Category Archives: Uncategorized

Are there “flat-earthers” among us?

Lee McIntyre, a professor at Boston University, begins his fascinating book How to Talk to a Science Denier with an account of a visit he paid to a conference of people who are convinced that the earth is flat and that there is a massive conspiracy of organizations that want to convince humanity that we live on a round earth. He tells of his ever-increasing amazement at the bizarre theories that during this weekend were poured out over him, but most of all at the stubborn persistence with which all his arguments were swept aside. He left the congress with a feeling of failure and alienation: he had not been able to establish an open, meaningful dialogue with these, often educated, people who believed (that word is certainly applicable) in a flat earth.

It is incomprehensible to me, but there appears to be a large group of people who believe in the flat-earth theory. According to a survey that Dagblad Trouw commissioned from Kieskompas in 2019, there are about 150,000 men and women in the Netherlands who are certain or consider it very likely that NASA and other organizations are doing everything they can to cover up the fact that the earth is not a sphere but a flat disk! In the USA the percentage of people who subscribe to the flat-earth-theory is even higher.

I was reminded of the newspaper report and the Boston professor’s book today when I saw a reference to a short video on YouTube by Matthew Korpman. He is a young Adventist scholar who recently graduated from the prestigious Yale Divinity School in New Haven, Connecticut. He already has several publications to his name. These show that he is not afraid to broach controversial subjects.

Sponsored by Adventist Today, he has now embarked on a special project, namely the production of a series of short YouTube programs in which he responds to bizarre theories circulating in (and especially on the fringes of) the Adventist Church. The latest episode looks at a conversation (See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eeyu2i5GQes – ca. 50 minutes into the tape) between Walter Veith and his companion Martin Smith in which the flat-earth topic comes up. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i5YXBEZBitU) Veith tells his audience that he is very often asked whether the earth is flat or round. The remarkable thing is that he refuses to answer this question. While he likes to portray himself as a scientist who gets to the bottom of things, in this case his scientific curiosity lets him down. He quotes a rather vague statement from a letter Ellen White once wrote to a church member, but otherwise thinks we had better leave this question alone. There are different answers to the question of whether the earth is flat or round, but, Veith opines, disagreement will only arise if we go into this matter in more detail. Korpman supposes that in Veith’s constituency there are quite a few people with extreme ideas, including many flat-earthers. And Veith doesn’t want to lose them, because that category provides significant support for his ministry, especially also expressed in dollars.

I suspect Korpman hits the nail on the head. I highly recommend this short video by Matthew Korpman to anyone who still thinks that Walter Veith represents a serious voice in the Adventist Church, who should be listened to. But from my own experience I know that anyone who writes critically about him will sooner or later be sharply attacked. He considers me to be a Jesuit who has infiltrated the Adventist Church and who is part of the group of apostates that threatens the church from within. I wouldn’t be surprised if Korpman is soon given that same label. But with his video series, he is doing his church an extremely valuable service.

Can we stay together and maintain our differences?

On January 1, a split took place in the Reformed Church in America. Forty-three local congregations decided to leave the organization and form a new denomination: the Alliance of Reformed Churches. It is likely that in the near future a number of congregations of other conservative denominations will join them.

I have always had a special interest in the Reformed Church in America, because this church has a very close historical connection with the Netherlands. This church was in fact an American branch of the Dutch Reformed Church, and later remained closely tied to the Christian Reformed Church (after it was formed in 1892, when it split from the Dutch Reformed Church). But what particularly caught my attention this week was the reason for the formation of yet another separate denomination. The immediate cause why the 43 congregations no longer wanted to remain under the umbrella of the Reformed Church in America was the LGBT+ issue. Many could not agree with the conclusion that henceforth the church would fully recognize same-sex marriages, and that non-hetero persons could become pastors.

It is not the first denomination in the US to break up for this reason. in the recent past, a conservative segment of Episcopalians, Lutherans and Presbyterians decided to go their own way and establish their own denominations, and among Methodists the same is about to happen.

Is such a development also to be expected in the Seventh-day Adventist Church? I know quite a few Adventists (who are well informed about what is going on in their church), who think a split between liberal and conservative Adventists is inevitable. The polarization has become so great that it is impossible to keep everything together. And the LGBT+ issue also plays an important role in Adventist circles, in addition to the ongoing conflict over the ordination of female ministers. So, wouldn’t it be best if the conservative Adventists founded their own independent denomination?

I don’t think this is going to happen. Many conservative church members actually think it would be more logical if their liberal fellow-believers separated from the present organization. But that too is very unlikely. Many of them, at some point, simply leave the church. In that segment of the church there is not the spiritual energy to form an entirely new organization. Furthermore, we should note that many conservatives are actually quite satisfied with the current direction of the world church, and often they have found a spiritual home in one of the numerous “independent ministries,” which, with few exceptions (e.g., Adventist Forums and Adventist Today), are following a conservative or ultraconservative course.

In a church which now has some 22 million members, a diversity of views on all kinds of theological, ethical and practical matters is inevitable. The differences in (church) historical, cultural, and ethnic backgrounds make this inescapable. And when the leadership of the church opts for one particular tendency, this naturally results in both approval and protest.

How can internal unity be preserved (and in certain places: be restored)? It seems to me that there are two options. The first is to choose one basic approach and refuse to accommodate those who disagree. In other words, you focus on a “remnant,” a “rest,” and encourage others to disappear. In my opinion, this is a path that changes the church in a fanatical sect.

The other option is that we strive for a church in which basic values are held in common, but in which different modalities can coexist in harmony, and remain in conversation with each other. It is unfortunate that this has not happened in the

I hope that my church will succeed in accommodating the diversity that has become an irreversible reality.

2021 and 2022

Looking back and looking forward: there is no way of escaping it. All media have overviews of what 2021 has brought us and forecasts of what we can expect in 2022. What will the new year bring us? It looks like in about a week Mark Rutte and a team of cabinet ministers will be standing on the steps of the royal palace in the Hague, accompanied by the King, and at long last we will have a real government after an interim of almost a year. Let us hope that this new government will energetically tackle the major problems of the Netherlands.

But elsewhere in the world there is very much more than in our country that causes great concern. The wars in Yemen and Syria, the tensions between Israel and Palestine, and the troubles with Iran, the crisis around Ukraine, the chaos in Afghanistan, the power plays of China–all these are unpredictable factors. Will peace prevail over war? Will reason prevail and curb emotions? Will 2022 be another year of unprecedented polarization in the United States and in other parts of the world, and must we fear outbreaks of left- and right-wing extremism?

We know that in 2022 the Corona pandemic remains a frightening reality. What will follow the Omikron variant? Will we face prolonged lockdowns in the new year? Should the world expect tens or even hundreds of millions of infections with various new variants? I am assuming that in the coming year I will have to get one or more booster shots (after the third shot that I recently got). The Dutch government has already ordered a huge reserve supply of vaccines for additional booster shots.

Yes, and of course there is the question of how the church will fare in the new year. By “the church” I mean the Church of the Seventh-day Adventists, which is still very close to my heart. In July, the World Congress, which has been delayed for two years, will take place in a slimmed-down format. What can we expect? Will there finally be significant personnel changes in the top leadership of the Adventist Church? Will this at last bring about a change of direction which so many have been longing for?

The Dutch Adventist Church will hold its (also postponed) quinquennial conference in October. Thinking about what this meeting might bring, I am not so much concerned about which people will be elected to which posts. The most important question for me is whether the delegates will finally have the courage to decide that female clergy may no longer be discriminated against. (On New Year’s morning, my wife and I were watching and listening to a television broadcast of a German Evangelische Gottesdienst. In addition to the male pastor, there was also a female pastor – side by side, without any distinction of status or rank. It felt absolutely normal. Why is this still not “normal” in the Dutch Adventist Church?)

And what will 2022 bring for me personally? I hope and pray that I will have a healthy, happy, creative and blessed year, together with those who are dear to me. Will we be able to travel again? Will we be able to soon see our grandchildren in Sweden? Will we be able to visit relatives in Canada and complete the trip to California that we had to break off two years ago due to family circumstances? And will we be able to make plans to visit friends in Australia again?

When I think of my activities in the new year, writing projects take centre stage. In 2021 these were mainly articles in Dutch church magazines, but also regular contributions in Adventist Today, Spectrum and Mountain View, as well as in the academic journal Spes Christiana, of which I am the editor. Unfortunately, I have not yet been able to find a publisher for a manuscript that has been on the shelf for more than a year: a book of daily devotional messages written in English, especially targeting people in a leadership role in the Church. It is a pity that it is as yet unpublished, but who knows whether a publisher will see light in it in 2022.

In the beginning of 2022, the Dutch version of He Comes: How, When and Why Jesus Will Return will be published. I am currently working on a Dutch translation (from the French) and adaptation of a book by Dr Jean-Claude Verrecchia about the way the Bible came into being. And inevitably, in the meantime, I am thinking about a new book that I may soon want to start.

Our vocabulary has in recent times been enriched by the word Zoom. It refers to the digital technology that enables us to have visual conversations via the internet and to hold virtual meetings and church services in this Corona age. In 2021, I did a series of presentations for special sabbath schools in the US. Recently, I completed a series on eight historical “dissenters” who have had great influence in their churches. Later this month I will do three presentations based on my recent book on the Second Coming.

I hope that also in the new year I will be able to do things that are meaningful to others. But, like most people around me, I long for a “normal” year, in which I can physically once again go to a church service, and can preach to an audience instead of via Zoom. Last week, a sermon was recorded in the church of Emmen. On 8 January it will be broadcast via YouTube. It is nice that, under the present circumstances, we have this kind of technology at our disposal, but without personal contact a lot is lost. And apart from not going to church, I miss going to museums, visiting friends, having a drink on a terrace or eating out.

But whatever 2022 may look like, if we enter the new year with faith and trust in God, we will be strong enough to handle disappointments and, despite Corona, we will be able to enjoy many good things.

The last week of 2021

The last week of the year 2021 has begun–slotted between the Christmas weekend and the turn of the year. Unfortunately, due to a new Corona wave, the year ends in the Netherlands in a total lockdown. Following our tradition of going out for a nice meal on December 22, when we have our wedding anniversary (now the 57th), was impossible.

All in all, despite the limitations, we were able to enjoy the Christmas weekend. On Friday evening we followed the liturgy that the Christmas committee of our local Adventist Church had prepared, and brought in a small Christmas parcel to all members’ homes. Now that we could not meet physically, this was a very resourceful initiative. Without breaking the corona rules, we were able to accept the invitation of friends for a Christmas dinner. It was very tasty and very enjoyable. So good to have friends! For the Christmas service on Christmas Day, we chose to virtually attend the service in the beautiful Coventry Cathedral in the British city of Coventry. And on Boxing Day we enjoyed the ecumenical service in the Laurenskerk in Rotterdam–and in particular the choir of this church.

The last week of the year is also the time of all kinds of other, some rather banal, traditions. Since about twenty years, during this week the two thousand most popular songs are played one after the other on one of the radio stations. Newspapers and television columns review the most important events of the year, both the disasters and the happy events. Reviews are made of the most read books of the year and the most popular and least popular politicians, and of course the sportswoman and sportsman of the year, are chosen. Many of these things largely pass me by.

Like most people, these days I think mainly about what has happened in my own life in the past year. Both my wife Aafje and I have been spared the Covid-19 misery. It did come close when a number of people in our apartment building tested positive and also became quite ill. A week ago we had our booster shot, but we still remain quite cautious. In the past year we both had our cataract surgeries. Aafje hurt her foot and was not mobile for a few weeks, but all in all we are thankful that we made it through the year 2021 in reasonably good health. Except for a week in Denmark and a week in Germany, we were unable to travel, but we found much fulfillment in our creative activities. A special highlight was that in April I received a royal decoration. The certificate has a place of honor on the wall next to my desk.

Actually, I am not so good in looking back at what lies behind me, but mainly wonder what lies ahead. What will 2022 bring us? Will it be another year of Corona restrictions and will we need to get our fourth jab within a few months? In the coming year, I hope to reach the age of eighty. That sounds pretty old. In the past week, I twice visited people in a nursing home for the elderly. Naturally, I saw a lot of weak and invalid people there. Involuntarily, one thinks: Is that my future too? But that thought does not dominate.

On Friday night, during a program of the Dutch television organization Max, Jan Terlouw told an inspiring story that he had written. I admire this man enormously. He had an academic education in mathematics and physics, but his career eventually moved in the direction of politics. He also became well known as an author of novels and children’s books. He is a man with ideals and still expresses them in numerous talk shows. Jan Terlouw is now ninety years old, but he is still very active and creative, and his storytelling is still as sparkling as ever. When I see people like Jan Terlouw it gives me courage and I think: I hope that the good Lord will also continue to give me the health, energy and idealism to do positive things that have meaning for many people. It is with this hope that in a few days’ time I will enter 2022.

So, what about Red Bull . . .?

I very occasionally buy a can of (sugar-free) Red Bull when I am on the road and need a little boost. My experience is that it is indeed quite effective to help you through a temporary energy dip. The business of the company behind this drink, which has been on the market since 1987, is booming. It is one of the main sponsors of Max Verstappen, the Dutch, Belgian-born and Monaco-based, Formula 1 driver, who became world champion last Sunday on the Abu Dhabi circuit.

(This is not about my opinion regarding this branch of sport. I don’t like extremely dangerous sports and certainly not this form of autosport, in which about a dozen men follow each other for a year to over twenty different circuits, spread around the globe, to compete during a large number of daredevil laps).

Max Verstappen receives a base annual salary of over 21 million euros from Red Bull. I do not know how many millions the company pays for the car and for the entire circus around Max. There are also other sponsors. But Red Bull, as the main sponsor, will have been extremely pleased with the enormous publicity that the company has received, thanks to “our” Max, in the past year, and especially last weekend. In any case, a significant proportion of all Dutch citizens saw the car with the words “Red Bull” flash by on their TV screens over and over again for days on end.

I am, you guessed it, not part of the hysterical mob that followed the battle between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen from minute to minute. The Red Bull promotion struck me for a very different reason. One of my writing projects for the next few months is a chapter in a book about the role of “fake news” and of conspiracy theories in our society, and specifically among Seventh-day Adventists. As part of this, I am in the process of reading a stack of books, and one of them happened to report extensively on Red Bull. Soon after the introduction of this energy drink, rumors began to circulate that it contained a number of dubious ingredients, with rather bizarre implications. It was, for example, widely reported that 500 million (!) bull calves are needed annually to provide sufficient semen for the production of the various variants of this enormously popular drink. One of the many components of Red Bull is taurine, an amino acid also found in meat, fish and dairy products. But the taurine (the word is derived from the Latin word taurus = bull) in Red Bull is not obtained from the testicles of bulls but is entirely synthetic. However, there are still millions of people who do not believe this! The Red Bull drink is also surrounded by a series of other “fake news” stories. For example, the inspectors of the Austrian health authorities are said to have released it for consumption after having been bribed with large sums of money.

The Red Bull story is just one of many bizarre conspiracy theories and examples of “fake news” that I have come across in my reading over the past few weeks. Since the Corona era began, there have been legions of strange theories about the origins of the pandemic and about the evil forces that are bent on making us all sick. It never ceases to amaze me how many people are willing to believe in such stories.

I’ve read enough about Red Bull in the last few days to convince me that the drink may be effective, but that it’s not exactly healthy, especially with frequent use. I’ll keep that in the mind when I think I am ready for a little “boost.”