Monthly Archives: December 2017

SOUP CLUB

A few days ago I returned from a five-day trip to the United States. I had been invited by the Michiana chapter of Adventist Forum to speak at their meeting last Saturday afternoon in one of the buildings at Andrews University. In addition, I had a few other speaking appointments on the university campus. It was a great opportunity to once again spend some time at my Alma Mater, where I obtained my masters degree in theology in 1966, and where I worked in the Mission Institute (connected with the university) from 1991 to 1994. It was a special pleasure to meet with old friends.

The meeting with the Adventist Forum members centered on my recent book FACING DOUBT. It was interesting to see the many blue covers of the book in the hands of the people all over the audience. This and the other appointments during the weekend once again underlined for me how many people in the Adventists Church are concerned about certain trends in their church and how many also have serious doubts about aspects of the Adventist faith.  It is extremely gratifying to hear over and over again from people who have read the book that they found it meaningful for them at the stage where they are in their spiritual journey. And some also tell me that it has helped them to reconnect with the church.

I had the pleasure of staying in the home of one of the Adventist Forum leaders and his wife. I could not have wished for a more comfortable place to stay, and for more inspiring discussion partners. The last evening of my stay in their home was particularly memorable. For the last ten years, I was told, they have been meeting once every two weeks with four other couples. They call their ‘small group’ meeting their soup club–this in reference to the main part of the meal they share together . They are all professional people. Among the group are a medical doctor, a physical therapist, a lawyer, a biologist, an anthropologist, a mathematician, and a psychologist.  They serve as a spiritual support group for each other. They are people who have more questions than answers, and who are at various points in their spiritual odyssey. They all see themselves as Adventists, but ‘on the margins’ of their church. Their soup club functions in many ways as their church. It is a place where they feel absolutely safe, where they can share their thoughts, express their doubts, voice their questions, express their hopes and seek together for answers. It made a deep impression on me.  We need many more of this kind of soup clubs!

One of the members of the soup club described himself as a Seventh-day Adventist Sabbath keeping, tithe paying, agnostic. What this means is that he has many doubts about even primary elements of his faith, but nonetheless continues to feel an extremely strong bond with his church. He enjoys being part of the Adventist subculture that has shaped him into what he is. We talked together about cultural Adventism. He argued that there is nothing wrong with being a ‘cultural Adventist.’ The people who are seen as ‘just’ cultural Adventists, or who identify themselves as such, also belong to the Adventists family and enrich the fabric of what Adventism is!  I will have to think this through a little further and may come back to it in some future blog. For me this description of being an Adventist would be too meager. But if all cultural Adventists are such pleasant, balanced and positive people as this self-proclaimed Adventist agnostic whom I met in the soup club, I would warmly welcome them to my local church.

 

Pierre Teilhard de Jardin (and Desmond Ford)

 

 

The Pontifical Council of Culture recently announced that it plans to request Pope Francis to rehabilitate Pierre Teilhard de Jardin. This is remarkable, since his ideas (and, in particular, his books in which these ideas were explained) were considered as dangerous reading for Catholics. Gradually this situation is changing. The previous pope quoted from Teilhard in a vesper service in 2004, and the current pope referred to him in a positive way in his recent encyclical Laudato si (Be praised: on the care of our common home, 2015). A request for rehabilitation would certainly have a chance of success.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955) was a Jesuit priest and well-known philosopher, but his special areas of expertise were paleontology and geology. A dictionary definition of paleontology is: “A paleontologist is someone who studies fossil remains and traces of organisms, with a view to reconstructing the nature and the evolution of life on earth in the geological past.” In other words: Teilhard de Jardin was active in the study of evolution. His acceptance of the evolutionary origin of all forms of life was at odds with the official teachings of his church, and, as a result, the church condemned his work. Teilhard wrote one of his most important books The Phenomenon of Man already in 1930, but it was not published until shortly after his death in 1955. I must still have the book somewhere. I bought it more than fifty years ago, when it was published in a then popular Dutch Aula paperback series. I do remember that at the time I did not understand much of what I read, and I gave up after a few dozen pages.

The fact that the Roman-Catholic Church had revised its view of the evolution theory, and that at long last Teilhard de Jardin may be rehabilitated, is rather remarkable. Churches are not very good in changing their doctrinal views. That is also true for protestant churches. They do change, and some long-time cherished ideas may gradually move into the background and be almost forgotten, but it remains quite difficult for most denominations to openly admit that it no longer supports some of the things that were said and written in the past. Often those men and women who pioneered those developments received a very negative press, or could no longer function in their church because of their ideas.

I do not think that in the foreseeable future the Adventist Church will give more space to scholars who have convictions about the creation-evolution dilemma that differ from what the church expects them to believe and teach. And many Adventist theologians and biologists (and geologists, paleontologists, etc.) will remain at odds with their church about many aspects. Let us, however, hope that they will not have to wait sixty years before they receive more space and will be rehabilitated.

PS.  And thinking about rehabilitation for people who in the past were sidelined by the church, because they had some alternative ideas about particular theological issues, I cannot help but remembering the name of Desmond Ford. Has the time not come to rehabilitate him (even when one does not agree with all his views)?