To write about a complex and controversial person such as A. T. Jones involves a skillful researcher and writer such as George R. Knight.
Alonzo T. Jones (1850–1923) may be familiar to most readers of this journal. In 1870, Jones enlisted in the United States Army and, during that period, read extensively—including the Bible and Seventh-day Adventist literature. Soon after his baptism into the Seventh-day Adventist Church, he started preaching for the denomination. By 1885, he and E. J. Waggoner became editors of Signs of the Times, a missionary magazine. From the time he joined the denomination until his death (when he was no longer a Seventh-day Adventist), Jones was well known and controversial most of the time. If controversy did not find him, he found it.
Knight shares insights into Jones’ personality—thus enabling the reader to understand the multidirectional, and often confusing paths, Jones traveled. He took up countless causes and became an expert in many issues—perhaps too many issues. A few examples give us an insight into his complex personality:
In the 1880s, the National Reform Association advocated a constitutional amendment to “explicitly proclaim the United States to be a Christian nation” (23). Jones wrote in the Review and Herald four blunt articles opposing these moves. He not only opposed the goal of the proposed constitutional amendment but claimed that the National Reform Party was able to “ ‘out-Jesuit the Jesuits.’ ” For Jones, it was not sufficient only to defeat his enemy—he felt compelled to properly label his enemy (23).
He was one of the key presenters at the historic 1888 General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists’ Session in Minneapolis. This event propelled him to prominence in the denomination. Ellen G. White’s counsel that he would be a power for good “if he cultivated practical godliness” (28) went unheeded.
In 1901, after he was relieved of his editorship of the Review and Herald, he embarked on a new mission. In the northwestern part of the United States, he advocated abolishing the office of president—at the General Conference and local conferences. He convinced enough delegates so that the Upper Columbia Conference “reorganized without anyone bearing the title of president” (222). But a month later a miraculous transformation occurred in Jones’ thinking—he accepted the presidency (yes, his title was president!) of the California Conference. Denominational leader A. G. Daniells was “astonished” that Jones was elected (223). The reader should not only be “astonished” but should learn to observe actions and not only listen to words of others—yes, even today. Ellen White admonished Jones that he was “exercising ‘kingly authority’ ” (229), and paying too much attention to a female physician (231). He, the very man who just two years previously was against the office of the president, desperately wanted to get re-elected. His desire to get re-elected was fulfilled after he publicly confessed at camp meeting and made things right with his wife (231). Craving for power won over principle, however, and within a year he abandoned his sought-after position and joined John H. Kellogg, who was in a stressful relationship with the denomination.
What can the reader learn from this well-written book about a complex and controversial personality? Some of his sermons and articles were positive contributions to a denomination that was painfully defining its positions on many important topics. At the same time the reader needs to heed Knight’s observation that “He [Jones] took every position he touched to its logical extreme” (164). Also, Knight indicates that “He [Jones] knew salvific truth, but he failed to internalize it and put it into practice” (10). That timely admonition from Knight makes this book worth reading.
—Reviewed by Nikolaus Satelmajer, DMin, pastor, Atholton Seventh-day Adventist Church, Atholton, Maryland, United States.