Books, and more books

During the festivities of some two weeks ago, to celebrate the 90th birthday of the Swedish conductor Herbert Blomstedt, I met a few friends I had not seen for quite some time. One of them was Per Bolling, a Swedish pastor, who in the past served for some years as the manager of the Adventist publishing house in Sweden, and later as the Swedish Union president. He was my translator on Saturday morning August 5, when I preached during the church service. Per wrote a number of books and brought a copy of his newest book along for me. Having already written a book on Paul’s letter to the Romans, in his most recent book Per deals with the letter to the Galatians.(1)  Per is a clear thinker and a gifted writer.

Sigve Tonstad had come, together with his wife Serena, from his current domicile in Norway to the Swedish town of Rimbo. He also brought a copy of a book for me along. As it happens it is also about one of the Pauline letters. It is a commentary on the letter to the Romans from an ecological perspective (2). The title certainly raised my curiosity. Glancing through the book and reading a few lines here and there told me that reading this 400-plus page book (with rather small print) will require a considerable (but probably very worthwhile) effort.

Sigve Tonstad and I have great respect for each other, During our meeting in Rimbo he was very appreciative of my recent book FACING DOUBT. He told me: ‘You write for the church members and what you have to say is very important for them. And I,’ he added, ‘write mostly on behalf of the church and want to present an Adventist view to a larger academic community.’ Sigve is both a medical doctor and a theologian. As an academic he is by far superior to me. I regard him as one of the most able and most creative theologians in today’s Adventism.

Leaving Rimbo I received yet another book, written by a few dozen of Blomstedt’s friends. It was presented to the maestro at this special moment in his life.  I was honored to have been asked also to contribute a chapter to this book. (3)

However, as far as reading during our holidays in Sweden is concerned, these books must wait their turn. Of course, I brought a number of books for our four weeks in Sweden. As usual, I am alternating regularly between something ‘light’ and something that is more ‘substantial.’ A novel by the Swedish crime writer Håkan Nesser falls in the first category. I am reading it in the original Swedish language, which means that my reading tempo is a little slower than it normally is. I find it remarkable to see how Scandinavia produces so many excellent crime writers. The reason for this still puzzles me.

The more ‘substantial’ book that I will probably finish later today was published just about two months ago by Boekencentrum, a prominent Dutch publisher. The author is Gijsbert van den Brink, a professor at the Free University in Amsterdam. When I translated some time ago a voluminous book on dogmatics that he co-wrote with a colleague at the same university, I got to know Van den Brink quite well and received an invitation for the book presentation. The book is entitled: En de Aarde Bracht Voort: Christelijk Geloof en Evolutie. The Dutch title indicates that it is about christian faith and evolution. One of the reasons why I was so interested in this book is the fact that Professor Van den Brink has his roots in a rather conservative section of Dutch Calvinism. Most people in this segment of Dutch Protestantism tend to be very negative towards anything that smells of evolution. They cling to a literal interpretation of the creation story. Many of them must feel very uncomfortable with the fact that Van den Brink has taken it upon himself to investigate whether christian faith and evolution can actually go together. He tries to demonstrate that there are no insurmountable hurdles for maintaining the cardinal teachings of the christian faith while also accepting evolution as a fact.

I have read the book with great interest. I have gradually come to rather similar conclusions. This does not, however, mean that Van den Brink succeeds in convincing me in everything he says. I admire him for his courage to deal with this topic so extensively and openly–even though he knew he would receive much criticism. But I also appreciate the fact that, apparently, it is now possible, even in those circles where Van den Brink has his spiritual home, to discuss topics that are controversial, without being excommunicated or totally sidelined.

The book is a must-read for those Adventists who have serious questions about the official view of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, which offers  a literal six-day creation in a recent past as the only option. (A somewhat more technical edition of this book in English will appear in 2018.)  It would be great if Adventist theologians and scientists would also be able to discuss these matters openly without fear of repercussions. And how great would it be if church-related publishing houses would welcome authors who search for answers in the domain of faith and science, and would publish their writings.  I do not easily abandon my hope that one day this will happen!


[1]  De Zweedse titel is: Frihet: en Liten Bok of Galatenbrevet (Uitgegeven door Skandinaviska Bokförlaget, 2017).

[1]  Letter to the Romans: Paul among the Ecologists. (Uitgegeven in de serie: The Earth Bible Commentary, door Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2016).

[1]  Herbert Blomstedt: Nahe am Herzen der Schöpfung. De inhoud is deels in het Engels en deels in het Duits.