Once again: Kuitert


In my previous blog I was quite enthusiastic about the biography of Harry Kuitert (b. 1924), by Gert J. Peelens. I have now finished the book and my enthusiasm has gradually become mingled with a sense of tragedy.

Peelen paints a very fascinating picture of Kuitert and gives a clear description of his development as an ethicist and a theologian. His career is, in fact, a triptych: Kuitert’s academic career shifted from theology to ethics and, after he retired, back to theology. In his advanced age Kuitert produced a number of theological books for a broader public. Some of these have become real bestsellers.

It is not strange to detect a development in someone’s thinking—and that is certainly true for a theologian. But in the case of Kuitert we are faced with a man who began his career as a fundamentalist pastor in the small Christian Reformed Church in Scharendijke, a conservative village in the Southwestern part of the country, and who, some six decades later no longer believes that God really exists (i.e. as a Reality outside us), and who no longer expects a life after death.

His complete turn-around has probably been best expressed in two of his famous one-liners. In 1974 he stated that everything we say about ‘above’, comes from below. In 2002 he told his readers that at first there were human  beings, then there were gods, and then came God. And not the other way around,

As the years passed we notice a consistent line in Kuitert’s thinking. He becomes more and more convinced that we cannot read the Bible as history. The Bible stories did not really happen in the way they were written down. They are stories, myths. At first he was mainly concerned about he lack of historicity in the first three chapters of the Bible: we cannot accept the stories of creation and of the Fall as literal. But as he became older—and this is especially clear from his more recent books—little of the biblical story remains. He is more and more convinced that, when we speak of God, we do not refer to a Reality outside of us (to a Referent, as philosophers would say). God is the product of our imagination. And this does not just apply to God, but to all aspects of our faith. This does not make the Christian faith completely worthless, even though many of his readers think so. Ever more frequently people accuse Kuitert that he has robbed them of their faith.

I agree with Kuitert in many of the things he says. When we use God-talk and faith-talk, we can only do so with human language—with human metaphors and literary models.  This is often forgotten and leads almost inevitably to a caricature of God. But I am not prepared to follow Kuitert in eliminating the possibility of divine revelation. There are, I think, at least as many arguments for the existence of God (as an Eternal Reality outside of us) as there are reasons to deny God’s existence. If we are prepared to recognize the fact that God exists, it seems logical to assume that this God makes himself known to us, gives us information about himself and what he does for us andexpecs from us.  If that is true, it follows that not all God-talk originates in our human imagination. Something from above is received here below and can be known to us. That is something that encourages me, even though we must remember that in our thinking and speaking about God we will always be handicapped by our creaturely limitations.

Kuitert has a defense against the accusation that he has taken the faith of many people away, that we cannot simply dismiss. The panic among believers, he says, is the result of the fact that most theologians have too long remained silent about their discoveries and they carefully kept their conclusions in their own small circle. When at last, like Kuitert, they began to speak and write about their opinions, some felt liberated but many felt betrayed and frustrated. This is also a lesson for Seventh-day Adventist theologians. Among them we also notice tthe tendency to keep quiet about the developments in their theological views, afraid that they might confuse the members in the pew (or lose their job). This is unfortunate and dishonest. And in the long run it causes immense problems.

A denomination has to gain a great deal by being open, also when the basic elements of its theology are at stake, as well as the ways in which these impact on the faith community.



4 thoughts on “Once again: Kuitert

    1. Reinder Bruinsma


      Thanks for your comment. I am happy with the interest for my book. Many readers have contacted me and said that they recognize their own position and felt it a relief to see it discussed in the way I did. It feels like a have embarked on a special ministry!
      I have no US trip lined up for 2017. I get messages telling me that it would be nice if I could come as a speaker, but there is nothing concrete. The problem is that the feelers come from local churches, rather than from conferences or unions, or institutions that have budgets for inviting people. I have now been retired for a number of years and have no personal traveling budget anymore. Normally, I would b willing to spend some of my own money, but I have a son who needs a lot of assistance because of a crisis he is in and this depletes any funds I might have.
      So, yes, I would be delighted to come, if there are budgetary possibilities. I do not know whether some interested parties could come up with a plan. Recently I received a note telling me that in Orlando a men’s group is reading my book. Are you aware of this?
      I understand that you are teaching in the Adventist University of Health Sciences. You may know whether there might be a budget for having me teach a few guest lectures or leading out in a week of spiritual emphasis for students, or something similar. If so, I could also do some stuff in connection with the topic of my book.
      I look forward to hear from you. Best wishes and blessing for the christmas season and 2017!

      Op 17 dec. 2016, om 19:38 heeft Disqus het volgende geschreven:

      1. ErnieBursey

        Good hearing from you, Reinder!
        Yes, I am in that men’s reading group, too. We’ll be talking about your book early next month. As for the feasibility of you coming to Florida–our Central Florida chapter of Adventist Forum has sufficient funds to fly you here and offer several presentations over a weekend, especially in the winter months, and provide lodging, along with a modest honorarium and a return ticket, as well. I am intrigued with the possibility of developing a series of appointments in the area from other organizations, as well. I will pursue that. In the meantime, I will see that your book gets continued coverage among our Forum attendees. And could you give me a couple of time slots in the next six months that could work for you at this time? By the way, I recall that a son of yours was in a course I taught at Walla Walla University years ago. Please give him my best wishes. Cheering you on,
        Ernie Bursey

        1. Reinder Bruinsma

          Good morning Ernie,

          I would be great to come and talk to your Forum chapter in Orlando and possible take some other appointments in connection with that.
          As far as time slots is concerned: The month of February would be best for me. I have a few appointments in that month but those can be moved around. In March I would have the last weekend available. That is also true for the last weekend in April. Is February a possibility? That would be easiest. (And also: it is nice getting away from the winter for a week or so!) . There are reasonably priced flights from Amsterdam, from about 650-700 dollars return.
          Yes, you had Peter, our son, in one of your classes. He may not have been the most pliable student, as he had some difficulty finding his way–especially with regards to his faith. We were working as missionaries at the time in Ivory Coast. Peter is now living in Sweden. He has two young children. Unfortunately, he has some major health problems. On top of that his relationship collapsed. All together he is going through a rather tough period and we try to help him to the extent that we can! After he graduated he lived in WW for about two years and still regards WW as a very good place to live.
          Well, I look forward to further planning.
          Warm greetings,


          Op 18 dec. 2016, om 18:31 heeft Disqus het volgende geschreven:

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