Monthly Archives: December 2022

Lectori salutem

Lectori Salutem. These Latin words sound like a somewhat solemn invocation–and there’s a reason for it. After much hesitation, I have come to a decision. This will be my last weekly blog. I don’t know exactly how many pieces I have written since I started, but I estimate the number to be well over 800. I began this project shortly after I became the president of the Dutch Adventist Church, in late 2002. Every week I posted a blog on the website of the Netherlands Union. It proved to be an excellent means of communicating with the church membership. After I retired at the end of 2007, I switched to my own site to put my (almost) weekly blog online. Since then, I have indeed managed to produce something almost every week–at first only in Dutch, but since 2012 also in English.

As my faithful readers know, most of my blogs were about church-related matters. Even when my active role as a church administrator ended, in many ways the church remained the center of my world. Thus far I have been blessed with fairly good health, and most of my time is still spent on activities directly or indirectly related to theology and church. My 2023 calendar is already beginning to fill up, with deadlines for articles and with appointments in the Netherlands and elsewhere for sermons, presentations and teaching. I also hope to begin work on a new book very soon. But as I recently reviewed my future activities, I felt it was time to wind down a few things. Therefore, this will be my last blog.

In my blogs I have always tried to be open and transparent with regard to my opinion on current issues and developments in the church. This was appreciated by most readers of my blogs, but inevitably some questioned my orthodoxy and sometimes my integrity. The latter group was often quite vocal, but fortunately relatively small, as the hostile critics of my blog usually faded away fairly quickly. All in all, the number of positive responses exceeded the number of cranky or downright nasty ones by at least a factor of ten.

Perhaps some of the approximately four thousand regular readers will be disappointed that I am ending what became a weekly tradition. But at some point everything comes to an end. And I must honestly admit that I sometimes lack sufficient inspiration and struggle to find a new topic. And it does at times cause a bit of stress, when after a week I still don’t know exactly what my next piece will be about.

For now, I’ll just leave the blogs on my site. [And maybe I will add another piece, now and then, when I can't resist the urge to respond to something.]

Many thanks to all my faithful readers.
And, of course, I wish all of you a blessed Christmas season and a happy, healthy and creative 2023.

Reinder Bruinsma
Zeewolde, December 14, 2022

Does God favor Argentina?

Does God favor Argentina?

I am not a soccer fan. I have never attended a soccer match in a stadium. So far, during this World Cup, I have watched maybe 20 minutes of matches on TV. And I look on with great amazement as a frenzied crowd goes wild when their favorite team scores.

Of course, I did follow the Dutch team’s performance in Qatar, and I am aware that the Dutch lost to Argentina, when it finally came down to penalties. (Actually, a strange way to decide a match. To me it looks like a lottery.) One in every three Dutch people watched the Netherlands-Argentina match. That is considerably more than will be sitting in church during Christmas. It does say something about our society. Incidentally, the question remains whether we should have participated in this tournament at all, given the history (read: corruption) surrounding the choice of Qatar, and the way in which this country treated the laborers who had to build the necessary stadiums and other infrastructure.

Disappointment all around! The Dutch did not make it. Louis van Gaal’s dream that the Dutch would become world champions was shattered. But is this disappointment justified? The Netherlands finished as one of the eight best soccer countries in the world. Surely that is a very good result in the 2022 World Cup. After all, you can’t all be the best. [I would love to be the best preacher in our little Dutch Adventist world, but I would also be very satisfied with a spot among the best eight . . . or even the best sixteen...]

Two things in particular have stuck in my mind in recent days. I have great admiration for Louis van Gaal. Not only is he a unique man, who knows how to liven up every press conference with some extradordinary remarks, but with his 71 years he is an inspiration for many older people who doubt whether they are still capable of some special achievement. Van Gaal managed to overcome his prostate cancer and went on to deliver an extraordinary performance.

And then one other thing. There was extensive mention in the newspaper that arrives in my mailbox every morning, that some of the players on the Dutch team place great value on prayer. And I also saw images on television of members of the Argentine team sending up their prayers to heaven before the match. I cannot help but think: They are giving God a hard time. After all, whose prayers will be answered by God? Does He make sure that the Netherlands will win, or does He answer the pleas for help from the Argentines? Which team does God prefer? The dilemma can be compared to praying in wartime. No doubt there are pious Russians now praying to God for victory, so that their boys can return home quickly from the front, but at the same time there are also prayers going up in the Ukraine, begging God to decide the war in their favor. To whom should God listen?

But, anyway: it is nice to see that there are soccer players for whom God still plays an important role in their lives–even if their theology of prayer probably needs some restructuring!

My smartwatch and the teleological argument for God’s existence

Since about two months I am the proud owner of an Apple Smartwatch. I got it for my birthday from my wife, at the suggestion of my son. The idea is, that for a man like me, who is somewhat advanced in age, this smartwatch can help monitor all sorts of health issues. The device not only looks smart, but can–in combination with my smartphone–also do an incredible amount of different things. Using all sorts of sensors, the smartwatch can count the number of footsteps during my daily walk, measure how many stairs I’ve climbed, the exact distance I’ve covered, and the calories I’ve consumed in these efforts. It can monitor my heart rhythm and even make an electrocardiogram (ECG). The smartwatch has an alarm clock and a GPS. It allows me to read my incoming e-mail, take pictures, check the weather forecast, make phone calls, and much more. Of course, I first bought a book to find out what my smartwatch can do. A Bible app would let me read the Bible, but I have yet to install that. [And yes, the watch also tells me what time it is].

By now, I can handle my new watch quite well, but I still have to figure out how to pay with it. Last night I managed to turn off the Siri function, because it can be annoying when the digital Siri-lady suddenly interferes. That happened this past week when, during a Zoom lecture I was giving, Siri volunteered several times that she could not find a certain term!

It is beyond me as a technical and digital ignoramus to understand how so many functions can be combined in such a small device, and then also has space left for a battery. When I look for a good term to define it, I quickly come up with the word “miracle.” And perhaps it is not so strange to think of a word with a theological association, for in the past people have regularly associated theology with watches.

The all-important theological question is, and remains, whether we can prove that God exists. Over the centuries, theologians and philosophers have come up with a number of classical proofs of God. One of these was the so-called teleological argument. The word “teleological” is derived from the Greek word for “purpose” (telos). The things we find in our world do not just happen to be there, but they have a purpose, and they were made by someone for that purpose. This type of argument for the existence of God will forever be associated with the name of William Paley (1743-1805), a British philosopher and theologian. He became best known for his treatment of the existence of God in his work Natural Theology, in which he used the analogy of the watchmaker. According to Paley, a watch is so complicated that it cannot have come about by chance. There must be a watchmaker. And that applies not only to a watch, but also to the whole world. And, therefore, we do have to assume that there is a “world maker”: God.

Many opponents of the theory of evolution still point to the fact that everything we see in nature shows evidence of “design”, and that, therefore, there must be a (divine) Designer. But nowadays, people generally don’t place much value on the classical proofs of God’s existence, and that includes Paley’s version of the teleological argument. In discussions with atheist friends, it makes little impression. I fear that if I brought up the watch argument, with reference to the “miracle” of my smartwatch, the response would be that my smartwatch does not point to God but to the miracle workers at Apple.

Even owners of miracle devices like the smartwatch will have to acknowledge that there is no “evidence” that God exists. But it is plausible that there is a Maker, and in my opinion, it is harder to believe that there is no God than to believe the opposite. The American theologian of Dutch descent, Alvin Plantinga (born 1932), wrote a book that has meant a lot to me. Its title is Warranted Beliefs. In that book Plantinga shows in a (for me) convincing way that belief in God, and in what has been revealed about Him, is entirely reasonable, even in the absence of absolute evidence. To me, it means that it is totally reasonable to assume that a supernatural Designer somehow “made” people in such a way that they would be able to develop “smart” watches.