At this point in time, the VU alumni family is more than 100,000-strong. Where did life lead them after graduating? In this series, we introduce you to three alumni who all earned the same degree. This time, we present you three former VU students who earned their degree in theology.
Joël Boertjens (37) graduated in 2012, is a pastor at Mozaiek020, and preaches at a number of evangelical churches.
When did you realise that you wanted to be a pastor?
„When I was 18 years old, I felt the desire to pass on the love and strength that I drew from my own faith. I was no longer willing or able to ignore that feeling, so I decided to study theology. However, I still felt hesitant. Not about my belief, but about being a pastor. Wasn’t I too young? Was I up to the job? And how do you know for sure that something is a calling from God, and not just a whim? My own pastor said to me: if it’s a genuine calling, it’ll come back to you."
„After I graduated, I was living in Rotterdam and decided to give it a try. I ended up at an existing, but ailing church in Oss. Only about 20 people showed up to my first service. The churchgoers appreciated having someone who was fully committed. So that’s how I came to be a pastor at the age of 22."
How was your course at the VU?
„I really love diversity, so I enjoyed the fact that we were all there from different ecclesiastical orientations. The common thread was that we were all inspired by the Bible. Because we looked at religious texts from different perspectives, it meant that up to five different views of baptism with the Holy Spirit could coexist. I wasn’t confused by this; instead, I found it an enriching experience."
After your theology studies, you wrote about the role of women in the church. How did that come about?
„It started with a personal quest. I was a pastor, and I thought to myself: just say there are women who feel a certain calling. For example, they might want to speak in church or become pastors. How should I deal with that? Am I going to stick to the conservative idea that comes from my own tradition – that women can’t preach or have leadership roles in the church? Am I really going to be the one to stand in their way? That idea feels awful to me."
„The book is a journey through the Bible, examining all of the relevant texts on the role of women. For example, two texts from Paul and one from Genesis. How did Jesus deal with women? In those women-unfriendly times, he deliberately gave them plenty of room. Women were also the first to witness his resurrection from the dead. At the time, their testimony was not valid because God had chosen them for this. I concluded that women should have the freedom to pursue their calling at all levels."
Were there a lot of negative reactions to your book?
„It varied. Some people are offended by it and believe that I’m not taking the Bible seriously, while that’s exactly what I am doing. I’m no longer invited to some churches. It bothers me when some people refuse to read it at all because they don’t agree with it. How does that allow for dialogue? Fortunately, not everyone thinks this way. Someone with a PhD in theology sent me an email to say that the book had inspired him to change his thinking."
Susanne van der Sluijs (49) graduated in 2021 and is a pastor with the Remonstrant congregation.
How did you come to choose theology for your studies?
„I’ve never felt any kind of calling. Instead, I was wandering around with questions about faith and thought, I’m going to find the answers myself. After a long search that led me through general literature studies and a job as an office manager, I found my way to theology. I’ve been a pastor for a congregation in Doesburg for two years now, and I finally feel at home. When I look back, it may not have been a calling, but there were all these little nudges by God that got me to this place."
What did you think of the study programme?
„I found it enriching. Science and faith can be at odds with each other, but they can also strengthen each other. It’s my belief that science and faith can actually coexist. Take Genesis 1, for example – the creation of heaven and earth. If you take it literally, the world was created in six days, while that’s impossible when you look at the science. I allow the two to coexist and view Genesis 1 as a wonderful Hebrew poem. This enables me to look at a story in a different way without shaking my faith."
Isn't that a form of cherry-picking; choosing what suits you and ignoring the rest?
„The Bible is too large to comprehend completely. You can also focus on the things that you do understand or like, or that are helpful to you. Everything else you can choose to leave as unexplored territory for the time being, and examine it when you’re ready to do so. As a theologian, you won’t understand the whole Bible from A-Z either. I compare faith and the Bible to a relationship. There may be certain things you don’t understand, but you still love the person and take them just the way they are. When it comes down to it, not everything about faith is beautiful, but it’s something I can and want to base my life on."
Why did you choose the Remonstrants?
„I was attracted to the openness and freedom to believe what you want to believe. You have the opportunity to carry out your own search within the faith. Another thing that appeals to me is that the Remonstrants also draw on sources such as humanism, philosophy, culture and music. The question is always: what inspires people now? The faith also aligns with my own quest. Every now and again I wonder: is this a coincidence? But it’s definitely no coincidence."
Dirk Baarssen (33) graduated in 2012 and preaches at various congregations of the Restored Reformed Church.
When did you realise that you wanted to be a pastor?
„When I was 17, I was seized by God. I was brought up with in the faith, but the calling came during a weekday service in which the Word touched me very deeply. When I look back at that, I see it as a conversion. The only thing was, I had no idea what to do with it. Back then, I was considering further study. I prayed for an answer, and finally found it in the Bible."
Despite having received your calling, you now have to wait until you receive an invitation from a congregation and can start work as a pastor. What has it been like to wait?
„It’s been difficult, especially at first. Fortunately, I receive many requests for sermons, am able to do pastoral work, and provide catechism for young people. I’ve also started a doctoral research project at the VU on the reception of the justification doctrine of Alexander Comrie (1706-1774) in the Reformed denomination during the last century. So I’m definitely not bored!"
What did you think of your studies?
„I particularly liked the church-related subjects, such as dogmatic theology and biblical theology. For dogmatic theology we read Augustine, Calvin and Luther, and for biblical theology we went through the Bible based on themes such as ‘Israel’. I wasn’t so interested in the more general religious theology. As a member of the Restored Reformed Church, I wasn’t always sure what I would get out of it that would help me in being a pastor."
What attracts you to the Restored Reformed Church?
„I grew up in a free congregation but when a split occurred in 2004 between what later became HHK (the Restored Reformed Church) and the PKN (Protestant Church in the Netherlands), I chose the former. Classical Reformed theology appeals to me. I believe that every person is guilty before God and that our sins must be forgiven. We need to reconcile with God and Jesus offers us that opportunity. The HHK is conservative and non-progressive."