Ellen Harmon White: American Prophet

This new book makes two huge contributions to the study of the life and writings of Ellen White.

Reviewed by Jon Paulien, PhD, dean of the School of Religion, Loma Linda University, Loma Linda, California, United States

Ellen G. Harmon White finally makes it to Oxford University. For readers who know little about Ellen White (1827–1915), she was one of the most prolific female religious writ­ers in nineteenth-century America. Not only so, this woman who had a third-grade education helped found a major denomination and sprawling educational system.

This book—a surprising outcome­ goes back to an Ellen White Biography Conference (October 22–25, 2009) in Portland, Maine, her childhood home­town. This conference was historic in that it brought together most historians of Ellen White and many experts on her nineteenth-century American religious context. The participants included Seventh-day Adventists who work for the church or its institutions, others who are retired or work outside the church, and a distinguished group of non-Adventist scholars of American reli­gion from institutions such as Harvard, Princeton, Duke, and Wisconsin. The dynamic at the conference and in the resulting book from Oxford well illus­trates the challenge of biography as a genre. In the case of Ellen White, the evidence of her life and writings are just too vast, so there is the problem of selection. Which incident or state­ment tells who the person really is? Which reflects the “real” Ellen White? People will differ as to how well this multiauthor biography of Ellen White succeeded in achieving that balance. On the whole, I think it did as well as anyone could hope. On my part, I was disappointed in the occasional word that betrayed an author’s slip from historical objectivity. Did Ellen White’s Testimonies really “betray” those who received them (12)? Was it necessary to say that Ellen White followed a “dis­credited historicism approach” (185)? Frankly, as a Seventh-day Adventist who believes and appreciates Ellen White’s inspiration, I found the charac­terization of Adventist apocalyptic on pages 185–190 distasteful. But these slipups were the exception in the book rather than the rule. All in all, I was surprised by how many insights I gained into Ellen White’s life and ministry from this book.

This book will not please everyone. In fact, it may offend some readers on both sides of the controversial issues, but I believe this book makes two huge contributions. First, most of us are accustomed to reading the Bible in its ancient context, as far as possible. But we tend to read Ellen White out of context, universalizing personal testi­monies in ways that can be confusing and unbalanced. This book can help readers put the writings of Ellen White in their proper balance and context. Rightly understood, she remains as relevant today as she ever was. Second, the book will also put Ellen White “on the map” of non-Adventist scholarship and culture. In the long run, the book may do more to bring her to the atten­tion of the wider world.

Reviewed by Jon Paulien, PhD, dean of the School of Religion, Loma Linda University, Loma Linda, California, United States

Advertisement - Digital Discipleship (300x250)

Ministry reserves the right to approve, disapprove, and delete comments at our discretion and will not be able to respond to inquiries about these comments. Please ensure that your words are respectful, courteous, and relevant.

comments powered by Disqus

Reviewed by Jon Paulien, PhD, dean of the School of Religion, Loma Linda University, Loma Linda, California, United States

May 2014

Download PDF
Ministry Cover

More Articles In This Issue

Engaging Adventist Millennials: A church that embraces relationships

The Barna Group surveyed Millennials who were (or had been) part of an Adventist congregation in order to understand their common experiences and attitudes. See some of the results.

Were Andronicus and Iounian apostles?

Did Andronicus ever receive the title apostle? And, was Junia a female apostle? Read how the author addresses these issues.

Deepening your Spiritual Life

The author’s highest priority was caring for the pastoral needs of his parishioners, thereby neglecting his own spiritual needs—a problem all pastors must deal with.

The deformities of my character

Insights from our ongoing Revival and Reformation series.

Love and judgment: God’s triumph—Part 2

The judgment message has two complementary aspects: God’s justice against sin on the one hand, and on the other, the extension of God’s blessing to all nations along with the vindication of His love, justice, and mercy.

Samoan churches multiplying—with one pastor!

Where did this vision of a multiplying network of churches crystallize? And how does it work?

salvation and deliverance: Lessons from Exodus 14

In the Bible, we find expressions of just what God has done and is doing to save, lead, and sanctify us. Read the examples that the author has selected.

View All Issue Contents

Digital delivery

If you're a print subscriber, we'll complement your print copy of Ministry with an electronic version.

Sign up
Advertisement - Southern Adv Univ 180x150 - Animated

Trending

Recent issues

See All
Advertisement - NAD Stewardship (160x600)