Once every two years there is a meeting of theology professors of the European Adventist tertiary educational institutions with a theology department: the Friedensau University in Germany, Collonges (Campus Adventiste sous-Salève), in France, Newbold College for Higher Education in England, the Zaotsky Institute in Russia and a dozen or so smaller colleges with a theology/religion department. This year the conference made use of the facilities of Newbold College in England. During the last decade I have been invited to attend, since my theological interests are known and because I do, from time to time, some teaching in the form of so-called ‘intensives’ (a few days or a few weeks) in various places. However, as a special invitee, I am expected not just to be present, but also to deliver a paper. I have done so again with much pleasure and satisfaction.
The theme for the meetings was ‘Revival and Reformation’. Different facets were dealt with (even though some of the speakers did not stick to the main topic very closely). I was the last speaker, yesterday afternoon, with the topic: Revival and Reformation: A current Adventist initiative in a broader historical context.
When some 65 Adventist theologians from about fifteen different countries meet, listening to the various presentations and the ensuing discussions, and talking informally with one another during the breaks and meals, it does not take long to discover different ways of thinking. You cannot help secretly grading the participants on a scale from ‘orthodox-conservative-right’ on the one side to ‘liberal-left’ on the other side. When I try do do so, I have a fair idea where most of them are positioned on this scale. I have a suspicion that most of my fellow-participants would probably position me somewhere towards the liberal-left end of the scale.
At time I have wondered in which theological category I really belong. Is my place somewhere in the safe ‘middle of the road’ category, rather than in the group that is on the ‘right’ or with those who are on the ‘left’? Or should I concede that I am a ‘liberal’ after all? Well, I find that question difficult to answer. Much depends on how the term ‘liberal’ is defined. And with whom you are being compared. You might be liberal in the eyes of conservative fellow-Adventists, while at the same time appearing very conservative in the eyes of some liberal Protestant groups. And you might be rather liberal in your theology but quite conservative in your life-style. Or vice-versa.
In my suitcase I have a book that I have now almost finished reading. It is written by Douglas Ottati, an American theology-professor. Its title is: Theology for Liberal Protestants (Eerdmans, 2013). This author maintains that liberal theology is based on the Bible and on how the christian tradition has expressed the biblical faith in various ways through the ages, while at the same time also taking into account the developments in other disciplines (both in the humanities and the natural sciences) and attempting to translate the christian faith in such a way that it will ‘land’ with a twenty-first century public. This is not an exact quotation, but I believe it is a fair presentation of what Ottati says. I have read the book in the past few weeks in a rather piece-meal fashion, as I was quite busy, but this did not diminish my pleasure in reading it. And yes—when I apply the liberal model of Ottati to myself, I can only say: I am and want to remain such a liberal Protestant, cq. liberal Adventist!