The White Lie
Walter T. Rea, M & R Publications, Turlock, California, 1982, 409 pages, $12.95, paper; $15.95 hardcover. Reviewed by Roy E. Graham, provost, Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan.
The publication of this book was preceded by considerable advance publicity. Because of this and the topic with which it deals, it is a book that needs to be addressed.
The author's thesis is basically two-pronged. He claims that Ellen G. White was guilty of the "literary appropriation of works of others," aided and abetted by literary assistants through the years, yet she gave no indication that this was so. He further claims that the officials of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and particularly the White Estate, connived in this deception. "The real trick was to convince one and all that the merchandise she was selling was mostly new and firsthand. With Ellen's help, the church sold this white lie to themselves and all others who would buy—and they continue to sell down to today."—Page 114. In order to sustain these charges, the author includes in his book 177 pages of parallel columns (almost half the book) in which Ellen G. White material in the left-hand column is compared with a similar passage from another author in the right-hand column. His contribution is to provide what he considers to be the setting and explanation for such activity.
The intent of the book is to challenge the authority of the Ellen G. White ministry to the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Obviously, one must determine what this authority is, and let her speak for herself on this point. If, as the author contends, individuals or groups have presented Ellen White in a position superior to Scripture, this is wrong, and she herself condemns this. In the past there have been sincere, but nevertheless misguided, individuals who have used unwise expressions and made excessive statements and claims concerning Ellen White's ministry. The prophet cannot be blamed for these errors. Sometimes there has not been a clear understanding of what is involved in the phenomenon of inspiration/revelation, and the church must continue to give careful study to this important doctrine. However, there must be no confusion between the Source of the prophet's revelation and the source of the phraseology in which it was frequently conveyed. Nor must the significance of the way the previous expressions were recast, reconstructed, remolded, rephrased, and even rejected or changed by omission be over looked.
The phraseology in the author's book is often cynical, vitriolic, and harsh. The word "harsh" is taken from the foreword, written by Jerry Wiley. A phrase that Rea uses frequently is "supersalesman of the psychic," which is an alliterative expression that is likely to be etched in people's minds. As Wiley writes in the foreword, Rea has obviously passed through a period of "anguish," as well as "disenchantment and despair." One could also add disillusionment, for evidently the author perceives himself as being incorrectly taught on the topic of inspiration/revelation. The calm and carefully reasoned arguments of the scholar are thus missing. The use of sources is similarly selective. Certain documents and statements, some of which have been discredited by previous research, are used as basic "proofs" and then reappear again in other chapters.
The White Lie does not qualify as a scholarly presentation. Varying approaches are not analyzed, compared, and contrasted, and material that runs counter to the book's thesis is ignored. There is no reference to previous scholarly studies, which have grappled with some of the problems raised, e.g., Gerard Damsteegt's Foundations of the Seventh-day Adventist Message and Mission, and the Lives of Christ study group sponsored by the American Academy of Religion. The language used is that of a cynical writer, rather than a careful scholar.
The theological position of the writer is perplexing. If we are to accept what is written, the author apparently does not believe in holiness (see the prologue), suggests that the real issue in religion always seems to be "who is going to control the concessions in the here and the hereafter" (p. 30); appears unclear on the state of the dead (p. 32); describes the concept of heaven as making "our own ghetto" (p. 35); considers religion to be "the defining and redefining of terms and ideas that have defied defining for centuries" (p. 38); pokes fun at several Biblical narratives that describe God's judgments upon individuals (p. 45); and views the clergy as being "keepers of the keys for Saint Peter" (p, 191). Just what all this means for someone who is said to be deeply concerned with the sola Scriptura principle (foreword) is confusing at the least, and certainly distressing.
The fact that Ellen White incorporated in her work relevant material, even phraseology, from other writers, is indisputable, and has been documented before this, though not as extensively. Rea implies that this was all that was involved in the ministry of Ellen White, that she was simply a rather crafty individual who was good at gathering materials and somehow hiding the fact, or silencing any who found out, but what is presented in his book is still nothing but a distortion, for there is so much more to Ellen White's ministry than the composition of books. How does one account for all the other aspects of her busy and successful ministry to the Seventh-day Adventist Church? How does one account for the many times when her messages arrived from a distance of thousands of miles to meet specific crises in the church, messages that were not pages from another's book, but clear descriptions of recent events, although written days, and sometimes weeks, prior to being received? Previous research has demonstrated the importance of her role and position and the results of following her counsels. Through her ministry the Seventh-day Adventist Church was led into a world mission program and an effective organization to aid in the accomplishment of that purpose. By accepting her counsel, the Seventh-day Adventist Church was saved from becoming merely another philanthropic institution, and moved instead to become an evangelizing force, presenting the clear gospel message so necessary for this world. As the result of her teaching, the Seventh-day Adventist Church became concerned with the wholeness of man and recognized the significance of his physical and mental dimensions, as well as his spiritual needs.
The phenomenon of the ministry of the Spirit through the gift of prophecy cannot be lightly dismissed. It is worthy of careful and painstaking study, but always within the parameter of faith, for we are dealing with sacred issues—God's loving concern and consequent communication to all who are willing to accept His offer of pardon and full salvation in Jesus Christ.