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Many books have analysed the work of Ellen White. Her ministry has received careful attention from capable church historians and scholars within and outside the ranks of Adventism. So how can we justify the writing of yet another volume?
My answer is twofold: First, although there have been numerous volumes in the past, to my knowledge none has tried to incorporate recent biblical scholarship in the area of the gift of prophecy. Over recent decades conservative Bible scholars have given diligent attention to the subject. Some excellent material has been produced in articles printed in scholarly journals and books. Much of this material gives fresh insights and a more meaningful appreciation of the work of Ellen White.
Second, her ministry has come under attack in recent times. These attacks can appear to be damaging. Books and videos have been produced that could shake the average believer's confidence in her ministry. It is imperative that this material be given a fair evaluation and response. Some of this material is accurate, but can only be clearly understood if we have in mind a clear biblical expectation of how a prophet should function. God often used the Philistines and the Amalakites to chastise Israel; now, perhaps, He is using the same methodology to cause Adventism to come to a more realistic expectation of the ministry of Ellen White.
For generations the gift has been a blessing to those who read her writings wisely. However, at times, the gift has been misused to stifle creative scholarship. In 1 Corinthians chapter 12 Paul makes the point that all God's gifts are needed to produce a healthy church body. He
warns about neglecting some and making others more prominent than they deserve. Siegfried Schatzmann understands Paul in the following way: "For Paul unity and diversity coincided in the shared experience of the Spirit. . . . Diversity of charismata, therefore, does not destroy the unity of the church. The opposite is true; namely, the unity of the church is contingent upon the 'proper functioning of the whole range of diverse charismata; without the diversity of the charismata there can be no unity"1
Indeed the message of 1 Corinthians 12 is one that Adventism needs to ponder if it is to produce strong healthy congregations. The question must be addressed, Has Adventism allowed this one gift to one person to overpower the many gifts God has given to others?
This book is in two parts, with the first section attempting to give a biblical expectation of how a prophet should function. The second section deals with how this matches the ministry of Ellen White.
This book has been 20 years in preparation. It comprises material I have shared in workshops with pastors and lay people in Australia, New Zealand, England and the United States of America. Some of it was presented in a workshop in the General Conference Pre-Ministerial Meetings in Toronto, Canada in 2000. Over the past two decades I have read and digested some excellent material produced by the White Estate. Particularly is this true of the early 1980s when my association with Robert Olsen and Ron Graybill helped me to realistically face the material produced by Walter Rea and his claims of plagiarism. Olsen and Graybill were involved in the 1982 "International Prophetic Guidance Workshop" which provided much helpful material. Unfortunately this material was never shared with the Adventist church membership at large.
In this respect the 1982 meetings may be compared with the "after-meeting" of the 1919 Bible Conference where denominational leaders and teachers also shared their concerns about the wrong use being made of the gift of prophecy as found in the ministry of Ellen White. At that Conference a few spoke from first hand experience, for they had been involved in producing some of her books. Concerns were raised and valuable material shared. Unfortunately, neither the 1919 nor the 1982 material was ever shared with church membership. At times I will draw upon some of this valuable research and observations.
It has been my privilege to sit in classes taught by George Knight, professor of Church History at Andrews University. In those classes I had my eyes opened to how the Adventist Church had evolved, particularly after the death of Ellen White. Later I was sponsored by the Trans-Tasman Union Conference (in the South Pacific Division) to travel in the United States and gather material to further develop what I had learned in Knight's classes. Much of the historical material used in this book comes from these sources.
I wish to also acknowledge the help I have received from the followings sub-committee of the South Pacific Division Biblical Research Committee.
Dr. Paul Petersen [Field secretary of the SPD, Chairperson]
Dr. Steve Thompson [Dean of the Faculty of Theology, Avondale College]
Dr. Ray Roennfeldt [Senior Lecturer in Theology, Avondale College]
Dr. Arthur Patrick [Former Curator of the White Resource Centre, Avondale College]
I have also appreciated the input I have received from some who have read the original manuscript and given me valuable advice. Namely:
Dr. John Paulien, Dr. George Knight, Dr. William Johnsson and Dr. Alden Thompson and Dr Barry Oliver.
I want to show appreciation to Bruce Manners, Editor of the Signs Publishing Company for his help in making the original manuscript more readable.
I wish also to acknowledge that the ideas expressed do not necessarily reflect the personal views of all those mentioned above. At times I have ventured into the subject in areas where I believe Adventism has yet to travel. Doing this can be perilous at times. It may be that others in the future will see more than I can see at this present time. I do not feel I have exhausted this subject. I would like to think that this book will open a door for more to be written on the subject. I hope to learn more from others myself.
I write this book as one having great confidence in the prophetic gift as it has been used in the ministry of Ellen White. After reading and studying the evidence for and against her work I emerge a strong believer. I, along with so many others, have personally benefited
spiritually from having read her works. Very early in my Christian life I read her book Desire of Ages. The two chapters which dealt with Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross at Calvary, transformed my Christian life. Today I can see the fruitage of her prophetic ministry in my Christian life. To me this is a powerful reason why I accept her prophetic ministry.
Although I accept her authenticity; yet at the same time I also realise that the Adventist Church has not always used this gift wisely. Despite her frequent protests during her lifetime, after her death unrealistic expectations were placed upon her writings by those who saw her as a means to settle questions on a variety of subjects. It is imperative that the church place her ministry where the Bible would have it placed. If this is not forthcoming then the gift God designed to be a blessing will become counterproductive.
Some will read this book with great comfort. Others will be inclined to say, "But this is not what we were taught." I encourage every reader to heed the counsel that Ellen White gave to the church: "Long-cherished opinions must not be regarded as infallible. . . . Those who sincerely desire to know the truth will not be reluctant to lay open their positions for investigation and criticism, and will not be annoyed if their opinions are crossed. . . . We have many lessons to learn, and many, many to unlearn. God and heaven alone are infallible. Those who think they will never have to give up a cherished view, never have occasion to change an opinion, will be disappointed. . . ."2
Part of the thrill of being a Christian is to learn and grow in our understanding.
1 Seigfried Schatzmann, A Pauline Theology Of Charismata, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1989) p. 72. [back]
2 Counsels To Writers and Editors, pp. 36-37. [back]
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