I first heard about The Ellen G. White Encyclopedia (Review and Herald, 2014) project when I was an intern at the Ellen G. White Estate headquarters at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists in Silver Spring, Maryland. At the time, over five summers, I had the privilege of copying and preparing materials that were used to open several White Estate Research Centers/Branch Offices. I was told that I should get in touch with Dr. Denis Fortin and Dr. Jerry Moon, professors at Andrews University, where I planned to go to school after my graduation as a history/theology major at Southern Adventist University. I have had a passion for studying Adventist history since I was a teenager so I was excited to pursue a M.A. in Church History, and then later a Ph.D. in Adventist Studies at Andrews University. What really excited me was the possibility to study with Dr. George R. Knight along with Drs. Moon and Fortin and other specialists in Adventist Studies. I was fortunate to be able to receive a graduate research assistantship to assist with The Ellen G. White Encyclopedia (EGWE).
The EGWE is definitely an ambitious project. Originally it was the brainchild of Dr. George R. Knight who began with a list of possible headings or entries. He had passed the project along to Drs. Moon & Fortin, younger scholars, as he put it, who had more energy. Dr. Knight had his sights on retirement. As he shared with me, the then recent publication of two separate Encyclopedias related to C. S. Lewis studies was a catalyst for the project.
What was exciting about the project was that they would be intentional to represent the best of Adventist scholarship from around the world, including a variety of academic disciplines. Medical experts could weigh in on health reform, historians could provide historical context, and “archeologists”–some Adventists who mine genealogical records for Adventist artifacts and historical tidbits–could provide rare insights. Thus The Ellen White Encyclopedia represents a breadth of scholarship about Ellen G. White that rises above some of the partisan views and debates over Ellen G. White that you sometimes see within Adventism. In places where there are debate over the interpretation of her writings, articles highlight the nature of the debate so that the reader can make an informed decision.
One of the suggestions I made early on in the project was to create a list of every person to whom Ellen G. White wrote a letter. We added hundreds of names (about 1,000) to the list of entries, but later, by my estimation about half of them were eliminated. There was just enough significant information to qualify as an article. During my involvement with the project, a number of people, with personal letters and more information about various people came forward to provide greater historical context to some of her letters. I can only hope that the publication of this book will help to encourage more people to dig in their old family papers, diaries, and documents. In any event, the new EGWE represents the best and most extensive research that has been done to date on her world and the people she interacted with, and hopefully will be a catalyst for further study and new sources that come to light.
The other significant point that I want to emphasize is that the EGWE has gone through a vigorous referee process. Typically most academic articles are peer reviewed by several experts who weigh in on about the worthiness of a particular article. This book was not just examined by a few peer reviewers, but by many dozens of reviewers–it has percolated through the Ellen G. White Estate staff, General Conference leaders, and various academics all around the world. This very process in itself is what has caused this volume to take so long to produce as Drs. Fortin and Moon have ensured the integrity of the volume by entering corrections themselves. It should also be noted that such a volume, if started today, would not be reproducible since at least 16 contributors (by my count) are deceased. Some of these articles are by experts in their particular area. They just aren’t around to contribute any more so it was a good thing that they wrote when they did!
The bottom line: anyone who has an interest in Ellen G. White will want to purchase a copy of this book. I believe it will become the definitive reference work about her prophetic life and ministry.