Desmond Ford: Reformist Theologian, Gospel Revivalist

My dad’s biography is out.

From “The first definitive biography of Desmond Ford, written by a recognized Adventist scholar, heavily researched and footnoted with information and photographs never before released to the public.”

From As a history of ideas, this is an exceptional biography of Desmond Ford.  Dr Hook is a competent historian who has struggled for decades to understand complex issues, which he treats in a fast-paced, scintillating style. While Dr Ford is mentioned in every chapter, the book is also a panorama depicting the development of Adventist thought.

Here is part of my dad’s Wikipedia entry:

Dr. Desmond "Des" Ford (born Queensland, Australia, 1929) is an Australian theologian and biblical scholar known for his dynamic and grace-centred preaching. Within the Seventh-day Adventist Church he dominated theological changes in Australia and New Zealand during the 60s and 70s.[1] He was controversially dismissed from ministry in the Adventist church in 1980 following his critique of the investigative judgment doctrine. He has since worked through the non-denominational evangelical ministry Good News Unlimited.

Early life

Ford was born in Queensland, Australia in 1929.[2][3] Though an avid reader and bright student, he left school early because of Australia’s involvement in World War II.[3] He started working at Associated Newspapers in Sydney at the age of 14.[3] He developed an interest in the creation-evolution controversy at this time.[3]

Although originally an Anglican, Ford converted to the Seventh-day Adventist Church after reading the Ellen G. White publication The Great Controversy in his late teens.[4]

[edit] Study and early ministry

He graduated from the Adventist-operated Avondale College in 1950 with a ministerial diploma, and went to work under the successful evangelist George Burnside in Newcastle.[5] He worked as a pastor in various churches and as an evangelist for about 7 years in Australia,[3][6] before the South Pacific Division called him back to Avondale to complete his ministry course.[6][5] While there, he earned the respect of many people. He completed a BA in 1958,[2] and went on to complete a Master’s degree in systematic theology at Andrews University in 1959.[3] Ford subsequently received a PhD in the rhetoric of Paul’s letters from Michigan State University in 1961.[3] In the same year he became head of the Religion Department at Avondale College, where he would remain until 1977.[7] He was a member of the Biblical Research Committee in Australia and the United States.[3]. During his more than 16 years as head of the department, many students admired his dynamic teaching,[citation needed] and became a "leading theologian"[8] of the church.

He completed his second PhD in 1972 from the University of Manchester, while still teaching at Avondale.[2] His supervisor was the renowned Protestant theologian F. F. Bruce, and his field of study was New Testament studies, specifically eschatology (end times).[7][3] Ford entitled his thesis, The Abomination of Desolation in Biblical Eschatology.[9] His main expertise has been biblical apocalyptic literature (such as Daniel, Revelation and Ezekiel) and eschatology.[3]

[edit] Tension over theology

See also: Historic Adventism and Progressive Adventism

Ford was a primary opponent (along with Hans K. LaRondelle) of the perfectionism taught by fellow Australian Robert Brinsmead.[10] According to Anglican Geoffrey Paxton, during the 1960s scholars such as Ford and Edward Heppenstall embedded the concept of original sin into Adventist theology.[8] Paxton also wrote that Des "showed a praiseworthy consistency in Reformation theology during a period of change"[8] in that he "strongly repudiated perfectionism as being contrary to the gospel",[8] and held to the Protestant views of justification and the sinlessness of Jesus‘ human nature (see: Christology).[8]

Under Ford’s influence, Brinsmead ultimately rejected perfectionism.[2] Around 1970, there was a major controversy amongst Australian Adventists over whether "righteousness by faith" included both justification and sanctification.[2] This had been sparked by Brinsmead, and Ford became caught up in it.[2] Tensions over Ford and the theology teaching at Avondale more generally led to a meeting of Australian church leaders on February 3–4, 1976 to hear accusations by a group of "Concerned Brethren". Ford’s understanding of righteousness by faith was the main issue,[11] while the report mentions "the Sanctuary, the Age of the Earth and Inspiration."[12] In April a group of church leaders and theologians including Ford met in Palmdale, California to discuss the meaning of righteousness by faith.[13] Ford was the "center of attention", and the resulting document known as the "Palmdale statement"DjVu.[14]

[edit] United States, and increasing tensions with church leadership

In response to criticisms of his theology, in 1977 the church moved him to the United States, where he taught Religion at Pacific Union College for three years.[15][7][3] The classes he taught included public speaking, homiletics, evangelism, life and teachings of Christ, the Pauline epistles, Christian apologetics, Daniel and Revelation, the major and minor prophets of the Old Testament, introduction to theology, and biblical theology.[3]

In October 1979 Ford was invited to address a chapter meeting of the Association of Adventist Forums (now Adventist Forums) held at the College, on the topic of Hebrews 9 and its implications for the Adventist investigative judgment teaching.[3] The talk was titled, "The Investigative Judgment: Theological Milestone or Historical Necessity?" The talk criticized some aspects of the traditional understanding, and though promised immunity, Ford was summoned to the General Conference headquarters in Washington, D.C.[3] He was given six months to write up his views. Late in 1979, he stopped lecturing and moved to Takoma Park, Maryland.[7] Ford produced the 991-page manuscript, Daniel 8:14, the Day of Atonement, and the Investigative Judgment (later summarized in an article for Spectrum magazine).[16] (Another source says he produced a 900-page manuscript called Daniel 8:14, the Investigative Judgment, and the Kingdom of God).[3]

[edit] Expulsion from teaching and ministry

In August 1980, a group of Adventist theologians and administrators convened at Glacier View Ranch in Colorado to examine Ford’s views. According to Time, he "made the case that White’s ‘sanctuary‘ explication of 1844 no longer stood up in the light of the Bible, and that ‘investigative judgment’ undercut the whole basis of Protestantism: belief in salvation by God’s grace apart from good works."[17] The culmination of this event was Ford controversially losing his employment with the denomination (defrocked)[17] as a minister and theology professor.[7] After counsel from the General Conference, the Australasian Division withdrew "Ford’s ministerial credentials, noting that this does not annul his ordination…"[18] Later reports indicate Ford retained membership in the church – at least at first.

His expulsion from the church was covered in Newsweek,[citation needed] TIME[17] and Christianity Today.[19]

[edit] Aftermath

Ford ultimately formed his own non-denominational gospel ministry Good News Unlimited. It also led to the founding of the "dissident bimonthly" Evangelica, which was based in Napa, California.[17] The ministry published a magazine of the same name, Good News Unlimited. The ministry is based in Auburn, California (as of around 2000, at least).[7]

The church soon forced the resignation of many clergy, reported as 120 clergy and teachers by 1982, according to Time magazine.[17] Peter Ballis, professor of sociology at Monash University and a former Adventist himself, counted 182 pastors in Australia and New Zealand who left between 1980 and 1988, equivalent to "an astonishing 40 percent of the total ministerial workforce" in those countries.[20] He called it "the most rapid and massive exit of Adventist pastors in the movement’s 150-year history"[21] (although he cautions that the fallout may have involved more than one factor). He estimates 12,000 lay people left during the 1980s.[citation needed] It is further speculated that a significant number of current ministers privately agree with Ford but refrain from speaking publicly on the issue for fear of losing their employment.[22] Many in the Adventist church feel that the events of 1980 represent a major milestone in the theological development of the church, and that the effects of this controversy continue to be felt today.[23]

In 1981, Lewis Walton published Omega, largely a criticism of Ford.[24]

According to Adventist Today, many Adventists have adopted his "advanced position" concerning the investigative judgment.[7] However many Adventist theologians have written against his arguments criticizing the investigative judgment.[25]

Time described him as "a prominent Australian theologian",[17] and Adventist Today as "an accomplished Adventist theologian and scholar".[7]

[edit] Recent history

Raymond Cottrell wrote in 1996 that Ford "is still a member of the church, and his personal lifestyle is distinctly Adventist."[26]

A tribute from Ford was included in the memorial service of respected evangelical Walter Martin, who died in 1989.[27] Martin had much to do with improved relations between the Adventist church with evangelicals. (See Walter Martin and Questions on Doctrine)

Ford returned to Australia in 2000, and has officially retired.[28] Ford voluntarily dropped his membership from the Pacific Union College Church in 2001. He now lives in Queensland,[citation needed] is still engaged in preaching, and is welcomed within Adventist communities as an attendee. Against the will of Adventist leadership, Ford has even spoken in some Adventist churches since his dismissal, including those in the Sydney suburbs of Castle Hill, Kellyville and Cherrybrook;[12] as well as Charlestown church in Newcastle. According to one of his websites, Ford speaks twice a month in the Glass House Mountains area, just north of Brisbane, Queensland.[29]

In 2001, Avondale College Church appointed the "Membership and Relational Issues Committee" to deal with theological and relational tensions within the Adventist church, particularly the tension surrounding Ford. Chaired by Arthur Patrick, it produced the report, "Mapping the Past and Sketching the Future" in January 2002. While intended as only an internal document, some copies were more widely circulated, receiving a mixed response.[30][31] The Adventist church leadership decided to keep the ban on Ford speaking in churches.

Ford has three children – Elènne,[32] Paul, and Luke – the last of whom controversially converted to Judaism.

Ford’s work on apocalyptic has been quoted by F. F. Bruce, G. R. Beasley-Murray and other scholars, and also in such reference works as The New Unger‘s Bible Dictionary and Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible.

[edit] Present beliefs

According to one of his websites, Ford’s interests include religion, history, current affairs, biography, science, and health.[3] He has always been an avid reader.[3]

Ford still supports the Sabbath.[33] He published The Forgotten Day defending the Sabbath, as a result of his study following Robert Brinsmead‘s writings against it.[34] Another former Adventist Dale Ratzlaff wrote a critical book Sabbath in Crisis (now Sabbath in Christ), which Ford responded to in a book review, to which Ratzlaff responded in turn.

According to Adventist Today in an interview with Ford in summer 1999,

"Almost two decades have passed since Dr. Ford took his courageous stand for the Gospel. Since that time, it has become obvious that Dr. Ford’s teachings have led many Christians to a better understanding of personal salvation and the Scripture. In fact, many within the Seventh-day Adventist church have adopted his view of the Gospel and his advanced position on the Investigative Judgment. Although it has been almost two decades since Dr. Ford has been exiled from the Denomination, he is still a Seventh-day Adventist who personally supports a vegetarian lifestyle as well as such fundamental doctrines as the seventh day Sabbath, Second Coming, Judgment, state-of-the-dead, new earth, etc."[7]

Ford is a vegetarian and has been a vocal advocate of healthy living and preventative medicine.[35]

He maintains that Ellen White did have the spiritual gift of prophecy, stating in 1980, "…I found Christ through the writings of Ellen G. White and since she has influenced me more than any other writer since John the Apostle…"[16] A self-described bibliophile (lover of books), he has described White’s book The Desire of Ages as the most "beautiful" book he has ever read.[36](see: inspiration of Ellen White).

Ford has expounded what he describes as the "apotelesmatic principle" – that there can be multiple fulfillments of prophecy, crudely speaking.[16]

He no longer supports the year-day principle of prophetic interpretation, although he had supported it earlier in his commentary on Daniel.[37]

See the Statement of Belief from Ford’s recent (updated since 2000) website. See also the recent articles "Genesis and Science" and "The Theological Dilemma: Relationship between Law and Grace".

In 2008, Milton Hook released a biography of Ford, Desmond Ford: Reformist Theologian, Gospel Revivalist, published by Adventist Today.

[edit] Publications

Ford has written over twenty books and numerous articles.[28] See also Books on the Good News Unlimited website.

  • Unlocking God’s Treasury, 1964
  • Answers on the Way, 1977
  • Daniel, 1978 (does not fully reflect his current views)
  • The Abomination of Desolation in Biblical Eschatology, 1979
  • Physicians of the Soul, God’s Prophets Through the Ages, (Nashville, TN: Southern Publishing Association, 1980) ISBN 0-8127-0262-X. Includes Ford’s views on Ellen G. White as a prophetess. It also traces Ford’s childhood encounters with Adventists and the influence of Ellen G. White’s books on helping him find Christ and becoming an Adventist.
  • Daniel 8:14, the Day of Atonement, and the Investigative Judgment (Casselberry, Fl: Euangelion, 1980), now available online
  • The Forgotten Day, 1981, about the Sabbath
  • Crisis: A Commentary on the Book of Revelation, Volumes 1–3, 1982
  • The Advent Crisis of Spiritual Identity, 1982
  • Coping Successfully With Stress, 1984
  • Will There be Another Holocaust?, 1984
  • How to Survive Personal Tragedy, 1984
  • Jesus and the Latter Days, 1984
  • Good News for Adventists, 1985
  • A Kaleidoscope of Diamonds, 2 Vols, 1986
  • Worth More Than a Million (Auburn, CA: Desmond Ford Publications, 1987)
  • Daniel and The Coming King, 1996
  • Right With God, Right Now (Newcastle, CA: Desmond Ford Publications, 1999), a commentary on Romans
  • The End of Terrorism, 2004
  • Eating Right for Type 2 Diabetes, 2004
  • God’s Odds: How to Win the Wager, 2006
  • In the Heart of Daniel: An Exposition of Daniel 9:24–27, 2007
  • Jesus Only: What Christ’s Living and Dying Mean for You, 2008
  • For the Sake of the Gospel: Throw out the bathwater, but keep the Baby, 2008


  • Inside Story
  • Why Believe? Source Book

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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