Image: Ellen G. White (1827-1915), early Adventist mystic and teacher who is the author of "The Great Controversy."
Friday, October 19, 2012
A brief examination of "The Great Controversy"
Image: Cover of "The Great Controversy" an Adventist book recently mass mailed throughout Central Virginia.
I had two people this week bring me a copy of a book that has apparently been mass mailed throughout our area (one received the book in the mail in Louisa, the other had a friend in Scottsville who had also received the book in the mail). The paperback book with thin newsprint paper is titled The Great Controversy: Past ∙ Present ∙ Future: How Will It End? It has a colorful cover with a sunrise over planet earth and various chess pieces.
What is the book about? Who sent it? Is it orthodox?
Just looking at the book itself, we can make some initial observations. Though it has a price ($11.95) on the back cover, it has no ISBN number. The book is self-published by someone. The publisher is listed as Remnant Publications, Inc. and Project Restore, Inc. Both names indicate an interest in eschatology. The name of the author is not readily available. A search of the front pages finally yields the small print note, “Original text by E. G. White.” Now, we might ask: Who is E. G. White? Is this a man or woman? How has the text been expanded? The book has no copyright date.
What about the content? Inside are 43 chapters that begin with a survey of history from the destruction of Jerusalem to the end of the world and pitches history as “the great controversy” between God and Satan. Early chapters focus on proto-Protestant (Waldenses, Huss) and Protestant heroes (Luther, Zwingli). One might initially think the book comes from a Reformed perspective.
Then with chapter 18 we come to a description of “An American Reformer.” Now the fuzziness becomes clear. This chapter offers a glowing portrait of William Miller. Who is Miller (1782-1849)? He was a former Baptist preacher who became enmeshed in end times speculations and numerology, wrongly predicting the return of Christ on October 22, 1843. When October 23, 1843 arrived, the date became known as “The Great Disappointment.” In other words, Miller was the Harold Camping of his day. Unlike Camping, however, Miller and his follower resourcefully reinterpreted his false prediction by saying that though Christ had not physically returned to earth, there had been a spiritual event in heaven in which Christ had cleansed the “sanctuary.” Chapter 23 is “What is the Sanctuary?” From Miller’s ministry came the modern Seventh Day Adventist church. One of Miller’s followers was Ellen G. White (1827-1915), the author of the book in question, who began to have visions and served as a prolific writer and teacher in the early Adventist movement. Miller apparently wrote the book piecemeal from 1870-1884, and it has since been published in various edited forms. Further perusal of the book reveals a chapter upholding the Adventist view of Saturday as a perpetual Sabbath (chapter 25 “God’s Law Immutable”) and predictions of future persecution of Adventists (chapter 39 “The Time of Trouble”).
Conclusion: The Great Controversy is an interpretation of history from a Seventh Day Adventist theological perspective (including a hagiographic presentation of Adventist founder William Miller and promotion of unorthodox Adventist beliefs like the 1843 cleansing of “the sanctuary” and the seventh day Sabbath), written by Ellen G. White, one of the early founders of the Adventist movement. It has apparently been mass mailed as an effort to convince recipients of the truth of Adventist doctrines.
Some practical warnings: Beware of free books on religion that show up in the mail, particularly if they are self-published and do not seem immediately forthcoming about the authorship and religious perspective of the book. Beware, in particular, of books which promise definitively to answer questions about eschatology (the doctrine of last things).