Between 2 and 7 August I had time to see old friends. On Saturday 2 August I had lunch with Bambang Subandrijo. It was our first meeting after Bambang had defended his Ph.D. dissertation in Amsterdam on the Image of Jesus in 1 Colossians and Sura 19 of the Qur'an. The title of his dissertation was "Jesus as Eikon and Ayat.." Jesus is the visible image of the invisible Deity. Eikon is the Greek word used in Colossians, Ayat is used on the Qur'an. Bambang told about the heated debates in Indonesia about another doctor theologiae from the Netherlands, Ioannes Rakhmat (minister of the Chinese GKI church and lecturer at the Theological School STT Proklamasi in Jakarta). Rakhmnat was very emotional in Kampen in 1998 when he heard about increasing tension between religions and ethnic groups, especially when about 1000 Jakarta Chinese were killed in the riots that lead to Suharto's fall. After finishing his dissertation in New Testament studies (the trial of Jesus), he became fascinated by the discoveries in Talpiot, near Bethlehem, in 1980. An Israeli archeologist found a box with bones and an inscription that cab be read as ´grave of the family of Jesus´. Was Jesus married? With children? Was he put in a grave after his death and his bones still conserved? How could this be combined with the Christian faith in the resurrection? In 2007 Ioannes Rakhmat published a book with 14 speeches and articles about the topic and as a result he was withdrawn from the theological school by the leaders of his church. Bambang now has taken over his position, although he experienced similar debates about his Masters' thesis (too 'liberal', publicly stating that Paul did not yet formulate the doctrine of the Trinity but was a pure monotheist). Richard Borong, at that time rector of the STT, was reproached by evangelical church leaders: "How could such a student obtain a degree with deviant meaning!" Borong defended him and later one of these church leaders followed a service where Bambang held the sermon and congratulated him after the service with a sound and good content of the preaching! In the Jakarta theological school there is quite a debate about theological and intellectual freedom. Some maintain that in a majority Muslim country the Christians should unite and defend their doctrines against Muslims. Bambangwants to open a theological dialogue with Muslims, by giving his comment also on sections of the Qur'an about Jesus. He hopes that later this year his dissertation will be published by the Protestant publishing house BPK Gunung Mulia. I support him in this and will write a preface. But I also warned him that no sensational statements should be sought. After all, theological dialogue is just a small part of the whole range of dialogue and interreligious contacts. It can very easily be abused.
Later this week several people told me about the writings by the East-Javanese Christian (Reformed) convert to Syrian Christianity, Bambang Noorsena. This man has acquired a sound knowledge of Arabic and even Syriac. He explains Christianity from the Nestorian fathers in a tradition where Jesus was not simply identical to the Father, where the Spirit originates from the Father, not from Father and Son,. Djohan Effendi gave me two of his books and urged me to read them and also from Christians I heard many positive remarks about him. Noorsena has established man Institute for Syriac Christian Studies in Malang and gives lectures all over Indonesia. It seems to be a quite promising style of theologicalo dialogue.