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Surfing the Ellen White Information Wave in 2006

by Arthur Patrick

ABSTRACT:  Amidst the busyness of life in Century 21, can Seventh-day Adventists make sense of the ongoing discussion about Ellen White’s life and writings? Masses of information and opinion confront us in books, journals, magazines and on the internet?
Why is there such controversy? What does it all mean?
After all is said and much is done, does it really matter, anyway?


The discussion of Adventist co-founder Ellen Gould White (1827-1915) tends to come in waves. Surf can drown you or give you an exciting trip. Joan and I have five grandkids passionate about surfing; this week two of them followed up snow skiing in Vermont with surfing in Hawaii. But last week a big wave did what the manufacturer said should never happen: at an Aussie beach it broke our daughter’s surfboard in half. Serious, frightening stuff. Adrielle was not hurt, but will her zest for surfing return? Dangerous waves like that keep some orthopods in business, reconstructing broken bones and twisted backs. On occasion, funeral homes reap financial rewards from tragic deaths.

The downside of the current information wave about Ellen White is all too much for some of us. Individual belief systems, spiritual life and relationships can be impacted, even destroyed. I hope the following may help, just a bit.

Did you read Dan Buettner, “The Secrets of Long Life,” National Geographic, November 2005? Why do many Adventists live so long and so well? Ellen White is back of that kind of benefit amongst us, as I pointed out in an address, Ellen Gould White: Pioneer of Adventist Health Emphases,” 10 July 2004.

Don McMahon, a medical specialist in Melbourne, Australia, has invested years researching the Adventist lifestyle, its history and its effects. Leonard Brand of Loma Linda University has simplified and reported McMahon’s findings for North American readers. I’ve reviewed their books briefly in Acquired or Inspired? Groundbreaking Research on Ellen White and Health,” 17 April 2005.

There is a huge need for specialists to communicate with us in language we all understand. A Pacific Press book enables a Walla Walla College professor to do just that. I review his work in How Ellen White grew from fear to joy: New Resource for Pastors,” 11 April 2005.

But those studies are just the tip of the iceberg; sorry, they are some of the water on the crest of the information wave. What of Ellen White in the eyes of historians, theologians and their ilk? Graeme Bradford has written a very simple, narrative account that assesses several waves of data. Contrary waves buffet us, too, with potential for spiritual destruction. I offer short analyses of both types of waves in Contrasting Voices Raised in the Adventist Discussion About Ellen White,” 31 March 2005.

These books are jigsaw pieces that together make a much bigger picture. Surfers that thrive keep an eye on sea and sand, landmarks and sky. Weather reports can be vital for their wellbeing. I try to help with that sort of thing in something rather short (under 3,000 words, that is!) entitled Ellen White After 35 Years: A New Tipping Point in Adventist Studies,” 20 January 2006.

But some surfers like to catch really daunting waves that scare others. That’s the kind of thing I struggled with at a theological conference, Learning from Ellen White’s Perception and Use of Scripture: Toward an Adventist Hermeneutic for the Twenty-first Century,” 11 February 2003. That paper isn’t bedtime story reading; why not try it on an unhurried day!

Or, for the history buffs, I attempted a longer review (longer than the “Tipping Point” one) at the Ellen White Summit: Ellen White and South Pacific Adventism: Retrospect and Prospect,” 5 February 2004. Adventists who live on other parts of the planet tell me that what happens in the Antipodes illumines their experience, too.

But some folks want to focus the issues toward personal meaning. I go that direction in a chapter written for a proposed book, Being Christian, Being Adventist: Why I Thank God for Ellen White,” 15 February 2004. And Ellen White’s attitude toward changing circumstances challenges all of us: try Ellen White, Yesterday and Today,” a paper presented at the conference Being Adventist in 21st Century Australia held at Avondale College, 14 September 2002.

A few readers say that they want to check out what I’ve written about Ellen White in an MLitt thesis, a PhD dissertation, books (especially chapters in anthologies), journals, magazines, and such. They can start with the SDA Periodical Index online; that wonderful resource lists articles in Adventist Heritage, Adventist Review, Ministry, South Pacific Record, and so on. Materials in non-Adventist publications are harder to come by without access to the Ellen G. White/Adventist Research Center that serves the South Pacific Division. A plethora of articles are on a CD the Research Center sells; it has a wealth of other materials on it, as well. You can e-mail Marian de Berg at for information on how to get the CD.

Mention of Record brings to mind a series of four interviews the editor did with me, published during February 2004.  These are all available on-line in the Record archives. February 7 begins the series with Bruce Manners' introduction to the four part dialogue, "An Ellen White reality check" on page 2, and "Ellen White for today:1" beginning on page 9.  February 14 continues with "Ellen White for today:2" beginning on page 3.  February 21 has "Ellen White for today:3" beginning on page 9.  And the series concludes in the February 28 issue with "Ellen White for today:4" beginning on page 10 . The series evoked passionate letters for months.

In addition, Spectrum ( and Adventist Today ( list those of my articles that they have published. Also, see other papers on this site (listed below) where Bille Burdick has been putting some of my papers on At Issue since 1998.

Now, all I’ve written is just a tiny part of what can be said or is being said about Ellen White and her role in contemporary Adventism. I try to keep up-to-date with the waves of information in a way that might help other surfers. (Which reminds me: Graeme Bradford’s sequel to Prophets Are Human has just been published in March 2006.)


Arthur Patrick, DMin, PhD, Research Fellow
Avondale College, Cooranbong, NSW 2265, Australia
24 February 2006

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