Not Unique to Adventism, But the Heart of Adventist Theology

This quarter’s Sabbath School lesson is on the Great Controversy—that most distinctive of Adventist doctrines. According to the late Herb Douglass, it is the fundamental organizing principle of all Seventh-day Adventist theology, the conceptual keystone of our entire doctrinal edifice. It has also been trumpeted as an original Adventist contribution to Christian theology—the one truly Adventist metanarrative in the whole package of Christian beliefs debated, developed and hammered out over the last two thousand years. That it was basically Ellen White’s concept, her signature dogma indeed, makes it only more important to Seventh-day Adventist theology.

But how Adventist is it, really? A couple of years ago I attended a conference organized by the General Conference Archives at which the archives’ director, David Trim, remarked that a major problem with Adventist theological understanding is ignorance of wider historical theology. As a result, we tend to see distinctive SDA doctrines as unique or unprecedented contributions to theology when in fact they’re not – we’re just unaware of those who held similar points of view, sometimes centuries before.

A similar point could be taken from Jeff Crocombe’s recent doctoral dissertation on William Miller’s hermeneutics, or Robert Surridge’s slightly older dissertation on the history of interpretation of Revelation chapter 3 (which Crocombe curiously doesn’t cite). [1] Both these Adventist scholars showed that interpretations of eschatological prophecies that Seventh-day Adventists thought were unique or new to early Adventist exegetes in fact had been held and embraced by expositors of apocalyptic prophecies centuries earlier. Surridge specifically cast his dissertation as an example of Wirkungsgeschichte (a German academic term for “history of influence”). Many SDAs think that there isn’t a history of influence pre-dating Adventist apocalyptic—that the majority of our positions were original—but it’s not the case.

Recently doing my own research on the history of apocalyptic interpretation I read an article by the historian of English Puritanism, Peter Lake, about sixteenth-century English Calvinist understandings of Antichrist. Lake observes at one point:

It has to be remembered that the seemingly simple identification of the pope with Antichrist could imply a whole view of the world. By a mixture of historical system-building and scriptural exegesis fifteen hundred years of Church history became a single unitary process; a process, moreover, of which the main outlines were already known, leaving only the details of time and place to be revealed by the march of events (interpreted as always, by the light of scripture). History was seen as the great arena within which the struggle between the two opposed principles of good and evil, Christ and Antichrist, worked itself out. Given the nature of the contest there could be no doubt who was going to win. [2]

There are some familiar themes here, for Seventh-day Adventists. One is how just one scriptural application “could imply a whole view of the world.” But even more familiar is the point that: “History was seen as the great arena within which the struggle between the two opposed principles of good and evil, Christ and Antichrist, worked itself out.” Here, Lake is summarizing the views of the influential Reformed theologian William Whittaker. But it could be a précis of the views of Seventh-day Adventist pioneer, prophetess and co-founder, Ellen White!

A fair question is; Does it matter whether Whittaker or White first came up with the concept of an eternity-long “Great Controversy” between Christ and Antichrist/Satan?

In one sense, the answer is yes, since it seems to be vitally important to some Adventist dogmatists that it have been completely fresh and new to Ellen White—that she be (to borrow famous words from the dedication to the first edition of Shakespeare’s Sonnets) the “onlie begetter” of the concept of a “Great Controversy.” But in another sense, the answer is very clearly “No!”

What matters is not chronological primacy in spelling out a doctrine, but how it’s utilized and understood. Think a minute: given how crucial the Great Controversy doctrine is, according to Seventh-day Adventist theology, wouldn’t it be amazing if God had given no insight into its importance to any previous believers? In any case, the concept of an eons-old controversy between God is fairly evident in the Bible. It is difficult to miss “the biblical narratives of the conflict between good and evil,” but as respected Andrews University scholar Jerry Moon observed recently, what is unusual and important, is “White’s comments on those narratives.” [3]

How Ellen White uses the Great Controversy is original and significant. It really is her master organizational principle as Herb Douglass argued. It offers solutions to some longstanding theological dilemmas. The first is theodicy—the problem of evil—how a perfectly good God allows evil to exist and even to flourish. Of course one answer has always been that God allows His human creatures free will, but that does not resolve all the issues. The meaning of “free will” (even “freedom”) have, for example, been so debated by theologians, Christian philosophers, and ethicists that a recent study of theodicy stresses the need to define terms clearly. [4] But adding the Great Controversy dimension brings in new depth and texture, making God’s reaction to the Fall and the presence of sin on the earth more credible for a truly good deity, and easier to sympathise with.

Second, there is the issue of the Sanctuary. This has of course been a cause of conflict (a less cosmic species of great controversy) in Adventism, not least in the last 40 years. But while it is easy to reject the Investigative Judgment as an unduly anthropomorphizing God (reducing Him to setting angelic clerks to pour over record books!) and not really well evidenced in the Bible, too many make the mistake of rejecting the existence of a heavenly Sanctuary and the high priestly ministry therein of Jesus Christ—so manifestly taught in the Book of Hebrews but also supported widely throughout Scripture. The question then becomes, what is going on with Christ’s high priestly ministry, if there is no Investigative Judgment? What need do we have of “a great high priest who has ascended into heaven” (Heb. 4:14)?

The Great Controversy offers a solution here, too. As Jerry Moon summarizes:

The great controversy theme clearly exposed and resolved the false dilemma between Christ’s work on the cross and His work in the heavenly sanctuary. As the purpose of the atonement was to heal the estrangement that sin had created within the universe of God, it was clear that the cross was the center, but not the end of the atonement. Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was perfect, complete, sufficient, and once for all. But on the morning of Christ’s resurrection, there was still unfinished business in the universe that only He could accomplish. [5]

With the Great Controversy we can have it both ways: the Cross as the final victory over Satan and Sin (something, again, obviously taught by Scripture) in one way, but also not the final act in another.

There is much more that could be said, but I’m confident much of it will be said over the next three months by the next dozen writers of blogposts on this quarter’s lesson! The bottom line, I suggest, is this: Adventists sometimes kid ourselves that the Great Controversy is original to us, when it’s not. But we’re not wrong in seeing it as something vitally important—not a unique Seventh-day Adventist contribution to Christian theology per se, but undoubtedly inimitable in the way we understand it and apply it. It is well worth a quarter’s study. It is truly the heart of Adventist theology.


1. Jeff Crocombe, “‘A Feast of Reason’: The Roots of William Miller’s Biblical Interpretation and its influence on the Seventh-day Adventist Church” (PhD diss. University of Queensland, 2011); Robert J. Surridge, “The art of apocalyptic persuasion: the rhetorical dynamics, antecedent and history of influence of the call for Laodicea to repent; Revelation 3:14-22” (Ph.D. diss., University of London, 1999)

2. Peter Lake, “The Significance of the Elizabethan Identification of the Pope as Antichrist,” Journal of Ecclesiastical History, Volume 31, No. 2 (April 1980), p. 165.

3. Jerry Moon, “Herbert E. Douglass’ greatest contribution to Adventist theology”, Adventist World—North American Division, Volume 11, No. 3 (March 2015), pp. 4–6 (at

4. Randy Alcorn, If God is Good: Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil (Colorado Springs: Multnomah Books, 2009), p. 243.

5. Moon, p. 6.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at
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The Adventist church built on the doctrines that the reformers believed. That the followers of those reformers did not build further on what the reformers discovered, and later retreated back to Rome should not surprise us. But it should also not surprise us that many of our doctrines, the Great Controversy theme included, came from, to some degree, protestants preceding our founders.


Here I do not quote this or that scholastic scholar, I just look at the arts, i atime before Gutenberg the real medium of “Ketechesis”. There is plenty of the fight between Christ and SAtan to see.

Waht I miss in theology, especial SDA theology, is this state of war in our whole environment - down to even one cell of our body - the fight for survival, the decline to death, entropy, and - additionally - al these attacky by microorganisms we more or less successfully meet - - - -

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[quote=“spectrumbot, post:1, topic:10213”]
But on the morning of Christ’s resurrection, there was still unfinished business in the universe that only He could accomplish.
[/quote] What is the unfinished business that only Christ can accomplish?

Could it be the healing and reconciliation which would make a true Christ follower loving and lovable? We are in a dilemma because of the QOD episode. One strain in our denomination would say that atonement was complete at the cross, praise the Lord. But this strain of thoughts doesn’t give impetus for how a person should live after conversion. Another strain in our denomination would say that atonement was not complete at the cross, but that we now await for Christ to work out a perfect generation. This gives a person a sense of importance and relevancy—let’s be perfect so Christ can come. But, the so called perfect living has been only defined in a two dimension manner, ignoring the big courageous steps, or so it seems to me.

What about a third way? I see this described in many voices who are trying to wake up an apostate, triumphant, blind group of Christ followers. I see this described mainly by voices who are not in the SDA denomination. This third way calls for Christ followers to be loving—and no that is not simple and milquetoast. We can only be truly loving with a commitment to allow Christ to dwell within us. This might be accomplished by some rituals that would be categorized as dangerous spiritual formation. I believe the battle cry against spiritual formation is actually a battle cry against the Spirit. I might suggest that the metaphor of Christ in the heavenly sanctuary stands for Christ’s readiness to dwell within us—if we will let Him.

So, what is needed now is not a vegan, monastic, patriarchal group that strives for all things pious. What is now needed are individuals who are committed to discipleship. Living amongst all sorts of people in all sorts of conditions. People who are humble and self sacrificing. Those people are the temple in which Christ wants to dwell. This requires thoughtful Bible study to learn how I should live. This Bible study is best done in a group for accountability. But a bent to study so that one can categorize heresies and fallacies of OTHER PEOPLE will only divert a disciple away from the real mission which is to allow an indwelling Christ in one’s own life.


I am going to use your sentence as a foundation to write my input to this thread for others.
What does it mean to allow Christ to dwell in us? This is a figurative statement that needs explanation for it to be significant and useful.
Notice these parallel texts:
Ephesians 5:18 And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit;
Colossians 3:16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; …".
We hear calls to pray for to be filled with the Holy Spirit.
90% of “Christian” churchgoers have not read the whole bible.
SDA do not spend much time reading/studying bible or checking out their SS lesson.

Jesus told Nicodemus that he needed to be born again.

1 Peter 2:2 As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby:
If there is no desire, can one be really born again?

Prove me wrong with sizable sample surveys.

The author of this article uses the quarterly to write about the great controversy topic and misses the title which is rebellion & redemption.
Would anyone think that maybe redemption is the solution (or part of it ) for rebellion?
EG White writes that “the essence of the gospel is restoration.”

Why the article to present that the great controversy theme is not unique to or launched by SDA thinkers?
Is it to counter a perceived institutional, elitist, cultic, superiority mindset?
My attention is on the word “redemption” because it is different than the word "salvation"
So much time is spent on pet SDA doctrines when most do not have the basic understanding of key terms: gospel, grace, and salvation.

Sometimes I wonder if most SDA even care or are they just frustrated by diverse views.
A few months before Herb Douglass passed away , I visited the church he attended and participated in the sabbath school he sat in.
The SS teacher asked the large class…"what was the will of God?
I gave an answer from what I learned from one of the most respected preachers in America.

Isn’t it important that we know the basics and the will of God?
New covenant got some recent attention in SS.
Psalms 40:8 I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart.
Matthew 7:21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.

Does God want SDA to discuss & speculate on the nuances of the great controversy or does he want humans redeemed/saved from rebellious mindsets?
There is some very deceptive cognitive activity going on to counter God’s will.

When church doctrines and teachings are ambiguous, as described above, it is not only difficult to determine the most important to follow, but also to tell others.

When Scripture records Christ on the cross saying “It is finished” did He mean only partially?

Or was His atonement and judging the saints necessary for completion?

We should not be so worried over the necessity of perfection but to live by Christ’s command to love our neighbors as ourselves. The Golden Rule, known and taught in many world cultures has proved its superiority to all the many laws ever written, including theocratic dictates.


This is a pretty interesting piece, but isn’t it possible that it understates the originality of Adventism? The idea of human history being a "great arena within which the struggle between the two opposed principles of good and evil, Christ and Antichrist, worked itself out” isn’t the same thing as the Great Controversy. Ellen White’s idea is that this comes from before human history. Yes, sure, it builds on existing ideas of reformers, but the way that Ellen G. White develops - isn’t that an original contribution?

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I resonate with the idea of Christ dwelling within the community of believers. Our continual and dominant western emphasis of the faith is one that is an individual experience. While I would agree that our faith is indeed personal, I would also add that it is never private. Faith is meant to be lived out in community…in relationships with others, within the church, and stretching out to all arenas of life. Character never develops in some sort of pious performance vacuum, it is formed in the crucible of community and relationships…this is where love can be learned and practiced.

This leaves me with the idea that I am never self sufficiently reflecting Christ to the world. I am part of something bigger than myself, and can appreciate how I can do my small part in reflecting him, amongst and with a group of gifted and Spirit led and empowered people.

I believe that this is what Paul was getting at in his letter to the Ephesians, the most developed thought on the church/ecclesia, in the NT. He speaks to those who have experienced “the truth as it is in Jesus.” While this has been used as Adventist code for our singular doctrines, Paul meant nothing of the sort. Instead, he was speaking to those who had put off their old way of life, and were living a new life in Christ, empowered by the Spirit. Throughout this letter, he never speaks of this experience as something separate from community, from being a functional and functioning member of the body of Christ. A body of people where all the old prejudices and divisions by race, religion, gender, and social status were torn down in Christ. We, members of his body, have been saved by grace through faith, so that we together may be his work of art, to do good works…to express, to give, and to receive love that makes a difference for time and eternity. And this can only be lived in the new community that Christ has placed here.

Where do we stand in this kind of experience, personally, and as a collective group? Paul speaks of the unity of former enemies, Jews and Gentiles now together in the Messiah Jesus, as a spectacle to the cosmos. SDA thought emphasizes personal piety as that demonstration. Paul speaks of genuine and transformed relationships.

Looking at what transpired in 2015, where do we stand?




The Great Controversy metanarrative is at least 2,000 years old, with roots in the intertestamental period. Ellen White learned it in elementary school, as Milton’s Paradise Lost was included in the reading and writing texts of her day and frequently mentioned in Methodist sermons and Sunday School. Almost every home had a copy of Milton and Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, the other narrative of the journey to heaven, and which also appeared in her early visions. Ellen White was among several American interpreters of Milton’s classic, and by casting the early experience of the Millerites in its grand scale and scheme, she helped Adventists overcome the sense of disappointment and shame they had felt from 1843 on.

What SDAs have not grappled with yet is how modern science, with its alter-narrative of the long progression of life forms and deep time, will transform our founding myth. The cognitive dissonance our students and believers feel when faced with these two grand stories is one of the intellectual realities of our time.


This is where your question belongs. You don’t even have to note that it is off-topic.

Trust The Process.

Umm…doesn’t the book of Job lay out the great controversy, and pretty explicitly, at that?

Also, in terms of unique SDA contributions to theology, don’t we hold that the Investigative Judgment doctrine is our sole piece?



i’m not sure there’s ever been much traction for the claim that adventism is unique…i think the larger, more credible, claim is that adventism is the most recent installment of an understanding drawn from direct revelation from god…as such, adventism uses an inspired perspective to draw from the ministries of noah, abraham, moses, jeremiah and paul, but ultimately opens up into something that none of these luminaries were in a position to imagine…our current understanding is as radically matured from the understanding of the new testament as the understanding of the new testament was from the old…

any future understanding that’s genuine, in my view, will follow this same trajectory of supernatural, spirit-led fidelity to the old that opens up into something new and unimagined…

I always heard it was the Investigative Judgement which was unique to the Adventist faith. The idea of the Great Controvery is certainly not unique to Adventists. In fact, a metal band with a Christian song writer and singer called Oh Sleeper did a whole album around the concept of the conflict between Satan and God. The album is called Son of the Mourning for those interested. Oh Sleeper

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Heeeeey Ted Wilson and co. the 1950 SDAs called…They want their church back!

I’ve been watching a lot of Secrets Unsealed presentations recently. Their ratio is 80/20 SOP to Bible quotes, and that’s being generous.

Do they value SOP above the Bible? Actions speak louder than words.


While Whittaker and White both “lay out the cosmos as the arena within which the struggle between the two opposed principles of good and evil, Christ and Antichrist, worked itself out”, the difference is in the last sentence of that paragraph above, where it says, Given the nature of the contest there could be no doubt who was going to win. While the Calvinists knew “who was going to win”, Adventist aren’t so sure; but beyond that, we seem to believe God doesn’t know either.

The only reason for the Investigative Judgment is to determine who gets to be saved through an investigation “of the life record”, we are told. God, then, is measured by our success. The assurance of triumph is lacking in the SDA scenario - the outcome of the “controversy” - yet to be determined. Isn’t that what we are told? Isn’t that what is to motivate our behavior - which would be our validation of God’s plan?

Frankimer asks “how we stand personally and collectively”. If we are to continually ask that question, we are not focused on the job at hand. People who are busy doing a job - living a life of service - don’t stop every five minutes to see if they’re doing it well. The focus of our lives can’t be “our lives” if we are to follow Christ personally.

Physicists tell us that the old models of atoms we used to make in Jr. High - the Styrofoam ball with straws stuck in them, with smaller Styrofoam balls at the end - are not accurate depiction of an atom. The space between the parts of an atom are immense. If we are to think of the nucleus as being one foot in diameter, the electron in a Hydrogen atom would be 10 miles away. Yet, these bonds of energy make up everything we think of as solid, liquid or gas. The relative distances involved in the makeup of these particles is enormous, yet they make up tangible stuff.

Individuals make up God’s church, but the space between each member might span, not only distance, but also time. We don’;t make the determination of being “God’s church,” labeling it as such, and then go about living up to some collective identity; but rather, individuals, separated by distance and time, but led by the Spirit, COLLECTIVELY, make up God’s church; and automatically , BY DEFINITION, do His will.

The “controversy” has been settled - not only cosmically, but personally as Christ won the battle on our behalf, making us part of His church, universal.

I am responding to Frank, almost 12 hours after my post above. I do so, so as not to lose it for posting more than once. As you have said, Frank, not being able to carry on a meaningful discussion is ridiculous, given the characterization of this site, I haven’t been to “the Lounge” in weeks (months ?) because I can’t find the relevant conversation at the time it’s going on. If this is how the establishment likes it, they are failing at providing a conversational outlet as promised. It’s either, false advertising, or a superficial version of what was originally intended by this Spectrum site.


This is one of the major problems in Adventism, the need to be not only “distinct” but “superior” to other religious systems. Why do we need a “distinctive doctrine?” For no other reason than to appear closer to God than others, to pretend that our truth is “more truth” than other truths.

Shouldn’t be The Gospel our most distinctive doctrine?

Oh, well,… but then there wouldn’t be anything that made us “special” and better than the other religions. Therefore, no, The Gospel cannot be our distinctive doctrine, it has to be indeed something else.

Talking about 1844 and the IJ:

FYI, Desmond Ford just made available his latest e-book, for free download. (About 70 pages only).

To download it in PDF format, for free, just go to:


To make this assertion one has to ignore the claims of Joseph Smith and Mary Baker Eddy. It certainly is the understanding of Mormonism and of Christian Science that the revelations of God to their founding leaders were distinctive and “special” just as the claims in Adventism that Ellen White’s messages are. By plucking Mrs. White away from the rich Protestant heritage in 19th century America you do Mrs. White as well as Mrs. Eddy and Mr Smith a disservice.


Thanks, GeorgeTichy.

I meant to write back earlier. This was perfectly said…including the mention of Dr. Ford’s new book!


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There is much evidence that a major part of GC was “borrowed” from J.N. Andrews and John Milton…


What bothers me is WAR is everywhere, every level of society. Worst of all, unbelievable, there is “War in Heaven”—between holy and perfect Angels. I am afraid when I realize that the “love approach” failed to create a climate of peace, of all places, in heaven. Heaven, even given eons of time, could not work out a peaceful solution.

I concerned that the only way heaven can create a lasting peace between themselves—is through War that involved trillions of human casualties. However, worst of all, heaven’s “Final Solution” is accomplished, not through the cross, but though excruciating violence of slowly roasting in a hot fire their enemies alive for long periods of conscious time. I am concerned about this “final Solution.” I hope my fears are unfounded, I don’t even like considering it.

“I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent.” Mahatma Gandhi