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Reformed and Evangelical Theology - Research Team

The Research Team Reformed and Evangelical Theology brings together a diversity of expertises and research interests regarding Christian doctrine, practices and spirituality. Currently, our focus is on the theme of 'Presence and Discernment'.

What happens when people report God, or the Holy Spirit, to be speaking to them – sometimes saying very concrete things? In a time in which institutions and external authorities rapidly lose credibility, for many religious believers personal experience has become their most important guiding principle in matters of faith and life. 

Their direct experience of God is much more important than the Bible, the wisdom of the Christian tradition or the teachings of the church. How should these developments be assessed? In the Bible God speaks directly to humans all the time, and in some Christian traditions the feeling of the inward working of the Holy Spirit is the yardstick for the true faith. At the same time, personal experiences can of course easily be misinterpreted as having a divine origin, and in some cases this can even lead to power abuse: pretending divine legitimation for one’s own wishes… The research team Reformed and Evangelical Theology will be focusing on these kind of questions.

Besides this shared research focus on 'Presence and Discernment' every member of the research team also has their own research. As such, the research team also functions as a forum for discussing these individual projects with peers, and for receiving valuable feedback.

Research Team - Reformed and Evangelical Theology

  • Aim

    For the period of 2021-2025, we aim at developing a ‘Theology of Presence and Discernment’, in which we seek to answer questions like: How is God’s presence to be discerned in concrete situations? Is it more ‘real’ when it is directly experienced, or can it be equally valid and authoritative when it is mediated by external means – be it the Bible, Christian wisdom (or even wisdom as such), the faith community, or things that happen in everyday life?

    These questions are approached from a variety of methodologies in theology and religious studies – most notably hermeneutical, historical, conceptual and empirical ones. That is: we will examine the interpretation of biblical texts, reconstruct large-scale historical developments, test the conceptual coherence of contemporary theological views on the matter, and study how things work in actual practice by fieldwork and other forms of empirical research. Ideally, this project will lead to a more carefully reflected and discerning ways of dealing with claims about direct divine intervention in Christian communities.

  • Team

  • Possible thesis topics

    • The role of divine providence in Reformed and evangelical decision making – either through empirical research or a study of a specific theologian (Henk van den Belt).
    • Analysis into the immediacy of discernment in Scriptural narrative, e.g. in the Luke-Acts corpus: Jesus’ praise of the Father (Luke 10) or spiritual guidance in Acts 16 (Henk Bakker)
    • Aspects of ‘spiritual maturity’ (definition, markers, cultivation, barriers, assessment) in a representative of the Reformation, Puritanism or Nadere Reformatie (Further Reformation) (Wim van Vlastuin).

    More suggestions to be added soon. Feel free to contact one of our senior members if you have an idea of your own that fits in with the theme of ‘presence and discernment’ and their personal research interests.

  • Possible PhD topics

    • A historical study into the development and dominance of the divine decree in Reformed theology, in relation to providence (Henk van den Belt).
    • A systematic evaluation of the relationship between pneumatology and providence in the work of contemporary theologians (Henk van den Belt).
    • Catachrestial-hermeneutical research into the dynamics (particularly: the mystagogy) of NT ritual/liturgical texts; the functioning of immediacy and presence according to different NT authors (Henk Bakker).
    • Aspects of ‘spiritual maturity’ (definition, markers, cultivation, barriers, assessment) in the traditions of the Reformation, Puritanism and/or Nadere Reformatie (Further Reformation) (Wim van Vlastuin).

    More suggestions to be added soon. Feel free to contact one of our senior members if you have an idea of your own that fits in with the theme of ‘presence and discernment’ and their personal research interests.

  • Collaboration Senior and Junior Researchers

    The research team meets on a monthly basis, and Research Master-students as well as PhD-students are most welcome to join, especially when their research is connected to the focus delineated here. However, the research team also discusses work-in-progress, as well as PhD-proposals, on other fields and topics that somehow have a bearing on Reformed and/or evangelical theology.

  • Connection with education

    The Herman Bavinck Center is involved in the theology-track of the international Bachelor Religion and Theology (BaRT), and offers an ambitious minor-program, titled ‘A Christian Worldview?’. It also offers an in-depth specialization track ‘Reformed and Evangelical Theology’. This track can be followed in the one-year Master ‘Exploring a Discipline’, the two-year Research Master, as well as in the Graduate School for doctoral studies.

  • Academic relevance and societal urgency

    The team’s output comes in the form of bi-annual conferences, scholarly articles, PhD-dissertations and other monographs, grant applications, and collaborative volumes on the team’s focal theme. 

    The Herman Bavinck Center provides hospitality to visiting scholars who study aspects of Reformed and Evangelical theology. In brief, its mission is to develop constructive Reformed and Evangelical theology in order to help churches and other faith communities to understand their calling in the present context and to serve the common good in society.

  • Connection with centers/institutes

    The team is connected to the Herman Bavinck Center, one of the centers at the Faculty of Religion and Theology. This Center, founded in 2015, seeks to study and advance the tradition of Reformed theology that inspired the founders of VU Amsterdam, a tradition that in the present context is part of the international Evangelical movement.

    Through our (senior) members the team is also closely connected to the Baptisten Seminarium, Hersteld Hervormd Seminarium, and the Cornelis Graafland Centrum.