Monthly Archives: June 2021

A journey from fundamentalism to faith

Somehow, I missed the announcements and reviews of a recent book by James L. Hawyward, emeritus-professor in biology at Andrews University. A week ago a friend told me he had just read Dinosaurs, Volcanoes and Holy Writ and his enthusiasm prompted me to order it from Amazon. Since there is now also an, it took only two days for the book to be delivered.

When I worked at Andrews between 1991 and 1994 I may have seen the author of the book, but we moved in different worlds. My office was in the Sutherland House at the edge of the campus (now the domicile of Andrews University Press), while Hayward was located in the science building. When I Iast visited the Andrews campus, almost four years ago, in connection with a speaking appointment with the local chapter of the Adventist Forum, I had the pleasure of staying in the home of David and Carie Grellmann. I learned that during my stay they would host a meeting of the “soup club”—an informal group of professionals of widely divergent disciplines which met once every two weeks to discuss whatever they felt invited discussion. I do not remember whether professor Hayward was present during that particular “soup club” meeting. But towards the end of his book I learned that he is a regular member of the club!

Anyway, after reading his book I hope that some day our paths will cross, because I sense we are kindred spirits. The subtitle of his book goes some way toward explaining this: A Boy-Turned Scientist Journeys from Fundamentalism to Faith. I cannot claim I am a scientist on the same level as Hayward, but like him I have journeyed from fundamentalism to faith. His background differed greatly from mine. My father was not a fundamentalist pastor and I did not grow up in an atmosphere in which Ellen White had the final answer for everything. I did not attend an SDA elementary school, or an SDA academy. But as I grew up my fundamentalist outlook was not very different. A significant first step in my liberation from the fundamentalist straight jacket was reading James Barr’s famous book on Fundamentalism during my MA studies at Andrews in the mid-1960s’. Sakae Kubo, one of my favorite professors, advised me to read that book. It was a truly lifechanging experience.

In his book Hayward chronicles the various stages in his journey away from fundamentalism. But the most important part about this journey is where it brought him. In his struggle to free himself from fundamentalism he did not lose his faith and did not abandon his church family. Like Hayward I have remained a believer, and like him I have remained loyal to my spiritual home. That has not always been easy, for in many cases the church does not provide the space that one needs to follow one’s deepest convictions and in some cases to deviate from traditional majority conclusions.

My journey from fundamentalism to faith has not been so closely connected with the issues surrounding creation and evolution as in Hayward’s case. Of course, it has also played an important role in reaching a more mature understanding of how to read the Bible. It is an issue anyone with some education cannot avoid. Like Hayward I started with the firm belief that God created everything about six thousand years ago in six literal days, and that in the days of Noah a worldwide flood destroyed everything. I was told time and again: If we could not trust this part of the biblical account, what about other parts of the biblical story? I read quite a few of the books by authors who defended so-called “young earth” creationism and with my limited background in these matters I found these arguments at first rather convincing. But when I began to read books on the other side of the creation-evolution issue, I began to wonder whether the arguments in those books were perhaps stronger. For Hayward things played out at a very different level, but the results were the same. We believe that God created, but we do not know how and when He did it, and we believe the Bibles does not give us the information on which to base the far-reaching conclusions about a world-wide flood that young- earth geologists defend as ultimate truth.

I fully concur with Hayward’s statement towards the end of the concluding chapter, which I want to quote:
“In view of what I have shared in this book, I ask myself, do I have faith? Hebrews 11:1 declares faith to be “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Faith, then, has nothing to do with things I can measure, count, compare and evaluate—dinosaurs, plate tectonics. Radiometric dates, volcanoes, fossil sequences, ecological relationships, biogeographic distribution patterns, evolution, and the like. No, faith reaches out in hope towards what I cannot see, to an indefinable, ineffable, transcendent reality, yet a reality that exists also deep within me and in all of life. It involves a hope that things can and will be better, even though at this moment they may not be trending in that direction. Faith does not ask me to believe things which evidence suggest are unlikely or untrue—“idols of fundamentalism:, Karen Armstrong calls them. Instead, faith bids me to receive grace and to humbly open my life to goodness, beauty, love, and behave responsibly towards the rest of creation. I still have along way to travel, but my journey so far, as well as what remains, has been and will be made with faith.”

Thank you, Dr. Hayward for your wise, often witty, and inspiring book. I am sure it will help and confirm many others on their journey from a miserable fundamentalism to a joyful faith.

Does Goldstein have reason to be worried?

Clifford Goldstein is not only the editor of our word-wide Sabbath School quarterly, but is also a well-known (and gifted) Adventist author and one of the regular columnists of the Adventist Review. Faithful readers of this journal (and its digital by-products) will know that Clifford (“Cliff” for those, like me, who know him well personally) has a sharp pen and will also know that there are two topics in particular that he keeps coming back to. One is his concern that various forms of theistic evolution are invading the church. He sees this as a threat that leads many church members to abandoning, or at least diluting, the “fundamental belief” in a recent, literal creation in six days. Often his way of dealing with those who deviate from the traditional Adventist creation viewpoint is far from subtle. In fact, he believes (and proclaims) that those who no longer accept the concept of a literal creation, as pictured in the Genesis account, must show their integrity and consider giving up their Adventist church membership.

Goldstein’s second major concern is that there is an increasing number of voices within contemporary Adventism that attack traditional Adventist eschatology. In his June 17 Review article, entitled “The Same Old Whine (of Babylon)”, he complains that no longer are the Adventist end-time concepts only attacked by our enemies on the outside, but also by enemies from within. He does not mince words. I quote: “It’s the same old whine (of Babylon), only coming from among us: Rome is no longer an important player; Sunday persecution will never arise; our end-time scenario is from Ellen White, not the Bible; and we must stop scaring people.”

Reading this article, I wondered what (or who?) had ignited Goldstein’s ire. I could not help but asking myself whether I am perhaps included among “the enemies from within”. I know that Clifford reads at least some of what I write and has more than once been very critical about it. And, lately, some of my weekly blogs about aspects of end time events may have upset him. Or are perhaps the authors of recent articles in the Adventist Today journal (and on the AT website) among those “enemies from within?” Or, could it be that a recent lecture by Jon Paulien, about coming Sunday laws and Ellen White’s perspective on the Great Controversy, are particularly worrisome to him?

It is my suspicion that this recent contribution of Jon Paulien to the discussion of the traditional Adventist end-time scenario may well have been the direct reason for Goldstein’s article. After all, Paulien is a widely recognized specialist on eschatology, with a long and esteemed career in the Adventist academic world. He wrote several books about end-time matters. They were in many ways thought-provoking, but not controversial. It probably surprised Goldstein (as it surprised me) that in this recent lecture Paulien told his audience he does not believe the traditional end-time scenario will necessarily play out in the way Adventists have proclaimed. There may not be a future worldwide Sunday law with fateful consequences for those who want to worship on a different day. And the end-time scenario that looked very credible to believers in the late nineteenth century has lost much of its credibility. Those who are curious what Paulien actually said, may to Youtube: ttps://

I listened to Paulien’s presentation with great interest. Paulien gave solid arguments for his views, and they largely coincide with conclusions I have also come to. I am not worried by what he said, but see it rather as a hopeful sign that perhaps the time is coming that we can have frank discussions about eschatology, without condemning one another and considering those who differ from what we think as “enemies from within”. In 2011, I gave a presentation during a conference of European Adventist theology teachers at Cernica in Rumania. I recently adapted it for an article in the journal SPES CHRISTIANA (of which I now happen to be the editor). It was entitled: “Is the Adventist Hermeneutical Approach to Daniel and Revelation Changing?” (vol. 31, no. 2, pp. 5-24). My tentative conclusion was that there are some signs that this is indeed the case. And Paulien’s lecture seems to confirm this. Goldstein may be worried about it, but it gives me hope that we can begin to update our end-time beliefs and ensure their relevancy and credibility for a future generation.

A new tv

A few days ago, our flat-screen Panasonic 42-inch television started giving problems. The remote control didn’t succeed in turning the tv on, even after I replaced the batteries. I discovered – after my wife had consulted the internet on her I-pad – that the device also has a (rather hidden) on/off button. That temporarily solved the problem. That evening we were, after all, able to watch the news and the penultimate episode of a Swedish police series on Nextflix. But the day before yesterday we could no longer get our Panasonic to “work”. Even the attempt at a total “reset” was fruitless.

Yesterday morning I decided to stop by the local electronics store, to inquire how the problem might be solved. I could mentally prepare myself for the visit, because the Expert branch (a major Dutch electronics chain) in our town is right across the street from the “Old Library”-one of the few available stops for a cup of coffee during my morning walks.

When I entered the store, one of the staff members asked what he could do for me. So far, so good.
I outlined the problem, which was quickly diagnosed: “That will be a faulty power supply, sir. Happens quite often.” The Expert man consulted the computer. “I see that your tv is already seven years old.” He said it in a way that gave me the impression that our device was hopelessly antique.

Yes, perhaps the tv could be repaired, he said. But that was not certain. It could be sent to the place that handles repairs for Panasonic. That would cost 60 euros. And then they could see if it was indeed the power supply that had failed. (“But that surely looks like it!”). All in all, it would be most likely be an expensive repair, probably 150-200 euros. That is: if they still had the necessary new part. And that was far from certain (“After all, your device is already seven years old!”).
In short, the conversation ended with clear advice: “You’d better buy a new one. That’s what I would do, if I were you.”

A few hours later, I was back at the store with my wife, to choose a new tv. I was glad that the man assisting us with our purchase made no attempt to talk us into a larger and much more expensive device. The tv of our choice was in stock-but yes, they were very busy. (“You know, because of the European Soccer Championship”). They could deliver it next week and install it for us (“That will be an extra 49.50 of course!”).

So we unexpectedly bought a new television, without knowing exactly what the problem was with the “old” one, and ignorant about whether it could possibly be repaired. But we were reminded that the old set was already seven years old! This, apparently, is the way the system works, and it seemed the wisest option to follow the advice that we were given. When one thinks about it, however, one realizes that we live in a society that still cares very little about sustainability. Regular replacement, a new model, maximum turnover and maximum profit—these are the key words. And yes, “recycling” of course, as if that makes up for everything.

As thus, as a consumer I simply followed the pattern, with the powerless feeling that I simply cannot change the system. And this is indeed a fact: the way our society is structured has deviated so far from the original plan of the Creator that it will take more than a Covid-19 disaster to fix it. However, this does not absolve me as a Christian from continuing to protest and, where I can, to oppose the kind of consumer society of which I also have become a part.

In the meantime, we will manage without television for a week. There’s actually nothing wrong with that. We watched the latest episode of the Nextflix series last night on the screen of my laptop and the internet will provide us with the news. (So, I know that the Netherlands won against Austria 2-0).
And then there is still the radio and lots of CDs we haven’t listened to for a long time! And, starting next week, if all goes well, we’ll have a television set that will last us probably another seven years!

Church or Sect? What’s the Difference?

What is the difference between a church and a sect? That question is not so easy to answer. For most people the term “sect” evokes rather negative associations. One often hears: A sect is a religious group that turns secondary issues into main issues. This is, of course, a rather subjective approach, because who determines what is essential and what is not? Others claim: Sects are the lice in the church’s pelt. Sects are mainly characterized by their critical attitude towards the “established” churches, without contributing anything significant themselves.

The famous sociologist Max Weber gave a definition that, over time, has been used as a basis for many other descriptions. Weber said that the church is a religious organization in which membership is determined primarily by tradition. In most cases one becomes a member of a church by birth. In a sect, on the other hand, membership is the conscious choice of the person joining the group. Many denominations reject such a definition, especially those that do not practice infant baptism, but baptize people who have asked to be baptized.

Often the word “sect” is used primarily for religious groups that are quite aggressive in their recruitment strategies and/or are strongly influenced by a powerful, charismatic leader (in which case one often tends to speak of a “cult”). Probably the most important characteristic of a sect is that their adherents are convinced that they are in sole possession of the Truth.

In practice, it is not always easy to draw the line between “church” and “sect”. Some religious communities are undergoing a development whereby they slowly but surely shed their sectarian characteristics, and, as a result, are no longer labeled as a “sect.” This has happened in many areas of the world with Seventh-day Adventists. In some countries Adventists are still widely regarded as sectarians, but on the other hand, there are also more and more countries where Adventism has gradually become a respected, Protestant denomination.

Last Saturday there was an interview in my newspaper with the Belgian Cardinal Jozef de Kessel, who has now been archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels for several years. The 73-year-old Catholic Church leader is recovering from colon cancer, but his personal situation has not taken away his positive spirit. He emerges in the interview as an optimist, but also as a realist, and with a strong faith. He acknowledges that the Catholic Church in Belgium is decreasing in size, but firmly believes that “a more modest church” can be more “faithful to itself” and to its vocation in the midst of today’s secular culture.

What particularly struck me in the interview were de Kessel’s comments about sects and sectarian characteristics. According to him, even a large church can in many ways be sectarian. The bishop is looking for a “confessing church” that is carried forward by an inner core of active believers . . . But the church must remain open and avoid being focused on itself.”

The interview concludes with a statement that I would like to quote in its entirety: “In a sect, you know exactly who is inside and who is outside. Moreover, a sect does not tolerate dissent. If you disagree with something you can go. So, you can be a majority church with sectarian traits, and you can be a smaller church with an open mind. It’s nice when the door of a church is open. When you enter, nobody asks: what are you doing here, why are you sitting here, why are you walking around here? Are you a believer or a non-believer? We must be a church that is open and welcoming, without imposing itself.”

A small church that is open! A church that is not just focused on itself, but knows the problems and the language of the secular world around it. A church that warmly receives people without imposing itself. Where you can disagree with one another. Where you are welcome.

Yes, I feel at home in such a church. And I want to continue to do what I can to move my church in that direction.

In Memoriam: Dr. Anne van der Meiden

This morning I read in my newspaper that Dr. Anne van der Meiden died yesterday, on the day before his 92nd birthday. He suffered a brain infarct in 2018 and did not recover from it. Van der Meiden was a theologian as well as a communications scholar. He wrote a series of books in both areas of his expertise, but he gained particular fame for his translation of the Bible into the local language in Twente, a region in the Eastern part of the Netherlands: Bibel in de Twentse Sproake (2019).
Herman Finkers—an entertainer whom I greatly admire–said today in a regional television broadcast that van der Meiden, whether lecturing or preaching, exuded a fatherly, wise authority. Van der Meiden had close connections with the royal family. He officiated at the wedding of Prince Floris and Aimée Söhngen in 2005. “He didn’t care whom he talked to,” says Finkers, “the queen or the postman: he talked to them in the same way.”

In the period when van der Meiden was professor of communication science at the University of Utrecht, I once had a particularly interesting conversation with him. I was looking for a suitable topic for a possible PhD dissertation and was thinking of something at the intersection of church and communication. When I called him, he was happy to make an appointment. Van der Meiden himself had written his doctoral dissertation about the role of ethics in the proclamation of the gospel. In the process, he had, in passing, delivered quite a bit of criticism on the way the Watchtower Society recruited its members (at least in the past). Our conversation quickly took a turn toward Seventh-day Adventism. I asked, How might we succeed in convincing a larger number of people of the value of Adventism? Van der Meiden’s answer was twofold. As I repeat what he said, I must, of course, underscore that this conversation took place more than 40 years ago.

The first thing van der Meiden emphasized regarding the relative success of the Jehovah’s Witnesses is that they are very clear: Whoever has come into contact with the truth, as they proclaim it, and does not respond positively to it, is eternally lost. Period. “You Adventists,” said van der Meiden, “no longer dare to say that. And so, if people will be saved anyway without necessarily joining your church, then becoming an Adventist becomes much less urgent.” It didn’t seem desirable to me then (and it still seems undesirable to me) to adjust our strategy on that point. After all, we are not in charge of who is or is not going to be saved.

But van der Meiden also emphasized another point. He knew that in the past Adventist evangelistic meetings usually began with lectures about the condition of man in death. In his opinion, that was a fatal mistake, because it led to these meetings being attended mostly by older people, who in many cases had suffered the loss of a loved one. But often these people were so tied to their own tradition that they did not have the inner strength to make the transition to another faith community. According to van der Meiden, we as Adventists should design a recruiting strategy that targets young people-and more specifically: young business people. Often, they have a spiritual need that remains unmet in their materialistic context. Moreover, they are used to making decisions, and if they see that a certain choice will benefit them, they will be more inclined to join a (different) faith community than older people.

Since the conversation with Anne van der Meiden took place, a lot has changed in Dutch society and in church life. No, telling people that they will be lost forever if they do not become Adventists in a hurry is not an option. But is the second point he mentioned perhaps still worth considering?