“Atheist Preacher” Gets to Keep His Pulpit

February 5, 2010

klaas_hendrikseKlaas Hendrikse doesn’t believe in God. Klaas Hendrikse doesn’t believe in God but is a minister. Klaas Hendrikse doesn’t believe in God but is a minister… in a Christian church. And though some have objected, it looks like it’s gonna stay that way.

According to a report in Radio Netherlands Worldwide, Hendrikse, a Dutch-Reformed minister in the Netherlands, will be allowed to continue his ministry after an inquiry spurred by the publication of his book entitled Believing in a God Who Does Not Exist: Manifesto of an Atheist Pastor. The decision, opposed by around a quarter of those present at the regional meeting to address the controversy, maintained that his espoused theology does not fundamentally differ from others articulated by liberal theologians in the Protestant Church.

Though he doesn’t identify as a non-believer, Hendrikse has written that he does not believe in a personal God. The article quotes him as saying, “To me God is not a being, but a word for what can occur between people.”

It is a beautiful sentiment, and one that is neatly aligned with my own personal theology as a Secular Humanist. I am reminded of an experience from my own recent history. Last year I took a preaching class and was the only non-theist in the room. For most of the semester, my classmates — all were Christians — pushed me to identify how what I was doing differed from public speaking. Because it was not about God, they rationalized, it could not be preaching. Yet by the semester’s end, everyone in the room conceded that I had successfully engaged this process of discernment and come out the other side a preacher. Preaching is a medium, a method; and, like anything else, Secular Humanist ideals can be delivered prophetically. It was a challenging experience, sure, but it proved to be an immensely rewarding one. I was forced to break open the definition of preaching and ministering, and this man is doing the same. Some fear this kind of worldview is a threat to the systems of old. And while it may be for some, I think it is more expansive than it is deconstructive; it is generative, not an end.

I hope to hear more of Hendrikse, and to locate his book. Though some may find what he’s doing strange — The Volkskrant, a secular Dutch newspaper, called his perspective “bizarre” and compared his work to a vegetarian finding employment as a butcher — I think his worldview is hopeful, challenging, and necessary. Keep on preaching, good sir.

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