Book Review: Living 28

Is Living 28 just another empty promise of making Adventist doctrine relevant to the 21st Century, or does it refreshingly hit the mark? Maryellen Fairfax investigates.

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Living 28: Fresh perspectives on practising our faith
Jarrod Stackelroth

As a young person who has attended an Adventist church my whole life—and now as the assistant editor for Adventist Record—I’ve had ample opportunity to hear a vast array of claims that certain veteran members make about “young people these days”.

We’ve lost touch with Adventist identity and our fundamental beliefs. We’re backsliding juveniles hungry for entertainment. We’re not interested in Adventist doctrine, prophecy or Bible study. We’re watering-down the Church’s unique message and only ever talk about Jesus’ love. I’ve heard it all—face to face, through church gossip or on social media—and I sympathise. On face value, these claims aren’t unreasonable. But before you cast further stones, please, allow me to explain.

In a world where natural disasters are on the rise, diseases are reaching pandemic proportions, where mainstream media perpetuates controversy and uncertainty around sexual ethics, climate change, religious freedom and food security, and where distractions and end-time information is bombarding young people left right and centre, the Church often seems out of touch with real world issues.

Seeing a group of 60-somethings sitting around at Sabbath school, spouting religious jargon and entering heated arguments over the placement of a comma in the New Testament, just doesn’t seem relevant. In times of uncertainty, young people are craving Jesus’ message of salvation—not doctrine or behaviour irrelevant to salvation. The problem isn’t that young people don’t care about Adventism’s unique and beautiful message. The problem is that often the language and methods we use to communicate this message seem completely irrelevant to everyday life.

Central to Adventism’s unique message is the 28 Fundamental Beliefs of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. The first time I actually read the fundamentals, I was a 19-year-old attending a year-long Bible study into the topic with my local church youth group.

Our young Bible study leader did an incredible job fleshing out each of the different beliefs and facilitating our exploration of the Bible verses to justify their existence. Sometimes, we’d spend two or even three weeks trying to understand a certain fundamental, arguing back and forth, delving into debates and having “experts” join us to discuss the big topics: creation and evolution, the sanctuary, the boundaries of appropriate Christian behaviour, or different denominations’ views of the trinity. One year turned into three, and while I loved it, at the end of each study I’d often walk away feeling frustrated, like something was missing.

How would understanding our stance on the remnant help me overcome anxiety or low self-esteem this week? How would discussing the nature of humanity help my friends cope with real-world realities: broken families, addictions or joblessness? How could I actually apply these beliefs—which provide a strong, logical foundation for a healthy Christian life and worldview—to my everyday life?

"In times of uncertainty, young people are craving Jesus' message of salvation—not doctrine or behaviour irrelevant to salvation."

Well before my time at Adventist Record, 29 authors were asked to explore one of our most resolute and theoretical Adventist hallmarks—the 28 Fundamental Beliefs of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Compiled into a neat little bundle and promising to provide a “fresh perspective on practising our faith”, it all seemed too good to be true. Would Living 28—like many things audaciously labelled “fresh” or “relevant”—totally miss the mark? I was certainly sceptical.

Scepticism misplaced. To my delight, it hit the bullseye.

Living 28 is not just another empty promise, nor just theoretical commentary irrelevant to contemporary issues or culture. Each of the authors have clearly communicated how our fundamental beliefs can relevantly apply to our daily lives, while still delving deep into the meat of Adventist wedge issues and fundamental doctrines. It’s neither a watered-down exploration of feel-good faith, nor an empty step-by-step guide, nor a resource to spark surface-level debate. It’s an honest, mind-opening, heart-transforming exploration of personal faith.

By vulnerably sharing their experiences of life and faith, each author inspired me to be honest with myself and critically explore how each Adventist belief can be practically relevant to my life, too. And with application and discussion questions accompanying each chapter, Living 28 is not just a resource for personal reflection but also deep small-group discussion and connection.

I personally appreciate how Burn the Haystack podcast co-host Jesse Herford explores the tension between greatness and tempting mediocrity (something I personally struggle with), Signs Publishing editor Nathan Brown provides a better alternative to arguing with non-believers over creation and evolution, and Signs of the Times editor Kent Kingston talks about how Adventism—at its core—isn’t about rigid rules at all. Perspectives such as these are certainly “fresh” and challenging, and yet, stay true each fundamental belief as it is written—Adventism’s beautiful core.

I honestly believe that this book, which editor Jarrod Stackelroth carefully, creatively and thoughtfully compiled over the past three years, meets a dire need in today’s Adventist culture. While no book can cover every practical issue in contemporary Christian discourse, the considered perspectives of each author in Living 28 extend beyond its 165 pages by generating potential for further balanced discussion. It stands in relevancy’s firing line and promises to preserve Adventism’s beautiful narrative by developing knowledge about, pride for, ownership of, and a desire to live out what we actually believe.