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An Interview with Keith Lockhart -Seeking a Sanctuary

This interview, published online in 2007, is from an important twenty-four part series of “interlogues” by Julius Nam. Since retiring his blog last year, Progressive Adventism, Nam has given Spectrum permission to republish his interviews with significant figures in Adventism.

Since the second edition of Malcolm Bull and Keith Lockhart’s Seeking a Sanctuary was released four years ago, the book has been widely read, extensively quoted and adopted as a text in various Adventist colleges. Some reviews of the second edition are listed at the end of this post.


Interlogue #3 ~ Keith Lockhart with Julius Nam

Keith Lockhart is a freelance journalist who co-authored Seeking a Sanctuary with Malcolm Bull, a lecturer at Oxford University. Their book has been touted as “the best book on Adventism that has ever appeared” (Ronald Numbers) and “the most comprehensive review and insightful analysis in print of the sociology, history, and culture of the Seventh-day Adventist Church” (Greg Schneider).

In this interview, Lockhart talks about the joys and challenges of writing Seeking a Sanctuary, both the 1st and 2nd editions (the latter came out about a month ago), discusses the dominance of conservatism in Adventist theology today, and shares frankly about his past and present connections to the Adventist church.

JN: Could you tell me about your personal experience with (and away from) Adventism? What about Malcolm Bull’s?

KL:Well I was born into an Adventist home in England and was baptized in the usual way when I was 12. I didn’t attend Adventist schools until I was 19 when I went to Newbold, having previously been educated entirely within the state system. At Newbold I took the BA in theology. After that I attended Andrews where I did an MA in religion between 1981 and 1983. I also worked on the university newspaper, the Student Movement, and helped to cover some of the stories of the time like the Ford and Davenport controversies. So it was there really I developed an interest in reporting Adventist affairs and in journalism generally.

On my return to England I went back to Newbold where I taught classes in English and journalism. I then did a postgraduate diploma in journalism at the City University in London. It was around this time I decided I didn’t want to stay in Adventism anymore. So I left rather quietly as I endeavored to see if I could do anything in journalism. I subsequently worked for a couple of British national newspapers and I’m now freelance.

Concerning Malcolm, I suppose you should really ask him. I can say that he also was born into a Seventh-day Adventist household in England but was never baptized. He is state educated but he did attend Newbold for one year while I was a student there, which is when I met him.

JN: How did the idea of Seeking a Sanctuary come about?

KL:Malcolm went on to study at Oxford. After he graduated we met up (this would be about 1984) and he mentioned he had been reading a book called The French by Theodore Zeldin, who I noticed is quoted by Bonnie Dwyer in her editorial in the latest Spectrum. Anyway, Malcolm thought that a book like Zeldin’s could be written about Adventists and he asked if I’d be interested in helping him do it. I hesitated at first, but once I thought I could contribute I said yes. So the book was Malcolm’s idea.

JN: You mentioned The French by Zeldin. Did you have other models as you began to write?

KL:Yes. Beyond what we say in the acknowledgments in the book about our influences, another model we both had was a publication that appeared in Britain called A Century of Adventism in the British Isles by a British Adventist called Dennis Porter. This came out when we were both still in secondary school and it had a big impact on both of us as it was the first real Adventist history we had read, and it was written in a way that engaged the reader from the first page. The work is not well known in North America, but people who are interested should take a look at it if they want to know where some of the style of Seeking a Sanctuary comes from.

The other influence on us I would say is Jonathan Butler’s essay, “Adventism and the American Experience” [in The Rise of Adventism]. This gave us the idea of focusing on the two-horned beast. It’s interesting, but apart from Butler, and also perhaps Douglas Morgan who talks about it a little in his Adventism and the American Republic, Adventist historians have been curiously uninterested in the two-horned beast. But how Adventists came to identify this apocalyptic monster with America seems to me to be the central historical question in Adventism. There should be a shelf-full of books exploring different aspects of the topic, but there isn’t.

JN: When you first published Seeking a Sanctuary, what sort of impact did you want to make on Adventism?

KL:Well I’m not sure that was the first thing we wanted to do. I know a lot of authors say this kind of thing, but I think our initial purpose was to write the sort of book on the church that we ourselves would like to read. So the idea was if we liked it, there was a chance others might as well.

I think that more than wanting to make an impact on Adventism we wanted to make an impact outside Adventism. Seeking a Sanctuary was written with non-Adventists (rather than with Adventists) in mind. In the book we quote the writer Richard Wright who had an Adventist background. He tells how he used to hide the fact that he was associated with Adventism when he attended public school. I did exactly the same thing when I was in state schools. I think one of the reasons for that is that when I did very occasionally venture to tell people that I belonged to the Seventh-day Adventist Church they never knew what I was talking about. If I’d said I was a Mormon, my schoolmates would probably have considered me no less strange, but at least they would have known what that was, although I appreciate that this was probably due to the popularity at the time of The Osmonds, at least among the girls in my class.

Adventism is as important a religion as Mormonism and it should have the same level of public recognition, but it does not. There are courses devoted to the historical significance of Mormonism in American universities, but none to Adventism. I think we thought that if we wrote a book that discussed Adventism in the context of academic concepts like American civil religion and denominationalization, which is what we did, the academic world and beyond might get to know the church a little better. Not that we succeeded. One of the things we report in the new edition is that the general population knows even less about Adventism now than it did when Seeking a Sanctuary first came out.

But to get back to your question, of course we were interested in making an impact on Adventism as well. I think we wanted to demonstrate to church members that it was possible to appreciate a book about Adventism that was neither critical of the faith nor apologetic about it. We had (and still have) no agenda to promote, no axe to grind, no faction or wing we needed to appease. I think maybe we wanted to show Adventists that Adventism was even more significant in the world than they even knew.

We also definitely wanted to get the book into the church’s colleges. Someone has told me that in the West Indies Adventist students plundered the 1st edition for ideas for their term papers and theses. I was really pleased when I heard that since that was exactly the sort of effect we wanted to achieve. I’m not sure we have been as successful in this respect in America though. One professor told me that he did adopt the book as a text after finding that students were quite interested in it at a time when they weren’t prepared to read anything much at all. But he had to drop the idea because the book went out of print very quickly, which was true.

The other problem we had was that access to the book was actually restricted in certain places. At Andrews for example the book was not housed in the main library—you could only get it if you asked for it in the Heritage Room. This time it looks as if the powers that be are making the 2nd edition available in the main library so it should be more accessible if students want to look at it.

JN: What sort of responses to the 1st edition stand out in your memory? What about to the 2nd edition? Have there been any significant ones?

KL:Maybe I can answer these questions on two levels because there were responses to us as authors, which I want say something briefly about, and responses to the book itself, which I’ll get to in a moment. Non-Adventist academics, like the Oxford sociologist Bryan Wilson, were very supportive when we started out. But what still stands out in my mind is that among Adventists, apart from people who taught us at Newbold like Harry Leonard and Mike Pearson, and others like Roy Branson and Jonathan Butler, who perhaps saw in us kindred spirits, we weren’t taken seriously as authors at all. This was partly on account of our age (we were in our twenties when we researched and published the 1st edition) and perhaps partly because we weren’t professors in the fields of theology, history, sociology, or in most of the other disciplines that we drew upon in order to produce the book.

I still do sometimes get the impression when I meet some Adventists that they are wondering, how is it that these two individuals think they can write about Adventism and America sitting over there in London, or wherever it is they are. In answer to that I would just say, especially if there are aspiring young authors out there, that anyone can write a book like Seeking a Sanctuary, at any age. All it takes is some interest in the church you grew up in, a moderate curiosity about the history and culture of the world, preparedness to read a few books (or these days go on the internet) and a willingness to find people who have the information if you don’t have it yourself.

When the 1st edition came out, the reviews were almost all favorable, the best quotes from which we put on the back of the 2nd edition. A few years back I met one of our reviewers Richard Osborn, now president at Pacific Union College. He confided that Seeking a Sanctuary was one of the half dozen or so books he had read that had changed his outlook. You can’t get a better accolade than that. I know that his views were not universally shared, but those who didn’t like the book tended not to go into print.

As far as the 2nd edition is concerned, well it’s still early days. The book has been available for barely a month. The only responses we’ve seen have been those that have appeared on your blog, Monte Sahlin’s over at Faith in Context, and others that have appeared on the Spectrum blog. We’ve been delighted with the positive reception so far. But no-one has really read the book yet, so whether people will continue to like it as they delve further and discover mistakes (we’ve spotted a few) we’ll have to see. We know that Spectrum is commissioning reviews for their next edition. We’ll be looking forward to seeing those.

JN: How is the 2nd edition different from the 1st?

KL:You have already given a pretty good summary of what the differences are in one of your posts, as has Monte Sahlin on his blog. I would just add:

1) This edition takes the story of Adventism from where the previous book left off (mid-1980s) to the present, documenting the main theological and social changes during the time.

2) It is illustrated with twenty-nine black and white photographs, three maps, five graphs and eight tables.

3) It places greater emphasis on the popular culture of the church so that within the art chapter for example there is (a) a section on SDA popular music from the King’s Heralds to the present; (b) an examination of rhetoric in Adventism, including comparison of white, black and Hispanic preaching styles; and (c) analysis of the function of Adventist fiction focusing mainly on the apocalyptic novel.

4) It makes a lot more use of statistical material and census data that we either ignored first time round or was not available at that time.

5) There’s a brand new chapter on Adventist breakaway movements from the Messenger Party to the Branch Davidians called “The Ethics of Schism.”

6) The growth chapter has been greatly expanded. It pinpoints the Caribbean as Adventism’s most successful region, and describes more systematically (we hope) the growth patterns in Africa, South America and Europe, as well as in America.

7) The women’s chapter has evolved into one called “Gender” enabling added discussion of masculinity in Adventism.

8) The original blacks chapter has also been revamped. It’s now called “Race” and begins with the Scandinavians and Germans the church in America converted in the beginning before dealing with African Americans and ending up with West Indian, Asian and Hispanic immigrants.

9) The revolving door chapter includes more comparative data (as does the 2nd edition generally).

There are other new features I could list, but perhaps I should let potential readers discover those for themselves. I think the 2nd edition is a definite improvement on the 1st, but I still have a lot of affection for that first book we did.

JN: What challenges did you encounter in the course of researching and writing the 2nd edition?

KL:The problem really was just finding out what had happened in Adventism. When we were researching the 1st edition we were (or at least I was) much more closely connected with the church. We knew what the debates were and who were the main players. After a period of 15 years or so, and having not thought much about the church in that time, it was much more difficult to know where Adventism was.

After we had worked that out, the challenges were mainly technical. Our task was to incorporate the new material without disturbing the thesis of the book, which we decided we were going keep from the outset. And the central theme of the book, for those who are unaware of it, is that Adventism represents a deviant but successful response to the general American dream of self-realization and material success. We also had to insert the new information within the chapters themselves without making them too unwieldy. The original chapters were at an ideal length I think, about 5,000 to 6,000 words. Some have now become rather long. We made cuts to make more room, some of them painful, and some readers who are familiar with the 1st edition may find that some of their favorite bits of the book have been excised. That’s something we regret, but it was very difficult to keep everything.

JN: What do you see as being significantly different in Adventism between 1989 when the 1st edition came out and now?

Well there’s no doubt that the culture of Adventism has loosened up somewhat in the intervening period. This was brought home to me when I visited Andrews in 2000 as part of the research for the book. As I say I hadn’t set foot in an Adventist church for about fifteen years, but I went along to Pioneer Memorial with some old friends to have a look. Dwight Nelson was preaching and he gave the same sort of entertaining and witty sermon that I remembered. But I was startled at the general raucousness of the occasion. Members clapped during the sermon (never happened when I went to church). Nelson’s image was projected onto big screens on the sides of the platform and the person controlling the audio-visuals sometimes cut from him to the congregation producing the rather distracting effect of the congregation looking at itself. Also I noticed that people had become a lot more casual in their dress. People turned up in denim jackets and jeans—not in the suits and ties that they did when I was there. Worship was more “normal” in other churches I visited, but that service at Andrews was something I hadn’t anticipated.

The other thing that had changed, and this really helped us, was that the church leadership had become a lot more open. We’ve remarked in the acknowledgments about Monte Sahlin’s generosity. Officials like Ray Dabrowski at the GC and Kermit Netteburg at the NAD endlessly answered our queries, however tedious. We’d ask things like “Can we see the wage scales showing the salaries at the General Conference,” and we’d get them. Robert Lemon, the GC treasurer, spent two hours during a transatlantic telephone call going over line-by-line a revised section we have on church finances in the structure chapter. I imagine there are still inaccuracies from his point of view (there may be inaccuracies anyway as unraveling Adventist finances is a next to impossible task), but no GC treasurer would have taken two hours out of a busy schedule to talk to us first time round.

However, having said all that, and this is something of a contradiction, the church is, theologically, a lot more conservative than it was when the 1st edition came out. We say in the book that by the end of the twentieth century the “historic Adventists” had clearly won the debate they had been waging within the church. That judgment may be contested. But it seems to me that groups that have come to the fore since we first wrote, like Adventists Affirm, the Adventist Theological Society, the people over at, let alone the self-supporting institutions like Hope International and the Hartland Institute, are still making all the running in Adventism. Their theology is more or less reflected in official publications like the Handbook of Seventh-day Adventist Theology and the forthcoming Ellen White encyclopedia, which looks like it’s going to be very conservative, and their views have prevailed on issues like the ordination of women. Against this conservative revival we’ve seen the advent of Adventist Today. But Adventist Heritage, which provided an important liberal platform, is no longer with us, and the circulation of publications like Spectrum, which we also point out in the book, is in long-term decline.

JN: As you say there seem to be several streams of thought and practice within Adventism that are engaged in hegemonic battle, while some are OK with leaving the church in a state of pluralistic tension. Based on your research and reflections on Adventism, where do you see Adventism headed in this battle? Where should it go?

KL:The short answer to the first question is, I don’t know. What I can say is that Adventist history (like all history) tends to go in cycles. Conservative eras are followed by liberal ones and vice versa. And that these periods last from about 20 to 40 years. So if as I was suggesting in the last part of my previous answer that Adventism is currently in a conservative phase, and that this started at the time of Glacier View, (which followed a liberal period that began with Questions on Doctrine), a new liberal epoch in Adventism is due anytime from now. I don’t know, and you can never tell, what events will precipitate it. Maybe it has already started with you and your fellow progressive bloggers—the Julius-Monte-Alex-Ryan-Johnny axis! My guess is, though, that there won’t be any new liberal era in Adventism until America itself emerges from the conservative interlude it is also currently in. I suspect the next U.S. president will be a Democrat and that America will take a leftward turn as the country finally faces up to the reality of issues like climate change. At some point after that Adventism will follow suit. Adventism always tracks developments in American society.

As to where Adventism should be heading is the big question, and not one I think I should answer. Where Adventism ought or ought not to be going should be fought over (if that’s the right phrase) by those within the community rather than those outside it. I don’t think it is my place to give an opinion on that, so if you don’t mind I’m going to duck out of this question.

JN: You’ve written about the “revolving door” syndrome in Adventism where younger generations are leaving the church after attaining upward mobility through the church’s educational and health systems. If you were hired as a consultant to the North American Division, what advice would you give to halt, slow down, or reverse this trend?

KL:My inclination is to duck out of this question as well. George Knight does this sort of thing, writing about Adventism and suggesting policy prescriptions for the church, because he is in a position to do so. I’m not really. But it’s interesting that you ask me this since I know Adventists in Europe are developing plans to combat the same problem and a good friend of mine at Newbold recently asked me if I would offer any advice. I was reluctant to get involved. However, for what it is worth, the answer is contained in your own question. You could bring the revolving door to a juddering halt by shutting down all Adventist educational institutions, especially the medical ones. You would prevent upward mobility then at a stroke, and you would probably be able to keep more members. But if that happened Adventism wouldn’t be Adventism, would it? So I don’t think that bulldozing Adventist institutions is a viable solution, nor am I recommending it!

JN: What excites you the most about Adventism today? What do you see as Adventism’s most positive contributions to the world?

KL:The best thing about Adventism is its multiracial composition. The church should be proud of that. It’s unique. Most positive contributions are Kellogg’s Corn Flakes and Patty Cabrera.

JN: What troubles you the most about Adventism today? What do you see as the most dysfunctional aspects of Adventism?

KL:I don’t find anything particularly wrong with Adventism in actual fact. Maybe the flip side of its multiracial character, particularly the inglorious history of relations between whites and African Americans, is the worst thing. And the regional conferences are a bit of an anomaly. But that would be it.

JN: What sort of personal connection do you maintain with Adventism? Which aspect of Adventism do you still maintain in your life?

KL:I suppose my connection is maintained through the friends I have who are still Adventists as well as those who are ex-Adventists (and the two sets aren’t actually all that different). I’m still in contact with some of my former Adventist teachers, particularly those at Newbold, although they complain sometimes that I’m not in contact enough.

The aspects of Adventism I still maintain are the health principles. I’m still a vegetarian, which is entirely down to my Adventist upbringing, and I don’t drink, smoke or do drugs.

JN: Do you blog? Where?

KL:I don’t blog myself, neither do I respond to blogs as a rule, but I’m happy to read those who do.

JN: What books, in addition to yours, would you recommend Adventists to read in 2007 that follow the trajectories that you’ve set up in your book?

KL: I don’t know that there are any books that follow our trajectories as such—most pursue their own path, as perhaps they should. Gary Land’s Historical Dictionary of the Seventh-day Adventists goes over some of the ground we cover and the entries on art, music and literature are pretty good. Kenneth Newport’s The Branch Davidians of Waco: The History and Beliefs of an Apocalyptic Sect takes a similar line on the Waco tragedy as we do, and there is no better book on the ins and outs of the Waco fire. Other books not yet published and I don’t know whether they will be out in 2007 are Ron Numbers‘s biography of John Harvey Kellogg and another by a Western Michigan University professor called Brian Wilson,* who is working on The Battle for Battle Creek: Religious Conflict in a 19th-Century Midwestern Town. The last two suggest that Kellogg may soon be back in the limelight.

Julius Nam is Associate Professor of Religion and Theological Studies at Loma Linda University.

*As of March 2011, neither book mentioned here has been published yet.


Reviews of Seeking a Sanctuary: Seventh-day Adventism and the American Dream (2nd ed).

Roger L. Dudley, Andrews University Seminary Studies 46:1 (Spring 2008), 125–128.

Stephen Hunt, Journal of Religious History, 32:1 (March 2008), 123–124. (Full text available through ATLA.)

Herbert Douglass, “From American Export to Global Product,” Spectrum 35 (Spring 2007), 56–60.

Fabrice Desplan, Archives de Sciences Sociales des Religions 52:140 (October–December 2007), 169–173.






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