As a relatively new pastor, I have wondered how people in the community I serve view Seventh-day Adventists. Of course, as Malcolm Bull and Keith Lockhart maintain in Seeking a Sanctuary, most people have not heard of Adventism. Those who have most likely have either had a negative encounter with a church member, or they have been positively impacted through one of our Adventist institutions. Seeking a Sanctuary will challenge Adventist ministers to better understand how those outside of our religious community view our denomination and thereby become more sensitive to our public persona.
The first part of the book focuses on Adventist theology. Bull and Lockhart maintain that Adventists are not a part of the general mainstream because of their belief that America will someday become intolerant. The authors continue their argument that “There is very little . . . to support the widely held contention that Adventists have moved from the margins of society toward the mainstream” (108). Instead, they suggest that Adventist theology has developed in parallel with that of the mainstream.
In part two (113–255), Bull and Lockhart describe the Adventist experience and the American dream. Chapter 7 describes Adventism as “an alternative social system that can meet the needs of its members from the cradle to the grave” (114). Chapter 8 showcases patterns of growth. From their perspective, the authors probe why Adventism in North America (since 1955) has entered “a long period of decline relative to the rest of the world” (143). (One must wonder if this is actually a period of decline, or simply the expansion of Adventist missions?)The authors state that although Seventh-day Adventism has become the twenty-seventh largest denomination in the United States, it has not, however, “developed the demographic profile of one of America’s mainstream churches” (145). Adventists appear to be best at recruiting outsiders and, over two to three generations in their alternative system, deposit them on a higher socioeconomic status. Adventists live longer than the general population (chapter 9 is about the “science of happiness”), advocate religious liberty (chapter 10), and appear to be prone to schism (chapter 11). Ultimately, Adventism reproduces “a parallel version of American society” that becomes a “separate organism within the larger body” (247, 248).
The third part, the “Adventist subculture” (259–347), has helpful chapters on gender, race, ministry, medicine, education, and the self-supporting movement. Readers of Ministry will find chapter 16, dealing with ministry, particularly poignant. The authors contend that Adventist churches have a higher level of conflict, yet the personal bias of the authors, as former Adventists, comes through in instances like this. However, my experience with other congregations in our community is that many congregations from other denominations are far more conflicted than our church.
Significantly, of the major groups from the nineteenth century, Bull and Lockhart argue that Adventism is the only one to develop a professional clergy (292). As such, a great deal is expected of Adventist ministers. Unfortunately, research shows that ambivalence exists in the role of a pastor.
I recommend to clergy that they read Seeking a Sanctuary. In all probability, you won’t agree with all of the candid and sometimes even critical analysis, but you will be more attuned to the sociological trends that drive Seventhday Adventism.