The Research Goal
Through the years we have investigated Seventh-day Adventist theology, the theme of this study, the latter rain, has been an ever-present attendant, for among Seventh-day Adventist publications this concept is often discovered as the reference point for some existential emphasis a writer wishes to make.
However, in spite of the fact that the latter rain has been frequently mentioned and referred to among Seventh-day Adventists through the years since 1850, there has been very little careful or developed study of the latter rain theme. This theme must be studied, it would appear, before further questions which press themselves upon the researcher, can be answered; questions such as – What is the function of the latter rain theme? Is that function working? Why does not this doctrine bring a unity between Seventh-day Adventists and the latter rain advocates? And perhaps, Is the Seventh-day Adventist latter rain doctrine a concept that, understood, could enrich current eschatological discussions?
Finding the answers to such questions constitutes the goal of this study. To find these answers we will investigate first what Seventh-day Adventism teaches about the latter rain. This aspect of our study will appear in two parts – the teaching of Mrs. Ellen White about the latter rain, and the teaching of other Seventh-day Adventists about the latter rain.
For the first part of this study, the teaching of Mrs. White about the latter rain, we have used the books and periodicals which have been published from her many written works. We have also used unpublished materials when our research has indicated that there was a necessity to examine more material than the printed selections from the writings of Mrs. White have offered. However, contrary to popular Adventist opinion, we have found the published works from the Ellen White manuscripts to be very representative of her opinions and counsel.
For the second part of our research on the teachings about the latter rain by Seventh-day Adventists other than Mrs. White we have generally limited our research to the official church paper, The Adventist Review. It is hoped that as we study the opinions of the various writers there expressed between 1850 and 1978 that the uniformity of the source and the multitude of writers there presented will give a correct perspective to our research – allowing us to present a correct picture of Adventist latter rain teaching.
The second phase of our research will be an analysis of some of the eschatological teaching present in theology today. For this study we will limit our analysis of contemporary discussions to Jurgen Moltmann’s Theology of Hope and a brief look at Carl Barth’s Eschatology. The purpose of this study will be to determine what the Seventh-day Adventist latter rain teaching can contribute, if anything, to the eschatological concepts of the above mentioned authors.
As this study has progressed I have found myself repeatedly indebted to those people who prepare sources so as to make them available, to those people who work at research centers; while there are too many who have helped me in my work to name them all, the following are illustrative: Mrs. Hedy Jemison, director, Ellen G. White Research Center, Berrien Springs, Michigan; Mr. William Shomburg, librarian, Newbold College Library; Dr. Konrad Muller, director Ellen G. white Research Center, Europe, Bracknell, England; Elder J. Paul Grove, Bible instructor, Walla Walla College, who taught me to do Biblical research; and Dr. W. G. C. Murdoch who has always been willing to be a friend all the times I needed one as I have pursued these theological studies.
My debt is to my wife’s folks, Jim and Elna Swanberg who have been ever ready to see to it that through the many years of study since I married their daughter, and their many varied developments, that we have never been in need of the necessities of life. They have been more than kind to us.
But the greatest appreciation is for the gentleness the Lord has extended to us as we have errantly sometimes made our way through the maze that the years have presented. In the gratitude one finds for such a friend, all other considerations become small. Gloriemur Solo in Deo.
The Contribution of Other Researchers to This Study
The contribution of other researchers to this study has been of a varying quality. Roy Graham’s yet unpublished PH.D. thesis (Ellen G. White: An Examination of Her Position and Role in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, presented to University of Birmingham, Birmingham, England, June 1977.) on the role of Ellen White in the Seventh-day Adventist Church has presented a perspective to her and her work that is quite different than that which I have found in my research. As such his work has made my study take a direction of asking many questions.
P. Gerard Damsteegt’s Ph.D. thesis, Foundations of the Seventh-day Adventist Message and Mission (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1977.) has also taken a slant that leaves one with much information about some of the formative events in the period of time during which the Seventh-day Adventist Church took form, but fails to answer the vital question, why did it happen this way? Why, for example didn’t the early groups of people who turned out to be Seventh-day Adventists turn out to be Seventh-day Baptists, as many of their associates did? And again, one can ask, What significance is there to the fact that Seventh-day Adventism grew on a two fold base of conviction: That prophetic fulfillment has been experienced in the events occurring during the 1830s and 1840s, and that Ellen White was a special messenger of the Lord who had supernatural knowledge given her in the form of experience known in the bible as visions, (See for example, J. N. Loughborough, The Great Second Advent Movement; its Rise and Progress (Nashville, Tenn.: Southern Publishing Association, 1905); A. G. Daniels, The Abiding Gift of Prophecy (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1936); F. M. Wilcox, The Testimony of Jesus (Takoma Park, Wash., D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1944).) and yet Damsteegt fails to include more than a one sentence reference to Ellen White when he summarizes the Seventh-day Adventist formative years 1850-1874? (See Damsteegt, pp. 268-270, 292-293.) Is there here an intentional playing down of Mrs. White’s influence, or has Dr Damsteegt perhaps been negatively influenced by the latest critical work on Mrs. White, Linden’s The Last Trump? (Studies in the Intercultural History of Christianity (Frankfurt, Berne, and Las Vegas: Lang, 1978).)
While the answers to these questions are not too clear to this researcher, such works do contribute to this study by making one aware that an author one has learned through much study to have great respect for can be seen by others in a less than complementary perspective.
Therefore as our study of Seventh-day Adventist latter rain writers progresses we will be watching to see how the other Seventh-day Adventist authors’ contributions to our study compare to Ellen White’s contribution, in order to try to find whether the Adventist ‘fathers’ are more correct – that Ellen White had divinely inspired special knowledge and insight – or whether as Roy Graham says, she merely works in harmony with her own understanding. (See, for example, Graham, p. 190; “She would confront both individuals, institutions, and organizations with what she conceived to be God’s will for them. . . .” See also p. 155 where the description of a vision is called “the language of pious reflection.”)
Identification of Ellen White and Her Position
Ellen Gould Harmon was born in 1827 and died in 1915. During her life she married James White, became mother to four boys, traveled extensively, wrote about 100,000 pages of handwritten copy, and early in her life became the most widely known person in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. She is still today without a peer as a spiritual writer in Seventh-day Adventism in many parts of the world.
The position she holds is due to the fact that many Seventh-day Adventists believe she was a special messenger for the Lord, to the Seventh-day Adventist Church and to the world at large. (This belief is in harmony with Mrs. White’s statements about her work. See for example, Testimonies for the Church, 9 vols. (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1948), 8:236. (Hereinafter referred to as T.)) This belief is the result of seeing her as one who had supernatural knowledge given her in the form of experience known in the Bible as visions, and in also believing that in writing out what she had learned in the vision experience God guided her. (See p. 5, fn. #1, for sources representing the expressions of such opinions.)
Mrs. White claimed to be a special messenger of God and taught that one’s teaching must be supported by activities of life that are in harmony with one’s words to others. The ultimate test of a Christian, she said, is that they be tested “by their fruits . . .” and that their works be in harmony with the injunctions of Scripture. (She used primarily the revised Version and the King James Versions of the Bible.)
She explained her reason for being by saying that if men had always studied the Bible as they should have, God would never had given her the work she had, that of writing materials which would, when read, point people to the Bible and their need of studying it as God’s Word to and for them. (White, 2T, p. 605.) To this researcher such an explanation is to say that to Mrs. White the materials she wrote were a supplier of a lost oral tradition that made an approach to the study of the Scriptures more appealing. However she also emphasized that for Bible study to be effective it must be done with more than the understanding an oral tradition could provide; it must be done with the Holy Spirit’s aid.
To people who have tried her formula and found it to work this means that Mrs. White is, as she claims to be, a lesser light pointing to the greater light. (Ellen G. White, Colporteur Ministry (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1953), p. 125. (Hereinafter referred to as C.M.)
The Context of Mrs. White
Before one could understand a concept that is as particular and functional as the latter rain concept possibly is, it would seem one must have a general understanding of the thinking of the writer being studied regarding the theological concepts that he or she uses. This would appear to be especially true if the concepts used to convey the author’s thoughts were concepts in use as carriers of meanings that changed as the concepts were appropriated by various authors using a variety of thought contexts.
Such a problem confronts us as we seek to study Mrs. White’s materials, for Mrs. White’s theological terminology is Biblical terminology, and therefore it is terminology that is more or less common to writers and readers of theological materials. However latter rain terminology in the writings of Mrs. White are in a particular eschatological context and scheme, which includes general theological terms and also multi-faceted theological concepts. In addition Mrs. White presents these concepts in a system of thought that has been, to a great degree, rejected today. In Mrs. White’s materials the Biblical terminology represent a reality. Heaven is a real place, Satan, Christ, the Father, and the Holy Spirit are real personalities. Sin and its destruction are also a reality. (For Examples see pp. 47-52; “The Theological Context of Ellen White.”)
Reasons for this Study
In many places such an understanding of the Biblical story has long ago been replaced by other understandings of the meaning of meaning and of the verity of existing sources and evidences. (See, for an illustration, David Noel Freedman’s statement on p. 47.)
However, while this researcher recognizes the general rejection of the school of thought that saw the biblical systems as portrayers of reality that exists among many academic theologians, the desire to investigate the eschatology of the fully developed system of thought that sees the Biblical figures as portrayers of real events seems to be appropriate, for the sake of understanding the thinking of one of the fastest growing small church groups in the world, a group which holds to such concepts, and which is part of the ecumenical movement today, by fact of existence, if not as members, and because renowned scholars like David Noel Freedman (See p. 8.) are joining advocates of the “reality” school, at least, to the extent of calling for a re-examination of the present conclusions.
To be a closed-mind who denies what may be only misunderstood from the past, is apparently, to Dr. Freedman as bad as to be a closed-mind who advocates only what may be very much from the present, but equally misunderstood, and therefore inaccurate or untrue. With such an appreciation of the present state of academic theology this researcher is in full harmony.
Therefore as this study progresses it will be working toward its crux formulated in one question: can a system of thought, like that employed by Ellen White and most Seventh-day Adventists, when a particular Biblical symbol is treated – such as rain – contribute anything vital to the academic eschatological discussions of today, and to an understanding of those divergent thinkers who are present in today’s evangelistic world, often portraying a future to come that is attracting many adherents in spite of being rejected by many academic theologians and large churches? (Seventh-day Adventists and Mormons are among the fastest growing churches today.) Can Seventh-day Adventist teaching regarding the Holy Spirit in relation to certain eschatological themes make a contribution to the world of religion at large today? This is our question.
As we seek an answer to this question we will begin by looking at what Seventh-day Adventists teach. How they teach it will only be noted when it appears relevant to our first question, what do they teach. Other aspects of our study, such as whether the Seventh-day Adventist doctrine and approach to certain theological questions will be able to contribute anything to today’s theological world will be treated in chapter III.
To determine what Seventh-day Adventists teach we will divide Adventist materials into two parts; the works of Ellen White and the writings of other Seventh-day Adventist authors. The works of Ellen White will be treated first.
When one begins a survey of the teachings contained in the writings of the writer as prolific as Mrs. White, (100,000 pages of books, articles, and manuscripts.) one struggles to not let the survey completely dwarf the study at hand, while also dealing representatively with the material.
This writer’s solution to this problem is to deal with the numerous contingent concepts, to be discussed for the sake of understanding Mrs. White’s comments on the latter rain, without making any attempt to keep the material presented relative to those concepts balanced in length or number of quotations, or number of sources cited. Rather, I have chosen to present only one or two references where it seems such were comprehensive enough to be fair and accurate portrayal of the position held on a given subject, while sometimes finding it necessary to treat the next concept dealt with in several paragraphs.
It is hoped that the necessity of this approach will be somewhat self-evident, for to treat all sections with a degree of equality would be to produce a work of unacceptable length, in the light of the dissertation limitations of the University of Birmingham, and in the interest of making the material readily accessible. Footnotes will sometimes refer the interested reader to additional sources.