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Crosscurrents in Adventist Christology

by Claude Webster


II. Contextual Factors in Approaching her Writings

Over 100,000 pages of written material by the time of her death in 1915 is a very unusual accomplishment for a woman author.9 Beginning with two letters published in the Day-Star of 1846, the volume of writing increased steadily, reaching a crescendo in the years 1890-1915. Since the death of Ellen White many compilations10 on different subjects have appeared, making use of her published and unpublished sources, the latter being mainly periodical articles, manuscripts, pamphlets and letters.

What motivated a woman with her limited educational background and with a husband and four children, to devote so much of her time and efforts to writing? There is no doubt that a sense of her prophetic mission to the Advent Movement was the dominating factor. She was convinced that God had revealed Himself to her through dreams and visions and that she was to make known to others what had been revealed to her. This led her to write many 'testimonies' to individuals and church groups, some of the most representative covering the period 1855-1909, appearing in nine volumes entitled Testimonies for the Church. These testimonies were of a practical, exhortatory and instructional nature, often containing devotional and inspirational nuggets.

Ellen White's range of theological interest covered aspects of the plan of salvation from the inception of sin in heaven to the final restoration of all things. This theme of what she called 'the great controversy between Christ and Satan' became the burden of much of her writing. These thoughts first found expression in four volumes entitled Spiritual Gifts appearing from 1858-1864. The messages in these volumes were refined and amplified in another four volumes appearing under the title, The Spirit of Prophecy during the years 1870-1884. Further development took place and these books were replaced with the five volumes of the Conflict of the Ages series, namely, Patriarchs and Prophets (1890); Prophets and Kings (1917); Desire of Ages (1898); Acts of the Apostles (1911) and The Great Controversy Between Christ and Satan (1888). The nature of these writings is not exegetical but could be described as an expository, homiletical and descriptive survey of the Scriptures set in a devotional and spiritual framework.

If one compares the style of the writing of Ellen White in her earlier works such as Early Writings and Spiritual Gifts with such books as The Desire of Ages (1898), The Ministry of Healing (1905) or Acts of the Apostles (1911), one discovers a development and growth in her style of language and expression.

Building her own library, 11 she devoted time to the reading of books of a devotional and theological nature on Biblical and historical themes. All of this contributed to the development of her own writing style.

With the tremendous amount of writing, Ellen White felt it necessary to employ literary assistants to aid in the checking, correcting, copying and compiling of the material. The actual role of these literary assistants has been the subject of controversy. 12 The secretaries would often have to gather existing written material by Ellen White from periodical articles or manuscripts to form the basis of some new book. 13 It is now also clear that in the preparation of her articles and books material by other authors found in various sources was carefully selected for incorporation in her writings. This question of Ellen White's use of other sources has also elicited much discussion and is at present receiving scholarly investigation by the leadership of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. 14

In the volume of material covering periodical articles, manuscripts, pamphlets, letters and books it is understandable that there is a certain amount of repetition of material. This must be borne in mind in making any investigation of the subject. It is important to find the context of a particular statement to see how the author intended it to be understood. This is, of course, particularly vital when material in compilations put together after the death of Ellen White is studied. The compiler might take a paragraph and use it to emphasize a certain point when the original context of the paragraph might throw a different light on the material.

Ellen White is also not a systematic theologian and her views on Christology must be gleaned from her whole corpus of writings. Her magnum opus on Christology, The Desire of Ages, is, likewise, not a systematic theology, but a descriptive and devotional study on the life of Christ.


9 Reference has already been made to the fact that as a result of the accident which Ellen White had at the age of nine her formal education was hampered. After intermittent efforts, she made a brief last attempt at school at about the age of 12, and again suffered failing health. Her later education came from reading and from contacts with others. She must have been strongly motivated to have spent so much of her life in writing. [back]

10 In harmony with the provisions of Ellen White's will calling for the publication of books compiled from her manuscripts, and her instruction that various of her articles which had appeared in the journals of the church should be reprinted, the Board of Trustees of the White Estate - which her will created to care for her writings have issued many posthumous works. A few selected titles are given: Counsels on Health (1923); Messages to Young People (1930); Evangelism (1946); The Adventist Home (1952); Selected Messages, Books 1 & 2 (1958). For a complete list up to 1961 see Comprehensive Index to the Writings of Ellen G. White, Mountain View, California: Pacific Press Publishing Association, Vol. 3, pp.3206-3210. Books have continued to appear regularly right up to the present. For example: In Heavenly Places (1967); Mind, Character and Personality, Book 1 & 2 (1977); This Day With God (1979); Selected Messages, Book 3 (1980). For the complete up-to-date listing write to the White Estate, Washington, D.C. [back]

11 At the time of Ellen White's death in 1915, a detailed inventory of her estate was made. Two separate sections of the inventory dealt with books. One section involved her private library in her "sitting room bookcase", the other, her office library where her literary assistants worked. For further study into the books owned by Ellen White an important document listing all her books has just recently been prepared. It is: A Bibliography of Ellen G. White's Private and Office Libraries, compiled by Warren H. Johns, Tim Poirier, and Ron Graybill, Ellen G White Estate, May 1982. It consists of 47 pages of book listings. About five hundred and fifty of the titles listed were books sold to Ellen White by Clarence C. Crisler on September 19, 1913. Crisler had been working in Ellen White's office since July 1901. Important research is now in progress to see which of Ellen White's books she used as source material in her own writings. [back]

12 For a discussion of the role of Ellen White's literary assistants see F. D. Nichol, Ellen G. White and Her Critics, pp.468-86; Arthur L. White, The Ellen G. White Writings, pp.99-101. [back]

13 Note the articles in The Review and Herald from July 3, 1913 to February 26, 1914 which formed the substance of Prophets and Kings pp.87-300 which was published in 1916. [back]

14 This question of Ellen White's use of sources will come up for more detailed discussion in the evaluation. [back]

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