On February 1, 2009, I linked to Ron Corson’s review of Theresa and Arthur Beem’s book, It’s Okay NOT to Be a Seventh-day Adventist. Teresa commented on February 21 that she thought Corson was unfair, and offered to send me a copy. I received it today.
Let me first summarize Ron’s main points of criticism, since that’s how this conversation started:
- A lack of objectivity, and a clear animus against Adventism.
- Slopping and inadequate footnoting (including attributing something to “Ellen G. White Published Writings website” that is actually from an anti-Ellen White webpage.
- False depiction of Millerism, colored by their animosity
- Inaccurate depiction of the development of the Adventist sanctuary teaching
- Falsifies Ellen White’s self-understanding
Teresa defends against Ron’s criticisms by saying the book isn’t for current Adventists or even non-Adventists, but is intended for former Adventists to give them “historically accurate information” they didn’t get from the Adventist church.
She says to him, “What I am reading of your complaints against the book are legitimate if the book was written to convince a loyal Adventist reader.”
So far most of my complaints have been about factual errors. From my perspective if you write a book it should be of factual use to any reader, not made to appeal to a certain reader who already believes a particular point of view. Most people who use the term “dangerous cult” are speaking about a cult that ingests poison or separates by mind control family members. The others who use “dangerous cult” are the judgmental types who believe if you don’t believe as they believe on religious issues you will be lost, as if their ideas dictate who God saves or loses. So my perspective, I will have to grant is different than the authors. That I have higher standards of how a book should impart knowledge is neither here nor there, if a book says it is giving us the untold history I want that history to be accurate and not be simply an untold history because it never really happened.
I think Ron is correct. It doesn’t matter who your intended audience is, if you are claiming to be historically accurate, you must be historically accurate. You must footnote in such a way that people can evaluate your sources for themselves. You must use credible sources.
Also in response to Ron’s criticisms, Theresa said to me,
We had almost two dozen copy editors and people who volunteered to help do “checks” on the book ….
They were sloppy. There are typos throughout the book. “Judgement” (a Britishism that should not be used by an American author), “ante-type” (instead of anti-type), “Haley’s Comet” (instead of Halley’s Comet), “O. L. Crosier” (instead of O. R. L. Crosier).
There are historical errors, such as the claim that
Most SDA’s are completely unaware that the Church of God Seventh-day, Advent Christian Church, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Worldwide Church of God, 7th day Sabbath Creationists, the First day Adventists and the Second Adventists are all children of the same movement.
Most Adventists know well that Miller’s movement gave birth to the Advent Christian Church. This point is made in every history of the subject. But the rest is mistaken. The Jehovah’s Witnesses were not part of the same movement; their founder, Charles Taze Russell, wasn’t even born until 1852. The Worldwide Church of God wasn’t part of the Millerite movement; it was founded in 1933 by Herbert W. Armstrong, who was born in 1892. The Church of God (Seventh-Day) was an offshoot from Sabbatarian Adventism that rejected the leadership of James and Ellen White; that history is covered in SDA courses on church history and Ellen White. As to 7th Day Sabbath Creationists, maybe she means the Creation 7th Day Adventists, who left the Seventh-day Adventist Church in 1988.
Lots of books have been written on Millerism by fair and reliable historians, including, most recently, David Rowe, God’s Strange Work: William Miller and the End of the World. That’s a better place for the interested non-Adventist to start.
Who is the intended audience of the book? This is really confusing. Teresa told Ron it was former Adventists who didn’t get “the real truth.” And yet the preface begins, “Have you ever wondered about this nice but unusual, vegetarian, Saturday-churchgoing people? You may have met an Adventist” in various ways (xi). Is that how you begin a book for former Adventists?
Elsewhere, the Beems speak of a missionary mandate:
No one is doing the Adventists a favor by allowing them to believe lies. We must bring them the truth of the gospel. (xvi)
The material is organized around a debunking of what the Beems regard as the “pillars” of Adventism: “Ellen White as prophetess, The Three Angels’ Message and Sanctuary Doctrine and lastly the Sabbath Doctrine” (64). But Ellen White is not one of the “pillar doctrines” of Adventism. Here’s how Ellen herself spoke of the “pillars” or “landmarks”:
“The passing of the time in 1844 was a period of great events, opening to our astonished eyes the cleansing of the sanctuary transpiring in heaven, and having decided relation to God’s people upon the earth, [also] the first and second angels’ messages and the third, unfurling the banner on which was inscribed, ‘The commandments of God and the faith of Jesus.’ One of the landmarks under this message was the temple of God, seen by His truth-loving people in heaven, and the ark containing the law of God. The light of the Sabbath of the fourth commandment flashed its strong rays in the pathway of the transgressors of God’s law. The nonimmortality of the wicked is an old landmark. I can call to mind nothing more that can come under the head of the old landmarks. All this cry about changing the old landmarks is all imaginary” (CW 30).
I find it interesting that they devoted so much time to Ellen White ( an important figure, one whom Adventists do believe to have had the gift of prophecy, but not a pillar or landmark doctrine) and yet say nothing about the Adventist teaching on the nature of man and conditional immortality.
I also find it interesting that the authors, who say, “We must bring them the truth of the gospel” (xvi), say nothing about Adventist discussions about the gospel. There is no mention of 1888, of E. J. Waggoner, of A. T. Jones, of Desmond Ford or Robert Brinsmead, of righteousness by faith or justification by faith–subjects that have been the focus of so much debate within Adventism! Yet they cavalierly say Adventists know nothing about the gospel, and are living in despair, burdened by legalism.
Their depiction of Adventism is very dated. Adventist schools do not shun competition (235); most have intramural sports and many, if not most, also have teams that play non-Adventist schools. Contrary to the list on pp. 250-251, Adventists have no problem voting their conscience at the polls (Adventist conference presidents don’t issue voter’s guides). Lots of Adventists wear jewelry these days (for good or ill). Most Adventists don’t send their kids to church schools (ditto). Adventists watch Christian (and non-Christian) TV. Many Adventists love Billy Graham and C. S. Lewis. Most Adventists don’t fret or worry about the end times–they believe the return of Jesus is “the blessed hope.” Adventists use their imaginations (just look at those prophecy seminar brochures).
For a book that’s supposed to be about helping former Adventists adjust, there’s no guidance for where they might go. The authors thank a Baptist pastor and an Assemblies of God pastor at the beginning. Those churches have very different views on spiritual gifts. The Beems don’t give their former Adventist readers any guidance on this. Or on the subject of other churches’ views on death (a major difference). Or on interpretation of prophecy (is Dispensationalism taught in Scripture?).
And what about the Catholic church? After several years of checking out the evangelical world, the Beems became Catholic–around the same time their book was being published, it would seem. So which gospel do they want former Adventists to embrace–the Baptist gospel or the teachings of the Council of Trent? What do they say about Catholic visionaries like Anne Catherine Emmerich? Or Medjugorje? Or Catholic legalism? Or purgatory, or works of satisfaction, or indulgences? Or Catholic schools (that could perhaps also be described as a “lockdown system to keep families in the organization” (235))?
I think after reading this book a former Adventist may well pat him or herself on the back and say, “See, I was right!” But will they have any sense of where to go next? I don’t think so.
But that’s not really the point, I think. This book isn’t about former Adventists. It isn’t about current Adventists. It isn’t about non-Adventists. It is about Teresa and Arthur. It is really about their need to get off their chest some frustrations and to come to some sort of closure about their Adventist experience. Some people need to do that. I did it when I left. Articles I wrote appear in collections by Marcus Grodi and Lynn Nordhagen (and look where I am now.)