Book Review: Where Are We Headed? Adventism after San Antonio

When retired leaders — be they in the realms of government or the church — choose to speak out about the state of the nation or the church, their interjections are often met with some skepticism and with inevitable questions about why they are speaking now. The suspicions are that they are exercising their greater sense of freedom after stepping away from their previous responsibility, that they now have less to lose so they can be more honest, or that they are trying to fend off a growing sense of irrelevance and to re-insert themselves into the debates, perhaps to re-contest some of the arguments they might have lost in their working lives.

Such are the risks (of misreading) that come with a book such as Where Are We Headed? by expatriate Australian and Avondale College of Higher Education alumnus Dr. William Johnsson, now retired for more than 10 years from his long-standing role as editor of the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s flagship journal Adventist Review and more recently as a leader in the church’s interfaith relations. But Johnsson’s strident new book has a different motivation: the church he served has changed — and not for the better.

For Johnsson, the tipping point took place at the worldwide church’s five-yearly business session in San Antonio, Texas, on July 8, 2015 — the day of the vote on allowing different practices of ordination among the church worldwide. He describes that as “a truly sad day for the Seventh-day Adventist Church. I am ashamed of what transpired.” While not in San Antonio that day, Johnsson was following closely and in contact with many people who were. He describes being deeply affected by the events of that day — “For a couple of weeks after the Session, I moped and grumped around the house” — and took to writing a response as a way to stop “fussing.”

But it was not so much the result of the “women’s ordination” vote that most troubles Johnsson. In his assessment, despite the continued obstruction and obfuscation by worldwide church leadership, the issue is decided. More and more women are being employed and ordained (even if by another name) in ministry by the church around the world, even in places as diverse as Papua New Guinea and South Africa; their ministry is obviously effective and Spirit-blessed; and this will simply be the way the church is among the next generation. Instead, the larger issues are the damage that is being done to the church by the responses from key church leaders to these realities and what they say about the kind of church some would have us become.

Where Are We Headed? identifies a number of related features from the San Antonio session: a tendency to “remnant” arrogance and exclusivity; the mantra-like statements about the soon-coming of Jesus; the statistical focus of mission; the fundamentalism and “flat” literalism creeping into our reading of Scripture; the continuing discussions of the role of church founder Ellen White’s writings; and the misuse of calls to “unity.” In Johnsson’s “lover’s quarrel” with what the church is becoming, “two radically different versions of Adventism are competing for the future.”

While Where Are We Headed? is open-ended — it is more a series of questions and reflections on the implications if we continue in some of the directions that have been set — Johnsson’s burden is to call us back to “Adventism at its best” and ultimately to Jesus. This discussion is never far away from our need for Jesus, the sufficiency of Jesus, and that the church should be shaped by the presence and ministry of Jesus. While Johnsson is writing about big issues in a global church, he draws regularly on his lifetime of personal experience of following Jesus and writes with a graciousness and passion that is both Jesus-like and statesman-like.

So Where Are We Headed? should not be tarred with the skepticism that sometimes meets post-retirement publications. Johnsson is speaking to, with and for a broad spectrum of the church. The standing ovation he was given after speaking at the One Project’s gathering in San Diego in February is testament to the respect he is held in across generations and the relevance of what he is continuing to say as an Adventist leader.

As we continue to wrestle with the complicated issues of a worldwide church, we need wise voices that can offer circuit-breakers to our arguments and their continuing faith as a guidepost for our progress. Where Are We Headed? does this, calling us to find our best in Jesus and offering hope for a more authentic Adventism in our frustrating and frustrated church.

Where Are We Headed? Adventism after San Antonio written by William G. Johnsson and published by Oak & Acorn Publishing is currently available as an ebook.

Nathan Brown is the book editor at Signs Publishing. This review originally appeared in TK, an online magazine of news, reviews and perspectives produced by Avondale College of Higher Education, Signs Publishing and Manifest. It is reprinted here with permission.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at
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The Gospel is about Christ. Adventism is about us with Christ beginning just the first among many. Just a prototype such ego centric thought leads to dictatorial leadership. A must read is N.T. Wright’s book SIMPLY CHRISTIAN


Where to now? 2 choices - faithfulness to God’s Word, or following the trends of society.

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Literalism goes from A to B, a stagnant line that’s nothing more than a dead end. God’s gospel is like a drop of ink spreading in a gallon water, in all direction. His word is seed that does not stop growing, expansion that has no end. Seed that is alive keeps moving, keeps flowing, and keeps growing, spreading outward, going forward, like God without end.


Thanks Nathan for introducing the commentariat to this worthy volume!

I trust that in the days ahead other strong and respected voices will add their weight to the plea for sanctified common sense.

The final chapter with its review of workable options both to destroy and to build organizational unity are worth their weight in gold. And they were initially presented within a document created by the Norwegian Union of the Church.

I am praying that this book will have the wide circulation it deserves.


Yes, and Adventism has yet to understand that God isn’t relegated to just using them to “spread the Gospel”. In fact, there is strong evidence with what has been going on in the Adventist Church at GC 2015 that they are growing more morally bankrupt under the administration of Ted Wilson. With the self-indulgent belief of being the “Remnant” church there needs to be a justification why Christ tarries which has given birth to the fallacious “Last Generation Theology”. Such a pertinent book title: "Where are we headed? thinks that the Adventist church is going to be headed into a split because TW and cronies will not be satisfied any other way.


Dr William Johnson is a highly respected retired church worker with intimate knowledge of Adventism on two continents, North America and Australia. .

As a long term church employee at the higher echelons, he has an intimate working command of the inner dynamics of the General Conference.

That he is concerned about the dissonance and discord currently permeating the denomination due to heavy handed and dictatorial mismanagement at the highest level, and is courageous enough to speak out about it, is to be commended.

I cannot wait to read his astute insights and wise suggestions.

Thank you Dr Johnson, you are absolutely admirable.


Pastor Larry Downing has an article on AToday. "What’s all the fuss about Unity?"
He quotes the Seventh day Adventist Mission Statement. [which most have probably never seen].
He says many pastors would be at a loss to really explain.
"The Mission of the Seventh day Adventist church is
To call all people to become disciples of Jesus Christ.
To proclaim the everlasting gospel embraced by the Three Angels’ Messages.
To prepare the world for Christ’s soon return."
He makes the following observations –

  1. It makes no statement to a criteria that defines who is or who is not a “genuine” Adventist.
  2. The statement does not define who by gender is or is not eligible to be appointed a church leader.

He does quote Ps 133:1 – people dwell in unity. [King James].
but other translations change the word “Unity” to dwell in peace, to dwell in harmony.
Well worth the read.

Perhaps if the brethren in the “Ivory Tower” at Silver Springs would work in harmony with the
Seventh day Adventist Mission Statement we would be headed for peace and harmony as
the Diversity of members World Wide called “all people” to becomes disciples of Jesus Christ.

When the “rubber meets the road” one REALLY has to choose to become a disciple of Jesus
FIRST. One does not become a member of a denomination, then choose to become a "student"
of Christ’s.
EDIT-- Question –
CAN a person become a “student” of Christ WITHOUT joining a Denomination?
But just attend and fellowship with a local congregation?

CAN a person Baptize themselves in the name of the Father, Son, Holy Spirit?


Yes, I agree with Dr. Johnsson that July 8 was a deeply disappointing day in Church history when the booing and hissing of a highly respected, Godly leader was allowed to take place. It was eye-opening for me, personally and professionally, as to how we treat brothers and sisters we don’t necessarily agree with.

Kudos to Johnsson for taking on these issues in a straightforward, honest treatment.


I rest in the assurance that God is leading all churches including the Seventh-day Adventist Church. The title of Bill Johnsson’s latest book,” Where are we Headed?” may surprise the greatest doubter that God is unmindful of the prayer of HIS Son that “they maybe one.” Those whose task it was to study the documents presented at TOSC found nothing in scripture to forbid w/o. If “Male Headship” supporters can present equally unequivocal studies to an independent committee set up by the General Conference the church should be wise enough to look into its findings.

Frankly I am not sure what God’s will for His church is. I pray daily His will be known to those especially who lead the church. I want to be among the followers of Jesus. At 92 years of age I don’t want to see the church split over this issue. To choose not to follow the Church’s elected leader or a vote of the assembled delegates is serious. A vote against my conscience may determine my destiny.

When Neil Wilson was president all Divisions were asked to set up study committees to study the issue of w/o. Our study committee included two Spicer Memorial college Bible scholars, the late M E Cherian and Brian D’ Alvis, John Fowler, one Union president, Lowell Cooper and the Chairman of the Division Committee. At the conclusion of the meetings all were in agreement that scripture doesn’t forbid the 0rdination of women. We passed a recommendation to that effect to the full Division committee. Even though several churches in India approved of w/o the committee did not support women being ordained in the Seventh-day Adventist Church at the time. Members of the committee and church members have not participated in a survey,

It is not too late to have delegates at the annual council look at advisability to have another chance to approve women to be ordained in their Division with the thought of hastening the mission of the church. If “Male Headship” teaching has further light let it be brought on the agenda and studied. The longer the stalemate exists, sentiments will harden.

Gerald J Christo, Hosur, India


I greatly respect Elder Johnsson and look forward to reading his book.


Dr Johnsson preached at our church on the sabbath just gone and it was an excellent service. He would not give too much information about his book.

I look forward to reading it.

He did say it was coming out in hardcover/paperback at some stage soon.

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We are headed for a split…and its gonna be bigger than Ben Hur…we though the Ford Crisis was bad…this will dwarf it…