Adventist Media Response and Conversation

Thursday, April 24, 2008

A Recent Interview with Milton Hook

Here is an interesting exchange from the Christian Forums Adventist discussion forum. This is posted with the permission of the reviewer (Icedragon) and Milton Hook. First the review of Milton Hook's book "Flames over Battle Creek" followed by some questions and answers with Milton Hook. (I did correct some of the spelling to make it a little easier to read):

"Flames over Battle Creek" -the George Amadon Story by Milton Hook

"Flames Over Battle Creek" by Milton Hook was released in the Mid 70's by Review and Hearld ,is the story of George Amadon. Amadon was the Head of Review and Hearld Printing. Amadon was a first generation adventist who joined adventism during the 3 years in Rochester New York. He became a printing assistant at the newly formed Review and Herald press. George Amadon is an over looked figure in Adventist history but an important one. He was editor of the Youth Instructor, wrote numerous books and articles, but worked mainly behind the scenes. His wife was the founder and the Charter member of the Dorcas Society. He is unique because of insight to the live of other Adventist. James, Ellen, Uriah, DM Canright, Kellogg, Jones, Waggoner. Because he was 2nd tier leader and not the center of the action, he was able to see thing that other were not, because no one knew he was looking.

The book "Flames over Battle Creek" is a small book 130 pages, but very valuable for the insight and the details of things that happened to the SDA movement. Major figures there is too much info to get into details, but with George Amadon the detail seep in to every aspects of his life. We find out in FOBC for example that....

1. In 1908 O.R.L Croiser attended the SDA campmeeting and that there was a fight. Croiser apparently up set about being linked with the SDA'S

2. James and Ellen White, Left Battle Creek for about 3 years because of the abuse heaped upon them by the Church members. they accused them of being greedy, worldly, demon possessed and insane. So much for respecting the prophet

3. James White at one point kicked out over 370 member of the Battle creek SDA church and took the membership down to under 20 people, all in a fit of rage.

4. States that Kellogg was obsessed with the pantheistic view of the soul as early as 1875, although this may be the writers bias.

5. James was under investigation for illegal business practices, and was eventually cleared, but the charges stuck for the rest of his life.

6. George Amadon was one of the people who conducted the Kellogg exit interview. He and Kellogg was were neighbors and very friendly even after Kellogg's membership was dropped.

the more disturbing aspects of the book was the denomination blatant misrepresentation of the proceedings with Kellogg stating that the the transcript was written under false pretenses and Amadon was not aware that it was happening.

Another disturbing aspect of the book was the continual portrayal of D.M. Canright as an unstable man. Innocent actions were twisted out of there context. Canright in his mid 20's, had written a young girl, whom later would be come his wife, and was waiting in anticipation and for to she if she would return his affection, when the letter took longer then expected he began to despair, hardly a crime, but a normal reaction. He also question the harshness of James White and withered under his brutality. these normal reactions were deemed character flaws. that is disturbing.

The title of the book comes form the Numerous fires that were set during the 1890's and early 1900's. As late as 1910 fire were being set in battle creek. Some have attributed the fires to divine judgment, but this is unlikely, do to the fact that the fires continued long after the the SDA church had moved it's headquarters to Washington DC and it's College to Berrian Springs. This another aspect of SDA history that would do well to have scholarly research done one it. to answer the question Who set the fires?

Over all Milton Hook did a good job and he should be commended for his efforts. the flaws in the book are indicative of the denominations policy of "white washing" the difficult facts, but if rightly understood, can be over looked. Amadon's life gives important details and Hook while giving a Pro SDA bias does a really good job, especially for the size of the book, More work from Hook would be nice.
Milton Hook's response to the above review:

From the Author

Hi. I'm the author of Flames Over Battle Creek.
Readers may be interested to learn how the little book came into existence.
In the mid-1970s I was doing a church history unit at Andrews University. The late Dr Maxwell was my lecturer. He required each student to write an eight-page research paper. While fossicking in the University archives I happened on the diaries of George Amadon and found that no-one had written about them. My subsequent research paper ran to 40 pages but I submitted it nevertheless and Dr Maxwell patiently ploughed through it, giving me a straight A.

Later, when it came time for me to consider writing a major thesis for my MA degree my advisor, Dr George Akers, suggested I develop the Amadon paper as a book manuscript. I forget all the finer details regarding the further research but I do remember interviewing some old identities of Battle Creek and digging into files at the Battle Creek library.

In the meantime Dr Akers contacted editors at the Review and Herald office. They expressed interest in the project and soon published it. The royalties helped to pay my expenses during doctoral studies.

In hindsight I recognize the book is chiefly eulogous. It is a characteristic of popular-style SDA histories to be eulogous. Most academic theses, dissertations and articles published in the better semi-independent magazines possess a more objective tone.

I have always regretted the fact that I did not insist on the full documentation being included in the book.

Flames Over Battle Creek was my first attempt at serious historical research. Since then I have published 2 books, 32 monograms, and a number of book chapters and articles, all on SDA history in Oceania. I like to think that my work demonstrates an increasing level of objectivity. It is a personal opinion. I must leave the real assessment to other trained historians.
I am happily retired in Sydney, Australia, and still sleuthing through church archives with the view to write more history.
Milton Hook

Here is the interview, edited so that the answers follows the questions:

“Who set the fires?” a hot interview with DR Milton Hook:
An Online interview about “Flames Over Battle Creek”, Church history, New Projects, & New Challenges,

First of all let me say thank-you for you time and your willing ness to respond to the questions. I was not in any way expecting to here from you when I wrote the review of your book. Let me first tell you why I wrote a review of you book. I have been studying SDA history for the Last 2 years. I have read literally thousands of pages. I was given your book at church and said why not. It’s small enough it wont hurt, It probably won’t contain much use SDA history. Boy was I wrong. For such a tiny book it pack a historical punch. My goal in writing the review was to get people who are on this site interested in reading SDA history and I felt that this book was a very good place to start. Thank-you for stopping by. SO let me ask you Why did you choose to respond to the review?

Your questions are excellent. I'm always happy to respond to earnest questions rather than flippant ones. It was a friend who alerted me to your kind review.

I. About Milton Hook
For those not familiar with who you are tell us about yourself give us a brief overview of your Origin, educational schooling, and career overview
Weather you are a critic or a supporter of Adventism SDA church history is extremely fascinating. Tell us how you got into church history: What are your notable literary accomplishments regarding Church History and why do keep writing? As an Australian how is your view and approach of Adventist history different then say some one in America where Adventism originated, what unique perspective do you bring.?

A little about myself, as you requested: I'm a third generation SDA. Born 1939. Baptised at 17. Taught elementary school for 2 years then attended Avondale College to graduate with teaching certificate and a BA Theology. Mission work for 3 years in Papua New Guinea. Bible teaching in New Zealand. Ordained. Then to Ohio ministry and studied part-time at Evangelical Lutheran Seminary to transfer credits to Andrews University. At Andrews did MA and Ed.D in Religious Education, thus joining the 2 disciplines of theology and education. Back to Australia for further Bible lecturing and church pastoral work. Now retired but still doing a bit of preaching and teaching in Sabbath School.

Other literary work: "Avondale: Experiment on the Dora." (Written for the centenary of Avondale College). And a series of 32 monograms on aspects of SDA history in Oceania (for use in teaching SDA history in Australasian academies).

There is a view that Adventists cannot write objectively of their own church. My own view is that if the proper guidelines are followed in historical research then Adventists are the best qualified because they are most familiar with the church and its identities and know where to look for the information.

II. About “Flames over Battle Creek”
You have already given us a some background ground on how “FOBC” came into being is there anything else you would like to add about it’s origins. As you were studying what was the most interesting thing about Amadon that you think most people don’t realize? What was the most disappoint thing about Amadon that most people don’t realize? assess Amadons over all contribution to the church?
What do you see as his greatest professional success and what was his greatest professional blunder.
For you personally what was the most fascinating part of the research, what was the most disappointing? what did you not include that you wanted to include. What did you not include that you could not include because of denominational restraint. What do you wish you could do differently and what do you wish you could take out.

Regarding FOBC: Amadon, as a long-standing printer in the denomination and leader in the headquarters church at Battle Creek, was ideally situated to know what was going on behind the scenes. His diaries therefore reveal a lot of anecdotal data. He was not an academic. He was a workhorse. In retrospect I don't think I would have written the book any differently. I experienced no severe editing in order to "airbrush" it. Any improvements the editors made were beneficial to the literary style.

III Controversial History
Controversy sells and raises interest and we here at like controversy. Give us something about to think chew on. I want to bring up the subject of denominational “air brushing”. It is no secret that that denomination has at times engaged in “air brushing” and “halo enhancing” of church history to “protect” it’s members from the realities of human failings and “shielding” itself from criticism for the failures of the church. I have notice how this has changed over the years. In your book, I was presently surprised to find , you seemed to able to crack that mold a bit and allow information to escape, that prior to that people would not have known. I would like to ask you about some of the controversial things that were and where not air brushed or appear to be air bushed.

"Airbrushing":Yes, I think it has been done, and still is especially in the church magazines. These are a poor source for historical research. The better sources are letter collections and committee minutes. Even the latter are often deliberately vague. It is very difficult for a perfectionistic church to admit their own human foibles.

1. You wrote in your book that members thought Ellen White or James were insane or demon possessed , this was one of the most shocking statements in your book. That is not the standard view I grew up with. What is your source for that? Why would anyone think James or Ellen were Insane or demon possessed? What does that say about the credibility of her writing when people who knew here did not seem to respect her? How are we, over 100 years or more removed from the events ,supposed to give her any more authority then they did? How might a critic view such things?

Accusations of EGW insanity: The White Estate itself has the papers on these, together with their replies. You may read them and make up your own mind. Some of the accusations were made by medics of her day.

2. You mentioned ORL Crosier and 1908 camp meeting, Much has been made in recent years of his unhappiness with being linked with the SDA church from your research tell us why was he unhappy and what actually took place in 1908? What is the source of this. On a side note, ORL Crosier supposedly wrote a biography about himself as result of being associated with the SDA church, any idea where we can get a copy?

Crosier's unhappiness: I cannot add anything to this. I did not pursue research into the cause because it was peripheral to my book on Amadon.

3. I only bring this up because a Professor told me, when I informed him that I was reading your book, that Amadon had and Affair. You mentioned in your book that he had a happy 50 year Marriage and that he denied having an Affair when he was accused. Is this a case of deformational “air brushing” ? Could you set the record straight did he or did he not have an affair.

4 Much speculation as been made over who set the fire. In the Movie “Road to Wellville” the fires were attributed to a bad child of JH Kellogg., EGW attributes them to God, other say it was competitors with the publishing industry. Tell us ,Who you think set the fires and Why? Why would fires continue to be set long after the SDA have abandoned Battle creek? What would have been the purpose.

Who set the BC fires? Conspiracy theories abound. My own opinion is there were natural causes. Wooden buildings and internal heating systems are prone to disaster. Kellogg wisely insisted on a brick building for his San. In 1896,97, when EGW was advising on the building of Avondale College, she advised wooden buildings be constructed. There were cost reasons and everyone expected the Advent soon. In retrospect, this was probably short-sighted.

5. I recently read “I was Canright’s secretary”, Canright testimony and Norman Doughty’s book on Canright. The denomination approach to Canright has changed in the last 20 years, see “George Knights books on AT Jones and “Angry Saints” While not friendly, they can admit that he left not because of glory seeking, but he was not convinced of the truth of Adventism. What do you think is the motivating factor for denominations change? What is your take on Canright and has it changed over the years?

Canright: I think time and better historians have caused the church to mellow in their criticisms of him. My reading of his 1867 diary caused me to think he was psychologically troubled but I am really not qualified to make a clinical assessment.

6. You said the roles were purged from the Battle Creek Church, Why was this done and who did it?

Purging of BC membership rolls: I don't think I ever discovered who or how many were at the cause of it all. It was certainly someone or a group who were works-oriented in their view of life and very judgmental.

IV. New projects
1. Tell us about what you have been working on? Is the gossip true??? Are you writing on “Desmond Ford”??? If true, Why? What is your purpose in writing on DF what do you hope to accomplish? What are the benefits and challenges of writing on a person while alive? What input has Ford had on the book. What is the denominations input on the book? How will that effect the content or the approach. If you had time what project you would like to write on and why. Any Chance of republishing the book or putting it on line for easy access for a new generation.

My current book: It is a biography of Desmond Ford. When the event of Glacier View happened in 1980 I realized something monumentally significant had occurred so I began to gather documents with a view to publishing later after a period of historical reflection. A number of people eventually donated their own collections of papers. And Des himself, who had kept most of his correspondence including letters during his courting days, graciously filled a car-load which I brought home and analyzed. There has been no denominational input. Adventist Today have published it. It can be purchased through their website or Good News Unlimited. There are no plans to put it online yet but that may occur in the future.

V. Views on Development in Church History ?
Since you wrote FOBC the church’s approach to history had dramatically changed. What do you think of the changes. What could you do today that you could not do back in the 70’s? As far a the scholarship of the church what to you think needs to be improved and what to you think the future holds.? If you could set the record straight on one thing in Adventist History what would it be and why?

I think the church has learned from some of their reactionary responses of the past. Men like Dr Ron Numbers and Dr Graybill and Elder Walter Rea were poorly treated. Scholars who rose to their defense have had some impact but unfortunately there is still no official "Sorry" expressed. Perfectionists find it difficult to admit mistakes and say "Sorry."

What record would I like to set straight? The traditional account of the 1888 GC Session. Why do perfectionists call for a return to the theology expressed by Waggoner and Jones? Because W and J preached a message germane to perfectionism. It wasn't the apostolic doctrine of righteousness by faith alone. My reading of their Signs of the Times articles, 1884-1890, convinced me of that 2 decades ago. Where did Robert Brinsmead source his perfectionism theory in the late 1950s and 1960s? He admits it was W and Js writings.

There are many people talking about SDA history, both positive and negative. On the positive side is the denomination has release some excellent history biographies in recent years. What is your take on them? What do you wish could be written that has not been written.

What needs to be improved on the SDA history horizon? I have come to the realization that too much research is done on Ellen White. As a church we have over-rated her contribution when in fact so many other gifted individuals played important roles, e.g., Uriah Smith, James White, WW Prescott, AG Daniells, etc. Too many research papers have been done on every imaginable aspect of her life and they are still being churned out. I am of the opinion that it was a mistake to locate the various EGW Research Centres on college campuses. They would have been better located at Division headquarters. At present students spend too much time researching her writings when they should be researching Scripture. And EGW is given academic credibility by the very association with our academic institutions.

On the Negative side Ellen Whites Critics have amassed much history that the average Adventist might not know of or had accessed to, how has this helped the scholarly community and How has it hurt it. The church is now being confronted with information that is troubling, embarrassing and challenging, what do you think of this information and what do you think the churches response should be? What effect will it have on the on the role of Ellen White in the church.
Have you heard of the play “Red books” by Mei Ann Teo
It is about the conflict between scholars and the church and the struggle to be truthful facts and loyal to church.? What do you think about this play? What do you think about this approach to history?
Thank-you for you time.

The "Red Books." I am aware of the production but have not read it yet. I will do so.
EGW's advice was that her writings were meant to lead us to Scripture. That has been my experience. They led me to Scripture and that's where I'm happily at today. I am enjoying my study of Scripture. I have not read her writings for approx twenty years simply because my study of Scripture leaves me no time for much more.
Blessings in Christ
Milton Hook

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