IBTS 75 Years

in ACBAS, Front Page

Between the 22nd and the 26th of January 2024, I attended the annual colloquium of the International Baptist Theological Study Centre in Amsterdam (IBTS)

The current website of IBTS states: “Our Mission is to serve the European Baptist Federation and wider Baptist community as a theological research community and training network. Committed to academic excellence in research, disseminating knowledge, and facilitating learning for the benefit of churches, individuals and ministries in their local context.”

A crucial part of fulfilling that mission is a Ph.D. program, which IBTS runs in partnership with the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam. The annual colloquium brings together PhD researchers and supervisors. Students present work, get feedback, attend seminars, and participate in informal conversations late into the night. Sometimes, very late into the night! Supervisors and researchers come from around the world. This includes Canada and some with connections to Acadia Divinity College.

I attended the colloquium as a supervisor and also gave a seminar on “How to give a good academic presentation.” My preferred title was “How to make academic presentations less boring,” but that did not make the cut! I was also the institution’s “Rector” during its transitional period from Prague to Amsterdam (2014-2017).

Since IBTS is now located in the city of Baptist beginnings, the orientation for new students often includes a trip to Bakkerstraat (Baker Street). It was here in the 17th century that a Mennonite allowed a group of English Separatists under the leadership of John Smyth to gather, a gathering which led to the emergence of the first Baptist Church. Unfortunately, despite the efforts of the European Baptist Federation and IBTS, there is no formal marker on that street to commemorate these historic events. I tried.

A significant feature of this year’s annual colloquium was the celebration of the 75th Anniversary of the founding of IBTS. These celebrations included a day conference at the Vrije Universiteit focussing on “Doing Theology in Times of Conflict.” Picture from IBTS Facebook.

The seminary was founded in Switzerland in 1949 as an experiment in post-war “Christian Internationalism” (Carol Woodfin). It later relocated to Prague and subsequently to Amsterdam. For me, at least, there was a particular poignancy in these celebrations. I think I was one of the few, if not the only, person in the room who had studied at IBTS in Rüschlikon, Zurich, Switzerland (1984-1988).

Part of the nature of IBTS has been a Baptist conviction, often with anabaptist leanings. The international nature of the institution, however, exposed me and others to the variety of ways in which Baptist convictions take on cultural expressions. I still remember the somewhat fiery argument that ensued at Rüschlikon over the place of children at communion. It quickly became clear that the phrase “Baptists do or do not…” had different expressions in different places. Options ranged from children not being present to children being offered communion. To be honest, at first, I found this exposure to diversity on a whole range of issues related to faith and practice threatening and unsettling. It seemed that my knowledge of Baptist learned primarily in one local congregation and one country, was being deconstructed. It was, in fact, only years later, long after I had completed my studies, that I fully realized how formative this whole period had been in my life, the excellent education I had received, and the depth of friendships that had been established through our shared life together on a residential campus.

Life is now different at IBTS. There are no residential students. The annual colloquium is the one place where people physically gather. Yet, as I sat this year and listened to new, developing, and soon-to-be-finished researchers present their work, I was amazed again. Amazed at the varied and rich ways in which something “baptist” (small case intentional) expresses itself in many places worldwide. I was challenged again by my narrow view of the world. I was encouraged by new and renewed friendships.

Happy Birthday, IBTS.

Submitted by Dr. Stuart Blythe, John Gladstone Professor of Preaching and Worship at Acadia Divinity College.