Book Review: 1919

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The Untold Story of Adventism’s Struggle with Fundamentalism
Michael Campbell

As World War I came to an end, the Seventh-day Adventist Church was at a turning point. Many of the first- and second-generation church pioneers had passed away, not least of which was the death of Ellen White in 1915. The Christian world around them was also changing, responding to the challenges of science and history with a turn toward fundamentalism. In this complex religious and church setting, the Adventist Church’s leaders convened a meeting of the Church’s Bible and history teachers in the North American summer of 1919.

Now a church historian based at Southwestern Adventist University, author Michael Campbell’s doctoral studies focused on this relatively unknown turning point in Adventism. Marking the centenary of these meetings, his new book—1919—explores the conference’s context, conclusions and decision not to publish these conclusions, with the minutes of the conference only rediscovered in 1974.

The discussion over the six weeks of meetings covered a variety of topics in theology, prophetic interpretation, historical understanding and the perceived challenges of science of the time. While these hold historic interest in themselves, Campbell argues that the core of all these debates kept coming back to two questions that continue to challenge the Adventist Church today: “All of the issues discussed at the 1919 Bible Conference revolved in some way or another around the twin issues of how to interpret the Bible and Ellen White’s writing” (page 54).

1919 is a brief overview of this historical event and the legacy it created for Adventism of the 20th century. “The self-styled progressives and traditionalists were both much closer to each other than either group realised, but as they debated, they pushed each other farther apart” (page 113)—and the silence that came from the conference left the Church open to the ongoing temptations of fundamentalism, with its theological and social diversions. Such a centenary is an appropriate occasion for learning lessons from our history and 1919 is a helpful starting point for this reflection.

1919: The Untold Story of Adventism’s Struggle with Fundamentalism by Michael Campbell is available from Adventist bookshops in Australia and New Zealand.

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