Journal of Research on Christian EducationSummer 2001, Vol. 10, Special Editionpp.
Spirit of Prophecy Perspectives: Educations Grand Theme1
Herbert E. Douglass
This Statement on educational philosophy before us today2 couldnot have been written if Ellen G. White had not existed. The Adventisteducational philosophy is one more example of how Ellen G. White fulfilledher job description: to comfort His people and to correct those who errfrom Bible truth (Early writings, p. 78). We can survey the scores ofeducational philosophies from Plato to the latest theory off the press and wewill not find anywhere else, anything like this Statement now before us. Allother theories are, at best, only partial glimpses of truth in a vast sea ofcontradictions. Ellen G. White did something unique when she unfoldedher philosophy of educationshe began with a theological principle thatdetermined everything she wrote on education.
That theological principle has been called the great controversytheme. This theme is reflected in our Statements philosophical assump-tions.3 Many of these assumptions are shared by other Christian denomi-nations. But we go further. We see the sin problem as more than humanmistakes and shortcomings. We see sin as rebellion, a product of thinkingand doing in contradiction to the will of God; that sin is a cosmic problem,not simply a personal matter. Even further, we see the sin problem as anoutgrowth of wrong representations of God and that the solution to thiscosmic rebellion involves telling the truth about God and His attitudes_____________________1An abstract of How the Book, Education, Unfolds the Great Controversy Theme, apresentation at NAD Teachers Convention, Dallas, Texas, August, 2000. See http://circle.adventist.org/download/EdThemeGC.pdf.2International Conference on the Seventh-day Adventist Philosophy of Education, AndrewsUniversity, Berrien Springs, MI, April 8, 2001.3Loc. cit..
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toward men and women. And even further, we see God telling His side ofthe conflict primarily through the Bible and especially in the life of Jesus;through Him we learn of His plan to rescue us from our massive sin prob-lem. And still further, we learn that He does not force His solution onanybody. He simply invites us to listen to Him and trust Him as He showsus how He plans to reverse the damage that sin has caused, both in ourown lives and on this planet. That plan is unfolded in what we call Chris-tian education. It includes far more than other philosophies of Christianeducation because it is based on a far more complete understanding of thegospel.
Nowhere else on this planet, among all the theologians and phi-losophers that people love to quote, will we find this core Biblical plan ofsalvation unfolded, except in the writings of Ellen G. White, and probablynever more clearly than in her book Education (now adapted as Trueeducation). The Philosophy section of our Statement builds, remark-ably, on the distinctive understanding of this plan by highlighting the con-nection between the plan of redemption and the aim of education. Again,the Adventist understanding of redemption involves far more than otherChristian philosophies of education, primarily because of their limited un-derstanding of the gospel1.
Lets examine in a quick flyby how this great controversy principleframes three areas: (a) the way we should train and select our teachers,(b) the kind of methodology we should aim at, and (c) how this principleshould determine the intent of our total campus curriculum, involving allclasses, departments, and schools on all levels. Lets ask Ellen to answerfor herself as we listen to her speak primarily from her classic book Edu-cation:
___________________1The purpose of the gospel, as we will see shortly, involves restoration of all that has beendamaged through sin; it includes the grace that pardons as well as the grace that empowers(Education, pp 36, 291). The everlasting gospel changes sinners from rebels to happyovercomers, fit and safe to live forever.
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Q. Ellen, what is the great controversy theme?
A. The great controversy theme is the grand central thought, . . . thecentral theme of the Bible, the theme about which every other clusters. [Itis] the redemption plan [which is] the restoration in the human soul of theimage of God (Education, 1903, p. 125).
Q. Ellen, what is the built-in promise of the great controversy theme?
A. From the first intimation of hope in . . . Eden to that last gloriouspromise in the Revelation . . . the burden of every book and every passageof the Bible is the unfolding of this wondrous thememans uplifting,thepower of God which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.1 Cor. 15:57 (Education, pp. 125, 126)1.
[We can not overemphasize the simple, yet distinctive, importance of thispromise and focusGod has put the integrity of His universe on the linewhen He promises to provide all that is necessary to supply true believerswith whatever is necessary to overcome all habits and tendencies of sin.We call this power of God, grace. This should be the permeatingatmosphere in every classroom, from K-16 and beyond.]
Q. Ellen, when we talk about restoration being the purpose of thegreat controversy theme, are we also talking about the purpose of thegospel as well?
A. The very essence of the gospel is restoration (The desire of ages,1898, p. 824).
_________________________1The book Education was first published in 1903. Typical of the writings of herday, Ellen G. White used the masculine singular form when addressing humanityas a whole rather than the more inclusive language of today.
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of sin; it means taking away our sins, and filling the vacuum with the gracesof the Holy Spirit. It . . . means a heart emptied of self. . . . The glory, thefullness, the completeness of the gospel plan is fulfilled in the life (Christsobject lessons, 1900, pp. 419, 420).
Q. Ellen, whats the connection between this theological theme andthe Adventist philosophy of education?
A. They have the same purpose and goal: To restore in man the image ofhis Maker, to bring him back to the perfection in which he was created,. . .this was to be the work of redemption. This is the object of education,the great object of life (Education, 1903, pp. 15, 16).
[Here, we must recognize that our understanding of redemption (the pur-pose of the gospel) is far different from others with their limited gospels.Even understanding what Jesus is now doing for us as our High Priestplaces a distinctiveness on the larger picture of what is involved in re-demption. Almost every scholar who has left our church in the last 100years rejected this truth regarding what Jesus is doing now for His peopleon earth. Their problem with Christs role as High Priest as He finishesHis role in cleansing the heavenly sanctuary lies precisely with theirlimited grasp of the gospel that has focused primarily on Christs work asSacrifice. They separated what Jesus did on the Cross from what He isdoing as all-powerful Mediator and thus limited the grand scope of thegospel (The great controversy, 1888, p. 488).]
Q. Ellen, how does the great controversy theme help us in a practicalway in our work as educators?
A. The Lord showed me how to build my educational theory. The studentshould learn to view the [Scriptures] as a whole, and to see the relation ofits parts. He should gain a knowledge of its grand central theme, of Godsoriginal purpose for the world, of the rise of the great controversy, and ofthe work of redemption. He should understand the nature of the two prin-ciples that are contending for supremacy, and should learn to trace their
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workings. . . . He should see how this controversy enters into every phaseof human experience, how in every act of life he himself reveals the one orthe other of the two antagonistic motives; and how . . . he is even nowdeciding upon which side of the controversy he will be found (Education,1903, p. 190).
[Here again, Ellen is placing the philosophy of education within an urgenteschatological framework. This urgency should breathe through anAdventist philosophy of education. Adventists, for many reasons, believethat we are living in the final days of this controversy. We dont want tosee our students earn all As in their preparation for a job on earth and yetflunk Life 101!]
Q. But, Ellen, is all this theology important or crucial to an educa-tional philosophy?
A. Like a laser beam. In order to understand what is comprehended inthe work of education, we need to consider both  the nature of man and the purpose of God in creating him. We need to consider also  thechange in mans condition through . . . a knowledge of evil, and  Godsplan for fulfilling His glorious purpose in the education of the human race(Education, pp. 14, 15).
[Again, we see how Ellen had the larger view of redemption in mind: thegreat controversy theme is focused primarily on Gods vindicationthesame focus that should motivate our lives so that we keep our minds onGods honor and not on our personal salvation. Our eyes should be focusedon how God is completing the finishing of the great controversy as it fo-cuses on what Jesus is doing now as our High Priestthus, lifting our eyesoff our self-absorbed burdens. The larger view of the gospel keeps Jesusin front as our Saviour and Example and not in our rearview mirror as ascowling traffic cop. It releases us from being self-centered about ourown salvation and focused on ho