While those who would eventually form the Seventh-day Adventist Church were Millerites, only one was influential in both that his work after the Great Disappointment would standout and provide the underpinnings of the eventual largest Adventist denomination. Joseph Bates: The Real Founder of Seventh-day Adventism by George R. Knight is a comprehensive look at one of the most important men in the Adventism movement before and after October 1844.
Beginning with a young boy looking for adventure as a sailor, Knight fully covers the life of Joseph Bates until his death as a senior statesman of the Church he helped to found still looking to serve Christ. In covering Bates career at sea, Knight pulls out traits—both potentially benefital and harmful—that would serve him as he preached the soon coming of Christ as part of the Millerite movement and later his development of Sabbatarian Adventism. After retiring, Bates who had already shown a keen interest in reform, firstly himself and then his own ship’s crew, launched himself into numerous reform movements until he heard Advent message of William Miller and seeing it as the ultimate reform movement wholeheartedly went to spread the good news. Though not a primary leader, he was a major secondary leader within the Millerites that both chaired conferences and went out preaching. After the Great Disappointment of October 1844, Bates began studying and joined those Adventists that believed something did occur though not the fanatics that tainted this group of post-Disappointment Millerites. It is at this point in which Knight carefully covers Bates life over a decade, though focused on a four year span in particular, in which Bates became both the first theologian and then first historian of Sabbatarian Adventism and would lay the foundations of essentially all major doctrines that set the Seventh-day Adventist Church apart from other denominations. Knight covers Bates relationship with both James and Ellen White in full during this period and after as the trio would guide the “little flock” over the next two decades until his death.
In approximately 220 pages of text and reference, Knight use Bates’ own autobiography as well as research first discovered others including two of his own students to give the reader a full sense of the life of Joseph Bate as can be expected. Though the book is not strictly chronological, Knight structures the book in such a way as to give an overview in a certain period of Bates life in one chapter and in the subsequent one focus on a particular aspect during that period with it most typically being theological in nature. This keeps the book engaging for the general reader and not getting them bogged down or overwhelmed with detail of having a strictly chronological book from beginning to end. Yet while these choices by Knight create a very good and readable book, there just seemed to be something off with his writing that made me feel that it was up to other books that he had authored.
Joseph Bates: The Real Founder of Seventh-day Adventism is a very good book for those, whether Seventh-day Adventists or not, looking to understand the history of denomination that Bates helped to found. As the preeminent Seventh-day Adventist historian, George R. Knight presents the Bates the man of both virtues and flaws and how he shaped the Advent movement. I highly recommend this book for those interested in SDA Church history.