by Ervin Taylor

by Ervin Taylor
February 12, 2014

Have you ever wondered about the range of opinions Adventists hold concerning Ellen Gould Harmon-White (EGW)? When someone says, “I believe or don’t believe in EGW,” what exactly are they “believing” or “not believing”?

Reading a variety of Adventist sources from the hyper-fundamentalist to the hyper-liberal, there are obviously a wide range of opinions and perspectives about various aspects of her career as a 19thand early 20thcentury American “charismatic cofounder of the Seventh-day Adventist (SDA) Church, a well-known temperance speaker, and a prolific author” whose writings were “roughly of three kinds: autobiographical, counsel (“Testimonies”) and devotional commentaries on Scripture.”1

In reading over those discussions, her readers tend to focus over these five categories: supernatural inspiration, originality, accuracy, authority, and current usefulness.

Below is a listing of a spectrum of opinions concerning EGW, organized around these five categories (A through E). In each category, nine different understandings or opinions concerning that category are listed. I should note that the category of “current usefulness” was suggested by an Adventist pastor.

If some readers might be interested in generalizing their own views about EGW, there is here suggested a scale that each individual can calculate for him- or herself.  In each category, determine which of the 9 views listed for each category most closely reflects your own opinion. Then add these five numbers together to obtain a total value.  The minimum total value would be 5 (all 1’s in the five categories) and the maximum would be 45 (all 9s in the five categories). Please remember: For each of the five categories (A through E), choose only one number out of the nine (1 or 2 or 3 or . . .) which is the number of the statement which most closely describes your view, add these five values together, and then find where you total value situates you in the suggested associated categories.

Here are the suggested associated categories:

5-8: Ultra-Fundamentalist Adventist.
9-12:Radical Fundamentalist Adventist. 13-15:Fundamentalist Adventist.
16-20: Conservative Adventist. 21-25: Moderate Adventist.
26-30: Moderately Liberal Adventist.  31-38: Liberal Adventist.
39-44. Ultra-Liberal Adventist.45:Uninterested Adventist
I invite commentary on the characterizations of various views. Improvements in how the different views are expressed are also solicited as is the scale used to define categories.
1 Alden Thompson. “White, Ellen Harmon (1827-1915)”  In: Handbook of Women Biblical Interpreters: A Historical and Biographical Guide. Marion Ann Taylor, editor. Grand Rapids: Michigan: Baker Academic, 2012. p. 526.


  A. B. C. D. E.
  Supernatural Inspiration Originality Accuracy Authority Current Usefulness
God communicated with her directly through her dreams and visions. All of her views on all topics were unique to her. All statements published under her name are accurate in every detail. Exactly the same as all of the Biblical prophets. In fact she may have been the “Greatest of the Prophets.” It is impossible to live out God’s ideal without reading and heeding EGW.
2. God communicated with her in all of her visions and some of her dreams. Her most important understandings were totally original with EGW. All statements where she said “I was shown” are accurate. Essentially the same as the Biblical prophets. EGW is very helpful. Without reading and heeding her it is very difficult to live up to God’s ideal.
3. While God did communicate with her, her own strong religious beliefs were the source of some of the visionary material which she experienced.
Her originality was in her theological understandings. All statements about Biblical and theological matters are accurate. She has authority in the same way that the minor prophets in the Bible were considered authoritative. EGW is just another spiritual writer, helpful, but not essential in any way.
4. God may have communicated with her but her own strong religious upbringing and the influences of those around her were the source of most of her views.
Her originality is limited only to “spiritual” and devotional issues. She was accurate in her observations about how to be a spiritual Christian. Her authority is in her ability to inspire her readers to live a Christian life. EGW’s views were helpful for individuals in the past, but are not particularly helpful today.
5. She honestly believed her visions came from God, but I am agnostic on the subject of her supernatural inspiration. Her originality is really not that important. What is important is what her followers thought about her. Her accuracy is really not that important. What is important is what her followers thought about her. Authority is really not the right word to use with her.Those who benefit from reading her will see her as an authority for them. EGW is helpful for some people, but not helpful for others.
6. She was not aware of the psychological and sociological basis of the ideas that she thought she had received during her out-of-body experiences.
She read widely and then forgot where her views came from. Very few of her opinions were original with her. She misstated the truth about minor historical issues. Her authority should be understood as suggestions that the Adventist community takes seriously, but may or may not follow. EGW may be a helpful devotional writer for a small number of individuals.
7. It is not possible to determine if any of her of her views derive from a supernatural source.I rather doubt that any of them are.
She was not aware enough to realize that the source of all of her insights came from others. She was factually mistaken on a large number of topics. She does not have any authority, although one might be respectful of her as a cofounder of the Adventist Church. EGW is only relevant as a 19th Century devotional writer holding several marginal religious ideas.
8. Her visions were totally the product of her brain chemistry and/or an overactive imagination having no supernatural component. All of her views were obtained from contemporary sources; she may or may not have been aware of this. All statements under her name were only as accurate as her contemporary sources were accurate. She does not have any authority on any topic, just as the Biblical prophets do not possess any contemporary authority. EGW is a major drag on making the Adventist Church of any relevance in the modern world.
9. I do not know and do not have any interest in having an opinion on this irrelevant topic. I do not know and do not have any interest in having an opinion on this irrelevant topic. I do not know and do not have any interest in having an opinion on this irrelevant topic. I do not know and do not have any interest in having an opinion on this irrelevant topic. Usefulness?I don’t have the slightest idea and don’t really care.