Any Seventh-day Adventist who insists that Adventists should not read non-Adventist authors hasn’t seen Ellen White’s library. I discovered this last week when I visited the Ellen G. White Estate in Silver Spring, Maryland, while at the General Conference for a meeting. My gracious host and “Dad,” Lael Caesar, showed me around the building and we found ourselves in the basement at the Estate.
We had only a few minutes, but as I scanned the bookshelves that contained Ellen White’s library, I couldn’t help but notice the volumes of books written by non-Adventist authors. The photo collage above are a couple snapshots I took that serve as examples. The one on the left is The Doctrine of the Prophets by A.F. Kirkpatrick, published in 1892 by Macmillan and Company (from what I can gather, Kirkpatrick seems to have been a professor of Old Testament at Cambridge). The picture on the right shows The Life and Words of Christ, written by Presbyterian minister John Cunningham Geikie in 1877.
This is not a revelation to many people. Long ago, Arthur White explained that “these books constituted an aid to her in her descriptions of places, customs, and historical events” when she wrote her “Conflict of the Ages” series. Thus, not only did Ellen White read these authors and quote them in her books, but we, as the consumers of the “Conflict” series, are ingesting the thoughts of these non-Adventist authors through her.
This is no different than the way the biblical authors worked, who often quoted and relied upon extra-biblical sources. Examples are legion when it comes to this dynamic, though two will suffice.
Many scholars have noted that Psalm 104 bears a striking resemblance to the so-called “Hymn to the Aten,” authored by King Akhenaten, Pharaoh of Egypt, who reigned during the 14th century, BC. So similar are the two songs, in fact, that some have even gone so far as to propose that Akhenaten was actually the author of Psalm 104. (Of course, it bears mentioning that there is a distinct possibility that Psalm 104 was written before the “Hymn to the Aten,” since estimates for the dating of Moses’ life stretch anywhere from the 17th to the 13th centuries, BC.)
Secondly, another well-known example, which cannot be disputed, is Jude’s appeal to Enoch’s prophecy, which is nowhere contained in the Canon of Scripture. In Jude 14, we read, “Now Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about these men also, saying, ‘Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of His saints. . . ‘” Thus, Jude obviously appealed to an extra-biblical source when he quoted Enoch’s prophecy.
All this is not to say that we should declare “open season” on all non-Adventist material and consume it to the neglect of the Bible and Ellen White. This does seem to be a growing trend among Adventists, which should give us pause. That same Ellen White urges caution when it comes to reading “infidel authors” who mix error with truth (who, exactly, qualifies as an “infidel author” is unclear from her writings, though she seems to be talking about authors who approach the Bible scientifically and with great skepticism; who clearly believe that the Bible is not the Word of God). This is especially true when it comes to the youth and young people – those who are not yet solidly grounded in the truth.
I write this, however, to point out that we cannot – and must not – declare that an Adventist should never read a non-Adventist author. There is still much to be gained from authors with other perspectives when we consume their materials in moderation and with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. This cannot, and must not, be done as a replacement for the Bible and Ellen White, but in conjunction with them – pursued only after we are first grounded in the scriptural truths of the faith.