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Book review: The English Connection: The Puritan Roots of Seventh-day Adventist Belief, second edition

Patrick Boyle

 

The publishers are to be congratulated for issuing a second edition of this significant book. This book contains a reflective foreword and a conclusion that were not in the original.

The primary relevance of the book will have a strong appeal for Seventh-day Adventists. Criticisms of our beliefs tend to question whether our faith is bib-lical, evangelical, or Protestant. Dr. Ball demolishes all criticisms of this nature. He demonstrates the indisputable connection of Seventh-day Adventist faith with scripture and the evangelical beliefs of the Puritans.

However, the book has a more extensive interest for historians and sociologists of religion and is in no way a sectarian polemic. The author writes from a wide knowledge of the religious foment of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. This approach strengthens his claim that the theology and religious faith of Seventh-day Adventists is neither novel nor cultic. He shows beyond controversy that the beliefs of our church are rooted in Scripture and in orthodox Protestant theology.

In 12 chapters, he selects the cardi-nal Christian doctrines. He juxtaposes, as an introduction to each chapter, clear evidence from Seventh-day Adventist statements of faith with similar ones from the writings of Puritan theologians. The unity and harmony of the beliefs are incontrovertible. Some of the chapter headings will give an indication of the topics discussed: “The Sufficiency of Scripture,” “The Incomparable Jesus,” “The Lord Our Righteousness,” “The Seventh-Day Sabbath,” “A High Priest in Heaven,” “The Return of Christ,” “That Almanac of Prophecy.” All of these are core Christian and Seventh-day Adventist beliefs.

I do not criticize this book to observe that it is not solely in Puritan theology that our roots are to be located. The theology of the radical Reformers of the sixteenth century also contributes to our beliefs. In his book The Reformation and the Advent Movement, the late W. L. Emmerson shows how the majority of our doctrines are also related to Anabaptism. However, the theology of the Anabaptists was not unified in any one wing of the movement. The seventh-day Sabbath, justification by faith, the law of God, conditional immortality, and footwashing were held by different sec-tions of the movement and rejected by others. There was no overall unanimity. Emmerson saw the various doctrines of the groups coming together and being unified in the Advent people, or, as he expressed it, God’s last-day ecumenical movement.

The value of Ball’s book lies not alone in the connections he makes with Puritanism but in the depth of his treatment of the doctrines discussed. The richness of the theology and its evangelical emphasis is heartening. The book contains a compendium of Christian theology with a clear writ-ing style. The content is biblical and evangelical. Theologians, pastors, and lay members will find the contents a stimulus to faith and devotion.

Few would deny that the Protestant pulpit has fallen on hard times. The same is true, to a significant degree, of the Seventh-day Adventist pulpit. The only corrective for this would be a return to the preaching of the great themes of salvation. Neglect of these themes and a failure to preach them leads inevitably to formalism, legalism, extremism, and a loss of mission.

A careful reading of the introduction to The English Connection is essential. There the reader will come to understand the value and necessity of grasping the role and purpose of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and its self-understanding.

I find this a beautifully written book, free from prejudice and with a generous spirit, and the format is attractive. This book can be read with profit by anyone, but it will have strong appeal to new members who may not be as familiar as they could be with the origins of our church and its roots in Scripture and Protestant theology. Bryan Ball has done his own church, and the wider Christian fellowship, a service in bringing before us the truths that center and hold their meaning in the incomparable Christ.

—Reviewed by Patrick Boyle, MA, a retired pastor living in Watford, Hertfordshire, United Kingdom.

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