I remember reading Ronald Numbers’ book Prophetess of Health: A Study of Ellen White, shortly after it was published in 1976. To say that it shocked me would be a major understatement. Although I was not a zealous Ellen G. White devotee to begin with, I was not prepared for the revelations of Numbers about how she borrowed most of her “health message” from contemporary health reformers. Clearly, if what she wrote was the product of divine revelation, I had to seriously adjust my concept of inspiration. Numbers’ book prepared me for Walter Rea’s book The White Lie, which appeared some six years later, and for other publications which confirmed the fact that the prophetess of Adventism had been heavily dependent on other authors, often copying not just words but entire paragraphs or even more. But also in other respects my picture of Ellen White had to be adjusted. Historical studies by Adventist and non-Adventist scholars have shown that she was not always the nice, kind lady that I once thought she was. She was, in fact, a very human being, with many shortcomings. She could be judgmental, manipulative and downright unpleasant. And in many of her ideas she was much more Victorian and a child of her time than most denominational books about her life and work had been willing to admit. Somehow, I found this both disconcerting and a relief: she was not a saint but someone very much like most of us.
The recent book by Steve Daily, Ellen White: A Psychobiography, further completed the picture that others painted of her. It is an important book that cannot be ignored. However, I did not need Daily to tell me that Ellen White was far from perfect. Yes, admittedly, there were things I did not know about her. Some of what she said and did was not just uncomfortable, or wrong, but ugly. The book has (rightly, I think) been criticized for being one-side and unbalanced, but it cannot be denied that Daily’s findings are documented in great detail. However, as I wrote in an earlier blog, I found the tone of the book very unpleasant. I repeat what I wrote a few months ago:
“. . . what upset me as I read the book was its aggressive tone and the constantly repeated accusation that Ellen White was a crafty liar and deceiver, who enriched herself in very dubious ways and was a “con artist” in optima forma. I wonder whether those epithets are justified. Was she indeed the kind of wicked person who persisted in a life-long project of deception? I find that hard to believe. It seems to me that the book manifests a kind of aggressive disdain for the object of its research that appears (at least to me) to go beyond objective scholarship.”
Since I read the book and wrote these comments, I have seen numerous posts by dr. Daily on FaceBook about the topic of his book, with the reactions of regular followers. However, the moment has come that I want to say: “Enough is enough.” I have increasingly wondered what motivates Daily to write all these posts and to keep the correspondence going with many of his followers. After all, he has left the Adventist Church. He has established his own independent congregation. What then pushes him to continue to spend so much time and energy in his bitter campaign against Ellen White? What causes this obsession? Does he not realize that in this stage of his campaign he is no longer convincing anyone?
Over time my view of Ellen White has certainly changed. I have come to realize that many of the criticism from people like Numbers, Rea and Daily are indeed justified. And I believe it is high time that the Adventist denomination comes to terms with this, even if this may be difficult to swallow for many who have been indoctrinated in the traditional view of Ellen White. The more this is postponed, the more damage it will do, and the more frustrated many will be when they finally must conclude that the real Ellen White differs significantly from the picture the White Estate has promoted.
Yet, I am not ready to totally jettison the contribution Ellen G. White has made to Adventism. From whatever sources her information may have come, and by whatever processes her writings may have been created, and whatever may have been her shortcomings and failures—I cannot deny that she did play a very significant role in the founding and growth of the Adventist denomination. It cannot be denied that she greatly contributed to the fact that Adventists developed such a strong interest in health, temperance, education and publishing, with a worldwide network of schools, health institutions and publishing firms.
I do not recommend the continued reading of some of Ellen White’s books, at least not without some careful introduction with information about the context in which they were written or compiled. She was no expert in the domain of history or science, and was not a trained theologian. Many things in her books may be historically debatable or plainly wrong, and many statements do not hold up when subjected to current scientific scrutiny. Yet, it is a fact that cannot be denied—-and Steve Daily should be willing to at least give her credit in this respect—-that millions of people have been spiritually blessed by such books as Steps to Christ, The Desire of Ages and several others.
Having come to these conclusions, I have no further interest in Steve Daily’s continued attacks on Ellen White. He fights against a version of Ellen White that I have renounced a long time ago. There are so many others things I want to read about—things that may hopefully inspire me in my preaching and writing. Steve Daily’s constant FaceBook posts do not inspire me. They more and more irritate me. De-friending the author seems the best way to ensure that I am no longer confronted with them.
For the reviews, see e.g.
Alberto M. Timm,
Jonathan Butler, https://spectrummagazine.org/arts-essays/2021/ellen-g-white-all-or-nothing
and André Reis, https://caa.hcommons.org/deposits/item/hc:40153/
For my earlier blog about the book by Steve Daily, see, my blog of March 14, http://reinderbruinsma.com/?p=2581