Acquired or Inspired. Book Review

11 May 2015
Acquired or Inspired. Book Review

At last, Don McMahon's work on Ellen White's health message is in print. He's presented this topic at camps, ministers' and other meetings in Australia and New Zealand, and in the United States over several years. Acquired or Inspired? Exploring the Origins of the Adventist Lifestyle presents a strong case for inspiration as the source of Ellen White's health message.

So strong that Leonard Brand from Loma Linda University claims this as the "first hard evidence I am aware of, on . . . the nature of inspiration." He adds that after studying McMahon's work he finds it difficult to explain Ellen White's health principles "without a definite input of information from a non-human source" (page iv).

Simply put, McMahon finds the accuracy of her health information so far above that of health gurus of her day that God must have given her special insight.

InspiredIn considering and comparing the latest health understandings, McMahon discovered she has a high score of accuracy in what he terms the "whats" of health-what I must do to be healthy-but with less accuracy in the "whys" of health-why I should do it.
It's the whats, says McMahon, that give the evidence of inspiration. Her "verified" accuracy from The Ministry of Healing, according to current medical knowledge, is at 87 per cent.

He then compares her to four health writers (and later, John Harvey Kellogg) she had access to and whose works were in her library. Their best score on the whats is at 42 per cent. If Ellen White had gained her health principles from these sources she would have been highly selective to get the results she did (statistically, it's like attempting to find one specific grain of wheat if Australia were covered with wheat up to 80 kilometres deep, page 135). "These figures make it very hard to refute the claim of inspiration" (page 72).

On the lower accuracy rate for the whys, McMahon argues this is because she had to explain the reasons using the conventional understanding of disease and physiology of her day. He believes this isn't unreasonable, but essential if she were to be taken seriously by her first readers.

Of course, those looking for 100 per cent accuracy from Ellen White will not find the figure of 87 per cent on the whats helpful even if it is far higher than other 19th century health writers. And the question of lower whys must be addressed, which McMahon does well. His discussion of her greater accuracy on whats immediately after her 1863 health vision compared to her later writings and being apparently influenced by other writers adds another interesting twist to the discussion.

So don't think this book is merely about the Adventist health message. As Brand suggests, Acquired or Inspired? breaks new ground in considering inspiration. It becomes an important and thought-provoking study of inspiration of how this human-divine connection works.

The addition of a CD-ROM in the back of the book is welcome. The 255 pages of research notes contained on it are an important addition. This is an interactive way of comparing the health writings of Ellen White and others of her era (and demonstrates the incredible amount of research McMahon has done).

The CD-ROM also allows you to discover some of the curious health beliefs rejected by Ellen White. Sylvester Graham's idea that we should not drink water or any other fluids is decidedly strange.

For McMahon, though, the greatest proof of inspiration was not found in his analysis but in a letter written by Ellen White after her health vision in June 1863: "The health content of this major health vision was primarily for Ellen White herself." He suspects that she would have died or been incapacitated at a much younger age if she hadn't changed her lifestyle.

"If she had not changed her habits, the Adventist Church would have missed out on Ellen White's directing them back to a faith- and love-based church. They would have missed out on the Christ-centred books such as Steps to Christ (1892), Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing (1896), The Desire of Ages (1898), Christ's Object Lessons (1900) and the opening chapters of The Ministry of Healing (1905), all of which were written after her 65th birthday" (pages 141-2).

Since beginning a renewed emphasis on the risky business (financially) of book publishing a couple of years ago, Signs Publishing Company has brought out some fascinating books. John Ashton and Ron Laura's Uncorked and its fact-based, withering attack on alcohol consumption and the alcohol industry is one. Graeme Bradford's study on the inspiration of Ellen White, Prophets Are Human, is another.

Acquired or Inspired? is an important book that keeps this (recent) tradition alive-and adds to it.

Acquired or Inspired is available at HopeShop