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The Top Adventist History Books

January 3, 2007

Note that here I’m referring to Adventist in the broadest sense–not as shorthand for Seventh-day Adventist.

Over at the blog: Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub – History, accuracy and education there was a recent post titled “Nominations for top history books”. This got me thinking–what are the top Adventist history books?

Here’s my list (completely personal, limited to English language works, & heavily skewed toward my own interests of Millerism) in no particular order:

  • George R. Knight, Millennial Fever and the End of the World. (Boise, ID: Pacific Press), 1993. A well-written, interesting, generally well-referenced account of the Millerites & the formation of the SDA Church.
  • Gary Land, (ed.) Adventism in America. Rev. ed. (Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews University Press), 1998. Unfortunately limited in its focus to the US, it is the best overall history of the SDA church. Suffers from having no content more recent than c1980.
  • Ronald L. Numbers and Jonathan M. Butler, (eds.) The Disappointed: Millerism and Millenarianism in the Nineteenth Century. (Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press), 1993.
  • Ronald L. Numbers, Prophetess of Health: Ellen G. White and the Origins of Seventh-Day Adventist Health Reform. Rev. ed. (Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press), 1992. Whether you agree with Numbers’ thesis or not, the book is a serious attempt at placing Ellen G. White in her historical and cultural context.
  • David L. Rowe, Thunder and Trumpets: Millerites and Dissenting Religion in Upstate New York, 1800-1850. (Chico, CA: Scholars Press), 1985.
  • Whitney R. Cross, The Burned-over District: A Social and Intellectual History of Enthusiastic Religion in Western New York. (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press), 1950. [Reprinted in 2006.]
  • Edwin S. Gaustad, (ed.) The Rise of Adventism: Religion and Society in Mid-nineteenth-century America. (New York, NY: Harper and Row), 1974.
  • Laura L. Vance, Seventh-day Adventism in Crisis: Gender and Sectarian Change in an Emerging Religion. (Chicago, IL: University of Illinois Press), 1999.
  • Douglas Morgan. Adventism and the American Republic. (Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press), 2001.
  • Ruth Alden Doan, The Miller Heresy, Millennialism, and American Culture. (Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press), 1987.
  • Malcolm Bull and Keith Lockhart, Seeking a Sanctuary: Seventh-Day Adventism and the American Dream. (San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row), 1989. [Second edition released in 2006 by Indiana University Press.] Perhaps more sociological than historical, nevertheless, its one of the most important books on the SDA church.
  • Clyde E. Hewitt, Midnight and Morning. (Charlotte, NC: Venture Books), 1983. The first of a three volume set outlining the history of the Advent Christian Church–another denomination that emerged from the Millerites. Worth reading just for its non-Seventh-day adventist focus. The other two volumes are: Responsibility and Response, (1986), and Devotion and Development (1990).
  • Alven Makapela, The Problem with Africanity in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. (Lewiston/Queenston/Lampeter: Edwin Mellen Press), 1996. One of the few books that covers the history of the SDA church in Africa and looks seriously at race within the SDA church. Could have benefitted from further editing.
  • Sylvester Bliss, Memoirs of William Miller. (Boston, MT: Joshua V. Himes), 1853. Despite its age, still the best biography of William Miller. [Reprinted by Andrews University Press in 2005; with an new introduction by Merlin D. Bert; as part of their excellent Adventist Classic Library.]
  • I. F. du Preez and R. H. du Pre, A Century of Good Hope: A History of the Good Hope Conference, its Educational Institutions and Early workers, 1893-1993. (East London: Western Research Group/Southern History Association), 1994. A somewhat idiosyncratic account of the SDA church’s work in the South African Good Hope Conference – the “coloured” conference. One of the few sources of African SDA history.
  • Everett N. Dick. William Miller and the Advent Crisis. (Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews University Press), 1994. Dick’s manuscript (based on his doctoral thesis completed in 1930) was to be published by Union College when the General Conference (through the personal intervention of LeRoy Edwin Froom) successfully convinced the college not to proceed. Dick’s study was the first to extensively examine the original Millerite sources and despite its age is a valuable work–and a reminder of the dangers of censorship.
  • Lowell Tarling, The Edges of Seventh-Day Adventism: A Study of Separatist Groups Emerging from the Seventh-Day Adventist Church (1844-1980). (Barragga Bay, Australia: Galilee), 1981. A fascinating survey of one of the neglected aspects of SDA history. It’s by an Australian–so it must be good! We could do with a second edition that covers the last 25 years.
  • Isaac Wellcome, History of the Second Advent Message, (Boston, MT: Advent Christian Publication Society), 1874. Despite its age, an excellent account of the Millerites & the early Adventists. Like Hewitt’s books (above), it’s written from an Advent Christian perspective. Especially important is Wellcome’s emphasis on the key roles women played in these movements–most later historians of Adventism have neglected them.
  • Josephine Benton, Called by God, (Smithsburg, MD: Blackberry Hill), 1990. Important coverage of a neglected aspect of Adventist history–the role of women ministers. Available online here.
  • Bruinsma, Reinder. Seventh-day Adventist Attitudes Toward Roman Catholicism 1844-1965. Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews University Press, 1994. Excellent survey of the topic.
  • King, Christine Elizabeth. The Nazi State and the New Religions: Five Case Studies in Non-conformity. Lewiston/Queenston/Lampeter: The Edward Mellon Press, 1982. Contains a chapter on the SDA Church in Nazi Germany.
  • Dunton, Hugh, (ed.) Heirs of the Reformation: The Story of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Europe. (Grantham: Stanborough Press), 1997. A valuable though patchy account of the history of the SDA church in Europe.
  • Richard W. Schwarz, Light Bearers to the Remnant (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press), 1979. [Revised edition published as: Light Bearers: a history of the Seventh-day Adventist church by Richard W. Schwarz, & Floyd Greenleaf (Nampa, ID: Pacific Press), 2000.] I know it’s the standard textbook, but it just doesn’t excite me. (Confession time–I don’t even own a copy.) It does at least make some attempt to view SDAism as a global phenomenon.

Books that I have not yet read, but am looking forward to:

  • R. Clifford Jones, James K. Humphrey and the Sabbath-day Adventists. (Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi), 2006.
  • Catherine A. Brekus, Strangers and Pilgrims – Female Preaching in America, 1740-1845 (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press), 1998. Contains a chapter on female Millerite preachers.
  • Eva Keller, The Road to Clarity: Seventh-day Adventism in Madagascar. (New York: Palgrave Macmillan), 2005. I have not read this book, but I have read her paper: “Towards Complete Clarity: Bible Study among Seventh-Day Adventists in Madagascar.” Ethnos 69, no. 1 (2004): 89-112. In some ways it’s more a sociological work than a historical one but it gives some interesting insights into the SDA church in Madagascar.
  • Stefan Hoschele, From the End of the World to the Ends of the Earth: The Development of Seventh-Day Adventist Missiology, (Nurnberg, Germany: Verlag fur Theologie und Religionswissenschaft), 2004.

Fellow Australian, Arthur Patrick has an interesting paper “Historians of Adventism: Their Agony, Ecstasy, and Potential” online here. It’s worth checking out, though needs updating.

    On a final note, probably the most powerful history book I have ever read is Daniel Goldhagen’s Hitler’s Willing Executioners – Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust (New York : Knopf), 1996. Goldhagen writes brilliantly and I found his thesis compelling. Everyone should read this book!

    I’m interested in your thoughts.

13 comments

  1. Here’s my list of dissertations on Adventist history that deal with 20th century Adventism in some significant way. I just culled these out of the running bibliography of dissertations on Adventist history and theology, so I may have missed some….

    Baker, Delbert W. “The dynamics of communication and African-American progress in the Seventh-day Adventist organization: A historical descriptive analysis” (Howard, 1993).

    Bruinsma, Reinder. “A historical analysis of Seventh-day Adventist attitudes toward Roman Catholicism, 1844-1965″ (London, 1993).

    Davis, Roger Guion. “Conscientious cooperators: The Seventh-day Adventists and military service, 1860-1945″ (George Washington, 1970).

    Ferret, Richard. “Charisma, Sectarianism and Institutionalisation: Identity Issues in Seventh-day Adventism” (Sydney College of Divinity, 2006).

    Foster, David B. “Reconciling remnancy, organizational culture, and change: A Seventh-Day Adventist ecclesiological dilemma” (Fuller, 1994).

    Graham, Roy E. “Ellen G. White, an examination of her position and role in the Seventh-day Adventist Church” (Birmingham, 1977).

    Heinz, Daniel. “Church, sect, and government control, a history of Seventh-Day Adventists in Austria, 1890-1975″ (Andrews, 1991).

    Jones, Romauld Clifford. “Utopia Park, utopian church: James K. Humphrey and the emergence of the Sabbath-Day Adventists” (Western Michigan, 2001).

    Juárez, Armando. “An evaluation of Edward Heppenstall’s doctrine of redemption” (Andrews, 1991).

    Lampkin, Andy. “A critical study of the Seventh-Day Adventist health teaching tradition in light of the contemporary situation of public health and globalization” (Vanderbilt, 2000).

    McGraw, Paul Ernest. “Born in Zion?: The margins of fundamentalism and the definition of Seventh-day Adventism” (George Washinton, 2004).

    Moon, Jerry Allen. “William Clarence (W. C.) White: His relationship to Ellen G. White and her work” (Andrews, 1993).

    Moore, Arthur Leroy. “Ellen G. White’s concept of righteousness by faith as it relates to contemporary SDA issues” (NYU, 1980).

    Morgan, Douglas. “The remnant and the republic: Seventh-day Adventism and the American public order” (Chicago, 1992).

    Nam, Juhyeok (Julius). “Reactions to the Seventh-day Adventist evangelical conferences and ‘Questions on Doctrine,’ 1955-1971″ (Andrews, 2005).

    Oliver, Barry David. “Principles for reorganization of the Seventh-day Adventist administrative structure, 1888-1903: Implications for an international church” (Andrews, 1989).

    Plantak, Zdravko. “Seventh-day Adventism, human rights and modern Adventist social ethics” (London, 1994).

    Pöhler, Rolf J. “Change in Seventh-day Adventist theology: A study of the problem of doctrinal development” (Andrews, 1995).

    Silitonga, Hotma Saor Parasian. “Continuity and change in world rulers: A comparative study and evaluation of Seventh-day Adventist interpretations of Daniel 11” (AIIAS, 2001).

    Syme, Eric Douglas. “Seventh-day Adventist concepts on church and state” (American, 1969).

    Vance, Laura L. “Adventism in crisis: A sociological analysis of Seventh-day Adventism with emphasis on the relationship between gender and sectarian change” (Simon Fraser, 1994).

    Webster, Eric Claude. “A critical analysis of Christology in Seventh-day Adventism” (Stellenbosch, 1981).

    Weeks, Howard B. “A historical study of public evangelism in the Seventh-day Adventist church” (Michigan State, 1966).

    Willis, Lloyd A. “Usage of archaeological data in North American Seventh-day Adventist literature, 1937-1980″ (Andrews, 1982).

    … In addition, I’m looking forward to Michael Campbell’s dissertation on the 1919 Bible conference (Andrews) and Nick Miller’s, which will deal with a church-state issue (Notre Dame).

    Do you know of any others?


  2. This is without a doubt the sexiest post yet in this new year! Oops, is my nerd side showing? Seriously, I’ve bookmarked this page. It is that cool.


  3. ps.
    How can I get a hold of Zdravko Plantak’s thesis? Does it cost like hundreds of bucks from some academic press? Can I borrow it from someone?


  4. Johnny,

    Plantak’s thesis has been published as book. The book title is: “The Silent Church: Human Rights and Adventist Social Ethics.” LLU Library Heritage Room has it, so your dad might be able to get special permission to check it out. If you want to buy it, ecampus.com has the best deal out there that I can find. You’re right; it’s not cheap. $61.10+ (I don’t own a copy myself; read a library copy.)


  5. I’ve transferred & expanded this data to a permanent page: http://h0bbes.wordpress.com/adventist-resources-books/ I’ll keep updating it & I will at some future point do pages on journal articles and theses also. Thanks for the start on the theses, Julius.


  6. Good deal!

    If I was brave I’d make a list of my top “adventist/sabbath/social ethics/society/faith in public life” books but I am sure it would be lacking key texts…

    Did anyone else count up how many of these books they own? I got six. I bet Mr. Hobbes owns them all!


  7. I would like to add my own book to the above list of publications by/on seventh-day Adventism:

    “Leaving the Adventist Ministry: A Study of the Process of Exiting”, Praeger, 1999.


  8. Hi Harry. I did forget your book in the compiling of this list, however your book is on my permanent list at:
    http://h0bbes.wordpress.com/adventist-resources-books/
    It’s just a pity it’s so damn expensive! Enjoyed hearing you speak in Melbourne shortly after it was published.


  9. Hi hObbes,
    I would recommend that anyone who reads Goldhagen’s Hitler’s Willing Executioners also read Christopher Browning’s Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland.


  10. Well hello!
    I stumbled across your site quite by accident and am certainly glad I did. I have been working towards a Graduate degree with a focus on SDA history at one of our California state universities.
    I have read and enjoyed several of the works on your list, including:
    William Miller and the Advent Crisis,
    Adventism in America,
    Adventism and the American Republic,
    Millennial Fever and the End of the World,
    Seventh-day Adventist Attitudes towards Roman Catholicism,
    The Disappointed,
    I would also include Foundations of the Seventh-day Adventist Message and Mission by Damsteegt. (requires the reader’s full attention but there is a lot of good info and documentation).
    A few of the other good sources I have used for broader context are:
    “Fits, Trances and Visions” by Ann Taves (has a very good section on the whole 19th cent. “mesmerism” phenomenon, an issue the White’s were often accused of by outsiders)
    “The Democratization of American Christianity” by Nathan Hatch is an old standby.
    “American Originals” by Paul Conkin,
    “Religious Outsiders and the Making of America”, by Moore,
    “Awash in a Sea of Faith” by Jon Butler,
    “The Civil War as a Theological Crisis” by Mark Noll,
    “The Creationists” by Ron Numbers
    “A Christian America” by Handy, and Marsden’s still excellent “Fundamentalism and American Culture”,
    “The Post-Darwinian Controversies” by Moore, and Ron Numbers “Darwinism Comes to America.”

    Finally (at last, they cry!) I have just finished two very good books of fairly recent production: “The War for Righteousness: Progressive Christianity, The Great War, and the Rise of the Messianic Nation” by Richard Gamble. I also would suggest “Explaining Hitler” by Ron Rosenbaum; this one is more of a work of historiography, as it examines the theses of the various scholars who have tried to “explain” what Hitler was about…
    As I am staring at a wall-to-ceiling bookcase in front of my workstation all manner of titles are popping out at me…but I must already beg your forgiveness (which, as a good SDA brother, I hope you will tender me) for roaming off-track into secular histories.
    At this point, I probably owe you bandwidth… :)

    Best Wishes,

    Curt Trood


  11. Hi Curt, thanks for the suggestions. There have to be some limits in any list but I agree that you list some excellent books. I have just begun reading Taves’ book & am enjoying it immensely. Perhaps we’ll meet at an ASDAH Conference sometime?


  12. Hobbes,

    Do you have any idea about some areas in Adventist History where researches have not been done yet? It would be helpful if you could suggest some areas.

    Koberson Langhu


  13. Have a copy of Mrs. White’s “The Great Controversy” published in Battle Creek in 1888. Leather bound, gilded. Excellent condition inside the book, worn at the corners and at the bottom of the spine.

    I’m having difficulty finding information on the value of the book. Ran across this website. Would be interested in any help the members of this forum could give me.



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