Let’s Tell the Truth about Ellen White: Charles Scriven Addresses a Critical Issue
Comments by Ervin Taylor, December 30, 2014: For various reasons, commenting on something published in Spectrum on the Adventist Today web site is something that is rarely seen. However, for the recent editorial by Charles Scriven in Spectrum’s Fall 2014 issue, an exception must be made. This is because Dr. Scriven has called for all of us to do something that will be very hard for some to carry out, but it must be done for the long-term intellectual and theological health of Adventism in the 21st century.
I suggest that anyone seriously concerned with the long-term viability and credibility of the institutional Adventist faith community in the modern world among educated individuals must carefully read and consider the points raised by Dr. Scriven. His message is a straightforward plea: “Tell the truth about the Adventist prophet.”
As pointed out by Dr. Scriven, thanks in part to the appearance of Ellen Harmon White: American Prophet, edited by Terrie Doop Aamodt, Gary Land, and Ronald Numbers and published by Oxford University Press, members of the Adventist Church now have at their disposal for the first time in one source, carefully researched, detailed non-apologetic historical data about the full range of the various elements making up the religious career of Ellen G. White (EGW). For many years, Spectrum has been in the forefront of publishing important, well-documented information about various aspects of EGW’s exceptional career. Adventist Today has also published materials that reveal heretofore unknown aspects of her career. For example, an article that appeared in Adventist Today revealing for the first time in print aspects of events occurring at the time of the burials of Ellen and James White. This article, by Dr. T. Joe Willey. was also published in a slightly revised form as a chapter in the Ellen Harmon White volume.
There is no question that many things she wrote and talked about became the basis on which the Adventist community created hospitals and educational institutions that have helped and will continue to help tens of thousands of individuals in many parts of the world. No one questions her positive contributions and the salutary parts of her legacy.
However, the chapters in that volume include analyses of the sources of many of her theological concepts and how she interacted with others at the founding and later institutionalization of the Adventist Church. We also learn in that volume the steps that led to the creation of EGW as an oracle by her later followers, not only as a source of theological authority, but then as the final authority on scientific and historical interpretations, i.e., to quote an author in that book, an authority that “ascribed to her a kind of ‘fundamentalist inerrancy.’”
According to Dr. Scriven, what must be done? He suggests that a “good first step would be to cut the overstatement. Traits attributable to God alone should not be attributed to Ellen White or anyone else.” He continues, “Her own statements such as ‘God and heaven alone are infallible’ could not be clearer . . . I don’t know what could be clearer, except that it’s still not clear to conventional Adventism. From the press and the pulpit, these passages should be repeated again and again—not to discourage us but to make us truthful as well as passionate in faith.”
May I suggest that for those of us privileged to be associated with the independent press in Adventism—both those affiliated with Adventist Today and those affiliated with Spectrum–EGW’s statement on this topic should be repeated as many times as possible.
Scriven also suggests that Adventist progressives should be willing to “tell the good stories and quote the best [EGW] quotes with open, grateful hearts. No one should roar into the Michigan camp meeting bent on sledgehammer iconoclasm . . . [However, we] can no longer listen uncritically [to EGW’s views], but we can still listen, and we should. Her guts, for one thing, could inspire us to show some guts.”
In the final paragraph, he quotes the NAD President, Dan Jackson, that the “Seventh-day Adventist movement . . . Will. Not. Fail.” Dr. Scriven comments that “it will fail—unless we tell the truth.” And then he concludes with an answer to the question of “What Shall We Do with Ellen White?” His answer is: “We. Must. Tell. The. Truth.”
PS: While considering Dr. Scriven’s editorial, readers might also wish to consider the comments of Dr. James Londis in an article in the same issue of Spectrum, entitled “The Hermeneutics of Disappointment: What Does the ‘Delay’ of Jesus’ Coming Do to the Adventist Story?” In its own way, this article also asks a similar question “What Shall We Do with the Second Coming Concept?” A good answer suggested by Dr. Londis’ article is, “Tell the Truth About It.”