Post 85, Symbolising the Writings of Ellen White

A note for the reader: Any investigation of publications such as Adventist Review, Ministry and Record is likely to lead the researcher to conclude that, by 1982, the tidal wave of new information that began to rise in 1970 was about at its peak. Constantly ministers, teachers and members were dealing with qualitatively new data about the history and thought of the Seventh-day Adventist church, as well as the life and writings of Ellen Gould White (1827-1915).

I set about the task of creating symbols that would both embrace and apply the new information about Ellen White in a simple way, for general readers of Adventist magazines. It was deeply encouraging when Adventist Review published one of my short pieces under the title “Landmarks and Landscape” (27 October 1983, page 4), and rather surprising when Australasian Record reprinted the said piece is its 31 March 1984 issue, page 12. My intent was to offer an accurate understanding of both Ellen White’s inspiration and the specific limitations to what Adventists may expect from her writings. The words are my own, except for one sentence that was pressed upon me by a church leader: “On occasion she gives a ‘surface exploration’ account.” Here is the text; it will make more sense if it is read after Post 84.

 IN APRIL 1982, I again flew across the United States. For the first time in my flying experience there, visibility was excellent. From the warm sky above Los Angeles I saw the serene Pacific Ocean and the vast sprawl of the City of the Angels hugged by mountains. I saw marks of human effort and the panorama of nature, a vast continent spread below me.

If you asked me to draw a street map of Las Vegas, state the depth of the Grand Canyon, or give the location of the John Hancock Centre in Chicago, mistakes would mar my response. You may ask a thousand other simple questions about the continental United States that I could not answer. You may discount my claim that I saw a panorama of a great country beyond the vision of a surface traveller. Through the miracle of jet transport I was shown a useful vista of landmarks and now can interpret better a vast landscape.

To the benefit of Seventh-day Adventists, Ellen White was given a jet-aircraft vision of crucial realities in an age of spiritual surface travel. She saw landmark truths: God as the one whom to know is to love; health as the right arm of the third angel’s message; education dealing with the whole person throughout the whole period of existence possible to humanity; history as moving toward a supreme confrontation between good and evil, all to climax in the universal declaration that God is love; and many other distinctive features of faith precious to Seventh-day Adventists. She was shown such landmarks so she could encourage and guide the Advent people.

Some are tempted to claim either too much or too little for Ellen White’s ministry. Those who would require her to give the equivalent of a detailed surface survey have difficulty with certain statements in her writings. Those who deny her spiritual gift, assessing her to be a fraud or a false prophet, miss the enduring value of her prophetic vision. Either of these options can lead to conflict and disillusionment.

Ellen White wrote from an attitude of urgency, sensing an imminent end to all things earthly. Since her death, Seventh-day Adventists have benefitted from surface advances into the historical background of Scripture, aspects of science, causes of certain diseases, details of Christian history, and so forth.

In responding to detailed insights of painstaking investigation, we must remember the abiding usefulness of Ellen White’s direction-setting, panoramic vision. On occasion she gives a “surface exploration” account. To deny a role for either her panorama or our detailed investigation is to reject part of God’s gift of knowledge to humanity.

Arthur Patrick, posted 13 December 2012