On January 20, 2007, assistant editor Bonita Joyner Shields interviewed Bill Knott, editor of the Adventist Review, as well as the living former editors—Kenneth H. Wood and William G. Johnsson—during a special Adventist heritage Sabbath school program at the Spencerville church in Silver Spring, Maryland.
BJS: Elder Wood, as I’ve read your “famous” statement when you accepted editorship of the magazine in 1966—“Fasten your seatbelts, we’re going to open the Review!” —I’ve often wondered what your thoughts and dreams for the Review were at the time you said that.
KHW: The truth is, Bonita, that I have no recollection of that. After 41 years, some things become lost to one’s memory! What I do remember is this: I had a deep concern about the fact that the common talk at that time was to say, “The Good Ol’ Review.” This was fine when the pioneers were alive, because it was a kind of sweet talk about someone in the family. But as time went along, my fear was that this would become like talking about an old-maid aunt—she’s sweet, she’s there, but not particularly relevant. So I tried to get the expression “The Good New Review” going. I even got [former General Conference president] Elder [Robert] Pierson talking that way. We tried to make it more appealing to a younger generation.
As a denomination grows and ages, the danger is that something gets lost. The pioneers had deep convictions about this church. In my opening editorial, in 1966, I articulated not only what [my predecessor] Elder [Francis D.] Nichol had said in his first editorial, but my own convictions. Could I read a few sentences from it?
“The Seventh-day Adventist Church is more than a church. It is a mighty movement, a unique movement. It has a special mission to perform for God. It is to carry the Three Angels’ Messages of Revelation 14 to the entire world. To prepare a people for the imminent return of Jesus . . . Because of this belief, we will do everything possible through the pages of the Review to strengthen this conviction among our readers. . . . We shall challenge every member to discard the lukewarm characteristics of Laodicea, so that together we may storm and overwhelm the strongholds of the enemy.” I was idealistic in those days! “As editor, we shall ever be conscious of the Seventh-day Adventist Church not as a North American church, not a European church, not an Asian church, or an African church. It is a world church. The Review will do all it can to strengthen this concept and promote the unity that Christ declared should characterize His people.”
I still feel that way.
Elder Johnsson, you have been called “the man who brought theology downstairs.” What was your motivation behind this task? And did you meet opposition?
WGJ: That reference was from my first editorial. I came to the editorship at a time of great theological debate—Desmond Ford, Walter Rea, along with the debates of the previous decade. Theology is very important, but unless it deals with issues of life, it is misguided theology. And so much of what was going on at that time—the argumentation and, sometimes, name calling—was not very Christian.
If we go back to the days of 1888, Ellen White said some strong things to the editor of the Review, Uriah Smith. I’m paraphrasing: “Whatever your views, whether they’re right or wrong, I don’t want to have anything to do with them while you manifest the spirit that you do.”
When I came to the editorship of the Review, I brought that conviction—which I still hold strongly.
Elder Knott, I’ve heard you share your journey from the local pastorate to the Review. It has always been inspiring to me. Would you share with us part of that journey, and the role you see that the Review plays as a minister to our people?
BK: I had quite a struggle when I first received a phone call from Bill Johnsson, inviting me to come and talk to him about a position on the staff of the Adventist Review. I had been called to pastoral ministry—I am called. It was a difficult time to think through what that transition might mean to that core calling in my life. It was when I began to understand not only the history, but the continuing pastoral ministry of this magazine in the lives of tens of thousands—even hundreds of thousands—of readers, that I began to see this as an extension of what I felt called to do. Quite literally, when I sit in my office writing an editorial, faces come up in front of me: that head elder in Grand Rapids, that deacon in Walla Walla, that layperson in tiny little Quinebaug, Connecticut. These are the people who gave me the privilege of being their pastor, and they helped to shape my idea of what a church journal should be like.
This question is a free-for-all! Do you see the changes in media enhancing the Adventist Review in print, or possibly being a challenge to it?
WGJ: The multiplication of media platforms introduces both threat and opportunity. You may have noticed this week that Time magazine is laying off 300 of its staff, after having already laid off 600. All magazines and newspapers are struggling.
It seems to me that the Review, and any publication, must diversify and move into other platforms. We incorporated an online edition of the Review about 10 years ago. Almost anyone under 35 today gets their information not from print, but from the Internet. I think it’s a time of great possibility.
Now, I think print is here to stay. But print will be only one of various media platforms.
Elder Knott, you have just taken up the mantle as editor. Would you like to share with us any of your hopes and dreams for the magazine?
BK: I’m reminded of something that [North American Division president] Don Schneider said in introducing me to a group of officers about a week ago. He said, “We thought we’d invite him before he could make too many mistakes!” And that’s sort of what it feels like at this point. I can lay out hopes and dreams, but I’m new at this.
I shared in a recent editorial that one of my goals as an editor is to produce a magazine worthy of the men who have preceded me. That doesn’t mean we will achieve this in every particular; however, it will be consistent with their visions of the magazine. It does mean that it will continue to be a journal in which people find quality, faith, relevant news, and information. It’s a magazine that reflects the welcoming nature of the Adventist Church, and the different Adventist Church that has emerged since the times when those editors may have been serving.
Adventists for more than 150 years have had a commitment to a core set of biblical beliefs. But the experience of Adventism is quite different today for many people than it was even 50 years ago. We are spread internationally in a way we never could have been had it not been for the leadership of some of the people represented here. The Adventist Review has to reflect that internationality if it’s going to continue to be the relevant paper for the world church. And it will continue to be the supporter and encourager for those who are taking the gospel to the world.