Turner

 

Newbold College, the Adventist institution for higher learning in the UK, is facing numerous challenges. It remains a problem to attract students in sufficient numbers and to stay afloat financially. But Newbold has every reason to be proud of its teaching staff in the theology department.  The quality of the DTS (Department of Theological Studies) at least on a par with the best of the theology departments of other Adventists colleges and universities.

One of the most inspiring members of the Newbold staff is dr Laurence Turner. He is popular with his students, and he is also a very talented speaker. I must admit that, when listening to sermons, my thoughts often tend to wonder, but that does not happen when I am among Turner’s audience.

Also as an author Turner is worth following. When, a few years ago, I was editing the Festschrift for dr Jan Paulsen, the previous president of the world church, I also asked Laurence Turner to contribute an essay. He wrote a significant piece that I see regularly quoted: The Costly Lack of Literary Imagination in Seventh-day Adventist Bible Interpretation.[1]

This week I saw a reference to a book by Turner that has, in fact, been in my book case for quite a few years. It has a short and simple title Genesis.[2] It is part of a new commentary series (Readings: A New Biblical Commentary), in which the story, the plot and the relationship to other stories hold the central place. I had read some of this book as a source of inspiration for a sermon and this week I took it from the shelf with the same purpose. As I read a few remarks about God’s covenant with Abraham stayed with me.

In the first few verses of Genesis we read about God’s command to Abraham, to set out on a journey to a destination only known to God. Next we hear of the tremendous blessings God has in store for Abraham: he will become a great nation; all nations will be jealous because of the blessings he and his decedents will receive. But Turner emphasizes another element that we should not forget: Abraham must himself be a blessing. This is not clear from most translations. Turner points out, however, that the original Hebrew has an imperative. Abraham will not only receive Gods’ blessings but is also commanded to be a blessing for others.

It seems to me that this would be a good topic for a new sermon. God blessed Abraham. He also wanted to bless the people of Israel. And today the church (including the Adventist denomination) can count on God’s blessings and can, no doubt, point to many things and experiences that are clear proof of divine blessings. As individual Christians we may ask for God’s blessings, and if we keep our eyes open we will see how God continues to bless us in many ways. But the question is: To what extent does the church heed that command once given to Abraham: Be a blessing! And I must ask myself: Am I indeed a blessing for the people I associate with? Am I not only a receiver of God’s blessings, but also a distributor?  Thanks, Laurence, for reminding me of this.

 



[1]  Laurence A. Turner, ‘The Costly Lack of Literary Imagination in Seventh-day Adventist Bible Interpretation’, in: Reinder Bruinsma en Borge Schantz, eds., Exploring the Frontiers of Faith: Festschrift in Honour of Dr. Jan Paulsen (Lüneburg, Germany: Advent Verlag, 2009), blz. 261-277.

[2] Laurence A. Turner, Genesis (Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic Press, 2000).

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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!

 

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Suffering

 

How do you measure suffering? How do you measure the grief and the despair of the family and friends of the victims of the disaster with the MH 17.  The downing of the plane of Malaysian Airlines with almost 300 passengers—of whom 198 were Dutch—was a national disaster for the Netherlands and a national day of mourning was more than fitting. But the mourners were, first of all, those men and women who lost a partner, or lost their parents or their children. And those who will never again see their friend, their colleague, their neighbor.

The past week saw a lot of other misery in our world. In Taiwan a plane crashed which left 48 people dead and another plan disaster, in Mali, took 116 lives. During the past week hundreds of Palestinians were killed, together with dozens of Israelis, in an eruption of violence for which there appears no solution. Will will this region of the world ever see peace?

But, apart from this large-scale misery there were many men and women, also during this past week, who are struggling with the tumor and the viruses that seek to destroy their body. And this week there were also many who had to attend funerals or cremations.

When in your own situation things do not go as smoothly as you wished , the thought of al this suffering–this large-scale suffering, far off and nearby–helps to relativize your own discomfort. Almost three weeks ago my wife broke her right arm (at a nasty place and very painful) and also the little finger on her lefty hand. We had to cancel our holiday plans. We had planned to drive to Sweden this past week to be for a few weeks with our son and his family. But rather than being in Sweden my wife sits, quite immobile, in her desk chair (which she finds at present the most comfortable) and the most she can do is typing  e-mail message with two fingers on her i-Pad. And rather then enjoying the Swedish scenery, I am peeling the potatoes and attend to numerous other domestic chores that give me very little pleasure. However, even though I feel quite frustrated, I realize that my problem hardly qualifies as ‘suffering’—in comparison with the true suffering in the world.

And yet, in the midst of all the great problems and disasters we should not forget the real suffering that takes place also at a much smaller scale. For what may seem ‘small’ and ‘insignificant’ to me, may be insurmountable in the eyes of others. Earlier this week I made my customary morning walk—just a bit shorter than usual because of the circumstances I alluded to above. I met an elderly lady who walked slowly behind a walker. She clearly struggled to make her small dog,  that was tied to the walker, move along. He (I will assume the dog was male) did not feel like moving. I asked her whether she would be all right. She responded at length. I was told that the dog was already 13 years old and suffered of various ailments That morning she had not given her dog enough of his medicines. The dog would probably not live too much longer. But, she was already 83 and at that age it would hardly be responsible to get another one. So, before too long she would be totally alone . . .

The incident of the elderly lady with her elderly dog was of a totally different order than the long procession of 74 black hearses with as many coffins, making their way along the highway from  Eindhoven airport to Hilversum, where the forensic experts will do their difficult work. And yet, this was also real suffering . . .

 

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Rebecca

 

About five years ago I spent a month in Uganda, where I taught some intensives at Bugema University. Most of the students in my classes wanted to become pastors. But they were not the only ones who found their way to the guesthouse where I was staying. Dozens of  students, of various disciplines, came to me to explain their difficult financial situation. It was not so strange that they hoped that I, as a relatively rich person from the West, might myself be able to provide some help, or could perhaps find a sponsor for them.

I had been in such a position earlier. After all, I had worked in West-Africa for more than six years, and at that time there had been a constant stream of people asking me for assistance. But I knew that not all who ask for help need it equally urgently. So, when the Bugema students came to me, I asked them to put their request for help in writing and explain why they needed this help. I also wanted to know how much they could earn themselves during their study, and whether they would be able to work during the holidays and earn some extra money. I promised I would look at all the requests carefully, and would then select a few persons, for whom I would do what I could. I tried to explain that my own resources were limited. (In any case, I had paid the study books that my students needed for their classes out of my own pocket.) But I promised that for a limited number of Bugema students I would try to find sponsors.

When I wrote something about my stay in Uganda in the Dutch Adventist church paper, one of the readers offered to sponsor three students. He preferred to stay anonymous and asked me to care for all further contacts with the students.

I must admit that at times I am a bit skeptical regarding this kind of projects. But more than four years and more than ten thousand Euros later I am happy to report that it has not been in vain. One student in Business Administration has now finished his Bachelors degree and has received adequate assistance to finish his Masters. He has a good chance of employment at Bugema once he has finished his studies. When I was teaching at Bugema he was the one who brought my meals to the guest house and kept my living quarters in good shape. As the weeks went by, I got to know him better and decided that he ought to be on my shortlist for help.

Another student who made it to the list has finished his Masters and has now been working already for some time for ADRA in Mozambique as ‘monitoring and evaluation officer.’ From time to time he sends me an e-mail message, and invariably expresses his gratitude to the sponsor who made this achievement possible for him.

But then there is Rebecca Kwamboka Moses. She is a young Kenyan woman, who has a family. And yet she had the courage and the stamina to enroll at Bugema in Uganda (which is much cheaper than a college in Kenya would have been) for a theological education. At present she is back in Kenya (with her Bachelors degree)  and she has now almost finished  her Masters at a Kenyan university—all because she received help from the Netherlands. A few days ago I saw her emerge at LinkedIn: Rebecca Kwamboka: pastor at SDA Church. It is great to see how this woman reached her goal, thanks to her faith, her persistence, her intelligence, her family and her Dutch sponsor.

A few days ago I received her latest e-mail about the status of her master’s thesis (which is now almost finished). But she also reported something else. She is due to hold an evangelistic campaign in Kisii, a town in the south-western corner of Kenya, not far from Lake Victoria. Her immediate concern is to somehow raise the funds needed for her campaign. She needs a budget of between one thousand and fifteen hundred Euros.  I wonder whether there may be a reader of this blog who is able and willing to help. If so, let me know and I will share the instructions as to how the money will safely reach its destination. So far, the investment in Rebecca has borne ample fruit. I am sure that an investment in her work will also bring a rich dividend.

 

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The relative importance of penalties

 

[Thursday morning 10 July]  The Dutch dream is history. The national soccer team lost in the semi-finals against the Argentinians. Undoubtedly, there will be a lot of further scrutiny of this important match. Among the seventeen million inhabitants of the Kingdom of the Netherlands one easily finds ten million experts who can explain why the Dutch should have won.

I know very little about sports and only follow the major sportive events (such as the World Soccer Championships and the Tour de France that began a few days ago) only from afar. But inevitably one gradually learns a few things. In the past week I have finally understood what the term ‘offside’ means and why there may be a series of penalties at the end of a match that remained undecided.

However, even though I do not belong to those compatriots who drape the mirrors of their cars with orange, or wear an orange shirt, etc, or put orange banners along their balcony, I do by now know who is Arjan Robben and even began to feel some sympathy for Louis van Gaal. And, of course, I  hoped for finals between the Netherlands and Germany and a Dutch victory over the ‘Mannschaft’. Because, yes, winning against Germany remains very special . . .

Yet, it is a relief that it is almost over. The media were so dominated by the event in Brazil that there was hardly place and time for other things. (Even the Adventist media did not forget the world championship. I read a substantial article on the Adventist Review website about the ‘outreach’ activities of thousands of Adventist Brazilian volunteers, who distributed literature, meals, and drinks and hugged the soccer fans and tourists! Is this what is called ‘light evangelism’?)

From time to time during the past few weeks I watched an interview with some of the players and with commentators. One thing will remain with me from an interview with Tim Krul, the reserve-keeper whom van Gaal, quite unexpectedly, enlisted in the penalty-phase of the quarter finals between Netherlands and Costa Rica. By stopping two of the Costa Rican shots, Krul ensured a Dutch victory and became a national hero.

A day later Krul was interviewed on Dutch television. The journalist asked him what he considered the most beautiful moment of his life–suggesting that it must have been his accomplishment of the previous evening, when he gave the Dutch their victory. But no, when asked what had been the most sublime moment of his life, he  replied without hesitation: The birth of my little daughter!  I instantly turned into a fan of Tim Krul. At last, I thought, someone who is able to relativize this extravagant soccer-circus and knows what is truly important!

 

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