Adventist Scholar, Author and Administrator Herbert E. Douglass Passes Away

(Spectrumbot) #1

Herbert E. Douglass, Jr., a Seventh-day Adventist scholar, administrator and writer died this morning at the age of 87. Douglass helped to write the Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary series and authored "Messenger of the Lord," a biography of Ellen G. White. He served as president of Atlantic Union College and Weimar Institute, and as vice-president for philanthropy at Adventist Heritage Ministry, as associate editor of the Review and Herald (now the Adventist Review) and as associate Book Editor and vice-president for Editorial Development at the Pacific Press Publishing Association. Douglass wrote numerous Sabbath School commentaries for Spectrum Magazine. He lived in Lincoln, California. General Conference archivist David Trim shares the following remembrance. -Ed.

Herb Douglass was truly a scholar and a Christian gentleman, in the fullest senses of both words. I value him for both.

As a scholar: he was an erudite theologian, who wore his learning lightly and had a gift for communicating to Everyman. He had an easy yet elegant writing style; he conveyed what he meant simply but powerfully - unlike many academics! He had a long and distinguished career in church leadership and administration, and partly as a result, it often seemed to me that he knew everyone of note in Adventism since c.1940. Herb had strong convictions and opinions, but they were always expressed with Christian love - one never had any doubt where he stood, but he wrote and spoke amicably and with wry, self-dprecating good humour. This is why I will remember him not only as a scholar of religious studies and church leader, but also as a great gentleman.

I got to know him only in the last six years of his life, and our acquaintance was sparked because of my own scholarly research on Adventist Christology. I emailed him, out of the blue, not knowing if he would even reply, because I knew I disagreed with him, but wanted to make sure I was disagreeing with what he really thought, rather than what others said he thought, or my own misunderstanding of his position.

To my profit and soon to my delight, Herb did answer my email. It was the start of a long electronic epistolary relationship - we exchanged around one hundred emails and eventually I had the pleasure of meeting him in person. I quickly realised that his views were more nuanced than I had thought. For some Adventists who disagreed with him, Herb became a kind of bogeyman; his views have, I fear, been somewhat caricatured at times. In fact, he had a subtle understanding of soteriology and Christology, sensitive to fine distinctions, and I was glad I emailed him, for although I still disagreed with him, I understood much more clearly what the actual grounds of our disagreement were. I realised, too, that we had far more in common than I thought. Not least was his love for Jesus - his theology truly was Christ-centred; he also had a passion for this remnant Church and its prophetic role; a strong belief in the Spirit of Prophecy as manifested in Ellen White (on which he wrote a widely read book); and a zeal for mission.

I was obliged, as an historian, to point out (in public, having done so first in our e-correspondence) that his interpretation of Adventist historical Christological views was flawed, since the evidence told a more complex story than of the simple “fork in the road” in the 1950s that Herb (often) posited in print. In addition, we had theological differences: I respectfully dissent from his postlapsarian view of the nature of Christ and concomitant notion that humans, here on earth, can permanently “overcome sin”.

However, from the emails Herb sent me, I learned immensely about the history of Adventist theology in the 20th century and the personal relationships that always underpin theological controversy; he really did seem to have met, known and liked every Adventist theologian and church leader of consequence in the last 75 years. The result was that our correspondence benefited me greatly! I hope he got a measure of intellectual stimulation - he certainly seemed to enjoy our email “conversations". But I don’t doubt that I got the better of our exchanges meaning only that I got more out of them - they were richly rewarding for someone who had been an historian of the Reformation and come only lately to Adventist history. And I found myself in an interesting position - the more I knew about Herb, the more certain I was that he was wrong on certain theological issues, yet the more I liked and respected him.

At one point, we wrote to each other about the controversies in the Church since the late 1970s. I will take the liberty of quoting him, for his words show the measure of the man. He wrote to me, regarding one notable Adventist thinker who became notorious for heterodox views: "He knows I have never diminished him—we just have fundamentally different worldviews. It is the lesser lights that have said some outrageous stuff about what they think I think. But this is all understandable. Goes with the territory. I refuse to let anybody be my enemy." Herb Douglass never, in my experience, even in private, ever abused any of the theologians with whom he had crossed swords. Veritably, he never diminished his opponents. I was really delighted when Herb at one point called me his friend. But it makes sense - he wanted to be friends with every other Seventh-day Adventist.

There are few scholars who can write for all audiences. Even rarer is the person who can have strong convictions, share them firmly, and yet do so in a cordial, even Christ-like way. That was my friend Herb Douglass. We will learn the truth of all things in the earth made new; but I hope for several millennia at least of amicable debates, learning from each other, even while we learn from Our Lord and Saviour, who Herb loved so much and served so well.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

(Mercy triumphs over judgment. James 2:13) #2

Nicely written obit by Trim. My condolences to Douglass’ loved ones. May his example flourish: “I refuse to let anybody be my enemy.”

(@mackenzian) #3

Thanks, David, for writing this and Spectrum for sharing it.
Douglass had a strong influence across the church through his prolific writing, even when he wasn’t directly addressing salvation or the nature of Christ.
My condolences to his family.

(Kevin Paulson) #4

“Know ye not that there is a prince and a great man fallen this day in Israel?” (II Sam. 3:38).

Dr. Herbert Douglass has been my spiritual and theological mentor since I was a junior at Monterey Bay Academy, back in 1977. I began reading his books even before then. But when controversy erupted over the Sabbath School Lesson Quarterly Jesus the Model Man (April-June 1977), I wrote Dr. Douglass and told him of my strong support for the position he had taken regarding Jesus’ human nature and the complete victory over sin the incarnation promises.

Dr. Douglass wrote me back immediately. My file of his letters begins in the spring of 1977, and has endured till the final months of his life. It is among the most treasured of my possessions.

Those in this conversation not familiar with such recent books by Dr. Douglass as A Fork in the Road (regarding Questions on Doctrine) and Opportunity of the Century, should acquaint themselves with these powerful materials.

I will miss Dr. Douglass very much. He was both a stellar theologian and a consummate gentleman. May the multitudes of the young who have been inspired by his teachings hoist his banner high!!

(Rb Wilcox) #5

My first contact with Herb Douglas was during our joint freshman year at PUC, I as a student and Herb as faculty. I am amazed to see that he was only 7 years older than I. My latest contact was as chair of the LLU Press Board. He provided a much needed review of a manuscript in his admirable and inimitable style. I am so grateful that our separation is only temporary.

(Interested Friend) #6

Certainly a warrior for the Lord has fallen. Were Herb writing a remembrance for Trim I hardly believe Herb would have mentioned any disagreements with Trim.

Using such an occasion to air disagreements does not, in my view, demonstrate class.

In the Grip of Truth

(Thomas J Zwemer) #7

Few understood and mastered the beast he rode. clever, adroit, subtitle, charming to a fault. Ingenious, a mentor to LGT nonpareil. The perfect counterpoint to a Graham Maxwell et al. He was everything Ted Wilson thinks he is. Tom Z

(jeremy) #8

i wasn’t aware that herb was postlapsarian in the strictest sense…did he really believe that jesus had our sinful, condemned fallen human nature…there are so many texts that say jesus didn’t…

i can’t say i’m a douglass expert, but i’d be shocked to find that his belief that christ was our example meant that christ had our inherited propensities to sin, or that he was guilty from the moment of conception like we are…generally, postlapsarians in our church have taken the opposite illogical leap: that we have the sinless, guiltless fallen nature christ had that isn’t condemned or part of our sinner status until we knowingly choose to sin…

(Peter Marks) #9

Dr Douglass was a correspondent of my late father. I still remember the controversy engendered in the South Pacific Division in the mid 1970’s by the set of Sabbath School study guides ‘Jesus, The Model Man.’ I grew to respect his writing as an editor of the Adventist Review. In more recent years my admiration for him as a theologian has grown particularly because of his contribution to an Adventist understanding of the Great Controversy Theme. Certainly his writing and comments on this blog in recent years are always a model of real Adventist conviction, moderation and grace. May his tribe increase!


This is a very confusing topic. More than once I thought I’d made my mind up, but then something new arises.

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. (Heb 4:15)

For Christ to be tempted “in every respect” as I have, then He must have been born as I was, the same nature. Otherwise we do not have a High Priest who able to sympathize with my weaknesses.

He took upon His sinless nature our sinful nature, that He might know how to succor those that are tempted. (Letter 67, 1902) {MM 181}

It was in the order of God that Christ should take upon himself the form and nature of fallen man, that he might be made perfect through suffering, and himself endure the strength of Satan’s fierce temptations, that he might understand how to succor those who should be tempted. {RH December 31, 1872}

However, then you have these quotes:

He [Christ] was to take His position at the head of humanity by taking the nature but not the sinfulness of man. In heaven was heard the voice, “The Redeemer shall come to Zion, and unto them that turn from transgression in Jacob, saith the Lord” (ST May 29, 1901). {7BC 925}

He is a brother in our infirmities, but not in possessing like passions. (2T 202)

He was a mighty petitioner, possessing not the passions of our human, fallen natures, but compassed with like infirmities, tempted in all points even as we are. Jesus endured agony which required help and support from his Father. Christ is our example. {RH, August 17, 1886}

So Christ had taken the nature of fallen man, our infirmities, weaknesses, but, also, as Ellen White put, “not in possessing like passions.”? I’m even more confused now than when I first began writing this comment.

These quotes were taken from an article written by Denis Fortin:

I haven’t read it all as of yet, but sounds fascinating.

(Tom Loop) #11

It is with great sadness that I here of Herb Douglass death. He was a gracious man that all of us of every theological persuasion could admire. I remember talking with him a few years ago when I attended the church in Lincoln, California one Sabbath. While I had a hard time following his nuianced take on Questions on Doctrine in his book Fork in the Road, I nevertheless still admired him.

When I first heard of Herb’s “Harvest Theology” I thought it made sense. Jesus will come to harvest this earth. He is portrayed in the last part of Revelation 14 as having a sickle in his hand. Few notice that there are 6 angels, not just 3 in revelation 14. The fourth angel reaps the harvest of the world for the kingdom.

Like with any crop, it has to mature before it is harvested. As I see the Bible, maturity is letting Jesus live within us and allowing the fruits of the spirit to grow into a demonstration of love like we read about in 1Corinthians 13.

Herb seemed to emulate this in his life, but I saw a flaw in his view on the nature of Christ. That seems to be the sticking point, around which the great theological divide in Adventism breaks. I was always meaning to engage Herb on this subject, and a few other questions I had about his seemingly strong stand in favor of Last Generation Theology.

Herb was a mystery to many of us. You couldn’t help but love this saintly man, even if you found disagreements, which i did after I read his book Fork in the Road. I don’t remember where I read it, but just last year I read something Herb admitted. Herb said that Jesus was tempted like us in all but one point, and that was He never had to deal with overcoming an established sinful habit pattern. To me that drove a nail in the coffin of the theology that Christ had a post-fall sinful nature on which LGT hangs.

Thank-you so much for this nice blog on Herb. we are going to miss him.

(David R Larson) #12

I have known Doctor Douglass for most of my life and he officiated at my father’s memorial service. Some thoughts:

(1) If one adjusts for how each side uses the word “sin,” there isn’t much difference between the two views. Instead of endlessly arguing—decade after decade after decade-- about which definition is the right one, I think that we ought to accept that some people use this definition and some people use the other one and that, once we understand and respect what each other means by the word “sin,” the differences melt.

(2) I am surprised that someone who wasn’t around when QOD became an issue seems to me to be questioning the reports of someone who was. On the historical question more generally, George Knight’s footnotes to the new edition of QOD report that Doctor Douglass’ “side” was the more accurate. That historical question is different from the theological one, however. After all, our pioneers might have been mistaken about this as they were about Arianism and so forth. Because the authors of QOD dared not to differ in public with EGW, they did the best they could to make her say what they believed. Far better, I think, to say what one believes instead of putting one’s own words in someone else’s mouth

(3) My wife once observed that he was unusually comfortable with his own male sexuality. She did not mean that he was improper but that he was more interested in what the woman had to say than he seemed to be worried about any sexual energy that there might be between them. He just took that for granted as something normal and attended to the conversation without embarrassment. I think that this was partly because he he did not think that every sexual impulse is a sin as do some of his guilt-ridden critics. Some of them really are obsessive about such things.

For my money, he was more fun to be around than were some who accused of him of not really believing in righteousness by faith. Go figure…!

(Tom Loop) #13


One time, several years ago, on one of his blogs on Adventist Today, I remember telling Herb in one of my comments that I was gay. I was surprised when he took it in stride and was more interested that I know the love of God which takes away the sin of the world. I believe Herb did believe in righteousness by faith.

(Thomas J Zwemer) #14

David You must recall that the little book “Why Jesus Waits” doesn’t have one reference to M.L. Andreessen . yet M.L. Was dean of the seminary when he wrote his major works inclining The commentary on Hebrews . Herb wrote back, "yes Tom several have made that comment, but frankly I never knew of his position. M.L. Was off limits in those days because of his comments on The Answer to Questions. Clever huh! Tom Z

(Lars Justinen) #15

Not sure I needed to be enlightened at this special moment in time regarding the theological errors of Dr. Douglass that this writer has shared. As my mother would suggest “Yes’ too soon.”

(Thomas J Zwemer) #16

David strange you would bring up his sexuality, those closely acquainted with the details of his divorce and remarriage have a different take. the word would be manipulative. Tom Z

(Tom Loop) #17

It does seem conflicting in what you present here, about Christ’s nature. We must remember that he was like no man who ever lived. He was all man and yet all God. I believe the answer to the nature of Christ is found in the elipse of overlaping both the pre fall and post fall natures of Adam. He was like Adam before before the fall in that he was sinless, posessing no propensities to sin. He was like Adam after the fall in that he took on all our physical attributes and weakened will of mankind after 4000 years of sin. I believe that is why he can synpathize with our weaknesses and understand us.

Anyway, the fued in Adventism over the nature of Christ is not the object of this blog. I think we can all agree that Herb was a man who demonstrated in his relationship with others what it means when John said in John 13: 35 “By this all will know that you are My disciples, fi you have love for one another.” On that one I give Herb a 10.

(George Tichy) #18

Did he support LGT?

(Interested Friend) #19

What do the obvious attempts to deprecate the reputation of Herb Douglass say about his detractors?

Romans 12:10 “Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another;”

"The truly converted man has no inclination to think or talk of the faults of others."SD 348

Potomac Conference Ordains Pranitha Fielder, A First for Indian Adventist Women
Potomac Conference Ordains Pranitha Fielder, A First for Indian Adventist Women
(Thomas J Zwemer) #20

George LGT was formulated by M. l. Andreasen, and developed by F.D.Nichol, Kenneth Wood, and Herbie Douglass. it was Roy Anderson that followed Andreasen that challenged that view. that is the primary reason that Andreasen wrote Letters to the Churches that got him into trouble with the then leadership. By the time Pearson and Nesl Wilson came aboad, Aurther White and F. D. Nichol had taken the field with the sinful nature of Christ. it was Heppenstsll and Ford who opposed. Heppenstall was so big, he was just allowed to just fade away, while a Ford was defrocked. it is interesting that Pearson/Wilson used Ford/Heppenstsll to turn Brinsmead and then turned on Heppenstsll and Ford.

now Ted is strongly in the corner of LGT—He only fights at the edges. . Tom Z.