Matthew Korpman Reflects on William Johnsson’s Book “Where Are We Headed? Adventism After San Antonio”

Editorial Note: The following paper was presented at the 2017 Adventist Society for Religious Studies (ASRS) during the Sabbath morning Panel Discussion on the topic of William G. Johnsson’s book Where Are We Headed? Adventism After San Antonio. Read more about the six young scholars who presented and the publishing schedule for the papers here. Dr. William Johnsson’s work can be described as many things: timely, needed, powerful, controversial, straight-forward, Christ-centered, and even apocalyptic (it definitely reveals many things about us as a Church). Its success lies in the fact that it truly gives voice and life to what I would call “the Adventist question.” Johnsson’s title, “Where Are We Headed?” informs us less of a fact (where he believes we are) than it raises us to the awareness of a need to stop and reassess where we are, and more importantly, where we are going (something we as Adventists have often taken for granted). Likewise, his title evokes a double meaning, a more worrisome one, for it questions whether we are going somewhere spiritually (in the ultimate sense) that we may not wish to. It forces us to discover who it is that is guiding us to the direction we are going. Who is truly at the helm of our ship? The Spirit? Which? Like any good question, Johnsson’s work opens up more questions than it provides possible answers to. Those questions are needed now. What is at stake in this question of Johnsson’s is nothing less than the soul of the Church he, and all of us, so dearly care about. It’s an issue that I care deeply about. Many are surprised to hear me, a Millennial, sounding passionate about a subject such as this. It’s certainly not common. Johnsson’s book touches on the Adventist Millennial problem a number of times. Don’t most of my generation reject the church because of what they see happening within it, you wonder? Aren’t Adventists losing hold on them quicker than sand slips through fingers? The answer: Yes! We are. And that’s exactly why Johnsson’s work must be given ear. Here’s the diagnosis we don’t want to accept: Millennials are not likely coming back any time soon (short of a miracle). There will not be a revival that we can plan that will accomplish this. The damage has been done: spiritually, theologically, and personally. We must learn and grow from this and only so that we have a potential chance to keep the ones we still have. That struggle is already one of our greatest. Johnsson warns we are ready to lose the youth. He is most certainly correct. I know of countless Adventist Millennials, both those still in school and those already employed in our church as ministers, who speak openly with me that they are losing faith in serving our church. They are ready to quit or change denominations, especially since San Antonio’s vote. Mind you: these are not disconnected youth who simply have stopped caring. These are deep thinking and faithful servants of Christ (the future of our church)! They are some of the brightest Adventists I’ve seen. They are our future, prophetic voices for our church who Christ is ready to use for His causes, those who could steer our Church in the right direction. Yet just when we are in need of these voices and the light they bring, that star is fading and doing so fast. They see the Adventist Church as a patient dying in a hospital. This patient is not incurable but the patient is obstinate, refusing to even acknowledge the true sickness it suffers from and thus, to accept the correct medication. They don’t want to leave it, but they do not want to waste their time sharing its fate when there is a gospel to still be preached. Is Adventism already dead? Some are asking this increasingly. I would argue no. It is however dead to many, even if not ultimately. Johnsson is reminding us in his work that there still is a future for this Church. It doesn’t have to be this way. We can find our soul again. Yet, as he also wisely notes, “the Lord will not save us from ourselves.” We have to make the choice. Will Christ be at the helm of our Advent ship (keeping the main thing the main thing) or will a new sense of papal power, like an iceberg, threaten any potential God might still have for us? Johnsson’s work is a gift because it helps us to start this much needed conversation (truly commence it) so that the Holy Spirit may have a chance to lead us to answers that God would have us hear. Matthew Korpman is an undergraduate student at La Sierra University majoring in religious studies, archaeology, philosophy, and film & television. 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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at
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“An object in motion stays in motion at the same direction and speed unless acted upon by an outside force” - physics 101.

There are a few generations between the millennials and myself, but the revolving church door has picked up even the older generations along the way. their exit is mostly based on long time experience, some in some very prominent positions. Once the sustentation kicks in, they just disappear from view, quite often, popping up at various reunions to share the stories. It’s interesting to see who’s still in and who’s out.

The physics analogy simply says that, unless something drastic happens, nothing is going to change. When my generation was in college, complaining that we, the up and coming leaders of the church, weren’t included enough where church policies were being hatched, we were sure things would change once we reached the helm. That was a while ago and we are still moving in the same direction. It’s education that has any chance of changing direction for the church; but when the educational institutions are accountable to the church that is focused on keeping the status quo, education becomes brainwashing.

It used to be that it was the youth in any society that had the optimism, the energy and the dare to speak out and work for change. But this can happen only in an open society where there is a respect for truth, at any cost.


Thank you, Matthew.

Will even ONE church administrator respond to this article, either to affirm or reject it? Not likely. And that’s a big problem: employed leaders are either afraid or indifferent, and forthright, PUBLIC exchanges rarely happen. Actually, almost never happen.

I just read an ad for a book on Hasidism, in which the reviewer said it “captures the vibrancy and innovation of a thriving multifaceted movement.” Just now, we are not such a movement. That’s pathetic, but it doesn’t have to stay that way.


This and the others who have assessed this book are all from the west, and all have a more liberal view.

The western church is growing slowly at best. The third world, on the other hand, where there is much less angst about WO is doing just fine, thank you. So this view of the church as ‘terminal patient’ is a rather one sided and actually narrow one. How could someone even argue that it is “dead” when it is one of the fastest growing Christian churches in the third world? Does support for WO blur a man’s sight that badly?

Again, it is not third world youth that are leaving so much as western youth. And I don’t know a way to stop it. Certainly adopting WO will not. It is more a generalized western turning away from religion that is the problem, not WO per se. The Methodists have been ordaining since the 1960s, and have a steady loss of western membership while the overseas membership, mainly African has boomed.

The same is happening with the SDA church. Any embracing of a more liberal position will not increase the membership of Millennials or any other groups in NA. The end is near. I can get a bit apocalyptic myself!

What an absolutely slanted view! If the church doesn’t do WO, it is Christ that is denied! The third world is growing well, the Spirit is manifest there, but we here are the real people of God, and since we seem to be stagnant, it must be God is leaving the church. But WO would solve the whole thing! Sort of a self-referential view, don’t you think?

What really might help this depressing view would be a visit to a third world country where a vibrant church is doing fine without WO.

Hope just might be revived.

Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick."

You may indeed be right that Western Adventism, at least, is dying, Matthew.

But where is the sensibility of systemic sickness? I see none. If Adventism were “in the hospital” there would be some hope.

What I do see is the struggle for the moral high ground, no matter what the cost.

You tell me where the moral high ground is in Laodicea. It is an illusion.

There is a fundamental dishonesty in the Adventist DNA that goes back to its inception and is so deep-seated and reflexively hidden a disease as to be “the ghost in the machine.” It is like a possession. It has a life of its own.

This has gone on so many decades, and the momentum is so great, that the therapeutic dose and the lethal dose of the Medicine are so dangerously close together, that human wisdom could never titrate what is needed.

Blind optimism is not warranted and could prove fatal.

This is a dangerous time. There is abundant Hope, but the cost will be extraordinarily high.

If the vibrant young people leave, can an elderly, hidebound, polarized, moribund people make these dry bones live?

It’s tempting to say that sometimes death is the best thing, as it makes way for new life to find a new niche.

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