9/30/2016

No doubt. No progress.



Reinder Bruinsma has done it again.

Like it or not Facing Doubt* reads like a flavor-reading-of-the-year. This is not your pre-sleep book. Not a chance to be bored and nod off. Actually, a selfie I took was intended as a "marketing ploy."

He wrote a book for "Adventist believers 'on the margins'" but I felt he wrote it about me and my faith community. And wisely includes Adventism among a wider Christian community suffering many, many departures and nearly all shrinking in adherents and accessions.

My initial thoughts, when I closed it after it's last page, were quite conclusive that Bruinsma, a colleague and a friend, has given us much to talk about, an urgent invitation to a meaningful conversation. For the Adventist churchgoers, no Sabbath lunch goes without commenting about the state of the church. Many of our interlocutors are quite emotional about who does what. Passionate remarks about “how it used to be” are often shared. Some comments express wishes that the church should do that or it's leaders shouldn't do the other. This is augmented by church news pointing to all the successes we observe, often supported by large numbers of baptisms with pictures of smiling youth to underscore the positive image of the "remnant who have the truth."

Yet questions remain. Bruinsma points them out in a frank and open way as a recognizable, and at times, rocky terrain of our reality--something that needs an honest evaluation and probing into solutions. Bruinsma is often quite angry, though he states that leaving the church he loves is not an option for him. He articulates my thoughts in this regard.

While church congregations welcome new members and the front doors may be open, many a church wishes to ignore the reasons why some are finding fellow believers slipping out through the back door.

Answers, Bruinsma admits, are not easy to express, but must be attempted. That's the book's strength. The author not only lists a variety of issues creating doubts in members’ minds, resulting in departures from the Adventist faith, but he also probes into solutions that could be listed on the healing menu of theological, pastoral and practical aspects of Seventh-day Adventist faith and mission. As for me, I am a Seventh-day Adventist because there were those among my teachers who answered my questions, teaching me to think and not be a mere reflector of others’ thoughts.

When a few years ago the Barna Group provided stunning results of research on church youth retention, one could feel that reaction in our faith community was, at best, obvious: we must address the issue. Generally, we did it by saying that youth has given into the lure of the age-- influences of popular culture and secularism.

Bruinsma's comments reaffirm a conviction prominent in many circles. Some are articulated with honesty on social media. Some in numerous publications and at a variety of gatherings of concerned Adventist believers. These comments underscore that young people are more important than church tradition. Such sentiments, Bruinsma documents, are not prominent in what is being offered by church hierarchy. While concerns are expressed, what is proposed as a solution appears more as a  "back to the future" approach. It is driven by a doctrinal, behavioral prescription to bring Christian life in sync with what church guidelines, "sacred" texts, and denominational policies express. Having some knowledge about conversations heard in the halls of church power reiterate that standards need to be protected and youth "should listen more” to their elders.

Frankly, some of us who are steeped in church life recognize many concerns expressed by doubters and seekers and share them. Facing Doubt provides documented analysis of what should be of concern for an ailing community where beliefs and praxis are at odds. Bruinsma's concern also lists external factors, which include non-belief as being a preferred worldview.

However, the author is adamant to emphasize his own status: I am not leaving my church. I am not going anywhere! "I know that the Adventist faith community is far from perfect. But God is putting up with it--and so should we," he concludes after listing the fundamentals that are worth talking about, and that includes a belief in enriching a community by our very presence, with or without many doubts.

Reinder Bruinsma's book sets him up for hate language from the fundamentalist niche in Adventism. "Hateventists" thrive on negativism. Many will say anyone who raises questions that identify doubt could be labeled as a heretic.

It’s actually delightful to be listed among the heretics, Reinder!


*Reinder Bruinsma, Facing Doubt, Flancó Press, London, UK, 2016.