Thursday, July 02, 2009

Book review: The Promise of Peace

by Nathan Brown

According to Charles Scriven, the journey of “becoming Adventist” is and must be a continuing reality for both the church and each of its members. “As understanding and commitment advance, the practice of hope advances too,” he urges in The Promise of Peace. In his overview, that process and practice should always be advancing and growing as we live corporately and individually “between our dreams and disappointments.”

The Promise of Peace traces this journey of “becoming” across the spiritual and organisational history of what has become the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Beginning with a burning hope and stinging disappointment, Adventism has grown in ways that could never have been imagined by its earliest members. With an expanding understanding of its hope, Adventism has grown in its wholism and worldwide impact, offering a hope that makes a difference in the world today as well as promising a world fully restored and renewed.

But Scriven also traces this thread through the biblical narrative. From the covenant with Abraham that God would bless him “so that you will be a blessing” (see Genesis 12:1-3), The Promise of Peace follows the recurring call of God for His people to be good for the world, to enact a “covenant of peace” (see Ezekiel 34:25) and to be “peacemakers” (see Matthew 5:9). Scriven also points out the regularity with which the gospel is described as a message of peace (see Isaiah 52:7; Ephesians 6:15; and Revelation 1:4).

Through both biblical and Adventist history, Scriven urges, these themes should call us to seek how better to live out our faith and to ensure it is a faith that is a blessing to those around us. That is what we should be always “becoming,” finding real ways to contribute to “human flourishing.”

Having worked as a church pastor and college lecturer, Scriven is currently president of the Kettering College of Medical Arts, an Adventist institution in Ohio. As such, his argument is particularly fitted to explaining, exploring and extending the theology that underpins the church’s wellbeing and medical work around the world.

But The Promise of Peace should not be sidelined as a handbook for the health-focused. It provides an interesting and worthwhile contrast to George Knight’s recent The Apocalyptic Vision and the Neutering of Adventism. Knight also works to strip away the cultural layers and “compromises” of Adventism, recounting the passion of the early Adventist believers. But his brief book tries to make up for its lack of argument with an excess of passion—although a harsher critic might describe it as bluster. He calls Adventism back to its apocalyptic vision and evangelism as well as the core of Christianity, but offers little by way of practical expressions of this faith.

Scriven also calls us back to the theological roots and vision of Adventism but offers a larger, more practical and ultimately more attractive vision of the Adventist hope—“just when your hope for a new world is most intense, you engage the present world. Just then you busy yourself, the best way you can, with the healing of the here-and-now.” While not forgetting the importance and necessity of the Second Coming, Scriven describes a group of people animated by this great hope who would dare to change the world.

Scriven has a lyrical style of writing, which takes a little getting used to but soon settles into a rolling lilt. As a writer who obviously loves words, he returns to the earliest formulations of Adventist belief as first adopted in 1861. In line with his description of “becoming,” he adds to and refines this statement at key points of the book, offering the following pledge of belief as the climax of his work: “Thanks to the gift of grace, and for the purpose of blessing all, we take up the peacemaking mission and join together in keeping the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus.”

The Promise of Peace calls us to the best of Adventism. Perhaps it is a useful second volume to Knight’s robust call; perhaps it is the book that should have been heavily promoted and distributed in place of Knight’s. Whatever the case, The Promise of Peace is a significant contribution to our thinking about what it means to be Adventist and how we can better live out that hope.

Cross-posted from Adventist Today.


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