God’s Strange Work: William Miller and the End of the World–book note


Another recent review in Religious Studies Reviews, on a biography of the founding figure behind modern-day Adventism:

GOD’S STRANGE WORK: WILLIAM MILLER AND THE END OF THE WORLD. By David L. Rowe. Foreword by Mark A. Noll. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008. Pp. xii + 249; plates. Paper, $24.00.

Rowe has given us the first critical biography of William Miller (1782 – 1849), father of Adventism. Though this is a biography and not a study of Adventism, it illumines the American evangelical obsession with the end-times. Rowe takes us through the particular mix of Baptist populism, deist rationalism, and evangelical pietism that led Miller to read his Bible intensively and find in it a clear end-time scheme revealed by a rational God who orders every part of the Biblical account so that even an uneducated layperson can understand it. Particularly revelatory are the important contribution to Miller’s thought of sentimentalism (Adventism is usually treated in rationalist categories) and the tension between Miller’s anti-Finneyite/anti-mission sympathies and his willingness to capitalize on his message’s ability to convert people. Rowe does tend to assume readers have prior knowledge of Adventist history, so this feels at points like an insider account. However, he uses psychological, economic, political, and other contextualizing insights to great effect. He also does not hesitate to call Miller out on such culpable traits as his passivity as leader and his fudging, in the face of opposition and prophetic set-backs, of earlier teachings. In the end, this has the feel of a historiography in progress—definitive in the sense not of articulating airtight interpretive formulations, but rather of being the most probing exploration of Miller to date.

Chris R. Armstrong
Bethel Seminary, St. Paul, MN

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