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Ellen White and South Pacific Adventism:
Retrospect and Prospect

by Arthur Patrick

ABSTRACT: According to the 2003 edition of Chambers Concise Biographical Dictionary, Ellen White converted to Millerite Adventism in 1842 and in 1863 “became leader” of the newly formed Seventh-day Adventist Church, a denomination that she still “dominates” through more than sixty books. This paper observes that, within Adventism, the processes that may appear to external observers as leading and dominating have many dimensions and may experience dramatic change over time. Further, the paper contends that currently the situation of the Church in the South Pacific Division is latent with promise for maturing an historical understanding of Ellen White and fostering an effective application of her writings.


The International Prophetic Guidance Workshop of 1982 held in Washington, D.C., may be the most important event of its kind relating to Ellen White in Seventh-day Adventist history. The Workshop generated 941 pages of materials that were immediately carried worldwide by its attendees. These included data and interpretations more comprehensive and influential than those of similar conferences, such as those held in1978 and 2002. It may be suggested that gatherings of long ago, like those of 1888 and 1919, tower above the 1982 Workshop. Ellen White was the most important player in the drama of 1888, but her life and ministry were not the prime focus of that epochal General Conference. The 1919 conversations between elected leaders and teachers of Bible and history have evoked an unusual level of passion in the church since the discovery of their transcripts in the 1970s. But 1919 was a prelude, a statement of a theme destined to wait sixty-three years fuller expression.

Whether or not 1982 is the most crucial occurrence during the sixteen decades that Ellen White and Adventism have been in a symbiotic relationship, it marks something of a chronological midpoint in two decades of the most intense scrutiny that she has attracted since 1844. With an eye upon this era of lively discussion about Ellen White, her ministry and its continuing significance, in 1999 the South Pacific Division (SPD) of the Church developed an inclusive strategy document that is sensitive to the past but open to the future. Now the scheduling of an Ellen White Summit by the SPD offers a further opportunity for the Church to embrace the learning experiences of the past in order to better equip itself for the exigencies of the twenty-first century. While this paper attempts a succinct overview of the perception and influence of Ellen White within the geographical area of the SPD since Adventists arrived here in 1885, its prime purpose is to offer proposals that may enhance the integrity, unity and mission of the Church in the immediate future. In other words, it invokes history for a specific purpose: as an aid in the process of envisioning an effective future.

I. Packaging the First 95 Years

Before November 1891 when Ellen White arrived as “messenger of the Lord” in the territory of what is now the SPD, she was already well known as the most voluminous author in Adventism and the only one of the Church’s three co-founders still living. Elsewhere I have listed five of many reasons why her “sojourn in the South Pacific should have been a non-event” and five reasons “why this diminutive lady became so endeared to South Pacific Adventists.” The roadblocks to her success were so significant and the contribution that she made was so pervasive that the Adventists of Australia and New Zealand may have been more attuned thereafter to her prophetic ministry than the believers in any other geographical area, including those of her homeland, the United States. Be that as it may, the Australasian Church during the next seven decades lived in accord with the majority opinion of Adventists in North America, assigning Ellen White’s writings a unique and growing status as the all-encompassing, definitive encyclopaedia of Adventist thought and practice. Whereas the ethos of certitude in the United States came under serious scrutiny from 1970, it was another decade before South Pacific believers were strongly impacted by a similar process. A succinct account of “The Noonday of Certitude” is readily available to those who may not have time to peruse the primary sources that are so abundant in this regard.

II. The Effervescent Decade: The Eighties

The demand of the modern world for evidence to sustain belief became selectively audible in the SPD homeland congregations during the 1960s; it became strident in the 1970s; from 1980 it was as pervasive as thunder. New data about Ellen White’s life and writings were clearly other than the timeworn evidences that supported the cherished understandings of most believers. Many ministers, teachers and members experienced such acute cognitive dissonance that they abandoned entirely their view of Ellen White as a messenger of the Lord. Some of these people were ejected from the Church or left of their own volition; a small though still significant number of them lost faith in Scripture and even in God. It may be arguable exactly when the era of certitude regarding Ellen White gave place to an epoch of controversy; certainly the process was well under way in 1974 and by the 1980 General Conference Session the climate in the South Pacific was manifestly different from what it had been a mere decade earlier.

One of a hundred potential illustrations may clarify the nature of the Church’s dilemma in this regard. Reports that Ellen White used sources as she wrote her classic trilogy on the Life of Christ began to reach the South Pacific in 1978. The next year Church leaders commissioned a book chapter to deal with this as one of a cluster of matters becoming of interest within local congregations. By 1980 the evidence may have seemed either highly conflicting or deeply disturbing; the publishing project was abandoned forthwith. Subsequently a series of events, not least those engaging the attention of a headquarters “Reading Committee” and a Spirit of Prophecy Resource Committee, came to something of a climax in 1982 when the Record declared that Ellen White derived only about 0.002 per cent of her corpus from the writings of others. Seven years later the Record revised this figure upwards by 15,000 times for fifteen chapters selected at random from The Desire of Ages. While it is obvious that not all estimates made by the Church on such matters in the 1970s and early 1980s were as significantly wide of the mark as this was on a factual level, the reality of pervasive dissonance between the claims of true believers and the verifiable facts of the newly available evidence was apparent. Denial of the data was an often-used, initial response that did little to quieten controversy but did much to heighten the problem of credibility.

III. Evidence of Consensus: The Nineties

Another “sea change” is discernible when the 1990s are compared with the 1980s. If certitude relating to Ellen White was the order of the day until the 1970s, and controversy characterised the 1980s, it can be argued that the Church began to exhibit a strong impulse toward consensus in the 1990s.

The roots of this development can be traced back at least to the mid-1980s when, under the editorship of historian Noel Clapham, the SPD reviewed its first century in the antipodes. Walter Scragg, the SPD president of the time, convened three historical conferences that illustrated a growing mood of openness to genuine study of the increasingly abundant primary sources. Bryan Ball, Scragg’s successor, was himself a published historian whose lifetime endeavour demonstrated effectively the value of original research in the British antecedents of Adventism. In 1991 an address to departmental and other leaders at the SPD headquarters presented concepts relating to Ellen White that were anathematised a decade earlier, but were now received with a measure of enthusiasm. During his M.A. study, evangelist Graeme Bradford sharpened convictions that led him to offer “Ellen White Updates” in local congregations and convention settings. In line with this growing awareness, the 1999 strategy document voted by the SPD in session may be interpreted as perhaps the most comprehensive and forward looking attempt by a segment of the world Church to facilitate a constructive future with reference to Ellen White and her prophetic ministry.

The climate of incipient consensus in the SPD was undergirded by constructive activities in North America. The concerted efforts of Robert Olsen and Roger Coon to assemble collections of significant articles helped to facilitate a growing awareness. Already many of about ninety articles relating to Ellen White in Spectrum had pushed back the horizons of some Adventists. Roger Coon in 1982 identified the influence upon many Adventist minds of an inadequate theory of inspiration. During 1991, Alden Thompson provided a substantial treatise on this crucial topic, fostering a sustainable view for both Scripture and Ellen White’s writings.

While a chorus of dissent raised by the Adventist Theological Society as an entity and authors like Samuel Koranteng-Pipim demonstrated the sensitivity of the issues, it also made clear a harsh reality: that if the Church adopted the stance on inspiration recommended by these dissenters, it may fail to acknowledge the validity of the new data relating to Ellen White and her ministry or, alternatively, erode her credibility as the Lord’s messenger amongst informed Adventists. Comment made in a paper at the 1997 annual meeting of the Adventist Society of Religious Studies in San Francisco was made available, with the help of the At Issue section of, for worldwide discussion. Written responses received from the oral and written presentation indicated that many informed thought-leaders in the United States and elsewhere were approving of the general directions that the paper recommended, while two or three per cent of respondents clustered around each of the opposing extremes. To be more explicit, a few charged the paper with surrendering Ellen White to destructive critics; the opposite camp alleged the paper made unrealistic proposals for her prophetic ministry within the Advent movement. Continuing responses to the At Issue paper received from many parts of the world during the past six years indicate that these statistics remain useful as indicators for the ongoing present. Meanwhile the constructive volume Messenger of the Lord became available in 1998, transcending many of the limitations evident in the Church’s traditional apologetics.

IV. On the Cusp of the Future

If the above considerations are broadly accurate, the present is an exciting time for understanding and applying Ellen White’s writings in the SPD, given the fact that currently we can appreciate and profit from a cluster of considerations. Seven of these are:

The ready availability of primary sources and effective indices. An insightful study of Christian Science by an Adventist historian illustrates the way in which a minority religion may attempt to isolate itself from serious consideration by preventing access to its primary sources. In 1970 access to Ellen White’s writings was for most Australasians limited to her books and Review and Herald articles, made somewhat accessible by a three-volume index. Now tens of thousands of pages of her letters and manuscripts, many more periodical articles, numerous compiled books and 21 volumes of manuscript releases can be searched readily within every major geographical area of the world with the help of computerised and other indices. In addition, the Church’s archives make available primary sources from Millerite times to the present, illumining the immediate context of Ellen White’s ministry. Coherent moves are under way to enhance understanding by a well-planned introduction to the individuals with whom Ellen White corresponded and by the production of volume thirteen in the Commentary Reference Series that was initiated in 1954, with the publication of an Ellen White encyclopaedia. Ellen White Studies are now a respectable discipline under the larger rubric of Adventist Studies, democratised to the extent that we can address reality in a way that was not possible when the Church deemed one of its responsibilities was to control information.

The maturation of the discipline of history. This development may well be traced from the 1930s experience of Everett Dick to the completion of Merlin Burt’s dissertation in 2002. Nichol and Froom used Dick’s doctoral dissertation extensively without acknowledgement, at a time when Dick and his skills were feared, unappreciated or marginalised. Dick moved his focus to the sphere of American history, making a significant contribution therein as an Adventist scholar. Six decades later his magnum opus was published and recognised as responsible and constructive. The historical contributions of Don McAdams, Ron Numbers, Jon Butler and Ron Graybill were too often unappreciated or in various ways restricted, laid aside or condemned in the 1970s and 1980s. We need to be thankful for what such pioneer investigators achieved, and repent for some of the ways they were treated by accepting their significance even as we resurvey the tracks they blazed in terms of all the data now available. In this process we can also be greatly assisted by the historians that remain as contributors to the continuing Adventist discussion, like Richard Schwarz, Gary Land, George Knight, Ben McArthur, Eric Anderson, Roland Blaich, Fred Hoyt, Jerry Moon, Douglas Morgan, Paul McGraw and more. In the SPD we developed thought-leaders in the discipline of history whose insights we need to better understand: Gilbert Valentine, Arnold Reye, Milton Hook and Barry Oliver among them.

The development of the discipline of Biblical Studies. At the mid-point of the twentieth century only a few Adventists were trained to a doctoral level in Biblical Studies. For a time, a suitable equipping for teaching Bible or even leadership in the General Conference Biblical Research Institute was a Ph.D. in anything, sometimes rhetoric. While this situation was undergoing rapid change by 1970, its status is vastly different in 2004. As a case in point, one might cite the published articles and books of a few representative Old and New Testament scholars: Alden Thompson, Laurence Turner, Richard Davidson, Norman Young, Jon Paulien, Ivan Blazen, Warren Trenchard. A specific example may illustrate the way in which Adventist scholarship currently forms a continent-embracing community. In the 1970s the interpretation of Hebrews was a divisive issue for Adventism, whereas broad agreement on main issues is now apparent to most observers, not least from consideration of the 2003 Sabbath School lessons. Finer points can be understood as part of a fruitful dialogue amongst experts, a fact well illustrated by spirited exchanges between Richard Davidson and Norman Young in Andrews University Seminary Studies.

The honing of Adventist approaches to Systematic Theology. One might note the difference in maturity between standard “Bible Doctrines” texts used in Adventist colleges a half-century ago and Volume 12 of the Commentary Reference Series. Richard Rice’s textbook has weathered the demands of many years in college and university classrooms. Fritz Guy has simplified theological method to manageable proportions in his 1999 Andrews University Press classic, Thinking Theologically: Adventist Christianity and the Interpretation of Faith. Avondale Academic Press has fostered a more balanced synthesis in Meaning for the New Millennium: The Christian Faith from a Seventh-day Adventist Perspective (2000). Systematists are a precious resource in short supply within Adventism. If the Church was able to demand less of Ray Roennfeldt as Dean of the Faculty of Theology and a senior lecturer at Avondale, with the support of colleagues he could put on paper illuminating analyses of several of the theological issues that currently are focal points for the Church in the SPD. In other words, the Church now has the concepts and the maturity that make it possible for it to deal coherently with issues that were explosive during the era of controversy.

The longitudinal testing of institutional ideas. Adventist tertiary education in the SPD celebrated its centennial in 1997; our health care endeavours reached that point of reference in 2003. Both of these initiatives are based firmly on the philosophy of Ellen White, and illustrate the outworking of the challenges she put in place for the Church to develop accredited, value-based, mission-focused institutions. Sociologists are even better equipped than historians to identify contemporary trends in Adventism, a matter powerfully illustrated by about fifty presentations and articles by Ronald Lawson, an Australian professor at the City University of New York. The writings of others, like Greg Schneider, offer convincing evidence that sociology can speak constructively to Adventist issues. Now SPD doctoral candidates are starting to apply its benefits: Michael Chamberlain’s research on Avondale College indicates the need of a matured hermeneutic for Ellen White’s writings; Bruce Manners’ analysis of Adventist publishing portrays its constructive potential for creating and fostering community; Rick Ferret’s cogent writing on the relationship between the Church and Ellen White facilitates a view of the past that might well enhance the viability of the future. It is a vast encouragement to observe the Church responding to the idea so well expressed by Robbie Burns: that it is valuable for us to see ourselves as others see us. It is no small challenge to nurture the institutions that form so much of the public face of our movement, but the Church is now better equipped for this difficult task.

A maturing approach toward pastoral care and pastoral responsibility in the homelands and mission fields of the SPD. During the period of certitude, to a considerable extent the Church determined what would be known about Ellen White and her writings. Thus in the 1950s F.D. Nichol made claims that, within a couple of decades, were seen as manifestly incorrect. During the 1970s Ingemar Linden was provoked into making expressions of dismay and even rage at the denial of evidence that, in 1982, Robert Olson made widely available. Looking back on the painful saga of the “Concerned Brethren” from 1974 to the present, it is apparent that a better application of essentials for effective pastoral care may have alleviated some of the controversy. A series of four interviews that Record will publish during February 2004 has the potential to illustrate again the good intentions but unwise restrictions that persisted into the era of controversy. Now one of the urgent questions the SPD faces is what does pastoral care demand that we in the homelands do to facilitate the understanding of Adventists in the mission fields. Will these island believers have the benefit of learning from the experience of their brothers and sisters in Australia and New Zealand? Will the Church help them come to terms with the more sustainable perception of Ellen White’s writings that has been reached after years of intense controversy?

A commitment to community wherein the spiritual gifts of the prophetic messenger and those of every believer are both valued and accorded their rightful place. The controversy of the 1980s relating to Ellen White was in part fuelled by an imbalanced doctrine of spiritual gifts; the gift of one Adventist (Ellen White) was presented by key leaders in such a way as to deny the responsibility of all believers. The smoke has now cleared from the war over Ellen White and her authority in relation to the Bible. We see more clearly that Adventism is at its core a quest for “the truth as it is in Jesus.” We discern better our responsibility to cherish no creed but the Bible even as we prize our fundamental beliefs. We acknowledge the first and highest duty of every sentient being is to learn from the Scriptures what is truth and to apply that truth in our lives. We recognise, now that Consultation I, Consultation II and the 1986 Annual Council document “Methods in Bible Study” have been augmented by years of reflection, that our hermeneutics needed maturation in many respects. A result is that currently the Church’s mother can experience a far more constructive relationship with her children.

It would be easy indeed to extend this list of considerations that indicate the present is latent with qualitatively new possibilities when it is compared with the situation in the Church a mere two or three decades ago. It remains for us to offer some more specific observations as to the potential that lies immediately before the Church in the SPD, insofar as Ellen White is concerned.

V. Possibilities for the First Decade of Century 21

What may result if we proceed, in the light of such considerations, to implement the 1999 SPD strategy? To do so will balance our quest for historical integrity and biblical truth, holding in creative tension our appreciation for the prophetic ministry of Ellen White and our individual and collective responsibility to faithfully interpret Scripture. We will prize the gift of Divine revelation and inspiration in both Scripture and the writings of Ellen White, ever seeking a more sustainable hermeneutic for both sets of sacred writings. Open to Ellen White’s ministry as a lesser light leading us to the greater light of Scripture, our initial focus will be on what the Bible says, then on what it means for our life as Christians and our mission to the world. Armed with biblical truth and historical integrity, open to guidance of the Spirit, we will nurture the identity of our congregations in Jesus Christ, avoiding divisive claims about esoteric matters.

Such general observations might be multiplied readily, but it may be more useful to offer a few illustrations of the possibilities that lie before us.

The Church has another opportunity to move consciously beyond controversy by ensuring its presentations of Ellen White are based on the data offered by Scripture and history. At present the Church faces the challenge of many websites, videos and books hostile to Ellen White. Alden Thompson has made an instructive rejoinder to the video Seventh-day Adventism: The Spirit Behind the Church; his video presentation is now enhanced by the tone and content of a published article. A biblically focused response by Graeme Bradford was tested in a presentation at the 2003 annual meeting of the Adventist Society for Religious Studies in Atlanta. Thus, together, North American and South Pacific Adventists can cooperate in making a calm, constructive response to a specific problem that, in part, arises from inadequate presentations by earnest believers in the past.

This situation also highlights the fact that the need remains for presentations of Ellen White and her writings to rise above earlier triumphalistic and apologetic stances, seeking not so much to defend her as to understand her in view of all the known evidence. As an adjunct to this process, a sustainable view of inspiration is essential. Numerous sources that deal cogently with the development of Adventist theology place the sensational claims of the video The Spirit Behind the Church in an historical context that exposes some of its key claims as unsustainable if relevant sources are faithfully interpreted. Further, as the Church better meets Ellen White’s challenge to be “foremost in uplifting Christ before the world,” the missiles of attackers will more often be seen as falling short of their intended mark.

The Church may well emphasise anew Ellen White’s commitment to “the truth as it is in Jesus.” Her years in Australia and New Zealand followed the epochal General Conference of 1888, forming “the decade of Christ” in her publishing career: Steps to Christ (1892), Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing (1896), The Desire of Ages (1898), Christ’s Object Lessons (1900), plus many significant periodical articles. These writings illustrate well her movement “from Sinai to Golgotha” and witness to her insights on numerous crucial matters: the relation between Adventism and mainstream Christianity; the practical application of the doctrine of Righteousness by Faith; the essence of Adventist identity and mission in the context of the age-long struggle between Christ and Satan, and so on.

The Church might focus more consciously on the “big-picture” or essential message Ellen White conveys as a way to parry conflict over minutia. Perhaps the most telling example of this point is that of creationism. For almost thirty years a cluster of the best-informed Adventist Old Testament scholars have alerted the Church to the reality that the genealogies of Scripture were not intended for the use made of them by Archbishop James Ussher (1581-1656). A great deal of research and writing has endeavoured to sustain a nineteenth-century “given” that derives directly from Ussher, to the point where the great truths of God as creator and the Sabbath as creation’s memorial have been obscured. This observation could be repeated with numerous other examples in mind: the biblical message and its application by Ellen White needs to be given in a winsome way that does not elevate peripheral details into matters of controversy.

The Church may encourage and facilitate continuing research relating to Ellen White and her writings. Neal C. Wilson, as president of the General Conference in the most “conciliar” era for Adventism, shared through the columns of Adventist Review the impressive “agenda” for Ellen White research, agreed upon jointly in 1980 by the Biblical Research Institute and White Estate. The results of some of this research are already well known; some is lightly sketched within church documents that are currently available; all can benefit from further consideration. Therefore, the present remains a fruitful time to press forward with such endeavours.

The Church might well offer energetic leadership toward a deepened spiritual life as a constructive application of Ellen White ministry. Ellen White has, more than any other Adventist, led us toward effective reflection about the state of the body and the state of the soul, both matters that are crucial for optimal well being. Probably at this point we have not fully mined her resources for developing Adventist piety and spirituality. The volume of individual perspectives projected by the SPD, under the tentative title Ellen White Matters will, undoubtedly, be an effective forward step toward such a goal. Certainly the winsome sermons, lectures and seminars offered by Allan Lindsay reach a popular audience in faith-affirming ways.

While we are able to face the future with confidence we must remain acutely conscious that we still know only in part. The indefatigable research of Fred Hoyt, like that of others, indicates we still only partially understand a number of important issues and must be charitable with each other as we explore the evidence and test the viability of conclusions that at best are still only preliminary. Openness to the significant findings of researchers throughout the Adventist world, plus humility and patience, are indicated for those involved in the task of understanding and presenting Ellen White’s prophetic role in Adventism.


It may be possible to understand some historical figures with reasonable adequacy from the way that they are presented in a single master-level thesis or doctoral dissertation. However, in preparation for teaching three subjects last summer in the Northern Hemisphere, I noted again that perhaps fifty such works are essential for those who would well understand Adventism and its symbiotic relationship with Ellen White as God’s prophetic messenger. Some of the complexity is of our own making as a religious subculture; some of it is due to the earlier unavailability of important sources; some of it derives from the meagre way we have understood the nineteenth-century provenance of our movement, as well as other factors. These remarks are offered as another “view from the ridge” by a pilgrim whose heart is deeply grateful for “the way the Lord has led us, and His teaching in our past history.”

There is a very old story told amongst aboriginal Australians about the way in which the birds, the mammals and the fish each wanted to “own” the platypus. Her bill, her feet and her eggs made it look like she belonged with the birds; her fur and the way she carried and fed her young showed her relation to the mammals; her living environment and the way she swam and dined seemed to make her one with the fish. But the platypus declined the invitations of the birds, the mammals and the fish: she had a distinctive role, she said, to bring all of them together. Ellen White has characteristics that appear like those of the varied groupings within Adventism, but her role will be distinctive for as long as time lasts. To better understand her life and writings will sharpen our perception of Adventist identity, enabling us to trust each other more fully and cooperate more effectively as we share the everlasting gospel with “every nation, tribe, language and people” (Revelation 14:6, NIV).


To interpret the content of this paper and its remarks about Ellen White, it is essential to place it within the larger framework of Adventist Studies. Hence section one of the bibliography offers a succinct overview of sources, along the lines that may be expected by a student in classes such as Adventist History or Life and Thought of Ellen White. Since the Church’s heritage collections are mostly well supplied with printed and computerised indices, on occasion (to conserve space) authors’ names are cited without listing their articles and books. Section two offers a chronological listing of selected items I have written that illumine specific aspects of the paper.


Survey volumes such as that by Richard W. Schwarz and Floyd Greenleaf, Light Bearers: A History of the Seventh-day Adventist Church (Nampa: Pacific Press, 2000) are essential for beginning the study of Seventh-day Adventism and for understanding the life and thought of Ellen White. See pages 650-676 for the comprehensive bibliography that lies behind this important book and is invaluable for ongoing research.

Sabbatarian Adventism since 1847 has claimed the Bible as its sole rule of faith and practice. Therefore its Commentary Reference Series is a prime resource. Volumes 1-7 comment on the entire Bible, Volume 8 is the Bible Dictionary, Volume 9 is the Bible Student’s Source Book, Volumes 10 and 11 are the Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia, Volume 12 is the Handbook of Seventh-day Adventist Theology. This landmark series began publication in 1954 and is ongoing; currently a volume on Ellen G. White (1827-1915) is under preparation. The exploration of almost every topic in Adventist Studies may be commenced with the Encyclopedia. Students should also be aware of other dictionaries and encyclopedias, not least Daniel G. Reid (editor), Dictionary of Christianity in America (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1990).

Note Arthur N. Patrick, “Seventh-day Adventist History in the South Pacific: A Review of Sources,” The Journal of Religious History 14, no. 3 (June 1987): 307-326, and Christianity and Culture in Colonial Australia: Selected Catholic, Anglican, Wesleyan and Adventist Perspectives, 1891-1900 (Glebe [Sydney]: Fast Books, 1993): 302-310. Although Adventism began in North America, only a small percentage of its membership now resides within that continent. Students of Adventism are, therefore, well advised to be aware of the way the movement is understood in other parts of the world, including the Antipodes.

One of the most important forward steps for Adventist Studies occurred with the publication of Edwin S. Gaustad (ed.), The Rise of Adventism: Religion and Society in Mid-Nineteenth-Century America (New York: Harper and Row, 1974), not least because of the Vern Carner, Sakae Kubo, Curt Rice, “Bibliographical Essay,” pages 207-317. The resources listed are now widely available in microform in research centres that are designed to serve the various geographical areas of the world. Updating of such a comprehensive bibliography is an ever-present task and is facilitated by the writings of competent scholars in articles, research papers, dissertations and books. For two examples, note Gary Land, “The Historians and the Millerites: An Historiographical Essay,” William Miller and the Advent Crisis 1831-1844 (Berrien Springs: Andrews University Press, 1994), and Merlin D. Burt, “The Historical Background, Interconnected Development, and Integration of the Doctrines of the Sanctuary, the Sabbath, and Ellen G. White’s Role in Sabbatarian Adventism from 1844-1849” (Ph.D. dissertation: Andrews University, 2002). Gary Shearer has constructed and maintains a 42-page online bibliography, “The Millerite Movement,” listing secondary sources primarily from the twentieth century. It is one of a number of bibliographies available at

A voluminous and effective author on Adventist Studies (a discipline which includes the life and thought of Ellen White) is George R. Knight. Some of his books are short and exceptionally reader-friendly, like A Search for Identity: The Development of Seventh-day Adventist Belief (Hagerstown: Review and Herald, 2000). Knight is compiler and editor of 1844 and the Rise of Sabbatarian Adventism (Hagerstown: Review and Herald, 1994), and author of the scholarly volume Millennial Fever and the End of the World: A Study of Millerite Adventism (Boise: Pacific Press, 1993). Any reputable Adventist library may have about thirty items from Knight’s pen (in addition to periodical and journal articles), valuable both for their texts and for their recommended readings, notes or bibliographies. Knight’s students have made an enormous contribution to Adventist Studies, not least in published dissertations and books that are now available. Many names might be mentioned in this regard, but one example must suffice at this point: Gilbert M. Valentine, The Shaping of Adventism: The Case of W.W. Prescott (Berrien Springs: Andrews University Press, 1992).

The student should be aware that Adventist Studies are significantly advanced by publications from other Christian, secular and university presses. Note, as examples, Gary Land (editor), Adventism in America: A History (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986); Ronald L. Numbers and Jonathan M. Butler (editors), The Disappointed: Millerism and Millenarianism in the Nineteenth Century (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987); Malcolm Bull and Keith Lockhart, Seeking a Sanctuary: Seventh-day Adventism and the American Dream (New York: Harper and Row, 1989); Douglas Morgan, Adventism and the American Republic: The Public Involvement of a Major Apocalyptic Movement (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2001). Many authors reconstruct the cultural and religious context of North American Adventism; some from as far back in time as Sydney Ahlstrom remain useful. A beginning might be made with such authors from the recommendations of Schwarz and Greenleaf. Attention should also be given to the worldwide context of Adventism and trends that may be observed as likely to impact its immediate future, as in Philip Jenkins, The Next Christendom: The Coming Global Christianity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002).

Study of the life and thought of Ellen White is illumined in some way by all the bibliographic material mentioned above, in that a symbiotic relationship exists between Seventh-day Adventism and Ellen White. George R. Knight’s four slim volumes relating specifically to Ellen White are an excellent introduction; Herbert E. Douglass, Messenger of the Lord: The Prophetic Ministry of Ellen G. White (Nampa: Pacific Press, 1998) offers a more detailed coverage. Rolf J. Poehler, Continuity and Change in Adventist Teaching: A Case Study in Doctrinal Development (Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 2001) offers both a valuable interpretative framework and an extended bibliography.

Sociologists have emerged since the 1980s as important contributors to Adventist studies. Bryan Wilson identifies Bull and Lockhart’s volume (cited above) as “a vigorous sociological interpretation” of the Seventh-day Adventist movement. Early in the 1980s Robert Wolfgramm developed a new sense of awareness about sect legitimisation. Harry Ballis, in a doctoral dissertation, articles and a major book, has explored aspects of conflict and its outcomes. Gregory Schneider, an Adventist specialising in the study of Methodism, has made some fascinating observations in Spectrum articles that illumine the study of Adventism. In his Ph.D. dissertation, Michael Chamberlain documents the necessity of a mature hermeneutic for Ellen White’s writings. Rick Ferret’s doctoral research is looking closely at the routinisation of charisma, so it bridges sociology and theology. Bruce Manners, in Ph.D. draft chapters, effectively explores the role of Adventist publishing in creating a sense of community. The Church can be grateful for such established or emerging scholars of significance in the field of sociology. An Adventist scholar who demonstrates the importance of both historical and sociological research, Ronald Lawson, of the City University of New York, has been especially tenacious in conducting interviews worldwide and particularly successful in writing for non-Adventist journals. Good libraries have indices that will quickly lead the student to Lawson’s publications.

The internet will give the student access to worthwhile materials as well as ephemeral and unreliable opinion. The Seventh-day Adventist Periodical Index has been available since 1979 in printed form and more recently online with support from Andrews University ( Documents and indices made available by White Estate ( are of real value, as is the Adventist Pioneer Index and indices created by competent individuals such as Tony Zbaraschuk of La Sierra University ( Bille Burdick has selected papers, articles and books for online reading in the At Issue section of an important site, Les Devine, director of the Ellen G. White/SDA Research Centre located at Avondale College ( has compiled documents, photographs and summaries on CD and also has available the CD version of Dr Don McMahon’s research relating to Ellen White’s health writings. Marian de Berg, Devine’s administrative assistant, has developed helpful computerised indices of obituaries and journals including Spectrum and Adventist Heritage.

As the student reads recent papers, magazine/journal articles and books it is important to assess emerging trends in the interpretation of issues under consideration. An awareness of the stance of the author is often helpful. For instance, a member of the Adventist Theological Society (ATS) may be expected to offer different interpretations of some matters than would a person who is a member of the Adventist Society for Religious Studies (ASRS). (However, perhaps about half of ATS members with scholarly inclinations are also members of ASRS.) Differences expressed in the independent press may be even more marked. For instance, some forty books authored by Colin and Russell Standish contrast in tone and content from the writings of Desmond Ford. The ninety articles that Spectrum: The Journal of the Associations of Adventist Forums has published relating to Ellen White often complement but may contrast with official publications. See “A Bibliography of Sources About Ellen White” prepared by Gary Shearer, Adventist Studies Librarian at Pacific Union College, Spectrum 27, no. 1 (Winter 1999): 66-69. Shearer is a diligent compiler of Adventist bibliographic data, a fact well illustrated by his printed [“Ellen G. White: Her Life and Teachings and the Gift of Prophecy in the Seventh-day Adventist Church” (Angwin: Pacific Union College Library, 1998)] and online bibliographies at Again, Adventist Today adopts a different editorial policy from the publications of church owned presses like Adventist Review, Ministry and Record.

For more comprehensive overviews than can be given here and references to a wider range of sources, consult the as-yet unpublished papers by Arthur Patrick, “Ellen White, Yesterday and Today,” September 2002; “Reflections on Unfinished Business: Ellen White Studies in Historical Perspective,” January 2003; “Learning from Ellen White’s Perception and Use of Scripture,” February 2003. While such papers seek an awareness of trends in studies relating to Ellen White, the indices referred to in this note will afford ready access to similar materials on other key issues. For instance, from the 1960s the writings of Gottfried Oosterwal helped to lay a foundation for the current outreach of Adventism in volunteer service, ADRA and Global Mission. Also, until the 1960s the Church’s publications on the Sabbath emphasised in particular the day of worship; thereafter a fuller emphasis on the way of worship started to develop in the writings of a number of authors. Within a similar time span, Adventist Studies can document significant changes in the way the church deals with issues such as race relations, social justice, ethics, human rights and gender equality. Illustrative of an aspect of this development is Michael Pearson, Millennial Dreams and Moral Dilemmas: Seventh-day Adventism and Contemporary Ethics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990). While such matters do not relate specifically to Ellen White Studies, but they faciltate an understanding of continuity and change in the movement within which she had such a pivotal role.

It has been the purpose of this bibliographic note to offer only preliminary guidance as the student begins to use the resources of an Adventist heritage centre. Such an institution is likely to house at least fifty theses and dissertations that are relevant for Adventist Studies in view of their contents and bibliographic references. Be alert, too, for the value and convenience of significant collections of articles, such as those by Robert Olson and Roger Coon that refer to Ellen White and her writings. The directors of heritage institutions will be found capable and willing to lead the student to the treasures under their care, resources far too numerous to list at this point, and which are accessible increasingly with the help of computerised indices. The comparative recency of the major sources cited herein emphasises the fact that Adventist Studies is a burgeoning field that will richly reward diligence with enhanced understanding.



The following items, drawn from a much larger body of materials, form an historical context for the current paper or directly illumine aspects of its content. A number of magazine articles are included because they attempt to translate the findings of serious research into language accessible to believers in the pew.

“Ellen White in the Eighties,” typescript of a paper commissioned by the (then) Australasian Division, February 1980; revised 26 May 1981.

“Ellen White and Adventist Theology: A Comment on Current Theological Methods,” edited script of lectures delivered in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth and Auckland, 1980.

“Prophetic Guidance Workshop” (co-signed by Arthur Duffy), Record, 28 June 1982, 13.

“The Minister and the Ministry of Ellen G. White in 1982,” the written form of a series of lectures presented to the ministers of the Victorian Conference (see G.E. Garne, “Understanding the Prophetic Gift More Fully,” 16 October 1982, 3).

“Presenting Ellen White’s Ministry,” unpublished paper, 19 October 1983.

“Landmarks and landscape,” Adventist Review, 27 October 1983, 4.

“Ellen Gould White and the Australian Woman, 1891-1900” (M.Litt. thesis, University of New England, 1984).

“A Fourth Book of Chronicles: Review of The Australian Years,” Adventist Heritage: A Journal of Adventist History 10, no. 2 (Fall 1985), 62-64.

“Founding Mothers: Women and the Adventist Work in the South Pacific Division,” Adventist Heritage: A Journal of Adventist History 11, no. 2 (Fall 1986), 3-15.

“Doctrine and Deed: Adventism’s Encounter with its Society in Nineteenth-Century

Australia,” Symposium on Adventist History in the South Pacific: 1885-1918, edited by Arthur J. Ferch (Wahroonga: South Pacific Division of SDA, 1986), 19-29.

“Seventh-day Adventist History in the South Pacific: A Review of Sources,” The Journal of Religious History 14, no. 2 (June 1987), 307-326.

The Desire of Ages: Under the Microscope,” Record, 15 April 1989, 12-14.

“Smith, Butler and Minneapolis: The Problems and Promise of Historical Inquiry,” in Toward Righteousness by Faith: 1888 in Retrospect, edited by Arthur J. Ferch (Wahroonga: South Pacific Division of Seventh-day Adventists, 1989), 10-24.

“Does Our Past Embarrass Us?” Ministry, April 1991, 7-10.

“The Problem of Our Tallest Poppy,” Record, 2 November 1991, 6-7.

“An Adventist and an Evangelical in Australia: The Case of Ellen White in the 1890s,” Lucas: An Evangelical History Review 12 (December 1991), 42-52.

“Ellen White in Australia: Why Adventists are celebrating the centenary of her arrival,” Adventist Review, 12 December 1991, 16-18.

“Ellen White and Public Life: Can the Tension in Her Writings be Resolved?” Adventist Professional 4, no. 2 (June 1992), 12-14.

“Christianity and Culture in Colonial Australia: Selected Catholic, Anglican, Wesleyan and Adventist Perspectives, 1891-1900” (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Newcastle, 1992).

“Ellen White in the 1990s,” typescript of an address at the office of the South Pacific Division of Seventh-day Adventists, 7 May 1992.

“Ellen White and Early Adventist Worship,” a paper commissioned for the Trans-Tasman Union Conference Worship Conference, January 1993.

“Resisting Change: M.L. Andreasen and the Development of Adventist Theology,” a paper commissioned for the Trans-Tasman Union Conference Historic Adventism Symposium, May 1993.

“Ellen White: Mother of the Church in the South Pacific,” Adventist Heritage: A Journal of Adventist History 16, no. 1 (Spring 1993), 30-40.

“The Relevance of Ellen White for Seventh-day Adventists in the 1990s,” a paper commissioned for the Trans-Tasman Union Conference Historic Adventism Symposium, April 1994.

“Does Ellen White Have a Crucial Testimony for Avondale in 1995?” Script of an address to the academic staff of Avondale College, 9 February 1995.

“”How Shall We Use the Writings of Ellen White?” Script of an address to the Being An Authentic Christian in the 1990s symposium, Trans-Tasman Union Conference, April 1995; published in Adventist Professional 7, no. 2 (Winter 1995), 16-19.

“Are Adventists Evangelical?” Ministry, February 1995, 14-17.

“Ellen White in Recent Study: Through Controversy to Growing Understanding,” typescript, 1997, later incorporated into Meaning for the New Millennium: The Christian Faith from a Seventh-day Adventist Perspective, edited by Robert K. McIver and Ray C.W. Roennfeldt (Cooranbong: Avondale Academic Press, 2000), 128-131.

“Re-Visioning the Role of Ellen White for Seventh-day Adventists Beyond 2000,” Adventist Society for Religious Studies Annual Meeting Papers (San Francisco, 1997), 107-132. See the report by James Stirling in Adventist Today, March-April 1998, 19-21.

“Ellen White and the Pastoral Care of Divorced Persons: Toward a Seventh-day Adventist Perspective,” a paper commissioned for the General Conference Divorce and Remarriage Commission, Mexico, 26 January 1998.

*“Historians of Adventism: Their Agony, Ecstasy, and Potential,” unpublished paper dated 8 April 1998.

*“Ellen White, the Adventist Church and Its Religion Teachers: A Call for Transformed Relationships,” unpublished paper dated 2 April 1998.

*”Ellen White and Adventists in the 1990s,” script of a dialogue with Herbert Douglass sponsored by the La Sierra University Church, May 1998.

“Why Is Your Family History Important?” Record, 21 March 1998, 3.

“A History of Seventh-day Adventists in Australia,” Chapter 2 in The Seventh-day Adventist Church in Australia, edited by Alwyn Salom and Philip Hughes (Christian Research Association, 1999).

“Visioning and Re-Visioning Seventh-day Adventist Tertiary Education in Australia: A Centennial Assessment of Avondale College,” The Avondale Reader 1, no. 1 (9 July 1999).

“Messenger of the Lord” (book review), Record, 24 July 1999, 9.

“Early Adventism and the Holy Spirit” and “Peril and Promise,” Record, 4 December 1999, 5-9.

“Ellen White’s Legacy,” Record, 26 August 2000, 4-5.

“Mount Exmouth and the Adventist Journey,” Record, 27 October 2001, 2.

*“Ellen White Yesterday and Today: Understanding and Affirming the Ministry of the Most Creative Seventh-day Adventist,” a paper presented at the conference Being Adventist in Twenty-first Century Australia, 14 September 2002.

“Ellen White’s Antipodean Exile, 1891-1900: Reflections on Her Australian Years,” script of a presentation at the Loma Linda Adventist Forum, 25 October 2002.

“Reflections on Unfinished Business: Ellen White Studies in Historical Perspective,” unpublished paper, January 2003.

*“Learning from Ellen White’s Perception and Use of Scripture: Toward an Adventist Hermeneutic for the Twenty-first Century,” a paper presented at the South Pacific Division Theological Conference, February 2003.

The San: 100 Years of Christian Caring, 1903-2003 (Wahroonga: Sydney Adventist Hospital, 2003).

“Doctrinal Development Studied,” Record, 15 March 2003, 10.

“From Certitude Through Controversy Toward Consensus: An Historical Perspective on Ellen White Studies Since 1950,” unpublished paper, 15 May 2003.

“A Sanitarium and a Hospital in Sydney: Why?” A paper delivered at the Sydney Adventist Hospital Centenary History Conference, 25 May 2003.

La Sierra University subject descriptions (course outlines), Summer 2003: History of Seventh-day Adventism, Life and Thought of Ellen White; Seminar in Church History: Adventist Studies.

“ The future of Christianity,” (Aust.) Signs of the Times, September 2003, 7-11; “Book Review,” The Next Christendom: The Coming Global Christianity, Ministry, December 2003, 30-31.

“Continuity and Change in Seventh-day Adventist Doctrine and Practice,” script of an address at the San Diego Adventist Forum, July 2003. Cf. “The Reality of Change in Seventh-day Adventist Doctrine,’ Adventist Today 11, no. 5 (September-October 2003), 16-17.

“Being Christian, Being Adventist: Why I Thank God for Ellen White,” draft of a book chapter, January 2004.

“Ellen White for today,” a four-part series by Bruce Manners with Arthur Patrick, Record, 7-28 February 2004.

“Ellen Gould White (1827-1915): 19th Century Prophet, 21st Century World” and “The Ellen White Summit: Further Evidence the Climate Has Changed,” reports of the Ellen White Summit held 2-5 February 2004, 7 and 13 February 2004.

Items indicated with a * may be consulted on in the At Issue section. All of the above are available via the Ellen G. White/Seventh-day Adventist Research Centre (currently in the process of being renamed the Ellen G. White-Adventist Research Centre?) at Avondale College.


Arthur Patrick, Research Fellow
Avondale College, Cooranbong, NSW 2265, Australia; e-mail
Draft dated 08.03.04 of a paper presented at the Ellen White Summit, 5
February 2004

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