Like most Seventh-day Adventist history professors, I did my graduate work at a non-Adventist institution. In my case, I studied at Auburn University, a public land-grant university in Alabama that long ago forgot its Methodist roots and is now thoroughly secular. When I started teaching history at Pacific Union College a year ago, I tried to find an Adventist way to teach history, to give my students a different experience than they would at a state school. I also wanted to stay true to my discipline. This was a challenge for which my secular graduate education had not prepared me.
This would probably be easier if I taught religious history, but I don’t. One of my colleagues is a specialist in religious history, so I leave those classes to him and teach other things. Instead, I have decided to make it a point to integrate Christianity in general, and Adventism specifically, into my lectures wherever I can. In some places, discussing Christianity is downright obvious and even necessary. I can’t talk about the decline of the Western Roman Empire, or the Middle Ages in Europe, without Christianity. The history of the United States would also make no sense without Christianity.
I talk about Christianity in these contexts, of course, but I discuss it in others as well. When I can, I try to tie Adventism into my narratives, to show that Christians in general, and Adventists specifically, are a part of this broader story I am trying to tell. Here are three places I did this in my first year teaching at PUC:
- In a class about Europe in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, I discussed the Protestant Reformation, including its most radical faction, the Anabaptists. Whereas Martin Luther had rejected only those parts of Catholic doctrine that he felt contradicted the Bible, the Anabaptists refused to accept anything not in the Bible. This led to the rejection of early-modern theology and also lifestyles, including famously buttons on clothes. I explained to my class that Adventism has traditionally had a similar approach to Biblical interpretation as the Anabaptists, as we try to derive all of our theology from the Bible. (In terms of lifestyle, though, we have no objection to using clothes with buttons.)
- The introductory History of the United States class also offered a good opportunity to bring up Adventism. Our denomination was born in the mid-nineteenth century in the northern United States during a period of religious revival known as the Second Great Awakening. In my class, I described Millerism and the Advent Movement alongside other groups of the period such as the Methodists and Baptists. Christianity is not just a European or North American religion, but a world religion, and I want my students to understand this.
- In a class about South Asian history, I had a series of lectures about religion. In addition to discussing the obvious religions of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam, I included a lecture section about Christianity. After discussing Christianity in general, I shared some observations about Adventists in India, based on my three years living there.
By including these references to Adventists in history, I help my students understand how our branch of Christianity is a part of the story of the world.