Bernard Reitsma - Featured Author - EJT

April 28, 2020   •   author profile of Dr. Bernhard J.G. Reitsma journal

Dr Bernhard J.G. Reitsma is professor by special appointment at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam, and professor at the Christian University of Applied Science in Ede, the Netherlands. He is guest lecturer at the ETF in Leuven, Belgium, and at the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary in Beirut, Lebanon. His area of research is ‘The Church in the context of Islam’. Bernhard is married with four children.

Background and research

I studied theology at various Theological Universities in the Netherlands and received my Doctorate in Theology from Leiden University. My dissertation was entitled Spirit and Creation. A biblical-theological contribution to the systematic study of the relationship between the Spirit of God and the created order. This is exemplary for my interest in the relationship between current issues and biblical thinking. Is it possible to understand contemporary problems and questions in the light of the Biblical traditions and if so, how? Who is God and what are his intentions with the world? What does this mean for the presence of the Church in a pluralistic world?

From 1997 till 2005 I lived and worked in the Middle East, in Lebanon. As a missionary worker with the Reformed Mission League I was lecturing at the Near East School of Theology and the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary. I also worked with LIVF, the Lebanon Intervarsity Fellowship, equipping Christian students in living and witnessing of Jesus Christ at the Universities.

During these years two issues caught my attention. First of all, there was the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Arab Christians struggle with the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. They are spiritually and theologically confused and wonder how they should read Scripture in the light of the presence of Israel in the Middle East. Who is God really for them? Can the ‘God of their enemy’ also be ‘their God’? How can the God of the present State of Israel also be the God of the Palestinians? Is God supporting Israel against the Arabs, including Arab Christians? I have engaged myself with these questions in a biblical theological study: The God of My enemy. The Middle East and the Nature of God (Regnum Studies in Global Christianity; Oxford: Regnum, 2014, translated from the Dutch). Central to the book is a rereading of Romans 9–11.

The second area that attracted my interest was – for obvious reasons – the challenge of Islam. Living in the Middle East Islam proved to be quite different from what I had thought and learned. Islam is a very diverse reality, consisting of many different streams and movements. It is also more than just a legalistic faith or a violent religion. Those were the images that prevailed in my Evangelical community. Yet, how should the Church respond to this great diversity of Islam? The church in the Middle East – understandably – feels insecure and struggles to survive. So is there still a mission for the Church, when it has become a vulnerable minority amidst a majority of Muslims. When I returned to the Netherlands in 2005, I realised that many European Christians are struggling with the same issues: fear of Islam, a minority trauma and little missionary awareness towards Muslims. These issues I have addressed in my book Vulnerable Love. The Church, Islam and the Triune God which appeared in Dutch in 2016 (and is to appear in English with Langham Publishers summer 2020).

In both these studies my question has been how the Church can present a true picture of Christ to the world, Palestinian or Islamic. Kenneth Cragg said in The Call of the Minaret that the Church is to a certain extent responsible that Islam never encountered the true Christ. And he emphasizes that the calling of the Church is not to recapture what Christendom has lost, but to restore to Muslims the Christ they never knew. That is still an important theological challenge.

Current research

The coming four years the focus of the research of the Chair The Church in the Context of Islam will be on the question of inclusiveness and exclusivity. Is it possible to strive for peace and inclusiveness in society and at the same time believe that there is only one God, the Father, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit? If Christ is the only name by which humans can be saved, is working for an inclusive peaceful society not denying the essence of the Church? So are there limits to inclusion?

Obviously, this is a very wide area of research. Therefore, we have chosen to restrict ourselves to the interpretation of exclusive texts from the Scriptures. How do we interpret texts that call the congregation to separate themselves from those who do not follow in the footsteps of Jesus (2 Cor 6:14ff.) or to exclude from the community those who stop believing in God (Deut 17)? The emphasis will be on the last text, because the issue of apostasy is prominent in the context of Islam. In Islamic jurisprudence the historic approach is that apostasy deserves the death penalty. There are many different interpretations of how to apply these principles today, but it is still a sensitive issue for Muslims who decide to follow Jesus Christ. However, the same is true for the Christian community, which has struggled with the question of how to deal with apostates throughout Church history. Moreover, there are a number of passages in the Bible that require the death penalty for those who turn away from the worship of the one God. This penalty is the most exclusive form of exclusivism and the question is how to interpret these texts. Do they reveal anything about the nature of God? Do they represent a way of religious thinking and what does that mean for the Christian community vis a vis Islam today?

This research has two pillars. One is the academic reading of the texts in context and in their use in the Christian tradition in order to see how they can be read today. The intention is to involve Islamic and Jewish scholars, since all monotheistic (and other religions) struggle with the topic of apostasy. The second pillar is contextual reading of the texts in the context of Christian communities in the Middle East and Europe.

If you have any insights or contributions to this research, please contact me by e-mail: b.j.g.reitsma@vu.nl

Concise CV Bernhard J.G. Reitsma

Education

  • 1997 PhD Leiden University, the Netherlands: Geest en schepping, Een Bijbels-theologische bijdrage aan de systematische doordenking van de verhouding van de Geest van God en de geschapen werkelijkheid (Spirit and Creation. A biblical theological contribution to the systematic study of the relationship between the Spirit of God and the created order)
  • 1991 MTh Utrecht University, The Netherlands
  • 1988 BA in Theology, Theological University of the Christian Reformed Churches in the Netherlands, Apeldoorn, The Netherlands Employment
  • 2007 – present Professor by special appointment at the VU University Amsterdam, for The Church in the Context of Islam
  • 2009 – present Professor of Diversity and Professionality and Islam at the Christian University of Applied Sciences in Ede (CHE), the Netherlands
  • 1998 – present Minister by special appointment in the Protestant Church in the Netherlands
  • 2005 – 2009 Director of the Open Doors International Study Centre
  • 1998 – 2005 Lecturer in Systematic Theology and Missiology at the Near East School of Theology Beirut, Lebanon
  • 2002 – 2005 Assistant Professor of New Testament and Apologetics at the Mediterranean Bible College, Beirut, Lebanon
  • 2001 – 2005 Assistant Professor of New Testament at the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary, Beirut, Lebanon
  • 1998 – 2001: Staff member of the Lebanon Intervarsity Fellowship (International Fellowship of Evangelical Students – Lebanon)

Publications (English, selection)

  • 2020 Vulnerable Love. The Church, Islam and the Triune God. (expected with Langham Publishers summer 2020)
  • 2014 The God of My enemy. The Middle East and the Nature of God (Regnum Studies in Global Christianity; Oxford: Regnum, 2014, translated from the Dutch)
  • 2012 ‘Health, Wealth and Prosperity. A Biblical-Theological Reflection’ in C. van der Kooi, E. van Staalduine-Sulman and A.W. Zwiep (eds), Evangelical Theology in Transition. Essays Under the Auspices of the Center of Evangelical and Reformation Theology (CERT), (Amsterdam: VU University Press, 2012) 164-181
  • 2012 ‘Divinely Approved Suicide-Terrorism? A Christian Critique of the Death of Samson’ in E. van der Borght and P. van Geest, (eds), Strangers and Pilgrims on Earth, Essays in Honour of Abraham van de Beek (Leiden, Boston: Brill, 2012) 853-866
  • 2010 Integriteit en Respect. Islam Memorandum Protestantse Kerk (9 maart 2011)
  • 2008 ‘Strangers in the Light: The Challenges of Being a (Christian) Minority in an Islamic Context’ in Journal of Reformed Theology 2/3 (2008) 211-227
  • 2002 ‘The Power of the Spirit. Parameters of an Ecumenical Pneumatology in the 21st Century’ in Theological Review XXIII/1 (2002) 3-26
Dr. Bernhard J.G. Reitsma
Netherlands