Changing Perspective on Inspiration Presented at Meeting of Adventist Religion Scholars

Like Adventist pioneer W.W. Prescott, Andrews University Professor Denis Fortin said, he had “had to adjust his view of things” after studying the events surrounding the 1919 Bible Conference. And he called on his colleagues to do the same in his presidential address that opened the Adventist Society for Religious Studies (ASRS) Meeting in San Diego Nov. 21.

To honor the 100th anniversary of the 1919 Bible Conference, it was chosen to be the theme for the ASRS Conference. Fortin skillfully set the context for the conversation with a description of the six-week long event in 1919 that was called to provide time for reflection and discussion of difficult subjects and points of interpretations religion teachers faced at that time.

“New information and insights challenged the accuracy of biblical and historical facts and chronologies that Adventists had used to buttress their interpretations of prophecies. Prophetic timelines were now quietly questioned,” he said. Consequently, the writings of Ellen White were also addressed. One challenge concerned how inspiration worked. Some felt that there is no degree of inspiration between canonical and non-canonical prophets, so a prophet was either inspired or not. This favored a “predisposition toward the inerrancy and infallibility of all inspired writings.”

However, two of the people at the Conference “(A.G.) Daniells and (W.W.) Prescott had seen first-hand how Ellen White’s books were prepared and they could not espouse their inerrancy and infallibility.” They also knew that the facts about Mrs. White’s inspiration had not been clearly and honestly presented to church members.

Daniells risked discussing how some of Ellen White’s books had been prepared, “to illustrate that she was not inerrant or infallible, and that her books were not to be the last word in matters of interpretation or history.” For instance, when revising The Great Controversy in 1909, Ellen White “asked a few pastors to search for new quotes from known historians to replace the ones found in the 1888 edition.” Prescott had provided the most revisions to historical quotes. He had not wanted to do this research, “because he could not understand how his assistance could be incorporated into a book that claimed to be inspired.”

After presenting their concerns about the situation, Prescott commented to the attendees, “But I did not throw up the spirit of prophecy, and have not yet; but I have had to adjust my view of things.”

Fortin turned to a theory by Ormond Rush for explanation of what happens when “what a community comes to believe is affected and shaped by its imperfect, even flawed human life, history and experiences.” Four bipolar issues characterize such situations: continuity/discontinuity, plurality of interpretations, clarity/ambiguity, and normativity/relativity. Fortin gave examples of each within the Adventist context.

“Yet what I think we need to acknowledge candidly is that since the 1970s and 1980s the same kind of obfuscation and lack of authenticity has been prolonged. And I wonder to what extent this lack of authenticity to deal with difficult subjects is also something we have received from them as part of our heritage,” he said.

But he also expressed hope if the church were to embrace God’s guidance in a different way. “If Prescott had to adjust his view of things, I think we are in need of the same experience. That is perhaps the best lesson we could learn from the 1919 Bible Conference,” he concluded.

The Adventist Society for Religious Studies (ASRS) is a Seventh-day Adventist scholarly community whose purpose is to provide intellectual and social fellowship among its members and encourage scholarly pursuits in all religious studies disciplines, particularly with reference to the Seventh-day Adventist tradition. It was formally organized in New York City, 1979.

Bonnie Dwyer is editor of Spectrum.

Photo by Pierre Bamin on Unsplash

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/10044
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Are these *” ADVENTIST RELIGION SCHOLARS “ on the church payroll ?

If so, can they truly give an honest assessment / opinion when their livelihoods are on the line and vindictive reprisals are possible if they contravene the party line ?

Just asking since the case of Desmond Ford comes to mind.

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Adventism will officially be forever a cult. There is no way to reverse course now. I believe that Des Ford offered the Church the last opportunity for redemption. Maybe, just maybe, things could have been worked out at that time, though it’s difficult to envision how the Church could manage a transition “from EGW to the Bible-only.” Maybe it would have been an impossible mission anyway.
@gford1

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Denis Fortin is Professor of Historical Theology at the Seventh-day Adventist Seminary at Andrews. So, that counts as being on the payroll.

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Thank you, Bonnie, for the article!
It was about time to finally discuss these matters. But in times like these, it needs courage to address these matters. Bravo, Denis Fortin!

SDA statements on inspiration are always troubling for me, for several reasons:

First, they are based on the assumption that all Biblical writers were prophets. How can we make such an extensive claim when many of them are unknown authors? Does one have to be a prophet in so that God wanted his/her writing to end up in the Bible? How can we know?

Second, they don’t consider that the only phrase with the word “inspiration” is actually a metaphor (“God-breathed”), and is just saying, in my opinion, that God’s Spirit is somehow with the Biblical texts, and therefore, they are profitable. (Note: don’t mix this up with verbal inspiration.) How can we make an extensive theological theory of inspiration based upon a metaphor?

Third, they don’t consider the different effect of the Biblical texts, and EGW texts. Biblical texts have influenced and shaped Jews and Christians throughout history. NT texts alone did so for almost 2,000 years. They were read at each church service, and shaped worship and Christian life. EGW texts have just influenced a pretty small minority of modern Christians.

Fourth, they don’t consider that the profitability of a text is more than mere information. The presence of God does more than just giving information. God transforms, shapes, evokes emotions etc.

Fifth, they don’t consider that there is a difference between a text and God. Jesus is “the truth”, not a text.

There are more reasons, I leave it at that.
I refer to the profound contributions of @Arkdrey (#12) and @GraceVessel (#23) in the Thread Finding Ellen White.

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Michael Campbell, the author of “1919 – the untold story of
Adventism’s struggle with fundamentalism”. was he there to
present a paper?
His book is quite challenging. And I was surprised it was published
by Pacific Press.

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Many of us have already “adjusted our view of things”. That’s why we’re here, hoping for a faith community to still identify with. We need motivation and courage to venture out in faith, and trust what we are reading and understanding with our own eyes, To defer our beliefs to a third person even when we find a discrepancy, is to replace the leading of the HS to another human being. In that respect, it’s easier for those of us who are first generation members because we have chosen this path, out of any other, through some kind of consideration. Second, third, etc generation SDAs have much more difficulty making adjustments. The Adventist identity has, by now, become part of their DNA - to state the obvious. How we can overcome that cultish attitude is most difficult.

Having made the choice to become an Adventist myself, I continually look for enhancement and new ways of seeing. I realize the decisions I made at 15/16 need to be reevaluated on a regular basis for my faith to be relevant to my life. That has seldom been the case for those who learn to walk in the “mothers’ room”, ending with a college degree from one of our institutions - which, at this time, sit vacant - (in my case AUC).

The book of Hebrews starts out, laying the foundation for the Christian faith, stating that Christ is the ultimate prophet, replacing those who spoke for God previously. We get hung up on the promise of a “gift of prophesy” promised God’s people. There is a difference between understanding the given prophesies in the Bible, and the kind that add to what is already there. Even as a sixteen year old, “The Spirit of Prophesy” books (as they have been called) made me uncomfortable once I read the closing remarks at the end of the book of Revelation. If the Bible isn’t enough, then we are on the wrong track, altogether, looking for sustaining spiritual growth.

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Steve,
I can see the fumes coming out of some people’s heads at the GC when they realized what this book actually represents…

Was its printing a mistake, or part of a conspiracy?.. :thinking: :innocent:

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Ditto!!
-17-18-19-20

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The pacific Press is a very particular publisher when it comes to Adventist literature. From my observation, it will usually err on the side of SDA tradition rather than biblical accuracy.

Unfortunately, the brethren are so biblically illiterate that without the Spirit of Prophecy to explain and clarify biblical passages, they would twist the Bible to say what it does not say. I will leave that to your consideration.

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Be kind, Henry… especially today! In their alleged fumbling way, the brethren mean well.

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That won’t cut it when it hurts people - not even today.

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I can see God rejoicing with His angels in heaven, knowing that we his children are using our brains He created properly and appropriately.

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Well, this actually is a relief for people who are literate. The illiterate, poor guys, they need to invest some money in literacy aka buying the whole SOP. Just for reference, I know…

Out of 18 million people, how many are illiterate then? Can we start evangelizing some literate people now??..

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I do not mean to be unkind in any way. The brethren do mean well, but they do not know where we are in prophetic time and spend their time doing man’s work while God’s work languishes.

George asked me about my “final shaking” comment. The SoP makes this point clear:

They lack the discernment to see what is going to break upon us at any time. There is a spirit of desperation, of war and bloodshed, and that spirit will increase until the very close of time. Just as soon as the people of God are sealed in their foreheads,–it is not any seal or mark that can be seen, but a settling into the truth, both intellectually and spiritually, so they cannot be moved,–just as soon as God’s people are sealed and prepared for the shaking, it will come. Indeed, it has begun already; the judgments of God are now upon the land, to give us warning, that we may know what is coming. Ms 173, 1902, pp. 3-6. (“Medical Missionary Work in Southern California,” November 20, 1911.) {1MR 249.2}

Discernment is needed by our leadership in this day in which we live. And each individual church member needs discernment as never before.

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Nice thing to post something from the SOP.
For those who are literate though, the Biblical Adventists, I wonder if you can post something from the Bible that will actually tell us the same thing?

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I suddenly experienced a flash of enlightenment as to the true nature of Ellen White’s work a few years ago when I read a comment by triznik on this website:

I disagree with that sentiment. If she were merely “a nineteenth-century version of Beth Moore” then she would be a fraud, since she claimed otherwise. But the post made me realize she was BOTH. And I believe she thought of herself and her work as both. Why would the church emphasize one thing and diminish the other?

When writing what she was shown in vision, Ellen White was clearly acting as a prophet. But much of her work also falls in the “nineteenth-century version of Beth Moore” category.

She clearly believed herself to be commissioned by God to explain the Bible and share truth and light as any evangelist or Christian author and Bible teacher like Beth Moore would do today (see 1 SM 34-36). To that end she and her staff worked to find and compile the best material she could in what became her Great Controversy masterworks. By today’s standards, her process would have to have been different, and paraphrasing other authors so extensively would never fly. But it is not really that much different than the production of much modern Christian literature published under well-known names. (How do some of those authors manage to churn out so many of those brilliant books and sermons so quickly, supposedly all on their own?) Ellen White brought her own inspiration from the Holy Spirit and the background of the visions she saw to the process, and stood as firmly behind her views and the resulting body of her work as popular Christian speakers and authors do now. But she admitted she was neither inerrant nor infallible.

The institutional church could have saved so much disillusionment if they could have simply always admitted her imperfections and her humanness. It doesn’t diminish her ministry one bit.

I think Ellen White’s work stands on its own, and it doesn’t really matter as much as we think it should if we could parse out how much of The Desire of Ages for example was literary art versus how much insight was directly received from vision. As the commenter had said, “Her books are very inspiring and can lead many readers to experience a closer, deeper personal relationship with Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior,” and that was indeed her own purpose.

Of course, if someone is used to parsing the exact words of Ellen White to use them as a means of asserting spiritual control, that generates a very different necessity to treat each word almost as if verbally inspired and fight anyone who does not. Any other view of her would be frightening.

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Bonnie. You wrote, “Ellen White “asked a few pastors to search for new quotes from known historians to replace the ones found in the 1888 edition.” Prescott had provided the most revisions to historical quotes.” I’m thinking you may conflated two things here. She did ask for updated quotes for the 1911 revision because many of the old quotes from the 1888 edition were gathered from the libraries of Europe while she was there. To hurry the delayed edition along, the Review just simply removed the quotation marks from the whole book to satisfy Ellen who had complained about her book setting idle while Smith’s was already published and in the hands of the colporteurs. So when she revised her 1888 edition which was to become the 1911 edition, she asked that quotation marks and reference be restored and where the books could not be found in the States, she asked that suitable references should be found to replace them so they can show them quotation marks and note the books from which they came. Ellen wanted the references to be able to be found in America. She also asked for any other suggestions for revision, of which Prescott submitted 101 suggestions. 51 were accepted.

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We all know that he cannot.

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"As the commenter had said, “Her books are very inspiring and can lead many readers to experience a closer, deeper personal relationship with Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior,” and that was indeed her own purpose."

I do agree that some of her writings would be best used for “devotional” purposes…but I disagree that it was “her purpose”. I don’t read a lot of other Christian authors but I doubt that most of them believe that the Holy Spirit has given them literal “visions” and that the angels helped them write.

"The institutional church could have saved so much disillusionment if they could have simply always admitted her imperfections and her humanness. It doesn’t diminish her ministry one bit."

In theory, EGW was a mere human. Nonetheless, the church can’t back down from viewing her as “Inspired” and then deal with her humaness. It would diminish her “ministry” in the way that EGW has been allowed to be portrayed in the SDA Church. The horse has left the barn…

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