Post 32, Whither Adventist Studies: Several doctoral studies point the way

Dear Reader, if you go to the archives of this website you will find a blog (dated 2 November 2011) about one of my favorite Old Testament exegetes, Dr Alden Thompson. There is no need to offer a biography of Dr Thompson here, since you easily can read that (plus his actual writings) on his website at Walla Walla University. Recently I asked Dr Thompson to write a short paragraph introducing readers to a book (my papers and articles) that another colleague is editing for publication. On 12 December 2011 Dr Thompson wrote:

Fresh excitement is stirring in Adventist Studies and Arthur Patrick has played a key role in the resurgence. His article in the Journal of Religious History (September 2010) is just one example of the quality materials he has produced. This collection of essays is a good sign that the old paucity is being replaced by a new richness.

There is evidence that “fresh excitement is stirring in Adventist Studies” to the extent that I dearly hope “the old paucity is being replaced by a new richness.” It was a thrill to see a German pastor receive a PhD degree on 11 December 2011, at the annual graduation for students of Avondale College of Higher Education. His thesis in impressive indeed; its content and its thoroughness speak volumes for the diligence of the candidate and the competence of his principal supervisor, Dr Steven Thompson. PhD projects in Australia are examined by external scholars who have expertise in the academic discipline that is under consideration. The principal academic focus of the German pastor’s thesis was Biblical Studies, so why do I mention it in a blog about Adventist Studies?

I mention the academic discipline of Biblical Studies precisely because it is so crucial for Adventist Studies. We take a high view of the Bible and a low view of creeds. When we say, in the preamble to our Fundamental Beliefs, that we “accept the Bible as our only creed” we mean that we are determined to mine the whole of Scripture for everything it tells us about God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, humanity, sin, salvation, eternity, and so on. This might be described as a “big ask,” or even an impossible ask, but it is our task. To highlight the centrality of the Bible over against the interpretations of the Bible that we find in the Christian creeds, it is well for us to remember John N. Loughborough’s vivid warning about the potential misuse of statements of faith:

The first step of apostasy is to get up a creed, telling us what we shall believe. The second is to make that creed a test of fellowship. The third is to try members by that creed. The fourth is to denounce as heretics those who do not believe that creed. And, the fifth is to commence persecution against such (Review and Herald, 8 October 1861, 148).

 Therefore, it is an encouragement that we have available to us cogent studies of Scripture like that by the German pastor, as mentioned above. Also, a “dinkum Aussie,” teaching at Helderberg College in South Africa, has recently completed a PhD thesis at the University of Queensland. Jeff Crocombe’s study explores the subject of hermeneutics: how the Bible was interpreted during the early years of the Second Advent Movement. Another PhD project by a Finnish pastor offers a fresh analysis of Ellen White’s spirituality. Graeme Sharrock’s review of that thesis, published on the Spectrum website, includes paragraphs such as these:

 Many years ago, I noticed how often Ellen White referred to the “soul” in her devotional writings. It was a precious and sacred aspect of the human personality, the object of divine guidance, nurturance, and protection, and “soul-saving” was God’s purpose in the world. When early Adventists exchanged the conventional idea of the immortality of the soul for the more biblical view of the unity of body and soul, they largely abandoned the term soul and substituted the contemporary language of character development. Ellen White, however, remained interested in the soul—along with the human body and spirit—and became Adventism’s chief advocate of holistic spirituality.

In our time, the emerging field of spirituality has ignited research into “spiritual formation” and “spiritual guidance” in the religious traditions. The recent dissertation by Harri Kuhalampi, written at the University of Helsinki, offers an analysis of White’s mature spirituality, slanted toward Lutheran culture of northern Europe, but using the modern academic study of Christian spirituality as a framework.

I have been appreciative of Graeme Sharrock’s writing since he was an Avondale College student in the 1970s. At present he is almost through a fascinating study of Ellen White’s testimonies in their historical context, to be presented to the Divinity School at the University of Chicago. A chapter that I have read, Graeme’s contribution to the Ellen White Project (see more detail elsewhere on this website) is stimulating to say the least.

In my pamphlet offering guidance for higher degree students who wish to pursue Adventist Studies, and in the Journal of Religious History article that Dr Alden Thompson reviews (see above), I list more that thirty doctoral dissertations/theses that make a significant contribution to Adventist Studies. When the time is right, I will review a thesis by another Australian researcher who has placed Ellen White more cogently than usual in the setting of nineteenth-century North American Christianity.

Yes, Dr Thompson is correct: “Fresh excitement is stirring in Adventist Studies” and there are signs aplenty that “the old paucity is being replaced by a new richness.”

Arthur Patrick, 25 December 2011