Post 15, Thirty Years of Alden Thompson’s Research

Although I wrote this particular review in 2005, I am posting it today for two reasons. Alden Thompson’s book remains a good read in 2011, and How Ellen White Grew is a good illustration why my readers will enjoy Alden Thompson’s website at Walla Walla University (use GOOGLE, again!), where most of his historic and recent writing is available.

God must love us common people, some wit is reported as saying, because He made so many of us. Six years ago, Pacific Press published a book for all of us (in all our diversity) who call ourselves Adventists.

Written by Old Testament specialist Alden Thompson of Walla Walla University, Escape from the Flames bears a profound message in down-to-earth language. Part of this message is well expressed in its subtitle: How Ellen White grew from fear to joy—and helped me to do it too.

The book has a mere 191 pages, including indexes to the biblical and Ellen White passages cited. Although published in 2005, it had been growing in Thompson’s mind since his first assignment to teach Adventist history in 1979.

Thompson came to that particular class of eighty students fresh from reading nine Ellen White volumes (4,800 pages) entitled Testimonies for the Church. Devout conservative students “rejoiced because they sensed that God’s hand was clearly leading in Ellen White’s growing experience,” whereas left-leaning liberals found “a model that allowed them to be absolutely honest with all the evidence.” Thompson now confesses: “In that class, I glimpsed something that I sensed could work for the entire Adventist family” (page 31).

Only an ardent devotee of Scripture could paint the picture that Thompson’s words portray. It is of a loving God that meets the needs of His people through inspired writings for Israel (Old Testament), the early Christian church (New Testament) and Adventists (Ellen White). The strengths of his book are many, with several standing tall.

First, it has a solid foundation in and a passion for Scripture. The 170 Bible passages cited are used with a scholar’s sensitivity for the meaning of their words, their context and how they illumine the path of the end-time believer.

Second, it is the work of a diligent student of Ellen White’s writings and all things Adventist. The book is fruit from decades of intense study, classroom discussion, seminar interchanges and pulpit reflections. Thompson’s insights in groundbreaking books on the Old Testament and biblical inspiration, plus his many Adventist Review and Ministry articles, reach a new winsomeness and maturity in this volume.

Third, it accentuates the precious nature of the Adventist community of faith. Thompson is a patient, perceptive researcher prepared to listen actively to people who disagree with him vigorously. It is by such open sharing that Adventists can sort out what is reliable evidence and develop a more mature faith.

The theme of inspiration is presented honestly, insightfully, believably. Both the Bible and Ellen White’s writings are thereby illumined; especially do her principal historic statements on inspiration glow with meaning and significance. So here is a book that can draw Adventists into unity of understanding and, therefore, better equip us for life together (fellowship) and witness (mission) to a world that needs to know the love of God and respond to His last-day message.

Those who want to understand Ellen White’s spiritual gift must read this stimulating book if they hope to stay abreast of the vibrant, ongoing conversation.

I cite the book, however, merely as a telling illustration of Thompson’s literary corpus. He made his mark in the chaos of the early 1980 with an Adventist Review series entitled “Sinai to Golgotha.” You will be rewarded by reading that series and a wealth of other writing that includes what Alden Thompson is doing with his Bible and Adventist Studies in 2011.

Arthur Patrick, 6 April 2005 updated 2 November 2011