[Friday, June 21) I am beginning to get the feeling that I am no longer completely in tune with our times. Since very recently my wife enjoys the wonders of her iPad. I notice also how my granddaughter of five knows how to do all kinds of interesting things with her daddy’s iPad. And today I read on my laptop, on the web site of a Dutch newspaper, that a large school district in Los Angeles has decided in the next few years to provide all 640.000 students in their schools with an iPad.
I read that worldwide some ten million students no longer use any schoolbooks, but get all their information through their tablet-computer. In the Netherlands, this August, 11 elementary schools (referred to as ‘iPad-schools’) will start an experiment in trading traditional schoolbooks for an iPad. It occurred to me this morning that it may be about time for me to start thinking about more fully entering the digital era!
The next two weeks, however, my attention will continue to be focused on the renovation of my son’s house in Sweden. It gives considerable satisfaction to see some results emerging. But today I have a day off, just like all other working Swedes. For today we celebrate Midsommarafton, the day before ‘midsommar’. Together with the grandchildren we will visit the festivities in nearby (40 km) Härnosand. There we will see how the midsommarstången will be erected, accompanied by folk dancers, fiddlers, etc. I realize this is an old pagan tradition that has to do with the worship of the sun, but I will not worry too much about that aspect.
In the meantime I am working, at least two hours every day, on the re-translation into Dutch of Christ’s Object Lessons (usually abbreviated as COL), that Ellen White wrote around 1900. It is interesting to consider that she did not initiate this book writing project with the sole intention of providing some spiritual nurture for her fellow church members. She wanted to do something for a project that was very close to her heart. A few denominational schools had accumulated a heavy debt, and Mrs. White decided to do something about this problem. She decided to write a book and to donate the royalties for this debt-reduction project. She asked the denominational publishing house also to do its share and to produce the book for free. This proposal was accepted. Three hundred thousand copies were printed and were sold by colporteurs and other church members, with all proceeds going to the ‘good cause’.
I must conclude that, apparently, the church paid her authors more royalties in the days of Ellen White than today. In fact, proceeds from her books constituted a considerable source of income for her. Donating the royalties of this new book was, therefore, a substantial gesture. I also conclude that a century ago it was possible for an Adventist publishing house to make enough profit to enable it to print a major edition for free. In our days most Adventist publishing houses find it difficult to merely survive.
This Ellen White project gives some further food for thought. Is this book with its uplifting meditations about the parables of Christ the fruit of her prophetic gift? Or could this book also have been written by some other author, but was her involvement particularly desired because her name would help the project to succeed?
As far as the content is concerned: the book continues to provide spiritual nurture to many people. The fact that the book is clearly a product of one hundred year ago does not alter that fact. Neither does the fact that she used many different sources when writing this book, just as she did when she wrote The Desire of Ages. The list of books that she owned and consulted is publicly known. All this is no problem as long as one has a balanced and realistic view of what prophetic inspiration entails. And neither can we be too surprised by the proof-text method she employs when citing texts or parts of text from both the Old and the New Testament. This was very common in her days and often, unfortunately, it still is.
One might perhaps say that Christ’s Object Lessons is a rather human book. That may be one reason why it has maintained its popularity. Hopefully the Dutch retranslation will give the book a new boost among a Dutch audience.