Dutch reform, 2011-style

Exodus Church, in Gorinchem, central Holland, is the site of a turn in Dutch Protestant theology, the BBC's Robert Pigott reports.

It is part of the mainstream Protestant Church in the Netherlands (PKN), and the service is conventional enough, with hymns, readings from the Bible, and the Lord's Prayer. But the message from Mr Hendrikse's sermon seems bleak - "Make the most of life on earth, because it will probably be the only one you get"....

Nor does Klaas Hendrikse believe that God exists at all as a supernatural thing....

Mr Hendrikse describes the Bible's account of Jesus's life as a mythological story about a man who may never have existed, even if it is a valuable source of wisdom about how to lead a good life.

The Pluralist says this is nothing new - not by a far sight.

Robert Pigott forgets that there are ministers of religion in mainstream, Unitarian and Liberal/ Old Catholic Churches in Britain who think just like Pastor Hendrikse....

As Unitarians of old found, all you have to do is read the gospel accounts and then more of the New Testament to come to views different from orthodoxy. Then add critical academic study that became more thorough in the nineteenth century and you can arrive at quite a sceptical position. There is still the narrative, but there isn't the direct history. Where there is the history, its about the Christian community already underway and justifying its leadership and rituals, under conditions of rapid change. When you try to do history of the particular prophet and his community, it becomes very Jewish, last days and strange. We don't share his worldview and indeed we don't share the last days and tradition making worldview of Paul either. Not in ordinary practical life and not in academic life either.

Comments (6)

On the other hand, there are scholars (N.T. Wright, to name just one) who have argued that the history and the narrative are largely the same; and the Gospels need not judged by the hermeneutic of suspicion.

And as I said in the Eucharistic prayer this morning, we are living "in these last days." Every one of us is living in the same last days as Jesus lived in, building the church as best he could, knowing that he wouldn't always be there in the flesh. Every one of us is living in our own last days, knowing that when that last day of our time comes, we will regret what has been left undone, and was wrongly done.

I trust the testimony of those who saw him die, and who insisted on his transphysical resurrection. I respect those who struggle to reconcile the history and the eschatology, and turn to mythology to find the truth. But based on the available evidence, I still believe that it's possible to go beyond myth.

I agree with The Pluralist that Hendrickse has preached nothing new. But he is not alone in the Netherlands and if, following Vatican II and the reemphasis of baptism as the primary sacrament, the church, even for a brief moment for the Vatican, is defined as the whole people of God--no longer the clerical-centered model in which the hierarchy guarantee the apostolicity of the church--then Christianity is moving in a new egalitarian direction. The liturgy, rather than something clergy do for the people, is the work of the people and it becomes conceivable that lay people will one day celebrate the eucharist. Both Rome and much Protestantism still seem to be struggling with an overemphasis on clergy and beliefs dictated by clergy which the people must believe in order to be considered members of the church.

I would relate this discussion to the booklet issued by the Dutch Dominicans in 2007, The Church and the Ministry.


Alas, the text was misread by many as being about allowing lay people to preside at the eucharist when, in fact, it is a call to an earlier model of church in which all the baptized do ministry and there would no longer be a split between a valorized clerical ministry and a devalorized so-called lay ministry. People would work together as teams and no longer would it be assumed the priest and/or bishop know everything.

If Christian denominations moving in this direction end up closer to a certain Unitarianism, so what? The destination is less important than the journey.

Gary Paul Gilbert

I think we in the sacramental tradition have, for the most part, been spared this sort of desultory sceptism.

In sacramental liturgy, we eat Jesus. Like Good Queen Bess ("...I but do partake it"), it's not so much HOW it happens ("a supernatural thing"? O_o), but that it happens. Them eats are available to the Dutch Reformed, too . . . if they but will partake!

JC Fisher

J C Fisher, How does one distinguish between skepticism and faith?

The Dutch Dominicans are working within the RC tradition, a sacramental tradition.

In any case, a sacramental tradition which treats ordinary members of the church as mere recipients of priestly work is less than ideal.

Gary Paul Gilbert

Dominicans, GPG? I don't follow. The story above was (I thought) about Dutch Reformed (i.e., Calvinists).

To your larger question: thinking off the top of my head, I would say that faith is what one lives for. Sceptism is about what one does NOT live for.

[Agree completely w/ your final point.]

JC Fisher

Oh whoops, GPG, I'm sorry. I see you referenced Dominicans in your previous post (hadn't read it yet!)

I'll get back to you then...

JC Fisher

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