SDA ROOTS REVISITED - 1985
"Seventh-day Adventism: Who Is Telling The Truth?"
[Adventist Currents, October, 1985. "The Travail of William Johnsson"]
Not since R.A. Anderson's mauling on the late Joe Pine's television program
has a Seventh-day Adventist leader's media experience aroused so much
discussion as Adventist Review editor William Johnsson's appearance on the
John Ankerberg Show.
When Currents called the Review office in November 1984 to confirm reports
that Johnsson was to tape in December several half-hour segments with another
guest, evangelical cult expert Walter Martin, and the host, John Ankerberg,
Review office staff members expressed total ignorance of the plan. However,
it is clear from a 26 February 1985 letter written by Johnsson that the
General Conference president knew: Neal Wilson "and I have worked closely in
this matter from the outset."
The Ankerberg Show titled the Martin/Johnsson segments " Who Is Telling The
Truth?" The same question might apply to accusations and denials that have
been expressed subsequent to the show's airing.
Embarrassed Adventists, such as White Estate board chairman and William
Johnsson's predecessor at the Review, Kenneth Wood, were not willing to walk
away and lick their wounds. Wood did some yelling and fist waving at a safe
distance. He wrote Ankerberg [on 12 August 1985] complaining that as the
show's host Ankerberg was "extremely discourteous" to Johnsson and that
Johnsson was "treated rudely" by both Ankerberg and Martin.
Earlier [27 June 1985] Wood had made more free-swinging and more public
remarks about Walter Martin and John Ankerberg at a presession seminar hosted
by the Ellen G. White Estate at the Superdome in New Orleans. Walter Martin's
"influence among evangelicals is waning," Wood pronounced, "and he hoped to
use the Ankerberg Show to reestablish his influence." Wood apparently knows
little about Martin's influence. A 5 August 1985 Newsweek story on the most
influential Christian books placed Martin's "The Kingdom of the Cults" fourth
on the list.
Martin's audiocassette ministry distributor, Gospel Light Publications, says
that his cassettes have reached a circulation of almost two million since
1972, and have been duplicated or listened to by as many as fifteen million
people. Martin's "The Bible Answer Man" is the most popular Christian talk
show. And his film series, "Walter Martin Speaks Out on the Cults," has been
rented during the past five years (80-85) to thousands of churches.
Martin told Currents that "the only people who could possibly refer to my
ministry as diminishing are those who simply do not read or listen to what is
going on in the evangelical world."
Wood's next statement to the quinquennial presession gathering was both
mistaken and loaded with misleading innuendo: "My successor [William
Johnsson] had nothing to say about how the tapes were edited. [Edited] tapes
can make people say the opposite of what they said."
Johnson himself, in a letter to an Adventist layman, said that the tapes
were edited to his satisfaction.
Except for one spot, where the discussion centered around the number of SDA
pastors who left or were forced from their ministry following Glacier View, no
conversation was lifted out of the taping at all; and in that one instance it
was edited with Johnsson's permission. Most of the question-and-answer
portion was dropped from the aired segments because of length; but that
material is retained, verbatim, in the transcripts that are available from the
Tapes indeed can be manipulated to "make people say the opposite of what
they said," but the Ankerberg Show tapes manifestly do not.
Wood complained to his mostly minister audience in New Orleans that Martin
and Ankerberg "took texts [he meant quotes from SDA publications] out of
context," and he mentioned two examples. "What the [3 June] 1971 Review and
Herald article ["The Source of Final Appeal"] said," Wood claimed, "was
Was it distorted by Martin's use of it? Or was it distorted when Wood, as
Review editor, published it in 1971? The article, written by Roderick S.
Owen, an Adventist educator who died in 1927, argues that the only "reliable
interpretation" of Scripture "must come to us through the same channel through
which came the Scripture in the first place....the testimony of Jesus, or 'the
spirit of prophecy' (Rev 19:10)."
When it comes to understanding Scripture, Owen rejected "the uncertain sea
of investigation." "Most denominations," he wrote, "have no satisfactory
court of final appeal, that while the Bible is infallible and is the basis of
all Christian faith, it needs to be infallibly interpreted to avoid confusion
But what denomination has an infallible interpreter, a "satisfactory court
of final appeal"? Owen supplies the answer by quoting Re 12:17 - those who
"keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus." Then he
closed his article with this unmistakable admonition:
"When we come to the place where we place no trust in men nor in the
wisdom of men, but unquestionably accept of and act upon what God says
through this gift, then will the spirit of prophecy, as set before us
in the Bible and as witnessed in the present manifestations of this
gift, be confirmed among us and become, in fact, the counselor, guide,
and final court of appeal among God's people."
Walter Martin quoted from Owen's 1971 Review article to illustrate the fact
that fairly recent official SDA publications espouse Ellen White as the
authoritative, "final court of appeal" for Adventist scriptural
interpretation. It would be interesting to know what Wood was trying to
accomplish by describing Martin's quoting from the article Wood has once
published as "totally distorted." Johnsson flatly denied that Ellen White was
the infallible interpreter of Scripture for Adventists; although he knows, of
course, that many use her in just that way.
The White Estate board chairman groused further about Martin's quoting from
James White's comments in the 1880 edition of his Life Sketches, pages 328,
329: "They quoted the last sentence out of context," Wood said. "He [James
White] isn't saying all her stuff is original."
Currents' readers may decide for themselves what James White's dumbfounding
statements really mean. The paragraphs he numbered three and four in his book
are reproduced entirely [after the completion of this article. The portions
Martin quoted are in uppercase].
Martin responded to Wood's accusation by agreeing that "technically, Mr.
Wood has a point about the last sentence in the paragraph numbered point three
on page 328 of Life Sketches. But the next paragraph (point four) is quite
disingenuous as it reads; I was only summarizing.
"The quotations speak for themselves and justify that since it is now
evident that Mrs. White is guilty of plagiarism, and has done those very
things mentioned by James White, that his judgment on his wife's inspiration
and authority should be final: 'If Mrs. W. has gathered the facts from a human
mind in a single case, she has in thousands of cases, and God has not shown
her these things which she has written in these personal testimonies.'"
Wood griped that "Ankerberg, instead of taking the position of a moderator,
took the attitude of a prosecuting attorney. He tried to pin Johnsson to the
wall. No attempt was made to understand the truth."
Martin: "John Ankerberg is not only the moderator of the program but plays
the role of a catalyst, pressuring his guests to communicate their views to
the viewing audience, much as Phil Donahue does. William Johnsson had ample
opportunity to respond, and was allegedly a responsible representative of the
Seventh-day Adventist denomination. His statements were not edited! He just
simply did not have any real answers...."
Even Johnsson, in the 20 June 1985 Review, described the program as "a sort
of religious Phil Donahue Show."
But all of Wood's remarks to the General Conference presession seminar
combined could not match one astonishing statement by White Estate secretary
Robert Olson a moment later: "Unfortunately, the devil will use methods we
can't; we have to be absolutely truthful and fair." Olson really did say
Martin's reaction: "I will not bother to dignify Robert Olson's comments
relative to the devil using methods that the Seventh-day Adventists cannot
use, as if John Ankerberg and I are somehow employed by the dark powers to
attack the remnant church."
Well aware that a common characteristic of cultic mentality is to ascribe
the work of other Christian groups or individuals to the devil, Martin made a
conditional prophecy: "If Seventh-day Adventism depends upon Ellen White's
reputation rather than upon the gospel of grace alone, its classification as a
cult will be well earned before the next twenty years has passed."
Ankerberg's executive vice president, Robert Gerow, offered Wood the
opportunity to be a guest on the show and set the record straight [see
Wood/Gerow correspondence after the completion of this article]. Johnsson was
the only individual of approximately a dozen Adventist institutional church
leaders invited to appear on the show who accepted the original offer. Among
those invited were Neal Wilson, Robert Olson, Victor Cooper, and Warren H.
Gerow told Currents that since Johnsson's appearance on the show had been
seen around the country, five or six Adventists had asked for the opportunity
to appear on the show to defend their perception of Adventism. "Omega" author
Lewis Walton is rumored to have been among them, but Gerow would only say that
they included none of the institutional church leaders originally invited by
A couple of weeks before the show's taping, Currents wrote Johnsson wishing
him well - nevertheless predicting that if he were to try to defend
traditional Adventism. Walter Martin would tear him limb from limb; and that
if he tried to defend an evolved Adventism, the loving and gentle right wing
Adventist membership would crucify him. Johnsson chose the second alternative
and the result was inevitable.
William Grotheer's monthly "Watchman, what of the night?" newsletter (XVIII-
9) spent its entire seven pages under the fight card headline "Martin vs
Johnsson." A subtitle head read "Johnsson unable to defend faith."
Like Kenneth Wood, Grotheer called the episode "a two against one court
trial with the Church having a very poor 'defense lawyer'." He described the
"confrontation between Martin and Johnsson" as "nothing short of a disaster
for Johnsson, and thus the leadership of the Church."
Citing Johnsson's theological training, his associate deanship of the
Andrews University Seminary, and now his position as editor of the Adventist
Review, Grotheer marveled that "he could not stand before the adversaries of
the Truth!" But Grotheer has an explanation based on Israel's failure at Ai -
sin in the camp. "There is an accursed thing in the midst of thee, O Israel:
Thou canst not stand before thine enemies (Joshua 7:13)."
For Grotheer, as for many Adventist traditionalists, that "accursed thing"
is the out-of-print but unrepudiated book Questions on Doctrine -
representing, as they believe, "a betrayal of truth committed in trust to...
God's final movement...." Joshua prayed for God's merciful forgiveness after
the failure at Ai, wrote Grotheer; but he fretted over the fact that he'd
"heard nothing of such a prayer on the part of [Neal] Wilson because of this
[Ankerberg Show] disaster."
Grotheer supplied his readers with an interesting statistic. He counted
eighteen different occasions when Johnsson, faced with either a question or a
quotation from a church publication, "ran for cover behind the 27 Statements
of Belief voted at Dallas, Texas, in 1980."
Johnsson was very fortunate that after he had turned tot he 27 fundamental
beliefs a dozen or so times (what he described as "our statements of faith,"
"what we expect people to affirm," and "the bottom line") that neither Martin
nor Ankerberg reminded him of the historical antipathy for creeds - "the Bible
and the Bible only...."
While Wood accused Ankerberg of obtaining "information from critics of the
church and assumed that these critics held the correct positions," Grotheer
listed the authors and sources from which Martin and Ankerberg had read to
Johnsson: Robert Olson, D.A. Delafield, Neal Wilson, Arthur White, a 1976
Sabbath School quarterly, and the SDA Bible Commentary.
It was quotes read on the air like this one from Arthur White's 'The Ellen
G. White Writings' (page 15) that led Martin to insist that for Adventists
Mrs. White has become "a pope above the Scripture":
"Seventh-day Adventists we are uniquely fortunate....We are not left
to find our way, drawing our conclusions from the writings of two
thousand years and more ago that have come down to us through varied
transcriptions and translations... With us it is an almost contemporary
matter, for we have had a prophet in our midst."
Another right-wing Adventist pamphleteer, Vance Ferrell, filled two
consecutive issues of his "Waymarks" (nos. 111, 112) with transcript splices
from and analysis of Johnsson's Ankerberg Show appearance.
To Ferrell "it was not [Johnsson's] fumbling, but his theological stance,
that was the most shocking." He could hardly believe Johnsson's contention
that SDA doctrinal beliefs "are based on our Statement of Beliefs...."
And Ferrell spotted the creedal problem: "Such a position makes us exactly
that which our forefathers feared: a creedal church; a church based on the
opinions and decisions of men, and not the clear statements of the Word of
Ferrell was put off by Johnsson's statement that "categorically, I can tell
you that the leadership of the Seventh-day Adventist church has not repudiated
Questions on Doctrine." He was also displeased by Johnsson's triumphant
announcement that in a new, committee-produced volume of studies in the book
of Daniel "you will not find one reference to Ellen White,...not one." On the
other hand, Ferrell gave his hearty "Amen" to the Review article recommending
that the Spirit of Prophecy "be confirmed among us and become, in fact,
a...final court of appeal...."
Through a hearing or typing mistake in the published transcript, Johnsson's
words "fundamental beliefs" were exchanged for "sentimental beliefs;" and on
that basis Ferrell unwittingly accused him of "a quaint demeaning" of Ellen
Even though he claims to "feel sorry for the poor man," Ferrell wishes that
Johnsson "would step down so that a genuine successor to the line of Woods,
Nichol, Wilcox, and the other men of God who earlier headed the Adventist
Review and Sabbath Herald, could take the job."
Perhaps Ferrell can shame the only living of those "men of God," Kenneth
Wood, into accepting Ankerberg's invitation to defend "the truth."
Johnsson himself, the apparent victim in the whole episode, had some late
complaints that seemed to a number of observers to be, if not beneath him, not
worth his time in pursuing. He was irritated by two letters that appeared in
the Ankerberg Show newsletter, News & Views. One dated 3 January 1985 was
addressed to Johnsson by Walter Rea. "Never," said Rea, "have I seen such
ducking and weaving and hemming and hawing in answers concerning Adventism."
He further expressed his hope that Johnsson had not "become another loyal liar
for the church."
Those comments may have disturbed Johnsson, but it was the fact that Rea's
letter contained quotes from the taping session and was dated well before the
program aired that really vexed him. He complained that he had been promised
by Ankerberg no pre-airing release of the tapes.
Robert Gerow replied for Ankerberg, insisting that the promise had been
kept; therefore someone in the audience must have taken notes and sent them to
Rea. Johnsson wrote back (27 September 1985) unconvinced and evaluated what
he felt was the imbalance in letters published in News & Views. "As one whose
ministry is in the editorial lines, I would be deeply concerned about matters
of credibility if I were associated with the John Ankerberg Show."
As it turns out, the Ankerberg Show had not prereleased tapes of the
Johnsson/Martin conversations to anyone. A member of the live taping audience
surreptitiously recorded the program on a vest pocket cassette recorder and
sent copies to Walter Rea and Currents a few days after the taping in late
The other letter printed in News & Views that aroused Johnsson's ire was one
addressed to him by one-time Review & Herald Publishing Association
photographer Skip Baker. Much of Baker's letter rather jeered at Johnson's
predicament - trying to defend the often indefensible. However, Baker felt
that Johnsson had been too hard on himself when he reviewed his own
performance in a 20 June 1985 Review editorial saying, "the experience gave me
a greater appreciation for the ministry of Adventists such as George Vandeman,
Dan Mathews, and Charles Brooks, who are able to appear so cool and composed
in front of the cameras."
"Why shouldn't George [Vandeman] look 'cool and composed in front of the
cameras,'" Baker asked. "He's in front of a 'controlled audience,' in his own
studio, protected from probing questions by...a staff who know what questions
NEVER to ask."
Baker further argued that "if the Adventist 'truth' could stand investi-
gation, when Ankerberg invited church leaders to come on his show...they'd
have clamored to get on, instead of turning him down to a man!"
But Johnsson's expressed concern to Ankerberg was that the Baker letter
addressed him as "Dear Bill," and Johnsson claimed that they were not friends
and that, in fact, their paths had never crossed. While the Review editor is
wrong about that, Baker says he does not resent the fact that Johnsson has
forgotten the contact they had during the month both were employed at 6840
Eastern Avenue, N.W. Washington, D.C.
The bottom line is that Johnsson did a perhaps reckless, but certainly
courageous, thing by appearing on the Ankerberg Show; and for his trouble he
has been left to twist slowly in the wind, while the wags on both the
Adventist left and right riddle him with shot.
Many observers doubt whether anyone else could have done better, believing
that the problem lay less with any ineptitude on Johnsson's part than with
tensions inherent in the "truth" he was supposed to defend.
Recently Currents somewhat facetiously told Neal Wilson that it looked
forward to seeing him mop up behind Bill Johnsson on the John Ankerberg Show.
Wilson's reply was not for the record. But Currents' readers need not look
for that kind of entertainment in this lifetime.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ End of Article ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
James White's 1880 "Life Sketches"
[Portions quoted by Walter Martin on the John Ankerberg Show are in uppercase]
3. DOES UNBELIEF SUGGEST THAT WHAT SHE WRITES IN HER PERSONAL TESTIMONIES
HAS BEEN LEARNED FROM OTHERS? WE INQUIRE, WHAT TIME HAS SHE HAD TO LEARN ALL
THESE FACTS? AND WHO FOR A MOMENT CAN REGARD HER AS A CHRISTIAN WOMAN, IF SHE
GIVES HER EAR TO GOSSIP, THEN WRITES IT OUT AS A VISION FROM GOD? And where is
the person of superior natural and acquired abilities who could listen to the
description of one, two, or three thousand cases, all differing, and then
write them out without getting them confused, laying the whole work liable to
a thousand contradictions? IF MRS. W. HAS GATHERED THE FACTS FROM A HUMAN MIND
IN A SINGLE CASE, SHE HAS IN THOUSANDS OF CASES, AND GOD HAS NOT SHOWN HER
THESE THINGS WHICH SHE HAS WRITTEN IN THESE PERSONAL TESTIMONIES.
4. In her published works there are many things set forth which cannot be
found in other books, and yet they are so clear and beautiful that the
unprejudiced mind grasps them at once as truth. A doctor of divinity once
heard Mrs. W. speak upon her favorite theme, God in Nature. She dwelt largely
upon the life and teachings of Christ. This Christian gentleman was
instructed and highly edified; and at the close of the discourse, in private
conversation, addressed her in these words: "Sister White, while you were
speaking, I have been asking myself the question, Why is it that none of us
have thought of these precious things which you have brought out this
If commentators and theological writers generally had seen these gems of
thought which strike the mind so forcibly, and had they been brought out in
print, all the ministers in the land could have read them. These men gather
thoughts from books, and as Mrs. W. has written and spoken a hundred things,
as truthful as they are beautiful and harmonious, which cannot be found in the
others, they are new to the most intelligent readers and hearers. And if they
are not to be found in print, and are not brought out in sermons from the
pulpit, where did Mrs. W. find them? From what source has she received the
new and rich thoughts which are to be found in her writings and oral
addresses? She could not have learned them from books, from the fact that they
do not contain such thoughts. And, certainly, she did not learn them from
those ministers who had not thought of them. The case is a clear one. It
evidently requires a hundred time the credulity to believe that Mrs. W. has
learned these things of others, and has palmed them off as visions from God,
that [sic] it does to believe that the Spirit of God has revealed them to her.
Ellen White's "favorite theme"
James White mentioned (see above) that his wife's "favorite theme" was "God
in Nature." He went on to say of her "new and rich thoughts" that "she could
not have learned them from books...." So "where did Mrs. W. find them?" he
asked. Currents regrets the fact that Brother White is not around to learn at
least part of the answer to his question found in an 85-page monograph
entitled "Henry Melvill and Ellen G. White: A Study in Literary and
Theological Relationships", available from the Ellen G. White Estate.
Slightly adapted from the monograph is its illustration of Ellen White's
source for her "favorite theme":
Henry Melvill, "The Continued Agency of the Father and the Son," Sermons
(1844), pp. 295, 296
Ellen G. White, "God in Nature," Ms. 4, 1882 (in General Conference
Bulletin, February 18, 1897, pp. 73, 74)
Melvill - We shall consider the test as affirming, in the first place the
White - Christ and the Father are
M - continual working of the Father; in the second place, the continual
W - continually working through the laws of nature.
M - working of the Son.... Now there is, perhaps, in all of us a tendency
M - to the so dwelling on the laws of matter, and the operations of nature
W - Those who dwell on the laws of matter and the laws of nature, in
M - as to forget, if
W - following their own limited, finite understanding, lose sight of, if they
M - not deny, the continued agency of God. If our creed were
W - do not deny, the continual and direct agency of God. Many express
M - ...gathered from our common forms of speech, it might be concluded
W - themselves in a manner which would convey the idea
M - that we regard nature as some agent quite distinct from deity,
W - that nature is distinct from the God of
M - nature having its own sphere, and its own powers, in and with
W - having in and of itself its own limits and its own powers wherewith
M - which to work. We are wont to draw a line between what we call
W - to work. There is with many a marked distinction between
M - natural, and what supernatural; assigning the latter to an infinite power,
W - natural and supernatural.
M - but ascribing the former to ordinary causes, unconnected with the...
W - The natural is ascribed to ordinary causes, unconnected with the
M - interference of God... We thus give energy to matter, and
W - interference of God. Vital power is attributed to matter, and nature
M - make a deity of nature?...to say that matter was... placed in
W - made a deity. Matter is supposed to be placed in
M - certain relations, and then left to obey the laws...
W - certain relations, and left to act from fixed laws, with which God
M - that matter was endued with certain properties
W - himself cannot interfere; that nature is endowed with certain properties
M - ...and perform the revolutions
W - and then left to itself to obey these laws, and perform the work
M - originally impressed and commanded. That is...unscientific as it is
W - originally commanded. This is false science; there is
M - unscriptural to contend. We do not indeed suppose that God
W - nothing in the Word of God to sustain it. God
M - exerts any such agency as to supersede the laws, or nullify the properties
W - does not nullify his laws,
M - of matter; but we believe that he is continually acting by and through
W - but he is continually working through
M - these laws and properties as his instruments
W - them, using them as his instruments
M - proofs of the presence and activity of a being who produces,
W - ...presence and active agency of a being who moves in all his
M - according to his own will....I count it not owing to inherent
W - works, according to his will. It is not by an original
M - powers, originally impressed, that year by year this globe walks its orbit
W - powers inherent in nature that year by year the earth produces its
M - repeating its mysterious march around the sun in
W - bounties, and the world keeps up its continual march around the sun
M - the firmament: I rather reckon that the hand of the Almighty
W - The hand of infinite power is
M - perpetually guides this planet, and that it is through his
W - perpetually at work guiding this planet. It is God's
M - energies, momentarily applied, that the ponderous mass effects
W - power momentarily exercised that keeps it in position
M - its rotations... It is through his immediate
W - in its rotations... It is by his power
M - agency that every leaf opens, and every flower blooms. I count it not the
W - that every leaf appears, and every flower blooms. It is not
M - consequence of a physical organization, the effect of a curious mechanism,
W - the result of mechanism,
M - which, once set in motion. continues to work, that pulse succeeds to
W - that, once set in motion, continues its work, that the pulse beats
M - pulse, and breath follows breath; I rather regard it as literally true,
W - and breath follows breath.
M - that in God "we live and move, and have our being," that each pulse is but
W - In God we live and move and have our being. Every breath
M - the throb, each breath the inspiration of the
W - every throb of the heart is the continual evidence of the power of an
M - ever-present, all actuating Divinity.... He it is.....who maketh the sun
W - ever-present God It is God that maketh the sun
M - to arise, and the rain
W - to rise in the heavens. He openeth the windows of heaven and giveth rain.
M - to descend. He it is, saith the Psalmist, "who maketh grass to grow
W - He maketh the grass to grow
M - upon the mountains." "He giveth snow like wool; he scattereth the
W - upon the mountains. "He giveth snow like wool, and scattereth the
M - hoar-frost like ashes." "When he uttereth his voice, there is a multitude
W - hoarfrost like aches." "When he uttereth his voice, there is a multitude
M - of waters in the heavens; he maketh lightenings with rain, and bringeth
W - of waters in the heavens; he maketh lightenings with rain, and bringeth
M - forth the wind out of his treasure." but that the Divine Being, though he
W - forth the wind out of his treasure." Although the Lord
M - have ceased from creating, is momentarily engaged in actuating
W - has ceased his work in creating, he is constantly employed in
M - and upholding the vast system which he originally
W - upholding and using as his servants the things which he has
M - constructed...the declaration of Christ, "Hitherto my Father worketh?"
W - made. Said Christ "My Father worketh..."
August 12, 1985
Dear Mr. Ankerberg:
A friend of mine recently sent me some cassette tapes featuring your
interview with Dr. William Johnsson. I began to listen to them expectantly
and with pleasure, feeling that perhaps you, as moderator of this show, would
adopt a somewhat neutral stance in the discussion between Walter Martin and
Dr. Johnsson. I must say, however, that I was exceedingly disappointed.
Instead of your assuming the usual role of a host on a show, you adopted an
adversary relationship with Dr. Johnsson, and you and Walter Martin cast
yourselves in the role of prosecuting attorneys against Dr. Johnsson.
To say the least, I felt that this was extremely discourteous, since Dr.
Johnsson was your guest. Although he was treated rudely by both you and
Walter Martin, I felt that he conducted himself in a very Christian manner.
Other aspects of the show troubled me also. I had assumed that you and
Walter Martin actually wanted to know what Seventh-day Adventists believe.
This, however, was not apparent from your treatment of Dr. Johnsson. It
seemed that both of you had already made up your minds about what Seventh-day
Adventists believe, and that you were determined to bend the facts to suit
your presuppositions. You had obtained information from critics of the church
and assumed that these critics held the correct positions.
Having been a minister in the Seventh-day Adventist church for 47 years and
editor of the Adventist Review for 17 years, I can assure you that the views
set forth by Dr. Johnsson were accurate. Any thought that Dr. Johnsson's
place in the church might be in jeopardy because of the views he holds is
I am well aware of the fact that some people in the communications media
feel that the only way to obtain a reading or viewing audience is to engage in
controversy. One way to start a controversy, of course, is to set critics and
dissidents against the establishment. This may be a successful way of
attracting an audience, but I feel it has not been helpful in seeking to
obtain a true understanding of the Seventh-day Adventist church and its
message. I feel particularly strongly about this, inasmuch as I was one of
the editors of the Adventist Review for 27 years.
Kenneth H. Wood, Chairman
White Estate Board of Trustees
August 14, 1985
Dear Mr. Wood:
Thank you for your letter of August 12. As one of the producers of the John
Ankerberg Show, I am replying on John's behalf and will inform him of our
correspondence as soon as possible.
I am sorry about your disappointment, but let me offer a few comments which
are intended to put the format and content of our recent series into
First of all, we must not lose sight of the fact that Walter Martin has been
a "defender" of Adventism since 1958. He has not called the Seventh-day
Adventists a cult and as a result has taken a good deal of "heat" in your
defense. Rather than cave in to the heat, he has elected to discuss it openly
with qualified representatives of Adventism. Dr. Johnsson chose to respond to
Dr. Martin in the context of the John Ankerberg Show. Rather than being a
disinterested and uninformed outsider, or a "prosecuting attorney," Dr. Martin
is a disappointed brother who is interested in truth content.
Secondly, I have enclosed for you a copy of the transcripts of that recent
series. After reading them, I'm sure you will realize that the quotes and
information used by Dr. Martin and Mr. Ankerberg were from Seventh-day
Adventist sources. The fact that such a program was considered at all
resulted from the contradictions which can be found between what Adventist
texts, organizations, spokespersons, and publications are saying. No effort
was made to manufacture controversy (as you have incorrectly hinted). Rather,
the program represents an effort to try to figure out what was going on in
Adventism in light of all the contradictory statements.
Thirdly, what Mr. Ankerberg said about Dr. Johnsson's job was not merely
"hype." Don't forget Desmond Ford. He was saying familiar things (as
Johnsson) two years ago while at the same time DEFENDING THE DENOMINATION.
Where is he now? He is being treated as an outsider, or, as some of the SDA
lay people have told us, "an apostate." Mr. Ankerberg's statements were
offered in sincerity.
Fourthly, you must not fall prey to the notion that just because someone
says something you disagree with that they are being rude to you. Mr.
Ankerberg and Dr. Martin were attempting to seek the reconciliation of current
Adventist doctrine with what the Greek and Hebrew Scriptures are teaching. To
press for content, to respect sound principles of interpretation, and to base
statements on legitimate evidence is not rudeness nor discourtesy. It does,
however, make demands on ALL of us. To call it a name does not lessen those
The primary points around which the discussion was set up in the first place
are: first, "Is Ellen G. White the infallible interpreter of Scripture in
Adventism?" Secondly, "Why are so many folks whose theology is essentially
sound (Evangelical) disappearing from the ranks of Adventism?"
The information which occasioned these questions came from Adventist
sources. We know better than to rely on the word of malcontents.
We respect Dr. Johnsson highly. After all, he was the ONLY one of nearly a
dozen folks in the General Conference who responded to our invitation. We
also know that he is taking a lot of heat from within his own denomination
now. The "official line" is evidently not the most popular one.
If you feel that the General Conference did not get a "fair hearing," or
that the points could be answered better, please accept this as my invitation
to you to participate as a guest on the John Ankerberg Show. I will be happy
to discuss with you the format, other guests, topics of discussion and other
We DO want to know what Seventh-day Adventists believe. Like you, however,
we want to be sure that all of our beliefs square with God's Truth and with
Thank you for your kind attention.
Robert H. Gerow
Executive Vice President
The John Ankerberg Show