• What are we thinking? Reflections on Church and Society from Southern African Methodists.
    What are we thinking? Reflections on Church and Society from Southern African Methodists.
    by Dion A Forster, Wessel Bentley
  • Methodism in Southern Africa: A celebration of Wesleyan Mission
    Methodism in Southern Africa: A celebration of Wesleyan Mission
    by Dion A Forster, Wessel Bentley
  • Christ at the centre - Discovering the Cosmic Christ in the spirituality of Bede Griffiths
    Christ at the centre - Discovering the Cosmic Christ in the spirituality of Bede Griffiths
    by Dion A Forster
  • An uncommon spiritual path - the quest to find Jesus beyond conventional Christianity
    An uncommon spiritual path - the quest to find Jesus beyond conventional Christianity
    by Dion A Forster
Transform your work life: Turn your ordinary day into an extraordinary calling. by Dion Forster and Graham Power.
Download a few chapters of the book here.
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Entries in Bible (20)


The launch of 'Restorative Readings: The Old Testament, Ethics and Human Dignity"

This evening we launched the book of my colleague and friend Prof L Juliana Claassens, "Restorative Readings: The Old Testament, Ethics and Human Dignity" which she co-edited with Prof Bruce Birch.

Among the contributors are a foreword by Walter Brueggemann, and chapters by Charlene Van Der Walt, Esias Meyer, Gerald West, Ntozake Cezula, Douglas Lawrie, Jacqueline Lapsley, and Cheryl Anderson.

I was privileged to write a little piece on the Bible and Ethics as hospitable conversation at the end.

Julie very kindly included me in this project and has opened many doors for me since then.

I am so grateful to her and can highly recommend this important text for anyone who wishes to read about the Old Testament and engage issues of human dignity and ethics.

Read more about the book here:


Love Wins! #LiefdeIsLiefde and the courageous witness of the Dutch Reformed Church

This week the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa took a very important decision - they have become decidedly more Christian by being a Church that seeks to welcome all those whom God invites and loves. Earlier in the week I wrote to some friends saying that I was praying for the denomination - their witness was on the line once again. This denomination is known as for having excluded persons based on something they could not choose. Of course in this instance I am talking about the fact that the Dutch Reformed Church excluded persons during the apartheid era based on their race. However, I am so thankful to say that the Synod of the Church is deconstruction that legacy, one brave and loving step at a time. Many Christians wanted them to once again opt for exclusion based on an attribute that persons do not choose. This time it would have been sexual orientation. Thankfully, they were wise enough not to choose that error again.

I am convinced of a few important points. First, the Church belongs to Christ. It is His body. As such He is the one who invites us. Our responsibility (in this regard) is to welcome those whom he loves and to facilitate a community of inclusion in which we grow together towards experiencing and expressing the tone of God’s Kingdom in our daily lives, and structuring it in society. You can read a little more about this idea in the following wonderful sermon that was preached by Samuel Wells - the Eucharistic table of the Lord is a wonderful metaphor to express unity in diversity, inclusion in grace, and the calling to extend the table of grace into the world.

Second, I am convinced that this is a faithful response to the message of the Bible. This week, as thousands of times before, well intentioned sisters and brothers have quoted passages from the Biblical text ‘at me’ to try and show me that I am error. I do my best to understand that their intention is loving correction, even though their method is betrays that they think either that I do not read the Bible, or don’t understand it. The former is not true. I read the Biblical text every day. The latter is true - I don’t always understand the content of Scripture, but I take it seriously and try to treat it as a critical and primary source for my spiritual, theological and ethical life. The texts that were quoted this week were more or less the same as those that others have presented to me for years and years. I find it so hurtful that persons who love God in Christ cannot love those who God loves and for whom Christ gave his life. How is it possible that we can use the Bible as a weapon of exclusion? I take the Biblical text way to seriously to abuse it in this manner. If you would like to understand how and why I hold my views on the inclusive nature of our Christian witness then please read this post I wrote in 2007 entitled ‘Lets Talk! Homosexuality and the Bible’, in particular please read the excellent article by Walter Wink on the Bible and homosexuality that is linked in that text. You can also read this chapter that I wrote for a text-book on Christian ethics called, ‘The Bible and Ethics’. Can I ask that if you are going to engage me on my views that you please respect the Bible enough to consider that there may be a variety of interpretations and understandings and that none of us is likely to ‘hold’ the whole truth? Can I also ask that you respect me enough to first read what I have written so that we can have an informed and open conversation.

Third, while I rejoice for the Dutch Reformed Church and give thanks for its faithful and courageous witness this week, my heart breaks for my own Church. The Methodist Church of Southern Africa was once a faithful and courageous witness to God’s love for all persons. Now, however, it is failing. The denomination remains in a protracted legal battle with my colleague and friend Rev Ecclesia de Lange who was dismissed from ministry because of her sexual orientation. I have been disciplined by the Church for blessing people who love God and long to be included in God’s blessing in their relationship. So, my own Church has a long way to go in its journey towards faithful Christian witness and ministry on this issue. Please pray for us, please help us, please don’t let us remain in error.


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.




A chapter published in 'Restorative Readings The Old Testament, Ethics, and Human Dignity'

A new book for which I wrote a section has been published! The book is called ‘Restorative Readings: The Old Testament, Ethics and Human Dignity’. It was edited by two wonderful friends, Professors Julie Claassens and Bruce Birch. This is a magnificent collection of chapters on issues related to reading the Old Testament text within the context of issues related to Christian Ethics and the Human Dignity discourse.  

You can order your copy of the book here (Wipf and Stock), or from here.

Congratulations Juile and Bruce! This is such an important book!  I have read the chapters a number of times and am so excited about the voices that will be added to the discourse.

The foreword was written by Walter Brueggemann.

Here is some additional information about the book:

The Bible has the unfortunate legacy of being associated with gross human rights violations as evident in the scriptural justification of apartheid in South Africa as well as slavery in the American South. What is more, the Hebrew Bible also contains numerous instances in which the worth or dignity of the female characters are threatened, violated or potentially violated, creating a situation of dehumanization in which women are viewed as less than fully human. 

And yet the Bible continues to serve as a source of inspiration for readers committed to justice and liberation for all. But in order for the Bible to speak a liberative word, what is necessary is to cultivate liberating Bible reading practices rooted in justice and compassion. Restorative Readings seeks to do exactly this when the authors in their respective readings seek to cultivate Bible reading practices that are committed to restoring the dignity of those whose dignity has been violated by means of racial, gender, and sexual discrimination, by the atrocities of apartheid, by the HIV/AIDS pandemic, and by the dehumanizing reality of unemployment and poverty.


Hermeneutics and homiletics - On Malcolm Gladwell's story of David and Goliath  

A good friend of mine @JohannGrobler alerted me to a fascinating TED talk given by one of my favorite authors, Malcolm Gladwell on the Biblical narrative of David and Goliath.  You can watch it on Youtube below.

It is fascinating to watch Malcolm share his perspective on this well known Biblical narrative.  He is not only a very creative and astute thinker - able to find a novel angle to well known data, and then develop a point that opens up new possibilities for thought - he is also a very engaging and effective orator.  I enjoyed watching the talk a great deal!

What Johann wanted to know was whether what was said about David (that he was probably more agile and skilled than Goliath as a warrior) and Goliath (that he was so large because of a cancer that causes unnatural growth (acromegaly). One of the side effects of this disease is short sightedness and double vision) were true.  Well, my answer to Johann's question is quite simply, I am not sure!  Unless we have medical evidence on Goliath's condition and corroborating testimony to substantiate the suggestions made about David by Malcolm Gladwell, Gladwell's theory is as plausible (or unplausable) as any other theory.  We cannot have absolute certainty on the theory without substantive evidence to support it. 

I can say, however, that I found what Gladwell said sensible and very interesting. What he suggests is certainly not outside of the realm of possibility. He does offer some second tier evidence to support his hypothesis.  To support his claims about David's skill he cites historical documents and data about the effectiveness and accuracy of sling shot users in the ancient world.  To support his claims about Goliath he cites some studies from contemporary (modern) medicine - although I am sure in both cases there is probably equally significant evidence and cause for reaching different conclusions.  That is the nature of academic debate.  Simply because and article is published, or a point is substantiated, that does mean that it is more true than another point.  There are some very bright and intelligent people who believed all sorts of crazy things (with medical evidence to support their claims).

What struck me as most significant about this talk was the manner in which Gladwell has adapted the disciplines of hermeneutics and homiletics so effectively in making his point.  What he is doing is very similar to what millions of priests, pastors, rabbi's and imman's do every week.  He has taken a narrative (in this case the Biblical narrative of David and Goliath) and interpreted it creatively in order to argue a particular point - the point here is found in his conclusion, i.e., that we must not be too simplistic about our accepted view of dominant narratives, and that giants may not always be what they seem (which implies that underdogs may also not always be what they seem).

Homileticians use this approach frequently, they communicate and idea by using 'foundational knowledge' as a connecting point with the audience.  Then they draw on other authoritative sources (in this case history and medicine) to introduce new knowledge that will support the reasonable acceptance of desired truth.  In Biblical studies we teach our students to understand that the text always has a historical context, that the 'players' in the narrative have depth to them (they are seldom what the narrator or author of the text has presented).  The intention is to use whatever data is available to unpack the deeper and more subtle truths about the elements of the story (the characters in the story, the plot lines, the intention of the author or narrator (what did he or she include or leave out, what was emphasised, what was underplayed - Gladwell does this a number of times in his talk), what was the situation of the recipients of the narrative (what did the author assume about them, their needs, their religious and social framework etc.).  The process us called hermeneutics - the science of interpretation.

I am grateful to Johann for pointing me to this great talk, and for raising the question that allowed me to view Malcolm Gladwell's talk with a more enquiring mind than just accepting admiration.


Should we have the right to read the Bible?

I was deeply challenged by the quote below from Stanley Hauerwas:

Most North American Christians assume that they have a right, if not an obligation, to read the Bible. I challenge that assumption. No task is more important than for the Church to take the Bible out of the hands of individual Christians in North America. Let us no longer give the Bible to all children when they enter the third grade or whenever their assumed rise to Christian maturity is marked, such as eighth-grade commencements. Let us rather tell them and their parents that they are possessed by habits far too corrupt for them to be encouraged to read the Bible on their own.

North American Christians are trained to believe that they are capable of reading the Bible without spiritual and moral transformation. They read the Bible not as Christians, not as a people set apart, but as democratic citizens who think their “common sense” is sufficient for “understanding” the Scripture. They feel no need to stand under the authority of a truthful community to be told how to read. Instead they assume that they have all the “religious experience” necessary to know what the Bible is about. As a result the Bible inherently becomes the ideology for a politics quite different from the politics of the Church.

Note, it is not an issue of whether the Bible should be read politically, but an issue of which politics should determine our reading as Christians. All reading is embedded in a politics, and avoiding politics is not something for which we can or should strive.

Stanley Hauerwas, Unleashing the Scripture: Freeing the Bible from Captivity to America (via lukexvx)

At first I was shocked when I read this quote - of course it applies as much to South Africa as it does to North America - and, I am passionate about getting people to read the Biblical text!

But, then as I thought about it I began to wonder, what does it mean to allow people to have access to this powerful text when all we do is overpower it with our own ideas, our need to support our ideologies, and our misuse of the text to abuse others. To use the Bible in this way is more harmful than good. It disregards the God who gives us this book of love, wisdom, and challenge.

Perhaps if the Bible were more scarce, if the text was seen to be precious, we would treat it in that way! We would listen to the text, rather than choose its words to express our own thoughts.

I agree with Hauerwas' sentiments, perhaps there are better ways to recapture a respect for the text and reeducate readers of the text?


A Biblical mandate for advocacy on poverty and corruption - ABLI presentation

Yesterday I had the great honour of speaking in the Plenary and conducting a workshop session at the African Biblical Leadership Initiative (ABLI) forum in Uganda.

I was invited to present on our campaign 'EXPOSED - Shining a light on corruption'. A number of the participants asked me to upload the slides from the presentation.

You can view the slides online below (please note that the first slide is blank, there is content from slide two).

If you would like to download a copy of the slides you can download them in PowerPoint format here.  They are in PPTX format and the file size is about 7.5MB.  If you use the slides please just attribute their source.

I told three stories to make the point that Christians have a responsibility, a ministry, to advocate for justice (speaking out against corruption and working with and for the poor).

Story 1 was called Philip's story.  It asks a powerful theological question:  If God has made the earth plentiful.  If Africa is so fertile and rich in natural and human resources, then why is he, and so many other Africans, stuck in abject poverty?

I used this wonderful video from NURU international.

Story 2 is a Biblical story.  I give some Biblical and Theological input on God's Economy (the oikos [household] nomos [management]).  The etymology of the contemporary English word 'economics' derives from two Greek words that mean the 'management of the household of God'.  The basic point here is that God desires a different standard of equity, justice and the management of the earth's resources so that every person can have a share of God's loving provision to flourish and live in blessing.

Some participants challenged a statement that I made in which I said that the prosperity 'gospel' is  not Biblical.  I stand by that statement.  I do not believe that God is an 'investment banker' where if one follows certain deterministic principles God is contractually bound to make one rich.  Moreover, it is simply not possible for the world to all live at the same standard of consumption that is expounded by prosperity preachers.  We can sustain that level of consumption of the natural resources of the earth.  If every person on earth lived at the standards of the average first world citizen the planet would depleted in a few short years.

However, I also do NOT believe that it is God's desire that the poor should remain in poverty.  I also do not believe that all wealth is evil and wrong.  I believe that what God wants is greater equity between the poor and the rich. In God's economy no child should have too much while another child has too little.  Of course there would be some who have more (e.g., persons who pursue business) and some who have less (persons such as myself who follow a life of service in the academy or in ministry).  However, no one should have too little and no one should have too much.

I do believe that part of the ministry of the Church is to develop the nation.  We should be involved in economic development.  We should be encouraging entrepreneurship.  However, we should also be encouraging responsible stewardship.  We should be encouraging simple and responsible living.

Aman, and a visiting Bishop from Zambia, both put their finger on the problem.  They both suggested that the problem is the terminology that we use.  For me, and many 'westernised' Christians the word prosperity has connations of excess (i.e., how does one get a bigger house, a better car, a higher salary than the good one already has).  However, for most poor persons prosperity means being able to meet the needs of your family and live with a reasonable measure of economic and social freedom.

Just to give some credit, I used a slide from my colleauge at the University of Stellenbosch, Dr Marius Nel, in this section.  It traces the development of the Historical Jesus scholarship.  I basically ask the question 'which Jesus shapes your faith?'  In short, the kind of Jesus that one finds preached by popular television preachers does not resemble the Jesus of the Bible very much.  If you want to find out what the Jesus of scripture cared about do yourself a favor and JUST read the red letters of the Gospels (the words of Jesus) for a month or so and see what Jesus thinks about, talks about, and cares about.  You may be surprised that he cares more about justice, economics, gender relations, systems of power in society than you thought.

Story 3 is our story.  I used the 'EXPOSED - Shining a light on corruption' campaign as an example of  advocacy on corruption and poverty. In this section I drew on the great work of my colleague, Amanda Jackson, on advocacy.

I used this video.

I hope there may be something of use here.  Please let me know what you think.  God bless, Dion


The ABLI Forum in Uganda - The Bible and politics

The relationship between the Bible and politics has been somewhat controversial over the centuries.  There are those who say that intention of scripture is to direct our spiritual lives, as a result, for example, many South Africans were told not to mess with politics during the apartheid era.  Then there are those who understand that faith is a fundamentally political - since our faith addresses every aspect of our lives it has a significant impact on every choice and action that shapes life.

I am currently in Uganda to speak at the African Biblical Leadership Innitiative (ABLI) Forum.  It is a wonderful group of people who gathered here!  I am meeting many of them for the first time.  Others I have known for some years.  It is such a blessing to be with these sisters and brothers - we share many common objectives and ideals.

The vision of ABLI is to empower leaders (African and elsewhere) with Biblical truths that will foster integrity and justice in the world.  ABLI is working to raise up leaders so that nations will be transformed by God’s truth, love and justice.  The ABLI forum meets each year just before the meetings of the African Union and it focuses on sharing and discovering a Biblical approach to Good Governance, Conflict Resolution, and Economic Life.

I have the privilege of representing ‘EXPOSED – Shining a light on corruption’ and the Unashamedly Ethical campaigns at ABLI - this invitation came via our coalition partners Micah Challenge.  I have opportunities to speak and conduct a workshop with the leaders of the Bible Societies from across the world.  This is a significant opportunity to encourage our sisters and brothers to heed the challenge of Micah 6.8 ‘What does God require of you?  To act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God’.

Among the thoughts that have shaped my input for this wonderful group are these:

Both religion and politics are concerned with how we should organize societies. Yet the tendency for Christians has often been to begin with the politics and work back- wards to find religious rationale for our political beliefs. As a result, most people read the Bible not to challenge our deeply held beliefs, but to affirm the decisions we've already made with our lives. 

- Tim Suttle God’s Politics.

As you will see on this blog, I tend to agree with the perrennial view of the Bible, namely that it is critical in shaping our individual and collective lives for justice, peace, mercy and wellbeing (rather than just a source document from which we pluck a few verses to support our individual choices and actions).

Of course such a view is seldom popular, since it does challenge the establishment somewhat.  It would seem that much of popular Christianity has a view of Jesus that is something between a personal therapist and a stock broker.  I think the loving way of Jesus is far more revolutionary and transformative than that!

When I give food to the poor they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food they call me a communist.

- Dom Helder Camara

I found this quote from NT Wright quite helpful:

The chief political concern of the Scriptures is for God's wise and loving ordering of his world to be operative through humans who will share his priorities, especially his concern for the poor, the weak and the vulnerable. This concern was embodied by Jesus in his inauguration of 'God's kingdom' through his public career and especially his self-giving death, which together set the pattern for a radically redefined notion of power.

 —  N.T. Wright, New Testament Scholar at University of St. Andrews

I believe that the central political question is the management of public power in order that there should be an economically viable life for all members of the community. Thus justice is front and center and some texts, especially in Deuteronomy, are for the distribution of wealth in order that all may be viable. Obviously such justice is marked by mercy, compassion and generosity. The purpose is to create a genuine neighborhood for all the neighbors.  

 —  Walter Brueggemann, Old Testament Scholar, Columbia Theological Seminary

And of course no post would be complete without quoting something from Stanley Hauerwas!

The chief political concern of the Bible is to worship God truly. 

—  Stanley Hauerwas, Theologian and ethicist at Duke Divinity School  

I agree with this last quote wholeheartedly - the chief political concern of the Bible is to declare and celebrate the worth of God in every aspect of creation.  We do so by establishing systems that express God's ways, God's eternal shalom in our economic, political and social policies, as well as in the Church's work of mission and evangelism.

Children's Choir singing at the opening ceremony at Lake Victoria

Please could you pray for my family, Megan, Courtney and Liam?  I have had a lot of travel in the last few weeks.  Please ask the Lord to protect and bless them, to keep them healthy and to continue to provide for all our needs.  Please could you also pray for our EXPOSED, Micah Challenge and Unashamedly Ethical teams in South Africa and elsewhere in the world?  Please pray that the Lord would give them great love and boldness to stand for His standards of righteousness and justice in the Church, Business and Government. Frequently such a stance comes at great personal cost.  Please also pray for me as I travel and have chances to speak and to meet with sisters and brothers.  Please pray that God gives me wisdom, humility, conviction, passion and most of all His love for this world and the people and systems He loves and wants to transform. Please pray that I serve our sisters and brothers well at ABLI, and here in Uganda.

Thank you so much for your partnership in the work of God’s Kingdom!


Prayer and the Bible / Prayer and the Holy Spirit - notes and slides from the Methodist Prayer Convention in Sibu Malaysia

I had the privelage of doing two of the plenary talks at the Methodist Prayer Convention in Sibu, Malaysia, yesterday.

Some of the participants in those talks asked for copies of my notes and the powerpoint slides.  Unfortunately I cannot access my FTP server from the Hotel, so I've uploaded the notes to my dropbox folder and shared the files - I'm fairly certain this should work.  The PowerPoints are about 2.5MB each and the PDF outlines of my notes are only a few hundred KB.

You can download these files from my Dropbox folder by clicking the links below (you will just need to set up a free DropBox username and password in order to get the files).

If you have any problems downloading the notes please drop me a line and I will try to get them to you by another means.

God bless,



Day 2 of the 2011 Methodist Prayer convention in Sibu, Malaysia

Last night more than 3500 people packed the main hall of the Kingwood Hotel conference center for the opening of the Methodist Prayer convention. Bishop Hwa Yung and Graham Power spoke about the global prayer movement. What was most significant for me was the 'concert of prayer' in which the entire gathering prayed together around critical issues in the world for almost an hour!

Today we continue with the conference. I shall be speaking at the Tamil Plenary sessions at 9.00 on the Bible and Prayer, then Graham and I speak on Unashamedly Ethical and Transform your work life over lunch to a group of 400 business people, after which I will speak at the evening plenary on the Holy Spirit and prayer.

Thank you for your ongoing prayers for us.

Please could I encourage you to pray for the people of Syria today - they are facing extreme oppression as they protest for democracy. Also please remember our sisters and brothers in the United States of America who have faced the ravages of nature as tornadoes devastated parts of the South.


Christian leadership - An interview with Kate Turkington on Radio 702 / Cape Talk Radio

Yesterday I was phoned by the producer of Kate Turkington's radio program on Radio 702 / Cape Talk Radio to ask if I would be willing to do an interview on her show on some of the characters and characteristics of Christian Leadership.  You may stumble upon this page today, or in the months that follow.  Please feel free to add your own thoughts, insights and convictions in the comments below! I'd love to hear from you!

What is certain is that there are a wealth of resources on what it means to be a Christian and a Leader.  I have chosen a few points that are important to me - some of them were written up in my most recent book 'Transform your work life:  Turn your ordinary day into an extraordinary calling' (with particular reference to one of the great Christian leaders in contemporary South Africa, Graham Power of the Power Group, Global Day of Prayer and Unashamedly Ethical).

So, here are a few pointers:

An unwavering commitment to the person of Jesus and the ways of Jesus.

If one declares one's self to be a Christian in leadership he or she should naturally display a clear devotion to the person of Jesus Christ, and the ways of Jesus. I would suggest that a Christian leader should bear some resemblance to the character of Jesus (Phil 2:1-5 and Gal 5.21-23).  Moreover, a Christian leader should seek to devote his or her life to doing the kinds of things that Jesus came to do (to establish God's Kingdom of justice, mercy, grace, equality, provision and wholeness - c.f. Lk 4:33 and Lk 4:19ff).

A Christian leader should display integrity and courage.

All of the great leaders of the Bible (among whom I would count Jesus, David, Joseph, Moses and a host of others such as Esther) displayed great integrity and courage.

Let's talk about courage first - it was Christ's courage that cost his life.  It was Moses' courage that highlighted one of the central themes of the Bible (God's emphasis upon social justice), he set a nation free and courageously led them through very trying conditions in the desert.  David faced Goliath and many other enemies in his lifetime.  Esther won over a foreign King and saved her people.

Integrity is another hallmark of a great Christian leader.  The Bible is clear that we should not say 'yes, yes' with one breath and 'no, no' with the next (Matt 5.37 and 2 Cor 1.17).  Jospeh showed incredible integrity in not giving in to the seduction of Potiphar's wife. He was not swayed by the might of the King, and eventually he went on to save many nations - even his own brothers who had sold him into slavery. Of course David made a number of indiscretions in his life and faced grave consequences for that!

A Christian leader should seek to be a servant of God's will and the needs of the people.

One of the most shameful characteristics of contemporary leadership is that it is selfish and self fulfilling.  It is all about the leader.  However, the real reason for leadership is to serve a greater cause.  Christian leaders are called to live like Jesus did, as servant leaders (see Luke 9.46-50; 22.24-30; Mark 9.33-37; 10.35-45; Matt. 20.20-28).  Of course Jesus himself was a leader who recognized that his life should be lived for others - he served the will of his Father first and foremost, and sought to uplift others and bring out the very best in them (John 13.1-7).

In our time I have seen a few people like this.  Bishop Desmond Tutu was willing to sacrifice himself for what he believed God wanted for the nation of South Africa.  He would place himself in difficult situations, facing powerful groups and people, and even placing himself between waring groups, for the sake of peace and transformation.  His servanthood and sincere love for others won them over, changed first their hearts and then their minds, and later won the day!  

Nelson Mandela is another man who has done this in our nation. After all that he had been through in his lifetime he would have been justified (socially) if he was filled with revenge.  Yet, he held the needs of the nation as higher than his own.  He exemplified forgiveness and reconciliation and inspired others to do the same.

A Christian leader should be skillful, self controlled and humble.

The leaders of the Bible were all equipped for the tasks they were to take up.  Some received divine empowerment, others were trained in courts or under Godly mentors.  Some had previous life's experience that they could apply to their new tasks.

A person who is skilled and secure in what they are to do will have a powerful personal life.  They will be resolute and secure, not pandering to the needs of others, or selfish ambition and vein conceit (Phil 2:5).  I'm afraid that there are many leaders who have dismal private lives, and it shows clearly in their public life!

A Christian leader should do all that she or he can to lead first within their home, displaying the deepest and most sincere character traits in those relationships, and then from that strong base to lead in the broader community.

Some of the greatest weaknesses that we see in leaders who make mistakes in the Bible (David, Saul, Judas) etc., are mistakes that result from a lack of self-control, a lack of humility, and personal ambition and desire.  Christian leaders should have the needs of the people and the will of God as their primary motivation.

Finally, on my list, I believe Christian leaders should live by faith.

It takes faith to achieve great things for God and God's people!  A Christian leader will require faith in God's ability and God's sovereign Power and Will.  Many leaders in the Bible (Joseph and Moses, even Paul) had to rely on God to do things that seemed impossible!  Their faith in God, which arises out a deeply intimate relationship with God in Christ, gave them both courage and sustanance for the journey of leadership.

Well, that's my list for now!  I hope to be able to record the show this evening and put a copy up here after the fact.

Please fee free to add your thoughts, ideas and insights in the comments below!  I'd love to hear from you.


The Bible and Christian Ethics - lectures at the University of Stellenbosch

This week I had the privelage of teaching at the University of Stellenbosch on two days.  The topic of the lectures was Scripture and Ethics.

The Bible is a critical source that informs our moral and ethical decision making processes, and helps us to justify why we have taken a particular course of action.  My lectures were based on two chapters that I have written.

Reading the same Bible and reaching different ethical conclusions:  The Bible and Christian ethics" by Forster, D (2009:131-156) in What is a good life? An introduction to Christian Ethics in 21st century Africa. Kretzschmar, L; Bentley, W; van Niekerk, A (eds). Kempton Park, AcadSA Publishers.


"Why you can't simply trust everything you read" by Forster, D (2008:25-46) in What are we thinking? Reflections on Church and Society from Southern African Methodists. Forster, D; Bentley, W (eds). Cape Town.  Methodist Publishing House.

When we need the Bible most... Complex ethical dilemmas and Christian scripture

Sadly, the Bible is often abused in moral and ethical decision-making processes.  I often hear people quoting a single verse to justify a stance on something (whether it be politics, sexual choices, wealth etc.)  An overly simplistic approach to ethics and an ignorant application of the scriptures can be extremely hurtful and damaging in complex ethical decisions.

In this set of lectures we began by examining the complexity of ethical decision-making.  We used a story that a student shared with me when I was still a lecturer in Ethics and Systematic Theology at the University of South Africa (UNISA) some years ago:

Moral problems tend to have straigthfoward answers (right or wrong), whereas ethical dilemmas seem to have a mix of both good and bad.  No matter what choice you make it will not be entirely good or entirely bad.  The complexity is to work out what decision is best under the circumstances.  This process of deciding is often complicated when one asks the question 'What would God want me to do in this situation?', or 'What does the Bible say I can and cannot do in this situation?'

The example used in class came from a student that I taught at UNISA.

Example:  Is it ever right for a son to have sexual intercourse with his mother?  What does the Bible say?  The answer is, no, it is not acceptable for a son to have sexual intercourse with his mother.  The Bible will not allow that.  This is a clear moral problem.  It is easy to resolve since the choices are either right or wrong, good or bad.

However, in this instances the young man was at home with his mother.  A gang of thugs burst into their home, stole various items and then held a gun to the young man’s mother’s head.  The told him that if he did not have sex with his mother they would kill her.  What should he do?  Does the Bible make some allowance for him to break a law on sexual purity because the value of his mother’s life is more important in Biblical terms?

This last point is an ethical dilemma.  There is a conflict of values – the value of sexual purity in conflict with the value for life.  Which is more important in Christian ethics?  How does one use the Bible to inform such an ethical decision making process and choice?

Well, here are the slides from the lectures.  You can download the original Microsoft Powerpoint slides from this link (5MB).  These slides have notes and references in them. 

However, if you simply want to click through the slides then please use the slideshare window below.

In order to illustrate the complexity of using the Bible in Christian ethics we used a very contentious subject, the Christian (Biblical) perspective on persons with a same sex orientation, and in particular persons in an active homosexual relationship, to consider an approach to ethical decision-making.

I would highly recomend that you read the chapters referenced above.  They give a detailed technical outline of both the content of the lecture, but also the Analyse, Ask, Evaluate and Act model that is presented here.