[Melbourne, 29 January, 2016] I instantly mistrust people who tell me they never had (or have) any doubts. And I am not referring to the kind of doubt that they may have about what they will wear today, or what food they will put on tonight’s table. I am talking about doubt with regard to issues of faith.
Faith never offers absolute certainty. Faith is hoping, expecting, trusting. It is a strange mix of certainty and uncertainty that is not based on hard scientific evidence. It is, therefore, not so strange that many find it difficult to continue to believe or may even lose their faith at a certain point in time.
Ryan Bell, a former ministers of the Adventist Church in Hollywood (USA), decided to experiment with his faith. He wanted to live as an atheist for a year. He did not know where that might lead him or how it might change him. It was obviously not something he thought of one day and then implemented the next day. I know only snippets of his personal history, from remarks by people who know him, but I suspect that his decision came at the climax of a long and complex process. By now two years have passed since he began his experiment. He often writes about his experience and gives talks about it. Many seem to be interested in what has been happening to him. By now it is clear that he did not abrogate his experiment after twelve months. As far as I have been able to ascertain from a distance it seems to me that he has completely (and for ever?) given up on his faith.
From time to time I see the name of Ryan Bell pop up. This week, for instance, I happened to see it as I was reading the small, 120-page book Why I Try to Believe. I had bought it in the Adventist Book Center that is located in the office of the Victoria Conference of the Adventist Church in Melbourne. (I should say that I much more enjoyed my visit to another bookstore that belongs to the Kooron-chain of first class christian bookstores in Australia.) The book has been written by Nathan Brown, the editor and manager of the Adventist publishing house in Australia. I met Nathan a few years ago during another visit to Australia and I hope to see him again before my present vacation ‘down under’ comes to an end.
The preface of Nathan Brown’s book is written by Ryan Bell. Nathan and Ryan have been friends for many years. Nathan acknowledges that he also has many doubts, but he has very intentionally chosen another route than his friend Bell. He does not want to abandon his faith, but wants try to believe in spite of his many doubts and uncertainties, and he hopes that his openness and honesty will stimulate many readers to give faith a new chance in their life. I read the book with strong interest and will fondly recommend it to some of my friends!
Reading this book confirmed in me the plan that, for the past four or five weeks, has been slowly acquired a more definite form in my thinking: to write a book that especially targets people who are in the margin of the church—those who are about to leave and those who have recently left. In the past few months I have met and talked with a significant number of people who told me about their doubts and uncertainties—concerning their faith in God or their relationship with their church. A considerable number of Adventists have told me how exceedingly troubled they are because of certain trends in the church—in the Netherlands, but also in the Adventist world church. I share with them many of the same feelings and questions, and sometimes I wonder whether I can stay with my church. So far I have (just as Nathan Brown) concluded that it continues to be worthwhile to stick to my faith in God and that I continue to have good reasons to consider the Adventist Church as my spiritual home. At times this is not easy, but I believe I may be able to help some people to also remain on the path of faith.
In the past few weeks I have created a provisional outline for such a book. It have shown the outline to a few people who have encouraged me to pursue this project. Reading Nathan Brown’s book had given me further impetus.
There are some difficulties to consider. I have yet to decide whether I will write the book in Dutch or in English. And, of course, I must embark on some intensive thinking and reading. (Writing the book may actually be the easiest part.) And I must face another important issue. Is there a publisher in the Adventist Church that will dare to publish such a book? But, as I said, the plan is getting a clearer shape. There are other projects on which I hope to work in 2016, but chances are that this project may be realized in the next 12-18 months!