Thoughts on the Republished Questions on Doctrine
Herbert E. Douglass, Th.D.
Late in 2003, Questions on Doctrines (QOD) was republished by the Andrews University Press with historical notes and a theological introduction by George R. Knight. Published in 1957, this book as Knight wrote, “easily qualifies as the most divisive book in Seventh-day Adventist history. A book published to help bring peace between Adventism and conservative Protestantism, its release brought prolonged alienation and separation to the Adventist factions that grew up around it.”
In fact, Knight further wrote that the “explosive issues” opened up by QOD placed the volume . . . at the very center of Adventist theological dialogue since the 1950s, setting the stage for ongoing theological tension.” 
How right Knight was! And, in the opinion of many, those “explosive issues” never had to be.
In Knight’s Introduction he provides the background of early conversations between Adventist spokesmen and Dr. Donald Grey Barnhouse, Walter Martin, and others of the Calvinistic wing of Evangelicalism. Some would say, the Fundamentalist wing. Their theological paradigms were on a different planet compared to Wesleyan and Adventist theology. For example, Barnhouse declared that Ellen White’s Steps to Christ was “false in all its parts.”
The mystery to many of us in
This letter led Martin, a young specialist in Christian
cults, to visit
Of course there were many topics that Martin and Barnhouse would concede as interesting and different but not necessarily cultic beliefs. The four items that remained on the table were 1) that the atonement of Christ was not completed upon the cross; 2) that salvation is the result of grace plus the works of the law; 3) that the Lord Jesus was a created being, not from all eternity; and 4) that He partook of man’s sinful fallen nature at the incarnation.
Part of the drama of the middle 1950s was happening backstage. Those watching from the sidelines determined that we would not reveal certain pertinent facts for various reasons, the chief of which was that we never dreamed that the book would be so heavily advertised, with so many gratis copies. We thought it better to let the whole matter die for lack of attention. Were we wrong!
The associate editors of the Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary had the privilege of watching QOD being processed, edited, rewritten, and rewritten again. Our Commentary office was on the same floor with Merwin Thurber, the seasoned Review and Herald Publishing Association Book Editor. Whenever he had a theological problem of whatever nature, he would come to our office for counsel. Week after week for months this would be the routine as Thurber tried to delete much of the QOD manuscript and edit appropriately the rest. Finally, Froom dug in and said, “No more editing. We’re going with what we have.” At that point, the manuscript was about one-half of what they originally wanted. We had hoped to save the denomination from even worse embarrassment and trouble, but it was not meant to be.
I remember the day as if it were yesterday when one of the associate editors of the Commentary left the room and returned with a towel over his left arm and a basin of water in the other. We all took turns washing our hands, formally absolving ourselves of any connection to the gestating manuscript.
We recognize with the authors that “no statement of
Seventh-day Adventist belief can be considered official unless it is adopted by
the General Conference in quadrennial session.” But perception often
overrules. You can imagine our
astonishment when we began to see the galleys of the forthcoming book with its
self-congratulatory comments, such as on the title page: “Prepared by a
Representative Group of Seventh-day Adventist Leaders, Bible Teachers, and
Editors.” On pages 8, 9: “The replies
were prepared by a group of recognized leaders, in close counsel with Bible teachers,
editors, and administrators. . . . These answers represent the position of our
denomination in the area of church doctrine and prophetic interpretation. . . .
Hence this volume can be viewed as truly representative of the faith and
beliefs of the
Still, many thought that the book would not amount to much because of its weakness in lucidly setting forth certain doctrines. They chose to remain respectful. They knew that the authors had to work with a vocabulary with which hard-core Calvinists could at least be comfortable. They believed that QOD would die a quick death because most of our teachers and ministers had been taught differently on at least two core subjects that were painfully stitched together.
But, and unfortunately for all concerned, Milton L. Andreasen, “the denomination’s most influential theologian and theological writer in the late 1930s and throughout the 1940s, had been left out of the process in both the formulation of the answers and the critiquing of them, even though he had been generally viewed as an authority on several of the disputed points.”
This omission was not apparent until QOD was published. We were dumbfounded that such an intended oversight could have happened. The writers of QOD, specialists in their respective fields, were not equipped to play in the same theological league as Andreasen. Further, Knight was totally correct in ruminating, “Looking back, one can only speculate on the different course of Adventist history if Andreasen had been consulted regarding the working of the Adventist position on the atonement, if Froom and his colleagues hadn’t been so divisive in their handling of issues related to the human nature of Christ, if both Froom and Andreasen would have had softer personalities.”
In 1957, I had reason to discuss certain biblical subjects with Arthur White, the director of the Ellen G. White Estate. QOD was fresh on his mind, only weeks off the printing press. He said, “Herb, I thought I would die trying to make my views known to Froom and Anderson.” We still felt that QOD would die a quick death and the less we all said about it the better.
What we did not expect was the crescendo of Ministry editorials
and articles that joined with a remarkably orchestrated PR program in workers
Within seven years the impossible happened! Few really were reading QOD but the story-line was out; the vice presidents, union presidents and conference presidents were assured that any misunderstandings were only semantic. Denominational workers generally were either lulled to sleep or went underground to catch their breath. However, some administrators did read QOD and quietly made their positions known, at least this was my experience in talking with several that later became vice presidents and presidents of the General Conference! For a time, they too kept their peace, not wanting to appear disloyal.
When it seemed to Andreasen that the QOD authors plus the General Conference President were not interested in recognizing his concerns, Andreasen wrote open letters to church members. What may not be generally known is that Andreasen agreed that most of QOD was solid Adventist thinking. He did not “repudiate” the greater part of QOD.
Andreasen was primarily concerned with the “troublesome” issues – the “atonement” and “the human nature of Christ.”
Let’s take another look at the problem that Froom and Anderson faced—it seemed monumental! For example, Froom took a poll of Adventist leaders and discovered that “nearly all of them” felt that Christ had our sinful nature. Further, the recently retired General Conference president, W. H. Branson, plainly wrote in his 1950 edition of his Drama of the Ages that Christ in His incarnation took “upon Himself sinful flesh.”
But indefatigable Froom and Anderson began their offense, not defense.
The “lunatic fringe” obviously included W. H. Branson, M. L. Andreasen and a host of other authors through the years who held responsible positions as teachers , pastors and administrators.
QOD’s Treatment of the Atonement
QOD’s Treatment of the Incarnation
Here again we must recognize the Calvinistic presuppositions of Barnhouse, Martin, and other confreres. The human Jesus for them was “impeccable,” that is, incapable of sinning. Bavinck, one of their theological giants, wrote that the possibility of Jesus’ “sinning and falling is an atrocious idea. . . . For then God Himself must have been able to sin—which it is blasphemy to think.”
Therefore, Adventist authors for a century and specifically Ellen White had been asserting that Jesus “took upon himself fallen, suffering human nature, degraded and defiled by sin,” appeared cultic, far separated from conventional Christian thought.
Froom admitted that some
Adventists had been in print emphasizing these “atrocious ideas” but such were
from those in the Adventist “lunatic fringe”!
Remember, Froom and
These words, “exempt,” and “vicariously,” Catholics had been using for centuries in describing Christ’s humanity—cleverly insisting that the genetic stream was blocked with the Immaculate Conception of mother Mary. Most Protestants never developed a novel solution, as did Roman Catholics—they just philosophized their notions with no biblical basis (such as Barnhouse and Martin would use).
How can we summarize what Knight called “a less than transparent” defense of conventional Adventist thinking on the humanity of Jesus?
Then White went on to show why Jesus became man after the race had deteriorated: “In His human nature He maintained the purity of His divine character. He lived the law of God, and honored it in a world of transgression, revealing to the heavenly universe, to Satan, and to all the fallen sons and daughters of Adam, that through His grace, humanity can keep the law of God. He came to impart His own divine nature, His own image, to the repentant, believing soul.”
· In the listing of six reasons for Christ coming to earth, it seems that the authors of QOD omitted two of the most essential reasons: He came to save His people from their sins (Matt. ). He came to be our Example (1 Peter ). It would have been more than helpful if they had listed the additional reasons Ellen White has provided us.
As Knight said, QOD “easily qualifies as the most divisive book in Seventh-day Adventist history.” To document this divisiveness is easy but painful. Most, if not all, of the so- called “dissident” or “independent” groups of the last 45 years are direct results of the explicit and implicit positions espoused by QOD on the Atonement and the Incarnation. On two continents the reaction was immediate. Most, if not all, of these “dissidents” would not exist today if QOD had not been published.
Hovering over the theological fog that QOD generated was the “official” imprimatur that the book was getting around the Adventist world. Although the authors tried to say that QOD was not an “official” statement of Seventh-day Adventist beliefs, the description of their efforts could not be hidden.
It was difficult to swallow QOD’s contention that “a few, however, held to some of their former views, and at times these ideas got into print. However, for decades now the church has been practically at one on the basic truths of the Christian faith.” That statement is correct for the most part but surely not in QOD’s treatment of the humanity of Christ and the lack of lucidity in developing the sanctuary doctrine—both of which are enormously important when one considers the purpose of the gospel.
In 1975, a representative group of us gathered in
Knight is as clear as blue sky on a cloudless day! He recognized that Andreasen had a point in declaring QOD to be “a betrayal in order to gain recognition from the evangelicals.” Knight observed, “Unfortunately, there does appear to be elements of a betrayal in the manipulation of the data and in the untruths that were passed on to Barnhouse and Martin on the topic. . . . The result would spell disaster in the Adventist ranks in the years to come. Official Adventism may have gained recognition as being Christian from the evangelical world, but in the process a breach had been opened which has not healed in the last 50 years and may never heal.”
However, the proposed solution in this recently republished QOD, pp. 522, 523, seems to be less than sufficient to bridge the gap between the “pre-laps and post-laps.” Melville’s position does not throw real light on our Lord’s humanity as do White’s explanations in The Desire of Ages and in all her other writings when properly understood.
Theological Concerns That Need Fresh Discussion
1) Mixing apples and oranges. For example, “It could hardly be construed . . . that Jesus was diseased or that He experienced the frailties to which our fallen human nature is heir. These weaknesses, frailties, infirmities, failings, are things which [sic] we, with our sinful, fallen natures, have to bear. To us they are natural, inherent, but when He bore them, He took them not as something innately His, but He bore them as our substitute. He bore them in His perfect, sinless nature. Again we remark, Christ bore all this vicariously, just as vicariously He bore the iniquities of us all.” “He was nevertheless God, and was exempt from the inherited passions and pollutions that corrupt the natural descendants of Adam.”
Adventists have never argued that Jesus ever sinned, or inherited evil, corrupted “passions and pollutions.” Arguing such creates a strawman! The Adventist position for a century was solidly based on biblical statements such as Hebrews 2:14-18; 4:14-16; 5:7-9; Romans 1:1-3; 8:3,4; 2 Peter 2:21; Revelation 3:21.
This biblical foundation lies at
the core of Ellen White’s understanding of Christ’s humanity. For example: “It would have been an almost
infinite humiliation for the Son of God to take man's nature, even when Adam
stood in his innocence in
“Satan in heaven had hated Christ for His position in the courts of God. He hated Him the more when he himself was dethroned. He hated Him who pledged Himself to redeem a race of sinners. Yet into the world where Satan claimed dominion God permitted His Son to come, a helpless babe, subject to the weakness of humanity. He permitted Him to meet life's peril in common with every human soul, to fight the battle as every child of humanity must fight it, at the risk of failure and eternal loss.”
Throughout White’s The Desire of Ages, many statements only add to the clarity of the above.
2) Hermeneutics. One of the main principles of interpretation is to allow the author to interpret himself/herself. Further, the author can best state his/her position in a book designed to clarify all aspects of the author’s thinking. When an author has written more than seventy years on a subject, one should not be surprised to find statements lifted from letters, diaries, and general manuscripts that may seem to be contradictory. But when the student has a grasp of the intent of a letter and has access to the entire diary or manuscript, those apparent discrepancies vanish like Jello on a hot July day. In other words, The Desire of Ages should be the acid test of Ellen White’s Christology by which all other statements should be judged.
3) Modus operandi. On subjects such as “The Ten Commandments,” “The Sabbath and the Moral Law,” “Scholarly Precedents for 1844,” The Meaning of Azazel,” “The Investigative Judgment,” “Condition of Man in Death,” and “Champions of Conditional Immortality,” the QOD authors used a host of non-Adventist writers to supplement and enhance their doctrinal positions.
The question comes quickly to mind that an equal supply of non-Adventist writers could be gathered, other than Calvinistic writers, to substantiate the historic Adventist position on what is meant by Christ’s “sinful, fallen human nature.” Why aren’t books authored by Harry Johnson, Karl Barth, T. F. Torrance, Nels Ferré, C. E. Cranfield, Harold Roberts, Lesslie Newbigin, Anders Nygren, C. K. Barrett, and Oscar Cullmann, referred to, for starters?
Such scholars clearly espoused the New Testament position that Jesus “truly Man,” became the kind of person that He came to redeem, not only in His death but throughout His life, that He inherited fallen, sinful nature that makes sin very probable but He did not yield to that tendency. His personal self, His untarnished will, never yielded to the inherited tendency to sin; He directed His energies and will power at every point toward overcoming all sinful tendencies and doing the will of His Father in heaven.
In other words, biblical writers and Ellen White viewed what is generally called “original sin” as the universal tendency in human nature to seek selfish interests. Jesus shared this commonality with humanity—but He remained the unsullied Example for us all (Revelation )—He remained sinless.
4) Distinguish between “propensities of sin” and “propensities to sin;” between “inherited passions” and “evil, corrupted passions;” between “lower” and “higher nature.” Space does not permit an examination of Ellen White’s distinction between these terms. We should let an author tell us what is meant by her usage. Jesus had all the natural passions of a child, or a teenager, or an adult—for self-preservation, for reasonable physical comforts, for an appreciation for the opposite sex, to be appreciated by His friends. But He never allowed these natural, God-given passions to become “evil, corrupted passions.” He never permitted His will to yield to any of these natural passions that would have contradicted the will of His heavenly Father (Luke ) Jesus took our inherited tendencies to evil but not our cultivated tendencies of evil—He did not choose to sin, to be corrupted.
Christ’s higher nature, as ours, included choice and will and thus character. His lower nature embraced normal human passions that seek selfish, indulgent ends. The difference between Jesus and us is that He always chose not to be defiled. He was uncorrupted.
Many are Ellen White’s insightful comments: Speaking of those discouraged and who say, “My prayers are so mingled with evil thoughts that the Lord will not hear them. . . . These suggestions are from Satan. In His humanity Christ met and resisted this temptation, and He knows how to succor those who are thus tempted.” Many such embracing statements abound.
5. Areas of concern that may still require open discussion are found in the extended notes on pages 516-529. The author of the notes framed in gray was precisely correct: “The logic that flowed from that belief was that if Christ was just like us, yet had lived a sinless life, then so must other human beings—especially those of the last generation. . . . [This teaching] became the belief of the majority of Seventh-day Adventists in the first half of the twentieth century. That teaching was so widely accepted that it no longer needed to be argued in Adventist literature. It was accepted as a fact. It was upon that teaching that M. L. Andreasen would build his final generation theology.”
· Here is the clear statement why QOD was so “explosive”! QOD was hitting the fan of many years of Adventist Christology that had been a Rock of appreciation and personal trust among clergy and laity.
· This “widely accepted” understanding of the nature of Christ’s humanity was not Andreasen’s novelty—Andreasen, a remarkable student of Ellen White’s thought, reasoned from her writings. Andreasen was only one of many thousands of pastors and teachers who had reached the very conclusions that were “accepted as a fact” up until QOD was published.
· The suggestion that Ellen White’s understanding of Christ’s humanity was derived from her reading of Henry Melvill is interesting but far off the mark. This connection does not occur to those who spend a few moments noting how White herself used the words “propensities,” “passions,” “infirmities,” etc.
· The suggestion that since the 1890s there had been “two quite distinct Adventist understandings on the human nature of Christ in Adventism” (pre-fall Adam versus post-fall Adam) needs substantiation. To suggest that all other writers except Ellen White were in both camps and Ellen White was in a third, the “invisible” camp, seems to be a strange observation. The immediate examples of that “position” follow exactly the pattern of the 1957 QOD’s mistreatment of Ellen White’s writings.
· The “last-generation” (the one that waits expectantly for Christ’s return, cooperating with Him to be entrusted with His sealing—Rev. 7) concept seems to be the distinctive feature of Ellen White’s eschatology.
The second topic that severely divided the
Implied in this “evangelical” understanding was 1) a rejection of Adventism’s distinctive view of a pre-Advent judgment and 2) the connection between the cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary and the cleansing of habits and choices culminating in the close of probation. In minimizing the “essential” aspects of the atonement that are embedded in the Heavenly Sanctuary doctrine, the spotlight attention focused on the Cross. When this double focus is lost, the biblical concept of righteousness by faith is greatly damaged. Everything is connected to everything else on the genuine gospel tree; when one aspect of gospel truth is compromised, many other doctrines become tainted! Limited gospels wherein Righteousness By Faith is focused only on the Cross are like birds trying to fly with one wing.
it became a half step toward splitting the twin doctrine of Christ’s being our “atoning sacrifice and an all-powerful Mediator”—the ellipse of truth that Satan “hates” (The Great Controversy, p. 488).
· This muting of joining our Lord’s Mediatorial work with His death upon the cross opened the door to a limited understanding of justification and sanctification—a division that has perplexed Adventist congregations for forty-five years.
A Deeper Lesson to Be Learned
What seems to be an unspoken, deeper problem with QOD is what was left unsaid. Martin and Barnhouse were recognized scholars though listening to a different drummer. But they could think theologically. What a perfect opportunity it would have been for Adventists to use equally trained minds to show why Adventists have a distinctive understanding of soteriology, Christology, and eschatology. Like Hezekiah, who failed to show the Babylonians his rich treasure of truth, we missed the greatest opportunity of the last century to give inquiring men the parameters of the big picture of the Great Controversy Theme.
 xiii. (Andrew U. edition). The format of the new edition is most pleasing and helpful. All annotations are inserted in gray.
 xxvi. I had the unusual pleasure of knowing Drs Froom and Anderson personally. Long after Dr. Froom
retired, while I was associate editor of the Adventist Review in the
1970s, he would sit in my office, time after time, to discuss theological
topics. All the while He had been
reading a number of my editorials that contradicted his positions in QOD. We were
friends and did not let theological differences poison our friendship. In 1974, I was one of the very last persons
to stroke his hand just before he died in Sligo
Gardens Nursing Home,
For many years after Dr. Anderson retired to his condo in Loma Linda, I would look forward to his telephone calls. His frequent questions went like this: “Herb, what is happening to our church?” This went on for years until his death in 1985. It seemed that they both regretted the unintended consequences of their labors in the 1950s.
 Ibid. In 1953, Branson changed slightly his “sinful flesh” statement to keep the peace, still knowing that Ellen White used this phrase many times.
 G. C. Berkouwer, The Person of Christ, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1954), 259.
 QOD, 383 (1957)
 Ibid., 61, 62, 59.
 xvi. (Andrew U. edition)
 xvi. I remember well those days in 1970 when I at last had the opportunity to examine QOD’s references. As associate editor of the Review and Herald, I had the luxury of research in the publishing house’s magnificent library. I began to read the context of each of QOD’s statements that seemed to be cherry-picked by someone who tried to emphasize a certain point of view. One by one I would bring those statements to Kenneth H. Wood, editor in chief, and we stared with amazement at someone’s remarkable disregard for the context. This collection of tampered quotations became ever since the armament factory for teachers and pastors and authors who relied on this collection for their understanding of Christ’s human nature, thus missing the big picture.
 60 (1957).
 The Shaking of Adventism (Wilmington, Delaware: Zenith Publishers, Inc., 1977), 156.
 8 (1957).
 Ibid., 30, 31.
 In the same year, a call was made to republish L. E. Froom’s, Movement of Destiny (1971). Again a representative group studied the question. Again, because of a number of assertions that became dubious and misleading, Movement of Destiny has not been republished. Space here does not permit a review of this book.
 Ibid., 59, 60.
 Ibid., 383.
 The Desire of Ages, 49.
 See Manuscript Vol. 16, 182, 183 for a clear distinction between “corrupted propensities” and “fallen but not corrupted.”
of the Times,
 518, 519. (Andrew’s Edition).
 Kenneth R. Samples, “From Controversy to Crisis: An Updated Assessment of Seventh-day Adventism,” Christian Research Journal, Summer, 1988, 9.
 Paxton, The Shaking of Adventism, 156.
 Isaiah 39.