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What Has Our History Taught Us?


One of the classes I teach at the seminary where I am the professor of Historical Theology is “Creating the Hermeneutic of African American Christianity in the 21st Century: Cultural, Biblical, and Historical Perspectives.” In this class, the students and I read and analyze the writings of African American Christian writers from the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries that touch on culture, biblical studies, and historical contexts. Then, given those texts and our discussions, the final question for the class, and the one on which their final paper is based is this: What are the trajectories of African American Christianity in the 21st century? Can anything be projected, given the history of the past 300+ years?

I have been thinking about that question this week for Adventism as we approach what many consider to be monumental Fall Council. In other words: Given where Adventism has come since 1843 (or 1863, if you prefer), can anything be said about where we are headed as a denomination in the 21st century.

Of course, being raised an Adventist from the age of five, I am well aware of our 19th century eschatological zeitgeist of the soon return of our Lord, so for many this is an exercise in futility. I, myself, never expected to find myself this deep into the 21st century on this side of the cataclysmic parousia, nor, even, did my children. Yet here we are.

Other than in broad outlines, I am not an Adventist historian, but like many Adventists, I have picked up here and there, mostly from mentors and other “elders,” bits and pieces of how we have handled theological, biblical, and cultural questions that have arisen. And here I am speaking about Trinitarian issues; stances on slavery; women’s rights in the late 19th and early 20th century; racism in different parts of the world as we became a worldwide denomination, including our role in the engulfing of Europe in the genocidal “final solution” of the Nazis in the 1930s and 1940s; our engagement of peoples whose cultural traditions were seen as unacceptable by western societies; questions of our traditional interpretation(s) of biblical (and E.G. White’s) prophecies. And here we are in 2017. The years 1843, 1844, 1863, 1888, 1901, and many other years were turning points in Adventist history. 2015 will be added to that list, and probably 2017. And the question is: How will history see 2017 within Adventism?

When asked a few days ago by some Adventist friends if I believed God had led us to where we are, I had to confess that I did not know. I only know, from experience, that whatever happens at the Fall Council, God will not wash His hands of us.


Dr. Roger S. Evans is Professor of Historical Theology and Chair of the Department of History at Payne Theological Seminary.

Image Credit: / Ellen G. White addressing the 1901 General Conference Session, Battle Creek, Michigan, April 12, 1901

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