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    Christ at the centre - Discovering the Cosmic Christ in the spirituality of Bede Griffiths
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Entries in African Theology (13)


Heading home! The end of a research visit to Nijmegen, July 2015

In a few hours I will be boarding a bus from the Heygensgebouw just near my flat, it will take me to Nijmegen station from where I will catch a train to Schipol airport and then head back to Cape Town via Dubai.

I have had the privilege of spending another month in the beautiful city of Nijmegen working on my PhD research.  I am pleased to say that I can see the light at the end of the tunnel with this project! I have a meeting with my supervisor this morning, and if all goes as planned I will have some corrections on the work I have handed in already, and then just one more chapter to write before I work through my whole thesis again and hand it in for examination.

The process from there is that it goes to a 'reading team' who evaluate the research, if it is approved I have to have it published in a book, and then come back in 2016 for a public defence and the award of the degree.

It is a little different from how the process worked with my first PhD (which I completed in 2005, defended and graduated with in 2006).  That seems like a lifetime ago!

This project focuses on the reading of the Biblical text under certain conditions (called intergroup contact theory) to facilitate engagement and reconciliation between racially diverse Christian groups in South Africa.  I was privileged to work with two Methodist Churches in my home town, Somerset West on the intercultural Bible reading project.

The theoretical components of the research focussed on a normative reading of Matthew 18.15-35 (locating a reading of the text within accepted academic Biblical scholarship, so I did a very detailed exegetical study of the passage).  Then, using an integrative All Quadrants All Levels (AQAL) approach I 'mapped' possible readings of the text as an individual, collective, spiritual, political process (and a combination of these fields).  This exercise showed that Matthew 18 has a complex and textured view of forgiveness that involves faith (spirituality, belief, shared belief), polis / politics (recompense, social justice, human rights and dignity), and that it engages the individual person, as well as broader society.  Here is a diagram of Ken Wilber's AQAL theory that shows the different dimensions of identity, consciousness and meaning.

Next, I used a practice orientated research methodology to facilitate structured interviews with the reading group participants (this was to form a pre-intervention test of their understanding of forgiveness in relation to the chosen text).  I mapped their various understandings and saw that in large measure white South Africans have an individual and spiritual understanding of forgiveness, whereas black / brown South Africans have a more collective and social (political) understanding of forgiveness.  Each of the two Church groups then met separately to read the text and discuss it among themselves in a focus group setting - this also formed part of the pre-intervention testing and gave me more data to map the respective groups' understandings of forgiveness.  

Then, I facilitated a series of intercultural Bible reading engagements between the two groups, again in a focus group setting (in other words they met together to read and discuss the text).  We used the 'dwelling in the word' approach of Pat Keifert and Pat Taylor Ellison, see:  Ellison, P.T. & Keifert, P. 2011. Dwelling in the word: a pocket handbook. Minnesota: Church innovations).  

These intercultural Bible reading sessions were conducted according to strict protocols, employing mechanisms from intergroup contact theory to allow for a positive engagement between the participants that takes place within a safe space.  The intention was to minimize anxiety in the presence of 'the other' and to allow for an increased possibility for empathy for the person(s) and position(s) of 'the other'.  

Having completed those interventions, we then did a final post-intervention test to see if there has been any shifts in the understanding of forgiveness among the individual participants and the two groups.  This was done through a structured questionnaire on forgiveness, as well as a focus group discussion (both of these tools engaged understandings of forgiveness, as well as the intercultural Bible reading process).

The findings have been quite remarkable. I won't let the cat out of the bag yet, but I can say that some aspects of my hypothesis were proven, while other deviated from the expecation in some aspects, and other still did not turn out at all as I anticipated.  It makes for fascinating reading!

The hope is to provide two things out of this research, first an approach to using normative texts (in this case the Biblical text) as a reflective surface, and an engagement space, for intergroup contact among estranged or diverse groups.  Second, the mechanisms employed in the intergroup contact will be of use to Churches, businesses, and other communities that face challenges as a result of race, class, religious, gender or other distinctives - it allows for a positive engagement between 'in groups' and 'out groups' in a manner which can foster social cohesion, overcome prejudice and can facilitate positive engagement among the groups.

I have worked very hard on this project! It took quite effort to get back into the exceptionally technical work of dealing with a Biblical text in an academically appropriate manner - I had to dust off my old Greek exegetical skills, learn a whole lot of things about the culture and context of the Matthean community into which the text was written, and then develop a hermeneutic bridge (in the form of the AQAL theory) that could help us to see what contemporary understandings of the text may be appropriate.

The project also forced me to learn a great deal about empirical research methodologies, and particularly qualitative research methodologies (and the use of tools such as ATLAS.ti to do coding and interpretive work).  The new theoretical knowledge that I have gained on the Biblical text, forgiveness as a concept and process, the social and identity dynamics of South African communities, and of course I have learnt a great deal more about AQAL integrative theory and how it can be applied in these contexts (which is quite different form how I used it in my previous study in identity and cognitive neuroscience).  Among the most useful knowledge is what I have gained from reading and learning about intergroup contact theory and social identity theory.  This is a fascinating field.  I can see that I will use this, and my rekindled love for technical work in the Biblical text within my research in ethics and public theology.

For now, however, I have a few last meetings, some packing, and then the long trip home to my darlings! I can't wait to see them!

It has been great to have shared this time with friends, I have worked hard and learnt a great deal.  It is such a privilige!

On Wednesday I step back into class when I will be teaching a Masters module in Ethics of Pastoral Care, as well as my fourth and second year classes in ethics and Systematic Theology.




John de Gruchy devotion on Authentic, Hopeful, Action (AHA) in South Africa

Please find a devotion delivered by Professor John de Gruchy (extraordinary Professory of Systematic Theology at the University of Stellenbosch) on Thursday 12 February 2015.

To find out more about the AHA movement please follow this link.


James 2:14-18

"Faith without works is dead!"

Pessimists say that the cup is half empty; and optimists, that it is half full.  Some people are pessimists by nature.  For them the world, the Hermanus town council, and the church are hopelessly falling apart, South Africa is going to the dogs (don't ask me what dogs have to do with it!), the government is totally corrupt,  people always let you down, young people have no discipline, tomorrow is going to be worse than today -- even when they hear good news they automatically add a negative comment, "yes, but!".  Optimists also seem to be optimists by nature.  South Africa is getting better, the dogs don't bite and snakes are more afraid of you than you are of them, people are always so nice, young people are a pleasure, and what a great day it is today despite the heat and south-easter, it could be worse.  It is easy to understand why people are pessimists, especially in circumstances such as we see every day on TV.   "It is," Bonhoeffer wrote shortly before his arrest, "more sensible to be pessimistic, disappointments are left behind, and one can face people unembarrassed.  Hence, the clever frown upon optimism."  But then he goes on to praise optimism because it is:

a power of life, a power of hope when others resign, a power to hold our heads high when all seems to come to naught, a power to tolerate setbacks, a power that never abandons the future to the opponent but lays claim to it, 

Pessimists may keep our feet on the ground but optimists keep hope alive.  But perhaps it would be best if we were all realists who accepted the way things are, for good or ill, and then got off our butts to make things better, neither bemoaning nor turning a blind eye to what is wrong or bad.  In the end, does it really matter if the glass is half empty or half full ?  What matters is whether we are going to do what needs to be done to fill the cup to the brim.  If we are not working to make the world a better place, things will get worse whether we are pessimists or optimists.

There were plenty of prophets of doom in the Old Testament.  The difference between a true prophet and false one was that whereas the true prophet told the political and religious leaders how bad things were and they had better change their ways, the false prophets always said things were just fine, "peace, peace, when there was no peace."  But the true prophets were actually being realists.  They were not just saying how bad things were, they were calling on people to change, to change their attitudes, change their hearts and minds, and start doing things differently.  The same was true of Jesus,  Jesus laid it on the line when speaking truth to power, when castigating the religious hypocrites of his day, and the corrupt rulers in the Temple and the Palaces of Jerusalem and Tiberias.  He did not have much faith in their willingness to change.  But he saw possibilities for healing and change in seemingly hopeless situation.  He saw the good in people rejected as irreligious, isolated because they had contagious diseases, shunned because they were tax-collectors and prostitutes, or simply ignored because they were poor.  He did not give up on them.  He exuded the power of life, and  hope.

The apostle James was clearly a realist.  He knew about the great gulf between wealth and poverty in his day but decided to do something about it.  To those who said they believed in God but did nothing to help the poor he retorted "faith without works is dead" and went on to say "Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith."  Sparklekid Theo likewise tells us "Just get on with it!"  Yes, politicians are corrupt, the power outages are unacceptable, the conditions in the township are bad, but let's get on and do something to make life better for everyone.  That attitude releases the power of life and hope.  And there are many such good news stories being told today around South Africa that demonstrate this in big or small ways.  Listen to one from the kindergarten across the road from Volmoed:

January 2015 kicked off with great excitement and a school filled with 38 little children, some more happy than others to join our school.  Our classes bursting at their seams with small little faces eager to embark on this new exciting path of their lives.  From our 38 students 4 are from Hamilton Russell Vineyards, a number from farms in the area and then a host of children from Zwelihle.  Two of our 3 teachers will continue their education this year via Klein Karoo and I am so excited to see how quickly they are developing, not only in their teaching abilities but also in their confidence.

Immediately after the conference held in Stellenbosch last September to celebrate my 75th birthday, a group of participants got together and decided to do something about poverty in South Africa.  They called the project AHA! which stands for "Authentic, Hopeful Action."  They were realists who  did not simply want to talk about change but to act in ways that made a real difference to the lives of the poor.  I was not at that meeting, but I was made the Patron of AHA.  This means that even though  my "shelf-life" is coming to an end I can cajole people into doing things that might make a difference in the lives of poor people.   

The AHA website has many practical suggestions that could make a difference, some of them we could all do without too much effort.  For example if you don't already, you can give R 5 to the garage attendant whenever your car is filled.  This won't fundamentally alter the material conditions in poor communities, but if each garage attendant at Engen down the road got R5 from  five people a day, he or she would earn at least a R100 extra per week.  Multiply that by 10 garage attendants and that would mean a R 1000 would find its way into the life of the township!  And then multiply it across the country at every filing station! 

The list of possibilities whereby we can help make a difference to the lives of other people through authentic, hopeful action is endless if only we put our minds to it and get on with it.   At the very least we could go onto the AHA webpage, or talk to Theo over coffee,  to find out what even those of us whose shelf-life is short can do.  This is surely better than talking ourselves into a state of despair about the state of the nation!  Whether congenitally pessimists or optimists, let us be realists.  Poverty is a crime against humanity, especially in a country where there is so much wealth. We don't need a AHA moment or movement to tell us.  But we do need to act authentically and hopefully, and maybe.  some help to know what we can do, to show by our works what our faith means.  Instead of saying AMEN or ALLELUIA today, let  us all shout  "AHA!" 

John de Gruchy

Volmoed 12 February 2015


Theology and Public Life - Confronting poverty, unemployment and inequality

Please find a copy of the speech given by Dr Mamphela Ramphele at the Stellenbosch University Faculty of Theology open day on the 2nd of February 2015.


We are privileged to be able to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of one of South Africa’s finest sons, Beyers Naude, born on 10th May 1915. It is fitting that his alma mater has honoured him by amongst others, namingthe Centre for Theology after him and organizing this Annual Lecture to reflecton Theology and Public life.  

Beyers lived his life as a spiritualsearcher for “the truth“.  The search for“the truth” during the dark days of apartheid brought him face to face with thechoice between obedience in faith to God or subjection to the authority of thechurch’s doctrines.  The Dutch ReformedChurch’s doctrines of the time were heavily tainted by chauvinist and racistideology that supported and promoted the socio-economic exclusion of blackcitizens.  This doctrine undermined the pillarson which humanity stands – the fundamental truth that all humans are created asequals in the image of God. Beyers Naude chose obedience to God and paid theprice of social disapproval and exclusion by the Afrikaner establishment. 

Today is an opportune moment for us toreflect on our own journeys as people of faith. We need to examine the extent to which we have made the kind of choicesthat affirm our faith in the equality of humans and commitment to building asociety characterized by Ubuntu – thehuman connectedness that binds us together as equal members of the human race.  Ubunturequires us to confront the legacy of socio-economic and political exclusion ofblack people by a white power structure.   The persistence of Poverty, Unemployment andInequality is a result of our failure to establish the human connectedness thatis essential to making Ubuntu a way oflife.   We are yet to see ourselves inthe faces our fellow human beings made in the image of the God we worship.

Our Theme: Confronting Poverty,Unemployment and Inequality gives us an opportunity from a Theology andPublic Life perspective to reflect on the texts of great thinkers about this brokennessin the human connectedness in our society. It is also an opportunity for us to recommit to healing ourselves asindividuals, our communities and our society as a whole.  In this lecture I would like to reflect onthree points:

1)   Thatthe process of Confronting Poverty, Unemployment and Inequality is inextricablylinked to the restoration of the moral health of individuals and the health ofour political community.

2)   Thetough choices that Spiritual Leadership faces in responding to the call topromote the structural transformation that is fundamental to uprooting Poverty,Unemployment and Inequality.  

3)   Theneed to nurture the Green Shoots of a new Struggle for True Liberty



Our society is struggling to come to termswith the essential structural transformation that is required to build thecountry we committed to establish to make freedom a reality in the daily livesof all citizens.  The growing poverty, persistentunemployment and yawning chasm of inequality are symptoms of a society withdeep wounds and excruciating social pain for those on the wrong side of thedivide.  The euphoria of 1994 blinded usto the reality of the extent of transformation and healing needed to build thenon-racial, non-sexist and just democratic society envisaged in ourconstitution.

We need to confront and dismantle thesocial structures, that enabled a minority to exploit a majority of ourpopulation, that remain intact to date. For example our cities remainsegregated. Dormitory townships are supporting the prosperity and comfort ofthe well to do areas with their labour, consumer spending and taxes.  Take the case of staple food items such asbread.  A recent analysis shows that atownship such as Soweto with approximately 2million poor and unemployed people spendabout R10m per day on sugar-laced bread amounting to R3.65bn per year.  All that money leaves Soweto and billionsmore from other townships. Ultimately leaves South Africa as repatriatedprofits of multinational bread companies. This economic model can only generatepoverty for the majority and super wealth for the minority that owns most ofthe capital in our economy. 

Our education and training systems stillchurn out poor quality outcomes for the majority of children and young people.This leaves them ill-prepared to seize the labour market and self-employment opportunitiesin our economy.  The productivity of oureconomy suffers from the poor quality human capital.  The humiliation of life in poverty in themidst of conspicuous consumption is a source of re-traumatization, a disabling senseof worthlessness, anger and frustration. The social instability, brutality of violence and extent ofself-sabotage in those dormitory townships are a direct result of thestructural violence the society visits upon them daily.  This violence and social instability willincreasingly spill into well to do areas of our towns and cities.

The celebrated Indian Economist, C.T.Kurien, laments the pursuit of wealth at the expense of those excluded andexploited.  He urges the global communityto confront the traditional economic model. He is concerned about the reduction of humanachievement to monetary achievement. In virtually every field from technologyto spirituality success is increasingly measured in terms of a monetary number.The relentless pursuit of these numbers has taken its toll on social processeseven as it has led to the over exploitation of natural resources without even apassing thought to the needs of future generations.  He defines poverty as “the carcassthat remained from wealth acquisition.”  SampieTerreblanche brings this concern closer to our own situation: “In South Africa we can regard (black)poverty as the carcass left over from (white) acquisition.”[1]

Inequality generated by this economicmodel and the disrespect that goes with it, adds salt to the wounds of thosewho have to endure its burdens.  Thesocial fractures occasioned by the triple burden of poverty, unemployment andinequality undermine our connectedness as a human community.    

What are we to do to contribute to theprocess of structural transformation that is essential to healing the socialpain and wounds of our society as people of faith and citizens and peopleobedient to God in Faith? I am encouraged in this exploration by the congruencebetween the views of St. Augustine, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Dag Hammarskjold andRabbi Jonathan Sacks on the freedom we have as human beings to choose how tolive as creatures designed for connectedness with other humans.   Allthese thinkers link human freedom to action in the service of others.

Augustinians place a strong focus on sinas “attempts to flee from other humans,and also from God, (as) the really fundamental characteristic of what sin is. It(sin) is an attempt to treat others as objects so that we do not have toconfront what it would be like to treat them as humans and be exposed to theirclaims upon us as humans.”[2]  

Both Bonhoeffer and Hammarskjold (who werecontemporaries born in different parts of Europe) define sin asself-centeredness – to be curved in upononeself.  Freedom in their view isinseparable from unreserved service. Freedom “is a freedom in the midstof action, and the action required is the action to serve others.”[3] For both of them the life of aChristian is that of one who lives and acts in the midst of the needs of theworld.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks in his wisereflections on Freewill had this to say: "Whenlife becomes cheap and people are seen as a means to an end, when the worstexcesses are excused in the name of tradition and rulers have absolute power,then conscience is eroded and freedom lost because culture has createdinsulated space in which the cry of the oppressed can no longer be heard."[4]

 The exclusionarysocial structures of the apartheid exploitative system designed to create “insulated space in which the cry of theoppressed could not be heard”, sadly remain intact to date.  Many of us living in the leafy suburbs ofmajor towns and cities can not, and do not, and will not hear the cry of thosestill living with unspeakable pain of poverty, unemployment and inequality.  We flee – physically and symbolically fromthe places where we would have to confront the claims that our fellow humansmake on us as a connected human race.   

Not unlike “the pre-conversion” BeyersNaude, we have found it difficult to challenge the establishment, because weare of it.  Those in government authorityand in leadership positions in the private sector are part of us.  We are a part of networks of support andpatronage that operate amongst those seen to be loyal to the political andeconomic establishment.  

Many of us as people of faith have foundourselves caught in the horns of a dilemma. How to be supportive of a newgovernment led by struggle heroes, whilst being obedient to God in faith and beingon the side of those crying under the burden of persistent injustices in theirdaily lives?  How do we remain true to ourobedience to God in faith in a society that seems to have come to tolerate continuedpoverty, unemployment and growing inequality? How do we challenge impunity in public life by the very people alongside whom we fought against the impunity of the apartheid system?  How long is long enough to begin to demandaccountability in public life as non-negotiable?

Beyers Naude, as a member of the AfrikanerBroederbond, faced the same dilemma when it became obvious to him that theAfrikaner establishment was committing atrocities such as the Sharpeville Massacre,and the systematic denial of the human dignity of his fellow citizens simplybecause they were black.  He too was toldto be patient by his friends, the likes of Rev Bertie Brink, who said: “Brother Beyers, I just want to advise youthat it is going to take years and years before our church realizes thatapartheid cannot be spiritually justified. Therefore, we must be patient.”[5]   

In our midst today are also peoplecounseling patience.  There are thosesuggesting that 20 years is too soon to expect transformation to have the desiredimpact on the lives of people living in poverty, unemployment and suffering thepain and indignity of inequality.   Many others are saying that 20 years is toolong for those children who still do not get the high quality early childhooddevelopment they need to lay the foundations for success in life.  More and more are saying that 20 years is toolong for those cohorts of young people – black and poor - 50% and more of whomdrop out of our school system due to poor quality teaching and learning intheir foundation years.  

Young people are saying that 20 years istoo long for those who against all odds, make it into the minority who qualifyfrom high school, yet end up without opportunities for higher education andskills training to prepare them for successful careers in the 21stcentury.  A growing chorus says that 20years is too long for the thousands of women and children who die unnecessarilyin childbirth due to poor quality health services despite the science andresources we have to stop the carnage.   

Like Beyers Naude, we face the choicebetween obeying God’s call to us to respond to the demands of our fellow humanbeings to make true liberty visible in our society or continuing with thestatus quo.  We are challenged to admitthat true liberty is not divisible – we cannot be free when the majority of ourfellow human beings remain un-free.  Wehave to tackle both the structural and psychological impediments to connectingthe moral health of individuals and the health of our political community withthe goal of true liberty for all.   Wehave to accept that a corrupted polity will effectively corrupt its citizens,and corrupted citizens will effectively corrupt their polity.     

We have made the big mistake ofjettisoning the psychological dimension of the struggle for true liberty in1994.  People who have been deeplywounded by decades of humiliation by political and socio-economic exclusion,cannot simply stand up and dust themselves up and move on.  The superiority and inferiority complexes ofracism and sexism, as well as the assault on the culture and self-image ofblack people, have left a multiplicity of deep wounds to heal on theirown.  A healing process is needed toacknowledge the wounds, apply the balm of truth speaking between perpetratorsand victims, and dismantle the structures that continue to wound millions ofblack people.  

Reconciliation can only come from puttingright that which has gone wrong (structural transformation).  As citizens and as Faith Based Leaders wewere too hasty to declare victory, especially after the Truth and ReconciliationCommission (TRC) process in the late 1990s. We left too many wounded people, who are the majority population, totheir own devices by excluding socio-economic violations of human rights fromthe TRC process. We have also not followed through with the minimalist reparationsproposed in the TRC Report.

What is needed is a new business model forour economy.  We need to rethink andtransform the socio-economic structures of our cities to stop the haemorragingof cash from the poorest to the wealthiest parts of our urban landscapes.  We need to address the cost of poverty in transportcosts, time away from families and lack of leisure and other facilitiesessential to enhancing the quality of life for poor people. We need to advocatefor, and champion larger investments in quality public services to enhance theoutcomes of education and health for all citizens.  

We also need to be open to innovations inpower generation technologies that focus on renewables and new human settlementmodels that integrate residential and industrial/commercial productiveactivities.  Our economy can only growfaster and in a more sustainable way by adopting models that promote the utilizationof the talents and energies of all able bodied people willing to participate inbuilding ours into a great society. 

We need to dismantle our “insulatedspaces” and be present in the lives of those wrestling with the triple burdenin our midst.  We need to listen to thecry of those black people plunged into self-hatred because of the dailyhumiliation and denigration they continue to endure.  We need to understand that destructivebehavior including self-sabotage, in personal, community and public life of ournation, is a direct result of the psychological liberation work yet to be done.  

Too many white people remain burdened by asuperiority complex that distances them from their fellow human beings.  There are too many white people who stilljustify the legacy of privilege they continue to enjoy as an entitlementresulting from their superior education, skills and harder work.  There are still too many men who believe thatthey are entitled to lead rather than recognize the complementary strengthswomen bring to leadership.

Beyers Naude, as founder and head of theChristian Institute, was one of the first white people in the 1970s torecognize the importance of psychological liberation through raising the consciousnessof both black and white people about the impact of racism and socio-economicexclusion on human relationships.  Beyershad benefitted from Afrikaners consciousness raising and solidarity action toheal the psychological wounds of humiliation Afrikaners suffered at the handsof the British.  He supported the BlackCommunity Programs (BPC was the development arm of the BCM) to model practicalmanifestations of self-reliance to drive black led sustainable developmentprojects.   

The gap left by the neglect of psychologicalliberation has been filled by, amongst others, the new churches.   Theyoffer salvation for those suffering the pain of being in the margins of society.   Some of these new churches, despite theirlimited human and material resources, are answering the call to hear the cry ofpain by being present in the daily struggles of poor people. 

But many of these new churches aremega-businesses with global links to centers in the USA and SouthernAmerica.   They offer a prosperity ministrybased on transactional relationships involving significant financialcontributions and unquestioning obedience to the authority of church leaders.   The level of desperation and loss ofself-esteem of the congregants involved is reflected by the extent to whichthey engage in further humiliating acts such as eating grass, drinking petrolor slavish submission to abusive church leaders.   How do we stop the sin of fleeing from theclaims these desperate fellow humans are making on us as humans? 


Dag Hammaskjold’s life of public serviceas Secretary General of the United Nations in the Cold War era of the 1960s, isan inspiration we might draw on in this exploration of our own healing journeysas we confront the challenges and opportunities of structural transformation ofour society.  Hammarskjold’s life of publicservice was anchored on the search for life’s meaning.   This search led Dag to conclude that the wayby which one finds life meaningful is the way of experience; one seeks meaningby “daring to take the leap intounconditional obedience you will find that ‘in the pattern’ you are liberatedfrom the need to live ‘with the herd’. You will find that thus subordinated, your life will receive from Lifeall its meaning, irrespective of the conditions given you for its realization”.[6]

The liberation from ‘the need to live with the herd’ and enjoyment of the benefits ofbeing a member of the Afrikaner Broederbond, is what enabled Beyers Naude toleap into “unconditional obedience”to God.  The question for us today is howwe are to liberate ourselves from ‘the needto live in the herd’ and commit ourselves to tackling the structural andpsychological obstacles to true freedom for all South Africans?  The church at various stages in its life,including during the struggle for freedom from apartheid, anchored its missionon the connection between the moral health of individuals and the health of ourpolitical community.  

Imagine if people of all faiths were tomake 2015 the year of breaking down the edifice of socio-economic structuresthat perpetuate poverty, unemployment and inequality in the contexts we livein!  People of Faith across the religiousspectrum have historically been involved in advocacy for social justice and as actorsin socio-economic development projects, especially education and health care.  What stops the church today from respondingto the desperate needs for quality education, health care and promoting humandignity in our homes and communities?

There are inspirational stories emergingfrom across our country of citizens doing extraordinary things with limitedresources.  Take the example of civicengagement of retired people in Hermanus, in the Western Cape, who havecommitted themselves to transforming the local schools in the poor township ofZwelihle into high quality places of teaching and learning.   Enhancing education quality is transformingthe mindsets of those involved on both sides of the divide.  It sets the stage for dismantling the dividesin Hermanus between masters and servants, opening the gate towards rebuilding asociety of equal citizens.

Other citizens in Gauteng and Mpumalanga aresimilarly helping to make excellence affordable to poor communities through lowcost private schools.  Forgingpartnerships between poor public schools and better-resourced schools, is alsoworking wonders in enhancing performance across the board.  These are not, and should not be acts ofcharity. These are citizen responses to building a society we can all be proudto live in. 

Imagine if citizens of Stellenbosch wereto step outside their comfort zones to support the push for quality educationfor every child in settlements on your doorstep such Khayamandi!  The knock-on effects would includecollaboration between the very high net-worth residents and the poor people ofKhayamandi. Together they would build a re-connected healing community ofStellenbosch, where human dignity is celebrated at home, at work and in thewider community.  The same amazing thingscould happen if Cape Town leafy suburban citizens would dare to reconnect withtheir fellow humans on the Cape Flats.

The over-60s in our society are anunder-utilized resource. Theis resource could be harnessed to tackle structuralconstraints to sustainable socio-economic development.  Many citizens in this age group have a wealthof experience, scarce skills and independent financial means.  Imagine connecting our huge youth base – thelargest proportion of our population (59%) under 35 years – with the almost 10%of our population who are retired and still energetic!   The enthusiasm and energy of youth inspiredand nurtured by mutually supportive relationships with older generations couldbecome a winning proposition for our society. 

The linking of hands to innovate andexperiment with new business models to accelerate economic growth, educationand training as well as job creation, could see us turning round our moribundeconomy into a thriving one.  We could turnthe challenges of the triple burden into an opportunity to build bridgesconnecting us as fellow human beings.  Becomingmore attentive to the needs of our fellow human beings and learning from oneanother, are the ingredients needed to build a more prosperous, inclusive and stablegreat country together. 


There are encouraging signs across ourcountry that people of faith are waking up to their responsibilities andrecommitting to obedience to God in faith. First, many individuals are openly searching again for appropriateresponses to the growing social justice challenges in our midst.  The courage to engage in a new struggle onthe side of poor people is being championed by a growing number of faith-basedleaders.   

The South African Council of Churches(SACC), that played a seminal role in proclaiming liberation theology andsupport for the struggle for freedom, is being revived after years ofneglect.  Leaders such as Rev FrankChikane, Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana, Ms. Hlope Bam, have stepped up to the role ofgiving the SACC revival a boost.  Here inthe Western Cape The Religious Leaders Forum led by Rev Xola Skosana is gearingup for a stronger prophetic voice and greater responsiveness to the cry ofthose living on the margins of our society.

The Methodist Church of Southern Africa has also taken a bold step by putting a stop to its priests acting as Chaplainsto the ANC.   The Chaplaincy of the ANChad become controversial in its support of the ANC’s claim to “being of God”and therefore deserving support from God-fearing citizens. 

The Archbishop of Cape Town, ThaboMakgoba, has also come out in support of actively standing with thosemarginalized by poverty and indignity.  Hehas called for 2015 to be a year of “renaissanceof the spirit and the reconnection with the values of our constitution and ourspiritually guided families …… You have the chance to shape our country’sdestiny.  Destiny is not a matter ofchance, but a matter of choice.”[7]

There are other encouraging initiativesafoot as well.  The Authentic HopefulAction (AHA) had a soft launch in December 2014 to mobilize action against thetriple burden of poverty, unemployment and inequality.  It draws its strengths from the Second KairosInitiative that presented an open letter to the ANC leadership in 2012,challenging the persistent social injustice and growing corruption ingovernment.  The success of AHA willdepend on its ability to ignite the imagination and energy of citizens and thefaithful to mobilize a sustainable social movement for a new struggle forsocial justice.

The successful sprouting and blossoming ofthese green shoots depends on the extent to which they inspire citizens acrossthe spectrum to rise to the challenge and opportunity of building a movementfocused on uprooting poverty, tackling unemployment and inequality.   The question for you and I here today is howwe respond to the call to obedience as we go back to our bases?  Are we ready to ”take the leap of obedience” and start the process of dismantlingthe socio-economic barriers we have built in our own lives or those weperpetuate to insulate ourselves from our fellow human beings?  Are we ready for the journey to reconnectwith our fellow human beings?  


Let me conclude by bringing in the voicesof young men from Khayelitsha whom we seldom have the opportunity to listen to.   They are part of a group supported by aninitiative by two traditional ballet dancers that enabled them to escape theclutches of gangs to rebuild their lives They are exceptional in theirperformance as dancers moving gracefully in a celebration of ballet and Africandancing motifs.   The untapped talentamongst these young people is immeasurable. Let me share with you the lyrics of a song they composed during oneevening during a weekend away organized by their mentors:



Ndiyabuza kaloku, yini

na sibulalana sodwa

Bayaphi ubuntu


Sesisele sisodwa

simunamunana nak’ilahle

baphi na abadala

ndiyabuza kaloku.

Sifuna wena Mama nawetata

Uyabanda umzi ongena



Kwanele ma-Africa

Kwanele bantwana




I’m afraid

I’m asking why are we

killing each other, where

is our humanity


We have been left alone

Trying to find answers

Where are the elders

I’m asking

We want our mother

and father

A house with no woman

is cold


It’s enough my fellow


It’s enough sons and

daughters of the soil

Let’s unite

How are we to respond to these voices?  We have the power, theresources, the experience and models of success, to root out poverty,unemployment and inequality.  The keyquestion is whether we are willing to make the choice to respond and expressour obedience to God through service to these young people and others in ourmidst so we can restore our human connectedness.   

Mamphela Ramphele

Active Citizen



[1] C.T. Kurien, Wealthand  Illfare — An Expedition into RealLife Economics, Books forChange, 139, Richmond Road, Bangalore-560025. Rs. 390. Terreblanche, S. AHistory of Inequality in SA: 1652-2002, University of Natal Press, 2002p413.  


[2] A Conversations With CharlesMathewes, Ass Professor of Theology at the University of Virginia andauthor of A Theology of Public Life, Cambridge, USA, 2007, Boisi Centrefor Religion and American Public Life, Boston College, USA.

[3] Dag Hammarskjold’s White Book – An Analysis of Markings,p129, Gustaf Aulen, 1969, Fortress Press.

[4] Rabbi Jonathan Sacks,Covenant and Conversations 5775 one Ethics, Freewill

[5]  Beyers Naude, My Land vanHoop, Human and Rousseau, 1995:43

[6] Dag Hammaskjold, Markings, p114, as quoted in An Analysisof Markings , Gustaf Aulen, p35, Fortress Press 1969.

[7] Time for a New Struggle,Archbishop of Cape Town, Thabo Makgoba, Sunday Independent, 11/1/2015


Was Nelson Mandela a Christian? Was he a member of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa?

In an earlier post I mentioned a research paper that I had worked on entitled "Mandela and the Methodists:  Faith, fact or fallacy?"  This paper was published at the beginning of this month in the academic journal Studia Historiae Ecclesiasticae (40th Anniversary special edition).  You can find out more about the journal here.

The paper was originally delivered as the closing plenary address at the Theological Society of South Africa, and today I presented it at the International conference on Religion and Media at Faculdades EST in Brazil. I still am not at liberty to make the full text of the paper available.  However, here are my slides from today's presentation.


So, was Nelson Mandela a Methodist?  Indeed, he self-identified as a member of the Church, and my interviews with Bishops and ministers of the denomination confirmed that he was a loyal member of the Church.  See this quote from Presiding Bishop Zipho Siwa:

Madiba remained a committed Methodist throughout his life. As a church, we hail the qualities that confirmed him as a true son of Methodism - a life of faith in God lived in service to others.
Bishop Zipho Siwa

Here are Mr Mandela's own thoughts on the matter (just one quote of many from his writings, speeches and letters that I found).

The values I was taught at these institutions have
served me well throughout my life.  These values were strengthened during our years of incarceration when this church cared for us. Not only did you send chaplains to encourage us, but you also assisted us materially within your means. You helped our families at a time when we could not help them ourselves…  I cannot over-emphasise the role that the Methodist Church has played in my own life 

 Nelson Mandela

Was he a Christian?  I would conclude that he was an African Christian Humanist.  The paper describes the full detail of what that means.  However, here are some reasons why I believe this to be true.  The following list of descriptors of Christian Humanism come for John de Gruchy:

  • Christian humanism is inclusive. “Being human” names our primary identity.
  • Christian humanism affirms dignity and responsibility.
  • Christian humanism is open to insight into our common human condition wherever it is to be found.
  • Christian humanism claims that the love of God is inseparable from the love of others.
  • Christian humanism heralds a justice that transcends material and sectional well-being.
  • Christian humanism insists that goodness, truth, and beauty are inseparable.


Mr Mandela mentions in many speeches and his own writings (see for example his address to the Methodist conferences in 1994 and again in 1998, and of course his autobiography 'A long walk to freedom' (particularly the sections on his early life)) that he was deeply formed by two primary communities.  First and most prominent was the African traditional (Xhosa) world view (which I cannot discuss in detail here).  Second was the Christian faith and the institutions of the Christian Church.  These shaped his identity in a profound way.  There is little doubt that like all persons his faith identity shifted and changed at different stages in his life.  Moreover, it would be dishonest to say that he was a Christian in the simple sense that this phrase is used in popular theology.  But, he identified with the Christian faith and with the church.

The important point is to ask, of which “church” was Nelson Mandela a member?

We have already concluded that Nelson Mandela was a member of the MCSA (Methodist Church of Southern Africa). However, of which aspect or expression of church within the MCSA was he a member? The real question is what do we mean by the expression “church”? Dirkie Smit suggests (1) that there are three general forms of being “the church”. I shall briefly present these below.

The local congregation

For many Christians this is most likely to be their primary perspective of the church, a localised community of Christians, organised around regular common worship. Philander points out that this is the physical place, and social group, that people often think of when they answer the question of where they “go to church”, or what church they are members of. Certainly from what we have already established Nelson Mandela was a member of this form of church in his early life (up to 1958). However, we could not say that he remained a member of a local congregation in the years that followed that. As has already been suggested this would simply not have been possible, considering his imprisonment, and later public profile.

The institutional, denominational and ecumenical Church

Smit further points out that for many people the term “church” refers primarily to the organisational or institutional structures. When some people hear the word “church” they may think of the confessional community that they are a part of (e.g., Catholic, Orthodox or Methodist). Philander notes that often this expression of church is what people would point to in answer to the question “what does the church say about unemployment in South Africa”. It could also refer to collective groupings such as Evangelical Christians, or even more formal groupings such as ecumenical bodies (like the World Council of Churches, or the World Communion of Reformed Churches). From what was discussed above one could conclude that Nelson Mandela held his strongest link to this understanding of church – he was a member of a denomination. This type of understanding of the church is often the point at which members engage with issues of social concern and engage policy. Mandela certainly sought to identify with, and engage, the MCSA as a denomination (as was clearly shown in the 1994 and 1998 addresses he delivered to the Methodist Conference).

The church as believers, salt and light in the world

Smit points out that the third way in which people think of the church, is as individual believers who are salt and light in the world, each involved in living out their faith on a daily basis in their own particular ways. This is a very important way in which the church can participate in being an agent and bearer of hope in society. In reading Nelson Mandela’s speeches and writings one can credibly maintain that he saw himself as a person of faith who lived out his particular understanding of his task in the world in this manner. He often refers, as was shown above, to the fact that he “formed” for his work in early life (both through African culture and the ministry of the church).

Here are the references to the articles pointed to above:

1. Dirk Smit presented a more nuanced perspective on the Church sighting six variation forms, “gestaltes”, in Dirk J. Smit, “Oor Die Kerk as ’N Unieke Samelewingsverband,” Tydskrif Vir Geesteswetenskappe 2, no. 36 (1996): 119–29.

 2. Dirk J. Smit, Essays in Public Theology: Collected Essays 1 (AFRICAN SUN MeDIA, 2007), 61–68.



Bigger stories - Are you creating bigger stories that transform communities?

This is a beautiful video by The Work of the People - it asks a few critical theological and missional questions.

What did Jesus come to do? If we know what Jesus came to do, and we are called to be the 'body of Christ, then what is the work of the Church?

I'll be using this, and a few other videos, as part of my lectures to a group of Master of Theology students in Missional Leadership next week.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this video, and particularly what you think about the mission of the Church.


African relational ontology, individual identity, and Christian theology

Yup, the title of this post is a mouthful... It happens to be the title of an academic article that I wrote some time ago that is being published.  

The article will be published in the July / August edition of the SPCK Journal 'Theology'.  This is by far the most prestigious journal in which I have had the privilege to publish an article.  I am truly amazed that it was accepted, and humbled to have it there.

Perhaps the title was so obscure that they thought it was worth a chance!?  The full title of the article is

African relational ontology, individual identity, and Christian theology: An African theological contribution towards an integrated relational ontological identity (Theology, July/August 2010 Vol CXIII No 874 ISSN 0040-571 X).
The article comes from a body of research that I conducted over a period of some years in which I investigated the problem of individual identity (what does it mean to be 'me').  How is my identity formed in relation to other persons and my context?  And what aspects of the Kosmos can be relied upon to validate who I truly am?  Do I rely on my appearance, or my experiences, or is there something more concrete and substantial to 'true identity'?
This article focusses on the importance of relationships and intersubjective identity as the locus of understanding who we are as human persons. It relates these important social aspects of our identity to three prominent Christian doctrines (the doctrine of God, the doctrine of Christian anthropology and the doctrine of soteriology (salvation) - it is something of a systematic approach).  
I have another article from this same body of research that contains more of the neuroscience and psychology of identity that will be published in the South African Journal HTS later this year.  And then I am still working on the book 'Why you may not be who you think you are.  Adventures in neuroscience, artificial intelligence and philosophy' (I am under contract to Cambridge Scholars Press for this book).
Here's the abstract for this article in 'Theology'.
African theology has a great deal to contribute to the theological discourse on human identity. Relationships are central to the formation, expression and understanding of who an individual person is. The African philosophy of ubuntu, more accurately expressed as umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu (a person is a person through other persons), affirms the critical under- standing that identity arises out of intersubjective interactions between persons. This paper discusses how concepts of identity in African philosophy and religion can enhance our theological understanding of individual identity. Hence this research presents an African theological approach to identity that is systematized in relation to the doctrine of God, the doctrine of Christian anthropology and the doctrine of salvation.
If you're interested in reading more about my research in this area, and various other thoughts on neuroscience, identity and Christian theology please follow this link.



Peace and belonging...


If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other. - Mother Teresa

Please see this link for more on 'identity', belonging, community and identity (ubuntu).  

Please aslso see this article, entitled, 'Do South Africans exist?'.  It is an academic article on identity, relationship and the African philosophy of ubuntu that I prepared for the Theological Society of Southern Africa.  It gives a fairly good introduction to the African philisophical and theological perspective on identity. 

I would love to hear what your perspective is on the notion of belonging and peace!


[You may have arrived here from a link on Ron Martoia's VelocityCulture site - if not, then please visit Ron's site for the context to my comment written below on 2 March 2010]

Hi Ron,

This is a challenging question indeed!

I think that part of what has made the Church such a significant place of community is the reality of life’s diversity. Joy, sorrow, life and death. When I was still a pastor of a local church I often used to stand in front of the communion table in the sacramental area and marvel at all of the stages of life that are marked in that space.

I would celebrate life and baptise the children of my members there, I would confirm the faith of young people who had discovered Christ since their baptism, I married many of those young people in that same space, and I even had occasion to bury one or two who had passed away at far too young an age.

However, the gravity of that sacred space was seldom recognised. I certainly overlooked it frequently, and I think the members of our congregation (much less the members of our city) hardly ever saw its significance!

In Africa there is a wonderful saying ‘umuntu ngumuntu ngamantu’ [roughly translated it says 'a person becomes more fully human through other people', or 'I am who I am because of who you are']. I have written about the African philosophy of ubuntu extensively (see this link for an introductory article ). I think there is a critical link between relationships and true identity. We can only become more fully human when we live our lives with others.

In this light I have found the following quotes encouraging and challenging:

- ‘My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together.’ – Desmond Tutu
- ‘The holy task is not about becoming “spiritual” nearly as much as becoming human.’ – Richard Rohr

I agree that congregations are often bad at creating community – a lot of contemporary Christianity tends to present Jesus as a combination of my personal therapist and a stock broker… This is a common thread in just about every country I have visited in the world! Christians tend to seek entertainment rather than truth, we want comfort rather than companionship.

However, what is certain is that we need some form of community to tie our lives to the lives of others. Such ‘intersubjective’ interactions make us more fully human, and in so doing help us to become more like the archetypical person, Jesus.

I suppose that like you I am more committed to helping people connect meaningfully than I am about getting people to join churches. But, I am still committed to a local church.

Your insights are challenging as always!





Widows, witchcraft, and the abuse of African culture to deny Southern African women their rights...

Culture is a necessary thing - it structures our lives in relationship, it adds meaning and depth to communal practices, it enlivens our history, and shapes our future.

You would know that I ardently encourage the adoption of the ideology of ubuntu as a principle for relationship based justice, harmony, and equity. I do so primarily because there is so much of this ideology that can positively shape society (particularly societies that have become competitive, self obsessed, and disregarding of the rights and responsibilities that we have for one another's wellbeing). In fact, I find many more Gospel values in the principles of ubuntu than I do in Western Capitalist individualism...

However, there is a HUGE disconnect between the ideology of ubuntu and its ethical application in contemporary Southern Africa. Whilst the ideology is touted by many, there are very few who hold it dear enough to actually practice it!

I wrote a paper on this subject that you download and read here.

Sadly, my experience has been that even in traditional African communities, as soon as the individual can afford a BMW, buy a house in the subburbs, and outwit, outlast and outplay other persons, the ideology and philosophy of interdependent identity and harmony in relationship is chucked out of the windows in the pursuit of individual gain!

Sadly, culture is abused by many as a tool to justify abusive practises, and at the same time avoid responsibility. This disturbing article comes from the Mail & Guardian newspaper.

While the United Nations Millennium Development Goals aim to empower women and eradicate poverty, Southern African inheritance practices are having the opposite effect -- leaving widows impoverished, maligned and separated from their own children, says a recent study out of Mozambique.

The study by Save the Children highlights how tradition -- which dictates that the man's family can devolve the deceased's assets among themselves -- leads to widows being made scapegoats for their husbands’ deaths and losing custody of their children.

Maria Delia and Isauru Mandlate, part of the team that conducted the study for the Save the Children Foundation in Mozambique, say that in addition to dealing with bereavement, a widow faces the immediate loss of her home and all her possessions.

Women are commonly accused of bewitching their husbands and causing their deaths, and this is used as a pretext for refusing them their inheritance.

“The family is not interested in negotiating, they just want the goods, "says Delia. “This is revenge for her having 'killed' her husband. They are really rough and don’t leave her with a single penny."

But even more painful than the loss of material possessions, say the researchers, is the way the husband’s family will poison the children’s minds, leading them to believe their mother is responsible for their father's death.

"The children are not allowed to visit their mother -- the children are told to run away from their mother if she comes to visit," says Delia.

Widows who refuse to participate in the ritual of "purification" -- which requires them to have unprotected sexual intercourse with a male member of their husband’s family to dispel bad spirits -- are banished from the family and even the district.
The result is that dispossessed widows turn to sex work or cheap manual labour to survive and are more vulnerable to risky sexual activity and HIV infection.

Delia tells the story of a young widow whose husband died of Aids. "Her husband had gone to South Africa to work on the mines and while he was away she lived with her in-laws. When he became ill he came home and she cared for him. When he died, they [the in-laws] kicked her out."

The woman ended up living in a mud hut, without even a bed to sleep on and just the clothes on her back. She survives on the few stalks of maize and vegetables she can grow.

The study says patrilineal African societies view male heirs as continuing the family line, while women are seen as assuming only the role of temporary guardians of assets. As a result the deceased's family members feel they are entitled to all his material possessions -- even if the widow has worked to contribute to the shared assets.

The report notes that despite Mozambique being a signatory to instruments such as the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the UN Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, the government has yet to produce comprehensive legislation on inheritance.

In South Africa this tradition has been challenged by progressive human rights legislation, where a precedent was set by the Constitutional Court in 2004.

Nontupheko Bhe, a widowed Khayelitsha woman, approached the court to have the Black Administration Act -- which provided that if Africans died intestate their estate would be devolved according to customary law -- declared unconstitutional.

The court ruled that the Act was an "anachronistic piece of legislation which ossified 'official' customary law and caused egregious violations of the right of black African persons” and found that "whatever the role of male primogeniture may have played in traditional society, it can no longer be justified".

Despite this landmark ruling, the law is often at odds with deep-seated cultural norms and many women remain unaware of their rights.
"In many instances the widow is made aware of her rights too late and the assets have been claimed by the in-laws or the livestock is already sold," says Busi Motshana, a para­legal at Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre in Acornhoek, Limpopo.

In addition to ignorance of their rights, there is also a culture of silence among women and children -- who are generally passive participants in traditional society. In rural areas access to facilities and institutions of justice is an added obstacle. The drawing up of a formal will is rare, in part due to issues of access, but also due to the fear that doing so is tantamount to inviting an early death.

"This is becoming an issue as more people die of HIV/Aids," says Delia.

"More needs to be done in the communities to educate and inform these women on their rights and also encourage community reform."

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(Southern) African Christianity - Christian Theologian and his family engage in the African ritual of animal sacrifice.

They said it couldn't be done, but here's the evidence, Southern African Christian Theologian, Dr Dion Forster, engaged in an act of ritual sacrifice today. When asked for comment he replied "This is our culture... Our people are known for it. Particularly on special days like today - we wouldn't have it any other way!"

Pictured here, Dr Forster, burning the flesh of a dead cow (commonly referred to as 'steak, chops, and wors (sausage)'. What makes the act even more of a scandal is the fact that Dr Forster, an ordained Methodist Ministers, is wearing the traditional vestments of the Springbok Rugby team! His wife said "I tried to talk him out of it, but he is just so committed to the Springboks! He said that he had been praying all night, and that God was surely going to support his team [God's team] the Springboks in tonight's semifinal match against the Pumas".

When asked if Dr Forster would be preaching at the Bryanston Methodist Church this evening, he replied "Yes, my people expect it, and after all, that's where we belong... However, tonight's sermon will be kort en kragtig [short and powerful]"

This one's for you Sifiso and Samke! Don't be sad in the US my friends! You're a Africans, no matter where you go we are one - simunye (and other favourite South Africanisms!! umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu!. We miss you guys, but you will be back soon!

OK, now for the Benediction.... Go Bokkkkkkeeeee!!!!!

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I'm a black, African-Christian, social-activist, and proud of it!

Yep, that's right, I'm proud to be a black, African-Christian, social activist! If that doesn't make sense then please read my paper below. I prepared it for the Oxford Institute where I will deliver it in the Systematic Theology working group.

You can download the paper here:

Dr Dion Forster - Oxford Institute 2007.doc

Here's the real title and abstract.

Title: The appropriation of Wesleyan pragmatism and social holiness in Southern African Methodism. By Dr Dion Forster

Abstract: While Wesleyan theology shares many core elements throughout the world, there can be little doubt that it finds rich and diverse application and expression in the many varied contexts in which Methodism has taken root.

This paper will present an overview of the application, and unique expression, of Christian Perfection as it has taken shape within Methodism in Southern Africa. Christianity, and in particular Methodism, is a dominant faith perspective in Southern Africa. This phenomenon, it will be argued, is largely due to the pragmatic nature of Wesleyan theology, and its emphasis on social holiness. This research aims to add value to the corpus of global Methodist Theology that tends to be dominated by western theological perspectives. Thus a new perspective on Methodist theology will be given by means of articulating the unique tenets of Southern African Methodist Theology. Insights gained from this study may be of value in similar contexts where Methodist theology is seeking to find a unique, and contextually relevant, expression. Moreover, understanding how Methodist theology is being shaped in the two-thirds world, an area in which Methodism is growing, may give some valuable indicators for the formulation and expression of Methodist theology elsewhere in the world.


The paper I presented at the Theological Society of South Africa.

There are few things quite as boring as sitting through some strange man telling you all about neurons, dendrites, objective and subjective reality, quadrants, hierarchies and a host of things that would normally put the average person to sleep...

However, whilst there are few things as boring as being PRESENT to hear a paper, the one SURE FIRE thing that IS MORE BORING is reading someone else's BORING paper.... Ha ha!

So, I just wanted to announce that there will be a test for all my friends (particularly for those of you on facebook that keep poking me!) So you had better start reading the paper (all 31 pages of it) or else you may not go to heaven! What do you think Wessel, is that a fair soteriology!?

So, click here to download the BORING paper!

Do South Africans exist.doc

Here's the Abstract (hint - study this and you should be able to pass the test ;-)

A generous ontology: Identity as a process of intersubjective discovery - An African theological contribution.

The answer to the question "who am I?" is of fundamental importance to being human. Answers to this question have traditionally been sought from various disciplines and sources, these include empirical sources such as biology and sociology, and phenomenological sources such as psychology and religion. Although the approaches are varied they have the notion of foundational truth, whether from an objective, or subjective, perspective in common. The question in the title of this paper comes from the title of a book by WITS academic, Ivor Chipkin, entitled, "Do South Africans Exist? Nationalism, Democracy and the Identity of 'the People'" (2007). This paper will not discuss Chipkin’s thoughts on nationalism and democracy in any detail, however it will consider the matter of human identity that is raised by his question. The approach that this papers takes on the notion of identity is significantly influenced by Brian McLaren’s postmodernist approach to Christian doctrine as outlined in his book "A generous orthodoxy" (2004) - a term coined by Yale Theologian Hans Frei. The inadequacies of traditional approaches to human identity and consciousness that are based upon 'foundational knowledge' will thus be considered. Both subjective and objective approaches will be touched upon, showing the weaknesses of these approaches in dealing with the complex nature of true human identity. The paper will then go on to present an integrative framework for individual consciousness that is not static or ultimately quantifiable, rather it is formulated in the process of mutual discover that arises from a shared journey. The approach presented here draws strongly upon the groundbreaking work of Ken Wilber and Eugene de Quincey and relates their ontlogical systems to the intersubjective approach to identity that can be found in the African philosophy of ubuntu. This paper will show how the ethics and theology of this indigenous knowledge system can contribute toward overcoming the impasse of validating individual identity and consciousness.


Take a look at this....

This book arrived in my post on Friday... What's so special about it!? Well, isn't it a nice cover?

Check out the last name and title of the chapter on the left hand side page (you may have to click on the image to enlarge it), and the fourth name and description on the right hand side page! ha ha, that's the great thing about this book with the rather 'generic' cover... I have a chapter published in it! I presented a paper on consciousness, identity, and Africa Theology (particularly the ethics of ubuntu) and it was published in the book. It is wonderful (and vain - Lord forgive me) to see one's name in print!

So, there we go! Have a blessed week!