For me, it was showing up at the neighborhood Bible study. Ostensibly, it was so that I could trade baseball cards and play street hockey with my friends whose parents were inside. I went inside on a rainy day, and the leader of the Bible study group, who happened to be Adventist, was sharing about God’s love and the plan of redemption. I went home that night and invited Jesus into my heart. Although I was only eight years old at the time, for me it was my first introduction both to Christ and Adventism. This, from my perspective, represents Adventism at its very first falling in love with Jesus and thereby desiring to see Him come soon. This Advent hope that awakened in my heart has deep roots in Adventist history.

James White wrote the book, Bible Adventism, in 1878 as a way to introduce and explain Adventism to others. He noted that “much prejudice” exists, but much of it is due to misinformation. Yet even just our name, “Seventh-day Adventist,” he wrote, “is expressive of two prominent features of our faith and hope.” As a people, we are a people who love to spend time with Jesus. Every Sabbath is about connecting in a relational way with our God. And for those who love Jesus so much, we cannot wait to see Him return. “The certainty of the second advent of Christ, and the manner and object of his coming, are points of thrilling interest to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1

Even William Miller understood this concept. He initially resisted religion as a young person, but, as he later revealed, it was because of a wrong view about who God is. When his picture of God began to change, through the reading of Scripture, everything else changed for him, too. He had gone through a series of hard knocks in life—going off to war, losing loved ones, and coming to essentially an existential crisis. And it was one day, while he was reading the sermon at church (since they didn’t have a pastor and he would complain about others) that he broke down. The sermon was by Alexander Proudfit titled “The Importance of Parental Duties.” For the first time he began to see God as a loving father in heaven:

Suddenly the character of a Saviour was vividly impressed upon my mind. It seemed that there might be a Being so good and compassionate as to himself atone for our transgressions, and, thereby, save us from suffering the penalty of sin. I immediately felt how lovely such a Being must be; and imagined that I could cast myself into the arms of, and trust in the mercy of, such a One.2

As he continued to study the Bible, “I found everything revealed that my heart could desire, and a remedy for every disease of the soul. I lost all taste for other reading, and applied my heart to get wisdom from God.” 3 This scriptural quest led to his conversion. “I saw Jesus as a friend, and my only help, and the Word of God as the perfect rule of duty.” 4 And in response to his earlier Deist friends who taunted him, he asked them only for more time so that he could continue his biblical quest. He concluded:

Give me Jesus, and a knowledge of His Word, faith in His name, hope in His grace, interest in His love, and let me be clothed in His righteousness, and the world may enjoy all the high-sounding titles, the riches it can boast, the vanities it is heir to, and all the pleasures of sin; and they will be no more than a drop in the ocean. Yes, let me have Jesus Christ, and then vanish all earthly toys. What glory has God revealed in the face of Jesus Christ! In Him all power centers. In Him all power dwells. He is the evidence of all truth, the fountain of all mercy, the giver of all grace, the object of all adoration, and the source of all light; and I hope to enjoy Him to all eternity.5

This is not to say that Adventism hasn’t struggled with this quest either. By the 1880s, Ellen G. White noted that the church had drifted into legalism. “Many had lost sight of Jesus,” she admonished. And the source of light came in the most unexpected way—two missionary pastors and editors working in California. And as various individuals at the infamous 1888 General Conference session got caught up majoring in the minors, so to speak (especially over the identity of the horns in Daniel 7 and the law in Galatians), Ellen G. White recognized there was something far more significant. These young men were preaching Jesus and emphasizing righteousness in Christ in a way that was spiritually refreshing. She stated that this 1888 message was given “in clear and distinct lines” so that “the world should no longer say that Seventh-day Adventists talk the law, but do not teach or believe Christ.” 6

Shortly afterward, Ellen G. White shared how Adventists indeed had promoted “the commandments of God, … but the faith of Jesus had not been proclaimed … as of equal importance.” The faith of Jesus was “talked of,” yet it was “not understood.” What constituted the faith of Jesus? She replied: “Jesus becoming our sin-bearer that He might become our sin-pardoning Saviour. He was treated as we deserve to be treated. He came to our world and took our sins that we might take His righteousness. Faith in the ability of Christ to save us amply and fully and entirely is the faith of Jesus.” 7 She later reflected on this 1888 meeting: “My burden during the meeting was to present Jesus and His love before my brethren, for I saw marked evidences that many had not the spirit of Christ.” 8

The most authentic form of Adventism—in its truest and best sense—is when Jesus is at the very heart and center of all things Adventist. Adventism quickly falls apart when Jesus isn’t at the center of it. And, while there are many good things that we do and believe, from figuring out the prophetic dates to health reform, none of these really matter if Jesus is not at the very heart and center of our Adventist experience and identity. Adventism is truly at its very best, as both James White and William Miller discovered, and as the church needed to be reminded again in 1888, by falling ever more deeply in love with Jesus. And, when we do, we will be eager and fervently looking forward to that day and doing everything in our power to hasten so that as many others as possible can know Jesus and be ready, too.

Michael Campbell, PhD, is director of archives, statistics, and research for the North American Division of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. He has spent over a decade teaching in higher education in schools in Texas and the Philippines. Previously he pastored in Kansas and in the Rocky Mountain Conference. He is married to Heidi, a PhD candidate at Baylor University, and they have two teenage children, Emma, and David.

White, J. (1878). Bible Adventism; or, Sermons on the Coming and Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ. Seventh-day Adventist Publishing Association, 7 42.

2  Miller, W. (1845).  William Miller’s Apology and Defense, August 1. Boston: J. V. Himes, p. 5.

3  Miller, W. (1842). Miller’s Works: Views of the Prophecies and Prophetic Chronology. Boston: Joshua V. Himes. Vol. 1, 11.

4  Ibid.

5  Bliss, S. (1853). Memoirs of William Miller. Boston: Joshua V. Himes. III.

6  White, E.G. (1962). Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers. Pacific Press. 92.

7  White, E.G. (1993). Manuscript Releases. Ellen G. White Estate. Manuscript 24, 1888, 12:193.

8  Ibid.