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Arthur G. Daniells, after the initial three-week phase of the 1919 Bible and History Teachers' Conference wrote W. C. White:
A contrary opinion was expressed three years later by J. S. Washburn, a minister of thirty-eight years, when he stated:
The Washburn statement reflected a viewpoint that had deep roots in the denominational past, but a viewpoint that was not represented at the 1919 Conference. That viewpoint was not excluded by design, but rather because the initiative for the Conference came from the education field, and delegates were selected largely from the Bible and history faculties of the major educational institutions.
The discord with this unrepresented segment had begun far earlier than 1919 and would continue after the Conference. The nature of the disharmony concerned conflicting viewpoints regarding the inspiration of the spirit of prophecy and was fought with the theological question of the "daily" of Daniel 8 as a backdrop.
This paper will attempt to outline the two major conflicting positions on the nature of the inspiration of the spirit of prophecy and to illustrate the consequences of the friction between those positions. It will also examine some of the crises that militated against a successful dialogue that might have synthesized the conflicting viewpoints. The writer believes that the tragedy of the decade that preceded, and the decades that followed the Conference was that each side had elements of truth that were needed by the other. Distrust, however, resulted in one position dismissing the other as "verbal inspirationists," while the second camp considered its opponents to he moving, consciously or unconsciously, toward the destruction of the spirit of prophecy. With that distrust came solidification of positions that rendered more unlikely the needed dialogue.
After looking at the Conference itself and some of its unresolved questions, the paper briefly examines certain apostasies that colored the atmosphere as the debate on the "daily" was beginning. It then examines the major proponents of each of the positions that became solidified over the question of the inspiration of the spirit of prophecy.
It should be noted that the nature of the questions involved in this paper necessitated a broad attempt for documentation. It should be understood that, while the writer believes that the evidence justifies the general conclusions reached, the paper in no way purports to be a thorough exposition of the many involved episodes that it touches.
The sponsors of the 1919 Bible and History Teachers' Conference did not produce minutes of the meeting nor did they issue a formal report of positions taken on the various topics presented. The transcript of this conference, therefore, does not constitute any kind of an official statement. The transcript consists of both study papers and discussions. Some of the discussions covered topics not on the agenda.
Careful scholarship would place more weight on the thoughts expressed in the papers than in the ideas presented during the discussions, insofar as denominational consensus is concerned. While the extemporaneous remarks of a delegate might reveal his own deepest theological problems, the same topic handled by the same person but appearing in a denominational journal or book would more nearly represent the church at large or a major school of denominational thought.
1919 BIBLE AND HISTORY TEACHERS' CONFERENCE
T. E. Bowen, in a poetic outburst to his friend A. O. Tait, sought to prepare him for the seasonable Washington climate he could expect during the forthcoming Bible and History Teachers' Conference to be held for six weeks beginning July 1, 1919:
To make his point painfully clear, Bowen noted that by the time July comes on "it will be delightfully warm, so come on and help us enjoy it." He recalled that when the location for the Conference was under consideration, A. G. Daniells noted that Bowen had stayed around Washington for the past 10 to 12 summers and survived.2
A fair amount of the initiative for holding such a conference had come from the Pacific Press, where Tait was serving as an editor. As early as 1913, M. C. Wilcox, editor of the Signs of the Times, had called for such a meeting to undertake in-depth Bible studies similar to those he recalled from a bygone era. Another thing that Wilcox recalled from that earlier period was that there was not "that awful fear that somebody was going to teach heresy if they held a little different view from what somebody else did."3
Two years later Wilcox renewed his call. This time he listed the points of difference among editors, Bible teachers, and ministers and hoped such questions as (a) prophetic dates relating to the beginning and ending of the 1260 years, (b) meaning of the term "Spirit of Prophecy" in Rev. 12:17 and 19:10, (c) the "daily" of Daniel 8, (d) the king of the North of Daniel 11, (e) "This generation" of Matthew 24, and (f) the plagues of Rev. 16, would be considered. The matter was discussed during Fall Council and the delegates looked toward such a meeting "at the first opportunity." A year later A. O. Tait made a similar recommendation.4
In 1917 W. C. White became wearied by the over-concentration on war themes depicted in denominational periodicals. He wondered if the denomination then had scholarship sufficient to develop prophetic themes broader than the immediate war situation. As he looked toward the Bible teachers he believed, "with a few exceptions," that they could be classed within two categories: (a) orthodox, but unprogressive and boring, (b) progressive and interesting, but not orthodox. He called for a systematic method of improvement and urged that a summer Bible school be conducted annually. Daniells responded favorably to the proposal by recalling his own attempts in 1913 to conduct a Bible Teachers' Institute. He believed that such meetings with Bible teachers and editors should result in a "blending in unity."5
The General Conference Committee on April 5, 1918, adopted a resolution calling for a Bible and History Teachers' Council of six weeks' duration to begin July 1, 1918. Bible and history teachers from SDA colleges and junior colleges, leading editors and "such other leading men" as the GCC might designate, were invited to attend. A committee of seven selected some 40 delegates and assigned approximately 67 Bible and history topics to be considered. Some of the suggested topics and proposed speakers were: "The Use of the Spirit of Prophecy in Bible and History Teaching," A. G. Daniells or W. A. Spicer; "The 'Daily' of the Book of Daniel," F. M. Wilcox; "Inspiration: What Is It in the Bible and in the Testimonies?', A. G. Daniells; "What Shall Our Attitude Be on the Flesh Question?", F. M. Wilcox. When the war situation caused cancellation of the proposed Conference, the General Conference Committee recommended one similar in scope to be held in 1919. Rather interestingly, however, the topics approved by the GCC did not include either the spirit of prophecy or the "daily". The covering letter sent to the delegates did note, however, that it was not intended that the 11 listed topics would be the only subjects considered, but that others could be considered "as may seem best"6
As a member of the General Conference Committee, W. C. White automatically qualified as a delegate to the Conference. Daniels extended to him, however, a special invitation to attend. Although White could think of nothing he would enjoy as much as attending the Conference, his urgent work in manuscript preparation prevented his attendance.7
The area of perhaps greatest interest during the discussions at the 1919 Bible and History Teachers' Conference concerned the nature of the inspiration of the spirit of prophecy. Although the subject was formally discussed on three separate occasions, other areas of the stenographic report of the meetings afford additional insight into the various understandings of the nature of the inspiration of Ellen G. White.
W. W. Prescott, General Conference field secretary, first broached the subject by suggesting that statements in the spirit of prophecy needed to be "interpreted" to bring them into "harmony with history and fact." This, he noted, might at times conflict with the normal first reading of a specific statement. Prescott then moved from that point to concluding that the spirit of prophecy should be "corrected" when errors of fact were uncovered. He listed six such "corrections" that had been made in the 1911 edition of Great Controversy.8
F. M. Wilcox, editor of the Review, while agreeing that Mrs. White in the past had recognized fallibility in her recall of certain events about which she was writing from memory, emphasized a holistic approach to the writings that enabled him to avoid the need of deciding whether specific historical statements were inspired or not. This basic divergence seemed to be present throughout the discussions on the spirit of prophecy, and seemed to be unresolved when the Conference ended.9
A. O. Tait picked up the Prescott theme and stated, "In other words, she never claimed she had inspired evidence in regard to those dates and historical facts." Prescott responded by inaccurately attributing the following position to W. C. White:
As will be examined later, W. C. White never attempted to divide portions of the spirit of prophecy writings into inspired and uninspired sections. While he did not consider Mrs. White as final authority on questions of historical accuracy, and not to be used as authority in settling disputed historical questions, he studiously avoided distinguishing between so-called inspired and uninspired aspects of the spirit of prophecy.
While D. E. Robinson offered an explanation that could account for at least three of the six "corrections" mentioned by Prescott, W. G. Wirth, Bible teacher from Pacific Union College, affirmed that he had never believed "that the history of the spirit of prophecy was to be taken as inspired." He considered that the "history was merely thrown in to substantiate the principles."11
Six days after that general discussion on the spirit of prophecy, A. G. Daniells expressed pleasure for the opportunity of meeting and having a "plain talk about this question." He also expressed happiness for the chance to place himself "on record regarding this gift to the church" because of the criticisms that seemed to plague him and other members of the General Conference that they were "shaky with reference to the spirit of prophecy," and that they stood on slippery ground.12
Daniells concluded his introduction to the subject by expressing his deep concern over the possibility of his influencing someone to have less than full confidence in the prophetic gift in the church. He then related experiences both in the United States and Australia that solidified his firm confidence in the spirit of prophecy. As he was discussing the details of the crisis "that would shake this denomination to its foundation," the Kellogg crisis, Daniells informed the stenographers not to transcribe the remainder of that meeting "which would take over 60 pages of typewriting."13
At the beginning of his talks on the spirit of prophecy during the second series of meetings, Daniells again started with the hope that he would not say "one word that will destroy confidence in this gift. . . . I do not want to create doubts." On several occasions he called for an affirmation from the teachers that his position was not one that would cause them to think he was shaky on the spirit of prophecy. It seemed clear that Daniells considered he was dealing with sympathetic listeners. One of the teachers sympathetically pointed to the widespread belief that neither he nor Prescott believed the Testimonies and this seemed to solidify Daniells' intention of "explaining" the position of those who caused him to have that reputation. Daniells, as well as others, consistently attributed to that segment a belief in the verbal inspiration of the spirit of prophecy. 14
During his July 30 talk, Daniells seemed to reveal rather fully his concept of the inspiration of the spirit of prophecy. While he clearly considered the Testimonies to be from the Lord, he likewise stressed that there was a need for interpretation to occur. He emphasized that the real basis for his confidence in the gift was the fruitage of the gift within the church.
Daniells considered the spirit of prophecy as an inspired commentary upon the Bible, but he rejected the concept that it was the only safe interpreter of the Bible or that it was "an infallible interpreter" of the Bible. On questions of interpretation, Daniells stressed his belief in a holistic approach on a teaching in the spirit of prophecy. He emphasized that the "whole trend of teaching and thought that is put through the Testimonies on that subject" should determine the conclusions.15
Daniells did not consider that Mrs. White claimed "to be an authority on history, and never claimed to be a dogmatic teacher on theology." He emphasized that he believed that "as far as she was concerned, she was ready to correct in revision such statements as she thought should be corrected." He seemed to be stressing that, just as Mrs. White should not be considered an "infallible interpreter" of the Bible, so she should not be considered an "infallible guide to history." It should be noticed that Daniells seemed to avoid the position Prescott seemed to take of considering Mrs. White not "inspired" upon certain points. Daniells distinguished between the question of infallibility and inspiration and stated, "I never understood that she put infallibility into the historical quotations," while also agreeing that the final proof of the inspiration of the spirit of prophecy was its spiritual value rather than its historical veracity.16
Another facet of Daniells' understanding of the proper use of the spirit of prophecy related to his belief that some claimed too much for the writings. While he warned that all efforts should be made to avoid casting doubts upon the gift to students, another way to injure the student would be "to take an extreme and unwarranted position."17
Daniells' philosophy toward interpreting the spirit of prophecy in terms of the context was enunciated in response to a question concerning the use of butter. He knew, Daniells asserted, that from conversations he had with Mrs. White that she well understood that common sense dictated that people should be governed by the locality and circumstances in their relation to the health question.18
The most prominent feature in the discussions of the spirit of prophecy on August 1 was the question of verbal inspiration. F. M. Wilcox stated that because of his knowledge of the methods used in the Ellen White works he "never believed in the verbal inspiration of the Testimonies." J. N. Anderson wondered if the leadership should continue to "let our people in general go on holding to the verbal inspiration of the Testimonies?" He called for cautious moves in the direction of educating the membership to avoid the serious crisis that might someday occur. C. L. Taylor doubted that the membership generally believed in the verbal inspiration of the Testimonies. He noted that the question was discussed far more at the Conference "in one day" than he ever heard of it in his entire life. Daniells again seemed to be reacting to those who questioned his standing on the spirit of prophecy when he stated:
Daniells expressed his opinion that holding to a verbal inspiration concept of the Testimonies was illogical "because everybody who has ever seen the work done knows better, and we might as well dismiss it." 19
G. B. Thompson believed that the church had been incorrectly educated and thus the denomination faced the possibility of a shock on the question of verbal inspiration. His confidence in the spirit of prophecy was not in its verbal inspiration, he stated, but rather "in their influence and power in the denomination." He concluded, "They are not verbally inspiredówe know thatóand what is the use of teaching that they are?" M. E. Kern suggested that the question of verbal inspiration did not settle the problem of defining the inspiration of Ellen White and Daniells responded by suggesting that difficulties sprang from the two questions of infallibility and verbal inspiration. He then referred to James White statements in the Review and Herald that attempted to correct erroneous ideas about verbal inspiration. Daniells believed that because that explanation was not accepted "and passed on down," the present generation faced that perplexity. He continued:
The next three pages of transcript depict Daniells applying the question of verbal inspiration to such questions as salt, eggs, butter and book revision. How, he asks, could the writings be revised, if they were verbally inspired.20
Several attempts were made to arrive at a practical way to deal with the concept of inspiration. B. L. House considered the problem not to be the question of verbal inspiration, but rather the methodology used in preparing the books. Because he believed the Testimonies were prepared differently than other works containing historical extracts, he implied that the Testimonies were more inspired. F. M. Wilcox again stressed his over-all concept of inspiration that would allow for the possibility of fallibility in a specific detail. "It seems to me I would have to accept what she says on some of those general policies or I would have to sweep away the whole thing," he stated.21
The discussion closed, however, with most questions unresolved. Perhaps the most basic was that posed by C. L. Benson, dean and history teacher at Pacific Union College:
C. L. Taylor, Bible instructor at Canadian Junior College, restated the Benson question by noting that if Ellen White's statements concerning history and possibly certain expositions of scripture were considered unreliable:
M. E. Kern, Secretary of the GC Youth Department, likewise touched on that question when he wondered how the same individual (probably referring to Prescott) could consider the historical data in the spirit of prophecy as unreliable "and then assert his absolute confidence in the spirit of prophecy." He likewise wondered how an individual (obviously meaning Daniells) could ignore the definite testimony concerning butter and still claim absolute confidence in the inspiration of the spirit of prophecy. The question is, stated Kern, "What is the nature of inspiration?" Kern emphasized the twin problems of explaining such a philosophy of inspiration to young people and also the problem of avoiding rationalizing away the entire spirit of prophecy. Kern continued:
Prescott likewise considered the question of "inaccuracies" within the spirit of prophecy as a dilemma regarding the question of inspiration. He recalled his experience relating to the revision of Great Controversy. His problem was, he stated, to "retain faith" in those areas of the spirit of prophecy that he had no possibility of verifying as he did the historical revisions that were accepted. He noted that he had not given up the spirit of prophecy despite this difficulty, but "had to adjust" his "view of things." He alluded to his poor reputation concerning his stance upon the spirit of prophecy and sympathized with the question posed by Benson noting:
His solution seemed to be to distinguish between the books that he judged were prepared largely by Mrs. White and those "prepared by others for sale to the public," while at the same time asserting, inconsistently, that he would not draw a line "between what was authoritative and what was not."25
The Conference concluded without answering this [Benson's] basic question. Perhaps it was not equipped to do so. Perhaps the range of alternatives was not given a wide enough hearing. Perhaps a varying view of the nature of the inspiration of the spirit of prophecy needed to be combined with the views represented at the Conference.
During his last discussion on the spirit of prophecy at the Conference, Daniells alluded to his in-depth exposure to the workings of that gift within the church. Indeed, very few were alive by 1919 who had a more thorough exposure to the spirit of prophecy than A. G. Daniells. Note this statement made to the Conference delegates:
A glimpse at some of the questions raised during the controversy with J. H. Kellogg and A. T. Jones in Battle Creek might be helpful in gaining a perspective of Daniells' and others' attitudes toward the inspiration of the spirit of prophecy.
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