Without Fear or Favor: The Life of M. L. Andreasen by Virginia Steinweg (Review & Herald, 1979)


M. L. Andreasen was one of the most prominent Seventh-day Adventist leaders of the early- to mid-1900’s, serving in a variety of church positions, including president of the Minnesota Conference, president of Union College, and dean of the SDA Theological Seminary.  Andreasen wrote several important works of SDA theology, including The Sanctuary Service (1937), A Faith to Live By (1943), and The Book of Hebrews (1948).


Steinweg’s biography of this giant of Adventism presents a great deal of anecdotal information with no critical analysis.  In addition, it reproduces many of its sources verbatim using long quotations.  The most prominent source is an unpublished autobiography of Andreasen, from which many pages are quoted, amounting to about twenty-five percent of Steinweg’s book.  In addition, Steinweg is often vague regarding certain details of her story due to her evident loyalty to the SDA Church and admiration for Andreasen.  Thus, the most illuminating part of the book comes when Andreasen fell out of step with official church teachings, forcing Steinweg to serve as a rather conflicted mediator between the two sides.


It is important (and only fair) to note that we are former Adventists who look at Adventist history from the opposite perspective of that adopted by Steinweg.  We make no claim to impartiality.  In particular, our interest in the Andreasen story is the result of our sharp disagreement with Andreasen (and Ellen White) regarding the Investigative Judgment and the nature of the atonement.  We are strong opponents of SDA legalism.  Therefore, we find Without Fear or Favor most interesting for its portrayal of beliefs and practices with which we disagree.  However, disagreement does not equal dislike.  Andreasen was a man who lived his beliefs conscientiously; we admire his energy, intelligence, and lack of hypocrisy, just as we respect and love all Adventists, many of whom share the same qualities.


Despite Steinweg’s reticence to reveal anything negative about early Adventism, several brief stories stand out.  Andreasen was absolutely dedicated to Ellen White’s health reform, although he and his associates sometimes carried things to extremes.  While Andreasen was working for an SDA orphanage, the headmaster decreed, on the basis of Ellen White, that only two meals per day would be served; no exceptions were permitted for even very young children whose hungry cries could be heard during the night (46).  Fortunately, Mrs. Andreason was softhearted toward the little ones, and she would sometimes sneak them extra food at night (46).  After taking another position as a colporteur selling SDA books door-to-door, Andreasen adopted a two-meal-a-day diet of granola.  That was all he ate—granola soaked in water.  One day he read a testimony from Ellen White denouncing the sin of gluttony, so he cut his rations in half (53).  He enjoyed a partial return to his senses when overcome by hunger, but he still had much to learn.  A few years later, Andreasen imposed a peanut diet (popular among SDAs at the time) on his family, with the predictable result that his one-year-old daughter nearly died of malnutrition before he modified his interpretation of the health message (56). 


While we don’t hold Ellen White completely responsible for Andreasen’s nutritional woes, she bears some responsibility for promoting sanctification through diet.  Her teachings encouraged extremes among Adventists desperate to achieve sanctification, and prophets must be judged by their fruits (Matt. 7:20).  Adventists are eager to tout the benefits of many aspects of the health message, but these benefits must be balanced against the fanaticism it has often inspired.  The health message must also be weighed against the total lack of scriptural support for some teachings, such as the prohibition against eating meat.


Andreasen’s love for Mrs. White was cemented when he visited her home in St. Helena, CA, for several days in 1909.  In particular, Andreasen wanted to know whether Ellen White had actually endorsed the Trinity in The Desire of Ages, or if others had tampered with her writings.  He discovered the new teaching in her own handwriting and promptly became a Trinitarian (76).  He had also been under the impression that Ellen White’s writings were too beautiful for such a simple woman to compose, but again, he saw the manuscripts and became utterly convinced of her prophetic gift (75-76).  No one told him about her “borrowing” from other Christian writers. Andreasen left St. Helena with the unshakeable impression “that no one can ignore and disobey [Ellen White’s writings] except at great, infinitely great, loss” (78).  He spent the rest of his life using Ellen White as “a magnifying glass” through which to interpret scripture (78).  Andreasen served as a guard of honor at Ellen White’s funeral in the Battle Creek Dime Tabernacle in 1915.  He observed D.M. Canright, the most prominent EGW critic, pause before her casket and tearfully murmur, “There is a noble Christian woman gone” (91).  Andreasen apparently interpreted Canright’s generous grief as an admission of error in leaving the SDA fellowship.


After a life of faithful service, Andreasen was summarily retired at the 1950 General Conference session.  He was hurt because he hadn’t felt ready to retire, and also because he hadn’t been consulted (161-163).  Based on subsequent events, it’s possible that the church wanted to moderate its theology, and Andreasen was a remnant of a more conservative era.  However, it’s impossible to know for sure whether the retirement of Andreasen was part of a plan or simply a clumsy action taken by an authoritarian hierarchy.


In 1956, Andreasen was stunned to read an article by Donald G. Barnhouse, editor of Eternity magazine.  Barnhouse elucidated several theological changes in Adventism, describing conservative Adventists as a “lunatic fringe” that the SDA leadership had vowed to control (170).  Andreasen soon discovered that SDA administrators had been meeting with Walter Martin in an effort to avoid being labeled a cult in Martin’s forthcoming book on the cults.  In particular, Andreasen was concerned that Adventist leaders were undermining the atoning ministry of Christ in the heavenly sanctuary.  Ellen White taught that “Jesus entered the most holy of the heavenly, at the end of the 2300 days of Daniel 8, in 1844, to make a final atonement for all who could be benefitted by His mediation, and thus to cleanse the sanctuary” (EW 253).  Now the Adventist leaders were undermining Mrs. White’s understanding of the atonement by affirming that the full and complete atonement was made on the cross, and that Christ was only mediating the “benefits” of the cross in His heavenly ministry (174).


Seventh-day Adventists Answer Questions on Doctrine (1957) cemented the rapprochement between Adventists and Protestantism, but Andreasen was stunned.  The denomination had changed a major doctrine while pointedly ignoring the former seminary dean and expert on Ellen White.  Andreasen responded by producing “Letters to the Churches,” a document exposing the change.  When the aging minister refused to recant, the leadership removed his ministerial credentials in 1961.  Less than a year later, Andreasen died a brokenhearted but still loyal Adventist. 


In a somewhat hollow victory for Andreasen, SDA scholars acknowledge that Questions on Doctrine did indeed shift SDA theology.  In a somewhat hollow victory for the evangelical community, Adventism publicly modified a theological pillar while assuring loyal SDAs that nothing had changed: “While the denominational literature has adopted the phrase ‘the benefits of His atonement,’ every effort is put forth to make clear to the world that Seventh-day Adventists believe that an important part of the atonement is taking place in the heavenly sanctuary” (183).  Finally, in a somewhat hollow victory for orthodoxy, most Adventist scholars now affirm the completed atonement, ignoring the implications of prophetess Ellen White’s clear teachings to the contrary.



Joseph Rector, May 23, 2010