October 27, 2016: One of the leading Adventist theologians of the 20th century, Dr. Raoul Dederen, died Monday at home in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He served as dean of the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University (AU) from 1988 to 1991, and a faculty member from 1964. His papers are among the key documents provided on the Web site of the denomination’s Biblical Research Institute (BRI) and by the Ellen G. White Estate.
Dederen was an important teacher and mentor for many of the current generation of Adventist leaders, Bible scholars and theologians. Most notably, he was the editor of the Handbook of Seventh-day Adventist Theology published in 2000 as volume 12 in the Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary Reference Series. The landmark book was initiated and supervised by the BRI with each chapter refereed and discussed by the BRI Committee, who selected Dederen as general editor to coordinate the process.
As a young adult in Belgium, Dederen was brought into the Adventist faith through the witness of Louise Fyon who became his wife. He had been born and raised a Catholic. He enrolled in the Adventist seminary at Collonges, France, and served as a pastor in Belgium from 1947 to 1954. He returned to Collonges as a faculty member and completed a doctoral degree at the University of Geneva, Switzerland.
Louise Dederen was the founder of the Center for Adventist Research in the James White Library at AU. Both Dederen’s were awarded the prestigious John N. Andrews Medallion for their own, individual achievements. In fact, she was the first recipient of the two. She died February 7, 2016.
Dr. Dederen had a special interest in ecclesiology, the discipline within theology focused on the doctrine of the church. In 1995 he wrote a paper entitled “Church Authority: Its Source, Nature and Expression.” This was released just prior to the General Conference (GC) Session that summer in Utrecht, Netherlands.
“He was also an ardent supporter of women’s full equality in ministry and a member of many GC commissions that studied the matter,” Dr. Darious Jankiewicz, chair of the department of theology at the seminary, told Adventist Today. “He always felt that a proper understanding of the priesthood of all believers was a key to equality in ministry. He published his views on the priesthood of all believers in an introductory chapter of Women in Ministry (1998) where he openly wrote about equality in ministry. He also spoke in support of women in ministry in Utrecht. He always hoped that the entire church would move on this issue together.”
Dederen saw Christ as the central figure in Scripture and the determinative factor in understanding the Bible teaching on this topic. “With the move from Israel to the Christian church,” he wrote, “a radical transformation occurred. A new priesthood is unfolded in the New Testament, that of all believers. The Christian church is a fellowship of believer priests. Such an ecclesiology, such an understanding of the nature and mission of the church, no longer poses roadblocks to women serving in ministry. It in fact demands a partnership of men and women in all expressions of the ordained ministry. The recognition of the priesthood of all believers implies a church in which women and men work side by side in various functions and ministries, endowed with gifts distributed by the Holy Spirit according to his sovereign will (1 Cor 12:7-11).”
The author of many articles in academic and professional journals, including those published outside the denomination by recognized major Christian organizations, Dederen was widely known by leaders in other faiths. He developed a friendship with Oscar Cullmann, the famous Lutheran biblical scholar, which brought Cullmann a growing appreciation for the Adventist faith. Cullmann is known for bringing the Adventist understanding of the nature of humanity, generally referred to among Adventists as the doctrine of “the state of the dead,” into broader Protestant thought. Dederen also interacted with the great Karl Barth, Emil Brunner and Rudolf Bultmann, according to an interview published in Ministry magazine in November 2006.
Well known for his burning enthusiasm for Jesus Christ, His mission and His teachings, Dederen warmed the hearts of the young ministers he taught, as well as opened their minds. And he will always be remembered for his kindness, generosity and love for all those around him.
Dederen is survived by his granddaughters Francine Bergmann and Sheila Besirli and their families. His funeral is tomorrow (Friday, October 28) at 1 pm at Liberty Road Chapel, Ann Arbor, Michigan.