Did the Blueprint Break?

From David Grams

A review of the book The Broken Blueprint.

This little book review is largely motivated as a response to a request given me some time ago by a thoughtful member of Weimar’s Board…and whom I suppose by now is quite sure that I’ve forgotten all about it!

I will confine my response primarily to the first two sections of the book; a review that can provide a template for those who seek to evaluate the remainder of the volume and other similarly constructed books.
So now, what do you say? Let’s plunge into the publication! The Broken Blueprint, by Vance Ferrell, is a small, attractive paperback of more than 400 pages that is packed with fascinating historical vignettes, insights calculated to arrest the interest of any serious student of Adventist educational history.
Let’s open up by examining a word from the title—Blueprint. A dictionary definition of “blueprint” suggests that it’s a “detailed plan”; and so our author lauds the concept of a divinely inspired and detailed plan for Adventist education.

Sounds pretty good to me too!

Ah!–but somehow an unwarranted assumption has seductively set up a cottage industry right within this blueprint concept. This seductive assumption has morphed into the widely held belief that only one-size-fits-all if a school is really engaged in reform Adventist education. In other words, if we can just get back to the “look” and the precise details of farming, teaching, and curriculum development that the early Madison School evidenced, then all will be well.

Is this what Ellen White actually proclaimed? For the answer, let’s ponder just one of many eloquent summaries of her thinking: “There must be no fixed rules; our work is a progressive work, and there must be room left for methods to be improved upon.” RH 7-23-95

Amazing! Sounds like there’s more creative mental work involved in operating an Adventist school than to just mimic Madison or any other “blueprint”! Now, does this mean that it’s the “libertine hour” when every educator or committee can do what’s “right in his or her own eyes”?

Never! Here are some blunt, between-the-eyes answers to that folly:

“There is constant danger that our educators will travel over the same ground as did the Jews, conforming to customs, practices, and traditions which God has not given.” 6T 150

“The plan of the schools we shall establish in these closing years of the work is to be of an entirely different order from those we have instituted…” Series B, No. 11

“Before we can carry the message of present truth in all its fullness to other countries, we must first break every yoke. We must come into the line of true education…” Series B, No. 11

“By some, education is placed next to religion, but true education is religion.” CT 108

High standards for sure! But all in the context of what Ellen White would describe as a “progressive work”–pretty hard to do if one only has to read and implement a “blueprint.”

Clear perimeters and eternal principles, Yes!

“Blueprint reading”, Never!

And thus in a balanced understanding, according to the prophetess, Madison and Avondale would eloquently function as “model schools”, but it would be superficial and a denial of God’s unfolding Providence to untenably conclude that Sutherland’s (or anybody else) interpretation of the Spirit of Prophecy counsels are somehow intrinsically superior and as a result should be slavishly copied.

Well friends, by now I suspect that some readers are getting restless, wondering: “Say there, aren?t you suppose to be reviewing a book and not just the title?”

Yes, I should be! Forthwith I will cite several quotations directly from the book, quotations representative of the volume’s major theme:

“It had been revealed to Ellen White that the blueprint could be fulfilled by independent ministries which, although fully faithful to our historic beliefs, were not controlled by the denomination.” P. 56

“Ellen White also made another promise. She told Sutherland and Magan that, if they would incorporate the new institution as an independent organization, she would serve on the board.” P. 61

“She helped a small, independent group start an institution, and then specifically—and repeatedly—she demanded [emphasis original] that they not permit it then or later to come under church control.” Ibid.

“It was bad enough to purchase large acreage for a school…But to do it independently, why this was treason, Or rebellion. Or some other ominous word.” P. 63

“It had been revealed to her that she would need to do it [serve on the Madison school board] on this occasion in order to demonstrate to church leaders and members everywhere that it was not wrong to start independent ministries…” pp. 64,65

Ellen White had been shown by God that, henceforth, it would be necessary for independent ministries to help carry on the educational, medical, missionary, and publishing work of our people.” P. 65

These are powerful claims by the author. According to Ferrell, if we really believe in God and by extension His prophetess, then “independent ministries” not under church control are crucial to the ultimate success of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Know something?

I agree!–with the words, but not with what our author is saying.

“What in the wide world do you mean by that?” you ask.

What I mean is simply this: The book, The Broken Blueprint, is one of the most misleading volumes to ever “hit the stands” in the publishing world of Adventism. Ferrell has masterfully and cleverly conveyed to the reader that “independent” is synonymous with independence. Independence, as evidenced in countless assertions in the book, is defined as freedom from all connection with the organized church.
His reason’s for this subtle slight-of-hand are not in the province of this review; suffice it to say, The Broken Blueprint utilizes the same technique Desmond Ford did when attacking our sanctuary message; a brilliant technique that takes Adventist terminology and covertly inserts misleading definitions into widely accepted words and phrases.

As a result, the unsuspecting reader is led to believe that independence from church authority is critical to finishing the work. Perhaps unwittingly, Ferrell dramatically exposes this destructive bias in the following statement, tying his suppositions not only to educational work, but the publishing ministry as well:

“It is clear from the above letter that Ellen White was guided to want her books henceforth to be published by independent ministries.” P. 80

The “above letter”, as Ferrell acknowledges, was written not by Ellen White, but by Percy Magan six years after her death. But what Ferrell doesn?t tell you is that the crises referred to in the letter was resolved in her lifetime!

Here’s Sister White’s blunt answer to Ferrell’s declaration:
“In the past I have given my consent to your suggestions [to independently publish Ellen White?s writings] regarding this matter, but recently I have received such positive instruction regarding the necessity of unity that I dare not give my consent to your proposition.” 2MR 312

Now, this letter, from Ellen White and written in 1908, is her response to a prominent leader’s suggestion that she publish independently! But Ferrell would have us believe the very opposite! And all in the name of sanctified reform!

But the bad news (for the book’s thesis) continues…

Remember the series of book quotations listed above, extolling the value of independence in “independent ministries”? Again, here are very blunt rebuttals from the prophetess herself:
“One who works in harmony with the counsel of God, and in unity with the brethren, will be more efficient to do good than ten will be who do not realize the necessity of depending upon God, and of acting in harmony with the general plan of the work.” RH 5-29-88

“Human impulse will try to make us believe that it is God who is guiding us, when we are following our own way. But if we watch carefully, and counsel with our brethren, we shall understand…” GCB 3-31-03
These quotations, and many other similar sentiments, can all be found in a document that was prepared by one of Ellen White’s most trusted secretary’s—C.C. Crisler. In fact, after reading what Crisler had done, she penciled in a hearty affirmation!

Below I’ll add a few of Crisler’s summary statements from this little booklet entitled The Value of Organization, published in 1908.

“I was surprised,? wrote Sister White in her report published in the Review, Aug. 18, 1904, “when, in speaking of the work they wished to do in the South, they spoke of establishing a school in some place a long way from Nashville [conference office]. From the light given me, I knew that this would not be the right thing to do, and I told them so….?

Instead of establishing an independent enterprise, they chose rather to maintain a close connection with their brethren in responsibility…” p. 30

Amazing! Astounding! And dramatically opposed to the prime premise of the book, The Broken Blueprint!
Armed with these insights, take another trip through the book and you’ll almost lose your breath at the frequency of the alarming and unsubstantiated assertions that saturate its pages. Assertions that are totally discredited by even a cursory study of the original episode at Madison, to say nothing of the book’s misshaping of Ellen White’s actual viewpoints on publishing.

“…If it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.” Matt. 24: 24

“Neither give heed to fables and endless history, which cause questions, rather than godly edifying…” I Timothy 1:4 KJV margin

David Grams: April 28, 2008
Email: gramsveggie@yahoo.com