the church is what the church can be, more than what the church is. Adventism at its best is re-creative and transformational, life-changing and world-changing. We must find better ways to explain this to ourselves and to others — and find ways to enact this in all our lives.
One of the critiques of faith is that it is too often un-lived. Doing justice is one way to live it, to experiment with it in the world, and to see that it does matter and make a difference. It will also connect us with our community and the wider world in new ways, which will change us, our church and our faith — for the better with the blessing and leading of God.
This is a vision and practice that young people can believe in. Many of them have an impulse to try to make a difference somehow. We need to support this impulse in practical ways but also offer them a theology that will make their impulse sustainable and help them recognize this as core to their faith and identity as people of God.