During the Night of Theology on Saturday 16 November, Mark de Jager was named Young Theologian of the Netherlands (Jonge Theoloog des Vaderlands). Mark was representing the University of Groningen (UG) and the Protestant Theological University (PThU) and proved to be an excellent ambassador for theology in Groningen. This ambassador’s role is now being extended; for one year, he will be the face and voice of students of theology in the Netherlands. Quite the honour. But what will that actually involve?
‘For me, being named Young Theologian of the Netherlands is an incentive to practice explaining the relevance of theology in social debates. The previous “old” Theologian of the Netherlands, Stefan Paas, for example, was very active on Twitter and in podcasts. He talked a lot about themes such as the Nashville Statement and the nitrogen crisis. In doing so, he made his voice heard, which has been taken seriously by the media. Theological reflections can add new dimensions to debates about the earthquakes in Groningen, for example, and as Young Theologian I can lead the way in that. So I plan on being quite active on social media, writing guest columns in various publications and giving sermons and lectures.’
Mark will focus on two themes: the spiritual development and health of students and “the Good Life”; in other words, the desires that people have and that inspire their choices. ‘Lots of students are suffering from burn-outs and stress. Theology has tools that can offer an alternative to the performance society,’ says De Jager. And what does theology have to say about the Good Life? ‘If you look at the doomsday scenarios portrayed in apocalyptic films, climate debates and by trend-watchers, the Good Life and the future of mankind doesn’t seem to be in the best of shape. But the Christian faith has a response to this. Caring for creation is a core value of Christianity, as is the idea that there is hope for the world and that good prevails.’
During the Night of Theology, a jury – comprising representatives of the all the Theology degree programmes in the Netherlands – had to decide, based on an essay, video and discussion, who they thought was the best young theologian in the Netherlands. There was also an online vote. ‘It was very exciting. The stories of the other young theologians were all examples of inspiring and hopeful theology. It shows that there is a young generation of theologians who dare to speak out and who have a thoughtful, spiritual and creative position in society. I also want to take on this role on their behalf in the coming year.’
Mark was able to stand out from the crowd with his presentation and the discussion section, in which he gave precise and thoughtful answers to the questions that he was asked. ‘When I started studying theology, I didn’t see myself working in the Church. I thought I might go into scientific research or teaching. But pastoral care. Was that for me? Didn’t I talk too much for that? Wasn’t I too young? Wouldn’t it be better to immerse myself in ‘real’ theology? But when I went into the Church two years ago to take part in pastoral discussions, I really felt like I had found my place. It made me realize that if theology doesn’t have a real, tangible basis in caring for the soul, then theology is a dead science.’
And that’s exactly why the combination of the UG and the PThU works so well: ‘The cooperation between the University of Groningen and the PThU on Bachelor’s and Master’s degree programmes in Theology is unique. The University of Groningen offers a broad and in-depth Bachelor’s degree programme, which is interdisciplinary in nature since the UG is a broad-based university. At the same time, the programme retains the richness of a strong theological faculty that is not bound to any one religion. And the courses at the PThU enable you to experience the richness of Christian theology, at an equally reputable academic institution.
In the Master’s degree programme, the PThU offers a sound academic education with a clear ecclesiastical professional profile; in turn, the course units followed at the UG allow and encourage students to broaden their perspectives. The cooperation between these two institutions trains theologians who, on the one hand, are fully versed in science and society, but who are also able to play a thoughtful, responsible and rational role within the Church as a pastor. Both institutions complement each other perfectly.’
Mark de Jager (Nunspeet, 1993) studied Theology from 2012 to 2016 at the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies of the University of Groningen. He also followed a number of course units at the Groningen branch of the PThU. During his Bachelor’s degree, he was also the student assessor of the Faculty Board for a period of one year. From 2016 to 2017, he did his Master’s degree at the same faculty and was also the student assessor of the Board of the University of Groningen. In 2017, he started a Master’s degree in Ministry (Gemeentepredikant) at the Groningen branch of the Protestant Theological University and he also followed Master’s course units at the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies of the University of Groningen. He is involved in a pioneering project in the Lewenborg area of Groningen, where he lives. He is married to Julia, who also studies Theology. They have a five-month-old son.
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