Prophets in Conflict: Issues in Authority — Book Review

Knight, George R., Prophets in Conflict: Issues in Authority (Nampa, ID: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 2020). 220 pp. $17.99

You may be one of the lucky ones who grew into a healthy regard for Ellen White’s ministry and body of work. Or you may have been “Sister White’d” nearly to death and fled a confusing mishmash of what many hawked as the “Third Angel’s Message,” grim warnings about our slim chance at heaven.

For either cohort, and the entire spectrum between, this latest gift from the Rogue River Rascal (a.k.a. Dr. George Knight) is manna, refreshing rain, and Christ-centered sanity all rolled into 200 pages of love. Love for Christ, love for the Adventist message and movement, and, yes, love for White’s ministry and writings.

Not many readers may have enjoyed the privilege of an education in religion or theology. And fewer still have sat in a class taught by Dr. Knight. So, pardon this note of gratitude on behalf of those who pursued other studies and yet claim a solid stake in the journey of the Adventist Church and how it has shaped our lives. Even the most grizzled find some Adventist Ancestry.com connection to the great travelling evangelists such as Detamore, Barron, Brooks, Cleveland, Bradshaw, et al. But along the way many Adventists declined the “Kool Aid” and grew troubled, if not contemptuous, of our “saving souls” by scaring the Hell out of them with beasts and clocks showing Earth’s history at 11:59... since 1844 (or at least 1863).

What Knight does in this capstone synthesis of his life’s body of work on the study of EGW is to reveal to us, methodically, engagingly, and with professorial endnotes to boot, the pricelessness of the ministry gems of White’s life. While doing so, he also reinvigorates the raison d’etre of Adventism and why it remains precious to us and to the destiny of humanity. Of course, we, the heirs to her legacy of Christ-centered faith, have done a handy job of tarnishing, scarring, and pretty near smashing the jewels she fashioned as she channeled her awe of what Christ did and does for her... and us.

But Knight takes the high road. He repaves the road to understanding and appreciating her writings. He records how White’s unswerving elevation of Scripture differs from self-styled “prophets” who use and abuse the canon as a mere starting point en route to “new light” that captivates and deludes millions.

Christ, through Scripture, unites all that White did and said in her lifetime. She evolved as an intelligent person who spoke and wrote with balance and common sense. Knight shares several examples of how and why her basic writings throughout some 60 years hold keys to understanding the core message. She never wanted her writings to serve as “the last word” on any biblical issue. The posthumous “compilations” that purport to cherry pick and aggregate her “views” in certain areas often obscure our view of what she meant and said in the works she wrote or directed herself.

Prophets in Conflict evokes some wistful longing for “what might have been.” But such a reaction, one hopes, may limit itself to veterans of the systemic abuse of her writings through the 20th century by well-intended parents, schoolteachers, and pastors who sought to save us from doom. Many of these themselves were victims of misapplication and selective misinterpretations of White’s writings who just passed on the errata to the “third and fourth generations,” as it were. Yet, Prophets in Conflict calls us back to the Ellen White whose brilliant mind and tender soul admonished contemporaries to read her views, and their evolution, with reason and common sense and, above all, subject to the greater light of the Bible. That’s the Ellen White we admire and with whom we eagerly anticipate sharing heaven and life eternal. It all boils down to this: God is love.

 

Prophets in Conflict is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle, or directly from the publisher.

 

Further Reading:

Author Interview with George R. Knight about Prophets in Conflict, July 22, 2020

 

This review was written by Ted Ramirez, Attorney: Corporate Governance and Business Transactions, and was provided by Pacific Press Publishing Association.

Book cover image courtesy of Pacific Press.

 

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/10614

It is hard to take that line seriously. It is like people choose to just ignore the first few chapters of patriarchs and prophets. All that stuff about Lucifer and sin’s beginning (some rather peculiar things like the angles did not know preincarnate Jesus was God etc). So she produces an entirely different narrative of sin, the misapplication of Lucifer with Satan and that carries on through all her works yet somehow the greater light is the Bible, even though none of that is in the Bible!

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Unfortunately, I was brought up in that era. It wasn’t until I read the Conflict series that I gained an appreciation for her writings.

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Don’t we all speculate on what might have been or might be. I don’t see a huge problem with the caveats she puts in the text, she viewed herself as used by God, I hope most of us feel that way, I certainly have felt blessed if not used in some situations. She left a lot of her thoughts for us to ruminate over, knowledge has certainly increased. The way the church, true to human nature, has used her writings and the scripture in ways that are antithetical to Christology has confused a lot of people. Not surprising though, fear is a strong motivator. Obviously much of the OT has to be seen thru the Christological lens in order to rightly divide the word of truth 2 Tim 2:15. We must have an answer for the faith that is within us which we can be proud of. The unconditional love of God shown by Christ and the simple basics of Christology clearly makes Good News when decoupled from authoritarianism and superiority. Freed from these we can have Freedom and Love together. Praise God

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Can you elaborate more on what you appreciate in the conflict series? What do you like about it if you don’t mind sharing? I am really interested in your perspective. That means: I don’t have a hidden agenda, won’t make fun of you, and won’t judge you.

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Probably the first thing that I appreciated was that she puts things in chronological order. The book Desire of Ages has been a real blessing to me. There are paragraphs in it that give me assurance of salvation even when I screw up.

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Thank you very much for sharing your perspective! I appreciate that very much.

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Ah so you see those chapters as speculation. Interesting

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John Calvin said, “Man’s nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols.”

And after reading this book I cannot help but sadly contemplate the mistaken elevation of EGW within the SDA church both during and after her lifetime. I had hoped to find in Dr. Knight’s work an explanation. What I found was that the woman herself made much of the issue, but seems not to have been emotionally or constitutionally able to do what was needed to stop it. As is always the case in church sponsored publications, we are expected to overlook the difficulties and see the good that she said and did.

Much time is spent explaining errors that were made in using EGW’s words as a “blueprint” rather than a “pattern”, which Dr. Knight sees as entirely different words with entirely different meanings, which should not be mistaken one for the other. I must admit this seems very much like splitting hairs to me, especially when reading the examples given. What is very clear is that from the beginning Adventists used her writings to specific people and situations and applied them to all. And while she didn’t exactly agree with this use, as early as 1868 she began to think that testimonies given for specific individuals might be helpful for others–an unfortunate mistake which she seems never to have acknowledged.

An example came from an episode in 1904 when the St. Helena Sanitarium had an issue with the school for their children. Dr. Knight cites the story (which is available on EGWWritings.org but is not reproduced in the book.) EGW and her son WC attended a school board meeting in St. Helena in 1904 to discuss the use of her 1872 dictate adopted in every school in the church that children should not attend school before the age of ten and she was adamant that she had never intended for one statement to be used in this way. She seemed not to be aware that for over thirty years this statement had been applied around the United States and Canada by education superintendents. Her son Willie spoke to clarify her position when she began a bit rambly. Dr. Knight recommends in this book that every member of the SDA church should read this passage as an excellent explanation of the proper use of EGW’s writings. Here’s the link: https://egwwritings.org/?ref=en_Ms7-1904.83&para=7729.94

I personally find her unsympathetic view of parents in this passage disturbing and do not see the intelligence being touted above. This passage is a primary source used for a significant portion of this book.

For anyone who has read Jane Austen, EGW comes across very much like the imperious Lady Catherine de Bourgh of Pride and Prejudice. Lady Catherine was the upholder of social mores who looks down upon the heroine of the novel, Elizabeth Bennett, who represented a freer and happier way of life. EGW seems unable to understand how her dictates have affected members and schools and is also unable to understand that what she is suggesting means that anyone who sends their children to school before the age of ten will in effect be admitting that they are unfit parents. You can read between the lines in the document–it becomes clear that those involved do not want to be associated with sending their children to school, for this very reason. The most sensible person in the room seems to be the teacher who finally says, “Sister White, I suppose we will never have a church where every family is just what it ought to be…” This is the most understanding thing said about families in the whole passage. As a parent I find EGW’s admonitions to be inflexible and without understanding of the innate differences between people.

If indeed we are to be wistful for what might have been, we might imagine a world where the woman chosen as a messenger was one with the ability to express herself with her own words, words she learned through a proper education. Not with words she gathered from others. We might also wish for a woman with a temperament suited to understanding others and their difficulties in life and more able to deal with men intent on controlling her.

I appreciated the last section titled “making Ellen White say what she never said”. In this the author goes through four major works which he deemed to have been problematic compilations: QOD, Counsels on Diet, Messages to Young People and Country Living. For this section alone I found the book worth the read.

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Can you please give some examples of the above statement, from the book?
I am in agreement with all you have said, except for the above statement, I have some reservations about this.

This was the last major section of the book from page 129-143. It covered each of these compilations separately.

He discussed the issues with each and I found the section on Messages to Young People (1930) the most interesting. This was a book I was required to read by several teachers, both in junior high and in high school. I didn’t appreciate it. And apparently I was not alone.

He goes into the discussions church leadership had about re-doing the book in the 1960s because of it’s perceived negative viewpoint, but even though this was talked about for years, nothing was ever done. An example of inaction which the author implies may have led to a turning away from the church by young people negatively impressed by the book.

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Thanks for your further book review, Anne! :slightly_smiling_face:
EGW seems to be a more complex person as commonly believed. As I said in the other thread, even after reading the book I still don’t understand her view of her role or purpose. Do you, Anne?

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I couldn’t help myself, Kate :wink:

No. I don’t think she was clear herself. She made conflicting statements. This makes it hard to defend any one role.

I’ll have to go back and look for your post. :slight_smile:

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Thank you. :blush: Yes, very conflicting. So it’s not just me. :innocent:

I don’t want to defend. I want to understand. Maybe she didn’t really understand it herself.

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Hey George @GeorgeTichy would you be kind to have your kitchen cabinet member “book review reviewer” re-review the book review by Anne @laurel on Dr, knight’s book? Make sure Bryan @bness is not offended. :rofl:

Thank you very much.

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I wish we had more information. :blush: I’d love to read accounts written by those who knew her–her friends. They are often mentioned in her letters and in manuscripts. Where are the letters of these people? Has the church made any attempt to archive their papers?

I’d love to read a book exclusively made up of primary source material from those who knew her, because I think there’s something missing when we read everything from her point of view.

And, yes Elmer, please find someone to review my review of the review. I hope Bryan is not too busy and perhaps is available :rofl: But this isn’t his specialized topic, so we will have to see. :wink:

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Thanks for this review. I have a great deal of respect for Dr. Knight, and plan to read the book. I doubt, however, that it will change my mind regarding our misguided prophet(ess). I find some of what I read, especially in the book Desire of Ages (which I understand is largely plagiarized) devotionally inspiring and fulfilling. That aside, I’ve found it difficult over the last 40 or so years to overcome the spiritual PTSD much of her other work and letters has inflicted upon my soul, and can find no valid reason to try at this point. She needs be relegated to the dustbin of history, the sooner the better, IMHO.

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Elmer, I want to laugh with you. What you said is probably very funny. But, as usual, I am embarrassed to say once more that I don’t get it… :flushed: :flushed: :joy:

@laurel I hear you. You have a big heart.
Good night.

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Once in the recent past @bryan wrote a review on geology/evolution which was not favorable to the our church’s marching orders. The most honorable Cliff Goldstein @Cliff , our church’s SS editor, wrote a scathing response on his review which impressed our psychologist-in-residence who offered him a position as a book review reviewer in his kitchen cabinet, in the event George @GeorgeTichy wins this upcoming GC presidency election. :wink:

We are still waiting for the parakeets final prophecy who will the election though.

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Is that who will win the SDA church presidency? Just wondering?

Of course that probably won’t matter since God has been in the process of taking charge of church affairs during the COVID-19 CRISIS

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