In recent months I have lectured in various places, both in the Netherlands and elsewhere, about something that is currently a hot topic in many Adventist circles. I am referring to Last Generation Theology (LGT). The core idea of this theology’ is that Christ cannot return to this earth until there is a ‘last generation’ that ‘perfectly reflects’ the character of Jesus Christ. I have written a book on this topic that was published about a year ago and this has resulted in quite a few invitations to come and speak about this subject.
The arguments of the supporters of LGT (Last Generation Theology) are to a large extent based on statements by Ellen G. White. This Adventist pioneer has left us with a large oeuvre, about many different topics. She wrote over an extensive period of time during which many of her ideas developed and matured. Because of the sheer quantity of what she has written there is an ever present danger to quote very selectively, when one is in search of support for a particular theory. I have found that the supporters of LGT do indeed often quote extremely selectively. This has prompted me to read very widely what Ellen White wrote about the themes that are relevant for this LGT topic, since my aim is to show that a balanced approach to her writings may not answer all our questions but certainly does not give support to this ‘theology’.
I must, of course, expect that, when I speak about LGT, some people in my audience will accuse me of not giving due respect to Ellen White’s writings. Last Sabbath, when I gave some presentations to the Adventist church in one of our Swedish Adventist churches, one person told me he believes that what Ellen White wrote has exactly the same status as the Bible. This is, however, claiming more for her than she ever claimed for herself and something she actually repeatedly denied. It is, however, a fact that the church is becoming ever more polarized about the person and work of Ellen White. On the one hand there is a group who places her on a high pedestal, while, on the other hand, many others have more and more questions about her work and the nature of her inspiration.
It is more important than ever before that we base our opinion on solid facts. It was not until the 1930’s that the view gained general ground that every word Ellen White ever wrote was inspired. This development must be seen against the background of the growing fundamentalism at that time in protestant America, with its increasing emphasis on the verbal inspiration of the Bible. This fundamentalism also influenced the way many Adventists began to understand the inspiration of the Bible, and also how they regarded the inspiration of Mrs. White. Many were more and more convinced that Ellen White was also verbally (word for word) inspired. Therefore, it seemed logical to collect everything she ever wrote about specific topics and to publish these collections in book form. This was the origin of a significant number of compilations (Counsels for Young People, Counsels on Diet and Food, Counsels for Sabbath School Workers, etc. etc.).
Since then some enemies of the church (e.g. D.M. Canright) as well as people who (at first) were loyal to the church (e.g. Walter Rhea, Ronald Numbers) made significant discoveries about how many of the books by Ellen White actually came about. The accusation of plagiarism became ever more louder.
Gradually much of the mist around these controversies had cleared and the time has come to ensure that careful historical research will reveal the truth. In recent months two important books have come off the press that can provide a lot of clarity. First, there is a book that came out in 2006 in a small edition but did not get a wide distribution, and this has now been re-published. It is written by Dr. Gilbert Valentine, who has carefully analyzed what happened after Ellen White died. A fierce battle ignited between the heirs of Ellen White and the leadership of the church about the question who owned the rights to her writings and who could decide about further publications. The unfortunate fact that Ellen White left a substantial debt when she passed away made things immensely more complicated.
Another book that appeared just a few weeks ago is written by Dr. George Knight, one of the top experts concerning the history of Adventism and also of the person and work of Ellen White. His newest book is entitled: Ellen White: Afterlife. Knight carefully chronicles the history of the reception of, and the approach to, the work of Ellen White in the century that has gone by since her death. It presents the reader with a fascinating survey of the dilemma’s that surfaced and of the hesitations on the part of the leaders of the church to acknowledge that the picture that was presented to the church about the ministry of Ellen White was not always fully true to all the facts.
These two authors have no intention to bring Ellen White down but rather to separate fact from fiction and to help the church members to form a more balanced view of this remarkable women.
(PS. The simplest way to order these books is through Amazon.com. )