Chapter 22

The Organizing Theme

[Return to the Table of Contents]
[Return to the Homepage]

The Great Controversy Theme
The Purpose of God’s Strategy in the Great Controversy
Unfolding the Theme
One Thread Unravels the Fabric
The Key That Unlocked Mysteries
The “Theme” Transcends Modern Errors
The Ellipse of Truth
Conservatives and Liberals
Twin Truths are Joined
Study Questions

“Seventh-day Adventism is one of the most subtly differentiated, systematically developed and institutionally successful of all alternatives to the American way of life. . . . The central figure in Adventism has remained largely out of public view. Ellen White . . . her life and thought shaped the characteristic features of Adventism. To understand how and why Adventism has impinged on the public consciousness, a detailed analysis of Adventist theology and Ellen White’s writings is necessary.”1

In the preceding chapters we have observed that Ellen White and the history of the Adventist movement are as interconnected as the warp and woof of a beautiful rug. The same can be said about the close relationship between Ellen White and the Adventist mind as expressed in its distinctive theological contribution, its educational and health principles, its sense of social responsibilities, and its missiology.2 Without Ellen White, the Adventist mind in all these areas, as historically understood, would be as porous as a window screen.3

The uniqueness of Ellen White’s contribution lies not in total originality of thought but in her synthesis of divinely revealed insights and the results of her own reading and observation. While selecting specific expressions from her contemporaries that helped her to depict more fully the broad principles of truth that were revealed to her, she avoided notions from those same authors that were not consonant with those principles.

The Great Controversy Theme

[Top of Document]

All significant theologies have an organizing principle.4 Many scholars have identified Ellen White’s unifying principle as the Great Controversy Theme. This provided a coherent framework for her theological thought as well as for her principles in education, health, missiology, social issues, and environmental topics.5 Not that she single-handedly devised these interacting thought patterns, but she was the conceptual nurturer, urging study, noting errors, always exhorting freshness, not novelty. Along with nurturing, her own writings helped to form a core of Biblical understanding that provided integrity to the development of Adventist thought.6

George Knight, church historian, suggests that by focusing on the Great Controversy Theme “we can tell when we are on center or chasing stray geese near the edges of what is really important.” In pointing to what Ellen White calls the “grand central theme” of the Bible, Knight wrote that “in such passages we find our marching orders for the reading of both the Bible and the writings of Ellen White. . . . All our reading takes place within that context, and those issues closest to the grand central theme are obviously of more importance than those near its edges.”7

The conceptual key. Ellen White defined the Great Controversy Theme as the conceptual “key” to understanding humanity’s greatest questions: How did life begin? Why good and evil, and how does one know the difference? What happens after death? Why suffering and death? The Great Controversy Theme provides the background for the development of evil—the story of Lucifer’s (Satan’s) rebellion against the government of God. The thrust of Satan’s argument is that God cannot be trusted, that His law is severe and unfair, and thus the Lawgiver is unfair, severe, and arbitrary.8

Satan’s initial success in winning the allegiance of one-third of the angels in heaven was followed by his deceiving Adam and Eve (Rev. 12:4, 7-9; Gen. 3:1-16). By so doing, this earth has experienced all the bitter fruit of distrusting God and spurning His will.

God’s response has been, not to destroy Satan, but to expose him. God’s long-term interest is to demonstrate how wrong Satan has been to charge Him with being supremely selfish, arbitrary, and unfair. Primarily through the life and death of Jesus, and through His designated people on earth, God has been revealing and demonstrating His side of the story.9

The controversy ends on this earth only after God’s people give glory to Him (Rev. 14:7) in such a way that all earthly inhabitants can make an intelligent decision as to whether God’s program is something they should choose for themselves. All must decide whether they would be eternally comfortable in keeping “the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus” (Rev. 14:12). After ushering in the return of Jesus, the controversy is reviewed during the millennium and finally settled when the chorus echoes from world to world, “‘Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for His judgments are true and just.’ . . . ‘Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns, Let us rejoice and exult and give Him the glory’” (Rev. 19:1-7). The rebellion is over.

The Purpose of God’s Strategy in the Great Controversy

[Top of Document]

God’s purpose in the Controversy is twofold: (1) To demonstrate before all the universe “the nature of rebellion” and, in so doing, “vindicate . . . [His] character,”10 and (2) to restore in men and women “the image of God.” More than forgiveness, the goal of the gospel is restoration.11

The new earth will be populated with those who have let God fulfill His plan for restoring His image in them. Thus, the goal of redemption is not forgiveness but restoration; the purpose of the gospel is to restore all that was harmed by sin, to bring men and women back to their original state, step by step.12 Only by redeeming overcomers (Rev. 3:5, 12, 21) will God be able to “place things on an eternal basis of security.”13

The vindication of God’s fairness and trustworthiness, coupled with the concept of restoration as being the purpose of the gospel brought a Biblical freshness to Ellen White’s theological system and provided coherence to all other aspects of her teachings.

Unfolding the Theme

[Top of Document]

How does the Great Controversy Theme inform and determine those principles of theology, education, health, and all the other topics that Ellen White has unified into a coherent, interconnected, distinctively Adventist way of life? What are those theological principles that undergird and permeate all these various aspects of Adventist thought?

Each of the following foundation principles not only unfolds the Theme but also exposes some error in contemporary Christian thought:

· God is not the kind of person that Satan has made Him out to be. God is not severe, unforgiving, harsh, arbitrary, or unfair.14 Although God revealed Himself in His law and other revelations through His prophets, Jesus is God’s clearest revelation.15

· What we need to know about God can be understood by observing the actions of Jesus and listening to His counsel while on earth. In revealing the truth about God, Jesus revealed God’s image.16 In revealing the truth about human beings, Jesus manifested humanity’s lost image, the image He has promised to restore in all who trust Him and obey His will.17

(a) Jesus proved that God was not unfair—that is, He did not make laws that created beings cannot keep.18

(b) Jesus proved that God was not selfish by demanding submission and sacrifice from His created intelligences without manifesting the same willingness to sacrifice for others. His own life and death, an eternal gift to humanity, revealed God’s unselfishness toward His created beings.19

(c) Jesus proved that God was not “severe, exacting, and harsh,” by revealing God’s tact, thoughtfulness, self-denial, forbearance, and love under rejection.20

· Because God is fair, loving, and respectful of His created intelligences, He does not coerce, force, intimidate, or deceive them in order to obtain their loyalty, submission, or compliance.21

(a) He does not use peer pressure, or compel a person to make a decision against his or her will, or attempt to bypass reason—all of which are techniques employed by the forces of evil.22

(b) He appeals to reason and waits for each person to decide on the basis of the weight of evidence and the constraint of love.23

(c) Thus, His people are to be known for their defense of liberty for others and the absence of oppressive methods among themselves.24

· Because God is willing to wait until all the evidence is in regarding Satan’s charges, and because He will not force compliance, the principle of conditionality permeates His relationship with His created intelligences—He waits for people to respond.25

(a) The process of salvation by faith requires certain human conditions more than mere mental assent and appreciation for what Christ has done. Saved people are transformed rebels (the degree of change subject to the time and opportunities available), and transformation involves human decisions at every step.26

(b) The timing of the Second Advent depends, in part, on certain human conditions. The Advent is delayed, depending on the preparedness of God’s people to receive the latter rain and thus be equipped for the “loud cry” that brings the world to decision.27

(c) The incarnation of Jesus Christ involved a conditionality that beggars the human imagination—the possibility that Jesus might fail.28

(d) Character development determines destiny—the human response to God’s gifts of destiny—pardon and power.29

· Human beings were created to be God’s counterparts, “in His own image.” They were created to communicate with God and with freedom to choose. Thus, they are responsible (able-to-respond) beings; human beings can be irresponsible, but never unresponsible—they were, and are, free moral agents.30

(a) Since men and women are responsible beings, it is evident that they are not totally depraved; their destiny is not determined by a sovereign God who “elects” some to be saved and others to be lost.31

(b) Because human beings are responsible beings, God must communicate with them in human terms, in thought patterns that humans can understand. For this reason, the principle of the incarnation explains why Jesus “took humanity with all its liabilities” in order that His followers would know that He identified with them in every way.32

(c) The principle of the incarnation explains why God used the thought patterns and vocabulary of human beings when He revealed Himself in the Bible.33

· Human beings were created as an indivisible whole wherein such components as the physical body, mind, soul, spirit, emotions, and the will interact, influencing each of the other components. Components are interdependent and all are needed for human beings to survive in a healthy state.34

(a) Thus, people do not possess immortal souls that live in physical bodies for a short space of time. When they physically die, they do not continue to live somewhere in a spiritual, disembodied state. They “sleep” (in Biblical terms) awaiting the call of the Life Giver.35

(b) Because human beings are not composed of three units (body, spirit, soul) separate from one another, the well being of the physical body directly affects the health of the mind (including the emotions and spiritual values), and vice versa. Each person’s health depends on the optimal interacting of all that contributes to a healthy body and to a healthy mind.36

· Because God is love He yearns for a loving response from human beings. He has promised eternal life to those who freely appreciate His love and who choose to obey His loving will for them.37

(a) Thus, eternal life is promised to those who cheerfully forsake their sins and gladly cooperate with His Spirit in reconstructing their habit patterns so that they will spontaneously love others—the ultimate will of their loving Lord.38

(b) Thus, God will not play word games and “save” those who mentally say the right words but whose lives do not reflect, in some maturing fashion, the profession of their lips.39

(c) Therefore, God has permitted the law of cause and effect to play out so that created intelligences throughout the universe, as well as human beings, can see the results of both obedience and disobedience to God’s expressed will.40

(d) The redeemed will be composed of those who have cooperated with God in developing a habitual attitude of loving trust and cheerful obedience to His will; they have demonstrated that they can be trusted with eternal life, never again to put the security of the universe in jeopardy.41

One Thread Unravels the Fabric

[Top of Document]

As one studies the history of the Christian church it is interesting to note the results of unraveling even one thread (one doctrine) of the coherent fabric of truth. The cohesiveness and inner coherence of truth is one mark of its authenticity. When a person takes one doctrine—for instance, the nature of man—and imposes on it an unscriptural definition such as the immortal soul notion, other doctrines are affected in some way. When one removes conditionality from the plan of salvation, human responsibility is diminished and the sovereignty of God is exaggerated or misunderstood.

The unifying and synoptic range of Ellen White’s contribution to the development of the Adventist movement is the result of her lucid understanding of the principles inherent in the Great Controversy Theme. Ellen White’s theological concepts were not “divinely” transmitted through her as water passes through a pipe. Nor was she a systematic theologian. She was primarily a communicator, guided by heavenly counsel. Her mission was to comfort where people needed encouragement and to correct those errors that either misrepresent God or incorrectly define how men and women are finally saved.42

Her understanding of theology, though grounded in vision experiences, grew through the years as she listened to her Adventist colleagues cross-pollinate each other with their Biblical studies.43

The Key That Unlocked Mysteries

[Top of Document]

Ellen White’s theological plumb line, as governed by the Great Controversy Theme and affirmed by revelation, remained the same, even as her insights deepened. Her theological discernment provided a unifying center that helped church members to share with others, in a lucid and convincing manner, the coherent message. Her written understanding of the sanctuary doctrine, for example, became the microcosm of the plan of salvation. This teaching not only was the “key” that unlocked the mystery of the 1844 disappointment, “it opened to view a complete system of truth, connected and harmonious, showing that God’s hand had directed the great Advent Movement, and revealing present duty as it brought to light the position and work of His people. . . . Light from the sanctuary illumined the past, the present, and the future.”44

From the earliest days of her prophetic ministry, Ellen White saw in the three angels’ messages (Rev. 14:1-12) “the perfect chain of truth.” Flowing from within this “chain” was the sanctuary doctrine. These Biblical messages “were represented to [her] as an anchor to hold the body.”45

The “Theme” Transcends Modern Errors

[Top of Document]

The Great Controversy Theme transcends the tensions, paradoxes, and antinomies of conventional philosophy and theology. Tensions between all groups have roots that go back to the earliest “falling away” predicted by the apostle Paul.46 Each particular church with its distinctive theology is emphasizing some aspect of truth that it holds precious. Yet, its leaders and members see their opponents as heretics, and the best they will settle for is a cease-fire, not a truce. Contending church groups are like two circles of partial truth, neither circle knowing how to bring the two together into a coherent, elliptical whole.

The Ellipse of Truth

[Top of Document]

The Great Controversy Theme, however, changes those opposing circles into an ellipse. By using the principle of the ellipse,47 each circle finds its treasured truths (for which its adherents have been willing to die) safely preserved, even greatly enhanced. In the ellipse, truth is united in such a way that its fundamental components are not seen as antithetical, but as correlates.48

Truth is not the sum of paradoxes. Truth is the union of components in such a way that when one component is not connected to the other, something serious happens to even that portion of truth each group holds precious. For example, H2O is another way of saying “water.” Hydrogen and oxygen by themselves are very important, but without their proper union, water does not exist. The question of whether hydrogen or oxygen is more important becomes meaningless when one needs water to drink. The truth about water is that water does not exist unless both hydrogen and oxygen are in proper relationship to each other. The same is true with components in the ellipse of truth.49

Another way to illustrate the usefulness of the ellipse analogy is to observe how Ellen White speaks of law and gospel, not as antithetical but as correlates. It thus follows that the law does not forbid what the gospel permits, and the gospel does not permit what the law forbids. Further, to emphasize the law in the Christian’s experience is not a journey into legalism. Ellen White highlighted how Jesus rejected the legalism of the Pharisees which led to bondage and pride while emphasizing that the law will guide the Christian “till heaven and earth pass away.”50 The Christian obeys God’s law, not to impress Him but to honor Him, not in fearful compliance but in grateful submission and joyful loyalty.

In philosophy and theology, the two circles, representing the usual “two sides” of almost every argument, are generally known as “objectivism” and “subjectivism.” Towering theological and philosophical thinkers can be catalogued in one or the other of the two circles. The various churches within Christianity can also be catalogued as being either “objectivist” or “subjectivist.” The history of theology is the story of which circle is predominant at the moment—and the recurring oscillation, the persistent pendulum swing between the two foci of the ellipse, is as predictable as the rising of the sun.

Conservatives and Liberals

[Top of Document]

In typical religious language, conservatives form the “objectivist” circle and liberals are in the “subjectivist” circle, although these labels are far from satisfactory. Each circle is emphasizing something correct, timely, and needed. Even as water is not formed until the circles of hydrogen and water are reformed as an ellipse, so the partial truths represented by conservatives and liberals do not set forth the full picture of truth until they are both cast within the ellipse of truth.

Key words for conservatives (for which they will fight to the death) are: transcendence, authority, orthodoxy, rootage, law, structure, security, and grace—all good words to hold on to. But the historic weakness of conservatives is often a misunderstanding of the character of the transcendent God. They often emphasize authority at the expense of human responsibility and freedom. Because of these misunderstandings, faith becomes mainly a mental assent to doctrine. Some form of “only believe” is stressed. The result too often is human passivity in the salvation process.

Key words for liberals (for which they also will fight to the death) are: immanence, freedom, responsibility, reason, flexibility, meaning, relevance, and personal faith—also good words to hold on to. The historic weakness of liberalism is rooted in its subjectivity. Pietists, mystics, rationalists, charismatics (and whoever else puts human autonomy “in front” of divinely revealed truths) base their security either on reason, feeling, intuition, or historical research. Absolutes are rarely appealed to. “It must make sense to me” is often heard—a wish not to be overlooked.

In modern times, both conservatives and liberals cross lines when they no longer ask, “Is it true?” but rather, “Does it work?” Pragmatic experientialism puts the question, “What is there in it for me?” rather than the more Biblical “What am I going to do about it?”

Ellen White puts these questions into proper perspective as she appeals to both the traditional conservatives and liberals to see the answers within the Great Controversy Theme. She understood well this historic standoff between these two circles and how both conservatives and liberals alike will fail to see the whole picture without the ellipse of truth that transcends the weakness of both conservatives and liberals. She wrote: “The progress of reform depends upon a clear recognition of fundamental truth. While, on the one hand, danger lurks in a narrow philosophy and a hard, cold orthodoxy, on the other hand there is great danger in a careless liberalism. The foundation of all enduring reform is the law of God. We are to present in clear, distinct lines the need of obeying this law.”51

“Hard, cold orthodoxy” and “careless liberalism” are the end results of placing truth in two circles rather than letting truth be truth in its elliptical form. Ellen White transcends these two circles by uniting authority and responsibility, doctrinal security and heart assurance, so that the Seventh-day Adventist Church does not need to fall back into the theological arguments that divide all other churches.

Most every Biblical argument, traditionally, presents the observer with an either/or choice. The ellipse of truth shows how important positions are to be joined by the indispensable and, either spoken or implied.

Twin Truths are Joined

[Top of Document]

The following examples show where Ellen White has transcended the either/or arguments in crucial theological areas wherein Christians have been divided for centuries. In these examples, note the ellipse of truth joining twin components as securely as hydrogen bonds with oxygen to make water:

1. The relationship between Christ’s work on the cross and the work of the Holy Spirit: “The Spirit was to be given as a regenerating agent, and without this the sacrifice of Christ would have been of no avail. . . . It is the Spirit that makes effectual what has been wrought out by the world’s Redeemer.”52

2. The relationship between the law and the gospel: “No man can rightly present the law of God without the gospel, or the gospel without the law. The law is the gospel embodied, and the gospel is the law unfolded. The law is the root, the gospel is the fragrant blossom and fruit which it bears.”53

3. The relationship between Christ as Redeemer and as Ruler: “Let this point be fully settled in every mind: If we accept Christ as a Redeemer, we must accept Him as a Ruler. We cannot have the assurance and perfect confiding trust in Christ as our Saviour until we acknowledge Him as our King and are obedient to His commandments. Thus we evidence our allegiance to God. We have the genuine ring in our faith, for it is a working faith. It works by love.”54

4. The relationship between objective authority and subjective responsibility in the faith experience: “Faith in Christ as the world’s Redeemer calls for an acknowledgment of the enlightened intellect, controlled by a heart that can discern and appreciate the heavenly treasure. This faith is inseparable from repentance and transformation of character. To have faith means to find and accept the gospel treasure, with all the obligations which it imposes.”55

5. The relationship between God’s work and man’s work in the salvation process: “God works and cooperates with the gifts He has imparted to man, and man, by being a partaker of the divine nature and doing the work of Christ, may be an overcomer and win eternal life. The Lord does not propose to do the work He has given man powers to do. Man’s part must be done. He must be a laborer together with God, yoking up with Christ. . . . God is the all-controlling power. He bestows the gifts; man receives them and acts with the power of the grace of Christ as a living agent. . . . Divine power and the human agency combined will be a complete success, for Christ’s righteousness accomplishes everything.”56

6. The relationship between imputed and imparted righteousness: “Our only ground of hope is in the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and in that wrought out by His Spirit working in and through us.”57

7. The relationship between forgiveness of sin and a transformed life in defining genuine Christianity: “The religion of Christ means more than the forgiveness of sin; it means taking away our sins, and filling the vacuum with the graces of the Holy Spirit. It means divine illumination, rejoicing in God. It means a heart emptied of self, and blessed with the abiding presence of Christ. When Christ reigns in the soul, there is purity, freedom from sin. The glory, the fullness, the completeness of the gospel plan is fulfilled in the life. The acceptance of the Saviour brings a glow of perfect peace, perfect love, perfect assurance. The beauty and fragrance of the character of Christ revealed in the life testifies that God has indeed sent His Son into the world to be its Saviour.”58

8. The relationship between the prayer for pardon and the prayer for divine help to resist sin: To show how simple theology, rightly put, can be understood by the general public, note Ellen White’s report of a sermon she preached in Basel, Switzerland: “All listened with the deepest interest, and at the close of the discourse an invitation was given for all who desired to be Christians, and all who felt that they had not a living connection with God, to come forward, and we would unite our prayers with theirs for the pardon of sin, and for grace to resist temptation.”59

9. The relationship between Christ’s role as Sacrifice/Saviour and as High Priest/Mediator: “Satan invents unnumbered schemes to occupy our minds, that they may not dwell upon the very work with which we ought to be best acquainted. The archdeceiver hates the great truths that bring to view an atoning sacrifice and an all-powerful mediator. He knows that with him everything depends on his diverting minds from Jesus and His truth.”60

10. The relationship between the new birth and obedience to God’s law: “In the new birth the heart is brought into harmony with God, as it is brought into accord with His law. When this mighty change has taken place in the sinner, he has passed from death unto life, from sin unto holiness, from transgression and rebellion to obedience and loyalty.”61

11. The relationship between repentance and reformation: “No repentance is genuine that does not work reformation. The righteousness of Christ is not a cloak to cover unconfessed and unforsaken sin; it is a principle of life that transforms the character and controls the conduct. Holiness is wholeness for God; it is the entire surrender of heart and life to the indwelling of the principles of heaven.”62

12. The relationship between the work of Christ without and the work of the Spirit within: “I call upon every one who claims to be a son of God, never to forget this great truth, that we need the Spirit of God within us in order to reach heaven, and the work of Christ without us in order to give us a title to the immortal inheritance.”63

13. The relationship between faith and works: “Abraham’s faith was made manifest by his works. . . . There are many who fail to understand the relation of faith and works. They say, ‘Only believe in Christ and you are safe. You have nothing to do with keeping the law.’ But genuine faith will be manifest in obedience.”64

14. The relationship between the old and new covenants: “As the Bible presents two laws, one changeless and eternal, the other provisional and temporary, so there are two covenants. The covenant of grace was first made with man in Eden. . . .To all men this covenant offered pardon, and the assisting grace of God for future obedience through faith in Christ. It also promised them eternal life on condition of fidelity to God’s law. . . . The law of God was the basis of this covenant, which was simply an arrangement for bringing men again into harmony with the divine will, placing them where they could obey God’s law. . . . Another compact—called in Scripture the ‘old’ covenant—was formed between God and Israel at Sinai, and was then ratified by the blood of a sacrifice. . . . But if the Abrahamic covenant contained the promise of redemption, why was another covenant formed at Sinai? . . . Living in the midst of idolatry and corruption, they had no true conception of the holiness of God, of the exceeding sinfulness of their own hearts, their utter inability, in themselves, to render obedience to God’s law, and their need of a Saviour. All this they must be taught. . . . The same law that was engraved upon the tables of stone, is written by the Holy Spirit upon the tables of the heart. . . . Through the grace of Christ we shall live in obedience to the law of God written upon our hearts.”65

15. The relationship between believing in Christ and abiding in Him: “It is not enough that the sinner believe in Christ for the pardon of sin; he must, by faith and obedience, abide in Him.”66

16. The relationship between Christ’s free gift of remission of sins and His free gift of His attributes in the development of the Christian’s character: “His life stands for the life of men. Thus they have remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God. More than this, Christ imbues men with the attributes of God. He builds up the human character after the similitude of the divine character, a goodly fabric of spiritual strength and beauty. Thus the very righteousness of the law is fulfilled in the believer in Christ. God can ‘be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus’ (Rom. 3:26).”67


[Top of Document]

1.Malcolm Bull and Keith Lockhart, Seeking a Sanctuary (San Francisco, Calif.: Harper & Row Publishers, 1989), pp. ix, 14. For another viewpoint, see George Knight, Meeting Ellen White, chapter 6.

2.Russell L. Staples emphasized this relationship in his chapter, “Adventism,” in The Variety of American Evangelicalism: “The Seventh-day Adventist movement cannot be understood apart from its history. Of course, the theological positions on which the movement is grounded can be spelled out; but even though these may be explicated in terms of mutually accepted principles of interpretation and theological argument, only part of the meaning of its movement is thus revealed. And what is revealed may fail to explain its inner consciousness or its ordering of priorities. Some such matters lie beneath the surface and may be better accounted for by historical experience than by exposition of belief. This may be truer of the Adventist Church than of some others, on two counts. First, it grew out of the Millerite movement, and the events and meaning of that experience have been indelibly engraved on its corporate memory and serve as one of the beacons lighting its course. Second, the function of the inner Adventist conviction that it was accorded supernatural guidance in the ministry of Ellen White must be seen in historical perspective in order to be understood.”—Donald W. Dayton and Robert K. Johnston, eds. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1991) p. 57.

3.“Adventist doctrine does not derive from the Ellen White writings, although she did much to confirm Adventists in the doctrinal way worked out by the pioneers; but much that is distinctively Adventist derives directly from her writings and influence. Included are: the Adventist life of Bible study and piety; the Christian values that have engendered a distinctive lifestyle; ideas regarding the relationship between physical health and spirituality, which have resulted in a healthful way of living and eventually in a worldwide network of medical institutions; and ideas regarding Christian education, which led to the establishment of thousands of schools. These institutions, both medical and educational, have served to transmit and foster the complex of belief, value, and lifestyle that informs what it means to be an Adventist—and these institutions in turn have exerted a reciprocal influence on the church. In addition to all of this, Ellen White constantly encouraged the church to break out of its narrow circuit and establish institutions and outreach programs of many kinds.”—Ibid., p. 66.

4.John Cobb, among others, recognized “that any developed position is understood best when it is grasped in terms of its essential structure. This structure in turn can be understood only as the immediate embodiment of the controlling principles of a man’s thoughts.” After reviewing several seminal thinkers of the twentieth century, he wrote: “In each case we have seen that the philosophy employed profoundly affected the content as well as the form of the affirmation of faith. Furthermore, the implication of the whole program is that Christian faith depends for its intelligibility and acceptance upon the prior acceptance of a particular philosophy. In our day, when no one philosophy has general acceptance among philosophers, and when all ontology and metaphysics are widely suspect, the precariousness of this procedure is apparent.”—Living Options in Protestant Theology (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1962), pp. 12, 121.

5.In 1858, H. L. Hastings wrote a book entitled, The Great Controversy Between God and Man, Its Origin, Progress, and End. His theme was to trace the worldwide implications of Jeremiah’s announcement that the “Lord has a controversy with the nations” (Jer. 25:31.) Hastings revealed no concept of a cosmic controversy between Satan and Christ with supernatural implications involving the security of the universe. Nor did he depict how the controversy affects the conflict between various theories of salvation and how these theories directly affect their proponents. He reviewed the bleak history of humanity, noting that “reason, philosophy and history can give us no proper solution” to “earth’s long continued rage—its ceaseless din of war, commotion, and strife.” The cause of earth’s prolonged troubles is that humanity has “refused their allegiance to the king of heaven. They set at naught his high authority. Hence he had a controversy with them. Sin was the cause of it. . . . We are then to regard this controversy as a controversy between right and wrong, between good and evil . . . between a just and Almighty ruler and his frail and rebellious subjects.”—(Rochester, NY: H. L. Hastings, 1858), pp. 14-17.

Joseph Battistone was one of the first in print to recognize the centrality of the Great Controversy Theme in the writings of Ellen G. White. He emphasized how this central theme directly affected her religious teachings in theology, health, education, history, and science. His method was to demonstrate how the five volumes in the Conflict of the Ages series reveal how “the great controversy” engages men and women from Eden to the Second Advent. If Battistone had continued, he probably would have not only described the conflict but also analyzed the theological issues at stake and how this theme contributed to the distinctiveness of Seventh-day Adventist doctrines. This book is a prime source of homiletical gems for those who want the Great Controversy Theme to inform their preaching and teaching.—The Great Controversy Theme (Berrien Springs, Mich.: Andrews University Press, 1978).

6.See pp. 170, 171 for the typical way Ellen White entered into the process of developing core Adventist beliefs: Bible study + confirmation by vision = present truth.

7.Knight, Reading Ellen White, pp. 48, 49.

8.“The central theme of the Bible, the theme about which every other in the whole book clusters, is the redemption plan, the restoration in the human soul of the image of God. From the first intimation of hope in the sentence pronounced in Eden to that last glorious promise in the Revelation, ‘They shall see His face; and His name shall be in their foreheads,’ the burden of every book and every passage of the Bible is the unfolding of this wondrous theme—man’s uplifting, the power of God, ‘which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.’ He who grasps this thought has before him an infinite field of study. He has the key that will unlock to him the whole treasure-house of God’s word.”—Education, pp. 125, 126. See also p. 154.

“The Bible is its own expositor. Scripture is to be compared with Scripture. The student should learn to view the word as a whole, and to see the relation of its parts. He should gain a knowledge of its grand central theme, God’s original purpose for the world, of the rise of the great controversy, and of the work of redemption. He should understand the nature of the two principles that are contending for supremacy, and should learn to trace their workings. . . . He should see how this controversy enters into every phase of human experience; how in every act of life he himself reveals the one or the other of the two antagonistic motives; and how, whether he will or not, he is even now deciding upon which side of the controversy he will be found.”—Ibid., p. 190.

“From the opening of the great controversy it has been Satan’s purpose to misrepresent God’s character, and to excite rebellion against His law; and this work appears to be crowned with success. The multitudes give ear to Satan’s deceptions, and set themselves against God. But amid the working of evil, God’s purposes move steadily forward to their accomplishment; to all created intelligences He is making manifest His justice and benevolence. Through Satan’s temptations the whole human race have become transgressors of God’s law; but by the sacrifice of His Son a way is opened whereby they may return to God. Through the grace of Christ they may be enabled to render obedience to the Father’s law. Thus in every age, from the midst of apostasy and rebellion, God gathers out a people that are true to Him—a people ‘in whose heart is His law’ (Isa. 51:7).”—Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 338; see also pp. 69, 331, 596; Signs of the Times, Dec. 1, 1890; Steps to Christ, pp. 10, 11, 116; Prophets and Kings, p. 311; The Great Controversy, pp. x, 193; Selected Messages, book 1, p. 341; Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 738. See George Knight, Meeting Ellen White, (Hagerstown, Md.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1996), pp. 111-113.

9.Patriarchs and Prophets, pp. 39-42, 68, 78, 79; Signs of the Times, Dec. 22, 1914.

10. Patriarchs and Prophets, pp. 78, 68.

11. Education, p. 125. “The very essence of the gospel is restoration.”—The Desire of Ages, p. 824.

12. “There are many who will be lost because they depend on legal religion, or mere repentance for sin. But repentance for sin alone cannot work the salvation of any soul . . . for this would place all heaven in jeopardy, and make possible a second rebellion.”—Signs of the Times, Dec. 30, 1889.

13. The Desire of Ages, p. 125.

14. Steps to Christ, pp. 10, 11; Patriarchs and Prophets, pp. 38, 78; The Great Controversy, pp. 519, 536, 569; The Desire of Ages, p. 22; Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 204; Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 738.

15. The Ministry of Healing, pp. 418, 419. “God was represented as severe, exacting, revengeful, and arbitrary. He was pictured as one who could take pleasure in the sufferings of His creatures. The very attributes that belonged to the character of Satan, the evil one represented as belonging to the character of God. Jesus came to teach men of the Father, to correctly represent Him before the fallen children of earth. Angels could not fully portray the character of God, but Christ, who was a living impersonation of God, could not fail to accomplish the work. The only way in which He could set and keep men right was to make Himself visible and familiar to their eyes. . . . The Father was revealed in Christ as altogether a different being from that which Satan had represented Him to be. . . . The whole purpose of His own mission on earth [was] to set men right through the revelation of God. . . . When the object of His mission was attained—the revelation of God to the world—the Son of God announced that His work was accomplished, and that the character of the Father was made manifest to men.”—Signs of the Times, Jan. 20, 1890.

16. The Desire of Ages, p. 19.

17. The Desire of Ages, pp. 37, 38; Education, pp. 73, 74; Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 537; Mind, Character, and Personality, vol. 1, p. 249; Signs of the Times, Apr. 21, 1887; Dec. 22, 1887; Selected Messages, book 3, pp. 135, 136.

18. Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 314; The Desire of Ages, p. 762; The Faith I Live By, p. 114.

19. Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 70; Selected Messages, book 1, p. 341; Education, p. 154.

20. Steps to Christ, pp. 11, 12.

21. The Desire of Ages, pp. 22, 487, 759; Christ’s Object Lessons, pp. 74, 77, 101, 235; Review and Herald, June 4, 1901; The Great Controversy, p. 541.

22. Steps to Christ, p. 34; Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing, p. 142; My Life Today, p. 340; Early Writings, p. 221; Testimonies, vol. 1, p. 345; Counsels to Parents and Teachers, p. 116; The Desire of Ages, pp. 466, 759.

23. Steps to Christ, pp. 43-47; The Desire of Ages, p. 458; Testimonies, vol. 3, p. 255; vol. 4, pp. 583, 584.

24. The Great Controversy, pp. 45, 441, 443, 591; Testimonies to Ministers, pp. 200, 206, 219, 359-373.

25. Selected Messages, book 1, p. 378; Patriarchs and Prophets, pp. 42, 535, 579.

26. Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing, p. 76; Selected Messages, book 1, pp. 377, 378.

27. Selected Messages, book 1, p. 67; The Desire of Ages, pp. 297, 633, 634; Early Writings, p. 71; Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 214; Christ’s Object Lessons, pp. 69, 121.

28. The Desire of Ages, pp. 49, 131.

29. Christ’s Object Lessons, pp. 74, 84, 123, 260, 310, 356, 378, 388; Testimonies to Ministers, pp. 379, 430, 440, 441.

30. Education, pp. 15-19; Patriarchs and Prophets, pp. 44, 48-51.

31. Patriarchs and Prophets, pp. 207, 208.

32. The Desire of Ages, pp. 19, 24, 49, 117, 119; The Ministry of Healing, pp. 418, 419; Selected Messages, book 3, pp. 135, 136; Manuscript 1, 1892, cited in Review and Herald, June 17, 1976.

33. Selected Messages, book 1, pp. 19-22; The Great Controversy, pp. v-vii.

34. Mind, Character, and Personality, vol. 2, pp. 373-412.

35. The Great Controversy, pp. 531-562.

36. Mind, Character, and Personality, vol. 2, pp. 380-412; The Ministry of Healing, pp. 295-335.

37. The Desire of Ages, p. 668; Christ’s Object Lessons, pp. 100-102, 112, 116-121.

38. The Desire of Ages, pp. 672, 675, 678; Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 206; God’s Amazing Grace, p. 235; Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 384; The Ministry of Healing, p. 491.

39. Christ’s Object Lessons, pp. 97, 272, 316, 410-420; Signs of the Times, Feb. 25, 1897.

40. Patriarchs and Prophets, pp. 78, 79; Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 84; The Great Controversy, pp. 28, 35-37, 589, 614; Signs of the Times, Dec. 22, 1914.

41. Christ’s Object Lessons, pp. 96, 280, 315, 317.

42. See pp. 171, 172.

43. For a detailed account of the theological interchanges between Adventist authors during the period of 1850-1874, see Damsteegt, Foundations, pp. 165-270. Ellen White did not assume pride of ownership for Adventist doctrine. She and her husband often made it clear that Bible study was “in front” of her vision-based confirmations. In referring to her Adventist colleagues she wrote: “These zealous searchers after truth risked their capital of strength and their all in the work of defending the truth and spreading the light. Link after link of the precious chain of truth has been searched out, until it stands forth in beautiful harmony, uniting in a perfect chain. These men of beautiful minds have brought out arguments and made them so plain that a schoolboy may understand them.”—Testimonies, vol. 2, p. 651.

44. The Great Controversy, p. 423. For a Biblical study of Daniel 8-9 as these chapters related to the heavenly sanctuary, see Angel Manuel Rodriguez, “The Sanctuary and Its Cleansing,” Adventist Review, September, 1994 (North American Edition).

45. “The third angel was pointing them to the Most Holy Place, and those who had an experience in the past messages were pointing them the way to the heavenly sanctuary. Many saw the perfect chain of truth in the angels’ messages, and gladly received it. They embraced them in their order, and followed Jesus by faith into the heavenly sanctuary. These messages were represented to me as an anchor to hold the body. And as individuals receive and understand them, they are shielded against the many delusions of Satan.”—Spiritual Gifts, vol. 1, pp. 165, 166. For an analysis of the historical understanding of the message of the three angels, see Damsteegt, Foundations, pp. 268-270.

46. 2 Thess. 2:3.

47. The ellipse with its two foci instead of the circle’s one focus (center) is a geometric form that is used in many ways in the mechanical world. If one of the ellipse’s foci is overemphasized, ignoring or out of proportion to the other focus, the form is altered and mechanically the machine will no longer function. Truth is radically altered when one focus of the ellipse of truth is overemphasized at the expense of the other.

48. See Appendix P, The Ellipse of Salvation-Truth.

49. For example, when the ellipse of truth is understood, arguments over the relative importance of justification and sanctification in the salvation process are as irrelevant as the relative importance of hydrogen and oxygen in the making of water.

50. Matt. 5:18. “By His own obedience to the law, Christ testified to its immutable character and proved that through His grace it could be perfectly obeyed by every son and daughter of Adam. . . . The disciples of Christ must obtain righteousness of a different character from that of the Pharisees, if they would enter the kingdom of heaven. God offered them in His Son, the perfect righteousness of the law. If they would open their hearts fully to receive Christ, then the very life of God, His love, would dwell in them, transforming them into His own likeness; and thus through God’s free gift they would possess the righteousness which the law requires.”—Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing, pp. 49, 55.

51. The Ministry of Healing, p. 129.

52. The Desire of Ages, p. 671.

53. Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 128. “There is perfect harmony between the law of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ. ‘I and My Father are one,’ says the Great Teacher. The gospel of Christ is the good news of grace, or favor, by which man may be released from the condemnation of sin, and enabled to render obedience to the law of God. The gospel points to the moral code as a rule of life. That law, by its demands for undeviating obedience, is continually pointing the sinner to the gospel for pardon and peace. . . . God has given a complete rule of life in His law. Obeyed, he shall live by it, through the merits of Christ. Transgressed, it has power to condemn. The law sends men to Christ, and Christ points them back to the law.”—Review and Herald, Sept. 27, 1881.

54. Faith and Works, p. 16.

55. Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 112. “A nominal faith in Christ, which accepts Him merely as the Saviour of the world, can never bring healing to the soul. The faith that is unto salvation is not a mere intellectual assent to the truth. He who waits for entire knowledge before he will exercise faith cannot receive blessing from God. It is not enough to believe about Christ; we must believe in Him. The only faith that will benefit us is that which embraces Him as a personal Saviour; which appropriates His merits to ourselves. Many hold faith as an opinion. Saving faith is a transaction by which those who receive Christ join themselves in covenant relation with God. Genuine faith is life. A living faith means an increase of vigor, a confiding trust, by which the soul becomes a conquering power.”—The Desire of Ages, p. 347.

56. Faith and Works, pp. 26, 27. “Though Ellen White spoke of making strenuous efforts in the life of sanctification, the effort was always conceived of as being empowered by God’s grace. This grace was primarily ministered through the Word and the Spirit, working in intimate concert. This combined ministry would bring spiritual truth home to the individual heart in such a way that character transformation takes place.”—Woodrow W. Whidden, II, Ellen White on Salvation (Hagerstown, Md.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1995), pp. 128, 129.

57. Steps to Christ, p. 63.

58. Christ’s Object Lessons, pp. 419, 420. “The atonement of Christ is not a mere skillful way to have our sins pardoned; it is a divine remedy for the cure of transgression and the restoration of spiritual health. It is the Heaven-ordained means by which the righteousness of Christ may be not only upon us but in our hearts and characters.” —Letter 406, 1906 cited in Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary (SDABC), vol. 6, p. 1074.

59. Review and Herald, Nov. 3, 1885.

60. The Great Controversy, p. 488.

61. Ibid., p. 468.

62. The Desire of Ages, pp. 555, 556; see also Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 92.

63. Testimonies to Ministers, p. 442; “The righteousness by which we are justified is imputed; the righteousness by which we are sanctified is imparted. The first is our title to heaven, the second is our fitness for heaven.”—Messages to Young People, p. 35; see also Review and Herald, June 4, 1895.

64. Patriarchs and Prophets, pp. 153, 154.

65. Ibid., pp. 370-372.

66. Ibid., p. 517.

67. The Desire of Ages, p. 762.

Study Questions

[Top of Document]

1. In what sense is originality not a test of a prophet’s authority? Give examples to support your answers.

2. What are the differences between Hastings’ book entitled, The Great Controversy Between God and Man, and Ellen White’s understanding of the “Great Controversy Theme”?

3. How would you describe the essential concepts that highlight the concerns of both conservatives and liberals generally, and theological concerns specifically?

4. In what way does the Great Controversy Theme provide the organizing principle for Ellen White’s distinctive development of other areas of thought besides theology, such as education, health, church government, etc.?

5. What are the theological principles that unfold from the Great Controversy Theme?

6. What are the basic elements in the Great Controversy Theme and how do they interrelate? Ask first the three basic questions: What kind of God is running the universe? What is God’s purpose in redeeming sinners? How does this purpose ultimately affect the universe?

[Top of Document]
[Return to the Homepage]