David Trim tells stories of Adventist growth and mission

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Dr David Trim is director of the Office of Archives, Statistics, and Research for the General Conference, based in Silver Spring, Maryland, USA. He is also an author, historian and educator and spent much of his childhood in Australia. He spoke about his most recent book.

What drew you to the particular study of your new book, Hearts of Faith?
There have been a number of histories of the Millerites and there are many histories of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. But there have been almost no studies that focused on the period between the Great Disappointment and the establishment of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and histories that touch on it often focus on the role of individuals, and seem to take for granted that what happened was bound to have happened. 

I wanted to tell the story of the nearly 20 years that saw the emergence of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and to make it clear that things fell out as they did because of decisions taken at the time. But that isn’t to deny the role of Providence. As I say in the book, I don’t doubt that a seventh-day Sabbath-keeping denomination, with James and Ellen White prominent, would eventually have emerged—but it might have taken much longer and emerged in different circumstances. This could have meant, for example, that it took even longer before Seventh-day Adventists engaged in mission outside North America. So there was nothing inevitable about how events fell out.

Can you tell us a bit about the social landscape of the 1840s and 50s in the United States?
In the 1850s, the United States was deeply polarised over slavery, but that is not a major factor in the story I tell. What is important is how American society was dynamic and open to people moving—particularly emigrating west—and to bettering themselves. It was not a class-ridden society; and it was a highly literate society, in which most adults could read, and regularly did read newspapers and journals.

What were the key ways God used that unique context to help believers coalesce into the infant church?
This context mattered for Sabbatarian Adventists because there was an openness to new ideas—or recovered ideas, such as about the seventh-day Sabbath—rather than society being hidebound. Adventists too moved west, away from their original New England heartlands and people in the US Midwest were even more open than in the country’s northeast. And the people who in 1863 would become Seventh-day Adventists used the printing press brilliantly for witnessing and for binding together the nascent movement, many of whose adherents were isolated from each other.

What is the significance of the title Hearts of Faith?
The title comes from Prophets and Kings (page 175), where Ellen White writes: “The records of sacred history are written, not merely that we may read and wonder, but that the same faith which wrought in God’s servants of old may work in us. In no less marked manner will the Lord work now, wherever there are hearts of faith to be channels of His power.”

What stands out to you about the spirit of those early Seventh-day Adventists?
First, their willingness to follow truth wherever it led and not be constrained by received wisdom. Second, their dynamism and willingness to start new congregations, new periodicals and a new movement. And third, their determination to witness to their faith and bring others into an understanding of the biblical truth they had learned. 

Hearts of Faith follows your earlier book, A Living Sacrifice. What do you hope Adventists take away from these books?
I hope Adventists are informed and inspired by what they read, that they come to a new appreciation of the courage and boldness of our forefathers and foremothers, that they learn from where our pioneers made mistakes—which they did—and that they are inspired to show the same degree of dynamism and determination as did those who went before us.

Hearts of Faith and other books by David Trim are available from Adventist bookshops in Australia and New Zealand, or online.

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