Theologian annotates classic book, affirms Adventist pioneer’s role in pointing us to Christ
Dr Denis Fortin is Professor of Historical Theology in the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University (Berrien Springs, Michigan, USA). He is author of and contributor to a number of Adventist books, including an annotated edition of Adventist pioneer Ellen White’s Steps to Christ. Signs Publishing Book Editor Nathan Brown asked about his work, the Reformation and White’s affirmation of salvation by faith alone in Christ alone.
What is historical theology and why does it matter to the church?
Historical theology studies the development of ideas in the Christian church and seeks to understand why people articulate their beliefs the way they do. It fascinates me because it shows how God guides people and gives a sense of confidence in His leading.
How can church members better appreciate the work of the church’s academics?
In all ages, theologians have seen as their main responsibility to explain what God means to say in ways people can understand. Sometimes the writings of academics can be obtuse and complicated, but it’s essential to have people explain the Christian faith in the context of movements and ideologies that seek to undermine it. We should read what theologians have to say to better understand our faith.
Describe the significance of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation this past year.
Reflecting on this long period of time and pondering what has been accomplished helped me better understand how God guides His people to know what the Bible teaches. It gives us hope God continues to do this today.
How did the 125th anniversary of Ellen White’s Steps to Christ fit with the Reformation anniversary?
These coinciding anniversaries were a good moment to say to ourselves and to the Christian world that Seventh-day Adventists believe also in salvation by faith alone in Christ alone. This little book is unapologetic in affirming this basic historical Protestant claim and I felt my annotated edition could be a way for us to mark this event. Although our view of salvation is closer to Wesleyan Methodism than to Lutheranism in its expression of biblical truths, this book has a clear affirmation of a Protestant understanding of salvation.
Your edition of the book features a historical and theological introduction, introductions to each chapter, annotations, scripture references and a new appendix cross-referencing other Ellen White writings. What new depths did you identify as you worked on it?
Ellen White worked on Steps to Christ with her assistant Marian Davis at the request of pastors and evangelists who wanted a small book on salvation they could share with the people who came to their gospel lectures. The book is a simple exposition of the experience of salvation and is primarily pastoral and evangelistic. Although not everyone experiences salvation in the same way, the book helps people have a better idea of what God does in their lives.
As a church, how can we progress in better understanding the work of Ellen White?
To a large extent, we owe who we are as Seventh-day Adventists to the ministry and influence of Ellen White and her writings. It’s important we continue appreciating her writings if we want her influence to continue guiding us. Yet we should also remember her writings come in different forms and for different purposes. But her writings were given primarily to provide spiritual guidance in our understanding of the Bible and of how to live our Christian life. This gift is still relevant today.
What’s the most important thing our past teaches about our present?
God has guided His people through the centuries and continues to do so today. So, even if things might not be clear, we can trust He will continue to be faithful in providing guidance.
Steps to Christ: 125th Anniversary Annotated Edition
Steps to Christ: 125th Anniversary Annotated Edition is available from Adventist Book Centres in Australia and New Zealand.PURCHASE