Ellen White
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Ellen White
Answering the questions and critics on Ellen G. White
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Open Letter to Ratzlaff

Dear Brother Ratzlaff,

I have carefully read your “Open Letter” written on November 13, 2006, posted on your website. Thank you for focusing on the issues without attacking me personally, as some have done. I recognize that several of my statements have aroused antagonism, and that was not my intention.

You stated several times that you were “saddened” by my presentation, “Ellen White and Her Critics,” given at the Ellen White Summit 2005, held on November 11-12 at the Gladstone Conference Center in Oregon. I understand your use of this term in reference to comments I made about you and other individuals who are critical of Ellen White. As I have listened to this presentation several times and sought the counsel of other godly Adventist Christians, I have concluded that I did make several unfair remarks. I apologize to you and others for any hurt or anger that my words may have inadvertently caused.

While I still believe the basic points in this presentation to be true, I acknowledge that not every person critical of Ellen White neatly fits into the various categories I mentioned such as “mad,” “ferocious,” or “dysfunctional.” I want to be fair to all those who have a position different from mine on Ellen White, as I hope they will be fair with me. The purpose of this presentation was to provide an overview of the issues, which was really attempting too much in one session. As such, lack of time prevented me from providing the supporting evidence for my claims. I will provide that evidence on this website.

You should know that neither I nor the Oregon Conference was responsible for putting this presentation on the World Wide Web at <http://ellenwhitesummit.foxyresearch.com/> and Google Videos.

I noticed that in addition to expressing your feelings about several of my comments, you used this “open letter” as an opportunity to express your concerns about Seventh-day Adventists and Ellen White, which prompts me to respond. Thus, I will summarize in bullet form my understanding of your salient points and then briefly, but respectfully, respond:

Those who leave Adventism for theological reasons find a closer relationship with Christ, a new hunger for the Word of God, and a higher view of inspiration.

I do not presume to judge the Christian experience of those who have left Adventism and remained within Christianity. If you have Christ in your heart and reveal his fruits in your life, I am glad, no matter what your profession of faith is. But the other side of the issue is that while a significant number of people may leave Adventism and find a new Christian experience, there is a much greater number of people who join the Adventist church each year and find a closer relationship with Jesus Christ, as well as a new and exciting experience in prayerful study of the Bible. Furthermore, young people raised in the SDA church come to our college and university campuses each year full of excitement for Jesus Christ and his Word. I have the privilege of first-hand observation of this excitement on the campus of Southern Adventist University, where I teach. Could it be that those who left Adventism for theological reasons and found Christ in another fellowship never really understood true Adventism in the first place?

As to the higher view of inspiration, one needs to define what this means. Does it mean verbal dictation, verbal inspiration, plenary inspiration, or thought inspiration? All of these views could be considered “higher views of inspiration” as compared to others. The rhetoric of pulling-down-the-Bible-to-build-up-Ellen White is convenient but does not represent how many Adventist scholars approach inspiration. For example, representative Adventist scholarship is suggesting a multifaceted, plenary view of inspiration (see, for example, Peter M. van Bemmelen, “Revelation and Inspiration,” in Handbook of Seventh-day Adventist Theology, ed. Raoul Dederen [Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald, 2000], 22-57; and Fernando Canale, “Revelation and Inspiration,” in Understanding Scripture: An Adventist Approach, Biblical Research Institute Studies, vol. 1 [Silver Spring, MD: General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, 2005], 47-74). Moreover, a careful study of Ellen White’s view of the Bible’s inspiration also reveals a plenary view (see van Bemmelen, 55-57). This subject of inspiration is one that will be explored in more depth on this website in the near future.

Honest, open, and prayerful investigation of Ellen White’s writings will lead one to reject her prophetic gift.

Admittedly, this is the claim of many who have left Adventism. There are, however, many of us in Adventism who have also honestly, openly, and prayerfully investigated the writings of Ellen White and come to a different conclusion. In my own experience, for example, I have made hard copies of the extensive material on <www.ellenwhite.org>, among other websites, and have carefully studied it over the last couple of years.

I have also carefully studied Dirk Anderson’s White Out, Sydney Cleveland’s White Washed, Walter Rea’s White Lie, Ronald Number’s Prophetess of Health, Maurice Barnett’s Ellen G. White & Inspiration and, of course, D. M. Canright’s The Life of Mrs. E. G. White, Seventh Day Adventist Prophet, Her False Claims Refuted. In addition, I have earnestly studied anti-Ellen White books of the nineteenth century, such as B. F. Snook and W. H. Brinkerhoff’s The Visions of E. G. White, Not of God (1866), H. E. Carver’s Mrs. E. G. White’s Claims to Divine Inspiration Examined (1877), Miles Grant’s An Examination of Mrs. White’s Visions (1874), and A. C. Long’s Comparison of the Early Writings of Mrs. White with Later Publications (1883), among others.

As I have carefully listened to the charges of all these authors and compared them to the historical and literary context of Ellen White’s writings, pitted them against the best apologetic material in the church, and then, as objectively as possible, analyzed my findings, I have concluded that Ellen White’s prophetic ministry does indeed withstand the most exacting and harshest scrutiny.

Consequently, I now embrace her writings with even more confidence than before I began this study. Now, you may call me stubborn and unmovable in my position, but you surely cannot say I have been one-sided in my research. All are invited to see the results of my findings as they are gradually published on this website.

Adhering to the Bible and the Bible only as the source of truth rules out Ellen White’s writings.

There is no evidence in Scripture that God ever intended to withdraw the prophetic gift, or any of the other spiritual gifts, this side of the Second Coming. For a very helpful study on the issue of the prophetic gift and its relation to Scripture, see Frank Holbrook’s important article, “The Biblical Basis for a Modern Prophet.” This study shows most effectively that the manifestation of the postcanonical gift of prophecy does not contradict “the Bible and the Bible only as the source of truth.”

Real “contextual study” of the Bible shows that many of the unique teachings of Adventism are based on the writings of Ellen White and not the Bible.

The best way to address this concern is to provide evidence of Adventist “contextual study” of the Bible without the use of Ellen White’s writings. You are right that many Adventists will react strongly to your first profound conclusion, “One cannot understand the Bible correctly when continuing to read the writings of Ellen White.” This would be true if they begin their study with Ellen White and then go to the Bible only to find support for Ellen White’s views. But your first conclusion doesn’t hold true for the many Adventists who study the Bible and then, after reaching their conclusions, study Ellen White. Perhaps you never experienced reading the Scriptures apart from Ellen White while you were an Adventist. While I appreciate her writings very much, they are not the norm for my interpretation of Scripture. I, like many others I know, study the Scriptures in the original languages and carefully follow the rules of biblical interpretation. In this light, I have thoroughly studied your books The Cultic Doctrine of Seventh-day Adventists and Sabbath in Christ and the two scholarly books upon which they are based: Daniel 8:14, The Day of Atonement, and the Investigative Judgement by Desmond Ford; and From Sabbath to Lord’s Day: A Biblical, Historical and Theological Investigation, ed. by D. A. Carson. As I have compared the arguments in these books with Scripture, I have come to completely different conclusions than you have about the 1844 judgement, the Sabbath, the covenants, and Ellen White.

Let me share with you several studies that have convinced me of the biblical support for some of the unique teachings of Adventism, none of which appeal to Ellen White for support:

Sanctuary:

  • Richard Davidson, Typology in Scripture: A Study of Hermeneutical Tupos Structures, doctoral dissertation, Andrews University, 1981.
  • Arthur J. Ferch, The Son of Man in Daniel Seven, doctoral dissertation, Andrews University, 1979.
  • Roy Gane, “Leviticus, Numbers” NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004).
  • Roy Gane, Cult and Character: Purification Offerings, Day of Atonement, and Theodicy (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2005).
  • Brempong Owusu-Antwi, The Chronology of Daniel 9:24-27, doctoral dissertation, Andrews University, 1995.
  • Gerhard Pfandl, The Time of the End in the Book of Daniel, doctoral dissertation, Andrews University, 1992.

Sabbath and Covenant:

  • Keumyoun Ahn, The Sinaitic Covenant and Law in the Theology of Dispensationalism, doctoral dissertation, Andrews University, 1989.
  • Samuele Bacchiocchi, The Sabbath Under Crossfire (Berrien Springs, MI: Biblical Perspectives, 1998).
  • Hans K. LaRondelle, Our Creator Redeemer: An Introduction to Biblical Covenant Theology (Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews University Press, 2005).
  • Kenneth A. Strand, The Sabbath In Scripture and History (Washington, DC: Review and Herald, 1982).

Healthful Eating:

  • Jiri Moskala, The Laws of Clean & Unclean Animals in Leviticus 11: Their Nature, Theology, & Rationale, An Intertextual Study, doctoral dissertation, Andrews University, 1998.

State of Death as Sleep:

  • Eriks Galenieks, The Nature, Function, and Purpose of the Term Sheol in the Torah, Prophets and Writings, doctoral dissertation, Andrews University, 2005.

This list is far from exhaustive (not to mention the numerous scholarly articles), but at least provides evidence that Adventist scholars are doing fresh research in Scripture and finding evidence for the unique teachings of Adventism without the use of Ellen White.

Your second “profound conclusion” is one with which I agree: “Where the Bible is clear we can and should be certain. Where the Bible is unclear or honestly open to several interpretations we must be tentative.” Where we disagree, of course, is how you approach Daniel 8:14.

Ellen White’s early teachings on the Shut Door were suppressed in later writings, thus creating dishonesty and deceit on the part of Church leaders and apologists.

There is a significant amount of evidence that refutes the idea of suppressed early writings, some of which I will share below. The “shut door” issue is one that needs attention, because so much misunderstanding abounds concerning it. In due time I will address it on this website.

The reason why so many Adventists leave the SDA Church every year is because the extensive research done on the writings of Ellen White exposing all her problems is now open to members all over the world via the Internet.

I noticed you mentioned in a footnote the 1.5 million members who left the SDA church between 2000 and 2005. What you did not mention was that five million people decided to join the SDA church during this period as well! As to the reason why people leave the Adventist church, no definitive study has been done in this area yet. Is all the negative material on the Internet about the SDA Church and Ellen White making an impact? Yes, I think it is. But just how much, we don’t know. On reporting that “for every 100 accessions, more than 35 others decided to leave,” Bert Haloviak, director of Archives and Statistics at the General Conference, stated that there were “extenuating circumstances” for the loss of members during the last quinquennium: “During the past five years a majority of the world divisions has undertaken the painful responsibility of church membership audits. The resulting careful look at local church membership records has shown a decrease in the verifiable baptized church membership of more than 800,000 during this quinquennium.” So, due to updating church membership records, the number of those who actually left the SDA church over the last five years is considerably less than 1.5 million. Haloviak went on to say that “an average annual growth rate of 4.97 percent during this quinquennium, despite the audits, suggests that the Seventh-day Adventist church is poised for a major growth in the near future now that our membership rolls are more accurately reflected” (see <adventistarchives.org>, “Celebrating a Half-Century of Mission,” page 4). So the estimate of 300,000 people actually leaving the Adventist church per year over the last five years is quite inflated.

The church is hiding in its “dark vaults” the early writings of Ellen White and other early Adventist writers. Dr. Fred Veltman’s research on the plagiarism charge has not been open to the public.

You posed the question: “Why not open wide the dark vaults housing the early writings of Ellen White and other Adventist writers to the light of investigation?” Evidently, you are not aware that Ellen White’s earliest writings, such as those in “A Word to the Little Flock” and her articles in The Present Truth, Numbers 1-11, 1849-1850, have been open to the public in various forms for years. For details, see “Earliest Seventh-day Adventist Periodicals,” in Adventist Classic Library, published by Andrews University Press (2005) and sold in your local Adventist Book Center. This new series, Adventist Classic Library, will be publishing many books by early Adventist writers in the near future. Also, you should know that The Present Truth and all the Review and Herald articles from the beginning to recent times are online at <adventistarchives.org>.

Moreover, for a number of years the White Estate has released all of Ellen White’s published writings, including the earliest, on the EGW CD-ROM. And they are planning to release all of her unpublished letters. So there are no “dark vaults housing the early writings of Ellen White.” That no early writings of Ellen White have been suppressed in the history of the SDA Church can and will be documented on this website.

You also mentioned that Fred Veltman’s study on the issue of plagiarism and Ellen White is not available to Adventists. You should know, that for several years now, Veltman’s entire study has been online at <adventistarchives.org> and available to anyone with Internet access. You also might want to know that the entire 1919 Bible Conference documents can be found at this location as well.

The Clear Word represents “purposeful and blatant deception where the views of Ellen White and SDA theology are read right into the text without any manuscript evidence whatsoever.”

There is much that could be said about these strong words, “purposeful and blatant deception.” But I will save a more detailed analysis for another time. The cover of The Clear Word (2000) states that it is “An expanded paraphrase.” The “Preface” begins with these words:

The Clear Word is not a translation, but a devotional expanded paraphrase of the Holy Scriptures intended to nurture growth. It should not be considered a study Bible. Excellent translations of the Scriptures are available for such purposes.”

Later in the preface, the author, Jack Blanco, states: “Much like a sermon, the volume in your hands is an interpretive work based on the greatest Book ever written.”

Please note this is considered by the author to be much like a “sermon,” an “interpretive work” based on the Bible. As such, this paraphrase does not attempt to adhere strictly to the original manuscripts. As Eugene Peterson says in the introduction to his paraphrase, The Message (which Blanco quotes in his preface!), “The goal [of a paraphrase] is not to render a word-for-word conversion of Greek into English, but rather to convert the tone, the rhythm, the events, the ideas, into the way we actually think and speak.”

Now, you may disagree with the way Blanco has paraphrased certain passages, but to say that the church is committing a “purposeful and blatant deception” by publishing the The Clear Word greatly misrepresents the facts. Please note: The Clear Word is not an official publication of the SDA Church, but a publication of the Review & Herald Publishing Association. There has never been any offical vote to publish The Clear Word at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

One of the examples you give in footnote 14 on page 6 of your “Open Letter” (online version) represents a gross distortion of Blanco’s intended meaning. You state:

“In Jn. 8:58 NASB reads: ‘Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am.” The Clear Word reads, ‘Jesus said, ‘Because I existed before Abraham was born.’The CWB omits the ‘I Am’ which shows that Jesus is indeed the Divine Lord, the YHWH (Jehovah), the eternally existent One mentioned in Ex. 3:4-13. The CWB makes the ‘Bible’ agree with many of the Arian statements in the writings of EGW.”

In response, when one reads Blanco’s paraphrase of the Gospel of John, the overall meaning fits with the intended meaning of John. For example, his paraphrase of John 1:1 reads: “From the beginning, the Word of God was there. The Word stood by the side of God, and the Word was fully God.” He paraphrases verse 14 this way: “So the Word of God became a man and lived among us.” Thus, the context of the paraphrase captures the full divinity of Jesus Christ and confirms His eternal existence.

Moreover, compare Blanco’s paraphrase of John 8:58 with one well-known evangelical paraphrase Bible:

Jack Blanco’s The Clear Word: “Because I existed before Abraham was born.”

Ken Taylor’s The Living Bible: “The absolute truth is that I was in existence before Abraham was ever born!”

Notice Taylor’s paraphrase carefully: The standard translation of “I AM” is changed, and the wording gives a meaning similar to Blanco’s The Clear Word. Would you say Taylor is teaching Arianism? The way these two authors paraphrase this verse does not mean they believe Jesus had a beginning sometime before Abraham was born. As to Arianism in Ellen White’s writings, this charge will be addressed elsewhere in <ellenwhiteanswers.org>.

Later in this footnote you reference a study by one of your colleagues, Verle Streifling, that supposedly documents places where The Clear Word has “added, deleted, and twisted the wording of numerous texts to help them line up with the unbiblical teachings of Ellen White and Adventism.” Don’t all paraphrases add, delete, and change the wording of texts? In doing so, the authors obviously bring their theological understanding to the table. Are all evangelical paraphrases corrupting the Bible when their authors add, delete, and change the wording to reflect their particular theological understanding? Are all these paraphrases corrupt when they interpret texts differently than you do? If Eugene Peterson’s The Message paraphrases a text differently from your theological understanding, is it then corrupt like Blanco’s The Clear Word? Lets be fair and let a phraphrase be a paraphrase!

There is one other issue I must raise at this juncture. You are concerned, and rightly so, that I painted with a broad brush all people critical of Ellen White. I have admitted some of my statements were of such a nature. But is it not true that Proclamation! tends to paint with a broad brush Seventh-day Adventists as legalistically oriented and endeavoring to keep the Ten Commandments in order to be saved? Admittedly, there are times when you or your editors will say there are SDAs who believe in grace. But the overwhelming impression in the writing is that most SDAs do not experience real grace and the resulting assurance of salvation. I beg to differ, because I know many who do.

Isn’t the title of your latest audio book on CD, Adventist to Christian, implying that to be Adventist is not to be Christian? I realize you are sharing your own experience in this book. But the title suggests that Adventists are something other than Christian or, at best, sub-Christian. Any fairminded person who reads widely in Adventist literature knows this not to be true.

I find it interesting in the September/October 2006 issue of Proclamation! that Adventist pastor David Newman also felt like he was being painted with a broad brush concerning an editorial comment to “Immensely Sad” (a letter to the editor published in the previous issue of Proclamation!) In “Letters to the Editor” he endeavored to explain how he and his church keep the Sabbath out of grace, not works. The editor, of course, did not let the comment stand on its own, but wrote a rejoinder. Her comments made no room for grace-oriented Sabbath keeping by the Seventh-day Adventist Church (page 16). You are concerned that those critical of Ellen White be treated fairly, and rightly so. Is it possible for Proclamation! to extend the same fairness to the SDA Church?

A request to answer the 14 questions about Ellen White

 

You requested that I answer the 14 questions in your “Open Letter.” While your questions do contain assumptions that need examination, they are worthy of attention, and I have¬†addressed¬†them on this website.

Closing Remarks:

In closing, I want to thank you, Brother Ratzlaff, for the invitation to meet personally. I would be glad to meet you in person and share a meal together, not to argue and debate our theological differences, but to get acquainted and understand each other better as individuals. Thank you for sending your books, especially Adventist to Christian and the revised edition of The Truth About Seventh-Day Adventist Truth. I find value in reading material with a different theological position than mine. By way of saying thanks, I am sending you a copy of the important Handbook of Seventh-day Adventist Theology, which represents a biblical perspective on Adventist beliefs by Adventist scholars. It is the best source to use when referencing what Seventh-day Adventists believe about basic Bible doctrine.

Sincerely in Christ,

Jud Lake, Th.D., D.Min.