The No-God Squad: A New Protestant Reformation in Holland?

The minister at The Exodus Church in Gorinchem, Holland is not the usual kind of Protestant preacher. The Rev Klass Hendrikse does not preach hell fire and life eternal; indeed, he offers his congregation little hope of a life after death.

The Exodus Church is a part of the mainstream Dutch Protestant Church; the Sunday service is traditional enough, comprising of hymns, readings from Scriptural passages, and prayers.

Exodus Church, part of the mainstream Protestant Church in Amsterdam

The sermon, however, seems bleak. “Make the most of life on earth”, Hendrikse espouses, “because it will probably be the only one you get”. He continues:

 “Personally I have no talent for believing in life after death… No, for me our life, our task, is before death.”

 He does not only doubt the afterlife, but also the fact that God exists as a supernatural entity:

 “God is not a being at all… it’s a word for experience, or human experience… When it happens, it happens down to earth, between you and me, between people, that’s where it can happen.”

 As for Jesus; the account of his life as written in the Bible is merely myth, asserts Hendrikse. Jesus himself never existed, but the Bible should still be regarded as an ethical guide.

 Hendrikse’s book, Believing in a Non-Existent God resulted in more traditionalist Christians calling for him to be removed from the church. However, a meeting of church officials agreed that his views were too common among church thinkers – with a study by the Free University of Amsterdam finding one in six Dutch clergy members to be either agnostic or atheist – for him to be singled out.

Many are of a like mind to Hendrikse, believing that traditional Christianity has a too restrictive notion of God’s nature. One churchgoer has said:

 “I think it’s very liberating. [Klaas Hendrikse] is using the Bible in a metaphorical way so I can bring it to my own way of thinking, my own way of doing.”

 Churches in Amsterdam have been trying to diversify their congregations by loosening doctrinal bases. One church, for instance, situated in the centre of the red light district, has recently been holding speed-dating events. Professor Hijme Stoeffels of the Free University in Amsterdam hits a crucial point when he underscores that the church functions, fundamentally, as a business:

 “Christian churches are in a market situation. They can offer their ideas to a majority of the population which is interested in spirituality or some kind of religion.”

 To compete in a global marketplace of ideas, some Christian groups seem prepared to reinvent Christianity for a postmodern world.

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Categories: Beliefs, Morals, Business, People

Author:Mary-Ellen L

Lives at Lecturer in Literature and Philosophy, Poet and Professional Cynic.

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8 Comments on “The No-God Squad: A New Protestant Reformation in Holland?”

  1. August 7, 2011 at 11:55 pm #

    I’m confused how a church (Exodus Church) can belong to a parent church (Dutch Protestant) if their beliefs are at odds?

  2. August 8, 2011 at 9:16 pm #

    Seems strange to me, but it also appears to be the case that the church per se is desperate to be relevant so is allowing just about anything. I am more sympathetic to this attempt than those condescending posters that are posted outside almost every church, deploying text speak and film posters, or puns that say ‘will you accept the son this summer’. Puns! Really!?

    Bearing in mind the fundamental contradictions inherent in any theological system, I am not surprised that it is allowable. I see this to be a more realistic form of religion; one which allows for the doubts that are integral to belief! I think there is a place for an atheistic Christianity. The Bible is, after all, not entirely useless. Forget the omniscient presence in the sky; it’s a good ethical system. Do good so that people might be more likely to do you good, and all that…

  3. Tom Snyder
    August 9, 2011 at 6:18 am #

    Atheists and agnostics should be kicked out of the church. Doubt is one thing, disbelief is another thing entirely!!! We don’t need these negative idiots!

  4. J.R. Dobbs
    August 9, 2011 at 6:58 am #

    I’m not entirely sure how not requiring the crutch of a deity in order to live life as a moral person is being either negative, nor an idiot, unlike some thoughtless commentards. Believing that people can be good, and can live according to the teachings of Christ (whether he was real or not) is a much different thing to belief in a supernatural power always assumed to be beyond our understanding.

    Man has always created explanations where none existed, and out of fear of the unknown it became necessary to create God. As we learn more and more about the universe we inhabit (no thanks to the church’s repression of science over the centuries) it is no longer necessary to hide under the hem of The Lord’s robe. For a minister to have the guts to stand up and say that God is no longer necessary for Christianity to function, and for the church to accept that this is a valid stance, is a huge step forward for Christianity as a whole as all churches struggle to remain relevant in the modern skeptical world.

    Churchgoing numbers around the world are dwindling. A frank admission of skepticism within the ranks of the church is far from negative idiocy, it is probably the most positive headline related to Christianity in a very long time.

  5. August 9, 2011 at 3:03 pm #

    I kinda find what Tom Snyder said to be a good point. Is Hendrikse an Athiest? He clearly doesn’t believe in God. He merely labels “the human experience” “between you and me” as God. So… I bet if he were Australian and had to fill out tonight’s Census form, he’d be closer to ticking Athiest than most people. Why then is he in a church?

  6. August 10, 2011 at 12:46 am #

    He does not say that he does not believe in a God; he does not believe in a supernatural entity. Big difference, post-enlightenment. Therefore, to categorise him as an atheist would be too strictly adherent to such polarised tags. I’d simply call him a materialist. The church quietly incorporates plenty of mindless congregants. At least we know where Hendrikse stands. I’d say he would be right enough to tick the ‘Christian’ box as defined: “Professing belief in Jesus as Christ or following the religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus.” Some of the most convincing ‘Christians’ I have come across are atheists and I was brought up in the church, being a minister’s daughter!
    Why are most people involved in the church?

    • August 11, 2011 at 2:36 pm #

      ” As for Jesus; the account of his life as written in the Bible is merely myth, asserts Hendrikse. Jesus himself never existed, but the Bible should still be regarded as an ethical guide.” isn’t Christian belief. Ethical guidance isn’t religion. Values and ways to live aren’t religion either. Religion is the part that you need faith to believe in. What does this man believe in that requires faith? That after he dies, he may join a conglomerate of human existence that makes up a collective … err… who knows. So we are all God? Well I guess that is *some* type of Religion. But it certainly isn’t Protestant, or even Christian, by fundamental definition. Christian means accepting Jesus as the son of God, that’s the be-all and end all of Christianity, what sets it apart from Judaism, Islam etc, who otherwise all worship the one God. Who does his church pray to?

  7. August 11, 2011 at 7:36 pm #

    Well, the very fact that Christian belief (emphasis on the flimsy word belief) has become so dogmatic is what is very clearly evidenced here, and I have no time for dogmatism. Let’s face it, we have the Protestants who insist that one cannot accept Jesus as the son of God, as you mention… Calvinist fundamentatists will self-righteously assert that one has to be chosen. If you are not predestined to be one of the elect, Christianity isn’t doing you much good anyhow… Protestantism doesn’t know what it believes. It cannot even unite – when you have traditional Presbyterians, First Presbyterians, Reformed Presbyterians, Free Presbyterians, Methodist, Church of Ireland, Lutherans, Anglicans, Brethren, Anabaptists, Congregationalists, Pentecostalists, Baptists, and so on (the list is extensive) it does not seem beyond belief that disbelief can easily co-exist within the ranks of that which cannot decide on what it actually believes.

    Ethical guidance and values are the major part of Christianity. Religion is nothing more than a collection of cultural and belief systems that relate the human being to spirituality and morality. Just because a religion has a narrative (in the case of Christianity, Christ) as a form of expository reference does not mean that the person is to pray to that model; it is a guide in morality, ethics, and a chosen lifestyle: to be LIKE Christ. Sadly, Christianity – which has beautiful principles – is one of the most divisive versions of spirituality.

    As for prayer: “ask and it shall be given you” — many people are asking…They could pray to me; I’d try to help… Couldn’t resist being facetious.

    You are right, though. Perhaps Hendrikse does not have a place in the church. He should embrace his freedom. Perhaps he is like the hoardes of others who is too dependent on the believe system for his existence, whether in adhering to it or verring from it. It is always dependency.

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