No One Close: The Finest Adventist Author
My work in Adventist publishing has allowed me to walk with many of our church’s most gifted authors.
Twenty summers ago Adventist Review editor William G. Johnsson welcomed me to a summer internship at the Adventist world headquarters. Bill was most of all a father figure—more interested in me than my work. But the guy could also write—prolifically. Articles and books flew off his yellow notepad in a single draft—his prose crisp like Mark, rich like Hebrews.
One afternoon Bill suggested I walk over and meet the young associate editor of Liberty, Clifford Goldstein, a Jewish novelist turned Adventist apologist. “I think you’ll find Cliff quite interesting,” Bill said, smiling.
Edging around the corner of Goldstein’s office door, I was greeted with a worn pair of propped-up shoes and a hand raking through wavy black hair.
“Oh, you’re interning with Bill Johnsson?” Cliff said, impressed. Then he quickly switched subjects. “Here,” he said, “tell me what’s wrong with this.” Groaning the whole time, Cliff (who’d just authored Day of the Dragon) read me the awkward opening sentence of another book about last-day events. Nervously I identified its problems, passing the test.
Cliff worked at Liberty under Roland Hegstad, whose strength was his surgeon-like editing. “I took a continual beating under Roland for 10 years,” Cliff once told me, “but I didn’t mind because I knew he was making me better.”
Later that summer I visited Insight magazine, where Chris Blake sat looking haggard. “I’m done,” he said, sighing. After eight award-winning years and approximately 400 weekly deadlines, he’d hit the wall. A convert to Adventism, like Bill and Cliff, Chris moved on to Union College and wrote the best-selling Searching for a God to Love.
And that was just one summer. Through the years I’d be privileged to work with a notebook full of gifted Adventist authors who, by God’s grace, create beauty and change lives with 26 letters and 12 forms of punctuation.
But of all the Adventist authors I’ve known and read—and I know they’d agree with me here—one stands far above the rest: a girl with a third-grade education, with nineteenth-century limitations, yet with the incredible designation of being the most translated American author in history.
Ellen White is different. She had a special line to God. Why do I believe this? Because I can spend hours grappling with a biblical passage, then turn to Ellen White and wonder: How does she do that? Because I can travel Israel myself and find her descriptions more vivid than a guidebook’s (she never traveled there). Because I can read the authors from whom she borrowed material, and their final package is nowhere close to hers. Because she turns our eyes upon Jesus.
Ellen White’s work is not Scripture. She grew in her understanding of the grace and love of God. It’s OK to disagree with her, to point out her mistakes. It’s OK to limit her counsel; she herself said, “Circumstances alter cases.”1 Those who read only Ellen White tend to be troubled people. But those who study Scripture, who also read Ellen White, are the recipients of rich last-day blessings.
When you walk inside an Adventist Book Center, you find two types of Adventist books: books by Ellen White, and books by other Adventist writers. The other books have value; we’d like you to buy them. But our books don’t compare to Ellen White’s. She had a gift we don’t have: the Spirit of Prophecy.
Ellen White wrote, “From time to time I have been permitted to behold the working, in different ages, of the great controversy between Christ, the Prince of life, the Author of our salvation, and Satan, the prince of evil, the author of sin.”2 n
- Testimonies for the Church (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1948), vol. 6, p. 339.
- The Great Controversy (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1911), p. x.