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