1922: The Rise of Adventist Fundamentalism

Michael Campbell, Nampa, ID: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 2022.

Doug Matacio, PhD, is a professor emeritus, Burman University, Lacombe, Alberta, Canada.

The author of this book, Michael W. Campbell, previously a professor and pastor, serves as director of Archives, Statistics, and Research at the North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists. His PhD, from Andrews University, focuses on the 1919 Bible Conference.

Campbell begins by saying the book is about “the story of Adventist fundamentalism—how Adventism engaged with the historical fundamentalist movement from the time of Ellen White’s death to the early 1920s.” Fundamentalism arose in reaction to modernism, which questioned the inspiration of Scripture. Fundamentalism sought to rebuild the biblical foundation of spiritual and moral truth. How did Adventism engage? It sided with evangelical churches under the modernist attack (chap. 1). It was influenced by a movement that idealized strong masculine traits over feminine contributions to church life (chap. 2). It followed fundamentalism in creating statements of doctrinal beliefs (chap. 3). And it defended literal creationism by arguing that true science was not equipped to speak definitively on the question of origins (chap. 4).

Chapters 5–8 focus on developments unique to Adventism. In the wake of the 1919 Bible Conference, voices within the church criticized leaders who did not accept the inerrancy of Ellen G. White’s writings (chap. 5). There followed a trend to use the new Index as an authoritative commentary on the Bible, which functioned as a “canonization” of her writings (chap. 6). In chapter 7, Campbell describes four characteristics of “Adventist fundamentalism”: the inspiration of the Bible and the writings of Ellen G. White, the historical and literal fulfillment of Bible prophecy, Creation and the affirmation of the seventh-day Sabbath, and the use of archaeology to defend the historicity of the Bible.

In chapter 8, the author tells the story of the 1922 General Conference Session as a turning point in the history of Adventist fundamentalism. Arthur G. Daniells, General Conference president for 21 years, was replaced by William A. Spicer, who oversaw a “gentler, and less militant, variety of Adventist fundamentalism.”

The epilogue speaks of fundamentalism as a “temptation.” Campbell apparently does so because of the influence of inerrancy. There continues to be “somewhat of a divide about how to specifically interpret inspired writings” (111). He also cites longtime Review editor F. M. Wilcox in an appeal to avoid “shibboleths” (see Judg. 12)—
the tendency to make some detail of belief or practice a litmus test for salvation.

Perhaps the fundamentalist movement got off track on the issues of race and gender because it failed to arrive at a mature understanding of inspiration and biblical hermeneutics. Adventism, with the help of Ellen G. White, eschewed inerrancy and developed a hermeneutic that understands the Bible to be “an indivisible blend of the divine and the human.”1

Perhaps Adventism still struggles to apply its hermeneutic to the issues of race and gender, being influenced by evangelical fundamentalists on those issues, even though Adventism’s understanding of inspiration and hermeneutics is distinct from theirs. Today, the church faces the additional challenge of relating inspired writings to other concerns, such as vaccination for COVID-19 and the relationship between vaccination and religious liberty.

This book should be welcomed by pastors and other church leaders because it contributes a historical understanding to current diverse thinking found in many local congregations and even in the corporate church.

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Doug Matacio, PhD, is a professor emeritus, Burman University, Lacombe, Alberta, Canada.

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