Monthly Archives: May 2017

When being a prophetess was rather common . . .

When in the United States, I always try to find an ABC–an Adventist Book Center (bookstore). I want to know whether my church has latelypublished anything significant. Usually I leave the store rather disappointed. But this time, a few weeks ago, I found a small book that I had not yet heard of, and that looked quite interesting. I bought a copy, partly also inspired by the fact that I had gotten to know the author when I lectured at Loma Linda University, some two years ago, as a ‘visiting professor.’  It was a small book of just under a hundred pages, written by Theodore N. Levterov, the director of the Ellen G,. White Estate Branch Office at Loma Linda University in California.  It is entitled: Accepting Ellen White: Early Seventh-day Adventism and the Gift of Prophecy Dilemma.

The book is a popularized and abbreviated edition of Levterov’s doctoral dissertation. The scholarly nature of the original is still visible in an abundance of endnotes. Levterov makes clear that the acceptance of Ellen White as a prophet was often quite challenging for the early Adventists. He focuses on the factors that helped them to ‘put the doctrine of spiritual gifts into a balanced perspective within their over-all theology.’

I found the first chapter the most fascinating. It describes the world into which Ellen White was born and, in particular, the religious milieu in which she grew up. As a child and adolescent she would quite often attend religious meetings in which she would witness visionary and charismatic manifestations. Levterov confirms the description of a Methodist historian who studied the Methodist surroundings that had a strong formative influence  on Ellen White.  In her book Fits, Trances and Visions, Ann Taves published her research into the activities of numerous prophetess in early 19th century Methodism. She documented how the form and content of these visionary experiences were very similar to what the early Adventists saw and heard when Ellen White was ‘taken off’ into one of her public visions.  Levterov furthermore gives a very candid description of the often chaotic and wild scenes during the meetings of the early Adventists and, especially, during their campmeetings. Ellen White would later often refer to these as evidence of ‘fanaticism.’

In this book Levterov makes an important contribution in giving twenty-first century Adventists a clearer picture of the way in which Ellen White fitted into the religious landscape of her time. Reading this first chapter one gets an amazing picture that has not often been painted in such an open and unapologetic way. It underlines that God uses methods and forms that are understood by the people he wants to address. The forms and methods that were common among the ‘shouting Methodists’ had their appeal and their use in their time, and God apparently used these forms when communicating through Ellen White, who was part of that milieu.  If he were to communicate with us in similar forms it would only lead people to wonder about our sanity, and it  would cause many around us to question whether we should be regarded as a truly Christian church.

It is encouraging that we recently see a greater willingness on the part of people who are close to the institution that is responsible for the literary heritage of Ellen White, to bring ‘the prophet’ down from her pedestal, and to distinguish myth from reality. Unfortunately, we have yet a long way to go, and large numbers of her devotees around the world continue to worship her in ways that she would herself have disapproved of. Ellen White continues to have a great importance for Seventh-day Adventists, but we owe it to ourselves–and also to her–that we do not treat her as a kind of ‘saint’, and that we always interpret her writings and actions against the background of the time in which she lived.

Kudos to the Pacific Press for publishing this frank and refreshing book, and to Levterov for his important work. I would say to the author: Please expand this first chapter into a book-length study. I would be among the first to buy such a book.


Fake news


Yesterday the office of the president of the General Conference released a statement concerning its position on the ordination of female pastors. It announced a change in the strategy of the denomination with respect to this issue. I quote: ‘The top leadership of the church will no longer pursue any possible actions against church entities that are non-compliant with the church’s policies. In stead, the leadership has agreed that it is the prerogative of the unions to determine who will be ordained to the ministry.’

I wish such a statement had indeed come from Silver Spring. But, alas, it is fake news. As I wrote these lines I realized how easy it would have been to disseminate this ‘news.’  I could have sent it to my two thousand Facebook friends, with the request to share this piece of fantastic news on their own FB page!

Just a week or so ago the Euro-Asia Division (Russia, Ukraine and a  number of other former Soviet nations) had to send out a formal declaration stating that the ‘news’ which had been widely circulated through the social media–that the Russian government had formally closed the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Russia–was, in fact, fake news!

The term ‘fake news’ has lately been on many lips and has become a major issue.  How much of what the media report can be trusted?  How do we know that what we read on Facebook is actually true?

But an even bigger problem is that much of the news that we consume is very subjective and one-sided, and that it is often very difficult to get a complete and balanced picture of what is going on. I am very interested in what happens in the United States and follow closely all the issues in which President Trump is embroiled. But I realize that the Dutch media, by and large, are quite anti-Trump. I also realize that the on-line edition of the Washington Post that I read (or at least scan) every morning is not exactly Trump-friendly. And it is clear that CNN (which is one of the foreign channels I have on my tv) would be very happy to see the president impeached in the near future.  Recently I was staying in a home in which Fox-news was quite popular. I knew that the Fox news network has a totally opposite view from that of CNN. I greatly dislike Fox, but I must admit that maybe some of the things they say have some validity, and that possibly some of the reports of CNN are somewhat skewed and praise is not always given where it may also, from time to time, be due. The question may not be: Is it ‘fake’ or ‘real’, but does what I read or see cover the different aspects of a topic in a fair, equitable way.

Denominational media, at least to some extent, are in the same boat.  How do we get a balanced picture of the things that are happening in the church? I am a daily reader of the websites of Spectrum and Adventist Today. I appreciate the fact that they are not afraid to handle some hot topics that the church is confronted with. Women’s Ordination to the ministry and issues around sexual orientation figure prominently in these media. And it is clear that the voices that speak out on these subjects are mostly on the ‘progressive’ side.  With considerable justice it might be argued that these ‘progressive’ media are rather one-sided. But the same would be true for the Adventist Review and for Adventist World in which the reader finds a great deal of ‘spin.’ It focuses mostly on the successes of the initiatives that come from on high, and on the steady growth of the church, but very little on the problems and immense challenges the church faces.  There are many dubious things we would never have heard of, if it had not been for Spectrum and Adventist Today.

Of course, it must be admitted that different media may have different missions and may target different audiences. But that admission does not eliminate the problem.  How can we get reasonably balanced and objective information about what happens in society as well as in the church?  In any case, it requires that we try to gather our information from various sources and remain alert to see where important questions are dodged and where a major dose of ‘spin’ is applied.  Only then can we have a better chance to discover what is ‘fake’ or one-sided, and what seems to be trustworthy.




Lately the media are full with news and commentaries about elections and referenda. First (June 23, 2016) there was the disastrous referendum in the United Kingdom that produced the tragedy of the forthcoming Brexit–the breaking away from the European Union. On November 8 of last year we saw the just as disastrous outcome of the election campaign in the United States, that saddled the world with President Donald Trump. In our own country (the Netherlands) the citizens went to the polls on March 15 of this year, after a long, intense and in many ways strange, campaign. Opinions differ starkly as to whether the result was good or bad. My feelings were dominated by the satisfaction that the populist results were not as good as had been feared, and that the PVV (the populist party of Mr. Wilders) did not succeed in becoming the biggest party! Next in the series was the Turkish referendum in April 16 about important changes in the Turkish constitution that would give more power to President Erdogan.  We know the sad outcome for the democratic process in Turkish society.

Last Sunday the French people voted in the second round of the presidential elections. They could choose between Emmanuel Macron and Marine le Pen. I belong to all those Europeans who uttered a sigh of relief when it was confirmed that Macron had won a decisive victory and that–at least for now–the extremist threat of a Le Pen presidency had been averted. This week the South-Koreans elected a new president after President Park Gun-hye had been impeached. For Europe the election of a German chancellor in September is of crucial significance.

What many, or perhaps all, of these elections and referenda, tell us is that in most parts of the world society is dangerously polarized. And even though the candidates on the extreme right did, in many cases, not do as well as had been feared, the worrisome fact remains that they can muster much support.

We also see strong polarizing trends in the Adventist Church–worldwide as well as in my own country. It is a sad but undeniable reality. I am relieved that during last week’s quinquennial session of the Dutch Adventist Church, that was held in the city of Almere, this polarization, though palpably present, did not lead to disastrous consequences. Certainly, opinions differed, but moderate voices held the day. The more extreme voices were heard, but they received far less support than I had feared.

There were some major changes in the leadership team of the Dutch Adventist Church. The president and the executive secretary were replaced. The fact that these men were good friends of mine inevitably influences my feelings about this. However, the delegates elected persons who are, theologically, middle-of-the-road and this is something to be grateful for.

The new leaders will need a major dose of tact and administrative and communicative skills in order to meet the challenges they face and which, also after the session, they will find on their desk. Many church members would like to see a more conservative approach to the way the Adventist faith is presented–both to internal and external audiences. One of their problems is that the issue of ordaining female pastors (and the non-compliance with the world church) remains very much alive. And homosexuality remains a very hot potato that causes a lot of division.

As far as politics is concerned I wonder whether the political leaders of our world will succeed, in the years to come, in creating an atmosphere that fosters dialogue between groups with different opinions; in which the participants will look for elements they have in common rather than for the things that separate them; and in which reasonable compromises can be worked out. And looking at my church I wonder how we can create a situation in which we will be more prepared to listen to each other, and to give space to others when they disagree with us. As long as the new leaders in th Dutch Adventist Church will try to work towards that end, they can count on my support.



From Monte Carlo to Zeewolde


[Thursday afternoon, May 4]

I grew up in a family where every dime counted. In the village where we lived we were not the only ones who had to be extremely careful with their money. Outside the village were the ‘large’ farms of the rich farmers who could afford to have a nice, big car. When I came in the homes of some of my classmates, in the time when I went through secondary education, I saw the huge difference in the way they lived and we lived. But the first time that I very consciously experienced the moral aspect of the difference between filthy rich and dirt poor was some forty years ago, during my first visit to a developing country. I had been invited to attend a congress of Adventist book salesmen (colporteurs or ‘literature evangelists’)  in Medelin in the South-American country of Colombia. I had been given a room in a five-star hotel, with a restaurant on the top floor that turned around in about two hours). Immediately next to the hotel was a ‘no-go’ zone for the hotel guests. There was a shanty-town with families with eight or ten children in hovels of less than 20 square meters. I enjoyed my luxury, but I remembered how it bothered me enormously to see the flagrant difference between rich and poor.

In the past week I often had the same kind of feeling. My wife and I had been invited by friends to spend a week on the French Riviera, a little east of Nice, at about 15 kilometers from Monaco. It seems to me that there are only few, if any, places in the world with so many millionaires and billionaires as Monaco.  Rolls Royces, Masseratis and Bentleys are almost as common in the streets as are Citroëns or Opels. The harbor is place to hundreds of expensive yachts, many of which must have cost tens of millions of dollars, or possibly even more.

We visited among other things the Casino in the part of Monaco that is known as Monte Carlo. A ticket of 17 euro allowed us to gasp at the opulence of a large part of the Casino building–that is, at a time when there are no players. It is overwhelming in its display of glitter and wealth. Walking through the halls with their magnificently decorated ceilings and enormous chandeliers, I felt almost sick–not just at the thought of the enormous amounts that are gambled away in these rooms evry evening, but also from realizing that hundreds of millions of people live in abject poverty while here a small privileged elite can do whatever they want.

There is an enormous distance between Monaco and a place like Zeewolde, where we arrived back again some 40 hours ago. Our apartment does not offer us a view on the Mediterranean Sea, with cruise ships on the horizon. Tonight there is no generous host who will invite us to a phenomenal ballet in the Princess Grace Theater in Monaco, as we experienced exactly a week ago. [No, tonight I will drive the short distance to the city of Almere, to attend--together with some 150 other delegates--the opening session of the quinquennial session of the Dutch Adventist Church.] The world in which I live is much more sober that that of many people at the Riviera. But I realize as never before that I have a much better life than most other people on this earth. Even though I drive around in a seven year old Citroën C3 Picasso and live with my wife on 120 square meters, I probably belong to the richest 1 % of the population of the earth!

Many conservative Christians talk a lot (and mostly negatively) about gays and lesbians in the church. [This thought comes almost automatically to mind after having spent a lot of time recently with a very committed gay couple.] Yet, it is a topic Christ never spoke about. However, he often spoke about the theme of ‘the rich and the poor’. And it seems that many of the conservative believers have hardly noticed that.  A Christian lifestyle must be characterized by giving and sharing. That was also the message of many Old Testament laws and of many prophetic messages. Prosperity can be a blessing, but it turns into a curse when the aspect of ‘giving’ and ‘sharing’ is ignored. Fighting poverty is a holy cause. Giving and sharing are Christian virtues that must have high priority.

Moreover, all those who are materially blessed should never forget to be grateful. It was indeed interesting to spend some time in Monte Carlo, but I am very content with my life in Zeewolde.