Post 20, A Spotlight on Ellen White: 1980-2004

For some readers this will be an ultimately boring blog, but several readers want a follow-up from yesterday’s post about how I drifted into Ellen White Studies. Therefore, this piece outlines some of what I wrote during the 25 years from 1980 to the end of 2004. All these documents may be accessed in the Ellen G. White/SDA Research Centre at Avondale College; some are available on sdanet.org/atissue, and more are available on the compact discs that the Research Centre at Avondale produces, usually each year. Another blog will cover the material written between 2005 and the present.

Various long-standing bulwarks of traditional Adventism, under increasing assault from 1970, seemed within a decade to be crumbling as the “Noonday of Certitude” gave way to open controversy. I have profiled some of this process insofar as it relates to the life and writings of Ellen White in a paper entitled “From Certitude Through Controversy Toward Consensus: An Historical Perspective on Ellen White Studies Since 1950” (2003). A companion paper, “Continuity and Change in Seventh-day Adventist Doctrine and Practice” (2003) offers a wider chronological perspective, whereas a more fully documented account is entitled “Reflections on Unfinished Business: Ellen White Studies in Historical Perspective” (2003). A further paper, delivered at a theological conference in February 2003, is entitled “Learning from Ellen White’s Perception and Use of Scripture: Toward an Adventist Hermeneutic for the Twenty-first Century.” At the Ellen White Summit on 5 February 2004, with the help of physicist Lynden Rogers as reader, I presented a paper entitled “Ellen White in South Pacific Adventism: Retrospect and Prospect,” noting again that until about 1970 Ellen White’s writings were assigned “a unique and growing status as the all-encompassing, definitive encyclopaedia of Adventist thought and practice,” whereas thereafter the church entered a period of controversy and (since about 1990) an era of growing consensus. After a brief, explanatory bibliography on pages 16 to 19, that paper offered a chronological list of over fifty of the documents that I wrote between 1980 and 2004. Of these, perhaps seven of the earlier pieces have prime importance: a paper “Ellen White in the Eighties,” 1980; an M.Litt. thesis, 1984; a Journal of Religious History article, 1987; a Ministry article, 1991; a Lucas article, 1991; a Ph.D. dissertation, 1992; an Adventist Heritage article, 1993.

It bears mention that a new phase of my engagement with Ellen White Studies began in 1997. At the time, as a visiting associate professor at La Sierra University in California, I was acutely disturbed by the way trusted colleagues throughout the Adventist world were either misunderstood or misrepresented by forthright presenters like Samuel Koranteng-Pipim. It appeared to me that a realistic appreciation of Ellen White’s spiritual gift might be a way to draw the church into more trustful fellowship and toward a better fulfilment of its mission; hence I delivered in San Francisco to the annual conference of the Adventist Society of Religious Studies a paper entitled “Re-Visioning the Role of Ellen White for Seventh-day Adventists Beyond 2000.” Fortunately, many members of the Adventist Theological Society were also present. Input or assessments from scores of thought leaders in Ellen White Studies, including Herbert Douglass and Kenneth Wood, was most helpful for my understanding. This discussion widened from North America to other parts of the world when sdanet.org/atissue placed a cluster of my papers on its website. The major 1997 presentation was updated at the request of Gary Chartier for inclusion in a symposium he hoped to edit from the Great Disappointment, Greater Hope lecture series that Paul Landa organised.

The documents cited above, especially those completed since 2002, may be read fruitfully in association with other presentations that offer brief comment upon or a context for the ongoing discussion. A paper entitled “Ellen White Yesterday and Today: Understanding and Affirming the Ministry of the Most Creative Sabbatarian Adventist” (2002) suggested why Ellen White is the Adventist transformationist par excellence. In reviews of books or dissertations by Douglas Morgan, Philip Jenkins, Rolf Poehler, Gary Land/Calvin Edwards, Merlin Burt, Michael Chamberlain, Bruce Manners, Alden Thompson and others I tried to portray issues important for Ellen White Studies within the context of 21st century Adventism. With the Ellen White Summit of 2004, the publication of a book by Graeme Bradford and the lively discussion following four interviews published in Record during February 2004, I felt the substance of my writings during the previous quarter century was either sufficiently understood or the issues were being taken care of effectively by others, as sugegsted in my report, “The Summit, the Book and the Record: Ellen White in the Ongoing Adventist Conversation” (2004).

By 2005, I wanted to more consistently apply Ellen White’s writings to the great themes of Seventh-day Adventism like, for instance, Christian education. I had begun that process with several presentations: “Does Ellen White Have a Crucial Testimony for Avondale in 1995?”; the Murdoch Memorial Lecture “Visioning and Re-Visioning Seventh-day Adventist Tertiary Education in Australia: A Centennial Assessment of Avondale College” (1997); “The Essence of Avondale: ‘A View from the Ridge’” (2003). I had also attempted a similar process with reference to the Holy Spirit (see the summation of that endeavour in two articles in Record, 4 December 1999) and in relation to the Adventist health message in a presentation entitled “Ellen Gould White: Pioneer of Adventist Health Emphases” (2004). It seemed appropriate to devote more energy toward fostering an inclusive concept of Adventist Studies as the major rubric within which Ellen White’s life and writings could best be interpreted and applied.

Arthur Patrick, 9 November 2011

About adventiststudies

Arthur Nelson Patrick, DMin, PhD, is an Honorary Senior Research Fellow, Avondale College of Higher Education, New South Wales, Australia
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