Kellogg—a fresh perspective


John Harvey Kellogg is—perhaps after Ellen White—the Adventist with the greatest international fame. But opinions vary widely. Some continue to regard him as a genius and great reformer, while others rather see him as a charlatan and quack.  Visitors to Battle Creek, a town in the American state of Michigan, immediately see the towers of the immense building that currently is in the possession of the US government but once was an important part of the Kellogg’s Sanitarium. They cannot fail to be impressed.

For the general public the name Kellogg is mostly connected with cornflakes—invented by the ingenious Dr. Kellogg, but made into a commercial success by his brother Will Keith. Even today the Kellogg Corporation is one of the most important employers of Battle Creek.  Adventist visitors to Battle Creek will, however, be especially interested in the historic homes and other buildings which form a small open-air museum featuring Adventist beginnings. [1]  There one can also find the John Harvey Kellogg Discovery Center that houses all kinds of the instruments and installations that were developed by doctor Kellogg.

Much has been written about John Harvey Kellogg. Of special interest is the biography by Richard W. Schwarz. Written as a doctoral dissertation, it was  adapted and re-published in 2006 by the Review and Herald Publishing Association.[2] The book recounts the riveting story how this protégé of James and Ellen White was appointed, at age 26, as the leader of the newly established Western Health Reform Institute. This was the beginning of a long career that brought him and the institution he built ever increasing fame.

The book also deals, however, with the tension between the doctor and his church, that grew ever more severe and eventually led to a parting of the ways. In this context special emphasis is given to the publication of his book The Living Temple,[3] in which Kellogg painted a picture of God  that soon earned him the accusation of pantheism. When one studies this episode of Kellogg’s fascinating life, one cannot escape the impression that, besides theological concerns, all kinds of other aspects were playing a role, such as a clash between personalities and power. (It is rare that theological controversies only concern theology!)

Lots of publications about John Harvey Kellogg have appeared over the years. The most popular of these may well be The Road to Wellville[4] that formed the script for a movie with the same name in which Anthony Hopkins played the part of Dr. Kellogg. The book as well as the film received very few positive reviews—and rightly so. In no way did they do justice to this admittedly peculiar, but imaginative and creative personality.

At this very moment professor Ronald Numbers is working on a new and ‘definitive’ biography of Kellogg. His experience and reputation as a historian guarantee that this will be a most interesting and reliable work.

Very recently another book about Kellogg came off the press. I happened to hear about it and ordered it straight away. A few weeks ago arranged for the book to slide through my letter box. I have now read it. In this book  Brian C. Wilson, professor of comparative religion at Western Michigan University, describes (in more detail than anyone did before) the religious ideas that inspired John Harvey Kellogg. Of course, Wilson also deals at length with The Living Temple. But he places it in a wider context. He shows how gradually Kellogg developed a vision that one might call the ‘religion of biologic living’ .[5]  Wilson does not belong to the Adventist church but is intimately acquainted with the Adventist environment in which Kellogg lived and worked during a major part of his career. He displays a great measure of objectivity.

For me this new book was a tremendous eye-opener with regard to the thinking of Dr. Kellogg that more and more guided him. I warmly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the history of Adventism and in the role of Kellogg in particular.  The 240 pages of this thoroughly researched and captivating book are fully worth the forty dollars or so that one must pay to acquire it.


[2]  Richard W. Schwartz, John Harvey Kellogg: Pioneering Health Reformer (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 2006).

[3]  John Harvey Kellogg, The Living Temple (Battle Creek, MI: Good Health Publishing Company, 2003).

[4]  T.C. Boyle, The Road to Welville (Viking Penguin Books, 1993).

[5]  Daaraan is dan ook de titel van het boek ontleend:  Brian C. Wilson, John Harvey Kellogg and the Religion of Biologic Living (Bloomingtin, IN:  Indiana University Press, 2014).