The Touch of the Sacred


I always enjoy receiving a package with a shape that suggests it contains a book. And it gives extra pleasure if no invoice is enclosed. Just over a week ago I received a thick envelope that just fitted through the opening of my mail box. The small parcel was sent by Eerdmans Publishers, one of the most prestigious Christian publishing houses in the United States. (As the name betrays: there is a Dutch connection. The Mr. Eerdmans who started this publishing company in 1911 was of Dutch vintage, with unadulterated Dutch blood flowing through his veins. Even today this publishing house has many renowned Dutch Calvinist theologians among its authors.)

Since the early 1990’s I have had a solid connection with Eerdmans. Through the years I have translated a number of theological and church historical books for them, from Dutch into English. The most recent is a book by professor Gerrit Immink, the rector of the Protestant Theological University—the institution that was established to train the pastors of the United Protestant Church of the Netherlands.  Earlier I translated a book by Immink that was published in 2005 in English by Eerdmans under the title: Faith—a Practical-Theological Reconstruction.  At the time I enjoyed working on this translation. It happened to be a topic (What basis do we have for our faith?) that I was giving a great deal of personal thought.

The book that I recently found in my mail box–without invoice—is a translation of Immink’s latest book, that is in its third printing in the Netherlands—nowadays rather unusual for a religious book. I had the pleasure of caring for the translation into English. Both the author and Eerdmans accepted my proposal for the title: The Touch of the Sacred: the Practice, Theology and Tradition of Christian Worship.  I was pleased to hold the fruit of my hard labor, after more than a year, in my hands. The translation was, as always, a considerable job. But it made a huge difference that this time I could use the services of a theological student who located the English translations of the many German and Dutch books from which Immink quoted profusely.

I have a feeling that the book will also do well in the United States. It appears to be a welcome addition to what is already available in this domain. It is highly readable for the professional theologian as well was for the ‘lay’ person.  Admittedly, it has been written within a particular tradition, namely that of Dutch Calvinism—even though there have been some adaptations in view of the American market. It will not reflect the the practice of many non-Reformed denominations. Many Adventist readers, for instance, will find elements that have not been absorbed into their tradition, as, for instance, the ‘forms’ that are used with the Communion Service and baptism. Adventist readers may also want to quickly skip over those passages that claim a particular value for the Sunday. Nonetheless, I think the book can be extremely useful for Adventist believers. And, although my views are not always the same as those of Professor Immink, I had the distinct feeling, as I was doing the translation work, that I was involved with a useful project.

I am happy to see that nowadays many Adventist congregations give a lot more attention to the weekly worship service than they did in the past. Many churches have a worship committee that is responsible for the form and content of the service. On the other hand, there are many places where much could and should still be improved.

Those who are involved in the planning of the weekly worship would do well to study the history and theology of Christian worship. However, there is hardly any Adventist literature on this topic. A few years ago a significant book was published about music in Adventist worship (Liliane Doukhan: In  Tune with God [Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald, 2010]), but we are still waiting for a book that deals with worship in general, in all its facets. Until we have such a book. Immink’s book might also be a good source of inspiration for Adventists!