Adventist Media Response and Conversation

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Great Controversy Project

There is a in some sectors of the Adventist Church a movement to freely distribute the Great Controversy. Their website states:
This is an exciting project and, while is still in its infancy, the results are nothing short of amazing; even more so because of your involvement! Already, well over one-hundred requests come in monthly for studies given through the Amazing Facts Ministries. Their study request cards are bound into the middle of the book making it easy for the reader to sign up for Bible or other studies. Almost 1 million homes have received The Great Controversy in the mail. Many have read it and accept the truth contained within. Many seek answers to the perplexing questions of our day and those events which are impacting our daily life. This book will awaken the masses to the approaching storm as it sheds much needed light on the impending conflict that lurks just over the horizon.

  We are living in the most solemn period of this world's history. The destiny earth's teeming multitudes is about to be decided. Our own future well-being and also the salvation of others depend upon the course which we now pursue. Time is running out! Congress passed the hate crime bill (HR1913) and President Obama signed it into law October of 2009. This bill contains language that could very well make it a federal offense to publish and distribute this book (even though it mostly historical and can be verified at the local library) as it will be classified as hate propaganda by some special interest groups or individuals. Please join us in getting this book and its urgent message out to the masses...”
As many Adventist know the Ellen White book The Great Controversy was written in multiple versions and was revised in 1911 to acknowledge the numerous portions copied from other works. Those more familiar with history will also know that the history outlined in the book is questionable on many points regarding it's accuracy. Ellen White used many religious writers rather like Alexander Hislop did selecting writers that agreed with his assumptions but as with Hislop many of the sources were not reliable. For the Great Controversy Project to continue to propagate certain areas of misinformation a hundred years later is not a terribly wise course. (see below for a few examples of some of the material and problems from the proceeding link)

As you read the above quote you will notice that like the book itself they are hoping to capitalize on sensationalism. For instance the hate crime bill would have nothing at all to do with the publishing or distribution of the book. Hate crimes are the additional penalties placed upon violent crimes to add additional penalties. As the OpenCongress summary states:

This bill, previously introduced in Congress in 2007, seeks to expand upon the 1969 US federal hate-crime law by extending hate crime protections to bodily crimes motivated by a victim’s actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability, in addition to the current protections for bodily crimes motivated by a victim's actual or perceived race, color, religion, and national origin. It would also codify and expand the funding and investigative capabilities of federal officials for aiding their local counterparts.

You can read the text of the bill and see that it does not deal with the publication of books. Perhaps if someone dumped a truck load of the books upon the body of some person then it would have some application but short of that the bill has nothing to do with limiting the publication or distribution of the book whether it was truly offensive or not.
The book apparently has an invitation to visit a website which starts off by saying this:
For your interest in learning why you received this book, "The Great Controversy"
You may be asking, "Who sent it", "Will I receive a bill?", "Who is the author?", "What can I learn from reading this book?"

This book was not written or sent to condemn anyone but to warn everyone about the deception used by powers to take away our liberties. It was no accident that you have received this free book and you will not receive a bill. It was sent by someone who cares for you. They want you to know about the coming storm and the challenges everyone is going to face. It is always best to love our neighbors above ourselves. Without the exercise of this love, the highest profession of faith is mere hypocrisy. The goal is only to enlighten people of a major storm that is brewing and the serious developments taking place. The wails of sorrow are heard from all around us. Take courage, for this book will help answer your life's questions.
When you continue to the next page where you would assume they would answer the question of who is the author you find information about how many pages the author wrote but not the name of the author. In fact you don't even find the name of the denomination that has sent out this book. Of course with the Internet it would be easy to find out the name of the author but the question is why the subterfuge and why not be up front with both the name of the author, the denomination and the fact that the denomination thinks this author is viewed as a Prophet by the denomination.

In fact Ellen White did want the widest exposure to the Great Controversy as the Great Controversy Project page says. But her views are certainly dated and the idea of a Roman Catholic resurgence of Medieval power is not very credible in a world now threatened by and even more immediate threat found in radical Islam. That does not mean that the final eschatological events will revolve around Muslim power any more then those in the 19th century in America were so fearful of Roman Catholics. What it does do however is point us to the fact that what we think at any one time may not actually be an end time event at all.

Adventism and Christianity have to move past the desire to tell others what is going to happen, we have had no history of accuracy in predictions and Christianity has never been agreement in the various denominations about what the eschatology beliefs are. Each group thinking they are correct and each without any way to verify their views or prove the alternative views incorrect. Just become someone claims to be sharing the truth does not make it the truth and we have to recognize that beliefs without evidence is not truth. The philosophy of Christianity is far more important then eschatology and the focus of Adventism must shift to the heart of Christianity and away from sectarian predictions.

A few examples of the type of material  that makes up a good deal of the Great Controversy book:

Chapter 21,  A Warning Rejected, All Except SDAs Become Babylon, 375-390
Chapter 20 ends with the Adventist disappointment that Christ did not return to earth in the spring of 1844. [Again, the first (1843) date taught by Miller for 25 years is totally ignored in The Great Controversy.] Chapter 21 covers the period between spring 1844 and the next disappointment when Christ failed to return in autumn 1844. Chapter 21 introduces the phrase from Revelation 14:8, “Babylon is fallen.”

GC373-374: God designed to prove His people. His hand covered a mistake in the reckoning of the prophetic periods. Adventists did not discover the error, nor was it discovered by the most learned of their opponents.

GC389: The second angel’s message of Revelation 14 was first preached in the summer of 1844 ... The churches then experienced a moral fall, in consequence of their refusal of the light of the advent message; but that fall was not complete.
GC398: It was not the proclamation of the second advent that caused fanaticism and division. These appeared in the summer of 1844, when Adventists were in a state of doubt and perplexity concerning their real position. The preaching of the first angel’s message and of the “midnight cry” tended directly to repress fanaticism and dissension.

GC401: Of all the great religious movements since the days of the apostles, none have been more free from human imperfection and the wiles of Satan than was that of the autumn of 1844.
GC420: By the offering of blood the sinner acknowledged the authority of the law, confessed his guilt in transgression, and expressed his desire for pardon through faith in a Redeemer to come; but he was not yet entirely released from the condemnation of the law.

GC420: Placing his hands upon the head of the scapegoat, he confessed over him all these sins, thus in figure transferring them from himself to the goat. The goat then bore them away, and they were regarded as forever separated from the people.
ERROR 104: The Bible does not say “thus in figure transferring them from himself to the goat.” EGW said that! Atoned sins never made it past the doorway! And the high priest certainly did not carry “sins” inside the sanctuary because he would have been defiled and unclean! He presented a visual demonstration to Israel that their sins were forever removed. “All these sins” refers, not to previously confessed and atoned sin, but to the general sinfulness of Israel. See Lev 16:16-20, 30.
For more see this article

While the book may have many good and accurate observations it has many many problems with history and interpretation and is really not the best introduction one could have into Adventism unless of course by Adventism one is restricted to 19th century Adventism.

Update: April 23, 2011

When dealing with the the Book the Great Controversy I really should include some of the things written by General Conference leaders at the 1919 Bible Conference. The originals are finally available on the SDA Archives site but the easier to read versions are available here. (Pay particular attention toward the end of the quote below how W.W. Prescott became orthodox in his interpretation of "Babylon" after the 1911 revision of the 1888 Great Controversy)

A. G. Daniells: I think Brother Benson's question on historical and theological matters has not been dealt with yet, and I do not know that I am able to give any light. Perhaps some of you may know to what extent Sister White has revised some of her statements and references or quotations from historical writings. Have you ever gone through and made a list of them?
W. W. Prescott: I gave nearly an hour to that the other day, taking the old edition of "Great Controversy" and reading it and then reading the revised edition. But that did not cover all the ground.

A. G. Daniells: We did not create that difficulty, did we? We General Conference men did not create it, for we did not make the revision. We did not take any part in it. We had nothing whatever to do with it. It was all done under her supervision. If there is a difficulty there, she created it, did she not?
F. M. Wilcox: She assumed the whole responsibility for it.
M. F. Kern: But we have to meet it.
A. G. Daniells: Well, now, which statement shall we take, the original or the revised?
B. L. House: My real difficulty is just here: Sister White did not write either the old edition or the revised, as I understand it.
A. G. Daniells: What do you mean by saying that she did not write either edition?
B. L. House: As I understand it, Elder J. N. Anderson prepared those historical quotations for the old edition, and Brother Robinson and Brother Crisler, Professor Prescott and others furnished the quotations for the new edition. Did she write the historical quotations in there?
A. G. Daniells: No.
B. L. House: Then there is a difference between the Testimonies and those books.
W. W. Prescott: Changes have been made in what was not historical extract at all.
A. G. Daniells: Shall we not confine ourselves just now to this question of Brother Benson's and lead our way up to the real difficulty, and then deal with it? Do you have a clear conception of the way the difficulty arose? -- that in making the first edition of "Great Controversy" those who helped her prepare the copy were allowed to bring forward historical quotations that seemed to fit the case. She may have asked, "Now, what good history do you have for that?" I do not know just how she brought it in, but she never would allow us to claim anything for her as a historian. She did not put herself up as a corrector of history, -- not only did not do that, but protested against it. Just how they dealt in bringing the history along, I could not say, but I suspect that she referred to this as she went along, and then allowed them to gather the very best historical statements they could and submit them to her, and she approved of them.
C. L. Benson: This is my query, and it underlies all of her writings: How did she determine upon the philosophy of history? If she endorsed our interpretation of history, without any details, do we dare to set that aside? I understand she never studied medical science; but she has laid down certain fundamental principles; and that she has done the same with education and organization.
A. G. Daniells: Sister White never has written anything on the philosophy of history.
C. L. Benson: No, but she has endorsed our 2300 day proposition, from 538 to 1798.
A. G. Daniells: You understand she did that by placing that in her writings?
C. L. Benson: Yes.
A. G. Daniells: Yes, I suppose she did.
C. A. Shull: I think the book "Education" contains something along the line of the philosophy of history.
W. E. Howell: Yes, she outlines general principles.
C. M. Sorenson: Nobody has ever questioned Sister White's philosophy of history, so far as I know, -- and I presume I have heard most of the questions raised about it, -- along the line of the hand of God in human affairs and the way the hand of God has been manifested. The only question anybody has raised has been about minor details. Take this question as to whether 533 has some significance taken in connection with 538. She never set 533, but if there is a significance attached to it in human affairs, it certainly would not shut us out from using it, and that would not affect the 1260 years. Some people say antichrist is yet to come, and is to last for three and one-half literal years. If you change those positions, you will change the philosophy.
W. W. Prescott: Do I understand Brother Benson's view is that such a statement as that in "Great Controversy," that the 1260 years began in 538 and ended in 1798, settles the matter infallibly?
C. L. Benson: No, only on the preaching of doctrines in general. If she endorses the prophetic part of our interpretation, irrespective of details, then she endorses it.
W. W. Prescott: Then that settles it as being a part of that philosophy.
C. L. Benson: Yes, in this way: I do not see how we can do anything else but set up our individual judgment if we say we will discount that, because we have something else that we think is better evidence. It is the same with education and the medical science.
W. W. Prescott: You are touching exactly the experience through which I went, personally, because you all know that I contributed something toward the revision of "Great Controversy." I furnished considerable material bearing upon that question.
A. G. Daniells: By request.
W. W. Prescott: Yes, I was asked to do it, and at first I said, "No, I will not do it. I know what it means." But I was urged into it. When I had gone over it with W. C. White, then I said, "Here is my difficulty. I have gone over this and suggested changes that ought to be made in order to correct statements. These changes have been accepted. My personal difficulty will be to retain faith on those things that I can not deal with on that basis." But I did not throw up the spirit of prophecy, and have not yet; but I have had to adjust my view of things. I will say to you, as a matter of fact, that the relation of those writings to this movement and to our work, is clearer and more consistent in my mind than it was then. But still you know what I am charged with. I have gone through the personal experience myself over that very thing that you speak of. If we correct it here and correct it there, how are we going to stand with it in the other places?
F. M. Wilcox: Those things do not involve the general philosophy of the book.
W. W. Prescott: No, but they did involve quite large details. For instance, before "Great Controversy" was revised, I was unorthodox on a certain point, but after it was revised, I was perfectly orthodox.
C. M. Sorenson: On what point?
W. W. Prescott: My interpretation was, (and I taught it for years in The Protestant Magazine) that Babylon stood for the great apostasy against God, which headed up in the papacy, but which included all minor forms, and that before we come to the end, they would all come under one. That was not the teaching of "Great Controversy." "Great Controversy" said that Babylon could not mean the romish church, and I had made it mean that largely and primarily. After the book was revised, although the whole argument remained the same, it said that it could not mean the Roman Church alone, just that one word added.
F. M. Wilcox: That helped you out.
W. W. Prescott: Yes, but I told W. C. White I did not think anybody had any right to do that. And I did not believe anybody had any right to use it against me before or afterward. I simply went right on with my teaching.
J. W. Anderson: Would you not claim other portions of the book as on the same basis?
W. W. Prescott: No, I would refuse to do that. I had to deal with A. R. Henry over that question. He was determined to crush those men that took a wrong course concerning him. I spent hours with that man trying to help him. We were intimate in our work, and I used to go to his house and spend hours with him. He brought up this question about the authority of the spirit of prophecy and wanted me to draw the line between what was authoritative and what was not. I said, "Brother Henry, I will not attempt to do it, and I advise you not to do it. There is an authority in that gift here, and we must recognize it."
I have tried to maintain personal confidence in this gift in the church, and I use it and use it. I have gotten great help from those books, but I will tell you frankly that I held to that position on the question of Babylon for years when I knew it was exactly contrary to "Great Controversy," but I went on, and in due time I became orthodox. I did not enjoy that experience at all, and I hope you will not have to go through it. It means something.


Frank Allen said...

I have read GC many times and through it I learned about the Reformation themes that form the bases of my historical faith.

Yet I have concerns about the core message of GC, for our culture, which appears to me some will perceive it as hateful speech or at least unfounded and harsh accusations.

The church Rome will re-establish “tyranny and persecution” (563), she is the “most dangerous foe to civil and religious liberty,” she is “a religion of externals” (567), confession to man is “degrading” (567), Rome is a “mammoth system of deception” created by the “prince of evil” to bring “dishonor of God and the wretchedness to man” (570). “A prayerful study of the Bible would show Protestants the real character of the Papacy…cause them to abhor and shun” them (572). The “records of the past clearly reveal” the Rome hates the all Sabbath keepers (578). If this was spoken about Muslims this would be regarded as Hate Speech and incite riot.

Ron Corson said...

You make some good points particularly about the denigrating rhetoric in the Great Controversy about the Roman Catholic church. However Christians do not riot over people burning the Bible. In fact even Muslims in America do not riot over burning Korans. There are other factors involved with those Islamic riots.

As for Hate Speech legally it is meaningless because even in the common definition of hate speech it includes whatever someone takes offense at. Fortunately our constitution does not include the right to not be offended.

"Hate speech is a communication that carries no meaning other than the expression of hatred for some group, especially in circumstances in which the communication is likely to provoke violence. It is an incitement to hatred primarily against a group of persons defined in terms of race, ethnicity, national origin, gender, religion, sexual orientation, and the like. Hate speech can be any form of expression regarded as offensive to racial, ethnic and religious groups and other discrete minorities or to women."

As for learning the history of the Reformation I don't know about in the late 1800's to early 1900's what the history books on the Reformation were but today there are far better sources to learn about the Reformation then the Great Controversy.

Frank said...


I disagree with your assessment about hate speech and the Great Controversy. Try circulating million of books that condemn Islam, like EGW does against Rome. Sure we have free speech in USA, but not from death threats from radical groups.

If I placed Islam in the place of Rome would you run this on your blog? Sure some would agree, but these unkind words are more black then white, and fail the test of Philippians four to dwell on what is good.

Nowhere in GE does EGW say one good thing about Rome, she is consistently pictured as apostate. This approach is unwise and unbalanced.

Islam is a group that ponsors “tyranny and persecution” (563). It is the “most dangerous foe to civil and religious liberty,” Islam is “a religion of externals” (567). It is “degrading” (567), and a “mammoth system of deception” created by the “prince of evil” to bring “dishonor of God and the wretchedness to man” (570).
“A prayerful study of the Bible would show” the “real character” of Islam which should cause every Christian to “abhor and shun” all Muslims. The “records of the past clearly reveal” that Islam hates the all Christians (578).

Christine said...

I do wonder why EGW never wrote anything about Islam in her prophecies. Why didn't God show her those things?

Manjit said...

Ellen White did talk about Islam - she stated very clearly in the Great Controversy that Islam fulfilled the 5 & 6th trumpet of Bible Prophecy - she also left it to us to study much for ourselves and we find that the 3rd woe and 7th Trumpet involves Islam.

This book was the means that led me to Christ - Ellen White says it herself - she was either from Satan or God - I suggest all choose wisely and carefuly which position they take as there is no sitting on the fence.

Desideriius said...

Frank mentioned that EGwhite never mentioned "one good thing" about the Roman Catholic church, and that it is unbalanced and unwise. Well, are you Roman-catholic, Frank? Of course there can be no good thing in an apostate institution that killed and shed much blood in the name of Christ. And if there is one good thing, it is equivalent to saying there is also a good thing in Lucifer. That, if he's transformed into an angel of light. I am not convinced that there is any good thing from a polluted system. And no, it isn't unwise and unbalanced. There can be balanced interpretation on a church with a bloody history (killing a lot of religious minorities), nor it isn't unwise to say negative statements on a church which tried to pollute the kingdom of Christ.

You substitute Islam from Roman Catholicism. But that is not right logic since GC is not talking about Islam but on the Roman-catholic church. Why talk about Islam? Indeed islam is also a "religion of externals," a "mammoth system," etc., but CG singles out the Roman Catholic church only.. And if you try to bring out Islam in substitute, it wont divert us from thinking about the RC church, how brutal she had been for so many years. Islam is not as equally evil as Roman Catholicism

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