Once we have passed the middle of December, we reach the moment when we start looking back on the year that was. For me this looking back always has three dimensions: the world, the church and my personal life.
Well, what can I say about the world at the end of 2016? Our world has not become any better. We live with the enormous uncertainty of what the coming Trump-era will bring us. And nobody can predict what the Brexit will mean for Europe. In many places in the world we see a disastrous degree of polarization that totally divides nations and population groups . The move towards ‘the right’ and the populistich trends are, to my dismay, factors that increasingly determine the Dutch political arena. And names like Aleppo, Mosul and IS have dominated the international landscape.
And what about the church? The crisis in Christianity continues, and this is also true for the crisis in worldwide Adventism. The Adventist Church continues to be successful in recruiting millions of new members, but at the same time experiences an unprecedented exodus of people who no longer feel a home in Adventism. Church leadership at the highest level has in 2016 done what it could to call rebelling church entities (as for instance the Netherlands Union) to order. The world leaders are obsessed with the idea that these ‘illegal’ ordination of female pastors must stop. But gradually this war begins to develop into a rearguard action. Yes, top leadership may still count on a numerical majority in crucial votes to push their ideas–due to the large non-Western support. But the authority of the General Conferences is gradually diminishing elsewhere in the world and it appears to me that in 2016 we have been gradually moving towards a situation in which the ‘rebellion’ will be grudgingly tolerated, without any concrete disciplinary actions.
And how was 2016 for me personally? First of all, I am thankful that I can look back on a years in which I have remained reasonably healthy and energetic. And I realize that I cannot take it just as a matter of course that, after having now been married for 52 years, my wife and I are still able to enjoy life together and to do lots of things together. I have remained quite active in many church activities. I have preached almost every week, given many other presentations, and my pen (i.e. Apple notebook) has been intensely used. I crossed the Dutch border many times in response to invitations. At times this was together with my wife, as for instance when we spent a month early this year in Australia, and on trips to Sweden, England, Belgium and Germany. But in most cases I went alone, as the inviting organizations will normally send just one ticket! Already quite a few things are lined up for 2017.
The publication of my book FACING DOUBT: A Book for Adventist Believers ‘on the Margins’ and its Dutch edition, have to a major extent put a stamp on the second part of the past year. Some people have felt that the book clearly shows that I no longer have the right to call myself a ‘real Adventist, and that I should hand in my ministerial credentials. But I have received so many positive, and often moving, comments from readers in the Netherlands, the United States and the United Kingdom, and from dozens of other countries, that I have the sense of having provided an important service to many people. And, therefore, I will with conviction continue to promote the book and to prepare editions in other languages. I continue to count on the support of many kindred spirits (especially through their social networks). And I will try to respond as well as I can to the many reactions—even if that consumes a major portion of my time.
In 2016 I have been focused especially on the theme of ‘doubt’. This has not harmed my faith. Better than before I have been able to define more precisely what I, in actual fact, believe. And it has given me increased peace of mind to have bidden farewell to many earlier ideas and convictions. It has given me a clearer view of what is really crucial in my relationship to God, and to my church and fellow-believers. This makes my commitment to support others who go through a similar process stronger rather than weaker. This a an important gain in 2016, for which I thank my Lord.
In next week’s blog I want to mention a few things that I hope to be involved in in 2017. However, I keep in mind what used to be an important slogan in conservative Christian circles in the Netherlands: Deo Volente.