Voices from 60 years ago

It has been said that Adventists will eventually react to changes that occur in the rest of the world, but that it does take them about fifty years to do so.  Fact is, that the issues that are affecting society—and other christian denominations—eventually also come to our door.

Last week I read a book by a Dutch theology professor, Dr. Hans Snoek, entitled: Van Huis uit Protestant, which translates best as ‘Raised a Protestant.’ The subtitle describes the content: Hoe de leer verdampte en het geloof veranderde (Or: ‘How doctrine evaporated and faith changed’.)[1]

Giving some historical background to the challenges of Dutch Protestants, Snoek points to two authors who, some sixty years ago, tried to give an analysis of the situation Protestants were confronted with. They pointed to elements that needed to be faced. However, the books they wrote pointed in dramatically different directions.

One author—Prof. R. Schippers—strongly believed that the greatest danger confronting the conservative stream of Dutch Protestantism was the tendency of many church members (in particular of the younger generation), to follow ‘worldly’ trends. He emphasized the problem of the deterioration in sexual morals, and the lure of unacceptable forms of amusement, such as the cinema.

The other author—Thijs Booij—also writing in 1954, argued that the conservative Dutch Protestantism he saw around him was mostly defined by a culture of old age. The dynamic character of the church had disappeared, giving place to stagnation.  He saw very little growth—intellectually and spiritually. Too many people, Booij contended, are focused on the past, which has led to a ‘monologue-culture’ that has preciously little to say and mostly repeats itself. He signals a lack of imagination, a distaste for experiment, a lack of improvisation and of creative planning.

Booij goes on to say that one of the problematic elements in the conservative Dutch Protestant world of his days, is that church culture is male-dominated. And he adds that it is characterized by a strong intellectualism that leaves very little room for the experiential aspects of faith. This tendency towards abstract thought leads to building systems, which encourages people ‘to define their doctrinal differences in six decimals.’

In contemporary Adventism many would agree with Prof. Schippers. Much more emphasis ought to be placed, they say, on leaving ‘the world’ and on striving for the kind of character and lifestyle that God expects us to develop. Well, who can disagree with that?  And yet, it struck me that what Mr. Thijs Booij wrote more than half a century ago seems a very accurate description of what contemporary Adventism is like.  By and large, Dutch conservative Protestantism did not heed the warning of Professor Schippers. Nor did it adequately respond to the concerns listed by Mr. Booij.  Will the Adventist Church fare any better?

A denomination that mostly repeats itself without the kind of ‘present truth’ that relates to the issues of our times, that is male dominated, and is afraid of new forms of spirituality, may still exist for a while, but is not going to be very appealing to most of the men and women around us who are in search of a spiritual home. Let’s not wait another fifty years before we address these important concerns.

[1]  Published in Kampen by Uitgeverij Kok, 2015.