Polarization illustrated

I can hardly claim that the past week has been very boring. Besides some activities in my role of deacon in my local church, some social commitments, and the assembling of a number of screens against mosquitoes, I invested quite a few hours in some writing and translation assignments that I am currently engaged in. In between these things I started reading a rather substantial novel: Huwelijksleven (published in in English as Married life), written by the Jewish author David Vogel. (Vogel was born in 1891 and died in Auschwitz in 1944).  Until very recently I had never heard of this book, nor of its author. A few weeks ago my wife and I received the book as a gift from a friend, Kees Meiling, who produced a (splendid) translation from modern-Hebrew into Dutch.

But all the time my thoughts were also quite occupied by the reactions which I received during the past week regarding my book FACING DOUBT. In particular the two reviews on the popular Spectrum website (www.spectrummagazine.org) inspired many reactions—many directly to me by e-mail or Facebook, but also on the Spectrum site. There could not have been a greater contrast than between these two reviews. Dr. Tom de Bruin’s piece was on the whole extremely positive and did, I believe, full justice to the book. On the other hand, the second piece by Clifford Goldstein failed in my view to do justice to the book and, safe for a few positive remarks, was bitingly negative.

That was to be expected. Anyone who knows both of these authors (and that is certainly the case for me), knows that they are totally different and have had a totally different faith pilgrimage. Goldstein is the editor of the Sabbath School Study guide for adults, but is also a prolific and widely-read author in Adventist circles. Honestly demands to say that there are also many who dislike his books with a vengeance and have great difficulty with his black-white kind of reasoning that does not leave any room for nuance. Years ago Goldstein took issue with me in some of the Adventist media when he disapproved of my (in his view) far too positive evaluation of changes in Roman-Catholicism, as I had argued in my PhD dissertation and in a subsequent article in the Spectrum journal. However, this did not lead to personal animosity between Clifford Goldstein and myself and his recent fierce criticism of my book will not do this either.

Many of the reactions were to the point and constructive, but quite a few were not.  What amazed me most with regard to quite a few of the reactions which followed on Goldstein’s contribution, was their nasty tone.The chain of comments tended to develop into a pro-or-anti-Goldstein discussion. Many regular Spectrum readers no doubt consider Goldstein as a very conservative person, with whom they have (to put it mildly) little affinity. In other reactions the discussion deteriorated into a Bruinsma-bashing ritual. Some respondents indicated that I would do the SDA Church a favor if I left the church on my own accord, if I were not disfellowshipped. One of them—without citing any arguments—referred to the ‘theological obscenities’ that are found in my book.

Does all of this that bother me. Yes, of course, it does? Does it keep me awake? No, but yet . . .  On the other hand I had expected this. However, I received so many positive reactions that I remain glad I embarked on this project of communicating with those in the church who are ‘on the margins’.

At the same time, these various harsh criticisms, which do not betray the slightest degree of Christian charity, provide an unintended illustration of one of the things I deal with in my book: the heartless attitude of people who claim to have all the truth;  who can only think in terms of black and white and find it impossible to show any tolerance (and respect) when people have an opinions that differs from theirs. They don’t mind that by their attitude they chase others away from the church; in fact, they often think that is a good thing.

Well, I am not about to be chased away, for there are many pleasant people in the church who are prepared to enter into a dialogue and who have respect for others even if they do not agree with them. And I hope that (also through my book) I can inspire many to also not give up on their faith and on their church!

 

(My book FACING DOUBT: a book for Adventist believers ‘on the margins’ may be ordered through Amazon.com. Price $ 14,90.)

 

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Reading

 

Books play an important role in my life. For a good number of years I was employed by the church as editor, translator and publisher of books and magazines. And over time I wrote in excess of twenty books—some in English and some in Dutch and some in both languages (like my most recent book). My wife Aafje also has a lot of affinity with books. She usually reads the manuscripts of my books before I submit them to the publisher. Her excellent sense of language has been an important factor in getting my writings ready for publication. As a translator she herself translated over one hundred books from English or German into Dutch for a number of Dutch publishers.

But in our home also a lot of reading takes place. That has long been the case and continues to be so. Most of the time I am reading two or three books at the same time, as I like to read more serious stuff as well as books that provide entertainment and suspense. Currently among the books I am reading is a recent biography of J.N. Loughborough (1832-1924)—the last of the so-called ‘pioneers’ of the Adventist Church. This book is written by Brian E. Strayer and was published in 2013 by the Reviews and Herald Publishing Association. Loughborough wrote hundreds of articles as well as a few books. He managed to do so in addition to a load of many other duties. Reading about all the assignments he carried makes you wonder how in the world he could find any time to write.

Loughborogh was also an avid reader and built a considerable personal library with books on religion and theology, church history, secular history and many other subjects. Those who have studied the lives of early Adventist leaders know that these men were indeed book lovers. Books that were written by men like James White, Uriah Smith and J.N. Andrews provide ample proof that they spent a lot of time reading and learning from what others wrote.

This is also true of Ellen White. She was a keen reader of books in many different areas. When writing some of her most important books (as e.g. The Great Controversy and The Desire of Ages) she continuously used different sources. Shortly after she moved to Australia in 1891, she sent a request to the US that a number of her books would be shipped to her, as for instance one of her favorite Bible commentaries. When she died in 1915 she left a personal library behind with some 1200 books. By far the most of these were written by non-SDA authors.

When today some of our church leaders pride themselves that they only read the Bible and the books of Ellen White, I find this (to put it mildly) rather worrying. It shows that in this respect they certainly did not follow in the footsteps of the leaders who estasblished and built  the Adventist Church. For sure, reading the Bible is of prime importance and every Adventist should at least read some of mrs. White’s books. These books are part of our heritage. But those who do not read more widely, shortchange themselves and will not develop a broad and balanced view of things.

For me personally, Bible reading remains of paramount importance. This morning I read Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians. There was much that applied directly to my own spiritual life and to my everyday existence. Also a number of topics for future sermons jumped at me. However, I also need to be nourished and inspired by the knowledge, wisdom and experience of others. (And at times I simply need some time with a good book in order to relax!)

 

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Een extra blog

Over een paar dagen volgt mijn reguliere blog van deze week. In dit extra stukje wil ik een zaak aansnijden die ik heel belangrijk vind. Het gaat om hulp aan Joshua, een Keniaanse student die tandheelkunde studeert.

Joshua is de zoon van Rebecca. Zij is momenteel predikant in Kenia. Rebecca Kwamboka Moses heeft theologie kunnen studeren aan de Bugema Universiteit in Oeganda en heeft vorige maand haar masters graad ontvangen van de methodistische universiteit in Nairobi, Kenia. Haar studie werd voor een belangrijk deel betaald door een Nederlandse donor. Chapeau!

Rebecca heeft samen met haar man die ook predikant is een  gezin en nkele opgroeiende kinderen, en het is dus een enorme prestatie dat zij zich zo heeft kunnen ontwikkelen. Ik hoop dat zij ter zijner tijd een van de eerste vrouwen zal zijn die door de Adventkerk in Kenia zullen worden ingezegend! Wie weet?

Joshua heeft zijn zinnen gezet op een studie tandheelkunde. Hij volgt die studie aan de adventistische medische hogeschool in de Filippijnen. Zijn ouders ontvangen een kleine subsidie van de Keniaanse kerk, maar een heel groot deel van de kosten zijn voor Rebecca en haar man en die kunnen dat gewoonweg niet betalen. Het ziet ernaar uit dat na ongveer twee jaar Joshua zijn studie moet stoppen. Tenzij . . . er hulp komt.

Voor de komende vier jaar is per semester een bedrag nodig van ongveer 1750 euro. Aangezien er twee semesters in een studiejaar zitten, betekent dit dat er 8 keer 1750 euro, (in totaal 14,000 euro) nodig zal zijn. Dat is een flink bedrag. Mijn hoop is dat er iemand is onder de lezers van deze blog die zegt: Daarvoor wil ik me garant stellen. Of dat er enkelen zijn die daarvan elk een deel voor hun rekening willen nemen.

Ik weet het: we kunnen niet de hele wereld helpen. Maar soms komt er iemand op ons pad voor wie we wel hulp kunnen bieden. Wie meer informatie wil kan bij mij terecht (reinder@bruinsmas.com).

 

 

 

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‘Total Membership Involvement’ – does it mean what it says?

 

Through the years the leaders of the worldwide Adventist church have invented many slogans to encourage the members to get actively involved in the recruitment of new members. I remember some of them: Win one soul—Double our Membership–Harvest 90–1000 Days of Reaping.  I do not recollect in which sequence they came.  Recently a new mantra is being promoted: Total Membership Involvement (with its inevitable acronym TMI).

Once again this motto is inspired by a desire for explosive numerical growth. The recent baptismal result in Rwanda of 100.000 new converts within a month is touted as a spectacular result of the involvement of every member in this nationwide evangelistic crusade. It is presented as an example for the entire church to follow.

In my mind this Total Membership Involvement concept raises a number of important questions. What are the overarching aims in this appeal to get ‘totally’ involved? The emphasis is clearly on numerical church growth. Without denying that measuring results in term of numbers of people who find their way into the church is legitimate, it would seem that there is a significant danger that the one-sided emphasis on growth in numbers may pose serious dangers for the long-term well-being of the church. I would suggest that total member involvement must be a much broader concept, where not only the size of the church, but also the many other aspects of the long-term wellbeing of the church are highlighted. It is often too easily assumed that, if we just start running we will automatically arrive where we want to be. If we just become active in public and personal evangelism, all other issues will somehow sort themselves out!

But there is another, possibly even more pregnant, question. Total Membership Involvement presupposes that all members may get involved on equal terms. Here, we must note some serious problems.

What about women? Are they allowed to be involved as fully equal to their brothers? Or must their involvement remain partial, and at a different level?

What about the younger generation?  Can they be involved in ways that are relevant to them and that speak in meaningful ways to the millennials around them? How can they become totally involved as long as that is not the case?

What about the LGBTI community—our brothers and sisters who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or intersex? Can they be totally involved, or are they, at best, tolerated as long as they keep quiet and stay in the shadow?

And what about the large segment in the church (especially in the West) of people who have gradually moved to the margins—those who have doubts about aspects of their faith and/or Adventist doctrine, and those who worry about some current trends in the church? Are they also welcome to somehow be involved, or are they rather seen as a problem that obstructs this Total Membership Involvement?

Total Membership involvement must mean what it says. If this ‘total’ is qualified and excludes parts of our Adventist community, this new slogan is no more than a shallow promotional gimmick and basically meaningless.

 

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Facing Doubt – first reactions

 

Since about a week both the English and the Dutch edition of my book, that targets Adventist believers ‘on the margins’ and those who are close to that state, has been available. As yet I have no figures about the number of copies sold but it is clear that several hundreds have already been ordered. Some have already read the book and the first reactions begin to appear. I hope that the further promotion will be successful and, especially that person-to-person publicity will be effective.

I did not have to wait long before some negative voices let themselves be heard, even from people who have not yet read the book. They simply have the suspicion that I will push people even further from the church by strengthening their doubt. They feel that over the years the stuff I write has become ever more questionable. While at first I was quite orthodox, gradually I have lost my way! But, so they say, I am not the only to have gone astray, for this must also be said of many of my colleagues in ministry.

This kind of criticism does not come unexpected. And I understand the way of reasoning of these critics. They honestly believe I represent danger. However, sadly enough, these people do not realize that they are part of the problem that the church is facing. Many in the church, who have concerns about their church and questions about their faith, feel they are not taken seriously. This is an important factor in their decision (often after a long period of uncertainty) to leave the church. But, of course, the slogan that even bad publicity is better than no publicity is still valid. Therefore, I should, in fact, appreciate this unsolicited publicity.

However, most early reactions are positive and encouraging. Several people already told me they clearly recognize themselves in the picture I have painted of believers ‘on the margins’. Some people totally surprised me by telling me that they ordered the book (and in some cased already read it), because, in actual fact, they belong to the target audience.

Yesterday I talked with a colleague, who is very positive about the book. He criticized a few points (and such criticism is welcome), but underlined that a book like this was long overdue and that the category of ‘believers on the margins’ in the church is probably much bigger (even in the Netherlands) than I think.

This colleague mentioned another interesting point. He said that reading the book he had gotten the impression that I am rather angry at my church. I assured him this is not my dominant feeling. For sure, at times I am angry at certain persons. And yes, I find it difficult to deal with a number of trends in the church and am concerned about the direction in which a large section of the church is moving. But, most of all, I worry (and at times I am almost desperate), rather than angry. I have had a long career in the church in a series of different functions. I do not regret one day. I have usually enjoyed what I did and can only say that, in the main, the denomination has treated me well. If many readers of the book would feel that I come across as being quite angry, I will have to take that into account when the book is reprinted.

Of course, I will follow the reactions in the next weeks and months with keen interest. I hope that those who do not like the book will react with respect and with sensible arguments. I will take positive criticisms to heart. In the meantime I hope that many readers ‘on the margins’ of the church will experience a boost in their faith and in their relationship to the church.

(Orders for the English edition may be placed through Amazon.com and several other prominent online booksellers. Within a few weeks from now orders for copies of the Dutch edition may be placed with bol.com. Those who are in a hurry to obtain a Dutch copy may order directly from the author (book@bruinsmas.com).

 

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