Is God Disappearing from the Netherlands?

September 5th, 2016

L1005277Today with colleagues I attended the opening of the academic year jointly hosted by the Theological Faculty of the Vrije Universiteit and the Protestant Theological University who work closely with one another. The theme upon which there were various papers and comments was: “Is God really disappearing from the Netherlands – and what would that mean for doing Theology”

This title was a response to the survey held every 10 years called “God in the Netherlands” and which focusses in particular upon the place and role of the Christian faith in the Netherlands.

Some of the reported results were:

“More than 68 percent of the Dutch say they do not follow a specific church, 25 percent are Christian, 5 percent are Muslim and 2 percent follow other non-Christian beliefs. Almost a quarter of the population are atheists, compared to 14 percent in 2006. 31 percent consider themselves spiritual, compared to 40 percent ten years ago. And the people who believe in some form of higher power fell from 36 percent in 2006 to 28 percent this year. More than half of Dutch never pray” see NL Times.

Possible responses to the question of what this means for “theology”.

Such decline is a sign of the end times.

The issue is that the nature of religion is changing and we have to look elsewhere for God’s presence, theologians have to listen.

The starting place for theology is not society at large but the Church which then bears witness to the world – not saying what society already has decided we should say, but saying that which will make sense only after it is said.

To be sure all of this is complex.

To start with the sort of “theology” which was being discussed was “formal” theology, that which theologians do rather than the theology of local congregations in words and actions.

In turn while the Church may be the starting place for doing theology, what does that actually mean, whose Church and where is such a Church. If this pushes us again back to the local and ,local congregations the question is simply begged – where are there congregations that are engaging with such issues through discussion and discernment?

With a  sort of analytical synthesis on the various contributions by various people I offer:

We certainly live in times of complex change. Whether they are the “end times” is not within our knowledge and it is pointless to speculate.

If we wish to bear witness to and in society we certainly need to listen and look to hear and see where faith is to be found and God is to be found outside of the Church although we may need some prior perspective on what we mean by “God” and “God’s presence” unless we want simply to accept the post modern idea of a “soft power” or general “spirituality”. On the other hand we need to be open to the in breaking of the kingdom in “imaginative” and “creative” ways over which we do not have control.

The Church may indeed be the starting place for the doing of Christian theology in such a context but before seeking the “conversion” of society we may well indeed have to as “what sort of conversion” we need as people (as one speaker suggested) if we are going to be able to talk to one another and those beyond our “ranks” in a way that shows “faithful witness”.

 

 

 

What does it mean to say that we are an “International” Study Centre

July 27th, 2016

International TreeI have recently being doing some work on what it means to offer supervision to international, part-time, theological PhD students in a  largely distance learning environment.

What follows is one reflection on this:

IBTSC is not an international study centre because we are a national institution with international students which is the way the term is often used in Higher Education discourse. Rather, for us the term indicates something more complex than that. It represents the fact that we are a meeting place of students and supervisors who come from different countries, often researching in their own local situations but bringing their contextual work into conversation with others from different situations to offer a richer texture and perspective. The learning involves “transculturation” in that it does not simply go one way, from one dominant culture to another, but rather all involved in the dialogue both teach and learn through this interaction.

National identities remain important, difference is not denied or negated, such can be oppressive, but in so far as all our identities are constantly being made and remade the interaction is part of that process of making us somewhat more “international” than we would be without the experience. At the very least we become more informed about other contexts, at best we begin to understand the limits and the strengths of our own identity in relation to a wider picture of global humanity.

To be sure in all of this our faith offers us a common denominator but even our faith is culturally embodied and expressed so this becomes another place of international encounter: commonality, difference, and “(re)formation”. In these ways the learning at IBTSC takes place in a particular “ecosocial” environment (to borrow a phrase from Bill Green “Unfinished business: subjectivity and supervision”) where the international is explicit.

If as we sometimes claim believer’s baptism is the baptism into a new humanity which transcends national identity although finds expression  in such national identities, IBTSC aspires to reflect something of the complexity of that reality in the international learning and teaching context we offer.

[The educational literature from which I drew and with which engaged in this blog post includes:

Green, B. (2005) Unfinished business: subjectivity and supervision. Higher Education Research & Development, Vol. 24 (2), pp. 151-163.

Manathunga, C. (2007) Intercultural Postgraduate Supervision: Ethnographic Journey’s of Identity and Power in Palfreyman, D. and McBride, D.L. (eds.) Learning and Teaching Across Culture in Higher Education. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Trahar, S. (ed.) (2011) The Doctorate: International Stories of the UK Experience, ESCalate. [Online]. Available at https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/sites/default/files/8137.pdf [Accessed 4th July 2016].

Blythe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CEBTS Elstal

July 4th, 2016

CEBTS (1)Between Wednesday 29th June and Saturday 2nd of July the bi-annual meeting of the Confederation of European Baptist Schools took place in Elstal Germany hosted by the Theologische Hochschule Elstal. The theme of this particular conference was: In which way is our Baptist Movement linked to or in tension with the Reformation in Europe in the 16th century?

A number of shorter and longer papers were presented which allowed insight into the ways in which the events of the Reformation impacted various countries and contexts such as Spain and Italy and also the way in which various theological themes have been and can be interpreted. Some of these will be published in a future edition of IBTSC Baptistic Theologies.

A guided day trip to Lutherstadt Wittenberg offered a fascinating insight into the events associated with martin Luther.

The theme aside, as ever, those participating valued the opportunity for contact and conversations with others also involved in Baptist theological education in Europe and beyond and the hope of this years participants is that another event will be held in 2017.

Brexit

June 27th, 2016

175As a UK passport holder and rector of an European institution set up post war as an ‘experiment in Christian internationalism’, I watched the unfolding referendum results in the UK with some dismay. Perhaps too much history makes me nervous when the common destiny of European countries is not formally linked even as I might be critical of EU bureaucracy. The uncertainty which this decision has created seems somewhat tangible in the UK if not in other countries of Europe. Both campaigns have unleashed expectations and created fractures that are likely to take some time to re-settle.

Perhaps one theological reflection on this is that all political structures and arrangements are provisional. I think that a recurring refrain in some sermons yesterday was to reassure people that God is still in control over the nations. Perhaps it is necessary and good to reaffirm this because people forget.

Yet, in my opinion, the above confession should not lead to mere acquiescence to political arrangements or even democratic decisions. (My personal thoughts on ‘accepting’ democratic decisions are found here).

In turn, it is also the case that people have to work out what the rule of God means for them not in the general affirmation but in the socio-political practicality and perceptions of their contexts. The practicalities and perceptions as a consequence of the Brexit decision will be different for different people be they EU members living in the UK, UK citizens living in the UK, UK citizens living in Europe, and citizens of EU countries who may be impacted by a referendum decision in which they had no participation. It is in these contextual realities, practicalities, and attendant perceptions that Christian witness will either be faithful or unfaithful.

At a recent ‘future’s week’ discussion concerning IBTSC the staff felt very much that IBTSC should continue to be an internationally focused ‘baptist’ institution with an intentionally European perspective. Such a European perspective is not naive in that it takes seriously the identities of different nations and understands that Europe can be conceptualised in more ways than in terms of EU political arrangements. Indeed the ‘Europe’ of EBF and IBTS(C) has always been broad and inclusive rather than exclusive. To put this differently, from the beginning the concern of this institution has been to offer something pan-national in a global world to inform Christian witness in the local, national, and international. This has been done through its diverse staff, students, and theological perspectives. I am not sure whether or not that task seems more complex today. It does, however, seem no less important, and once again somewhat urgent.

 

Visiting Scholar Reflection

May 18th, 2016

Here is a personal reflection on the recent visit to IBTSC Amsterdam of  Prof. Louise Kretzschmar.

Prof. L Kretzschmar3jpg (1)

Visiting Scholar

May 10th, 2016

We are pleased to welcome Prof. Louise Kretzschmar to IBTSC Amsterdam this week. Prof. L Kretzschmar3jpg (1)

Prof Kretzschmar is currently a Professor of Theological Ethics at the University of South Africa (Unisa). Her research interests are in: Christian Ethics, Christian Spirituality, Christian leadership, moral formation, spiritual formation, Baptist studies, Feminist Theology and Ethics, Business Ethics, Leadership within an African Context.

During her visit she will meet with the Rector at IBTSC and the Dutch Baptist Seminary. She will also deliver a short talk  on issues of “moral and spiritual leadership in church, society, and state” at a Departmental meeting of the Vrije Universiteit on Thursday and give a lecture on ‘The education of prospective ministers as an invitation to life: a process of moral formation’ to the staff at Baptist House on Friday.

We hope that opportunities for future collaboration, research, and the provision of courses related to ethical issues may be an outcome of her visist here as well as enabling her to develop her own research interests into the nature of moral formation through theological education.

 

New Edition

March 16th, 2016

We are pleased to announce the recent publication of the latest copy of the Journal of European Baptist Studies.

JEBS-cover-generic

As Keith Jones indicates in A Dictionary of European Life and Thought one purpose for this Journal was to encourage the work of young and new scholars. With varying degrees of experience behind them all contributors to this edition are PhD research students with IBTSC. If you would like to know more about this Journal please visit our website here.

Encouraging and facilitating the publication of their research students is one of the features of the IBTSC PhD research studies programme. If you wish to know more about our PhD studies research programme please look here.

Here is the editorial from this current Journal edition. 

This edition of JEBS contains three different but equally interesting articles related to distinct facets of Baptist life and work. These are produced by three of our current IBTSC PhD research students and represent aspects of their study and areas of ministry and mission.

Alex Kammon To presents something of a historical account of ‘Baptists meeting the Education Needs of Hong Kong between 1842 and 1970’. As such he gives fresh information of a location, situation, and subject which has hitherto received limited treatment. This description, however, also highlights areas of tension related to the provision of education as an expression of mission. These areas include the extent to which the churches should cooperate with the State, the extent to which evangelism rather than education should be regarded as the primary activity, and differences in perspective on these issues between the Hong Kong Baptists and the Southern Baptist Mission Board and missionaries.

Christopher Schelin in his article discusses the practice of ‘congregational hermeneutics’ as an expression of Anabaptist and Baptist polity. While sketching the historical antecedents of this practice, its demise, and rediscovery, his particular concern is with ‘how’ such hermeneutics can be facilitated. Schelin argues that the ‘circle process’ is particularly suited to this task as it is an approach which can ‘inoculate against both hierarchicalism and clericalism, on the one hand, and individualist anarchism on the other’. In this discussion of the suitability of the circle method for congregational hermeneutics connections are made with the idea of a ‘covenant’, the ‘magisterium-hood of all believers’, and the intriguing potential role of one named a ‘librarian’.

Rupen Das in his articles addresses theological and missiological issues related to the present refugee crisis although pointing out that such displacement is not a new phenomenon. In particular he explores why God has a particular concern for such ‘poor’ people. He argues that displacement is a result of structural evil and sin and dehumanises the individuals and families who experience it. God’s response, accordingly, is one of compassion with the concern to redeem them. From this perspective he then offers a number of missiological perspectives not least in relation to Christian witness to and among particularly Muslim refugees. These perspectives include an emphasis upon the importance of local congregations demonstrating the love and compassion of Jesus Christ.

 

Rev Dr Stuart Blythe (Rector IBTSC Amsterdam)

Marion Carson

March 14th, 2016

Marion CarsonMarion Carson is a free lance Scottish theologian who is an adjunct supervisor with IBTSC. She is also secretary of the European Baptist Federation’s Anti-Trafficking Network. In this recent book she ‘sets out to answer the question, ‘What does the Bible say about human trafficking?’ Aimed at Christian anti-trafficking activists and church groups, the book offers an overview of the biblical material on Marion-Carson-book-cover-e1446459194624slavery and the sex trade. Acknowledging that there is a difference between the biblical worldview and that of most Christians today with regard to slavery, it suggests that we can learn much from the Abolitionists of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Following their example, it reads the biblical text through the lens of the law of love. each chapter provides study questions and the book is illustrated throughout’. (From the back cover)