Denis Fortin talks historical theology, Ellen White and the Reformation

Dr Denis Fortin.

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Dr Denis Fortin is Professor of Historical Theology at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, Andrews University, in Berrien Springs, Michigan. He is author and contributor to a number of Adventist books, and spoke recently about his work.

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. Of course, there are many factors that contribute to how we frame our beliefs. To me this is a fascinating study because it shows how God guides people and it gives a sense of confidence in God’s leading.

How can church members better appreciate the work of the Church’s academics?

In all ages, professors and theologians have seen as their main responsibility to explain what God means to say in ways that people can understand. Sometimes the writings of academics can be obtuse and complicated, but I think it is 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 in order to better understand our faith.

How would you describe the significance of last year’s 500th anniversary of the Reformation?

This was an important event in Christian history. 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 that God continues to do this today.

How did the 125th anniversary of Steps to Christ fit with this bigger anniversary?

I found these coinciding anniversaries to be 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 of Ellen White is unapologetic in affirming this basic historical Protestant claim and I felt that this special 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 little book has a clear affirmation of a Protestant understanding of salvation.

125th Anniversary Annotated Edition of Ellen White’s Steps to Christ.

What new depths did you identify in this new edition of Steps to Christ?

Steps to Christ was produced at the requests of pastors and evangelists who desired to have a small book from Ellen White on salvation that they could share with the people who came to their gospel lectures. Ellen White liked the idea and worked on it with her assistant Marian Davis. The book is a simple exposition of the experience of salvation, and it 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. I think it is important for our people to continue to appreciate her writings if we want her influence to continue to guide us. Yet we should also be taught that 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 very relevant for us today.

What is the most important thing that our history 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 that He will continue to be faithful in providing guidance.

Steps to Christ: 125th Anniversary Annotated Edition is available from Adventist Book Centres in Australia and New Zealand or from <>.

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