In this review of Steve Daily's new book about the Adventist prophet, Ellen G. White: A Psychobiography, Jonathan Butler takes us through the history of his old friend's research and how this harsh critique evolved.
Adventists, as a group, is made up of sub-groups, the basic division being one of birth - those born into the faith; and those who came into the church by personal choice. Beyond that the divisions include level of education and geography. Many other personal divisions come into the whole. We each speak from one of these experiences. Any criticism of Ellen White goes through these personal filters.
I can speak from having made a personal choice to be baptized - into the SDA church.
Even as a teenager, I looked at Ellen White with some suspicion.- only from the aspect of authority. Not only did I have to have confidence in the Bible as being “the word of God”; but also, that this woman I never heard about before, as the one true messenger of God for this day.
Adventist education is permeated by Ellen White, so there was no difficulty learning every aspect of her message as I entered college. As I listened, I tried to find a cohesive picture of Ellen White, and also how she was supposed to affect my personal faith. This proved frustrating. As soon as I thought I had it in hand, another message would come up that un-did what I thought I learned before. What I didn’t realize, of course, Ellen White was around a long time, and she, herself, grew and matured and changed, while the church used her writings, totally ignoring this fact. Context seemed to be totally discounted as discussions emerged abut anything she had said.
Some time later, a good friend of mine happened to say, something during Sabbath afternoon walk in the beautiful UP woods of Northern Michigan - she said that she finds the Bible hard understand; and weren’t we so fortunate to have Ellen White to clarify everything - and she tends to read Ellen White rather than the Bible. That horrified me. I should’ve known that, but we seldom shared a SS class since she was always involved with the children’s departments.
There can not be a consensus of what role Ellen What should have in the SDA church. For myself, I choose to see her as part of the history of the church; but of no spiritual value in my personal spiritual life.
While I understand that having a dream is essential for dream fulfilment, according to Item 18 in the official statement of Adventists beliefs, the above remark is a wishful heresy and sacrilegious thinking, on its face.
For the founders of the sect, as well as the current hierarchy of the denomination (based only on the fact that Item 18 has not been removed from the list of prerequisites for being an Adventist) the inspiration of EGW remains a binary, “T/F” matter with no third option available or even possible. In their parlance, there is no such thing as a nuanced, part good/part glad prophet and pining for something other than an “on/off”, “black/white” perspective on EGW—a virtual dimming switch of sorts!?!?—is perceived as tantamount to trying to pull the rug out from under the organization’s supposedly god-granted, “yeses only please” authority.
(If things had been otherwise 40-50 years ago, I would have “opted out” of all those religion classes I took while attending SDA elementary and boarding schools, as they would have been merely electives!)
As is the case with the followers of Mohammed, Joseph Smith, Jimmy Jones, LRH, David Koresh, et. als., the question of whether SAD-ism’s founder can be questioned by a necessarily less inspired and relatively unimportant member of the group is answered and becomes moot as a condition of one’s acceptance into the group. (This was another, but not the primary reason for renouncing my membership in the EGW Fan Club.)
For me, the bigger issue was finding a satisfactory answer to agnostic or atheistic doubts and skepticism about god’s existence that didn’t involve illogical and self-incriminating ad hominem attacks. (That is, only a fool would say, “You’re a fool to think otherwise.”)
I also avoid, as best I can, any fallacious reliance on hearsay, as in the circular “proving the text by the text” argument, “Some guy (or gal) who swore that he really speaks for god told me so.” Or, “I can prove god is real but first you need to believe in my church, understand this essentially-indecipherable-but-magic book and/or submit to the unprovable first assumptions and principles of my preferred pastor/prophet!”
i know people like this, actually…in fact i was a little like this in my teens, until i was inspired by egw’s descriptions in Great Controversy of the Waldensians memorizing vast swaths of the bible…i found that memorizing the bible helps understand it, especially if you use the KJV, as i do…i first memorized smaller books - 1John, 1Peter, James, Colossians, 2 Timothy - along with an assortment of Psalms, Proverbs, several chapters in Matthew, parts of the OT prophets, and parts of the larger NT books…at this point, i have no problems understanding what i’m reading…i have a clear feeling for the thought patterns of each of the bible writers, which helps me interpret what they wrote…but i do remember a time when i resolutely disciplined myself to read what i wouldn’t have been able to explain to anyone, much less myself…
but having said all of this, the problem i often see with people claiming to be studying the bible, and only the bible, is that they’re often reading and assimilating the opinions and conjectures of academics who study the bible for a living in order to advance various agendas…they’re not reading and studying the bible without these so-called study helps…they’re not doing this surreptitiously, of course…they’re quite open about doing what they believe everyone who reads and studies the bible does, which is accessing the products of those who they believe are experts…but instead of following the thoughts of bible writers, and gaining a familiarity with their thought patterns and personality, they’re simply absorbing and regurgitating jesuit and other academic memes and platitudes, as if these have anything to do with what bible writers were thinking, or intending…this is true even if they’re accessing the views of adventist academics, many of whom received degrees at jesuit and other non-adventist institutions, and who therefore merely reiterate what they’ve soaked up from these institutions…
in many cases, there is seldom any sense that the bible is inspired by a timeless supernatural power, and that access to its true meaning must necessarily be through spiritual means…instead, the bible is merely ancient opinions reflecting ancient values directed exclusively to ancient people who may have heard parts of oral versions of what bible writers may have written, since, obviously, very few would have been in a position to actually read anything that these writers would have written, if they could even read in the first place - and i do stress what bible writers may have written, since there’s no way to know, in many cases, who actually wrote what we call the bible…
hence the almost fanatical preoccupation and endless speculation on what life was like in bible times, as if the discovery of a previously unsuspected potsherd reveals the emotional complexity of the times, if there was such a thing in the first place…the process of bible study now resembles quite eerily the so-called scientific study of earth origins: it’s all logical conclusions based on what are viewed as probable premises based on what is thought to be valid data that may or may not survive the next time they’re evaluated…
related to this, of course, is the tendency to use what we think is our more advanced scientific and educated understanding to either attenuate what the bible writers were clearly saying, or ignore it altogether…in reality, many so-called bible readers and studiers are merely using the bible to reinforce what they would have thought was reasonable even if they’d never read the bible…
in general, the situation is quite pathetic…in fact it’s probably hopeless…
Quite a while ago now I decided to study the “pillars” of Adventism - after graduating from AUC with major in English (Dr. Stafford) and minors in secondary education (which included LaVeta Payne and memorizing the book Educatioin); and another minor in “religion” (Adventism) - because of the sheer number of classes, having had no religion classes coming out of public high school. If anything, any influence on my study was weighted heavily on the SDA side.
From the outset, I decided not to use anything but the Bible and “Strong”. I did have an old set of SDA Bible Commentary, but I used that only to get the official SDA explanations. The rest, as they say, is history - that has included a library filled with everything from Spong (not a favourite) to Chambers and some Polkinghorn and a lot of Lewis thrown in for good measure - etc, etc, etc.
The first part of my study took about a year to make up my mind about Ellen White.
I appreciate that JB had an acquaintance and friendship with Daily some years ago and he gives some insight into Daily’s personality and scholarship background. Although critical of Daily’s harsh treatment of EGW I don’t feel that I’m really convinced that he’s given a good alternative to the All or Nothing approach to EGW as our fundamental beliefs require. (All)
Maybe I missed it.
“‘In the Old Testament, the prophets were often raised up to address specific abuses and had roles that were harsh, corrective and filled with reproof.’ He noted a sharp contrast with prophecy in the New Testament. There “it is primarily the Scriptures (2 Tim. 3:16) and the Holy Spirit itself (John 16:8) that are called to play these corrective roles. The gift of prophecy by contrast is primarily for encouragement and comfort.” Daily believed that “Adventism imposed on Ellen White an Old Testament role that was inappropriate for her and for the body as a whole and she in turn imposed this role on herself” (pp. x–xi). In his view, this was a mistake.”
This excerpt from Jonathan’s article (quoting from Daily’s book) resonates for me. I have long thought that Morrie Venden and others were modern-day prophets, from the standpoint of encouragement and comfort.
About 60 years ago, Dr. Clive McCay of Cornell University came across Ellen White’s writings on nutrition which was his field–he had written much on it, but he was amazed that she did not incorporate the fads and fallacies of her time and summarized a 7-page review (posted in the Review & Herald) that “there is no better overall guide available.”
As a medical student, I found her statement that drugs change the form and location of disease difficult to understand, but with medical literature in the last 25 years finding adverse drug reactions as as a leading cause of illness and death, I now know what Ellen White meant and she was again 100 years ahead of her time, and still ahead of us.
Dr. Florence Stratemyer, head of Columbia University’s Teachers College eulogized Ellen White for advanced concepts in her book, Education.
The SDA Church might be like the 7th-day Baptists with about 50,000 members in 300 years except for the vision Ellen White had for schools, health institutions, publishing houses that have belted the world.
The author above probably does not see Ellen White as Stephen explained when he was stoned, “Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute?” The implied answer is that all prophets were persecuted and Ellen White was sent to Australia to get rid of her agitation for the 1888 message that included more than “Righteousness by Faith” at seen in Steps to Christ, a book that is translated into 150 languages and outsold every other Christian book probably. looking deeper into eschatology that is seen here, I find the title she gave to her last book, “The Captivity & Restoration of Israel” having huge significance as it is based on Jeremiah 30:3,11 and is the context of the next [New Covenant Promise chapter] in Jer 31:8,10,16,17 that we overlook or ignore, better stated in Ezek 36:24-28. It’s sad that church leaders took upon themselves to change the prophets last title–a message that we miss.
To me, it seems like downgrading Ellen White are cheap shots when we have so little idea what she faced to accomplish much. Next to Christ, I look forward to meeting her in heaven.
PS: I overrlooked Daily’s statement above that Ellen White’s visions were not from God. Maybe he would like to explain how she saw tall buildings in NYC “warranted to be fireproof” but “consumed as if made of pitch…the fire engines could do nothing to stay the destruction.” recording amazinginly in Testimonies for the Church, Vol 9, pgs 11 -13.
What will Daily say when Loma Linda has the earthquake that she saw in 9T 92-95, that she linked with “day of the Lord” that will come when Muslim’s take Jerusalem (Zech 14:1,2) as President Erdogan of Turkey has urged? We should expect it to cause the goat in Daniel 8 to fight the ram, because Gabriel told Daniel that vision [chazon conflict of ram & goat is at the time of the end, Dan 8:17, the Medes & Persians now being Iraq & Iran, another blind spot for SDAs.
For what reason? This underscores the problem in Adventist perspective. We claim to be centered on the gospel…but we need continual scholarly and literary focus on EGW? Who is this for? Certainly not the wider world. With that said…
I appreciate the nuance, but the extent of the problem is never pieced together fully in this article. Whether or not she was deliberately deceptive or deluded, she claimed original visionary experience as the source of much of what she wrote, while in reality, she sat with her “laptop” and “copied and pasted” materials from scores of other writers. There is something ethically off about the very claims of origin and contents of her communications. Veltmann even brought up this issue after his source criticism of the DofA.
This goes beyond prophets being flawed people (David was an adulterer, Jonah ran from God), because it calls into question her claims about the writings themselves, and the fact that where they came from and how they were constructed (from an amalgamation of sources and then essentially through a ghost writing team who became aghast with the extent of the plagiarism) were not what they were portrayed to be by her and the inner circle around her. And, this was essentially hidden from the church at large. It still is, in many quarters.
The root problem isn’t Steve Daily’s vitriolic attack. The root problem, the profound issues, and crisis of credibility it all raises, is still not fully addressed even in this article. It still goes skated over and somewhat minimized.
When it comes to EGW, far too many Adventists (or Ex-Adventists) go beyond being intrigued by this multi-faceted person - they become haunted. When it comes to Daily, psychoanalytically minded readers probably recognize the defense mechanism “reaction formation” (especially in light of his attraction to charismatic phenomena).
Perhaps, after all, I do not agree with the author of the review: “We need a dozen more biographies of White, a score more of them.”
Reading this article is quite interesting in that it provides the reader with an insight into thy character of the author of the book. However, it is much better for us if we could view the wonderful interview which featured the author of the book and a father and son ream. Very well done and very informative. My comments from this point are based on that interview:
This is an excellent interview and I especially like the clear and lucid manner in which Dr Daily addresses the issues. He speaks of Ellen White based on the evidence he has and I can sense his integrity in his responses to the father and son team who interviewed him. What this also shows is the level of corruption which has been known by many within Adventism for years, and which was hidden but is now emerging albeit to the embarrassment of the denomination itself. Dr Daily deserves high commendation for this interview and I have no doubt his book will cause many to seriously look at the Seventh Day Adventist Church and Ellen White more critically. It is left to us to face the facts about our church- correct the wrongs, errors , deception which has been perpetrated and which may very well continue, if we have the integrity and fortitude to do this. The alternative is to continue in self deception and see where we will end up. Growing up in the mid 80s to 90s I was taught that EGW was held as God’s mouth piece for us and any deviation from her writings or any challenge to her words was Satanic. Thanks to the internet I would have never known about the tremendous issues which affected SDA ism over the years, plagiarism, financial impropriety and a host of others from various sources. I would have never seen these in denominational publications… When I read the works of Dr Walter Rea, Dr Desmond Ford, I am pleased to see men who in their integrity stood for what was right even in the face of personal loss. Dr Daily, well done and may God continue to bless and direct you in all that you do.
A common complaint is that she borrowed without credit, but so did Wesley and others. To interrupt the thread of discussion to be inserting footnotes here and there is a distraction and the copywrite laws of her time were not as they are now. Victor Ramik, Catholic attorney and specialist on copywriting read The Great Controversy and wrote a review saying she did not violate the law and she put what was borrowed in a larger theme with original thought.
I’m seeing that Ellen white could not write plainly or church leaders would not print it, so she was very careful to put “here a little, there a little” (Isa 28:10)
An example of this is those leaders changed her the title she gave to her last book to a meaningless “Prophets & Kings” after she titled it “The Captivity & Restoration of Israel” based on Jeremiah 30:3,11,24 Please read those verses and note that they are the context of the New Covenant Promise in the next chapter, Jer 31:8,10,16,17 which we must have to be ready to meet Christ in the sky. Ezek 36:24-28 has it clear, but SS lessons last quarter glossed over that meaning. (Rev 3:17)
To whom are you responding? I didn’t say anything about EGW’s plagiarism and don’t have a big issue with it.
My primary reason for rejecting much of her work is the level of hypercritical and essentially un-Christian judgments that poured from her pen and which she allowed to be published in nine volumes of testimonials against her fellow church members.
This example set a precedence for behavior which continued amongst the congregations until I renounced my membership over 40 years ago.
The way I prefer to read it—which I admit is very rarely, these days—the Bible she claims to illuminate is very clear in saying that her unsolicited advise either should not have been issued or should have been done in person and privately.
IMO, the worst possible scenario was for her estate and the SDA denomination to profit from letters that should have been burned before being posted.
We all appreciate her Steps to Christ as a statement of righteousness by faith that was a message from God in 1888, and she went to campmeetings with the messengers, Jones and Waggoner until leaders who rejected the statutes and judgments as part of the moral law asked her to go to Australia to get rid of her. If you had been in her shoes, you might think the leaders had a problem too. I find her strong statement in 5T 211 very fitting for today as we saw the pope (abomination…standing where it ought not, Mark 13:14) and yet our church made NO protest, and that was a sign to flee Jerusalem, yet our leaders say nothing about getting out of the cities where martial law will soon mean impossible to leave, if we can believe Christ’s words about not going into your house to get your things, Matt 24. The description in Rev 3:17 is “blind and naked” – can’t see and not ready to open the door.