Paul Coetser: co-editor and Devil’s Advocate
Weiers is a pastor in Northern Ireland and co-editor of the Adventist Soapbox website and blog.
The White Elephant in Seventh-day Adventism
The editors of The Adventist Soapbox have recently been handed a copy of Brian Neumann’s book, The White Elephant in Seventh-day Adventism to review1. In the book, Brian, who grew up in a Seventh-day Adventist home and has more than 18 years experience of ministry in the Church, sets out to explore all the evidence he could find about the life and the work of the Seventh-day Adventist prophetess, Ellen G. White.
I followed some of the run-up to the book’s publication. Brian had published an early version of one of the chapters on his Facebook page. The chapter did not give any of his conclusions away, but already he was drawing angry, defensive responses from Seventh-day Adventist church members, who I know had been friends of his in the past.
The title of the book may already be a giveaway about the conclusions that he came to. He states however that his conclusions are the result of an objective unbiased study in which he set out to find answers to some troubling questions that he had encountered previously but never dealt with. The results of three years of research turned his world upside down.
The White Elephant in Seventh-day Adventism is over 700 pages long. Initially I was also reluctant to read the book, thinking that it would just be a repeat of the common polemic against Ellen White’s ministry that circulates endlessly on many websites on the Internet. But the introduction grabbed my attention. Immediately I became aware of somebody who was on a quest; a life-journey where the stakes seemed high. I felt drawn by Brian’s willingness to embark on this journey, regardless of the challenges or transformations that it might bring.
Over the last twenty years of ministry, I’ve come to appreciate that what gives life meaning and makes it worth living, does not always lie in staying put within a way of life, or within a particular set of beliefs. The most exciting moments of my ministry have been when I met people who embarked on journeys where they could not always determine where their explorations would take them. I’ve met many people whose experiences brought them into the spiritual home of a new church or a new way of life, sometimes into the Church that I have devoted my life to. These stories are almost always compelling and liberating. I’ve learned however, not to shy away from stories where people have stepped beyond the confines of the Church that I love. An intuition says to me that it is often the same spirit present in humanity that sets us off on these quests however divergent they may be.
I think of the iconic story of Nicodemus (John 3) who came to Jesus in the middle of the night enquiring about Jesus’ project. The day-to-day realities of life in the religious community that Nicodemus lived in established a rigor and a structure that was almost impossible to escape. This did not stop Nicodemus from a nightly quest for something deeper.
Jesus’ answer to Nicodemus captures something profound. He gives Nicodemus a means of escaping the material realities of his day to day life. He talks about a rebirth into the life of the Spirit. This Spirit is like the wind that blows where it wills. You cannot see it. You cannot grasp or control it. But you know it is there, and you know that it doing something and that it is going somewhere.
I’ve decided to dedicate a series of blogs to The White Elephant in Seventh-day Adventism as I make my way through the book. I know that it is a bit of a risk. I am not sure how I will interact with the book as I go on. It is not my intention to interact with the book from the perspective of an apologist for the writings and standing of Ellen G. White. Neither will I willy-nilly support any or all criticisms against her prophetic claims and ministry.
In life you can often distinguish between those who are foot soldiers for a cause, and those who take time for originality and to produce new knowledge. I believe that sometimes new knowledge can be produced through honest dialogue.
In recent years, I have also been on a journey of discovery about Ellen White and her writings. My interaction with Brian’s work is an attempt to further process and integrate these developing perspectives. I will therefore share some of my internal critical dialogue as I engage with the text of Neumann’s book. Hopefully my contribution will result in a mutually enriching conversation with Brian Neumann, and with readers of his book.
Paul Coetser, the other editor of this blog is also reading The White Elephant and he will every now and again play Devil’s Advocate with reference to something Brian or I might be saying. Hopefully ours can be a pair of meaningful voices in the conversation about the role of Ellen White’s writings and ministry in the Seventh-day Adventist church.
Read Kamy Lynn Neumann’s story as told by herself and Brian Neumann in The White Elephant.
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