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Crosscurrents in Adventist Christology

by Claude Webster

Chapter Four


In this chapter we will attempt to accomplish four things. Firstly, we will seek to understand the historical milieu in which Heppenstall formed his theological ideas. Secondly, we will present a backdrop of three salient areas of his general theology in order to give perspective to his Christology. Thirdly, we will endeavor to present his view on Christology, concentrating on the person and work of Christ. Finally, we will attempt to evaluate Heppenstall's Christological contribution to Adventism and its total impact on the movement.

I. Historical Background

Edward Heppenstall influenced the Adventist theological scene during the 1950's and 1960's largely through his influence as seminary professor at Andrews University, Michigan, in the area of systematic theology and Christian philosophy. With his retirement from active teaching in 1970 the next decade slipped from his hands into the hands of others, although his published works appearing during the 1970's continued to remind Adventists of his impact.1 Even as the church passes through the archway of the 1980's into the present decade it cannot ignore the shadowy figure of Heppenstall standing on the sidelines, challenging her to build her theology on the primacy of the Word.

Edward Heppenstall was born at Rotherham, Yorkshire, in England at the turn of the century.2 His parents were in business operating a china shop and were of non-Conformist persuasion, belonging to the Congregational Church. Edward lost his father when he was ten and at thirteen had to leave high school to work twelve hours a day, six days a week, in a steel factory producing steering shafts for submarines. From those early days Heppenstall learnt the importance of application to a task.

At the age of twenty-two a very important event took place in Edward Heppenstall's life. Still working in the engineering line in a machine shop, Edward was an avowed agnostic. Although his mother had become a Seventh-day Adventist some years prior to this, Edward only made intellectual contact with Christianity. Working along with Edward in the machine shop was a radiant Christian young man who introduced Edward to a living relationship with Christ. After a time of struggle Edward became a Christian, was baptized and joined the Seventh-day Adventist Church. This apparently insignificant act was to have a far-reaching influence on Adventism in the second half of the century.

With this turning point in his life, Edward felt the need for further education and went to Stanborough Seventh-day Adventist College where he studied for five years. Earning his way through school by selling books, he immersed himself in the arts, sciences, theology and studied Greek and Hebrew. Indicative of his caliber as a student is the fact that upon his graduation the Board of the College immediately invited him to join the faculty teaching English, Logic and Greek and, in addition, serving as dean of men. He occupied this position for three years and no doubt the teaching of Logic was a contributing factor to the sharpening of his theological thought.

With an insatiable appetite for further education Edward Heppenstall left England in 1931, crossed the Atlantic Ocean and attended Emmanuel Missionary College, Michigan, forerunner of Andrews University, for two years. Here he completed his B. A. degree, majoring in English literature and also doing work in science and theology. He was profoundly influenced by Bible teacher W. W. Prescott with his Christ-centered approach and his emphasis on righteousness by faith, Prescott having been present at the famous Minneapolis Conference of 1888. Here, again, we note an important formative influence on Heppenstall's theology.

Proceeding to Ann Arbor, Heppenstall completed an M. A. in History and Semitics at the University of Michigan. After this he was engaged in teaching and doing evangelistic and pastoral work in the Michigan Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. He was subsequently appointed to the post of Youth Director of his church in the same Conference. In 1938 Edward Heppenstall was married to Margit StrØm who had come to America from Norway. Margit had been a college teacher in Norway and throughout their years of married life she has been a real companion to her husband intellectually as well as in many other areas.

In 1940 Heppenstall was called from Michigan to join the faculty of the Seventh-day Adventist La Sierra College in Arlington, California. He remained there for fifteen years, much of the time as Chairman of the Department of Theology. Murdoch, writing of this period, wrote of Heppenstall: "Here he became one of the foremost Bible teachers the denomination has produced."3 During this time of teaching he also pastored the La Sierra College Church, giving him opportunity to present his theology in practical preaching from the pulpit. While at La Sierra Heppenstall also took time to continue his studies at the University of Southern California over a protracted period. He earned a Doctor of Philosophy degree in the field of Religious Education in 1950 and received the Phi Beta Kappa award in recognition of the excellence of his work.

In 1955 Heppenstall was called to the chair of systematic theology and Christian philosophy at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary then in Takoma Park, Washington, D.C. He remained there for eleven years, serving as Chairman of the Department for the whole period except the first two years. His influence now became world-wide as he taught teachers and ministers from all parts of the world. He also extended his impact by conducting seminary extension schools in Australia, the Philippines, California and in England.4 From his pen flowed articles for denominational periodicals and contributions to the Seventh-Day Adventist Bible Commentary and Questions on Doctrine.5 His practical outreach was important as he conducted Weeks of Spiritual Emphasis in colleges and academies, spoke at youth rallies, Bible conferences, campmeetings, retreats and ministerial institutes, in addition to regularly occupying pulpits almost every week. Norval Pease says of Heppenstall during this period: "These were the years of his greatest outreach."6

In 1967 Heppenstall was called from the Theological Seminary to Loma Linda University where he taught in the Division of Religion until his retirement from active teaching in 1970. Since that time he has concentrated on writing and has produced his major works which have already been noted.7 He lives now in retirement with his wife at Carmel on the West Coast of the United States.8 Indicative of his continuing interest in theology and the freshness of his mind is the fact that Andrews University sent him out to Helderberg College, South Africa, from October to December 1981, to lecture in the first leg of an ongoing M. A. programme being offered for ten weeks every year.


1 Through the years Heppenstall has been a contributor to Seventh-day Adventist periodicals, particularly The Ministry, The Signs of the Times and These Times. For his main published works we refer to: E Heppenstall, Our High Priest, Washington, D.C.:

Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1972; Salvation Unlimited, Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1974; "Let us go on to Perfection," Perfection, the Impossible Possibility, Nashville, Tennessee: Southern Publishing Association, 1975; The Man Who is God, a Study of the Person and Nature of Jesus, Son of God and Son of Man, Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1977. It is interesting to note that Heppenstall's books all appeared after his retirement from teaching. No doubt, his very busy life as a Seminary professor, minister and travelling lecturer prevented him from accomplishing this task earlier. Possibly writing has not been his first love when weighed against the classroom and the pulpit. [back]

2 Edward Heppenstall was born on May 8, 1901. For biographical details that will follow we are indebted to Margit S. Heppenstall, wife of Edward. She wrote a 5-page typed document in 1970 and forwarded it to Dr. W. G. C. Murdoch of the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary in Berrien Springs, Michigan. his is obtainable from the E. G. White Research Center at Andrews University. See also a similar typed document of 5 pages prepared by W. G C. Murdoch and also available at the E. G. White Research Center. [back]

3 W. G. C. Murdoch writing a tribute to Edward Heppenstall in The Stature of Christ, essays in honor of Edward Heppenstall, collected and published by Vern Carner and Gary Stanhiser, privately printed and published Loma Linda, California, 1970, p.2. The Stature of Christ is a volume consisting of a collection of scholarly articles prepared by students and colleagues of Heppenstall and presented at the end of the 1970 academic year at Loma Linda to honor Edward Heppenstall at the time of his retirement from active teaching. [back]

4 For a report of the 8 week Extension School held in Australia from December 8, 19S7, at Avondale College, see E Heppenstall, "Theological Seminary Extension School in Australia," Review and Herald, Vol. 135, No. 11, March 13, 1958, p.23. Here Heppenstall taught two courses. one on the Sanctuary and one on Grace and Law. For the Extension School in the Philippines during April/May 1962 where Heppenstall taught "Righteousness by Faith," see Heppenstall, Review and Herald, Vol. 139, No. 4S, September 27, 1962, pp.16,17; for the School in California during the school year 1962-3 where he taught Righteousness by Faith, Law and Covenants, the doctrine of the Sanctuary and the doctrine of inspiration and revelation, see Heppenstall, "SDA Seminary Western Extension School," Review and Herald, Vol. 140, No. 1S, April 11, 1963, p.20; for the extension school in England where he taught two courses in theology, see Heppenstall, "Seminary Extension School in England," Review and Herald, Vol. 141, No. 36, September 3, 1964, P.32.[back]

5 See Murdoch in The Stature of Christ, p.3.[back]

6 Norval F. Pease, Loma Linda University, Chairman Department of Religion, College of Arts and Sciences, in The Stature of Christ, essays in honor of Edward Heppenstall, p.5.[back]

7 See footnote 1 of this chapter. [back]

8 0n the human interest side the Heppenstall’s have two children, both married. Their son, Malcolm, is an orthopedic surgeon and has two children. Their daughter, Astrid, is a pediatrician and her husband is a cardiologist. They have three children. [back]

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