Light Bearers: A History of the Seventh-day Adventist Church

081631795x-01-_sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Light Bearers: A History of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church by Richard W. Schwarz & Floyd Greenleaf
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The history of the Seventh-day Adventist church is the emergence of a small band of disappointed Millerites to that of a worldwide church of more than 10 million members by the end of the 20th Century, but not without struggles of all kinds along the way. Light Bearers: A History of the Seventh-day Adventist Church by Richard W. Schwarz with revisions and updates by Floyd Greenleaf is comprehensive look into the development the denomination over the course of over 170 years by professional historians balancing their own religious beliefs and professionalism.

“Beginning” in 1839, though not without highlighting Advent strains across the Christian spectrum leading up to that point, and finishing at the year 2000 with the need to focus on the doctrinal, organizational, institutional, and missionary facets of the denomination’s history was a challenge needing an organized and methodical approach for the reader. Dividing the history into three parts Greenleaf used Schwarz’s formula of advancing all the facets of the denomination’s development at the same space—though some overlap from one part to another was unavoidable—in different chapters but linking them to past or future characters when required. These three parts, “Origins and Formative Years 1839-1888”, “Years of Growth and Reorganization 1888-1945”, and “The Globalization of the Church 1945-2000” give the reader, while not a step-by-step look at the denomination’s history, at least a lens to view the events that shaped the denomination as its history developed. A fourth part, “Maintaining a Biblical Message”, relates the challenges that 20th Century members had keeping the unique doctrines of the Church based Biblically as well as answering challenges from not only without but within as well.

Given the multifaceted aspect of history that a book on the Seventh-day Adventist Church entails as well as revising and updating a previous history, Greenleaf did a professional job. Yet as the first 15 chapters of the book are the original work of Schwarz with scant revisions, it is also a testament to his own professionalism that they hold up just as much as the final third when Greenleaf’s own work is solely on display. With numerous historical actors and events throughout the over 170 years, both authors delicately balanced the need to be informative enough without slowing down the pace of the book unless the covered topic was doctrinal and thus needed a thorough explanation to better understand the controversy being covered.

Light Bearers: A History of the Seventh-day Adventist Church might look like a daunting book at nearly 700 pages, but for those interested in the development of the denomination that they are either apart of or wanting to understand this is the book for them. Longtime Adventist historians Richard W. Schwarz and Floyd Greenleaf both balance their religious beliefs with their professionalism to give the reader an accurate—warts and all—look at a now global church that developed from only a few hundred disappointed Millerites.

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The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party: Jacksonian Politics and the Onset of the Civil War

0195055446-01-_sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party: Jacksonian Politics and the Onset of the Civil War by Michael F. Holt
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The antebellum period saw the formation and destruction of the second party system in U.S. politics between Andrew Jackson’s Democrats, which survived to the present, and their rivals the Whigs that did not. Michael F. Holt’s magnum opus, The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party, details how the Whigs emerged from all the anti-Jacksonian forces to their disintegration in the mid-1850s due to the factional and sectional divisions.

Beginning in the mid-1820s, Holt explains the origins of the anti-Jacksonian groups that formed and later coalesced to form the Whig party in the winter of 1833-4 in Washington, D.C. then how it eventually branched out and formed in states. Through thorough research from the national down to the state, county, and local levels Holt explored how the Whig party was planted and grew throughout the country and competed against their Democratic foes. Yet this research also exposed the intraparty feuds within state parties that affected conventions on all levels, platform fights, and Election Day enthusiasm. Exploring a political relationship between state politics and national politics that is completely different than that seen in the second half of the 20th-century and early 21st, Holt shows how this different political paradigm both rose up the Whigs and eventually destroyed them.

With almost 1300 pages of text and notes, Holt thoroughly explored the 20 year history of the American Whig party from the national to the local level within every state of the Union. Throughout Holt’s assertion that the Democrats always controlled “the narrative” of the Whig’s history and how that played on the Whig intraparty feuds which eventually was one of the main three causes of the party’s disintegration. The focuses on Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, party traitor John Tyler, party destabilizer Zachary Taylor, attempted party savior Millard Fillmore, and slew of other prominent Whigs gives the stage to historical actors who shaped history. Throughout the text, the reader sees how events if changed just slightly might have allowed the Whigs to continue as a national party and the effects that might have had going forward but ultimately who personalities and how some decisions out of the party’s control resulted in fatal wounds occurring.

The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party is not for the general history reader, this tome is for someone dedicated to an in-depth researched book that shifts from the halls of Congress to the “smoke-filled backrooms” of state conventions in states across the nation to election analysis in various congressional districts across the young republic. The work of an academic lifetime, Michael F. Holt gives insight into political party that ultimately lost in history but that still had a lasting impact to this day in modern American politics.

Joseph Bates: The Real Found of Seventh-day Adventism

41s96pjypgl-_sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Joseph Bates: The Real Founder of Seventh-Day Adventism by George R. Knight
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

While those who would eventually form the Seventh-day Adventist Church were Millerites, only one was influential in both that his work after the Great Disappointment would standout and provide the underpinnings of the eventual largest Adventist denomination. Joseph Bates: The Real Founder of Seventh-day Adventism by George R. Knight is a comprehensive look at one of the most important men in the Adventism movement before and after October 1844.

Beginning with a young boy looking for adventure as a sailor, Knight fully covers the life of Joseph Bates until his death as a senior statesman of the Church he helped to found still looking to serve Christ. In covering Bates career at sea, Knight pulls out traits—both potentially benefital and harmful—that would serve him as he preached the soon coming of Christ as part of the Millerite movement and later his development of Sabbatarian Adventism. After retiring, Bates who had already shown a keen interest in reform, firstly himself and then his own ship’s crew, launched himself into numerous reform movements until he heard Advent message of William Miller and seeing it as the ultimate reform movement wholeheartedly went to spread the good news. Though not a primary leader, he was a major secondary leader within the Millerites that both chaired conferences and went out preaching. After the Great Disappointment of October 1844, Bates began studying and joined those Adventists that believed something did occur though not the fanatics that tainted this group of post-Disappointment Millerites. It is at this point in which Knight carefully covers Bates life over a decade, though focused on a four year span in particular, in which Bates became both the first theologian and then first historian of Sabbatarian Adventism and would lay the foundations of essentially all major doctrines that set the Seventh-day Adventist Church apart from other denominations. Knight covers Bates relationship with both James and Ellen White in full during this period and after as the trio would guide the “little flock” over the next two decades until his death.

In approximately 220 pages of text and reference, Knight use Bates’ own autobiography as well as research first discovered others including two of his own students to give the reader a full sense of the life of Joseph Bate as can be expected. Though the book is not strictly chronological, Knight structures the book in such a way as to give an overview in a certain period of Bates life in one chapter and in the subsequent one focus on a particular aspect during that period with it most typically being theological in nature. This keeps the book engaging for the general reader and not getting them bogged down or overwhelmed with detail of having a strictly chronological book from beginning to end. Yet while these choices by Knight create a very good and readable book, there just seemed to be something off with his writing that made me feel that it was up to other books that he had authored.

Joseph Bates: The Real Founder of Seventh-day Adventism is a very good book for those, whether Seventh-day Adventists or not, looking to understand the history of denomination that Bates helped to found. As the preeminent Seventh-day Adventist historian, George R. Knight presents the Bates the man of both virtues and flaws and how he shaped the Advent movement. I highly recommend this book for those interested in SDA Church history.

William Miller and the Rise of Adventism

Organizing for Mission and Growth: The Development of Adventist Church Structure (Adventist Heritage Series)

ad8a54e8e748d64597474506877444341587343Organizing for Mission and Growth. The Development of Adventist Church Structure by George R. Knight
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Throughout the history of the Seventh-day Adventist history there has been a constant question “To organize or not to organize, and if so how?” Organizing for Mission and Growth is the third book of the Adventist Heritage Series written by Adventist historian George R. Knight. In covering over 170 years in fewer than 190 pages, the book covers the struggles to first organize then restructuring and then reinvigorating the church so as to achieve its mission to spread its end time message.

The Sabbatarian Adventists out of the Millerite movement were small and disorganized across New York and New England, but their former denominational experiences and theological beliefs in the evils of organization forces the rising leaders of the group to do much of the work themselves particularly James White. While White himself initially was against organizing and “making a name”, the essential one-man operation that he was preforming led him to reexamine scripture and rethinking his anti-organizational ideas becoming a strong advocate for the organizing of the denomination so much so that he refused to become its first president. But as the decades past and the church grew, the strengths for church structure for a small number of believers over the breath of half a nation became detriments as membership grew and expanded worldwide leading to crisis that brought about restructuring at the beginning of the 20th Century. However, the divide in ideas about how to restructure causes nearly a decade of drama before it was resolved. Yet throughout the 20th Century the organization of the church was tweaked and reinvigorated with innovation on several levels but in the 21st Century many have begun questioning the extent of how much administration is needed compared to the previous 100 years.

Unlike what he was able to cover in A Brief History of Seventh-day Adventists, Knight goes in-depth on how Seventh-day Adventists got their name and how they structured their denomination’s organization and the debates for and against as well as how it innovated. Knight does not go in-depth over the entire course of the 155 year history of the General Conference, but he focuses on what needs to be in-depth like James White’s struggle to found the denomination and later the 1901-3 restructuring of the denomination by A.G. Daniels and others against the efforts by A.T. Jones and others who wanted a much decentralized organization (congregationalism). Yet the events of 1901-3 also had a theological element that while touched upon was discussed more in A Search for Identity, another Adventist Heritage Series book focused on the development of Seventh-day Adventist theology. This limited focus created a very strong book that gave the reader a clear history of its topic without going down various rabbit holes.

Although Knight intended Organizing for Mission and Growth to be the third of a seven book series related to Adventist heritage, however for over a decade it has been the last he has written. This fact does not take away how important this and other Adventist Heritage Series books for Seventh-day Adventists who are interested in the history of their denomination, it’s theological beliefs, and it’s organizational structure as they are the primary readers Knight aims for.

A Brief History of Seventh-day Adventists
A Search for Identity: The Development of Seventh-day Adventist Beliefs

William Miller and the Rise of Adventism

William MillerWilliam Miller and the Rise of Adventism by George R. Knight
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Great Disappointment in October 1844 appeared to have brought the end of Millerism and Adventism; however it proved to be just the end of the movement’s initial rise. William Miller and the Rise of Adventism by George R. Knight follows the life of William Miller and then the development of the movement that sprang up from his preaching of the imminent Second Coming of Jesus in ‘about the year 1843’, including the men who helped shape the movement with him and then influenced the believers after October 22, 1844.

Knight begins the history by placing the Christian theological background that influenced the rise of Biblical prophetic study as well as revivalism, including showing that Millerism was the last gasp of the Second Great Awakening. He then delves into the life of William Miller, the events of which would later influence his abandonment and later rediscovery of his Christian belief before his studies brought him to his monumental belief that Jesus’ Second Coming would occur ‘about 1843’. While Miller’s message was engaging from the start, his preaching was only in rural New York and Vermont until chance brought him in connection with younger men who found the truth of his words but knew how to use the day’s modern methods to spread it farther than Miller ever knew possible. Knight relates the growth of the movement among believers in numerous denominations which later leads to a reaction from those same denominations as well as the Millerite leaders attempt to keep down fanaticism amongst believers. The meat of the book covers the “Year of the End” from March 1843 to October 1844 with all the internal and external tension that occurred during that time as the expectation of Jesus return was a daily hope until the date of October 22 was accepted. The final section of the book relates the histories of the Millerites that kept their Adventist hope after the Great Disappointment.

Given the subject matter and Knight being the most prominent Seventh-day Adventist historian today, one could have expected prominence of the founders of the Seventh-day Adventist church. However, save for Joseph Bates who was a prominent Millerite in his own right, the future Seventh-day Adventists are kept until the last two chapters of the book. If anything this was a story of the Millerites and Adventists who didn’t become Seventh-day Adventists, which is important for both those within and without the SDA denomination to learn about and especially for the former to learn lessons from history. For the general Church history reader, this book reveals the last big gasp of the Second Great Awakening that occurred in the United States as well as the ramifications of it over the past 170+ years.

I had expected this book to be a pure biography of William Miller; however the history of the movement named after him turned out to be a far better surprise. William Miller and the Rise of Adventism is for numerous audiences for those interested in Adventist history, American religious history, Christian history, and many more. While George R. Knight is a prominent Seventh-day Adventist historian, his scholarly approach gives the reader a full, unbiased picture of this time.

A Brief History of Seventh-day Adventists (Adventist Heritage Series)

HistoryA Brief History of Seventh-Day Adventists by George R. Knight
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Condensing over 170 years of history of a religious movement and denomination into a readable 156-page book seems daunting and the recipe for a sketchy history. Yet George R. Knight, one of the foremost historians of the Seventh-day Adventist church, produced a very readable summary of the Sabbatarian Adventism in A Brief History of Seventh-day Adventists that is meant for an Adventist audience of both long-time members and those new.

Knight divides the book into 8 chapters that focus on different eras starting with the pre-Great Disappointment Millerite Roots of Seventh-day Adventists and with the maturity of the Church from 1955 to the present day with its achievements and challenges. Focusing on high-points, both good and bad, and trends in each “historical” era, Knight gives the reader a barebones yet informative look at history and those who influenced the Church on both large and small ways. Given the audience Knight is writing for, the book is filled with Adventist nomenclature but Knight ensures that newer members of the Church have an understanding of the terminology that is even helpful for those that have been Adventists all their lives.

If one is looking for an in-depth look at doctrinal developments and how the Church was structurally organized, this is not the book. While both elements are discussed as part of the overall history, Knight makes it clear at the beginning of the book that those looking for emphasis on either need to turn to the other two book of the “Adventist Heritage Series”, A Search for Identity and Organizing for Mission and Growth. Yet this book is an excellent first read to understand how each of those specific topics tie into the history of the Church in an overall scope.

A Brief History of Seventh-day Adventists does not pretend to be more than it is. George R. Knight gives the reader an overview of the history of Sabbatarian Adventism in a very readable and quick format. However, Knight does not leave those readers wanting more information hanging as at the end of each chapter he provides numerous books that go more in-depth in relation to the topics covered. This is a highly recommended book for Seventh-day Adventists interested in understanding how the Church came about.

A Search for Identity: The Development of Seventh-day Adventist Beliefs
Organizing for Mission and Growth: The Development of Adventist Church Structure

500 Years of Protest and Liberty: From Martin Luther to Modern Civil Rights

500 Years500 Years of Protest and Liberty: From Martin Luther to Modern Civil Rights by Nicholas Patrick Miller
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

The upcoming 500th celebration of the Protestant Reformation has spawned numerous books focusing on the impact of the movement on particular facet of history. 500 Years of Protest and Liberty: From Martin Luther to Modern Civil Rights by Nicholas P. Miller is one of these books in which the author’s articles for Liberty are reproduced in an anthology to chronicle a link between Luther to MLK Jr.

The book is divided into four sections surrounding a central theme each reproduced article in that particular section can be related to. The section introductions and the articles are all well written and fascinating reads especially for those interested in freedom of religion and separation of church and state issues. However in relation to the subtitle of the book, I found the overall flow of the book did not link Luther to MLK Jr. The first and fourth sections definitely link Luther and to the present-day, but the third seemed to be just its own thing though very informative while the second is somewhere in-between.

So while the focus of showing a progression from Luther to MLK Jr., it thought it faltered enough to impact my overall rating, I still recommend this book to anyone interested in freedom of religion and separation of church and state issues.

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