14.11.2022 | Berrien Springs, Michigan | Isabella Koh | Andrews University and IAD
On October 15-19, 2022, Andrews University, a Seventh-day Adventist institution in Berrien Springs, Michigan, hosted a conference entitled “Being the Remnant: Adventist Identity in History and Theology.” The event brought together more than 30 scholars for an interdisciplinary conversation on Adventist identity. The conference was sponsored by the Office of Archives, Statistics and Research (ASTR) in association with the Biblical Research Institute (BRI), the Ellen G. White Estate and the Church History Department of the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University .
According to David Trim, ASTR director and conference co-organizer, “Discussions about Adventist identity will always be important as there is a tendency among Christian churches to experience a ‘mission shift’, to disperse and lose their passion. With the rapid growth of the Church in some parts of the world, this Adventist identity conference is especially relevant now. And whoever says rapid growth also says the danger of a change of identity. So it’s important to talk about what sets us apart and then share our insights with the global church. »
According to John W. Reeve, assistant professor of church history at Andrews University, the Adventist identity conference had been in the works for four years. “As the planning team determined the goals, structure and conceptualization of what we are trying to do, we focused on understanding our past and present to ensure a bright future. »
Through the efforts of a planning committee, a variety of interdisciplinary issues related to Adventist identity were selected for discussion. The committee then contacted prominent figures in Adventism to ask them to present and analyze research. In order to ensure the participation of a wide range of experts, an open call for papers was also launched on all topics. “We didn’t just want academics from North America, although that’s already a diverse group,” Reeve said. We wanted to involve new scholars and fresh minds from around the world. A quarter of the conference speakers are from this call for papers, making for a diverse and thoughtful forum.
The conference consisted of a total of 10 sessions, in which each expert was invited to share their research with an audience of 1,500, some of whom were present on site while others listened online. Two foundational sessions discussed identity and worldview theories, another focused on historical context, while the other seven all focused on a theme that defines Adventists, such as eschatology, sound living, mission, education, and the Sabbath. A wide range of disciplines were represented in the presentations, including history, biblical theology, historical theology, philosophy and sociology.
Cheryl Doss, former director of the Seventh-day Adventist General Conference Institute on World Missions and retired assistant professor of missionary studies and religious education at Andrews University, chaired one of the main sessions. “We have learned that although the application of these elements can vary around the world, there is considerable consistency in Adventist commitment to our faith and way of life,” she said. We are united in our desire to live by biblical principles as we grapple with the issues that arise in our diverse socio-cultural contexts. »
Mr. Trim, who presented a summary of the 30 major contributions to the conference, was struck by the integrated nature of Adventist teachings, including the centrality of Christ, the great controversy, sanctuary doctrine, and remnant doctrine. All conference presentations highlighted a set of shared beliefs, practices, and stories that remain central to Adventism. He found the emphasis on storytelling as a means of forming a shared identity particularly valuable. “The stories we tell about our Adventist past have the power to bind us together and inspire us,” he said.
Reflecting on the conference, Mr. Reeve said he enjoyed the conversation about the centrality of Christ in all Adventist doctrine. “It is part of our Christian identity, in the larger church – the worldwide church of God – but also for each of our individual teachings. Jesus Christ is the center. He also mentioned the role of mission, emphasizing that “at the core of our Adventist identity is mission—how we behave, what we say and who we say, who our God is and what He has done for us.” In fact, deep down, we depend on Jesus for our salvation and our future. This is the message of Jesus that we must present to the world. »
Confirming the importance of Adventist identity, Ms. Doss added that the church “needs to periodically reevaluate what is changing and what remains in our collective identity. As times and society change, a thoughtful conversation about our collective identity can help us understand ourselves and help the church make wise decisions about our mission. Such a permanent conversation is necessary in the 21st century. »
Recognizing this need, the team plans to encourage such ongoing conversations on a global scale. “We are planning a series of follow-up Adventist identity conferences around the world with the goal of having an Adventist identity conference in each department within the next three to four years to include the voices heard at that conference as well as local voices in every region. »
According to Andrea Luxton, Rector of Andrews University, “A clear sense of identity centers and connects us. And it is especially relevant today as we live in a time when divisions are enormous and also affect us in the Church. It’s even a situation that can lead us to expend unnecessary energy attacking each other and defending a position instead of focusing together on our common mission, which arises from our shared identity… I hope that all Participants with a strong sense of the importance of a solid understanding of the nuances of Adventist identity to strengthen unity and create a strong sense of mission, she said finally. »
Translation: Marie-Michèle Robaille
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