When retired leaders choose to speak out about the state of the nation or the church, their interjections are often met with some scepticism, and with inevitable questions about why they are speaking now. The suspicions are that they are exercising their greater sense of freedom after stepping away from their previous responsibilities; that they might be more honest now that they have less to lose; or that they are trying to fend off a growing sense of irrelevance and reinsert themselves into the debates.
Such are the risks that come with a book such as Where Are We Headed? by William Johnsson, now retired from his long-standing role as editor of Adventist Review. But Johnsson’s strident new book has a different motivation: the church he served has changed, and, in his view, not for the better. For him, the climax of that change when it came—you’ll have to read the book to find out when—was “a truly sad day for the Seventh-day Adventist Church.”
Where Are We Headed? identifies several related features of the changed church Johnsson now sees. He worries about evidence for a tendency to “remnant” arrogance and exclusivity; mantra-like statements about the soon coming of Jesus; statistical focus of mission; the fundamentalism and “flat” literalism creeping into our reading of Scripture; continuing discussions of the role of Ellen White’s writings; and the misuse of calls to “unity.” Johnsson’s “lover’s quarrel” is with what he fears the Adventist Church is becoming: “two radically different versions of Adventism competing for the future.”
While Where Are We Headed? is open-ended, Johnsson’s burden is to call us back to “Adventism at its best” and ultimately to Jesus. This discussion is never far from our need for Jesus, the sufficiency of Jesus, and that the church should be shaped by the presence and ministry of Jesus. While Johnsson writes about big issues in a global church, he draws regularly on his lifetime experience of following Jesus, and writes with a grace and passion that is both Jesus-like and statesman-like.
Where Are We Headed? should not be tarred with the scepticism that sometimes meets postretirement publications. Johnsson is speaking to, with, and for a broad spectrum of the church, and is still held in high regard across multiple generations of Adventists.
As we continue to wrestle with the complicated issues of a worldwide church, we need wise voices that can offer circuit breakers to our arguments and their continuing faith as a guidepost for our progress. Where Are We Headed? does this, calling us to find our best in Jesus, and offering hope for a thoroughly authentic Adventism in the church that still embraces us all, however much frustration it may cause for us sometimes.
Richard D. Martin, youth pastor of Emmanuel-Brinklow Church, Ashton, Maryland, when he wrote this, now leads the congregation of New Life church in Hampton, Virginia. His book is a one-month devotional of 31 brief readings consisting of personal stories and biblically based spiritual applications, calculated to inspire readers again, or for the first time, with the wonder of divine grace.
Martin leads with the identification of salvation as first a medical term. Being saved first meant being set free from danger, restored to some place of safety and wholeness. Martin shows that a proper understanding of this fact allows one to better appreciate what is involved in God’s salvation.
Pursuing the theme of restoration, Martin invokes the word “algebra,” which once referred to surgical treatment of broken bones. His alertness to culture and his ability to help people connect the Word of God with the world of their daily living, show up in his live titles: “Mission Impossible”—echoing the name of a TV series from the 1960s and 1970s, whose Hollywood namesake releases its sixth chapter in 2018; “Despicable Me”—title of another movie series whose third installment was due to open June 2017; or “Pepto-Bismol,” the name of a medication available over the counter for acid reflux.
Martin concludes (Day 31) that every one of us has a story, unique to us individually, yet inescapably containing one truth pervading all: a testimony called “grace.”
For more about “salvation,” “algebra,” and “grace,” read, reread, and apply Martin’s brief essays and apropos applications whenever and as many times as you can, focusing particularly, no doubt, on God’s “Equation of Salvation.” That equation is God’s approach to solving the “problematic equation” of Day 4 (“Doing the Math”), which follows Day 3’s “Infamous Miscalculation.”
Martin has succeeded in providing a brief and intriguing book of godly thought on a subject, grace, that will be studied through eternity’s endless years. The book is also available at his Web site: RichDMartin.com.