In his book Life of the Beloved and Our Greatest Gift, Henri Nouwen shares the experience of befriending a young secular journalist named Fred from the New York Times who interviewed him. During the interview, Henri felt great sympathy for the young man, for it seemed that Fred was ready to surrender his dreams by going through the motions of his profession. “He looked like a prisoner locked behind the bars of a society forcing him to work at something he didn’t believe.” 1 As their friendship matured, the conversations transitioned to a deeper level and became “[a] little less concerned about success, career, fame, money, and time; questions of meaning and purpose came more into the center of our relationship.” 2

One day, Fred challenged Henri to speak to his friends—individuals who, like many who walk the streets of big cities, possess great spiritual hunger and thirst, and no longer go to churches or synagogues.3 His request was simple, yet simultaneously thoughtful and reflective, one that moved beyond the need for definable constructs of beliefs, emerging as a cry from the depths of the human heart. “Speak to us about the deepest yearning of our hearts, about our many wishes, about hope—not about the many strategies for survival, but about trust—not about new methods of satisfying our emotional needs, but about love … . Yes, speak to us about something or someone greater than ourselves. Speak to us about—God.” 4

It seems that Fred’s request called for an authentic voice that rises above the boundaries of logically defined information about God. The invite sprang from the desire to understand the mystery of God from a voice immersed in an authentic relationship of trust and love—one that connects people with God. Sensing an intense depth of an inner emotional struggle on Henri’s face, Fred added, “Speak from that place in your heart where you are most yourself. Speak directly, simply, lovingly, gently, and without any apologies. Tell us what you see and want us to see; tell us what you hear and want us to hear.” 5 Fred called for voice authenticity, one that speaks candidly from the depths of the struggles to know and understand God.

Reflecting on Henri’s encounter with this young professional, I wonder about the meaning of authenticity in the context of my faith tradition. Authenticity means being genuine, sincere, honest, and transparent with oneself and others; aligning thoughts, feelings, and actions with core values, beliefs, and identity without pretense or façade. It requires humility and vulnerability to confront the challenges of knowing God on an ongoing prospective journey of faith (1 Corinthians 13: 9-12). Such faith’s authenticity collaborates with the challenging nature of the social, cultural, and religious environment. Simultaneously, it remains anchored to the object of Christian adoration—Jesus (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Peterson describes the named process as a daily—and even several times a day—return to “Square One,” the transforming, empowering, and primary source of relational authenticity. “We return to the condition in which we acquired subject permanence … . We adore and listen.” 6 In that sense, the Christian faith’s authenticity finds its locum in a relational attachment to Jesus. It means knowing, understanding, and sharing the values flowing from the depths of God’s love (1 Corinthians 13:1-8).

Adventism and Authenticity

The challenges confronting the Seventh-day Adventist Church in today’s changing world tend to lock the progressive nature of faith, beliefs, and understanding of God’s revelation into a retrospective and defensive mode reinforced by the call to return to the pioneers’ doctrinal beliefs, i.e., a revival of authentic historic Adventism. In October 2022, a group of 30 Seventh-day Adventist scholars participated in a conference titled, “Being the Remnant: Adventist Identity in History and Theology.” As one of the organizers noted, “It’s essential we talk about what it is that makes us distinctly Seventh-day Adventist, and then that we share that with the world Church.” 7 I contend that it is even more essential to reflect on how to make the Adventist voice authentic and relevant in the contemporary, dramatically changing world.

Rather than turn to retrospective reflections to secure distinctiveness and correctness encrypted in doctrinal expressions of the past, it is essential to recapture the spirit of the dynamic, prospective nature of the movement’s spiritual journey that progressively augmented Adventist pioneers’ biblically secured faith. Space does not permit examining the slow, complex, and progressive development of Adventist doctrines, but current trends toward adopting the traditional, and often literal, approach to interpreting core Adventist doctrinal beliefs—such as Creation, the Sabbath, the Fall, Salvation, Eschatology, the State of the Dead, and the Second Coming—frame the dynamic nature of faith into cognitive, static, and informative constructs of a Christian worldview. Within this inert framework, various views so often have swayed attention toward irrelevant discussions and arguments about “hair length, beards, pantsuits, dress length, makeup, jewelry, and Sabbath observance.” 8

In recent years, one has observed the divisive tension relating to “women’s ordination,” fundamentalism’s impact, and—even more troubling—the warnings against the practice of spirituality. Instead, to remain relevant, the contemporary Adventist voice’s authenticity must embrace and transmit the dynamism of the relational heart-to-heart transmission of faith in God and its ensuing values (1 Peter 1:18-21)—the Adventist heritage story’s foundational hub.

The Authentic Voice’s Prospective Nature

Discussing the attributes of the Adventist movement’s journey between 1850 and 1863, Beem and Harwood draw attention to the Advent experience’s specific character. “The spiritual life of the Advent people was shaped by opening their lives to receive the truth God revealed through the leading of the Holy Spirit and then by experiencing the joys of fuller dwelling within God’s design. The spiritual understanding was deepened, and progress made when individuals practiced their faith and put it to the test.” 9

More importantly, “They [the pioneers] sought God in prayer and meditation, searching the Scripture for further word from God. The spiritual confusion, distress, and discouragement needed to be met with clear evidence of God’s imprimatur on the movement.” 10 This description highlights the dynamic nature of the relational quality of faith grounded in spiritual life, prayer, meditation, an open-minded approach to Bible study and the Holy Spirit’s influence. It generates spiritual growth in understanding the truth that surged from God’s revelation. Moreover, it empowers believers to practice faith and test God’s presence in the surrounding reality of life. Such faith engenders authentic voices empowered to share God from the heart-to-heart stance.

Ellen G. White’s voice continued to encourage the movement to focus on the Christian experience’s spiritual nature—a prospective journey of faith to a specific destination. In her understanding, such life “will breathe out fragrance and will reveal a divine power that will reach men’s hearts.” 11 As she argued, it’s no wonder that “Christ is the center of all true doctrine. All true religion is found in His word and in nature. He is the One in whom our hopes of eternal life are centered.” 12 In this context, to remain relevant to this messed-up world’s needs, the Church must raise its vision beyond the boundaries of its doctrinal distinctiveness and embrace and transmit the vitality of the relational heart-to-heart sharing of faith anchored in Jesus.

The prophetic voice of the past uplifts this visualization as an ongoing source of spiritual remedy. “In the time of confusion and trouble before us, a time of trouble as has not been since there was a nation, the uplifted Savior will be presented to the whole world in all lands that all who look to Him in faith may live.” 13  Voices around us seem to cry out, speak to us about something or someone greater than ourselves. Speak to us about God, but what does it mean practically?

Concluding Reflections

Amid today’s political, social, religious, and family dysfunctions, people are skeptical about structures built on failed promises. There seems to be a demand for values that enhance comfort, courage, and a sense of secure belonging, as well as foster authentic identity, purpose, and hope. The prevailing milieu provides an opportunity for the Church to shape the story of Creation, Salvation, and future hope in a new and refreshed way—not from the space of isolated doctrinal distinctiveness, but from life reflecting the values and qualities shared by Jesus. It calls for a voice that connects people with God, a space that offers genuine authenticity and transformational change.

John Skrzypaszek, DMin, a retired director of the Ellen White/Seventh-day Adventist Research Centre, is an adjunct senior lecturer at Avondale University College, Coranboong, NSW, Australia. Polish by birth, John takes a keen interest in heritage, spirituality, and identity studies. He is married to Brenda and has two sons Raphael and Luke. Email him at: [email protected]

1  Nouwen, H. (2002). Life of the Beloved and Our Greatest Gift. Hodder and Stoughton, London. p. 11.

Ibid., p. 15.

Ibid., p. 17.

Ibid., p. 18.

Ibid., p. 20.

6  Peterson, E.B. (1997). Subversive Spirituality. Eerdmans Publishing, p. 30.

7  Koch, I. “Conference at Andrews University Explores Adventist Identity.” Adventist Review, October 27, 2022.

8  Moncrieff, S. Spectrum, March 25, 2022.

Beem, B. and Hanks-Harwood, G. (2006) “My Soul is on the Wings for Glory.” Andrews University Studies. Volume 44, No 1, p. 166.

10  Ibid., 160.

11  White, E.G. (1940). The Desire of Ages. Pacific Press. p. 363.

12  White, E.G. (1913). Counsels to Parents, Teachers, and Students. Pacific Press. p. 453.

13  White, E.G. (1904). Testimonies for the Church. Pacific Press. Vol. 8, p. 50.