Ellen G. White's Inspiration
Q: Don’t beautiful books such as The Desire of Ages and Steps to Christ prove Ellen White’s deep connection with God?
A: Are you suggesting that Ellen White is a prophet because of The Desire of Ages? I'm troubled by this line of thought because a person isn't a prophet simply because he or she writes an insightful, beautiful book. True prophets are called by God, and they must match the Bible's criteria for a true prophetic ministry.
In addition, The Desire of Ages was heavily plagiarized from other Christian authors (books on the life of Christ were very popular in those days), and it was thoroughly edited by her literary assistants. If not for these factors, The Desire of Ages might not be any more popular than her almost-forgotten series about the life of Christ entitled Spirit of Prophecy.
Steps to Christ is also problematic, particularly because it contains the same perfectionism (though in arguably reduced form) that pervades the rest of her writings.
The most important point we're trying to make is that we must use the Bible definition of prophetic behavior to test all prophetic claims--even the prophetic claims that are dear to us. Despite its flaws and false claims, The Desire of Ages is a great book, but writing a great book does not equal inspiration in the biblical sense, even though the Holy Spirit may have helped a particular author. The Holy Spirit works in all who are open to His influence, but that process is not prophetic inspiration. We must base our definition of prophetic behavior solely on scripture.
Q: Is even Steps to Christ legalistic?
A: Yes, although Steps to Christ is probably her least legalistic book. It deals with steps TO Christ, ending in justification. It doesn’t primarily deal with her teaching regarding the literal sanctification of believers in this life, although there are several hints regarding sanctification in Steps to Christ.
“Then the redeemed will be welcomed to the home that Jesus is preparing for them. There their companions will not be the vile of earth . . . ; but they will associate with those who have overcome Satan and through divine grace have formed perfect characters” (SC 126).
Legalism can also be detected in Steps to Christ if one considers that she advocates too many steps to reach Him. The Bible tells us to repent of our sins and believe in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord in order to obtain justification, sanctification, and salvation--all at once! (see the gospel section of Sabbatismos).
Q: Could Ellen White be considered inspired on par with famous Christian writers such as C.S. Lewis, Phillip Yancey, and Max Lucado?
A: No. Ellen White claimed direct visionary experiences, and these other writers do not. Therefore, one can disagree with C.S. Lewis on the basis of scripture, but one cannot disagree with Ellen White if she is what she claimed to be.
Q: Could we possibly reject the Ellen White compilations published after her death because these statements could be taken out of context?
A: We agree with you that context is absolutely essential. That’s why Joe has read about thirty of her books straight through--some compilations and some not. It was reading her straight through that gave him the best understanding of the errors in her version of the gospel.
It's important to remember that she authorized the compilations in her will, specifically stating that her unpublished writings would continue to bless the church. So we don't think we can totally blame the SDA Church for publishing compilations. However, we can blame the church for not releasing the full text of the unpublished manuscripts so that we could compare the excerpts found in compilations to the entire documents.
We have found that the compilations are consistent with her overall teachings in the books she wrote and personally approved, so setting aside the compilations wouldn’t remove any of her harmful theology. It would simply remove some embarrassing quotations from general circulation (such as her 1850 endorsement of the Apocrypha: "I SAW that the Apocrypha was the hidden book, and that the wise of these last days should understand it" - Ms 4, 1850).
Q: Why can’t we just accept Ellen White’s humble statement that she is the “lesser light” and scripture is the “greater light”?
A: Is there a qualitative difference between Ellen White's inspiration and the inspiration of a Bible writer? We believe IF both come from the same source, then both are equally authoritative. In fact, we haven't understood the lesser-light/greater-light analogy if the source of inspiration is the same. It’s kind of like asking why anyone would shine a flashlight to help them see the sun....
With Ellen White, incorrect views later have to be "clarified," and people say, "Well, the truth of God is progressive." The key to that statement is the word truth. Yes, God's revelation is progressive, but each part of that revelation is true. It goes from light to greater light. In the case of Ellen White, she had to correct from error to truth (e.g. shut door, divinity of Christ), and she saw these errors in vision. We think there must be some point at which we say someone is not a prophet, and the Bible is the arbiter of that decision.
Q: By compiling lists of negative-sounding EGW quotes, aren’t you just taking her out of context?
A: Many SDAs believe that critics of Ellen White are taking her out of context, but if we ask how we are taking her out of context, they can only reply that it's because the quotes are lifted out of the overall text. In that case, every quote in every newspaper, historical book, or academic article is out of context. But that's not the meaning of context. Academically, using something in context means to quote fairly and preserve the original meaning. So then, when progressives admit that our EGW quotations are consistent with her meaning, they say she grew and changed, the truth of God is progressive, or whatever. But if they really get in a corner (such as with the shut door), they say she misunderstood her messages.... Is that thought progression intellectually honest, or is it just a list of excuses?
Q: Doesn’t Ellen White have the same flaws as those that can be seen in the Bible prophets?
A: Some Adventists argue, in effect, "Ellen White was sinful, but so was David. Ellen White may have misrepresented things at times, but so did Abraham. She didn't fully understand all her visions, but neither did John. She was sometimes more negative than uplifting, but so was Jeremiah. So you see, her experience matches that of the Bible prophets, and we can feel comfortable viewing her as a prophet." Of course, we could all be prophets if these were the only qualifications!