07 Mar


When first asked the question: “How do you define the Adventist Worldview?”, I completely misunderstood the question. It was sort of like a goldfish being asked: “How do you define the bowl in which you swim?” I missed the point. Lesson learned.

It helped to expand the question a bit with more detail. How do those of us who were raised within the Seventh-day Adventist Church approach life—and how may we influence culture by who we are—physically, through values, philosophy, attitudes, ethics, our understanding of the “end of time,” and whether life and the world makes sense?

How I understand the question now comes down to examining the specifically Seventh-day Adventist milieu in which we operate. When we understand this, we can translate it into language that our world at large can hear, and we can spread the message in a way that will be much less mysterious to the world at large.

With that clarification, my mind immediately turned to our understanding of the Great Controversy. The Great Controversy, in fact, is our uniquely-Adventist theodicy, which our church developed through the early Advent movement, and most importantly through Ellen G. White and her writings.

Our theodicy posits that God allowed sin to take root in our world so that the Universe at large is able to see the true danger that flows from complete rebellion against God’s plan for healthy and fruitful living. As I see it, this is the way in which we as Adventists make sense of the chaos and complexity of our world. This means, as I see it, the way we live our whole lives, seek God’s will, and interact with the larger world around us all flow from our understanding of the Great Controversy. We use our Adventist theodicy to shape how we live our lives both as Christians and as humans.

But what is a theodicy?

Throughout history, humans who are monotheists have grappled with the question: “why does a perfectly good, almighty, and all-knowing God permit evil?” The traditional term for this struggle is theodicy.1  The article from Encyclopedia Brittanica has a lot of very interesting information.

In traditional Western Christian thought, there are essentially two main schools of theodicy: Augustinian and Irenaean. My quick and severely simplified summary of the Brittanica article cited above is that Augustinian theodicy posits generally that evil is a direct result of the sin of Adam and Eve, and we live in a world rendered evil through that Fall and must negotiate this set of obstacles to get us back to God. By contrast, Irenaean theodicy posits that God has placed us in this complex world in part so that we can grow into the creatures God always intended us to be, and the evils we confront are challenges that assist us in growing closer to God. (The Britannica article cited in Footnote 1 presents a more detailed version of the overall history of theodicy in Christianity.)

Our Great Controversy theodicy leads us to see spiritual, mental, and physical health as all being a part of God’s holistic plan for us as His creations. This holistic theodicy influences virtually all of the ways our Seventh-day Adventist Christianity influences the rest of the world. The rest of this article meditates on two specific examples of how the Great Controversy worldview shapes how we interact with ourselves and with the larger world.

First, I meditate on how our holistic understanding of the Great Controversy has subsequently developed into a distinctly Adventist way to synthesize spiritual and physical health—the synthesis that we as Adventists call the “Health Message.” In my general interactions with those outside the Seventh-day Adventist Church, our commitment to holistic, healthy living is one of the primary ways the larger world understands us as Seventh-day Adventists.

One concrete example (as we have developed it within our Great Controversy theodicy) of how the holistic synthesis of spiritual and physical health has affected our larger world is a small mountain named “Mount Sanitas” near Boulder, Colorado. Today, many Boulderites think this was a Spanish name. In reality, however, it was named by English speaking individuals, and it referred specifically to the Boulder Sanitarium founded in 1879 at the mountain’s base. The Sanitarium opened a couple years after the University of Colorado also opened in Boulder. The Sanitarium opened in Boulder because Mrs. White and John Harvey Kellogg agreed that holistic Great Controversy theodicy called for health institutions like the Sanitarium.

In many ways, the Boulder Sanitarium was one of the first institutions which helped shape the character of Boulder as a fitness and health obsessed location. What started with the Sanitarium has continued up to the present day, even if the present proponents of fitness in Boulder don’t always know where the stream of health awareness started. In summary, our Great Controversy worldview and its holistic view of spiritual, mental, and physical health was one of the influences that shaped Boulder’s historic and continuing reputation for integrating physical and spiritual health.

Second, I turn to how our holistic Great Controversy theodicy helped re-awaken in me individually the importance of the Sabbath as a sign of living in harmony with God’s principles of spiritual, mental, and physical health. When I was younger, I used to view the Fourth Commandment as something of a buzzkill.

Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. For six days you shall labour and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son, or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore, the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it (Exodus 20:8-11).2

In the Seventh-day Adventist Great Controversy theodicy, the view defying this commandment a quintessential mark of rebellion against God in our world. As a teenager, part of me resented having to show my loyalty by worshiping on Sabbath. I didn’t necessarily see the point.

When I went to law school, however, I began to see the real blessings inherent in both the Great Controversy worldview and Sabbath keeping. When in law school, I intentionally followed the Fourth Commandment, I found that rest on the Sabbath not only kept me in harmony with God’s will, but also refreshed and renewed me for my following week. It wasn’t simply following a commandment—it was also blessing me with the time needed to renew and refresh my mind and heart for a new week. It wasn’t just a negative to be done to avoid wrath; rather it was a net positive to help me grow in mind and body, and in favor with God and humans. The Sabbath enhanced my own holistic health.

In summary, keeping the Sabbath actually made me a better and more rounded human being, and this gave me new appreciation for following our Seventh-day Adventist Great Controversy worldview. From my own experience, therefore, the holistic theodicy found in the Great Controversy worldview reinforces the idea of what true holistic health entails.

In summary, both of these examples are (in a sense) ruthlessly practical examples about how the Seventh-day Adventist Christian Great Controversy theodicy allows all of us to have an impact on our society. Because the idea of the Great Controversy helps inform the way we live and interact with our neighbors, we can show a better way of living as daughters and sons of God. We can exhibit a synthesis of spiritual, mental, and physical health in a way so that people outside the Seventh-day Adventist bubble are able to see practical examples of Christians living holistic health lives.

Leading lives where, in God’s power, we are creating a holistic synthesis of spiritual, mental, and physical health, gives us an incredibly powerful tool that we can share with our hurried unbalanced world. We are translating our Great Controversy theodicy worldview into something that attracts others to join us in holistic living in harmony with God’s plan.

Shawn P. Nowlan, Esq., is an attorney currently working for the federal government in Denver, Colorado. He is a member of the Boulder Adventist Church. Email him at: [email protected]


Sherry, Patrick. (Accessed 6 February 2024.). “Theodicy”. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/topic/theodicy-theology

2  New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

26 Jul


On October 22, 1844, a young girl, who was 16 years old and less than a month from her 17th birthday sat waiting, fully expecting to celebrate her 17th Birthday in the New Jerusalem. Her name was Ellen Gould Harmon. That same night, a young man who had very recently turned 23 also sat waiting. His name was James Springer White.

By sunrise on October 23, 1844, both Ellen and James had suffered the world-shattering Great Disappointment—the event that shaped the remainder of their lives. In December 1844, Ellen Harmon (who by now had turned 17) had her first vision—less than two months after the Great Disappointment. The basic essence of that vision was confirmation that October 22, 1844, had indeed been cosmically important.1

When they were later married, by a Justice of the Peace, on August 30, 1846, Ellen was 18 and James was 25. When James founded The Present Truth in 1849, James was about 26 and Ellen was about 19. When the publication became the Second Advent Review and Sabbath Herald in 1850, James was now 27 and Ellen was 20. When the Seventh-day Adventist General Conference was finally organized in 1863, James was about 40, and Ellen was about 33.

Why begin this article with the Whites’ ages when the seminal events shaping their subsequent lives unfolded?

Partially, this is because when we see later photographs of the two, we sometimes imagine them developing the Seventh-day Adventist vision of Christianity as sober and mature adults. By no means is this true; they were teenagers and twenty-somethings when the Advent Movement was coalescing into what became the Seventh-day Adventism Church.

I see a journey (God-inspired, we trust) by two very earnest very young adults who part of a core group struggling to make sense of what happened in 1844 as what ultimately led to the transfiguration of a movement in the stream of historic free-church Anabaptist Christianity2 into our own Seventh-day Adventist Christian community.

Because much of our doctrine and tradition is shared with the larger historic free-church Anabaptist stream of Christianity, I want to focus on three particular innovations in doctrine and belief that arose in the Adventist movement through the study of James White and the study and visions of Ellen G. White.3

As I see it, these three doctrinal innovations are the essence of what distinguishes the authentic voice of our Seventh-day Adventist movement from the larger stream of free-church Anabaptist Christianity. If you want a fuller discussion of these three points, I used the—and recommend using—the book A Brief History of Seventh-day Adventists by George R. Knight,4 as well as my own first grade through college education and immersion in Seventh-day Adventist parochial education—to write this short article. Let’s focus on what the Seventh-day Adventist Church has created in Christianity that is unique to its own vision of what it means to follow Jesus.

1. Trying to understand what happened in 1844 led to a tangible renewal of the first-century CE (i.e. AD) sense that the Second Coming was imminent and some people currently-alive would see it.

On the Morning of October 23, 1844, followers of William Miller had to make a choice. Would they view the Millerite understanding of end-time events in Danial and Revelation as a flawed misreading of the Biblical Text or not? For the vast Majority of Millerites, the choice was to rather shame-facedly decide they had been mistaken and either return to the churches from which they had departed or lose their faith entirely. It speaks to the tenacity of the young Advent movement coalescing, eventually, around James and Ellen White, that some decided instead to re-evaluate what their expectations had been—particularly as they had interpreted the word “Sanctuary” that was to be cleansed. And that re-evaluation led to a vibrant new understanding of Christ’s soon coming.

Those early Adventists began to sound much like the people to whom the Apostle Paul wrote his Epistles. I am thinking particularly of the famous passage in 1 Corinthians 15 where the Apostle so poetically describes the resurrection at the Second Coming. This excitement has led to wonderful things for Adventism. When I was in college, there was still some hesitation about creating endowments for our colleges and universities, for fear we were saving money that should be used to spread the good news of Jesus’s soon Coming. That excitement was enough to sustain Seventh-day Adventism for approaching two centuries.

As we are approaching the bicentennial of the Great Disappointment, the question for us today is how we continue to maintain that longing and expectation of the Second Coming as the time lengthens. This same struggle also occupied the larger Christian Church in the second and third centuries AD (CE).

My question for the Seventh-day Adventist Church today is: “How does our authentic Adventism help us approach this issue for our current generation? And how will it be different from what happened in the second and third centuries AD (CE)?”

2. The struggle to reconcile God’s love with eternal damnation led to the uniquely-Adventist Doctrines of Soul-Sleep and Conditional Immortality

To discuss this, I want to compare the usual verse I was taught as a proof text in school with its particular context and compare it to another couple texts. To begin, we compare Ecclesiastes 9:5 with Revelation 6:9-11 and Luke 16:14-31.

For the vast majority of Christian recorded history, Christians read the stories in Revelation and Luke as showing a literal version of what happens after we die and read the verse from Ecclesiastes as a rhetorical point about it being better to be alive than to be dead.

James and Ellen G. White and the early Adventists studied and thought and came to a consensus that (in reality), the Bible and the Character of God as a whole were not consistent with God creating independently-eternal souls, whose suffering God would have no power to relieve, if the souls rejected Him. They came to a consensus that in fact, death was followed by soul unconsciousness and that only at the second coming and the Resurrection would humans be subject to Judgement. And moreover, that after the Final Judgement, only the Saved would live eternally.

Returning to returning to our three versus, the Adventists determined that, of the three, only the one in Ecclesiastes should be read literally—and that both Jesus’s parable and the “crying out from under the altar” were both meant to be read metaphorically. In doing this, the early Adventists resolved for the Seventh-day Adventist Church an ambiguity about God’s character that had plagued Christianity for nearly 1800 years.

3. The deep desire to live a truly wholistic Christian life as communicated by Ellen G. White led to the Adventist Health Message (with the help of John Harvey Kellogg)5

Of all the aspects of being raised within the Seventh-day Adventist tradition, the Health Message is the part that (over my lifetime) has gone from being particularly “weird” in the eyes of American society in general to being seen as close to progressive and positively prophetic. Kellogg is now viewed as a far-sited pioneer remembered for creating such American institutions as breakfast cereal—and Hollywood has remembered him (for better or worse) in movies like the “Road to Wellville.” Today, the new plethora of meat substitutes, as well as vegetarian and vegan options for eating, have appeared everywhere—in both American supermarkets and restaurants.

When my family used to travel across the U.S. from Colorado to Maine each summer, the only thing we kids could find on the typical “diner” menu for us to eat tended to be salads and “grilled cheese” sandwiches (best not ask about all the fat on the grill in which the sandwich was cooked alongside hamburgers and hot dogs). The only place one could find meat substitutes was at what we used to call the Adventist Book and Bible House.

Yet Ellen G. White and John Harvey Kellogg’s choice to build a Sanitarium in Boulder, Colorado, is the reason I was raised where I was. And throughout my life, my entire family has been shaped by Adventism’s great over-representation in American health care. This is a legacy I took for granted as a child, and now I celebrate.

One of my favorite hymns—written by George Herbert—is “King of Glory, King of Peace.” In reflecting on the Health Message, and on that unique witness Seventh-day Adventism offers to the rest of Christianity, I will end with Herbert’s amazing words. The health message and Ellen G. White’s particular passion for this message has helped us fulfill Herbert’s words in this world:

King of glory, King of peace,
I will love Thee;
and that love may never cease,
I will move Thee.
Thou hast granted my request,
Thou hast heard me;
Thou didst note my working breast,
Thou hast spared me.

Wherefore with my utmost art
I will sing Thee,
and the cream of all my heart
I will bring Thee.
Though my sins against me cried,
Thou didst clear me;
and alone, when they replied,
Thou didst hear me.

Sev’n whole days, not one in sev’n,
I will praise Thee;
in my heart, though not in heav’n,
I can raise Thee.
Small it is, in this poor sort
to enroll Thee:
e’en eternity’s too short
to extol Thee.

In conclusion, I think we can celebrate Seventh-day Adventism’s unique gifts to Christianity and the world particularly in these three particular theological concepts. Indeed, Christianity as a whole would be poorer without Adventist presence in our world.

Shawn P. Nowlan is an attorney currently working for the federal government in Denver. He is a member of the Boulder Adventist Church. Email him at: [email protected]

1  Knight, G. P. (1999). A brief history of Seventh-Day Adventists. Kindle version at: https://a.co/1rQvdeX

2  The term “free-church Anabaptist Christian tradition” is my own shorthand for the long-standing stream—beginning at the Reformation—of Protestant churches that dissented from the state-established Protestant traditions such as Lutheranism, Presbyterianism, and Anglicanism. For “Free Churches,” in a brief summary of the type of activity they embraced, Diarmuid MacCulloch used the descriptive phrase “improving activism … including Sunday Schools, lectures, social activities, even hymn books. In his index, he also includes groups in England such as Baptists, Congregationalists, Dissenters, and Methodists. Id. At 1138.

MacCulloch, D. (2009). Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years. Viking Penguin, p.861.

The term “Anabaptist” is the historic term for all Christians who believe baptism is not to be applied to be infants, but to be the free choice of individuals who have reached an age where they are competent to make the decision for themselves. “Anabaptist” means “re-baptized” since the first Reformation-era individuals who advocated for this belief has all been baptized as infants themselves.

There have been millions of Christians since the Reformation who were free church anabaptists, but who were (and are) not Seventh-day Adventists. For purposes of this article, I have been attempting to focus on what is uniquely doctrine of the Seventh-day Adventist movement and church itself. That is, why did the early Adventists feel the need to create a separate Christian denomination in 1863?

3  “The primary method used by the pioneers in their doctrinal formation was to study the Bible until a general consensus developed. At that point Ellen White would sometimes receive a vision on a topic already studied, primarily to reaffirm the consensus and to help those who were still out of harmony with the majority to accept the correctness of the group’s biblically derived conclusions. Thus, we can best view Mrs. White’s role in doctrinal development as confirmation rather than initiation.” . . .  Knight, G. P. (1999). A brief history of Seventh-Day Adventists. Kindle version at: https://a.co/1rQvdeX

4  Knight, G. P. (1999). A brief history of Seventh-Day Adventists. Kindle version at: https://a.co/1rQvdeX

5  The striking emphasis on health and vegetarianism is a feature of the Seventh-day Adventist message so unique that it is specifically mentioned in Diarmaid MaccColloch’s magisterial and bestselling general history of Christianity: MacCulloch, D. (2009). Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years. Viking Penguin, p.861.

24 Apr


On Monday, January 2, 2023, The Guardian Online published an Op/Ed piece entitled “Is America suffering a ‘social recession’?” by Anton Cebalo.1

He examined how recent polling and studies have shown declines in all social relationships, a rise in mental health issues, and that we are witnessing the first declines in U.S. life expectancy since 1915-18. Conversations I have had with friends also make me see that many people are experiencing exhaustion, alienation, and loneliness. To me, this now seems to be an endemic societal problem in 2023.

This story from The Guardian and my experience of friends and colleagues expressing their own difficulties leads me to believe our current world finds itself deeply troubled as we humans forget to pay attention to time, and our need for rest, renewal, and thankfulness.

In our Seventh-day Adventist heritage, we have the Sabbath. And it can be a powerful antidote to this sense of exhaustion and alienation.

I think, however, that in part, the Sabbath’s value in counteracting what ails our society depends on how we embrace the Sabbath and its message. I have found that when I properly value and embrace the Sabbath’s vision of remembering time, intentionally resting, and cultivating gratitude, the Sabbath helps me create the sort of balanced life that can be an answer to the exhaustion and alienation described in the Guardian’s story.

I invite you to meditate briefly on each of these three glimpses of Sabbath blessing.

Let’s start with the question of remembering time.

Swedish author Bodil Jönsson describes a developmentally disabled man she met.2

His mind had a very difficult time with abstract ideas, and, until he was 50, she inferred that he seemed to have lived in an eternally present and undifferentiated “now” with no future or past. Couldn’t really learn or interact with anyone. Then he received a digital assistant with small digital photographs that he could understand. He spent hours starring at them intensely and, suddenly, his world expanded. His vocabulary exploded, and his inaction with others suddenly expanded. For the first time, he had found a way to grasp time and its passage—and his mind suddenly stretched to include past, present, and future. The awareness of time and its passage revolutionized his life.

The first chapter of Genesis reflects our God-implanted need to understand and mark the passage of time. Genesis 1 unfolds as a stately, measured progression of time, carefully marked, and observed: And there was evening and there was morning, the first day (Genesis 1:5, NRSV). This stately progression culminates in God establishing the Sabbath. Indeed, we read in Genesis 2:2, And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done (NRSV).

Imagine a scene with me. It is the fall of 1991, and the sun is sinking in Lincoln, Nebraska. I am laying aside Prosser and Keeton on Torts, 5th Edition and leaving the University of Nebraska Law Library. I see classmates huddled in the glass study rooms—lots of shoulders tense from studying for our fast-approaching final. Some look up, puzzled. What am I doing leaving so close to the final?

It is Friday night, and I am off to Vespers at Union College. Friday night called me to pay attention to the sun sinking below the horizon. Suddenly, after a week in peril of sinking into an ageless morass of continual studying and reviewing, God rescued me by asking me to remember time. This is how Sabbath restored rest to a nervous, first-year law student.

Next, consider how Sabbath rescues us from multitasking. The prophet Amos has a spectacular ancient example of multitasking: In Amos 8:4-8, the wealthy are grumbling because they want the Sabbath to be over so they can get back to commerce. Amos asserts God does not approve of them spending their time during the Sabbath planning what they will do once the sun is down (which essentially boils down to dreaming up new ways to cheat the poor).

In Sabbath as Resistance3 by Walter Brueggemann provides what I regard as my favorite story in a chapter called “Resistance to Multitasking.” Every week, as Walter was growing up in rural Saline County, Missouri, the town’s grocer would ceremoniously get up and leave church while the pastor was still preaching, heedless of the disruption he and his wife caused as they walked down the long aisle and out of the church while the pastor was still speaking.

Why did they do this? Simple. The grocer didn’t want to miss out on the post-church commerce from the other church in town, which ended their worship one half hour before his own church ended worship. The grocer would rather miss the end of the sermon and disrupt his own church service than potentially miss out on the Missouri Synod Lutherans’ grocery business. His mind was clearly more on commerce than worshiping Jesus.

Brueggemann points out that the same issue Amos protested was still happening in his own childhood church. Even if no cheating was occurring, commerce was still replacing God. Priorities were skewed, and it was affecting the quality of their rest and worship.

For me, growing up, sometimes it seemed as if the more galling part of Sabbath was the general things I couldn’t do rather than the Sabbath-specific things I could do. Yet, now, and in retrospect, the things I truly celebrate and remember with fondness are those things that were unique to the Sabbath when we were treating it as Sabbath. Not only worship, but things like being with our dad enjoying nature (which in my family, we often called “God’s Second Book”) or driving to see the aspen turning gold in the fall, while spending time with our grandmother.

When our focus was on God, and on Sabbath-specific ways of experiencing God’s blessings, I had a much more memorable Sabbath rest than when I was chafing about whether or not I could go to the mall. God was rescuing me from multitasking and helping me avoid missing the point of the Sabbath.

I found a similar celebration of avoiding multitasking and focusing on the Sabbath-specific joys in Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s 1951 book, where he calls the Sabbath A Palace in Time.4 It is a palace because we leave behind the many work-a-day mundane distractions of the other six days, and instead, spend our time focusing specifically on what the Sabbath brings us. We avoid multitasking.

In thinking about how the Sabbath has brought me both closer to God and to my family, the final point is remembering how my parents used the coming of Sabbath to model joy and gratitude to their children. As I see it, it was in that joy and gratitude that we began to see the full value of the Sabbath.

Return with me to the early 1980s in Boulder, Colorado. Join me in imagining that it is Friday night at the Nowlan residence.

The sun has slipped behind the Flatirons. The TV has been turned off. More importantly, I can smell my mom’s special Friday night soup, and there are candles burning on the family table. My dad asks each of us, “What are you thankful for this week?”  We spend time enjoying the soup, listening to each other, and decompressing from a week of school and work. The candlelight shines in the windows around us. We pray. We look with deliberate gratitude at the week just past and turn with intentionality into the Sabbath time of rest.

When I think of the Sabbath in these terms—reminding me of how God’s time is unfolding, reminding me that we are leaving behind the week’s multitasking, and reminding me of God’s blessings over the past week—then Sabbath becomes something rich and meaningful. And this meaningful gift is something we can share with the anxious, alienated world. I wonder, could this be a partial answer to the issue on which the Guardian was reporting in January?

Shawn P. Nowlan is an attorney currently working for the federal government in Denver. He is a member of the Boulder Adventist Church. Email him at: [email protected]

Cebalo, A. (Accessed Feb. 17, 2023). “Is America Suffering a ‘Social Recession’?” The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2023/jan/02/america-social-recession-less-friends-sex-mental-health

Jönsson, B. (2001). Unwinding the Clock. Harcourt, Inc. p. 54-56.

Brueggemann, W. (2017). Sabbath as Resistance: New Edition with Study Guide. John Knox Press.

Heschel, A.J. (1951). The Sabbath. Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

21 Oct


When asked to imagine the Adventist Church in 2022, my mind mysteriously jumped to 1976.

In 1976, when I was 7, the United States celebrated the bicentennial of the Declaration of Independence. I remember a great celebration, where almost everything was red, white and blue for almost the whole year (including Colorado’s license plates).

As one raised Seventh-day Adventist and who attended Seventh-day Adventist parochial schools, I remember hearing the history of the church’s formation. So, it struck me forcefully that October 22, 2022, marks the 178th anniversary of the Great Disappointment.[1]

I did a bit more math as well. In 2022, we are celebrating William Miller’s 240th birthday.[2] We are celebrating Joseph Bates’ 230th birthday.[3] We are celebrating James White’s 201st birthday.[4] And we are celebrating Ellen G. White’s 195th birthday.[5]

In other words, our pioneers (and William Miller) all have attained (or are approaching) their own bicentennials, and the bicentennial of the Great Disappointment itself creeps inexorably towards us. We have been living in the “in-between time” after the Great Disappointment and before the Second Coming for approaching two centuries.

Our pioneers are now much like the heroes listed in Hebrews: “Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better so that they would not, without us, be made perfect.”  (Hebrews 11:39-40, NRSV).

This isn’t the first time the church has dealt with this tension.

The early church also experienced it at the time the Gospels originated. In that moment, when most scholars agree that most of the Epistles had already been written, the early church reached a point where it knew that it needed to preserve the story of Jesus. The church saw that those who were eyewitnesses to His ministry, death and resurrection were dying. And He had not yet returned

That moment is why we have the Gospels. They were written to preserve the story of Jesus in the “in-between time.” Today, then, what do I value about Adventism’s similar “in-between time?” This article lists three of the things I value about our Adventist church as we move forward. These are things I continue to value, even if I myself don’t live to see the Second Coming.

Joy in the Sabbath – Treasuring our day of rest and gladness.

I admit that when I was younger, sometimes my attitude toward the Sabbath was a bit like those Israelites described in Amos 8, who couldn’t wait for the Sabbath to end, so that they could get back to their own business.

Then I went to graduate school at a state university. For the first time in my life, I wasn’t in an Adventist parochial school bubble. What a difference.

There, I learned the absolute freedom that the Sabbath brings to us. As I set aside the books on Friday night and spent the rest of the next 24 hours in worship, contemplation of nature, and fellowship with friends and family, I could feel my body and mind regaining a balance. More importantly, I could sense my connection with God being refreshed. Through this, I found myself being able to say that the Sabbath truly is a delight (Isaiah 58:13).

As we go forward in the “in-between time,” I find myself being able to sing with my whole heart (in words from an old hymn):

A day of sweet reflection
Thou art, a day of love,
A day to raise affection
From earth to things above.
New graces ever gaining
From this our day of rest . . .

Living the Christian Life as Holistic – not just a once-a-week Thing

In the words of George Herbert’s hymn:

Sev’n whole days, not one in sev’n,
I will praise Thee;
in my heart, though not in heav’n,
I can raise Thee . . .

Many Christian denominations agree that we should live the Christian life wholistically.

Yet as I see it, the Adventist Church’s role as a pioneer on what we often call the “health message” has been a particularly important and meaningful application of living the Christian life wholistically. It is true that the rest of the world (including science) has discovered the scientific reality behind much of what the Adventist church has been preaching since the late 19th century on many health issues, such as vegetarianism and the importance of fruits and vegetables to a balanced diet. Yet the Adventist Church continues to preach that this scientific reality is also a matter of living one’s spirituality wholistically.

This emphasis on living a unified wholistic Christian life not only in worship but throughout the week–and most importantly as an aspect of the “health message”–is a part of Adventism I treasure each day as I continue to live in the “in-between time.”

Humility as a Treasure

The Great Disappointment itself was a truly a deep lesson to the Millerites, which helped shaped how the Adventist church developed as a new denomination within the Christian community. The fact that Ellen White was a woman was also an unexpected development of the Spirit. In these two foundational elements of the Adventist tradition, I see God teaching his church humility. Yet this humility at the founding of Adventism is another renewal of lessons long a part of Christianity.

The first and most surprising moment is the very essence of Christianity itself: the crucified and resurrected Redeemer himself. In the words of Paul: “For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles . . .”  1 Corinthians 1:22-23 (NRSV).

The second moment comes from the story of Peter and Cornelius in Joppa: “While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, ‘Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?’” Acts 10: 44-47 (NRSV).

The early church learned humility and surprise by the fact that the Messiah suffered, died, and was resurrected, and because Gentiles received the Holy Spirit like Jews.  The Adventist movement learned humility and surprise (among other things) through surviving the Great Disappointment and finding the Holy Spirit poured out on a rather frail young woman.

I don’t think any Adventist can deny being surprised by how long the “in-between time” has lasted. Yet the surprises that God gave both the early church and the early Adventist movement lead me to value these lessons of humility and surprise as we continue forward in the “in-between time.” And I trust that God has more similar wonderful surprises in store for his church.

Shawn P. Nowlan is an attorney currently working for the federal government in Denver. He is a member of the Boulder Adventist Church. Email him at: [email protected]

[1]Conceding that the General Conference itself wasn’t established until 1863, it still remains true that the movement is about 200 years old, all things considered.
[2] Miller was born February 15, 1782.
[3] Bates was born July 8, 1792.

[4] James White was born August 4, 1821.
[5]Ellen White was born November 26, 1827.

10 Jan


By Shawn Nowlan — The Seventh-day Adventist Church traces its particular origins to the 1830s when a certain prosperous Baptist lay preacher and farmer in Upstate New York, William Miller, began studying the question of when the world might come to an end—focusing particularly on the book of Daniel.

William Miller would have remained relatively obscure, except that over time—beginning in the 1830s—a group of like-minded Christian individuals became convinced of what he found in his study. They felt that the world needed to hear these conclusions. On February 28, 1840, an experienced pastor and publisher established the Signs of the Times to bring this community into focus and to share with the world that community’s conviction of what was about to occur. Millerism was born, and it took on a life of its own (independent even of William Miller himself).

We are examining how we discern the working of the Holy Spirit—and in the story of the Millerites’ origins, I see something absolutely necessary to the work of the Holy Spirit. That something is a like-minded and open community of believers, in which the Holy Spirit can work and inspire us, humans, to discern what we, in a Seventh-day Adventist worldview, call “Progressive Revelation.”

This focus on community is shot through the entire New Testament. I begin in the Book of Acts, where we read about an earlier open community where this same fertile ground gave the Holy Spirit room to work:

Paul and Silas in Beroea: That very night the believers sent Paul and Silas off to Beroea; and when they arrived, they went to the Jewish synagogue. These Jews were more receptive than those in Thessalonica, for they welcomed the message very eagerly and examined the scriptures every day to see whether these things were so. Many of them, therefore, believed, including not a few Greek women and men of high standing. (Acts 17:10-12 NRSV).

We, as Seventh-day Adventists, often focus on the Bereans’ searching of Scripture. By contrast, I want to focus our notice on the characteristics of the Berean community; they were open and receptive to the Holy Spirit as a community. As the early Millerite community was open and receptive, so were the Bereans.

I started with the Bereans to point out their community, yet once we see their community, then we can also notice that community is even more archetypically present in the Acts of the Apostles’ account of Pentecost—the birthday of the Church itself: When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven, there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. (Acts 2:1-2 NRSV).

It’s easy with all the following spectacular events (i.e. the Holy Spirit descending and the fire, and the spectacular speaking in tongues) to overlook what gave the day its power, to begin with. The believers were already all physically together in one place. They had already formed the community on which the Holy Spirit then descended.

I am choosing these very famous examples from the Book of Acts because they illustrate vividly that the church has always been a community. If you read the greetings in each of Paul’s Epistles, he is almost invariably addressing an already-formed community of believers (even when Paul is specifically addressing individuals, i.e. Titus, Philemon, and Timothy, he sees them as the leaders of a community).

Whether Paul is addressing an individual or a community, he invariably discusses the community’s common life together, bound by the Holy Spirit and in Christ. To Paul, the church is fully present only in community. His attitude is perfectly captured in the Book of Hebrews:

Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:23-25 NRSV).

Paul’s attitude toward community reflects that of Jesus Christ Himself. When He was praying for his future disciples, He also characterizes them as a community: I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (John 17:20-21 NRSV).

The New Testament is so shot through with the idea that Christians should live together in community under Christ and the Holy Spirit, that the idea almost disappears under the individual details of each book. Yet from Christ to Paul to Luke, the importance of the community of the believers is everywhere in the New Testament.

I write this because I think that we, as Seventh-day Adventists, need to recover that sense of the importance of the community of believers as we work to discern what is “true” among the competing narratives that demand our attention and allegiances.

Jesus gave us our community to help us work with the Holy Spirit to discern truth. And in every case from the New Testament, it was the community acting as a whole community that channeled the Holy Spirit in that discernment process. This was also true among our own pioneers and those of the Millerites as well. Christianity works best in community. We are all connected. Christ is the vine and we are the branch- es living together. It takes all of us living together, working to discern what the Holy Spirit has to teach the church at this time in history

–Shawn P. Nowlan is a lifelong member of the Boulder Adventist Church—who sometimes reminds people he was born at Boulder Memorial Hospital in the shadow of Mt. Sanitas. Email him at: [email protected]