The Fourth International Symposium, sponsored by the Institute of Adventist Studies at Friedensau University, was planned for April 2020. But the Covid-19 pandemic threw a spanner in the wheels and the symposium had to be postponed, and eventually became an on-line event, from April 26 until April 29. Although the participant missed the face-to-face interaction with one another, the fact that the event had to use the ZOOM and YOUTUBE platforms became “a blessing in disguise”. Over 250 people from some thirty countries registered, which was more than three times what the number would have been, if it all would have had to travel to Friedensau.
It is significant that Friedensau University was the sponsor of this intellectual Adventist feast about different features of apocalypticism. One of the oldest buildings on the Friedensau campus has the words “Der Herr Kommt” (The Lord Comes) in big letters emblazed on one of its walls. The theme of this conference: “The Kingdom of God Is at Hand” fits perfectly with this foundational ethos of the university, where students and staff are daily reminded that “Der Herr Kommt.” These words, very appropriately, were the underlying theme of the four day meeting about apocalypticism—the conviction that the world will come to an end. For Seventh-day Adventists this end is, of course, also a new beginning, as the Lord comes to claim his own, so that for them eternity may begin.
The four-day conference featured twenty-one speakers from various countries in Europe (from Friedensau and from elsewhere), but also from the United States, Canada, Australia and Nigeria. Due to the fact that speakers and participants live in widely different time zones, the times on the daily schedule had to be creatively adjusted. For those who live in Western Europe, the program ran each day from 3.00 pm to 10 pm. The speakers were connected via Zoom, while the auditors could choose between a YouTube channel in English and one with a simultaneous German translation.
On Monday dr. Rolf Pöhler, the director of the Adventist Studies Institute, opened the proceedings with his keynote address about “Adventist Apocalypticism Facing the Times.” The biblical prophecies, in particular in the books of Daniel and the Revelation, are understood by Adventists mainly as dealing with the past, but also as impacting on the present and, of course, on the future. Pöhler provided a brief overview of the issues Adventists face in making sense of the apocalyptic writings in the Bible, after having proclaimed their message now for almost two centuries. How do we deal with the disturbing fact that many elements of the traditional Adventist end-time scenario seem increasingly unlikely? How does Adventist apocalyptic inform us about the present? How can we be guided by the study of biblical prophecy in our present life, in the “already” and the “not yet” of the kingdom?
During the conference the speakers engaged the minds of all who listened as they dealt with numerous aspects of our Adventist prophetic convictions. Some concentrated on the key question, namely, what apocalyptic is and how apocalyptic views developed over time, as the Bible writers dealt with it. What their background? What was the literary genre that they could use? Who did they write for? How could what they wrote apply beyond their own times?
How Adventists in the past interpreted apocalyptic prophecies was a major sub-theme of the conference. A number of lectures pointed to problems that have arisen, as many of the predictions that the Adventist Church made on the basis of its understanding of Daniel and Revelation did not come true. Repeatedly it was mentioned that a serious update of our interpretations is long overdue. As we move into the future, a number of the lecturers emphasized that we must ensure that the apocalyptic message remains meaningful to us today, and provides hope rather than causing fear—as it so often did in the past. Moreover, the biblical apocalyptic should inspire us to accept our social and political responsibilities as we expectantly and actively wait for the coming of the Lord.
Towards the end of the symposium Pastor Dennis Meier, the president of the German Hansa Conference was given the challenging task of tying together the various strands of the symposium proceedings, and to suggest “where we should go from here.” His analysis was presented, as we have come to expect from him, in a creative, insightful and inspiring manner.
We need to move into the future, Meier said, “with lessons learned from the past.” And if there is any theme that should have absolute priority on our apocalyptic agenda, it is the development of “an Adventist eco-theology.” This, he emphasized, was the one item on his wish list for the next symposium. He concluded that, when everything is said and done, we must realize that apocalyptic thinking is not about us, not about our role as an elite group in an end-time scenario, but it is about Jesus Christ.
Dr. Rolf Pöhler, who had coordinated the symposium, finally invited all speakers to make a few comments about the conference. This made clear that the scope and quality of the symposium had been greatly appreciated and that this fourth International Symposium—in spite of all the Corona restrictions—had been a resounding success and a launching pad for further studies. Many will be looking forward to soon seeing the lectures of this symposium in print, and to the Fifth International Symposium that is planned for April 2023.
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