Glacier View Conference Revisited



Glacier View Conference Revisited

Much has been written about the 1980 Glacier View Conference. This article will look at it through the eyes of four participants of the conference from three continents,1 with additional material to round out the article.


Reason for the Conference

On October 27, 1979, the Australian theologian Desmond Ford, an exchange teacher at Pacific Union College in Angwin, California, was invited by the Angwin chapter of the Association of Adventist Forums to speak on the topic “The Investigative Judgment: Theological Milestone or Historical Necessity?” Although he “prefaced his address with some Ellen White quotes that advocated a healthy spirit of inquiry,” and confessed “his confidence in White and his belief that the SDA Church was raised up by God,”2 he rejected the Adventist understanding of the 1844 pre-Advent judgment that Ellen White promoted. This teaching had just been voted as Fundamental Belief Number 24, “Christ’s Ministry in the Heavenly Sanctuary,” at the General Conference in Dallas, Texas, in April 1980.

The reaction to Ford’s presentation was swift and decisive. Tapes of his talk went around the world,3 and the General Conference received letters and phone calls from concerned members, pastors, and teachers. In consultation with Pacific Union College, it was decided to give Ford a leave of six months to prepare a document setting out his views. During this time, he would have access to the General Conference archives, the Biblical Research Institute resources, and the White Estate. An advisory committee of theologians was appointed to guide and advise him in his work. At the completion of his study, a major conference would consider and discuss his ideas. Ford produced a document of about 1,000 pages. W. G. Johnsson, a member of the advisory committee, wrote: “The committee met with him three times, evaluating the manuscript as it proceeded. We had open and frank discussions, but they proved to have been largely for naught. . . . None of the major concerns raised in the committee were incorporated. I felt let down, as did the other members.”4

Ford was a charismatic preacher and teacher. Johnsson, who was a fellow student with Ford at Avondale College, wrote: “I have known Desmond Ford for many years, but I do not understand him. He is a complex person who defies easy analysis. . . . He has a razor-keen mind that makes him formidable in debate. He is able to assemble materials from a wide range of sources and rattle off, in machine-gun fashion, quotations from the Scriptures, Ellen White’s writings, or others. He is intense, focused.”5


The Conference

The Adventist Glacier View Ranch near Denver, Colorado, was the site chosen for the conference from August 10 to 15, 1980. The just-over-100 participants were Bible teachers and administrators from around the world, with an emphasis on North America.

“At the Sunday evening opening session, President [Neal] Wilson reviewed the background to the meeting, welcomed participants, and declared that ‘Dr. Ford was not on trial but that his ideas were.’ Each morning, members participated in seven groups of sixteen to discuss set study questions related to the four broad areas that were the topics of the chapters in Ford’s manuscript, although the manuscript itself was not studied.”6 The four areas of study were (1) the nature of prophecy, (2) the cleansing of the sanctuary and the investigative judgment—OT, (3) the cleansing of the sanctuary and the investigative judgment—NT, (4) the role of the Ellen G. White writings in doctrinal matters.7 “Each working group was tasked with formulating a consensus statement on the questions before the group which were then verbally shared with the afternoon plenary sessions. Evening sessions were given to the reading of papers and further discussion of consensus statements.”8

After the conference, Hans Heinz from Austria wrote: “The first and lasting impression of the conference was the Christian, brotherly, and tolerant spirit, with which everything was done. Ford was treated as a brother, and he himself also acted friendly and had several times the opportunity to speak. At this conference, the American tradition of tolerance and democracy made itself felt. Discussions were genuine, but always calm.”9 Nevertheless, Ford’s stubbornness was noted by the participants.

Arthur Ferch, his colleague at Avondale College, said: “My biggest problem with Dr. Ford was his apparent intractability. I do feel that opportunity had been given for him to state that his proposals were tentative and subject to review. But throughout the meeting he seemed to give the impression that though he described his thesis as a tentative document he would stand or fall with it. I personally left the meetings not only dismayed but quite depressed. The Dr. Ford I saw in Colorado seemed to be somewhat different from the one who had been my teacher and colleague.”10 Similarly, Hans Heinz said, “The only thing that amazed me about Ford was his unyieldingness even in details, he always seemed to be right even in theological trivia.”11

The seven breakout groups left a positive impression on most members. Roy Adams recalled “I remember the earnestness of the people in the breakout group I attended. Everiyone seemed full aware of what was at stake, and pooled all their intellectual and theological resources together toward resolving the issues assigned to the group.”12 And Hans Heinz remembered, “We had a few prominent Adventist theologians in our group (among them Edward Heppenstall), and there existed an excellent spirit and a good level of discussion. The administrators really let the experts discuss the issues and rarely participated in the discussion themselves. I remember a nice American administrator, who, out of modesty, never participated in the discussion, he only once referred to the pastoral responsibility of this meeting.”13

At the end of the plenary sessions on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday afternoon, an hour was set aside for Dr. Ford to clarify his views and answer questions. Roy Adams remembers a poignant encounter: “When Heppenstall (whom Des had regarded as a mentor) confronted Des with the time elements of the prophecies of Daniel and Revelation, pressing him on whether it wasn’t in fact the case that those time elements clearly extended past the cross [which Dr. Ford denied]. And so, what are we to do with that reality? It was a kind, moving, fatherly plea for Des to concede what, perhaps to all others, was a clearly obvious point. But Des—no slouch when it comes to debate—probably realized that that single admission would have dealt his theory a fatal blow. And so, resisting his mentor’s plea, he stuck to his guns.”14

During the week, a small committee (W. G. Johnsson, G. F. Hasel, and F. Guy) formulated two consensus documents on fundamental denominational teachings involving Christ and His High Priestly ministry and the role of the Ellen G. White writings in doctrinal matters. Based on the findings of the discussion groups, these statements reaffirmed the church’s sanctuary doctrines and the writings of Ellen G. White as significant for our days. These statements were “discussed by the body and voted overwhelmingly.”15

The conference, unfortunately, did not end well for Dr. Ford. On Friday afternoon, Keith Parmenter, the president of the Australasian (South Pacific) Division, requested from Dr. Ford assurance that in the future he would teach and preach “in harmony with the ‘Fundamental Beliefs’ of the church as voted in session at Dallas in April, 1980.”16 Because Dr. Ford was unable to give this assurance, in due course he was dismissed from his employment and his ministerial credentials were withdrawn.


Final Reflection

Arthur Ferch summarized what many of the participants also felt. He wrote: “It appears to me that to the vast majority of those in attendance several of the significant suggestions by Ford were unacceptable as alternatives to what we currently hold. On the other hand, there was also a strong call for further study of the issues Ford has raised. It seemed that most were agreed that the issues raised by Ford were justified but the solutions offered did not merit acceptance.

“In a number of issues it seems to me that Ford’s recent thesis has to be answered with Ford’s commentary on Daniel. . . . The least satisfactory section of his document, in my mind, is that dealing with the book of Daniel. Nevertheless, it should be said that he has done us a favour in that he has driven us back to a closer study of the book of Daniel. As relates to the question of Ellen G. White, I can only say that the statement of her role in the REVIEW and MINISTRY magazines represented the consensus of the group. Both the consensus statements printed on the Sanctuary and on Ellen G. White were discussed not only by individual groups but by the plenary session. All of us had opportunity to respond to the paper and I assume that most felt the way I did, in that, though we did not wholeheartedly support every issue we certainly felt that the view expressed was representative of us as a group.”17



1. William G. Johnsson, from Australia, was a New Testament professor at the Theological Seminary of Andrews University, soon to become longtime editor of the Adventist Review. Arthur John Ferch, a German by birth, emigrated to Australia and became professor of Old Testament at Avondale College and later Field Secretary of the South Pacific Division. Hans Heinz from Austria was professor of theology at the seminaries in Austria and Germany. In 1980, he was completing his ThD at Andrews University. Roy Adams, another student at Andrews University, was completing his ThD in 1980. He became an associate editor of the Adventist Review in 1986.

2. Milton Hook, Desmond Ford: Reformist Theologian, Gospel Revivalist (Riverside, Calif.: Adventist Today Foundation, 2008), 227.

3. Within days after October 27, I received two tapes of his talk at Bogenhofen Seminary where I was teaching. I was shocked when I heard what he had said because it was quite different from what he had taught us at Avondale.

4. William G. Johnsson, Embrace the Impossible (Hagerstown, Md.: Review and Herald, 2008), 129.

5. Ibid., 126.

6. Gilbert M. Valentine, “Glacier View Sanctuary Review Conference (1980),” Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists:

7. Sanctuary Review Committee, “Christ and His High Priestly Ministry,” Ministry 53:10 (October 1980): 6, 7.

8. Valentine, “Glacier View Sanctuary Review Conference (1980).”

9. Hans Heinz, „Einige Bemerkungen zur Tagung in Glacier View,“ Berrien Springs, Michigan (October 1980). Translation, G. Pfandl.

10. Arthur J. Ferch, Letter to G. Pfandl, November 20, 1980.

11. Heinz, „Einige Bemerkungen zur Tagung in Glacier View.“

12. Roy Adams, “Glacier View Reflections,” Letter to G. Pfandl, November 2, 2004.

13. Heinz, „Einige Bemerkungen zur Tagung in Glacier View.“

14. Adams, “Glacier View Reflections.”

15. Johnsson, Embrace the Impossible, 130.

16. K. S. Parmenter, “Parmenter-Ford Correspondence,” Ministry 53:10 (October 1980), 10.

17. Arthur J. Ferch, Letter to G. Pfandl, November 20, 1980.