A few days ago I was sitting in faculty meeting, where our University President Eric Anderson was talking about a session that he attended at the World Headquarters of Seventh-day Adventists in Silver Spring, Maryland. One of the items under discussion at that meeting in Maryland was a proposal to print 50 million copies of the book The Great Controversy by Ellen White for distribution. I didn’t hear if distribution was supposed to be in North America or around the world. Most of Anderson’s concern seemed to be whether The Great Controversy was the most appropriate book for distribution to the public. My concern went far beyond that.
As academics, we tend to forget that the vast majority of people in the United States–but even more so in the world–just don’t read. I love books, and most of those around me do too. But statistically, most people never pick up another book to read after they graduate from school. Television and the internet have significantly more influence on the public than does books. If you doubt this, just see how few college students get their news from the newspaper or Time or Newsweek magazine. Many keep up on current events through the Web, and most don’t keep up with current events at all.
So to propose printing 50 million copies of a book that was originally written over a century ago as the substance of an evangelistic outreach is not only anachronistic, it’s just plain dumb. The problem is, we–meaning we Seventh-day Adventists–have a hard time adjusting how we do things. We still use methods of evangelism that I believe should have been put on the scrap heap years ago. And when things don’t get results, we tend to blame our lack of faith, rather than our lack of common sense.
Years ago, my friend and fellow editor Randy Maxwell and I were talking about reaching young people with the Gospel. He was concerned that more kids weren’t reading the books and magazines that we were producing. “We’ve got to somehow get more of them to read our books,” he said. My response was, “No, we need to reach them however way we can. If they don’t read, it’s not our job to force them to read. What’s important is the message, not the medium.”
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with the Gospel. I believe it is more relevant than ever before. What’s dated is how we communicate that Gospel. That’s the challenge: putting it in words and images that communicate Jesus’ message effectively to those who need it today, and using media that will reach them.
I love books. But I love the Gospel more. If books won’t do the job, we need to find out what will.