[Friday evening, 22 February) After a rather relaxed start of this week, I had a few pretty productive days. Sometimes there are days when the creative juices do not want to flow, but this week was quite OK. Apart from dealing with a major backlog of e-mail and a few articles for the information publication of the Belgian Adventist Church, I wrote a fresh sermon about which I feel quite good. (I hope the members of my home church will share this judgment when they hear me preach it tomorrow.) And I worked on the paper that I will read in about four weeks from now, during a congress of European Adventist theology teachers in Beirut (Lebanon). I had already done a considerable amount of preparatory reading and I had begun to write, but this week I was able to concentrate on this project and to produce a more or less final version of this paper.
Next month’s presentation will be entitled: : Diversity—a biblical paradigm. I will try to show how ‘diversity’ runs as a clear thread through the Bible and the Christian teachings. I will deal briefly with the diversity in the godhead (the concept of the Trinity), the diversity in the God-man Jesus Christ, the diversity in the origin and the content of the Bible, the diverse metaphors and images that are used to clarify various aspects of the atonement, and diversity as a characteristic of the people of God and their mission. If diversity is so clearly used by God to reveal the various aspects of what He wants to tell us, and if we will apparently benefit from seeing things from different perspectives—would that not mean that Christian theologians (including Adventist theologians) should also regard diversity in their midst as something very positive?
While I was writing, I remembered my first hesitant steps on the path of theology. During my first year at Newbold College we had a class that was called ‘harmony of the gospels’. The class was taught by a very senior teacher, whose movements were so dangerously uncontrolled, that we were in constant fear that he would collapse before our eyes. He wanted to impress upon us that the gospels did not differ as much from each other as many theologians wanted us to believe. It was just a matter of being able to see how the four different stories of Jesus’ life and work seamlessly fitted together. In order that we should be convinced of the harmony of the gospels, we were ordered to cut up the four gospels from two old Bibles and glue all the small segments in the right order, following a three-year time line, and using different columns for the parallel sections. Fortunately we had access to the (then rather recent) Adventist Bible Commentary and discovered that one of the authors of volume 5 had already done all this work for us.
Less than two years later I was at the Theological Seminary at Andrews University in the US, to work on my ‘masters’. There I took the class ‘New Testament Introduction’, with the charismatic dr. Sakae Kubo as one of my teachers. (For various reasons I have always admired this man, in particular because of the way in which he later faced unreasonable criticism and opposition.)
Kubo wanted us to understand the diversity in the New Testament: the different approaches of the different authors. And he wanted us to have an open eye for the problems the critical reader will encounter. How do you, for instance, know that Jesus’ active career, between his baptism and his crucifixion, was a little over three years? One is able to come to this conclusion from some remarks by John, about the annual feasts that Jesus attended in Jerusalem. However, if we did not have John, the other gospels may have led us to think that Jesus’ ministry lasted just about a year. And how was one to understand the two different stories about a ‘miraculous feeding’? Did Jesus give bread and fishes to 4.000 or to 5.000 men? Were there two separate occasions when Jesus fed a multitude? Or was there just one single such event, that is communicated to us in two different versions? I can mention a host of other issues that dr. Kubo made his students aware of.
Maybe Kubo’s lectures were the crucial moment in my early theological development (in addition to my reading of James Barr’s book Fundamentalism) that sent me on the path of diversity. And I have never left this path. No one person can have a full understanding of what God wants to tell us. We need other people to complement our own limited thinking. That was already true for the biblical authors. Why would we think that this would not be true for us?