Messenger of the Lord


The Great Controversy Theme

All significant theologies have an organizing principle. 4 Many scholars have identified Ellen White’s unifying principle as the Great Controversy Theme. This provided a coherent framework for her theological thought as well as for her principles in education, health, missiology, social issues, and environmental topics. 5 Not that she single-handedly devised these interacting thought patterns, but she was the conceptual nurturer, urging study, noting errors, always exhorting freshness, not novelty. Along with nurturing, her own writings helped to form a core of Biblical understanding that provided integrity to the development of Adventist thought. 6 MOL 256.4

George Knight, church historian, suggests that by focusing on the Great Controversy Theme “we can tell when we are on center or chasing stray geese near the edges of what is really important.” In pointing to what Ellen White calls the “grand central theme” of the Bible, Knight wrote that “in such passages we find our marching orders for the reading of both the Bible and the writings of Ellen White.... All our reading takes place within that context, and those issues closest to the grand central theme are obviously of more importance than those near its edges.” 7 MOL 256.5

The conceptual key. Ellen White defined the Great Controversy Theme as the conceptual “key” to understanding humanity’s greatest questions: How did life begin? Why good and evil, and how does one know the difference? What happens after death? Why suffering and death? The Great Controversy Theme provides the background for the development of evil—the story of Lucifer’s (Satan’s) rebellion against the government of God. The thrust of Satan’s argument is that God cannot be trusted, that His law is severe and unfair, and thus the Lawgiver is unfair, severe, and arbitrary. 8 MOL 256.6

Satan’s initial success in winning the allegiance of one-third of the angels in heaven was followed by his deceiving Adam and Eve (Revelation 12:4, 7-9; Genesis 3:1-16). By so doing, this earth has experienced all the bitter fruit of distrusting God and spurning His will. MOL 257.1

God’s response has been, not to destroy Satan, but to expose him. God’s long-term interest is to demonstrate how wrong Satan has been to charge Him with being supremely selfish, arbitrary, and unfair. Primarily through the life and death of Jesus, and through His designated people on earth, God has been revealing and demonstrating His side of the story. 9 MOL 257.2

The controversy ends on this earth only after God’s people give glory to Him (Revelation 14:7) in such a way that all earthly inhabitants can make an intelligent decision as to whether God’s program is something they should choose for themselves. All must decide whether they would be eternally comfortable in keeping “the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus” (Revelation 14:12). After ushering in the return of Jesus, the controversy is reviewed during the millennium and finally settled when the chorus echoes from world to world, “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for His judgments are true and just.’ ... ‘Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns, Let us rejoice and exult and give Him the glory’” (Revelation 19:1-7). The rebellion is over. MOL 257.3