An Historic Event III

The Ellen White Conference in Portland, Maine (October 22-25) was by invitation only. Recordings were deliberately avoided so the conversation could be free and authentic. The purpose of the conference was to help the primary authors prepare for a multi-author scholarly book telling the story of Ellen White’s life (a biography). The book would be introduced by Grant Wacker of Duke University and a retrospective article (after the other chapters are complete) would be written by George Knight (retired– Andrews University). The working editors of the volume are Gary Land (Andrews University), Ron Numbers (University of Wisconsin), Julius Nam (Loma Linda University) and Terrie Aamodt (Walla Walla University).

The goal of the editors is to have all the chapters in hand by early summer and arrange for publication as soon as possible after that. In my opinion, this will be a very challenging goal. Many of the papers presented at the conference were still at a fairly rudimentary stage and the critiques generally called for major rather than minor revisions. So it remains to be seen when we can expect the finished volume in our hands. My personal guess is 2011 at the earliest with 2012 more likely. A lot depends on the editors finding the time to coach the writers through to rapid and effective completion. The rest depends on the time-frame of the chosen publisher. The goal is to publish the book through an academic publisher of top rank. The presence of Ron Numbers among the editors is crucial for that goal, as he has achieved much success in the past with these types of publishers.

For now, outsiders to the conference will have to be content with blogs such as these and personal encounters with people who were there. I thought it would be helpful to provide a list of major presenters, their assigned topics (in italics), their chosen titles, and their respondents. (In a side note: I mentioned in the previous blog that Adventists at times characterized others at the conference as "unbelievers" in the inspiration of Ellen White. They also tried the language of "insiders" and "outsiders." Both terms of comparison were rejected by the "outsiders." They preferred simply "non-Adventists.") The following list is in the order of presentation at the conference and the presumed order in the book. The introductory and retrospective articles by Wacker and Knight have not been written yet.

1) Jonathan Butler, Biographical Sketch ("Ellen White as a Modern Victorian Woman"), respondents: Craig Newborn and Heather Curtis.

2) Gary Land, Historiography ("Between Faith and History: Ellen G. White Among the Historians"), respondents: Don McAdams and Amanda Porterfield.

3) Ronald Graybill, Religious Culture ("Visions and Revisions"), respondents: A. Gregory Schneider and Joseph Conforti.

4) Merlin Burt, Shaping Sabbatarian Community ("Ellen G. White and the Emergence of Sabbatarian Adventism"), respondents: Gilbert Valentine and Margaret Bendroth.

5) Graeme Sharrock, Development of Adventist Community ("Ellen White’s Testimonies: The Pursuit of Perfection and the Development of Community among Eearly Adventists"), respondents: Beverly Beem and David Rowe.

6) Ann Taves, Early Religious Experiences ("Experiencing Visions: Methodists and Adventists"), respondents: Ginger Harwood and Robert Fuller.

7) Ronald Numbers, Health ("Science and Medicine"), respondents: Daryll Ward and Jean Silver-Isenstadt.

8) Eric Anderson, Race Relations ("Race, Slavery and Rebellion: Ellen White’s Understanding of the House Divided"), respondents: Joan Francis and John Grayson.

9) Rennie Schoepflin, Mind and Metaphysics ("Ellen White and the Self: Mind, Body, and Soul"), respondents: T. Joseph Willey and Jon Roberts.

10) Benjamin McArthur, Popular Culture ("Ellen G. White and the Dilemma of Cultural Change"), respondents: Roy Branson and Charles Reagan Wilson.

11) Theodore Levterov, Adventist Understandings ("From Defense to Dogma: Adventist Interpretation of the Prophetic Gift, 1863-1882"), respondents: Alden Thompson and Ruth Alden Doan.

12) Douglas Morgan, Society ("Ellen White and Society"), respondents: Ronald Lawson and Shawn Peters.

13) Woodrow W. Whidden, II, Theologian ("The Triumph of God’s Love: The Optimistic, Theological Theodicy of Ellen G. White"), respondents: George Knight and Grant Wacker.

14) Jeff Crocombe, Eschatology ("The Eschatology of Ellen White"), respondents: Jon Paulien and Paul Boyer.

15) Jerry Moon, Institution Builder ("Ellen White as Denomination Builder"), respondents: Bert Haloviak and Randall Stephens.

16) Arthur Patrick, Author ("Ellen Gould Harmon White: Author"), respondents: Susan Gardner (For some reason I have no record of a second respondent).

17) Terrie Aamodt, Public Speaker ("Hearing Ellen White: A Woman Finds a Public Voice"), respondents: Marilynn Loveless and Joan Hedrik.

18) Laura Vance, Women’s Roles ("Ellen White and Gender Issues"), respondents: Lisa Diller and Bernadette McCauley.

19) Floyd Greenleaf, Education ("‘Proper Education,’ An Adventist Reform Initiative"), respondents: W. G. Nelson and William Trollinger.

20) Michael Campbell, From the Outside ("Ellen G. White from the Outside"), respondents: Ciro Sepulveda and J. Spencer Fluhman.

21) Paul McGraw, Legacy ("Epilogue: The Legacy"), respondents: Jud Lake and William Peterson.

Which papers did I like the most? It is probably not fair for me to respond to that question as I did not have the opportunity to read all of the papers ahead of time. So take the following with a grain of salt. Hands down my two favorite papers were those by Graeme Sharrock and Ann Taves. Sharrock’s analysis of Ellen White’s series of testimonies to members of a single church in Michigan over more than a decade was entertaining and hugely enlightening. He also did a great job of tying the local situation into the larger economic and political setting of the times. Ann Taves’ article (actually an excerpt from a published book) was a model of objective, fair, respectful analysis of Ellen White’s early visions and charismatic experiences.

Will all 21 papers become chapters in the final book? Perhaps, but one option the editors have is to go with the papers that are truly ready by the cutoff point next summer. Any 12-15 of these papers published together would be a huge advance in our understanding of the life and times of Ellen White. Authors of weaker papers would be advised to step up their efforts in response to the comments at the conference. Based on responses at the conference a number of papers are "on the bubble" moving forward.

The first two evenings of the conference were taken up with presentations by Joan Hedrik and Grant Wacker. These presentations will not be part of the biography, but were the highlights of the conference for me. Since no papers were handed out, I took copious notes. The final two blogs will offer a summary and reflections on each of these two presentations.


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