Post 66: The Essence of Avondale: “A View from the Ridge”

This is one of three reflective presentations that I was privileged to make shortly before, at, and soon after the centenary of Avondale College. Its essential message seems relevant for the ongoing life of the institution that is now known as Avondale College of Higher Education.

Every one of us is severely limited in our ability to assess places of learning: our participation with the few means we lack direct experience of the many. By the time I graduated from Avondale in 1956 and again in 1957, the place had won my heart as well as my head. It took a dozen years of saving to get to Andrews University, but it was worth every dollar it took to complete a couple of academic programs there. In the early 1970s Christian Theological Seminary (CTS), located within the distant sound of the Indianapolis 500 racetrack, gathered students from 26 denominations. Andrews was still not accredited to offer doctoral studies, so I found a place at CTS, the first Seventh-day Adventist accepted in that institution’s long history. Back home in Australia, by 1980 I felt a need to better understand historical method. The universities of New England and Newcastle filled that need between 1982 and 1992. Thus, stored out of sight, I have seven testamurs: from Avondale, Andrews, CTS, New England and Newcastle. They don’t mean I am competent to critically assess those five institutions. They do mean I know practically nothing about the inside story of 47 places of higher education in Australia and thousands of other institutions worldwide that I have not attended.

Perhaps it is even some kind of presumption to speak under the title, “The Essence of Avondale,” but that is my assigned (and willingly accepted!) topic. Essence is that which is most essential, absolutely necessary, indispensable. It has to do with the intrinsic nature, the important elements or features of a thing. Byron (1788-1824) suggested that “Christmas stories tortured into rhyme, Contain the essence of the true sublime.” For Carlyle (1795-1881), “A good book is the purest essence of a human soul,” and “History is the essence of innumerable biographies.” Philosophers are apt to use the word essence to point to the inward nature, true substance or constitution of something.

These remarks are offered as “a view from the ridge,” to use the symbolism with which Morris West opens his autobiography.[1] An aerial view may be much more precise, a function-by-function assessment may be far more detailed. I simply offer a perspective that seems valid and constructive from this stage of my pilgrimage.


Our Lord was a diligent student of the Old Testament Scriptures and employed their characteristic forms of thought and expression. How better to emphasise His expectation for our relationship with the Divine than by enjoining us to love God with heart, soul, mind and strength? (See Mark 12: 28-34).  Perhaps we might usefully paraphrase His words in terms of our culture: experience God affectively with reference to your entire being, including attitude, motivation, thought and action. Here, it seems to me, is a pointer toward the essence of Avondale.

Of course the essence of Avondale is derived, initially, from the essence of Adventism. I spent a few years in the Australian archives of Catholics, Anglicans and Wesleyans. As a mere Protestant it was with something of a sense of awe that I read handwritten correspondence from Rome to Sydney, and personal notes between Australia’s first cardinal and the archbishops and bishops of this country. I came to feel I knew the person referred to in letters from Rome as “HH,” His Holiness Pope Leo XIII. These other Christian communions have their doctrines of God, Christ and the Holy Spirit. Each of them has something of a theology of Divine chosenness or specialness, though they do not use the Adventist term, “The Remnant.” The longer Adventists have been on earth, the less distinctiveness we claim in the content of our theology, but the more importance we affirm for the combination of ideas that constitute our identity.[2] We have, to use Fred Veltman’s symbol, even come to recognise Ellen White took stones from a common quarry in building an edifice that was uniquely her own.[3]

Adventism, I submit, is above all else a biblical quest for the truth as it is in Jesus.[4] The first joint publication of the three co-founders of our movement declared, “The bible is a perfect, and complete revelation. It is our only rule of faith and practice.”[5] While we have often blurred that clear focus, we recognise that it is through Scripture, illumined by the Spirit (see John 14,15,16), that we come to know Jesus, through Whom God speaks definitively and Who reveals both the Father as love and His redemptive plan as grace (Hebrews 1:1, Acts 4:12, Romans 8, Ephesians 2). Of all Adventist thought-leaders and authors, Ellen White is the most characteristic, the person best focused on the essence. For her, one theme would “swallow up every other,-Christ our righteousness,” to the extent that we should, of all professing Christians, be “foremost in uplifting Christ before the world.”[6] Elsewhere I have argued that our Founding Mother is also the most creative person within our movement during the sixteen decades of its history. Her creativity is demonstrated in her ability to grow, to change, to discard, to select, to adopt, to envision, to develop.[7] “The truth as it is in Jesus” is one expression of several that characterise her core emphases; it is used some 722 times in her published writings and may be read fruitfully in conjunction with another cherished expression she used 2,018 times, “present truth.”

There is, fortunately, wide agreement that the Bible is our “only creed,” that Jesus is the “author and perfecter of our faith,” and that “we have nothing to fear for the future” except as we forget the way the Lord has led us and taught us in the past.[8]


 It may be helpful, in interpreting this consensus, to mention eight of many issues relating to Avondale and its essence. Each of these and other issues[9] require of us a continuing awareness; put together, they suggest outlines for the big picture.

i. The Issue of Quality

A first consideration is that of quality. Let us take a non-threatening example. In 2003 no tertiary educational institution or its instructors function without computers and at least a  modicum of computer literacy. Computers have become indispensable tools for Christians and pagans, Modernists and Post-modernists. They are constructed in accord with known scientific laws and run according to engineering, mathematical and other principles. It is essential for the use of computers and the teaching of computer science at Avondale to be related to the knowledge and practices of the wider society. Our systems designers and programmers need thorough training, as do our teachers. Our educational product needs the monitoring that occurs through a process we call accreditation, a valid procedure whereby we assure ourselves and our students that we are offering value for money and that our graduates can expect to survive in the rough and tumble of life out in the world.[10] Avondale also seeks to model appropriate computer use and develop computer users who prize the values Jesus enjoined for the relationship between humans and God and relationships that should exist amongst human beings. We have, therefore, failed to convey the essence of Avondale College if a teacher or student becomes a hacker. Further, we have failed to convey the essence of Avondale if our staff and students use computers only for selfish ends relating to “the life that now is.” In other words, we are as open as is the University of Newcastle to everything technology can offer and didactic skill can impart, but Avondale’s essence calls us to add values that embrace Adventist identity and facilitate its mission.[11]

We are not threatened by the demands of accreditation as they relate to computer hardware and software, facilities for teaching and standards of instruction. But there is a profound ambivalence in Adventism with regard to the process of accreditation wherein it relates to our faith. Many years ago the church officially embraced Enlightenment impulses stimulating the recovery of the authentic text of Scripture by taking account of the best manuscripts and using agreed lexical, syntactical and grammatical information. Yet whole segments of the church remain uncomfortable with any translation other than that authorized by King James I in 1611, during a time in which a great many of the oldest and best manuscripts were unknown, when translation was at a more rudimentary stage and when so many English words carried a different freight of meaning than they do at present. The entire church pays lip service to archaeology and the corporate body has spent millions of dollars sending men to the lands of the Bible and advertising that “Dead Men do Tell Tales,” but many Adventists focus their energies mainly on making archaeology prove the Bible true when to a far greater extent is should be used to  illumine the biblical text.

Our official publications largely ignore the fact that the Word of God is also literature and that it is wonderfully illumined when interpreted as such. So we can say thank God that people like Laurence Turner and Daniel Reynaud are opening doors of understanding with reference to the Bible as magnificent literature. We can thank God for expositors like Norman Young who dedicate themselves to hearing prophets, apostles and Jesus Christ speaking in their own languages within biblical settings, asking what the Bible meant before they ask what it means. For about a quarter century I have participated in the accreditation processes that relate to Avondale, beginning during the time Avondale was affiliated with Pacific Union College and finishing close to the present. I cannot remember a single instance where Adventist faith was put under threat from any process of accreditation or by the scrutiny or demands of any panel or committee. It is part of the essence of Avondale to be open, frank, trustworthy, thorough, and vigilant in its quest for the truth as it is in Jesus, a process aided by the requirements of qualityrepresented in the accreditation process.

ii. The Matter of Identity

 The “Little Jack Horner” syndrome has long been an Adventist besetment, as we push a thumb into Scripture and think how good we are to pull out a plumb belonging to us alone. It is unmitigated arrogance or unjustified self-reference to read Daniel, Hebrews and Revelation in such a way. Daniel spoke powerfully to God’s covenant people in his own day, as he did to Jews during the Maccabean crisis and, along with Hebrews and Revelation, to Christians in the first century and ever since. LeRoy Froom demonstrated part of that reality in four volumes. Our heritage as a millennialist movement illustrates how  Scripture, interpreted in the dynamic framework of eschatology, assumes a fresh poignancy, but offers “the eternal gospel” relevant for “every nation, tribe, language, and people” from the beginning to the consummation.[12]  It is essential to Avondale’s essence that we keep such ideas in constructive relationship with each other.

Perhaps an illustration might help to focus the implications of this observation. Joan makes the best pumpkin bread in the world. But its ingredients are commonly available; the recipe that combines them and the way she applies the principles of cooking make the result authentic and desirable. Seventh-day Adventism is the best expression of the Christian faith I have experienced. All its doctrines are freely available in Scripture, the way Adventists combine them and apply them makes them winsome and relevant. More of this at a later point.

iii. The Importance of the Body

Adventism takes a Hebrew rather than a Greek view of the human body; so for us, part of “true education” is the development of the physical powers. Going along with this is a Hebraic understanding of sexuality,[13] and a scientific perception of the importance of health reform. According to Gary Fraser, currently leader of the massive Loma Linda study of Adventists and vegetarianism that began in 1958, more than 300 significant articles are available on Adventist health issues, providing a context for understanding his recent book from Oxford University Press.[14] Adventists seek to explain the relationship between mind and body without being dismissive of science after the pattern of Christian Science.[15] We attempt to develop a biblical understanding of the nature of persons that goes well beyond the strict focus of the teaching we call the “State of the Dead.” In fact, this aspect of our message has great import for the state of the living, in addition to its role in pointing to the significance of the resurrection at Christ’s return. It was from this cluster of concerns that, in part, the work/study initiatives at Avondale were developed. Dr Russell Standish has just released a whole number of The Remnant Herald announcing the setting up of Highland College in Victoria on 102 acres of land where the presumed “blueprint” will be followed in detail.[16] In my view, Avondale cannot return to its past, but it can (and must!) emphasise the importance of “harmonious development” that embraces the physical as well as the social, mental and spiritual dimensions of being. For that reason many of us were happy to donate to the new auditorium. We also applaud  the sorts of things Darren Morton and his colleagues are doing. We are even prepared to ask whether the Adventist objection to competitive sport needs to be re-interpreted in the light of changed circumstances.

iv. The Dilemma of History

 During the past decade, the concept of history wars (engaging politicians, historians and society at large) has reached the public arena in Australia. In the last seventy years, the discipline of history has come of age within Adventism. Everett Dick wrote a doctoral dissertation in 1930 that was frightening for the church. Nichol and Froom would use it copiously without acknowledging its existence. In the meantime, Dick went on to become a significant historian of the American frontier. As recently as 1976, Ron Numbers broke new ground with a study of Ellen White as a health reformer. He was drummed out of the church to become a significant historian in the contemporary world. Don McAdams, Jon Butler, Ron Graybill and many others have likewise experienced the heat of inquisition and the frustration of misunderstanding. So the track records of Adventist historians illustrate the fact that history is a perilous enterprise. But the discipline of history is essential for the well being of the church. Since 1976 Avondale has had the awesome responsibility of housing primary sources of the church’s heritage, going as far back as the time when William Miller laid eight foundation stones for Sabbatarian Adventism. It is essential for what Avondale is, and what it must do, to cherish these memories by diligent study and mature interpretation of them, whatever the cost.[17] Thank God for the Lester Devine’s of our communion who are honest and thorough, welcoming and forward thinking in this regard.[18] 

v. Stages of Faith

James Fowler has helped us identify the reality that movements and individuals experience growth in faith through a sequence of identifiable stages.[19] Bailey Gillespie and his colleagues have translated some of this insight into an Adventist context through ValueGenesis research and publications. We can now understand better the context in which Israel was nurtured at the time of the Exodus, illustrating the fact that God knew about stages of faith long before humans became aware of the topic. It is essential for Avondale to understand well the human sciences, the physical sciences and the science of salvation.For a long time Adventists were dismissive and then coy about the study of psychology. Presently, psychology is a quite respectable area of study. Sociology had a similar experience of extended marginalisation; it is still barely safe as a field of study for an Adventist.[20] Physics, chemistry, biology, anthropology and related sciences are variously a source of attraction and a focus of fear. I studied at Avondale in the 1950s when George McCready Price (1870-1963) and Frank Lewis Marsh were recognised as the Adventist authorities in matters of faith and science. Price, after long decades “proving” there was no such thing as a geological column, had barely fallen asleep before his best students had dismantled his lifetime endeavour. Since that time the church has spent millions of dollars explaining what Price denied. In the 1970s I was in Harold Coffin’s classes that considerably revised everything I had been taught in the 1950s, but I had only brief contact with Richard Ritland as he was ejected from his career for uncovering and believing evidence that the chronology of Archbishop James Ussher (1581-1656) was inadequate. Fortunately by then Eric Magnusson was demonstrating cogently that our faith in God and the Sabbath does not depend on a particular conclusion about time. By 1978, Siegfried Horn was telling the church convincingly that we have no basis in Scripture for dating anything with certainty beyond the time of Abraham.  Currently Graham Will, Brian Timms and Bob Wonderly demonstrate beyond reasonable doubt that soils, lake sediments and ice cores reveal a long history for this planet and life upon it, a matter long evident to historians, anthropologists, paleontologists and many others. Laurence Turner is now showing us that the Bible is wiser than the children of light in such respects; historians of Adventism are offering evidence as to why Ellen White wrote as she did and how her writings can be faithfully interpreted. It is imperative that Avondale support its staff and students in the study and application of the sciences so that people at various stages of faith are nurtured appropriately in their personal growth and mission. We have been rather slow as a community of faith to apply the ancient wisdom that the Bible tells us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go. Perhaps Education, page 17, should be quoted more than it is on subject descriptions at Avondale, for “true education” trains “youth to be thinkers, and not mere reflectors of other men’s thoughts.”[21]

vi. The Problem of Money

My teaching career began at Avondale in 1954 when Dr Edward White pressed me (a first-year Theology student!) into the task of teaching Economics to Pre-Leaving and Leaving Certificate students. Not much is still the same as it was then, except that if the outgo of a person exceeds their income, the upshot usually is that their upkeep is their downfall. Avondale’s financial status has been precarious since it was a gleam in the eyes of a group of people who wanted to build a college but lacked the money to go and see the land they hoped might be suitable for the enterprise. (No wonder the deposit had to be borrowed!) So Avondale began as a venture of faith. Similar faith has been required and often demonstrated by people with a great deal of acumen for more than a century. It is staggering to note what was accomplished in the founding years of Avondale College, the Sanitarium Health Food Company and Sydney Adventist Hospital. The founders were a tiny group with a wide field of vision. It is an aspect of the essence of Avondale to be frugal and to value the support of the wider church, represented by what is now the South Pacific Division. But it is also essential in this sophisticated century for Avondale to be as discreet as its pioneers were when with such limited resources they secured land that may now become a resource for establishing a better financial future for the college. Planning this successfully will demand skill, cooperation and sacrifice.

vii. The Imperative of Mission

By the time the Avondale School for Christian Workers was founded in 1897, the anti-mission stance of Sabbatarian Adventists was transformed into a growing consciousness of world mission. Since then, about 1950, we began to realise a great responsibility toward the non-Christian world, for why should some people hear the name of Christ twice when some others had not heard it once. This awareness eventually led us to establish centers for the study of Islam and Buddhism, amongst other initiatives. Gottfried Oosterwal from the 1960s onward pioneered new concepts that would develop into the Global Mission impulses of the current era. Part of the essence of Avondale is a focus on missions: locally, regionally, nationally, internationally. This motivation imbues every aspect of what Avondale is and what it does, and is powerfully illustrated by secretaries, accountants, nurses, teachers, ministers and others serving near and far. That earlier concepts need constant reinvention and fresh application is apparent in Avondale’s engagement with Adventist World Radio and International Development Studies, as well as in its outreach to students from non-Adventist homes.

viii. The Past and the Future

Almost thirty years ago, when I was first appointed to the Biblical Research Committee of the South Pacific Division,I began to witness decades of struggle between the past and the future. All the participants, in my view, value the precious events and Divine revelations of the past, and believe they need to be open to a future led of God. But when these opposite impulses fail to maintain creative tension, chaos occurs. Looking back, perhaps some of the outcomes may have been different if we had better read the human documents in the light of the process we call Clinical Pastoral Education. The painful fact is that in one decade alone we lost about a third of our ministers, plus uncounted numbers of teachers and members. Looking back, it is apparent that a cluster of forces created three impulses: reversion, rejection, transformation.[22] In a recent Northern Hemisphere seminar I argued that the cross-currents of that era were in part derived from Modernism with its cry, “Give us evidence” and Post-Moderism with its cry, “Give us meaning.” (By the way, both pose valid agenda items for Christianity.) Someone has suggested that the hymn that exclaims “Change and decay in all around I see” should be rephrased as “Change or decay.”Avondale must forever function between the times, in a present tense that relates wisely to a partially perceived past and an unknown future. Perhaps Fritz Guy most succinctly analysed the structure of constructive change in a 1980 lecture. Then, he built around change essential theological checks and balances, in his 1999 classic. Last year he popularised how to put the pieces together responsibly in lectures at Avondale.[23] It is the essence of Avondale to be prudent yet innovative as it fosters a transformationist approach, valuing “the dialogue and dialectic of a community” as a cogent alternative to both reversion and rejection.


If the Bible is best understood exegetically, if perceiving what it meant usually provides the soundest basis for enquiring what it means, Avondale has an awesome educative task for its students and the church at large. If Adventist mission is to be directed effectively to “every nation, tribe, language, and people,” Avondale has a profoundly important, ongoing task: fostering “a greater vision of world needs” and constructing solid foundations under the castles that its dreamers envision. If multi-phase human knowledge is to be assessed and applied, the academic task of the immediate future is immense. In a world that mainly does not know God, Avondale and its people are to make plain not only that God is, but that His nature as love is demonstrated in creation and redemption. (We label these distinctive doctrines as being about Sabbath and Sanctuary.) This God values the wholeness of the life He has given us. (We refer to this doctrine as conditionalism or the “State of the Dead”; we have already suggested it has profound relevance for the state of the living and the reality of future hope in the resurrection.) We are given in trust a lesser light to compensate for our neglect and blindness with reference to Scripture, a pilot to help us follow the Great Map as we navigate the shoals of the end-time. (We summarise this distinctive belief in Fundamental 17.) So, as we focus on God and experience the advocacy of One who is both victim and priest, we will be readied for the climax of the ages. To use the words of Scripture: “then shall the Holy Place [sanctuary] emerge victorious” (Daniel 8:14, N.E.B.) and “the Lord himself will descend from heaven” (I Thessalonians 4:16).

The essence of Avondale demands a rather large bottle. The Avondale School for Christian Workers was established in part as “a holy experiment,”[24] hoping it would transcend the limitations of such other institutions as Battle Creek College. Will Avondale College (or perhaps Avondale Adventist University?) still pursue such a goal in Century 21? Be that as it may, let Avondale’s essence flavour our thinking and doing as we love God with our minds as well as with our energies and actions. That experience will best equip us to fulfil our role for students and to serve our “neighbours” (well identified in terms of Luke 10), people who need to know how good God is and what Christ offers without money, without price.

Arthur Patrick, an address presented at an Avondale College Staff Retreat, Dooralong Valley Resort, 27 September 2003

[1] A View from the Ridge: The Testimony of a Pilgrim (Sydney: HarperCollins, 1996), 1-2.

[2] Note the landmark analysis in Seventh-day Adventists Answer Questions on Doctrine (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald, 1957), 21-25, and the honing of these concepts as outlined in Rolf J. Poehler, Continuity and Change in Adventist Teaching: A Case Study in Doctrinal Development (Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 2001).

[3] Ellen White was a “voracious reader” and a writer with creative talent. Dr Fred Veltman says, “She, with the aid of her literary assistants, built out of the common quarry of stones not a replica of another’s work but rather a customised literary composition which reflects the particular faith and Christian hope she was called to share with her fellow Adventists and the Christian community at large.” “Full Report of the Life of Christ Research Project” (General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, 1988), Book 3, 948.

[4] Cf. Robert M. Johnston, “A search for truth,” Adventist Review, 15 September 1983, 6-8; George R. Knight, Search for Identity: The Development of Seventh-day Adventist Beliefs (Hagerstown: Review and Herald, 2000), 17-28.

[5] A Word to the “Little Flock,” Brunswick, Maine, May 30, 1847, 13.

[6] “Be Zealous and Repent,” Review and Herald Extra, 23 December 1890, 453-4; Evangelism, 188.

[7] Cf. “Ellen White: Mother of the Church in the South Pacific,” Adventist Heritage: A Journal of Adventist History 16, no. 1 (Spring 1993), 30-40.“Understanding and Affirming the Ministry of the Most Creative Seventh-day Adventist,”, in the At Issue section.

[8] Note the preamble to the “Fundamental Beliefs of Seventh-day Adventists” as published in the church’s annual Seventh-Adventist Yearbook and compare Hebrews 13: 2, N.I.V.

[9] Among issues that merit a whole presentation of this length are art, music and gender (in the light of “spiritual gifts”).

[10] From the outset, Avondale was designed to equip people to support themselves in a relatively precarious economic setting, hence the diversity of its instructional offerings. It is not a problem that currently some Avondale graduates earn more in a year than their lecturers earn in a decade.

[11] At numerous places, these comments echo Ellen White’s concept of  “true education” so succinctly expressed in Education (Mountain View: Pacific Press, 1903), 13, and elsewhere. To some extent this presentation is a footnote to an earlier address, “Does Ellen White Have a Distinctive Message for Avondale in 1995?” Also, it should be read in the light of my Murdoch Lecture of 1997, where I claimed that “Avondale is (and must ever be, increasingly) fundamentally Christian, distinctively Adventist and demonstrably Australian.”

[12] Revelation 14:6,7.

[13] A theology of human sexuality is well articulated in recent articles by Ivan Blazen and Richard Davidson. While this theology is radically different from Adventist perceptions of the 1860s and even from the attitudes of Avondale’s founders, it is thoroughly biblical and decidedly other than the norms of Australian society. However, in some aspects of gender balance and justice-making with reference to sexual harassment and sexual misconduct, Adventists have tended to need to learn from their culture, a fact illustrated by struggles of the Professional Standards Committee since 2000.

[14] G.E. Fraser, Diet, Life Expectancy and Chronic Disease: Studies of Seventh-day Adventists and Other Vegetarians (2003). Cf. Fraser’s presentation at the San Diego Adventist Forum, 13 September 2003; a summary and cassettes of this are currently around the campus.

[15] Observe the ground-breaking book by Rennie B. Schoepflin, Christian Science on Trial: Religious Healing in America (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003).

[16] Quite a number of a couple of hundred papers I have written and articles I have published since 1980 suggest that Ellen White’s writings do not offer what Adventists have often expected in using the word “blueprint.” There are numerous better symbols for her profoundly important work. I touch on this topic in the February 2003 paper (“Learning from Ellen White’s Perception and Use of Scripture: Toward an Adventist Hermeneutic for the 21st Century”) now available on in the At Issue section.

[17] I give this topic more flesh in “Historians of Adventism: Their Agony, Ecstasy and Potential,” in the At Issue section. Cf. the related article on the same website, “Religion Teachers: A Call for Transformed Relationships.”

[18] The persistent and enlightened work of Graeme Bradford should also be mentioned. On the wider scene, the church owes much to men like Richard Schwarz, Gary Land, Ben McArthur, Doug Morgan and George Knight.

[19] See, for instance, Fowler’s books beginning with Stages of Faith: The psychology of human development and the quest for meaning (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1981). I valued being able to assess Fowler’s concepts from his oral communication.

[20] Yet sociologists are contributing increasingly to the church’s self-understanding and mission. For instance, one could summarise master, doctoral and post-doctoral studies as follows. Robert Wolfgramm described the process of sect legitimisation within Adventism, an issue now being placed in a broad, constructive context by Rick Ferret. Harry Ballis was able to map coherently aspects of Australian Adventism’s most damaging crisis. Greg Schneider has drawn on wider perceptions of Christian experience to illumine aspects of Adventism. Ronald Lawson has identified trends effectively, with the help of worldwide interviews, and has published his research in the finest journals of their type. Michael Chamberlain has observed trends of significance for the ongoing well being of Avondale College, and Bruce Manners is portraying effectively the limitations and strengths of Adventism as a community of faith. Manners is also equipped as an architect for the essential process of building community.

[21] Early church history shows how beneficial for the church were the usually harsh criticisms of their culture. (For example, note the volume The Christians as the Romans Saw Them.) In similar vein, Avondale has important things to learn from former students sometimes dismissed as “critical,” including John Knight and John Godfrey. That Avondale offers a credible educational experience is attested by a number of lines of evidence, not least the number of its students who have proceeded successfully to further study in other institutions.

[22] Official reversionism was fostered in Australia from 1979 to 1983 by two leaders who chose to handle theological matters “administratively” without calling on the Biblical Research Committee for its counsel, without attending the information sessions offered by Robert Olson and Ron Graybill, by preventing the data of the 1982 International Prophetic Guidance Workshop being shared, by controlling information through a specially appointed Reading Committee and the Spirit of Prophecy Resource Committee, by allowing false information to remain uncorrected, and so on. Forms of reversionism are modelled currently in Australia by The Remnant Herald and in the United States by Samuel Koranteng-Pipim. A more moderate reversionism may be identified in the publications of the Adventist Theological Society. Forms of rejectionism are identifiable in the writings of a plethora of authors including Wallace Slattery and Dale Ratzlaff.

[23] See, in the Ellen G. White/SDA Research Centre, Guy’s lecture entitled “The Future of Adventist Theology: A Personal View,” and compare his Thinking Theologically: Adventist Christianity and the Interpretation of Faith (Berrien Springs: Andrews University Press, 1999). Guy’s lectures from the 2002 “Being Adventist in 21st Century Australia” conference are now available on in the At Issue section. Another cogent transformationist is Alden Thompson, whose extensive writings may be consulted on his website,

[24] Milton Hook has, in his excellent dissertation and an Adventist Heritage article, best articulated this expectation. Many such studies are cited in The Inaugural Murdoch Lecture (August 1997), now available as “Visioning and Re-Visioning Seventh-day Adventist Tertiary Education in Australia: A Centennial Assessment of Avondale College,” The Avondale Reader 1, no. 1 (9 July 1999).

Post 65: Revamped Adventist study centre to expand research capacity of church

Elizabeth Lechleitner, writing from Silver Spring, Maryland on 14 June 2012 opens her Adventist News Network report with these two paragraphs:

“Seventh-day Adventist historians say a recent overhaul of the church’s research facilities signals a new commitment to deepening members’ historical understanding of Adventist identity and the denomination’s history.

“The church’s Office of Archives, Statistics and Research (ASTR) opened a new research center at Adventist world church headquarters last week, with a reconfiguration of existing space that allows the office to accommodate four times as many external researchers as previously.”

Lechleitner tells us that the June 5 official launch drew top church officials to the department, where they toured the new facilities and attended a brief ceremony.

And her report includes pictures of the event that you can access online, such as this one:

Adventist historian David Trim identifies a rare photo of an early church administrative meeting for current denominational officials, who look on. They were touring the newly expanded research center at Adventist headquarters on June 5 moments before its official re-opening. [photos: Ansel Oliver]

 Let us ask: What may researchers expect to encounter is this expanded facility?

“High-density shelving houses publications and periodicals, while rare historical photos decorate the walls. More photos, video- and audiocassettes — along with 5,000 linear feet of the denomination’s documents — are stored in a nearby temperature-controlled vault. The center also includes a computer, on which visiting researchers can access the office’s extensive online archives.”

Ah, those extensive online facilities are becoming increasingly significant for all of us who happen to live at a distance from the church’s headquarters. How dramatically the situation has changed, just within the lifetimes of my more mature readers.

As a lad I soaked in every word of the celebrations that were held during 1944 in the Village Church that had served the Cooranbong community since 1897, the year in which the Avondale School for Christian Workers (now Avondale College of Higher Education) opened. People like poet and preacher Robert Hare were there; such pioneers of Adventist work in New Zealand and Australia were few, but cherished. By the time I graduated from Avondale in 1957, even stalwarts like A.H. Piper were awaiting the call of the lifegiver. Hence my years at Avondale witnessed a diminishing impact from the people who made Adventist history in the South Pacific. More than that, we had minimal primary resources from the founding years of Adventism in North America.

Not until 1970, when I became a student at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, did I have access to a quantity of primary historical documents. In other words, during my first thirteen years as a minister in New Zealand and the United States, my study of Adventist history was confined almost entirely to second-hand accounts in books written by others.

All that changed dramatically when I was appointed director of the Ellen G. White/Seventh-day Adventist Research Centre at Avondale College in 1976. The Centre was designed to serve the territory of the South Pacific Division. While it had limited “hard copy” primary sources, it had tens of thousands of pages of microform materials, copies of original documents from Millerite times to the then-present.

Now that a chain of similar research centres belt the globe, thorough and original research is a possibility for millions of Adventists. More than that, with computer technology and the relative cheapness of overseas travel, the magnificent resources of the Centre for Adventist Research at Andrews University and so much more are available.

Even so, we can rejoice in the work of General Conference leaders like Dr David Trim who have both the vision and the skill to make more-and-more primary documents available online. I find the above-mentioned Lechleitner report stimulating; here are some more paragraphs:

“One of my goals is to encourage more people to research our history, because I do believe that, as Ellen White says, ‘We have nothing to fear for the future except as we forget the way the Lord has led us, and his teachings in our past history,’” ASTR Director David Trim told church leaders, noting that people often leave off the church co-founder’s mention of “teachings.”

“‘The way the Lord has led’ is easy to remember, but ‘teachings’ requires, I think, some kind of analysis and study,” Trim added.

“Adventist world church President Ted N. C. Wilson, who also spoke at the launch, drew parallels between research done here on Earth and the records God is keeping. The New Testament book of Revelation, he said, indicates that the record books in heaven will stand as eternal testaments to God’s justice and mercy.

“Likewise, Wilson suggested, the research center ‘will not only furnish people with a historical account and accurate understanding of the past, but will also truly be a center of spiritual impulse.’

“Let’s hope that people will see how God has led us in the past, how he will lead us in the future and how His teachings have contributed to the flourishing of His work in spite of the challenges and difficulties we face,” Wilson said.

“He also noted that the expanded facilities reflect the ‘added emphasis’ the church has lately placed on research. Last year, top church officials voted to establish a permanent budget for Adventist research meant to inform the church’s strategic plan. They also revised the name of the former Office of Archives and Statistics to include mention of its new research component.”

Thanks to you, Elizabeth Lechleitner, for your report that I have quoted so extensively. My message in this post should be clear: Let us both cherish this new availability of the sources for better understanding of our history, and use them with energy and wisdom.

Arthur Patrick, 14 July 2012