Post 19, How I Drifted Into Adventist Studies/Ellen White Studies

Adventist Studies crucially informs the ongoing life and global witness of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. As an academic discipline, Adventist Studies has experienced remarkable maturation during the past forty years. My perceptions of this development, derived from personal experience and research, need to be checked against the understandings of many others. However, the following somewhat autobiographical account may stimulate the memories or illumine the research of individuals who wish to understand Adventist Studies in general and Ellen White Studies in particular.

From 1970-72 as a graduate student at Andrews University, I took a deep interest in the scintillating lectures of Dr Mervyn Maxwell and in due course eagerly purchased the essence of Maxwell’s classroom presentations in the form of a popular book. However, I was simultaneously aware of quite different discussions in the corridors of the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, especially about issues raised in a newly established journal offering fresh research by Adventist biblical scholars, theologians, historians and others. Covert conversations of the 1960s became public debates in the 1970s and explosive controversies in the 1980s. As a deepening sense of crisis enveloped Adventism, a sorting process began to occur as many members, teachers, ministers and administrators adopted one of three options: reversion, rejection or transformation.

A Bit of Historical Background Since 1944

In 1944, celebrations in the Avondale Village Church marking the first century of Sabbatarian Adventism fired my childish imagination, as did narratives of the interactions three of my grandparents had with Ellen Gould White (1827-1915) during the founding years of the Australasian Missionary College, now known as Avondale College of Higher Education. As a Theology student at Avondale (1954-7) my youthful interest in the study of Adventist history and thought was nurtured; soon thereafter it was galvanised by the controversy surrounding Robert Brinsmead and his colleagues. As a young pastor in South New Zealand, I found my congregations were encouraged and stabilised by the study of “the way the Lord has led us, and His teaching in our past history.”

The greatest problem of those years was finding adequate resources for effective research. Two of my guides at the time were Francis D. Nichol and LeRoy Edwin Froom, editors and authors based in Washington, D.C., whose oral discourses riveted my attention during their visits to Australia. R. A. Anderson’s guest lectures and his memorable book, The Shepherd Evangelist (1950) impacted my ministerial endeavours; the preaching of E. Lennard Minchin was an important stimulus for my spiritual life. Two Seminary Extension Schools (1957-8, 1965-6) intensified my engagement with Adventist heritage as I soaked up the lectures of (amongst others) Pastor Arthur L. White (Prophetic Guidance), Dr Edward Heppenstall (Law, Grace and the Covenants; Doctrine of the Sanctuary), Dr Desmond Ford (Biblical Eschatology), Dr Siegfried Horn (Biblical Archaeolgy).

At last, at Andrews University from 1970 to 1972, I delighted in access to the primary sources relating to Adventism generally and Ellen White’s life and writings particularly. The completion there of an M.A. in Systematic Theology and a Master of Divinity (Pastoral Ministry), building on earlier Seminary Extension Schools and other events, such as classes offered in Chicago by Dr Gottfried Oosterwal, made me confident in the integrity of Adventism yet aware of its maturing status. Since Andrews was not then accredited to offer doctoral studies, with the sage advice of the Seminary Dean, Dr W.G.C. Murdoch, I undertook a D.Min. (Biblical Studies, but including Clinical Pastoral Education) in Indianapolis at Christian Theological Seminary. So, by late 1973, I was back in Australia with a passion to evangelise an area of Sydney that had only one small Adventist congregation amongst a million people. However, after five days of residence in Sydney, I was appointed to Avondale College, the geographical location for my endeavours during the next eighteen years.

After a couple of years as a lecturer in the Department of Theology at Avondale, I was concurrently appointed curator (later the job title was changed to director) of the newly established Ellen G. White/Seventh-day Adventist Research Centre located on the Avondale campus but serving the Australasian Division (now called the South Pacific Division). This was a time of comparative peace in Australasian Adventism, following the tumult of the 1960s, despite new and vigorous debates that were escalating within the church. The issues raised in Spectrum from 1970, like the shock waves emanating from the Ronald L. Numbers volume Prophetess of Health (1976), were little known or felt in Australasia at the time, even though the approaches of such groups as the Concerned Brethren were eliciting a vigorous response from the Biblical Research Committee of which I was a member. However, by 1980, the researches of Numbers, Don McAdams, Jon Butler, Walter Rea, Ron Graybill, Desmond Ford and many others were becoming better known. During the early 1980s, I formed and tested the impression that my ministry and teaching, illumined by attendance at study conferences in Washington during 1978 and 1982, might best focus on the life and writings of Ellen White in the context of the history and thought of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. This focus persisted after my employment changed in 1984 to academic administration and later to chaplaincy and other roles.

Therefore, between 1980 and 2004, well over a hundred items that I wrote (brief reports, book reviews, occasional lectures, magazine and journal articles, book chapters, a thesis, a dissertation, a book and such) principally relate to Ellen White and her symbiotic relationship with the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

In another blog I will offer an overview of some of the documents I wrote between 1980 and 2004. Later, in yet another blog, I’ll address the period from 2005 to the present.

Arthur Patrick, 8 November 2011