Post 14, Fresh Analysis of the Controversial 1919 Bible Conference

Two lectures at Avondale College four years ago (on 15 November 2008) invited Adventists to replace decades of controversy with effective understanding. The lecturer, Dr Michael W. Campbell, was pastoring three churches in Montrose, Colorado (USA). The lectures focused on the context, content and results of a conference held by Adventists in Washington, D.C. (USA), during 1919.

Three years of coursework helped Michael Campbell assemble the kit of scholarly tools he used during another three years to research and write “The 1919 Bible Conference and Its Significance for Seventh-day Adventist History and Theology,” a PhD dissertation. His 305 pages of historical analysis were completed during July 2008 for the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, Andrews University, under a supervisory committee that included Drs Jerry Moon, Gary Land and George Knight.

The first printed copy of the dissertation, displayed and summarised at the November 15 lectures, reached Dr Campbell days before he flew with it to Australia. This report refers to both the lectures and the dissertation.

The 1919 Bible Conference was set in a watershed era as Fundamentalism was rising and its prophetic conferences were impacting North American Christianity and Adventism. The 1919 event was epochal for Adventists, coming as it did soon after the end of Ellen White’s 70-year ministry and the crises of World War I. Dr Campbell’s third chapter summarises an important component of the conference.

Finally, several speakers, most notably W. W. Prescott, emphasized the importance of progressive revelation. Truth is progressive and Adventists needed a Bible Conference to continue to mine the depths of God’s word, they argued. Adventist thinkers were feeling the pressure of a number of doctrinal conflicts that made it advantageous to discuss theological issues candidly yet behind closed doors. The 1919 Bible Conference was ultimately an opportunity for leading thinkers in the church to seek both theological unity and spiritual revival (page 101).

To read such a comment is to activate important questions. Who were the participants and what did they say? What were the “truth” issues, then and now? Were theological unity and revival achieved? After ninety years, does the conference agenda still matter, anyway? Why has 1919 been so incendiary?

The first answer to the last question is simple: two stalwart believers who probably did not participate in the conference (there is some ambiguity in the extant evidence!) soon waged a pamphlet war, claiming the 1919 discussions compromised Adventism and led it toward the deadly “omega of apostasy.” The second answer concerns the present. Similar charges have for a long time been levelled by stentorian voices. For instance, in a series of books and many magazine articles published in the United States and Australia by Russell R. Standish and Colin D. Standish, the 1919 conference is presented as an illustration of “doubt” to the extent that they declare simply, “The 1919 Bible Conference was a disgrace to our church.” See their volume The Greatest of All the Prophets (2004), 162-172, plus their comment on Daniells in Half a Century of Apostasy (2006), 237.

Campbell’s Appendix A (222-3) identifies 65 attendees, their job descriptions and ages at the time they met between 1 July and 1 August 1919. He helpfully separates the main conference, at which theoretically all 65 attendees participated, from the smaller group of about 18 administrators, Bible and history teachers who conferred after the close of the main event. In an earlier footnote, Campbell states: “The 1919 Bible Conference was actually composed of two concurrent conferences. The primary conference was the 1919 Bible Conference which extended from July 1 to 19, 1919. During the evening there was an additional series of teachers’ meetings that extended beyond the Bible Conference until August 1, 1919. Both will be collectively referred to in this dissertation as the ‘1919 Bible Conference’” (xiii).

During the discussions, the physical temperature was at times either “sizzling” or “stifling”; the human engagements were spirited, often frank but never malicious. Perhaps nine stenographers, including three women, attempted to record the proceedings. The stenographers could not always hear the remarks made from where they were sitting and some entire discussions (in one instance, a block of sixty pages) were deleted from the conference records at the direction of the chairperson (the General Conference president). Campbell laments on page 94: “It is regrettable that only a fraction of what could have been recorded has been preserved.” But any historian is likely to be excited by the fact that more than 1,300 pages of transcripts are available for study, as well as a consensus statement, articles and books written by participants, plus a growing number of historical reflections. A set of the existing transcripts is available, neatly bound in five volumes, on the shelves of the Ellen G. White/SDA Research Centre at Avondale College. Since similar copies are located on the Internet and in Adventist research entities around the world, Campbell’s oral and written reports can be read in the light of unusually-rich primary documentation.

The dissertation is part of the extensive resources in the Avondale College Library used by undergraduate and graduate (including PhD) students whose interest is in the discipline of Adventist Studies. The two lectures are available from the Research Centre ( as a compact disc and offer a succinct introduction to Fundamentalism and its impact on Adventism, as well as the 1919 Bible Conference and its outcomes. The dissertation is reviewed more fully on

Four years after I heard and reviewed Campbell’s lecture at Avondale College, I believe its message is more important now that it was back in 2008.

Arthur Patrick, 17 November 2008, edited 28 October 2011

Post 13, “The Ellen White Project”

In a blog on this website dated 25 October 2011, I mentioned that “The Ellen White Project” editors intend to pass a book manuscript to a major academic publisher this month. This brief comment evoked questions from as far away as Russia, so in response I will seek to answer some of the main questions that are in my readers’ minds.

The manuscript hopes to provide a scholarly introduction to Ellen White in the context of American religious history. I feel deeply privileged to have been chosen as one of 21 chapter authors, in that I am an Australian. Oh yes, Joan and I have lived for almost eight years in such states as Illinois, Michigan and California, and I know many of the other authors personally. But the project looks at Ellen White as “an American prophet”; my special interests are illustrated by the content of my MLitt and PhD theses completed for Australian universities. In other words, Ellen White spent the years 1891-1900 in New Zealand and Australia; I am interested in her entire life (1827-1915), but I want to explore the 87 years with special reference to her nine years “Down Under.”

This American project is an exciting one in both conception and execution. The most controversial book ever published by our church came from the press in 1957, and a group of brave scholars decided that after almost fifty years it may be appropriate to try to understand the book and its reception. The result: a landmark conference at Andrews University marking the first fifty years of Seventh-day Adventists Answer Questions on Doctrine. I had long wanted to say what was in my paper; now my perspectives can be interpreted within the balancing opinions of the other presenters. All the papers are conveniently available on the Andrews University site: Why mention this project here? Because it encouraged the editors of The Ellen White Project to plan an exploration of Ellen White’s life and thought in a similarly open manner.

The way the editors followed through with their objective is impressive, to say the least. One of their early tasks was to define the project and select 21 authors to draft chapters. Then they selected two respondents to read each chapter: one an Adventist, the other a competent scholar in North American religious history from beyond the borders of our church. At the conference in Portland, Maine, held during October 2009, each author was given several minutes to profile their chapter (it was already in the hands of all the attendees) before the respondents delivered their assessment. Then the chapter and the responses were discussed in an open forum. After that, the editors and authors had almost two years of dialogue to refine the text ready for presentation to a major academic publisher.

I don’t need to go into more detail about all this, since blogs by both Adventist and non-Adventist participants are freely available on the Internet (Google “The Ellen White Project”). I sincerely believe that the book will meet its primary purpose, to introduce Ellen White to intelligent, non-Adventist readers.

During the turmoil of 1980, our Adventist co-founder was in the eye of a violent storm. I decided to enroll in a public university to write a thesis about her. I already had a couple of master degrees and a doctorate, but they were in areas like Systematic Theology, Ministry and Biblical Studies. Now I was starting again, in another discipline, history. So I had to attend undergraduate lectures and write papers in historical studies before I could even start graduate research. Then, one of the requirements at the time for the course I chose (MLitt) was for each student to present their project to a combined gathering of history lecturers and graduate students. That day stands out clearly in my memory. I was amazed at the level of interest that hard-nosed historians and graduate students had in Ellen Gould White.

I was under pressure in that first post-graduate degree in historical studies, in that a Distinction was required in order to gain entry into the PhD research that I wanted to undertake. Yesterday I had occasion to review my papers and articles that Bille Burdick has so efficiently placed on, between 1998 and 2009. It is obvious that in those pieces of writing I am trying to function as a believer who is also an historian.

That is why some readers are deeply upset with what I write. On one side, some want only expressions of faith. On the other side, some want only the perspectives of history. I have tried to offer both. I will, in due course review The Ellen White Project through both those lenses. That, I know, is unacceptable to some friends that I cherish, but I must be true to my convictions. Ellen White assures us that “we have nothing to fear” with reference to the future, except as we forget how the Lord has led and taught us in the past.

Arthur Patrick, 26 October 2011

Post 12, Understanding Daniel 8:14 and the Judgment

Click on these links to view the articles on “assumptions” relating to 1844 and the interpretation of Daniel 8:14:

Assumptions re 1844 AT version

Assumptions re 1844 Full Text

However did we keep abreast of the thinking of the worldwide Adventist family before the miracle of e-mail was invented? In my lifetime, there has been dynamic change from the mimeograph, ham radio and the photocopier to the wonders of the computer.

A friend from Africa wrote to me on 23 October 2011 (167 years after the dramatic morning of the Great Disappointment), in part: “I also meant to ask you about the response to your questions around the key assumptions on 44 and the IJ. I think you mentioned that you had several constructive responses?”

This friend, a scientist skilled in research, is a thorough and deeply committed Bible student. We have exchanged a lot of e-mails. In fact, one reason why I launched this modest website on 22 October 2011 is that I no longer have the time and health to engage in depth with the valid and interesting questions that are in the minds of “thinking believers” all over the world. A blog can offer responses to questions, posed by one friend, that are in the minds of thousands.

In his e-mail, my friend is reflecting on an earlier discussion about an article published by Adventist Today, in its Summer 2011 issue, entitled “The Assumptions of the Daniel and Revelation Committee in Defending 1844.” Here are a few facts that may help my readers assess the article.

First, the magazine Adventist Today (AT) is, in my view, acting responsibly in publishing this piece by a pastor who has long served the church⎯in parishes that include believers who hold a diversity of opinions about 1844 and the Investigative Judgment. The editor of AT is also an experienced pastor in full time employment; he edits the independent magazine AT as a volunteer. Incidentally, J. David Newman was for many years an esteemed editor of Ministry, the worldwide journal for pastors, founded in the 1920s by LeRoy Edwin Froom. To protect the identity of the “Assumptions” author, Newman assigned him the name “Roy Ingram”; hence the content of the piece can be evaluated without praise or blame being attached to the person who wrote it.

Second, since the early 1990s when it began publication, AT has constructively grasped quite a few Adventist nettles. It aims to bring “contemporary issues of importance to Adventist church members,” and to follow “the basic principles of ethics and canons of journalism,” as a publication that “strives for fairness, candor, and good taste.” I will on occasion refer to AT in the same respectful way I will refer to polar-opposite publications. In fact, I applaud the way in which AT includes authors that represent perspectives quite other than those held by the generous people who are on the Adventist Today Foundation. These dedicated Adventists make available to us all, free electronic access to a wealth of data, and access to the magazine itself at a price that almost anyone can afford. Check out the website:

Third, what should I do about the article that interests my friend in Africa? He is clearly interested in “constructive responses.” Yes, I have some significant ones already. A very well-informed scholar, before he read the article, cautioned that readers of “Assumptions” needed to be aware of the frank way in which competent scholars may express tentativeness. Often the people who know least about a given subject are loudest in proclaiming their certainties. God’s people walk by faith and, as we do so, we need to be humble in the way we express the church’s teachings. Another scholar who is known worldwide for his studies in the fields of systematic theology and ethics, carefully read Ingram’s article and commended the way it presented the evidence that supports its contentions. I would like to see an irenic, worldwide consideration of the basic idea that Ingram propounds. AT was not able to publish the long study on which Ingram spent years, so I have placed Ingram’s full text along with the shortened version above, so AT readers can click on either or both.

If Ingram’s basic thesis is sustained, we Adventists need to be gentler than some of us have been in our dealings with each other. We all need to thoroughly explore the long history of the interpretation of Daniel 8:14 in both Millerism and Sabbatarian Adventism. (Yes, I plan to post my short, documented history of that matter in the foreseeable future, to offer a bit of help to those who may not have ready access to all the crucial sources.) Ingram’s articles can alert us to the need to nurture those in the church who find it difficult to make all the leaps of faith that some us seem to find so easy to make.

That raises the important question of how evidence should be used to form and sustain faith. After the 1919 Bible Conference, the church pretty much decided that with reference to Ellen White, it could lay important pieces of evidence to one side. A magnificent tome, Ellen G. White and Her Critics (1951) illustrated the high point of that process. This month the editors of “The Ellen White Project” pass to an academic publisher the manuscript of a volume that offers the first scholarly introduction to the life and writings of Ellen White. If our lives are hid with Christ in God we will not fear fuller understandings of aspects of Adventist history and thought. “Present truth” was a vivid term that Ellen White cherished; we need to understand it and value it as we press forward with our contemporary mission.

Oops, I try to keep a blog like this around 750 words; this one is well over 900! So, more clarity in due course.

Arthur Patrick, 24 October 2011; edited 1 November 2011

Post 11, Primary Sources and Completed Research on the Internet

I received an e-mail yesterday from a hard-working teacher/administrator in an Australian high school. Garry frequently amazes me with the depth and the quality of his research into the context of early Sabbatarian Adventism.

Back in 1972, as a student at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University in Michigan, I strained our fragile family budget to travel and stay close for just a few days to what was then Aurora College in Illinois (USA). It was thrilling, in my view, to be able to undertake research in the Jenks Collection there and read, for instance, the 800 letters that William Miller wrote or received. Not many years after that, the Advent Christians graciously allowed their marvelous collection of original sources to be given to the world in microform (see Gaustad, editor, The Rise of Adventism, 1974, and Hoornstra, editor, The Millerites and Early Adventists: An Index to the Microfilm Collections of Rare Books and Manuscripts, 1978). So anyone can now read these priceless documents in the Ellen G. White/Seventh-day Adventist Research Centres (and similar research entities) conveniently located in the various geographical regions of the world. What I am saying is that, in the past forty years, effective research is so much more possible for so many more people.

Of course, many people want research done for them and served up in convenient form on the Internet. Such people find it helpful to go to, the website expertly maintained for many years by Mrs Billie Burdick and her colleagues. Bille Burdick placed on that site the paper that I delivered in San Francisco at the 1987 annual meeting of the Adventist Society for Religious Studies. That gave me the benefit of comments from people in many different parts of the world. Subsequently, Bille added more of my articles and papers, as well as other studies about Elllen White by Bert Haloviak, Graeme Bradford, Robert Wolfgramm, Alden Thompson and others. Sometimes it is quicker for me to access one of my articles from sdanet than it is to walk three paces from my computer to a filing cabinet to access a printed copy. I deeply value the atissue site because it carries an array of research about Ellen White that is satisfying for enquiring minds. So the Internet is helpful for those who want to read completed research, and for those who want the primary source materials that are essential for effective research.

The value of the Internet is well illustrated by Garry, mentioned above. He has neither the funds nor the time to travel to the other side of the world to the seventeen archives that Merlin D. Burt visited, while researching his doctoral dissertation on early Adventism (completed 2002). Garry wants to do original research; he does not want the hard work in the area of his specialty to be done by someone else. Merlin Burt is now one of the valuable people who make original source materials available to diligent folks like Garry. Dr Burt and his staff do this at the Center for Adventist Research located on the campus of Andrews University and, increasingly, via the Internet.

But there is more. Last month Dr David Trim (introduced elsewhere on this website as Director of the Office of Archives, Statistics and Research at the church’s world headquarters) included a paragraph in an e-mail showing how the Information Age facilitates effective research:

The Office of Archives, Statistics, and Research maintains two websites that can help scholars of Adventist Studies: the and The former hosts historical documents, books, periodicals and some scholarly papers; the latter hosts historical (and current) statistics. The Archives of the General Conference house over 20,000 linear feet of records covering the entire history of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Holdings include legal instruments, minutes, reference files, reports, correspondence, publications, recordings, films, video and audio tapes, and photographs. At present, minutes of several important committees are available online at – but currently, most of the over 1.6 million pages of contents are drawn from periodicals. It makes available all the major SDA periodicals, at world, division and union level, in fully searchable form, downloadable in .djvu and/or .pdf. Other resources available include a number of books, all the SDA Yearbooks and Annual Statistical Reports, some early Millerite periodicals, several hundred photographs, and a range of Archives, Statistics, and Research research papers.

Arthur Patrick, 23 October 2011

Post 10, So it is October 22, again!

One of my cherished documents is a photocopy of Hiram Edson’s handwritten account of his experience in Millerism and early Sabbatarian Adventism. Edson’s narrative underlines the pervasive impact of his dark experience on 22 October 1844. When Dr Richard B. Ferret speaks, tomorrow, at Avondale College of Higher Education on “Doctrine or Deed: Ongoing Tensions in Adventism,” his stimulating message will be deliberately timed for the 167th anniversary of the Great Disappointment.

Rick’s doctoral thesis on the development of Adventism won a prestigious award from the Sydney College of Divinity in 2006; he now lectures in Avondale’s Faculty of Theology. Incidentally, his address will be available on a CD from the College Church Office, so that anyone, anywhere, can share the last of the six Educational Events planned for College Church members and their friends during 2011. Some of the readers of this website may like to scan an earlier report that I prepared at the time Rick finished his doctoral study, before he turned it into a scintillating book that was published in England (2008).


The Millerites who embraced the practice of baptism by immersion did so with deep conviction and a sense of intense urgency, as when Charles Fitch immersed successive groups of believers on a single day shortly before 22 October 1844. For Adventists now, baptism not only recapitulates the death, burial and resurrection of Christ: it also incorporates the believer into a remnant community that cherishes boundaries completely unknown to Fitch. Baptism is an act of acceptance that usually follows an extended period of instruction and requires formal approval from a congregation, typically through its elders and church board. North American evangelists like Fordyce Detamore pioneered ways to prepare candidates for baptism during three-week campaigns; however, in some mission fields, converts have at times spent years in a “class ready” (to employ a term from Papua New Guinea) prior to immersion.

Historical studies, in a sense, began “instruction for baptism” into Adventism eight decades ago when Everett Dick enrolled at the University of Wisconsin. The quality of Dick’s research and the maturity of his conclusions indicate his dissertation was worthy of incorporatation without delay into the thought and life of the Adventist community. Eminent authors like Francis D. Nichol (1944) and LeRoy Edwin Froom (1954) used Dick’s dissertation but declined to mention it in their Review and Herald publications. After six decades, historian Gary Land wrote a Foreword and an extended Bibliographical Essay for Dick’s dissertation when Andrews University Press decided to publish it (1994). However, during the long wait for recognition, the church lost much of Dick’s potential—instead of Adventist history, he focused his historical skills on the American frontier.

Painful terminations and covert marginalisations of Adventist historians for alleged heresy marred the church’s record for more than a decade after 1975. However, even by 1978, constructive initiatives were evident, when Gary Land contended that the professionalisation of Adventist historiography was in process and when, in 1979, the first textbook for the study of Adventist history to be written by a trained historian came from Pacific Press. During 1983, Adventism in America: A History was edited by Land and published by Eerdmans, the only volume of a projected Studies in Adventist History series to see the light of day. By then the indefatiguable George Knight was getting equipped to write books at about the rate some scholars produce articles. Slowly and painfully, the discipline of Adventist history reached a level of acceptance that indicated its Adventist “baptism” was a recognized reality.

Sociology’s Turn for Instruction

Two early initiatives highlighting the value of sociology for Adventism came in the writings of North American Charles Teel (1980) and Fijian/Australian Robert Wolfgramm (1983). Ronald Lawson, trained in history and sociology, patiently conducted interviews with Adventists worldwide; some of the finest journals of their genre published his perspectives. Gregory Schneider’s sociological study of Methodism and his Spectrum articles on Adventism caused us to wish Schneider would apply his toolkit to the study of Adventism more fully. In Australia, building to some extent on pioneering research by John Knight at the University of Queensland, Harry Ballis and others employed sociology in their studies of Adventist ministry, education and publishing. Such master and doctoral studies indicate that sociological insights may at times be uncomfortable for the Adventist church but they may also be particularly instructive.

Enter Rick Ferret

For the past seven years Rick Ferret has juggled the demands of employment while undertaking a doctoral program with the Sydney College of Divinity (SCD). Early this year when Ferret completed his dissertation, the SCD appointed three examiners to assess it and provided them with fifteen criteria to apply in the process of evaluation. On Friday, 4 August 2006, the SCD advised Ferret that the reports were in hand: all three examiners rated Ferret’s work in Category A, accepting it as meeting the requirements for a PhD degree without change of argument or content. The comments of one typify the general tone of all: “the research is particularly thorough, academically responsible, historically accurate and complete, balanced, its conclusions credible, and expressed with a suitable academic precision.”

The two examiners in the United States and the one in Australia share long experience in higher education with particular expertise in history, theology and sociology; they were chosen by the SCD as matching well the historical substance of the dissertation, its theological content and its sociological orientation. Ferret’s title, “Charisma, Sectarianism and Institutionalisation: Identity Issues in Seventh-day Adventism,” developed from long years of struggle with the history of his church since 1844, including its teachings and its controversies. His bibliography (pages 384-416) indicates a thorough grasp of the diverse literature.

Ferret claims that “Seventh-day Adventism has proved immensely successful in terms of both evangelism and institutionalisation.” He also states:”The proliferation of SDA institutions throughout the world suggests, however, that Adventism remains embroiled in tensions between imminence and occupancy; between apocalyptic ideals and modern realities, between what it teaches and what it actually does (361-2).”

Light on the Dilemma

Ferret retains some of the patience and active listening skills fostered by his initial training as a nurse, to which he has added the insights of tertiary teacher, chaplain and pastor. To read his dissertation is to note the effective way that he incorporates published studies of Adventism like those of Rolf Pöhler (1999, 2001) and Douglas Morgan (2001). Pöhler’s dissertation at Andrews University investigated the nature, extent and direction of Adventist doctrinal developments in the light of the religious background of the church and the sociological forces at work in it, analysing the Adventist response to doctrinal adjustments and discussing Ellen White’s involvement in and conception of doctrinal change. Based on Pöhler’s work, Ferret argues that Adventist teachings have been significantly affected by theological and hermeneutical developments under the impact of sociological forces that have tended to move the denomination closer towards evangelical Protestantism. Ferret also finds Morgan’s dissertation written at the University of Chicago particularly illuminating in the way it traces continuity and change in Adventist apocalypticism within American society.

However, Ferret also draws upon the insights of many other major researchers. He cites Michael Chamberlains’ trans-disciplinary study (2001, later published by Post Pressed) of Adventist education at Avondale College with its special interest in socio-cultural change and the associated need to develop a thoroughly informed hermeneutic for Ellen White’s writings. Ferret is clearly appreciative of Bruce Manners’ dissertation (2004) and its implication that Adventist publishing is at its finest when it is frank. However, although Ferret drinks from many deep wells, he provides his own cup: an interpretive model that (he claims) fits the church’s need.

An Overview of Adventism

Ferret’s exploration begins with Millerism and the painful transition that birthed Sabbatarian Adventism. A long introduction (pages 9-51) introduces Weberian methodology, defines charisma, legitimation, and its routinization. Chapter 2, “American Revivalism, Millennial Dreams, Crisis and Charismatic Inauguration” prepares the way for two chapters on how Ellen White’s charisma was legitimized and Adventist identity was formulated. Chapters 4 and 5 (“The Routinisation of Charisma in Adventist Experience,” “Imminence and Delay: A Constant Impasse”) prepare the reader for two chapters that tour the sectarian controversies within Adventism from 1844 to the present. Chapter 8, “Doctrine and/or Deed: Dilemmas of Institutionalisation” summarises the main issue of the dissertation in readiness for ten pages of conclusions.

I finished reading a compelling PhD study by Paul McGraw of Pacific Union College on the day that Ferret received notice of his examiners’ approvals. McGraw intimated the nature of his research at the Triennial Session of the Association of Seventh-day Adventist Historians in Portland, Oregon, on 11 April 1998; now his 315 pages fulfil the high expectations that seemed latent in his project eight years ago.2 I almost held my breath as I re-read Ferret’s final copy in the light of McGraw’s dissertation: both plough some of the same ground. The two studies are vastly different in methodology: McGraw uses well copious and often new primary sources; Ferret offers fresh syntheses and applications of existing literature. Both dissertations are greatly needed by the church, not least because they demonstrate why two scholars working in total isolation from each other arrived at congruent conclusions.

Adventism in the Information Age

Ferret observes that the student of SDA theology “can easily recognise the themes of restorationism, perfectionism, Arminianism and revivalism that were common” in the society that birthed Adventism as one of 279 utopian communities established in the United States between 1787 and 1919. While he displays a deep commitment to the Adventist pioneers who transformed a Great Disappointment into a dynamic new movement, he wants contemporary Adventists to better implement Scripture as the church’s authority. He deems that in the controversies of the past generally, and particularly in those occurring since the Evangelical Conferences of the 1950s, too many of his fellow believers have polarised around rival extremes that may be described as reversionist or rejectionist. Ferret’s advocacy of a transformationist response to new data will resonate with those who seriously accept Ellen White as “the Lord’s messenger,” given to us as a lesser light to lead us to the greater light.

A Subjective Interpretation

What potential is evident in Ferret’s work? It will stand the test of time and scrutiny as well as prove to have outstanding significance for the lively, ongoing discussion relating to Adventist identity. How might we compare it with other explorations of Adventism?

I write merely as an historian. My passion during the Adventist crisis of the 1980s was to interpret Ellen White’s nine years in the lands Down Under faithfully, in terms of the cultural and religious context in which she ministered between 1891 and 1900 and in the light of newly-available primary sources. For me, that task required a stimulating decade of research in order to understand something of Australian history, via a PhD program at the University of Newcastle. One by-product of the process was the opportunity to note the contribution of Australia’s pioneer explorers as they traversed this vast, dry continent, seeing it with European eyes for the first time. Some of my United States friends equate a journey of similar rigor undertaken by Lewis and Clark as highly important within their culture. Before Lewis and Clark, Americans knew there was a West Coast with its Pacific Ocean. But was there a way from the Mississippi River via the Missouri and the Columbia to the Pacific? The courage, skill and effort of Lewis and Clark demonstrated that there was.

A major reason why Adventism lost so many ministers, teachers and members during the 1980s lay in our inadequate understanding of continuity and change with reference to Adventist teaching. Rolf Pöhler fills for Adventism a Lewis and Clark role, demonstrating with his Andrews University dissertation of 1995 that change was a reality and that it could be constructive if we related to it coherently. There was a way through the Rocky Mountains of Adventist controversies; equipped with the grace and the graciousness of God the rivers could be forded and the dangerous passes negotiated.

Rick Ferret cannot redo the more pioneering explorations already undertaken by Rolf Pöhler and others; he is a mapmaker for some of the road construction that is needed for the Adventist journey toward the Kingdom of God. Ferret adds to the growing evidence that historical and theological studies are crucial for our self-understanding and mission. More than that, his dissertation offers convincing evidence that it is time for the Adventist church to plan another baptismal service. Sociology has been in a “class ready” long enough; it has now proved itself as a constructive discipline that can reliably assist the Adventist quest to understand the way the Lord has led and taught us since 1844.

Let’s baptize this illuminating social science. Now. Without further delay!

Written by Arthur Patrick in 2006, slightly edited and then posted 21 and 23 October 2011

Post 9, Rolf J. Pöhler is Coming to Australia in 2012!

My readers may appreciate a short biography of Rolf Pöhler, since he has lived mainly in Europe and the United States, and has not yet visited Australia.

Rolf J. Pöhler (1949) was born and raised in Germany, the heartland of the Protestant Reformation. After his pastoral training at Seminar Marienhöhe in Darmstadt and some work experience in Berlin, he attended Andrews University (Michigan, USA), where he earned MA and PhD degrees in theology in 1975 and 1995, respectively. His doctoral dissertation is entitled “Change in Seventh-day Adventist Theology.” It was published in two volumes by Peter Lang (1999 and 2000) and deals with the dynamics of doctrinal continuity and change from a historical and hermeneutical perspective.

For 16 years, Pöhler has served the Adventist Church as church pastor, departmental director, and union president. For the last 20 years, he has been Lecturer of Systematic Theology at Friedensau Adventist University in Germany. He is the Director of the newly founded Institute of Adventist Studies at Friedensau. Pöhler has edited and published several books in German, including an introduction to Adventism for the general public (Christsein heute – Gelebter Glaube) and a contemporary presentation of the Fundamental Beliefs of Seventh-day Adventists (Hoffnung, die uns trägt). In addition, he has published well over 200 articles in scholarly and popular journals.

Pöhler is an internationally acclaimed preacher, speaker, author and lecturer; he has been teaching at several European Adventist seminaries. He is married to Regine and has two children.

Why is Dr Pöhler’s visit likely to be significant? First of all, his doctoral dissertation is (in my opinion) the most thorough study yet undertaken on continuity and change in Adventist teaching. Back in the late 1970s, I read a major paper that he had written at Andrews University and made a mental note that we would hear more of this student in the coming years. My hunch was not only fulfilled but greatly enhanced when his doctoral dissertation, completed in 1995, at last reached Australia. I reviewed it for the South Pacific Division paper and, since then, have watched as many others have come to appreciate its depth and clarity.

Second, Dr Pöhler’s publications demonstrate his deep commitment to the church we love.

Third, although English is not his first language, Dr Pöhler has long demonstrated his ability to communicate with English-speaking audiences, especially “thinking believers,” the type of people that this website is designed to serve.

Post 8, Struggle Over Ellen White’s Writings

Australian pastor and scholar Gilbert Valentine is the esteemed author of The Shaping of Adventism: The Case of W.W. Prescott (Andrews University Press, 1992), reworked for the Adventist Pioneer series as W.W. Prescott: Forgotten Giant of Adventism’s Second Generation (Review and Herald, 2005). Despite his busy life as provost of Mission College, Thailand, Dr Valentine researched and wrote another book: The Struggle for the Prophetic Heritage: Issues in the conflict for the control of Ellen G. White publications, 1930-1939 (Muak Lek, Thailand: Institute Press, 2006).

Ellen White was born on 26 November 1827 and served Sabbatarian Adventists in a public role from December 1844 until near the day of her death. Visitors to her Sunnyside home in Cooranbong can appreciate something of the pressures under which she toiled there from 1895 to 1900: writing letters for the American mail, helping to plan institutions that became Avondale College and Sydney Adventist Hospital, conferring with church leaders, speaking at camp meetings and conferences, writing books likeThoughts from the Mount of Blessing (1896), The Desire of Ages (1898), Christ’s Object Lessons (1900) and Testimonies for the Church (volume six, 1900).

Sunnyside’s rooms often accommodated people busily engaged with local projects or in transit to church appointments. For instance, my grandfather lived there for seven months while the Avondale School for Christian Workers was being carved from the bush. Mrs White returned to California in 1900 at 74 years of age and purchased her last home near Pacific Union College.  She loved the small farm with its elm trees and she longed for a retirement retreat, so she gave it a promising name, Elmshaven.

However, Elmshaven was always far too busy to be thought of as a haven. For instance, in 1910, Ellen White employed fifteen people there in a range of support roles. Ever since the untimely death of her husband James in 1881, her son William Clarence White (she always called him “Willie”) helped with the involved processes of editing and publishing her writings. As Ellen White moved into her eighties, Willie’s supervision became even more important; her 1912 “Last Will and Testament” named him one of five trustees.

Then, on 16 July 1915, Ellen White died, aged 87. After seventy years feeling God was constantly speaking to them through His messenger, Adventists held three large funeral services and tried to come to terms with the harsh reality of another White family grave in Battle Creek’s Oak Hill Cemetery.

Some Adventists felt Ellen White’s work was done, that the doors to the building that housed her letters and manuscripts could be locked and her staff dispersed. It was natural for Willie White to be the principal custodian of his mother’s writings, of course in liaison with the other appointed trustees scattered far away. No one knew the precious writings more intimately or cherished them in quite the same way as Willie did. He literally owned some of them, according to his mother’s will. And he envisioned how they continued to speak to issues that were arising in the turbulent twentieth century.

But Willie White was on the geographical rim of the Adventist wheel. Even the hub of the wheel was no longer in the mid-west city of Battle Creek; it was in the distant capital of the nation. Urban Washington was a world away from rural St Helena. Willie’s vision for making unpublished counsels known in the growing church didn’t always coincide with the perceptions of appointed leaders.

On the cover of Dr Valentine’s book are portraits of two of my favourite Adventist leaders from the early twentieth century: William White and an Australian, Charles Henry Watson. Watson was not yet an Adventist when Pastor White was a leader in “The Australian Mission.” But from 1930, Watson was appointed president of the General Conference in Washington, D.C. Both men treasured the writings of Ellen White. Their “Struggle for the Prophetic Heritage” was as real as the conflict Paul and Barnabas experienced over John Mark.

Dr Valentine is not only a superb historian, he is also a loved pastor and a wise teacher. This is a narrative of commendable empathy told with a clear understanding of the problem, the related issues and the outcomes. All of us who value free access to the writings of Ellen White, including tens of thousands of pages of letters and manuscripts, need to read this illuminating book.

I first rejoiced in Arthur White’s Prophetic Guidance lectures during December 1957 and January 1958. At that time he was apt to comment on the long years during which his father, Willie, experienced marginalisation on the West Coast of North America. Arthur White valued his location in the General Conference building and his responsibility as a trustee of White Estate after the death of his father in 1937. The last sentence of Dr Valentine’s epilogue focuses the message of his book:

The resolution of the struggle for control over the prophetic heritage achieved in the 1930s by the General Conference, on behalf of the community of advent believers, asserting its ultimate spiritual stewardship of the collection continues to undergird the present relationship between the White Estate and the General Conference (143-144).

To understand the even bigger picture you need to read (as I have been privileged to do) chapters of Dr Valentine’s newest project, a book about Ellen White and the General Conference presidents. But that is another story. Get The Struggle for the Prophetic Heritage from your nearest ABC, now!

Arthur Patrick, 10 September 2011

Post 7, Valentine on Ellen White and Adventist Leaders

This post is about a scintillating, new book on the relationship between Ellen G. White and the General Conference presidents who served between 1888 and 1915.

It took me a decade to write two theses about Ellen White and her Adventist and non-Adventist contemporaries in Australia during the 1890s. My research in the primary sources led me to deeply appreciate Milton Hook’s doctoral study (1978) about the goals that created Avondale College, George Knight’s scintillating books on Adventist history, and a host of other studies. But now Pacific Press enables us to better appreciate largely unknown dimensions of our heritage with Gilbert M. Valentine’s 383-page volume, The Prophet and the Presidents.

 Valentine breaks new ground because many of his sources are new to us here in Australia. Since the Ellen G. White/Seventh-day Adventist Research Centre opened at Avondale in 1976, we’ve been able to mine the 50,000 pages of Ellen White’s manuscripts and letters. For long years Valentine has explored a treasure-trove of archival resources in the United States, unavailable “down under,” yet now starting to reach us with the help of Information Technology. At last we can better hear both sides of an intense conversation that reached across the Pacific Ocean and deeply influenced the church in Australia and New Zealand.

“The Presidents” under study led the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists in Battle Creek and (when it moved) Washington: the “reluctant” Ole A. Olsen, 1888 to 1897; the Civil War veteran George A. Irwin, 1897-1901; and the long-serving reformist Arthur G. Daniells, 1901-1922. Olsen visited Australia, Irwin administered the church here for many years, and Daniels long evangelised and led the church in New Zealand and Australia. However, before Valentine’s book we knew little of what they said about their relationships, as world leaders, with Ellen White while she ministered here from 1891-1900.

This book is a case study of how two spiritual gifts, prophecy and administration, interacted. Adventism was growing rapidly. Its worldwide mission was mushrooming. It faced enormous financial problems, especially apparent within its publishing and medical initiatives. Barry Oliver’s doctoral study (1989) leads us through the turmoil of re-organisation that, in 1901, facilitated a more effective church structure. Arthur White (The Australian Years, 1983) recounts Ellen White’s vision for her church, well. But now we can hear the “lost” voices of the presidents, as they struggle to lead a world movement faithfully, despite enormous odds.

However, we learn far more than the inside story of pain and promise through the experiences of Olsen, Irwin and Daniells. We watch the slow erosion of relationships between the church and E.J. Waggoner, A.T. Jones, and John Harvey Kellogg. The heroes of 1888, and the health-pioneer of the Battle Creek Sanitarium, become the church’s opponents during the early 20th century. It was so difficult to retain the message of 1888 when the messengers lost their way. We still suffer from the long-term effects of the Kellogg crisis that occurs just off centre-stage in Valentine’s compelling saga.

According to historian George Knight, “Valentine’s book is at the forefront of a new genre of Adventist historiography: serious studies dealing with the complex relationships between Ellen G. White and her contemporaries.” Barry Oliver also observes on the back cover: “Dr. Gil Valentine has brilliantly exposed the sometimes tenuous relationship between prophetic and administrative gifts as the church charted a course for the future.” For Robert Olson, “This is a truly monumental study.”

Here is a book of a hundred gripping stories, some radiant with hope, some suffused with sadness. We cannot but sorrow as we see stalwarts like John N. Loughborough and Stephen N. Haskell, men who bore the burden and heat of earlier days, fail to understand how the church’s thought must continually be revised as it searches the Word and follows the leadings of God’s Spirit.

Dr Valentine earlier wrote a doctoral dissertation and a two books about Professor W.W. Prescott and the shaping of Adventism so, understandably, he weaves this “forgotten giant” into the intriguing narrative that runs from Minneapolis in 1888 to 1913, when advancing age limited Ellen White’s capacity to interact with church leaders. The story of the book is unfinished for, until the gospel reaches “every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people,” we must continue the task so well begun by our pioneers. We can now better understand both their efforts and our mission–from reading The Prophet and the Presidents.

Arthur Patrick, 10 September 2011

Post 6, Understanding the Book of Revelation

Adventists often access Revelation seminar materials through the Ministerial Association of their local conference or from the Resource Centre of the Australian Union Conference (PO Box 4368, Ringwood, Vic 3134, Australia). It is the intention of the South Pacific Division to market the excellent DVDs on Revelation developed by Dr Graeme Bradford (a well-known Australian evangelist) and Dr John Paulien (a world-recognised New Testament exegete and Dean of the School of Religion at Loma Linda University in the US) to local churches and conferences as economically as possible. Readers of can go to the website <> to see more about the materials by Doctors Bradford and Paulien that are available at the lowest price. Currently, the Revelation program features on Hope Channel each Saturday afternoon around 4pm. It can be also picked up on broadband under Hope Channel, international live programs.

When I am trying to focus the interest of church attendees on the excellent DVD series that Dr Bradford and Dr Paulien have developed, I offer a sermon something along the following lines. (Bear in mind that this is a summary only, not a transcript.)

“The Revelation of Jesus Christ”

Scripture Reading: Revelation 1:9-18, NIV.

 I’ve read a fascinating book many times recently. Some books you need to read only once. However, I get more out of this book every time I read it, and I’ve been doing that for sixty years. Read Revelation 1:1.

So the first thing to emphasise is that this is “The revelation of Jesus Christ.” Revelation is an interesting term. It literally means a disclosure, revelation, manifestation, appearance, or a big dose of spiritual enlightenment. The verb is usually translated to uncover, to reveal, to plainly signify, to distinctly declare, to set forth, to announce, to manifest.

Our society throws the original Greek word around a lot, like in the arresting movie “Apocalypse Now.” A whole body of Jewish writing is described as “apocalyptic literature.” Just as the Bible has history (Kings, Chronicles), and poetry (Psalms), it also has apocalyptic embedded in various books of the Old Testament and the New. We Adventists know and love best the apocalyptic books of Daniel and Revelation.

How can we recognise apocalyptic when we see it? Well, it abounds in symbols of many kinds, including symbolic numbers. Angels populate apocalyptic. It is a literature of crisis, suffused with a sense of immediacy, urgency and expectation. It claims to offer dreams and visions about realities usually unseen by mortal eyes. It is often associated with another mysterious word, eschatology. That one isn’t so hard to understand if we break it up. Eschatology has two parts: eschatos, last, and logos, word. So eschatology is simply a word about last things, like death or the end of the world. One is a personal end, your death or mine. The other is a cosmic death, the end of the planet.

So the last book of the Bible is an apocalypse about, or a revelation of, Jesus Christ. We could expect vivid, poetic descriptions of him in such writing. There are a great many; let’s notice four examples.

Chapter 1:17-18, “the Living One”; chapter 5:6, “a slain lamb”; chapter 12:5, “a man child”; 14:14-16 “a son of man” with a sickle; a rider on a white horse who is “King of kings and Lord of lords,” 19:11,16.

Who could write an apocalypse about Jesus? It would help a bit if you knew him well on earth, and had written a book about him and letters to your friends about him. Cf. John 20:30-31; I John 1:1. It would help even more if you saw panoramic visions of him as Living Redeemer, Slain Lamb, Gatherer of Earth’s Harvest, King of Kings. John the Beloved Apostle fits the need so well!

A sermon at best can be an effective starter for our journeys through the coming week. I’d like nothing more than that you actually picked up the Bible and read Revelation this week. You’ll be mystified, frustrated, enthralled, inspired and much more. Almost all human learning happens when we try to overcome some obstacle, some barrier. Parts of Revelation certainly pose obstacles for us to overcome. But some parts are so clear we can be sure about what they mean. Here, for starters, are seven things that may be of some help to you as you read this scintillating apocalypse. (Seven, because you’ll find so many sevens in Revelation!)

  1. The first thing I’d like you to notice is that Revelation is a mosaic. We don’t know much about mosaics in our culture, though we do speak of mosaic tiles. A mosaic is a picture made of small pieces of stone or glass, of different colours, inlaid to form a design. John’s culture abounded with mosaic pictures. He wrote a book that is a mosaic of gemstones from the Old Testament. At the College Church we have a half-dozen or more “Educational Events” each year that I coordinate. The first one for this year was a presentation by our newest doctor in the Faculty of Theology who has spent years studying Revelation. I guess I was astounded as to how much of the Book of Revelation, both in ideas and language, is simply a mosaic of Old Testament gemstones put together in a fresh setting.
  1. The next thing you need to notice is that the Book of Revelation is a war story. It isn’t a peaceful book, I’m afraid. It is a volume of conflict, between good and evil, righteousness and sin, Christ and Satan. As Adventists, ever since 1858 we have been aware of Ellen White’s growing list of books about The Great Controversy Between Christ and His Angels and Satan and His Angels. Revelation, the final book of the New Testament is a book about conflict, a great war in which the armies of the Living God take the field, and win. It is a war in which every one of us is engaged from the day we are born until the day we die. It is also a strangely different war: a lamb wins by being slain, and redeeming us to God–by his blood.
  1. Revelation is a narrative of crisis. All kinds of important things are up for grabs. The destiny of individuals. The justice of God. The fate of the planet. The well-being of the universe. To read it is to be drawn into a compelling narrative.
  1. Revelation is also a tale of two cities. The Old Testament depicts a long struggle between Babylon and Jerusalem. One is the city of pride, possessions, self-sufficiency, earthly power. The other is the City of the Prince of Peace. The literal Jerusalem fails, so God revises the hopes of his people with the promised heavenly Jerusalem, the New Jerusalem that comes down from God out of heaven.
  1. Revelation includes a series of hymns of praise. It constantly focuses on creation and redemption; see chapters 4, 5, 15, 19, for some instances.
  1. Revelation is far more than a story of war, a narrative of crisis, a tale of rival cities, a sublime hymnbook. Yes, there is plenty of tension in it. But Revelation is primarily a Book of Resolution. The towering problem of sin is met, the planet and its people are restored. There will be no more tears, death. The entire universe will be clean, one pulse of harmony and gladness will beat throughout God’s vast creation.
  1. So we must end where we began. John’s Book of Revelation is an apocalypse of Jesus, an unveiling of the Risen Lord, slain, but victorious. He came, he is coming to earth a second time. And a third time. He is restoring Eden. He is giving his people a New Jerusalem.

Life in the Christian communities of the first century was precarious. So far as we know, when John wrote Revelation, the other eleven disciples and the Apostle Paul were already long dead, perhaps none of them from natural causes. Acts 12:2 tells us that Herod had James “put to death with the sword.” Peter, tradition suggests, was crucified upside down. Paul was beheaded. But John, the youngest of the disciples survived, it seems, for sixty years after the crucifixion. Then the Roman authorities decided they must get rid of him. How? Fry him. Evidently they prepared a huge cauldron of boiling-hot oil, and strong men lifted the aged saint high and threw him in. The Lord looked after John just as well in the bubbling oil as he cared for the three Hebrews in the burning fiery furnace back in that other apocalypse, Daniel. What to do with the unfryable Apostle John? Banish him to the rocky island in the Aegean Sea, Patmos.

Revelation 1:9-11. The seven churches were just like ours: College Church, Port Macquarie, Wauchope, Mona Vale, Hillview, Kanwal and more. Revelation 1:3 is a promise for us all: “Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy.”

Arthur Patrick, 30 September 2011



Post 5, Aboriginal Australians and Adventists

“Dear Friends,” Dr John Knight wrote in an e-mail on 6 October 2011, “please note November 8 in your calendar — Post Pressed, e-content Management, and noted Indigenous scholar and researcher, Dr Jackie Huggins, will be launching The More Things Change: The origins and impacts of Australian Indigenous exclusion by Dr Rae Norris.”

Knight continues: “This is a superb work of scholarship, in plain language, addressing the institutional and ideological factors which have excluded Indigenous Australians in the past and which continue to inhibit Indigenous progress in the present. The thesis from which it was developed won the inaugural Griffith University Chancellor’s Medal for Ph.D. research in 2007 and she is an Adjunct Research Fellow with the Centre for Governance and Public Policy at the Griffith University.”

And there is more: “Following Rae’s launch, will be the public launching of the ground-breaking Post Pressed and e-content Management series, Contesting Colonialism: Indigenous Knowledge and Indigenous Research by [Indigenous speaker to be advised]. Coordinated by an editorial panel of five leading Indigenous scholars and academics, this series currently includes 15 titles — see attached brochure — and has several more waiting for publication.

“Tuesday, Nov. 8, 6.00 for 6.30 – 9.00 in the Talking Circle at the State Library, Qld. Refreshments, of course. We’ll send an ‘official’ launch invite shortly, but you are definitely invited! Do come, and do spread the word — we really want to make an impact for these significant publications on one of the most important issues facing this nation.”

Now let’s put this book launch in perspective for “thinking believers” who are interested in Adventist Studies. First, we need to ask about Dr Knight and his publishing enterprise, and then suggest why such studies as the one he is talking about may be important for Adventists.

My friend Johnny Knight is an Education Consultant, Adjunct Associate Professor Faculty of Education, Queensland University of Technology, and Editorial Manager of Post Pressed (see

At the foot of Knight’s e-mail is a statement that typifies his considered stance: “Post Pressed acknowledges the First Peoples of the Countries that are now called Australia. Post Pressed is committed to respect and support Indigenous Sovereignty through the publication of Indigenous Knowledge.”

Dr Knight deserves to retire, if diligence-over-years is a criterion. Instead he continues to foster PhD students and to publish meritorious books that are often unlikely to make Post Pressed or their authors rich. I’ve just looked up his picture in The Jacaranda, 1957, the first Avondale College of Higher Education (that is the present name of the institution) yearbook that attempted to include photographs of every student.

Since then, John distinguished himself as a teacher and principal in Adventist schools before teaching teachers in the Queensland higher education system. I have often cited two of his theses (our American friends usually speak of doctoral dissertations, rather than theses). Dr Knight has examined a number of the significant doctoral studies written by Australian Adventists; his Post Pressed enterprise published Michael Chamberlain’s arresting study about sociological change within Adventism in general and Avondale College in particular.

Donald Horne famously wrote (published 1985) that Australia was settled in “an age when any part of the world whose inhabitants could not fight the Europeans was considered European property.” Since its only indigenous human beings were black, relatively defenseless and seemingly without interest in the presumed benefits of white civilisation, even their existence was discounted to the extent that the vast new land was deemed to be empty.

Jean Wilmington and many other researchers awakened the conscience of Australia to its past. Dennis Steley’s two theses applied such insights to the Adventist experience. Steley did not always receive understanding, even less often was his work applauded, by his faith community. We needed to better hear Dr Gottfried Oosterwal, a pioneer missionary in what was then Dutch New Guinea, and then a professor of mission at Andrews University (Michigan, U.S.A.), as he spurred the Adventist communion to reflect upon how the incarnation of Jesus offers a pattern for Christian mission.

The cover page of the 1 October 2011 issue of Record, “Official news magazine of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the South Pacific Division of the Seventh-day Adventist Church,” carried an impressive photograph of Aboriginal Pastor Johnny Murison as he emerged on the smoke-clouded stage to start a celebration of ethnic diversity in Sydney. The Greater Sydney Conference claims a rich cultural heritage, in that 64 per cent of its members have no Australian roots (Record, page 7).

How good it is that we have the sterling insights and worthy initiatives of people like Johnny Knight and Johnny Murison, helping us to better appreciate the cultures of the First Australians, and indicating how we can support them as they invest their amazing talents in the mission of Jesus Christ.

Arthur Patrick, 8 October 2011