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Ellen White Scholars See Crisis, Call for Change

Group photo of EGW Conference

ANGWIN, CALIF. (October 22, 2023) — PRESS RELEASE 

About twenty Seventh-day Adventist scholars spent the weekend of October 22 discussing historically responsible ways to reposition the influence of Ellen G. White in the denomination she helped found. Held in the Scholars’ Reading Room of the Walter Utt Center at Pacific Union College, the working conference proceeded under the motto, “Misuse does not take away proper use.”

Participants included five retired college presidents, the former dean of the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, three Ellen White biographers, and several students of her writing process. The group issued a statement which declares the church currently faces a “crisis” that calls for new approaches to Ellen White’s influential writings.

The statement reaffirms her value as a spiritual guide and encourages a comprehensive view that acknowledges “everything we have learned about her humanity, her historical context, her literary sources, and her spiritual development to create a better understanding of her ministry.” Seeking this deeper comprehension, discussion leaders led conversations on a variety of topics related to White’s legacy. 

Ellen G. White Working Group

George R. Knight, emeritus professor of church history at Andrews University, spoke about how new evidence had changed his initial judgments about White. Knight is the author of Ellen White’s Afterlife (2019) and over twenty additional books on her, Adventist history, and theology.

Returning to his 1970s research, Donald R. McAdams, retired president of Southwestern Adventist University and author of Ellen White and the Historians (2022), suggested creative ways for denominational leaders to appreciate her use of sources. 

Using a historical analysis of White’s writing, Denis Fortin, professor of historical theology at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary and co-editor of The Ellen G. White Encyclopedia, shared how such an investigative method might enhance her work’s devotional power. He shared how his 2017 critical edition of Steps to Christ outlines how this approach might continue to inspire readers.

Lawrence T. Geraty, president emeritus of La Sierra University, teamed up with historian Ron Graybill, who spent 13 years as an associate secretary at the Ellen G. White Estate, to offer revisions to the denomination’s official statements on the Spirit of Prophecy

In light of newly available sources, retired educator, administrator, and prolific historian of Adventism Gilbert Valentine shared insights into Ellen’s White’s mind, character, and personality that elicited both sympathy and shock from the audience. Paul McGraw, academic dean at Hong Kong Adventist College, discussed Ellen White as a “prophetic homilist.”

George Knight Speaks

Professor of history at Walla Walla University Terrie Aamodt, and Jonathan Butler, who both have edited major academic contributions to Ellen White studies, prompted discussion on the writer’s evolving context, including the impact of Victorian ideals of gender on her work and authority in the church.

Looking to the future, Katharine Van Arsdale, digital librarian at the Center for Adventist Research, described the potential impact of artificial intelligence, enhanced research, and holograph-reading tools on Ellen White studies.

The conference ended by recommending clarification in the Official Beliefs of the Seventh-day Adventist Church which currently states, in part, that the Gift of Prophecy “is an identifying mark of the remnant church and we believe it was manifested in the ministry of Ellen G. White. Her writings speak with prophetic authority and provide comfort, guidance, instruction, and correction to the church.”

The reconsideration of these terms was accompanied by the participants' appeal that Adventists grow in appreciating White's role, stating, “Just as it is impossible to explain American democracy without Lincoln or to understand the Reformation without Luther, we affirm that the Advent movement will weaken its witness about the Sabbath, righteousness by faith, or the ‘Blessed Hope’ if we ignore Ellen White and God’s leading in our founding.”

Larry Geraty and Colleagues

This 423-word statement was supported by everyone at the conference. In addition to the discussion leaders mentioned above, these included Niels-Erik Andreasen, president emeritus of Andrews University; Kendra Haloviak Valentine, associate professor and chair of the department of New Testament Studies at La Sierra University; Warren Trenchard, former provost and retired professor of New Testament and early Christian literature at La Sierra University; Karl Wilcox, director of the Walter C. Utt Center for Adventist History; Jim Walters, retired professor of ethics at Loma Linda University; Laura Wibberding, assistant professor of history at Pacific Union College; along with Kristi Johnson, Tim Bainum, Carmen Lau, and Alexander Carpenter. The conference was organized and moderated by Eric Anderson, president emeritus of Southwestern Adventist University.

The conference was sponsored by the Irvin C & Evea J Bainum Foundation, the Napa Valley Community Foundation, and Spectrum.


Images contributed by Laura Wibberding and Alexander Carpenter. 

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