The BBC aired this probable view of the American religious landscape in future years. After all we do tend to follow Europe in many things. Here is one path many ministers have already taken, or will take in the future.
I have know or have met ministers who follow a similar understanding to the Jesus outlined below. It will become widespread here much sooner than many believe.
By Robert Pigott Religious affairs correspondent, AmsterdamThe Rev Klaas Hendrikse can offer his congregation little
hope of life after death, and he’s not the sort of man to sugar the pill.
the mainstream Protestant Church in the Netherlands
An imposing figure in black robes and white clerical collar, Mr Hendrikse
presides over the Sunday service at the Exodus Church in Gorinchem, central
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”.
“Personally I have no talent for believing in life after death,” Mr Hendrikse
says. “No, for me our life, our task, is before death.”
Nor does Klaas Hendrikse believe that God exists at all as a supernatural
God is not a being at all… it’s a word for experience, or
“When it happens, it happens down to earth, between you
and me, between people, that’s where it can happen. God is not a being at all…
it’s a word for experience, or human experience.”
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.
His book Believing in a Non-Existent God led to calls from more
traditionalist Christians for him to be removed. However, a special church
meeting decided his views were too widely shared among church thinkers for him
to be singled out.
A study by the Free University of Amsterdam found that one-in-six clergy in
Klaas Hendrikse: “You don’t have to believe that Jesus was
The Rev Kirsten Slattenaar, Exodus Church’s regular priest, also rejects the
idea – widely considered central to Christianity – that Jesus was divine as well
“I think ‘Son of God’ is a kind of title,” she says. “I don’t think he was a
god or a half god. I think he was a man, but he was a special man because he was
very good in living from out of love, from out of the spirit of God he found
Mrs Slattenaar acknowledges that she’s changing what the Church has said,
but, she insists, not the “real meaning of Christianity”.
She says that there “is not only one answer” and complains that “a lot of
traditional beliefs are outside people and have grown into rigid things that you
can’t touch any more”.
Dienie van Wingaarden, who’s been going to Exodus Church for 20 years, is
among lay people attracted to such free thinking.
Christianity has too restrictive a notion of the nature of God
“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
Wim De Jong says, “Here you can believe what you want to think for yourself,
what you really feel and believe is true.”
Churches in Amsterdam were hoping to attract such people with a recent open
At the Old Church “in the hottest part of the red light district”, the
attractions included “speed-dating”.
As skimpily dressed girls began to appear in red-lit windows in the streets
outside, visitors to the church moved from table to table to discuss love with a
succession of strangers.
Professor Hijme Stoeffels of the Free University in Amsterdam says it is in
such concepts as love that people base their diffuse ideas of religion.
“In our society it’s called ‘somethingism’,” he says. “There must be
‘something’ between heaven and earth, but to call it ‘God’, and even ‘a personal
God’, for the majority of Dutch is a bridge too far.
“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
To compete in this market of ideas, some Christian groups seem ready
virtually to reinvent Christianity.
They want the Netherlands to be a laboratory for Christianity, experimenting
with radical new ways of understanding the faith.
Churchgoer: “For me the service is very freeing”
Stroom (“Stream”) West is the experiment devised by one church to reach out
to the young people.
In an Amsterdam theatre young people contemplate the concept of eternity by
spacing out a heap of rice grains individually across the floor.
“The difference from other churches is that we are… experimenting with the
contents of the gospel,” says Rikko Voorberg, who helps to run Stroom West.
“Traditionally we bring a beautiful story and ask people to sit down listen and
get convinced. This is the other way around.”
Stroom focuses on people’s personal search for God, not on the church’s
traditional black-and-white answers.
Rikko believes traditional Christianity places God in too restricted a box.
He believes that in a post-modern society that no longer has the same belief
in certainty, there is an urgent need to “take God out of the box”.
“The Church has to be alert to what is going on in society,” he says. “It has
to change to stay Christian. You can’t preach heaven in the same way today as
you did 2,000 years ago, and we have to think again what it is. We can use the
same words and say something totally different.”
Belt, has a by-law against swearing
When I asked Rikko whether he believed Jesus was the son of God he looked
“That’s a very tough question. I’m not sure what it means,” he says.
“People have very strict ideas about what it means. Some ideas I might agree
with, some ideas I don’t.”
Such equivocation is anathema in Holland’s Bible Belt, among the large number
of people who live according to strict Christian orthodoxy.
In the quiet town of Staphorst about a quarter of the population attends the
conservative Dutch Reformed Church every Sunday.
The town even has a by-law against swearing.
Its deputy mayor, Sytse de Jong, accuses progressive groups of trying to
change Christianity to fit current social norms.
“When we get people into the Church by throwing Jesus Christ out of the
Church, then we lose the core of Christianity. Then we are not reforming the
institutions and attitudes but the core of our message.”
But many churches are keen to work with anyone who believes in “something”.
They believe that only through adaptation can their religion survive.
The young people at Stroom West write on plates the names of those things
that prevent earth from being heaven – cancer, war, hunger – and destroy them
The new Christianity is already developing its own ritual.