September 11, 2012

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Ambassador for Liberty
Bert B. Beach, Review and Herald Publishing Association, Hagerstown, Md., 2012, 192 pages, US$12.99, softcover. Reviewed by former Adventist Review editor William G. Johnsson.

Bert B. Beach, the “grand old man of Adventism,” has published a memoir, Ambassador for Liberty. It is a book that the host of his friends and acquaintances in Europe and America, within church circles and outside, will want to read. Adventists everywhere will profit from this book.

Nobody in the Adventist Church is like Bert Beach; no one is even remotely like him. For nearly 50 years he helped shape and mold the expanding church, serving in a variety of capacities, bringing energy and sound thinking to every task; and along the way he befriended and was befriended by kings and queens, popes and prelates, heads of state and heads of churches.

Beach, born in Switzerland and fluent in five languages, has spent his life almost equally divided between America and Europe, equally at home in both. Educator, missionary, administrator, writer, champion of freedom—his contribution to and impact on the Seventh-day Adventist Church has been enormous.His memoir, a scant 192 pages, provides only a sketch, an introduction to this extraordinary life. So wide and rich has been his experience that a volume double or triple the length might have been written. 

2012 1525 page29Ambassador for Liberty is an understated work. No doubt that is intentional, because Bert Beach does not try to impress others. He simply states facts and opinions, states them directly and forthrightly. We learn, for instance, that he graduated from college before age 20, that he received his doctoral degree from the Sorbonne in Paris, France—his dissertation written in French—before he was 30. That he had six papal audiences, with three different popes, with whom he conversed in Italian and French. That he exchanged pleasantries with Prince Philip of the United Kingdom, and that Robert Runcie, archbishop of Canterbury, was a personal friend. All these and many more incidents are simply supplied for the record, without braggadocio or name-dropping.

Beach received many honors and distinctions from the Adventist Church, and even more from non-Adventist sources. He does not dwell on them but reluctantly lists some  in an appendix, stating: “Here are, with some hesitation, as a sort of epilogue, a few of the honors I’ve received. They are mentioned only for historical purposes.”

I have known Bert Beach for many years. He is my friend; he has enormously enriched my life; he has taught me much.

Bert’s life has been anything but dull. Bert is anything but dull. To see and hear him make a point—hands and arms flailing, voice raised in animation as he tells it as it is—is unforgettable.

Friendly, frank, fearless—that’s the real Bert Beach. Whether speaking with princes, popes, or Communist leaders, whether in private conversation or on the floor of the General Conference in session, this loyal Seventh-day Adventist states his convictions with clarity bordering on bluntness.

On page 141 Beach summarizes his life goal: “For years I have worked to build bridges of understanding, mutual respect, and conscientious cooperation, where this seemed both feasible and advisable, between individuals and church organizations. I wanted others to view Seventh-day Adventists and my church as Christ- and Bible-centered, as a people with a social conscience of service and upholding freedom of religion and belief, not only for themselves, but for all.”

Our church owes much to this bridge builder extraordinaire. I praise the Lord for Bert Beach. 

This article was published September 13, 2012.