Des Ford: The Perils of Being Right

(Phil van der Klift) #22

As I read William Johnsson’s article earlier this morning, the overwhelming sense within me was that something wasn’t right about the picture that was being painted of Des. While I cannot claim that I knew Des well, the occasional encounters I had with him over the past decade and the recordings of teachings made many years ago had left me with a very different sense of Des than what was being written about in the article and in some of the comments. Then when I read Gill’s reply this evening, I thought,now that is the Des I saw. Thankyou Gill for setting the record straight (thought you likely only touched on the tip of the iceberg).

If I had to describe my perceptions of Des in one word, that word would be “Christlike”. I actually can’t recall any other ‘preacher’ that I have heard be as honest and open about their own humanity as I heard Des be on every occasion I heard him speak. Humble is one of the key impressions I have of Des - so much so that I remarked about this attribute in particular when others asked me about the meetings I had attended where Des was speaking.

The other standout attribute of Des was passionate conviction. I clearly remember the experience of Matt 7:28,29 coming to mind the first few times I heard Des speaking - it matched what I was experiencing when hearing Des expound the Word of God. It makes sense - Des walked what he talked. You can’t fake that.

It is easy for people to mistake passionate conviction for a need to be right. They can look similar on the surface. But the difference is the underpinning heart motive. I saw no evidence that Des was motivated by any self-based motivation. Rather, I saw a mountain of evidence that he was motivated by the desire to honor and serve God by searching out the evidence for God’s goodness and grace - and then to serve others by sharing the true Good News of that goodness and grace. I do not believe it is too strong to say that Des was a modern day example of a man after God’s own heart.

In my opinion, I believe that the words of 2 Tim 4:7,8 can be validly applied to Des:

" I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on the crown of righteousness is laid up for me, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me in that day; but not only to me, but also to all those loving His appearing."

Only in eternity will we see the magnitude of the positive impact that Des - a humble and passionately convicted servant of God - had across this earth in the time we were blessed to have him with us.

Rest for now, good and faithful servant…

[PS: I believe this article should have been titled: Des Ford: The Perils of Being in the Right.]

(Nev Biddle) #23

Des and Gillian commenced attending the Adventist Church I attend about three years ago despite the 2 hours return trip from where they lived. Des had been unable to come recently because of his declining health, but we still maintained contact, and Gillian continued to attend as she has been able. Our Church always welcomed them.
Des was humble, patient and brilliant in bible discussions with us and was always available afterwards for questions. At the start of a SS lesson one Sabbath, my wife, as teacher asked the group, which included Des, a question. With no other takers, Des quickly outlined the issue and gave his answer in a few brisk sentences. My wife then said, “Well that is the whole SS lesson in a nutshell where do I go now for the next 35 minutes”. Of course, we all laughed together and Des continued to provide insightful comments. His involvement with us was such a blessing!
And so I wept when I heard early Monday morning that Des had passed away. From reading the FB posts, so too did many others.
I wept again when I have seen critical commentary about Des over the few days since he has passed on. He can no longer defend himself. Some commentary on social media has been disgraceful.
I weep when I find that Gillian is forced to defend herself and Des at this time. Of course, she is able to do so. But she is now a widow and this is a time of sadness for many.
Individuals can have their private views but let’s be respectful publicly to the feelings of the immediate family. For we are told “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called sons of God” (Matt 5:9 NIV) in that they reflect the character of God in doing so.

(Thomas J Zwemer) #24

Des was a true Christain Scholar and a very gentle man. Neal Wilson was a power hungry Demi-god who needed the support of all divison leaders. we see the same in the Son. One just not need to be an OT scholar to know that Wm Miller and Corn field two and Ellen White were Wrong on Dan 8:14. find any recent translation of Daniel and you will find restored or similar wording. I am conflicted on the Sabbath particularly the way Adventism would defend it. Certainly one cannot reduce the ten into nine. Or ignore the opening of the Gospel Of John. So I think Des was correct on both counts.

(Sirje) #25

In this discussion my story comes from the periphery; and I post it as a tribute to a man who rescued me from a very desperate place.

My mom and I had been baptized when I was sixteen at the end of a series of meetings we had been invited to attend. Little had I known, before this, that my grandmother and an aunt we had left in Estonia when we escaped the decade before, had been Adventists. Nevertheless, Adventism, with its many stipulations, and including Ellen White, was new to me. I embraced it all. My life in a public school, in the suburbs of NY city, changed substantially. Suddenly, I had to explain to my friends that I couldn’t attend one thing or another on Friday nights - that I couldn’t play in the band for the weekend football game - I couldn’t go to the “movies” with my best friend. After graduation I left for AUC, turning down a NY state scholarship to a state college. Once on campus at AUC, I thought I had been transported to heaven. There I met my husband, third generation SDA, and I embraced the Adventist lifestyle with no reservations. I graduated with a major in Dr. Ottilie Stafford (English), and minors in Religion and secondary education.

I give this background to say that I was totally invested in the Adventist world - not by birth, but by choice - so, when I began studying our “peculiar” beliefs, I was looking for confirmation, not refutation. I had a minor in religion, but as is common when in school, we study for grades. We know what the guy up front wants, and we study to give it back to him/her. So, when I found myself with two young children and a very busy husband in an isolated spot in Newfoundland, I had determined to “nail down” the SDA beliefs that were still fuzzy in my mind.

I approached my study based on an insert from one of my classes - a compilation of SDA doctrines. I had determined to TRY to come to it from a totally neutral place. This meant I laid aside all of Ellen White and the SDA Bible Commentary. The first “fuzzy” area was there "2300 Day prophesy and 1844. As I became obsessed with my studies I grew more and more confused, but also determined. Nothing I had known about the “pillars” of Adventism were making sense - they weren’t in the Bible. I relented, and went back to the “Commentary” but found more and more confusion - the commentary on Daniel 8 sent me to Hebrews 9; and Hebrews 9 sent me back to Daniel 8, each expected to corroborate each other. I was devastated. I remember driving to a secluded inlet, overlooking the Atlantic, parked my car and just cried. I felt like someone had died.

At the time, I wondered why no one in the SDA church had discovered these problems with our doctrines. I questioned the pastor we were working with - I asked him what to do when what we learn doesn’t square with Ellen White - after we have sincerely, with prayer, looked for answers. (I was very naive back then). His answer floored me - “Pray again.” he said.

We left Newfoundland and found ourselves on the Ohio Turnpike, travelling home to the UP of Michigan. My brother in law had handed us a tape of an interview with someone named, Dr. Ford, as we went out the door. The recording had been taken from a radio program on the CUC campus in Washington D.C. Somewhere on the Ohio Turnpike my husband and I heard the GOSPEL for the first time. We just looked at each other and wondered how that could be.

We found opportunity to hear Des Ford as we spent time with him on two occasions at Itasca National park in Minnesota. We met in a small room in the main building on the camp ground. We were a handful of people who found community through a newly discovered Gospel. We found Des Ford on a third occasion In New Brunswick, Canada, and spent another couple of days in discussion.

What had felt like the end of a road for me in Newfoundland, was only the gateway to a whole new understanding that was to open up “the good news” - the corner stone of the Bible, never taught to me in my 20+ years experience with Adventism. I thought I had had to turn my back on what had been the most important decision of my life - disconnecting from the experience my mom and I had together. (I had lost her shortly after our baptism).

I’m sorry for all that Dr. Ford had to go through. Nothing of value is produced in committees, so Glacier View was no surprise - just another heretic placed on the pyre.

Thank you Des Ford for giving meaning to my life when it had all gone dark.

(Frankmer7) #26

Thank you for sharing your story, Sirje. You’ve opened a window into your experience with Des that is illuminating to us all!


(David R Larson) #27

Perhaps something a little lighter? I will always treasure my memory of Doctor Ford and my father ganging up on me theologically. I coalesced them against me by saying something like: “Don’t we all agree that the forensic theory of the atonement is almost the worst thing that has occurred to any human mind?” If you’ve never been simultaneously pummeled by Desmond Ford and Ralph Larson, you have yet to learn what taking a theological beating feels like! Although it hurt, I loved every moment of it. This is not because I am a masochist but because for once–and only once–they were on the same side! Besides, I knew that they both meant me well.

(Sirje) #29

Obviously you never spent much time with the man. You will probably relegate my opinion to an emotional reaction to your rational and studied evaluation of Dr. Ford’s influence on the Adventist denomination. As someone argued, there is a difference between arrogance and steadfastness of belief. If Des Ford felt that it was his job to keep the SDA church in tact, thereby not doing what he did (that is, give a studied evaluation of the SDA beliefs) I’m sure he would have approached it all from a different place. He knew, what he knew. To water down the gospel in order to accommodate a group of beliefs, he felt, come from a misunderstanding (misinterpretation) of specific Bible passages would not have occurred to him. None of the SDA pioneers would have done that. That would have been a political move, and Des Ford was not a politician. If we want to see arrogance, just read some of the refutations to Ford’s arguments. Cliff Goldstein comes to mind, for one.

In all my discussions with Des Ford, he always emphasized that most of his retractors “are probably better men/women than he is”; but they were wrong. Des always made a distinction between the person and his beliefs. To respect someone as a person - a Christian - you don’t need to respect his beliefs. He was most adamant on what he had proven to be the case, as a Bible scholar, but he never diminished the person having contrary opinions.

We are so used to tip-toeing around difficult issues, always not wanting to step on any toes, that truth often gets left in the dust - because the “work” must continue", and it must always look like we know what we’re doing.

I will get off my high horse, and just say that Des Ford was a humble man; but resolute in what he knew to be true. I think Christian history has a few of this kind of men. Des Ford was one of them.

(Herold Weiss) #30

Thank you for letting me know that the mistake originated with the officers of the Forum at PUC. It was bad advice and he should have followed his original determination not to accept it. I appreciate knowing what you say about Des’ attitude toward the church and the brethren. There is no question that he did a great service to the church. When I was a young fellow almost every sermon ended with an appeal to repentance because one’s name was coming up at the IJ. That doctrine has died of natural death in the church. I have not heard such a sermon in years. Thank you, Des Ford.
I just lament the fact that, no matter how well he carried on his life after Glacier View, there is no doubt in my mind that he did have a heave burden to carry in his heart. I lament that.

(David R Larson) #31

Theology is a professional sport. Those of us who get paid to play it should do as well as we can without taking it or ourselves too seriously. Our “memory verse” should be Job 42:3.

(Andreas Bochmann) #32

I would like to pay my deep respects to Desmond Ford - who understood and preached the gospel of Jesus Christ in a way that was somewhat rare in the Adventist church during his time. (In some places still is, it seems).
I would like to express deep sympathy and respect to @gford1 Gillian Ford for defending her husband with vehemence, when actually she should have time and space to grieve over her tremendous loss.
I would like to say thank you to William G Johnsson for his attempt to portrait a complex scholar and human being.

The red tape in the Adventist church Johnsson mentioned is indeed sobering and troubling. And yes, we need theological diversity if we want our spirituality to grow…

Unity? In Christ alone.

(George Tichy) #33

Des Ford was, by far, the most brilliant theologian the SDAC ever had.

A few before him were courageous enough to denounce the 1844/IJ idea as being a mere fairy tale. But he was able to put it all together in a way that intellectually honest scholars and people in general could not continue pretending that there was no fallacy in the so called “doctrine.” Studying his GV document is in itself enough to get it.

The most disturbing FACT that I have been observing throughout the years is that those who criticize Des usually did NOT study his teachings. It’s quite rare to find one of them that read the GV document in full (does anyone here know someone?.. :roll_eyes:) . Hilarious!!! It’s actually a waste of time to have any conversation with his attackers who never read the document.


(Charles Scriven) #35

I’m not quite sure of myself on this, but your comment, Gillian, seems to assume that I was present at Glacier View. I was not.

I stick with my main point: on the issues that mattered in the context of Glacier View, Des was right. I am grateful for his insight. Although I think there were ways in which he might have shown more humility, I certainly do not think the highly charged word “arrogant” is appropriate, and that I why I did not use it. (It might, however, have been a fit with respect to at least some of the administrators.)

Our church has suffered immeasurably insofar as it failed to embrace the conversation Des Ford’s point of view set ablaze. For the many Adventists who did embrace that conversation, we may be very thankful.


(Patrick Travis) #36

I would suggest something else you should be sorry for. When Des was defrocked by the organization it effectively did begin a process of separation from classical Evangelicalism of the type Froom spoke of and you were trying to tell Martin the church was aligned to.
Now, I suggest we are left with LGT and a “West Coast” theology of our LLU brethren that is completely different from the Evangelicals loved by Froom.
So, congratulations to the church and the Wilson’s. It got what it asked for AND it got this.



This is a very useful account. Today I would simply recommend that readers take a look at the latest and best ideas from N. T. Wright, an Anglican bishop and evangelical from Northern Ireland whose work has greatly forwarded our understanding of Paul’s worldview and theology. His views on the after-life, etc and very close to that of Adventists.

Check out this:

(Cfowler) #38

Thanks for a really good explanation of the New Perspective. I guess I had seen it as both/and in Paul’s writings, but I see what you are saying. Paul did emphasize the breaking down of walls to bring all into fellowship with Christ, which of course was a huge leap for “a Pharisee, descended from Pharisees”. Without those walls being broken down, the Gospel would never have been spread, IMO. It had to be available for all cultures, all people groups.

My husband and I just start reading NT Wright’s book “Paul: A Biography”. It’s really compelling, and we need to get back to it!

(Douglas Ort) #39

I wish to comment on three things, but first permit me to socially locate myself. I provided the background research for Robert Brinsmead’s 1844 Re-examined. I pastored three congregations in the 1980s (earning an M.Div. degree in the process from a seminary of the United Church of Canada), and since the early 1990s I’ve been a family systems theory therapist. Also, my interest in theology and biblical studies, expressed through my work with Present Truth/Verdict in the 1970s, continues to this day.

First, my discovery of Bowen theory in 1986, and my continual application and study of its principles to my own life, and teaching others, provides a robust and nuanced framework for understanding the human family as an emotional system, and how people function across generations. These principles scale well to our own first families, as well as every other kind of social aggregate: congregations, school systems, government agencies, etc. Search Bowen theory, Edwin Friedman. A very accessible book I use a lot with families and in classes is from an Australian therapist, Jenny Brown (2017), Growing Yourself Up.

Second, a substantial body of work on understanding the New Testament (and essentially all scripture) has come from Context Group authors. This is a loose affiliation of scholars and thinkers who work, spanning the past forty years, serves to understand the world(s) of ancient peoples on their own terms, and to educate modern readers on important differences between how we think and live and how they did (and didn’t).

Third, I wish to say a word on dissent, because of course Dr. Ford lifted his voice throughout his life to challenge and not merely comfort. In 1971 The US State Department and the USAID created the Dissent Channel, a message framework for Foreign Service officers to provide constructive contrary views on matters of importance. Baked into this process were presumably provisions to allow responsible voices to be heard but not at the expense of one’s career, when one differed from The Powers That Be.

I’ve been a practicing therapist for nearly thirty years. Well differentiated family leadership (please feel free to scale this idea to one’s work place, one’s congregation, one’s denomination) involves, first of all, self regulation, the disciplined ability to be less anxious in a room full of anxious people. It’s about the grounded presence of thoughtful women and men to set forth a compelling vision that is robust, nuanced, and comprehensive, and to live by its principles. Further, one must have a way to handle challenging opposing voices. One must avoid giving too much attention to strident immaturity while at the same time providing a place for those who have something to say to weigh in and contribute to an evolving conversation. What can you say about a dissent channel in your family, your work place, your congregation, your denomination?

Someone on this list suggested that Dr. Ford could have been a bit less opinionated (my word), perhaps as a way of making room for The Brethren to be more accommodating. For me, that idea plays to weakness. I don’t give over to others the power to define how I conduct myself. Good leaders are not defined by how others think about them (though of course we are all influenced by others, a crucial distinction). And well-differentiated leaders can listen for what another is trying to say without tripping over the imperfections of how it is said.

The stylistic intensity of Australians (sorry, people, I’m not sure that that’s even a thing) is no excuse for not listening.

I didn’t follow Dr. Ford much in the interval from the early 1980s until now, but I remember him as a gracious and thoughtful man. The perfections of his theology (or not) is, for me, secondary, to the direction I perceive his feet were pointed. With one hand he reached into the past, to the NT and the Protestant Reformation, and with the other he thought and taught for generations as yet unborn. It remains to be seen how those who live in the shadow of his life and work will actively remember him, and how they will grow for having known Dr. Ford, or known about him.

(Geoff Bull) #40

The rejection of Des Ford’s view and his dismissal were two different things. His view of the IJ was rejected because it contradicted Ellen White and the Pioneers but he was dismissed by an admin who was being blackmailed to do so. Des was too much of a gentleman to out the Admin.

(Frankmer7) #41

I do think it is both/and in Paul’s writings, Carol. I think your instinct is correct. I just think that we need to locate the concerns of individual destiny and salvation within the broader collective picture that Paul had of the people of God in Christ, and the restorative project of the kingdom of God. We tend, stemming from the reformation and the individualistic bent of Western culture, to prioritize the individual, and work out from there. I think that Paul was approaching it the other way around. It certainly leads to different emphases and applications to the contemporary church if we do, too.

I hope you and your husband enjoy the book. I haven’t read it, but was thinking of picking it up at some point.



(Johnny Carson) #42

"The Perils of Being Right"

Perhaps it would be better stated as “The Perils of Knowing You’re Right”

Dr. Ford was right, as Chuck pointed out. “The Brethren” knew they were right. Due to their own fear any other scenario was unthinkable, so of course they were right.

What we saw happening then is the exact same scenario as what we’re seeing happen now with the whole authoritarian thing going on per ordination of women to the Gospel Ministry. Namely, we saw and we see fear; fear that if every one of us aren’t crossing the same “t” and dotting the same “i” then it surely must mean that we’re not the remnant, and worse yet, maybe never have been.

How very, very silly of the church corporate to allow such nonsense to go on, let alone instigate it. Proof positive that indeed, we’re not the remnant, at least as an organization, but that’s okay because an organization NEVER CAN be the remnant. The remnant are individuals of any faith or of all faiths who love God and stand for him, “Though the heaven’s fall.”

Des was one of the Remnant.

(Cfowler) #43

I watched these debates on you tube (or maybe I had CD’s?) quite a few years ago. I always felt that Johnsson drew the short straw and was the one who had to make the trip. There was a bit of the “deer in the headlights” look to WJ. It’s hard to present Adventism as mainstream/orthodox Christianity, when the people you are speaking to know the facts. Adventists want to present themselves as orthodox, and do not want to talk about EGW, if possible. And they really don’t want to talk about the bizarre aspects and unbiblical doctrines that EGW touts. Talking about and defending the church is hard when you want to obfuscate and sidestep inconvenient facts. Perhaps that is why Neal Wilson and 14 others were invited on the show before WJ finally made the journey.

When Ankerberg said that he had invited Neal Wilson and 14 other people to come on the program previously, that speaks volumes.

John also mentions the professors at Southern who were being investigated for questioning 1844, preaching the Gospel, etc. For those who don’t know, John Ankerberg’s show is taped just a few miles from Southern, so he was well aware of the controversy going on there. I’m also sure he was quite well versed in Adventists beliefs. This was all happening at about the same time…Rae, Ford, Southern, and the Johnsson/Martin debate, as I recall.

Here is a link to Des Ford and Walter Rae on Ankerberg’s show: