• Restorative Readings: The Old Testament, Ethics, and Human Dignity
    Restorative Readings: The Old Testament, Ethics, and Human Dignity
    Pickwick Publications

    Foreword by Walter Brueggemann, my chapter is entitled 'In conversation: The Old Testament, Ethics and Human Dignity'. A superb resource edited by Julie Claassens and Bruce Birch

  • 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 forgiveness (8)


So grateful! A celebration! Defending my PHD - sharing the experience with Megie!

Yesterday was a truly amazing day! At exactly 16.30 (11 October 2017) I defended my PHD (which you can read about here) at Radboud University, Nijmegen. It was a wonderful joy to share it with my wife Megan. At Dutch Universities the defence and graduation takes place at the same time. Your dissertation (once completed) gets examined, and then you have to publish it as a book (which I did - see the previous link for details). Then you defend it in public, and the degree gets awarded at the same event! It was exciting, but also rather scary at the same time! I am so grateful that it is done and the degree of ‘Doctor’ has been awarded (which means that I now hold two PHD’s, one in Systematic Theology and one in New Testament studies).

You can watch a little video about the build up to the defence below. And here are a few pictures from the event (with the ‘pedel’ / ‘beadle’) who was a great sport! My thanks to Radboud University, my supervisors, Prof Jan van der Watt and Prof Chris Hermans, to the communities that participated in the research (they matter most in this project!) and to my wonderful family for their love and support.



Graduating with a 2nd PHD in Holland - the possibility of the (im)possibility of forgiveness!

I am so grateful to be traveling to the Netherlands tomorrow (with my wife Megan!) to graduate with my 2nd PHD at Radboud University, Nijmegen in Holland.

The graduation ceremony (and defence) will take place at 16.30 on Wednesday 11 October 2017 - if you read this beforehand you can watch the ceremony online via this link.

I started my research at Radboud University in December 2013. I worked on the project, and spent some wonderful months, at Radboud University between then and May 2017 when I completed the manuscript / dissertation. You can read all of my posts from Radboud and about this research (in reverse order!) via this link.

The research project is entitled:

The (im)possibility of forgiveness? An empirical intercultural Bible reading Matthew 18:15-39.(Click the title to read an excerpt from the book and see the table of contents).

In Holland it is required that the dissertation is published as a book. It has been published by African SUN Media in the Beyers Naudé Centre for Public Theology series on public theology.

Here is the full reference:

Forster, D.A. 2017. The (im)possibility of forgiveness? An empirical intercultural Bible reading of Matthew 18:15-35. 1st ed. Vol. XI. (Beyers Naudé Centre Series on Public Theology). Stellenbosch, South Africa: SUN Press.


You can read the abstract below, and see copies of the cover of the book and the commendations in the attached images. If you would like to purchase a copy you can do so via African SUN Media.

I have some sections of the book under review for publication, and have already published the following article which is a shortened section of the Biblical exegetical component of the study:


Forster, D.A. 2017. A public theological approach to the (im) possibility of forgiveness in Matthew 18.15-35: Reading the text through the lens of integral theory. In die Skriflig/In Luce Verbi. 51(3):1–10.
In this article I also discuss (in summary) the other theoretical component of my study - namely integral All Quadrants All Levels (AQAL) theory.



I made one or two short videos of some of the central concepts (see the bottom of this post for a discussion of the empirical qualitative aspects of the study, and a discussion of one of the primary theoretical components).

I am truly grateful to my promoters, Prof dr dr Jan van der Watt and Prof dr Chris Hermans. They were encouraging, supportive, and wonderful guides along the journey. I learned so much and I am so grateful for the findings of the research and the fruit that it will bear for the participating communities.

Here is a video I recorded at my home University (Stellenbosch University) where I discuss how I worked with the participants to gather and analyse the theological (qualitative empirical) data on forgiveness.

In this video (recorded in Nijmegen at Radboud University) I discuss one of the primary theories that I used in the study, namely inter-group contact theory.

Here is the abstract from the dissertation:

This project engages the complexity of understandings of forgiveness in Matthew 18.15-35 within the context of an intercultural Bible reading process. The study shows that concepts of forgiveness among South African Bible readers are diverse, containing nuanced, and even conflicting, expressions and expectations - a politics of forgiveness. Some have suggested since such entrenched differences in understandings of forgiveness exist in South Africa, that forgiveness may be impossible. However, in spite of this complexity it is suggested that South Africans, and South Africa, could benefit from a rigorous academic engagement with the theologically and culturally diverse understandings of forgiveness that emerge from reading Matthew 18.15-35 in an intercultural Bible reading setting. The knowledge gained from this study may help persons from diverse histories, cultural identities, racial identities, and economic classes, to gain more integral, shared, understandings of forgiveness. In this sense, at least, the possibility of forgiveness may emerge. 

Considering the above, the aim of this study is to produce rigorous, textured, and credible theological insight into the complexity of differing understandings of forgiveness in Matthew 18.15-35 from 'ordinary' Bible readers of different cultures who are members of the same Christian denomination - the Methodist Church of Southern Africa, Helderberg Circuit. This is achieved through structuring the study as a practice oriented research project in empirical intercultural Biblical hermeneutics.

Three theories informed the research design. First, Ken Wilber’s All Quadrants All Levels (AQAL) integral theory is used as a philosophical framework that provides language and structure to ‘plot’ the theological understandings of forgiveness in the text, and in the reading of the text. Second, intergroup contact theory is used to identify the mechanisms and processes for positive intergroup contact that inform the intercultural Bible reading sessions. Third, the Biblical text is engaged in a scholarly exegetical process so as to avoid collapsing the thought world of the text into the contemporary context. This is a critical aspect of a credible engagement with the Biblical text. This process allows for the construction of a hermeneutic bridge to link aspects of the text to aspects of the interpretive insights of the contemporary readers engaged in this study.

As anticipated, the findings of the research process agreed with some aspects of the research hypotheses and varied from others. The findings of the post intervention research data and analysis shows that to a large extent (except for minor variations which are discussed in the study) the participants of the intercultural Bible reading intervention developed more integral understandings of forgiveness. This means that participants were far more open to accepting understandings of forgiveness that were not held within their in-group, but were more common among members of the out-group.

The primary conclusion of this study is that more integral theological understandings of forgiveness are evidenced among the majority participants in this intercultural Bible reading process which was conducted under the conditions of positive intergroup contact. Moreover, this study shows that one can give credible empirical content to, and explicate, the theological perspectives, and the hermeneutic informants, of readers of the Biblical text. This helps the ‘problem owner’, (i.e., the Methodist Church of Southern Africa, Helderberg Circuit), to understand what some of the barriers to shared understandings of forgiveness may be. Moreover, it allows for the design of intercultural Bible reading interventions under the conditions of positive intergroup contact. The data shows that in this case, the participants of this study mostly became more open to a more integral theological understanding of forgiveness with the ‘other’.

This project makes the following novel contributions to scholarly knowledge and the construction of theory: In New Testament studies the research contributes towards a number of new hermeneutic opportunities that arise from reading the Biblical text from a social identity complexity perspective (informed by Ken Wilber’s integral AQAL theory). Moreover, in relation to intercultural Bible reading, the project provides new insights into how persons who hold different socially informed views of forgiveness may encounter one another constructively under the conditions of positive intergroup contact. In terms of empirical cultural Biblical hermeneutics this study is the first of its kind to provide insights into how Black and White South African Christians understand the concepts and processes of forgiveness in relation to Matthew 18.15-35. The findings show that there is a logic behind the socially informed theological understandings of forgiveness that are expressed by the participants. This holds value not only for Biblical Studies, but also for Systematic Theology in general, and South African Public Theology in particular. Then, from a methodological point of view, the interdisciplinarity of the theoretical approach that is employed in this research stimulates new avenues for scholarly theological study in relation to problems in practice.

Thanks for checking in and sharing in my joy! I appreciate it.


A matter of conflict? Politics and sustainable development? A reflection on my visit to Berlin

I am coming to the end of a magnificent trip to Berlin, Germany. I arrived here almost three weeks ago to speak at and participate in a number of events. The title of this blog post is 'A matter of conflict? Politics and sustainable development?' It seems, as I reflect on my time here, that I have given a lot of time to thinking about the relationship between an ethics of justice and an ethics of care - how do we work of a world in which no one has too much while anyone has too little? How do we transform economic, social and political systems for the common good AND at the same time care for one another and the environment. This is the 'site' of conflict, that intersection between justice and care. My colleauge Dr Carike Noeth is a specialist in this field of study (having completed a great PHD on the ethics of care (and justice!) last year. So, this has occupied a lot of my thinking.

Prof Torsten Meireis, a senior colleauge in Ethics and Public Theology - who is a Professor at the Humboldt Universität zu Berlin - invited me to participate in some events here in Berlin during the summer. It has been such a wonderful and significant visit. I have had the privilege of participating in a number of academic conferences, the G20 meetings in Potsdam, visiting and doing a lecture at Bamberg University, and working on a joint research project with Prof Meireis.

So, I arrived in Berlin on the 6th of June to participatein the first event which is a joint 'Summer School' program that is hosted by the Humboldt University, Stellenbosch University (where I teach), the University of KwaZulu Natal (UKZN), and the University of the Western Cape (UWC). Each year we meet in South Africa in February or March, and then in Berlin in June.

It was so wonderful to be here with South African and German colleagues - the event was arranged by Dr Clemens Wustmans from the Humboldt University and our topic was 'Religion, sustainability and politics'. The presenters included scientists, literary theorists, development specialists, religious scholars and theologians. 

In this picture you will see Prof Meireis. As mentioned I was in Berlin at his invitation. In part it was also to work on a joint research grant application for a project that he and I will collaborate on. The project focuses in the ethics of 'Welfare pluralism' in South Africa and Germany - in particular how notions of welfare are conceived and who participates in the conception and expression of these concepts (the state, civil society and the religious sector, the private sector etc.) I really hope that this project will be successful! It will be a great development for my academic career, and it will also mean that I will spend a lot more time with Torsten and time in Berlin! So, I will keep you updated on how that develops!

At the summer school I presented a paper entitled 'Thinking 'olive' instead of 'red' or 'green': Seeking to bring together sustainability and development discourses in Southern African Methodist Ethics'. The paper will be finalised and prepared for publication. In the meantime, here is a short Youtube video from my series 'It's not a lecture... Just a thought!' on this topic. You will also get to see some of Berlin and my beautiful Brompton Bicycle on this trip!

Then, on the 12th of June I went to the University of Bamberg where I did a public lecture with Prof Thomas Wabel who is also an ethicist and Public Theologian. The purpose of the visit (other than the lecture) was to hand over the 'leadership' of the Global Network for Public Theology from Stellenbosch (where we hosted the last global gathering in October 2016) to Bamberg where the next gathering will take place in 2019. Thomas takes over as the hosting chair, and I will serve (at the behest of Prof Nico Koopman) as the outgoing hosting chair on the international commitee. Bamberg was amazing! It is such a beautiful city! The lecture itself went well, as did the meetings. I was so surprised to see my colleague Prof Smanga Kumalo from UKZN and Seth Mokitimi Methodist Seminary (SMMS) arrive at the lecture! He had come to the city for some meetings and heard I was doing the lecture and so attended. That was very special. Here is a poster for the lecture, and a picture of Smanga and I before the event. The title of my lecture was ‘The (im)possibility of forgiveness? Nelson Mandela and the Politics of forgiveness in South Africa’.

The lecture is based on two large research projects that I have just concluded (if you see my youtube channel you will find details of both). They are, the research and work that I have been doing on Nelson Mandela and political theologies in South Africa, and my 2nd PHD (which I handed in at Radboud University on 14 May 2017!) which is entitled ‘The (im)possibility of forgiveness? An empirical intercultural Bible reading of Matthew 18.15-35’. In that research project I did a 3 year qualitative empirical study on how Black and White South African Christians conceptualize, understand, and express notions and processes of forgiveness in contemporary South Africa with its significant economic, social, political and racial divides.

The lecture went off well and there was a lively discussion afterwards. The President of the Bamberg University, Prof Ruppert, attended the event which was a great honor. Here is a picture of myself and Prof Thomas Wabel, where the 'GNPT' Batik cloth was handed over.

After returning from Bamberg I came back to Berlin to participate in the G20 Interfaith Meetings in Potsdam. This was a wonderful opportunity to further discuss the role of religion in the G20 nations in relation to sustainable development and migration - which are significant and important topics currently. What I found so interesting is the very important role that the G20 places upon religion and the religious across the world. The Pew Researcher (Brian Grim) spoke about their research that shows that 84% of global citizens identify that they are religious. This is significant. Of course we know that religion is often a source of conflict and social division, even abuse. Yet, at the same time it is also a great source of transformation, care, development and change. I was so grateful to be at this event thanks to my colleague and friend from Oxford University, Dr Peter Petkoff (pictured here).

Now I am on the last stretch of my stay in Berlin. Today and tomorrow I shall participate in the opening conference of the Berlin Institute for Public theology (of which I am a member). I will be speaking on Public Theology, globalization, politics and economics tomorrow. My paper is written, but I feel that I still need to rework it a little before I present. By Friday evening I shall be home with Megie, Liam and Courtney! I cannot wait. 

Trips like these are always so wonderful and significant. But, my goodness, there is nothing quite like being home with my family!



The (im)possibility of forgiveness

As I come closer to completing my second PhD which focuses on concepts (and processes) of forgiveness and reconciliation I have been thinking a great deal about the complexity of true forgiveness.

I often hear people saying "I cannot forgive that him (or her), what they did to me was simply too bad".  Indeed, forgiveness is difficult.  Is it ultimately about gaining my own freedom?  Or is it about giving freedom as a gift to the 'other'?  Or, is it an interplay of both of those?

I found this quote from Jacques Derrida on forgiveness quite challenging in the possibility, and impossibly, of forgiveness - I like to phrase it as the (im)possibility of forgiveness.

Forgiveness only becomes possible from the moment it appears impossible.


If there is something to forgive, it would be what in religious language is called mortal sin, the worst, the unforgivable crime or harm. From which comes the aporia which can be described in its dry and implacable formality, without mercy: forgiveness forgives only the unforgivable. One cannot, or should not, forgive; there is only forgiveness, if there is any, where there is the unforgivable. That is to say that forgiveness must announce itself as impossibility itself. It can only be possible in doing the impossible.

- Jacques Derrida

Have you ever forgiven someone for something that seems unforgivable?  How was it possible?  What helped you to do it?  Did you follow a process?



A blessing for absence

Today we have James Alison presenting a seminar at the Faculty of Theology at Stellenbosch University. (By the way I stall cannot believe that I am so blessed that it is my work to attend a seminar!) It is a wonderful to be reminded of the importance of reconciliation and forgiveness and the central role that this plays in the expression of our faith in the world. We know this concept is central to our belief, yet sadly we often separate belief from action. James is a wonderful Dominican scholar who has a deep understanding of René Girard and the 'fresh' and 'creative' reading of Biblical texts. The meeting was opened by Rev Laurie Gaum with the following meditation from John O'Donohue:
May you know that absence is full of tender presence and that nothing is ever lost or forgotten. May the absences in your life be full of eternal echo. May you sense around you the secret Elsewhere which holds the presences that have left your life. May you be generous in your embrace of loss. May the sore of your grief turn into a well of seamless presence. May your compassion reach out to the ones we never hear from and may you have the courage to speak out for the excluded ones. May you become the gracious and passionate subject of your own life. May you not disrespect your mystery through brittle words or false belonging. May you be embraced by God in whom dawn and twilight are one and may your longing inhabit its deepest dreams within the shelter of the Great Belonging. (Eternal Echoes 275)>
- A blessing for Absences John O'Donohue.

Your brain 'on forgiveness' - a journey to wholeness and health

I came across this very insightful post on the neuroscience of forgivness on tumblr - in other words what happens in your brain when you forgive.  The post also gives some great insights into what it takes to truly forgive, and how your brain is wired to 'deal' with forgiveness.  Here's a sneak.  You can read all of the post after the jump.

From a brain’s perspective, forgiveness takes far more than merely letting go. It takes deliberate decisions to move beyond another person’s  judgment of you.   Replace a sad or disappointing encounter with memories of events that stoke healing, for instance, and your brain shifts focus.

The willingness to drop any need to blame diminishes your need to explain your perspective.  A brain forgives as a commitment to understand the other side, to feel empathy for another, or to regain compassion for a person you care about who hurt you.

A Brain on Forgiveness by Dr. Ellen Weber

I don't know about you, but I don't always find it easy to forgive others or myself. It can be quite debilitating to have your mind occupied, and energy tapped, by holding on to some personal failure, or experience of hurt. Indeed, I have always discovered a great sense of relief in the journey towads forgiving myself or someone else.  At times I have needed help (in the form or a friend, or even someone a little more skilled like a counsellor or coach).  But the journey has always been worthwhile, and the destination of freedom, is a great reward!

Can I encourage you to begin this journey if you are bound in unforgiveness? Perhaps today is the day that you can read the post linked above, or reach out for some guidance and assistance?




What is forgiveness?

I thought this quote expressed the concept of forgiveness beautifully:

Forgiveness is the name of love practiced among people who love poorly. The hard truth is that all people love poorly. We need to forgive and be forgiven every day, every hour increasingly. That is the great work of love among the fellowship of the weak that is the human family.

— Henri J.M. Nouwen

Don't you think that it captures one of the central aspects of forgiveness?


How do you cope with your guilt? I'll be honest... I struggle.

Guilt is a powerful emotion. It is powerful enough to dissipate the energy of even the most energetic of persons. I am never quite sure how to deal with guilt - I guess that some of it relates to the context of the guilt (i.e., whether it is something about which I should rightly feel guilty, or whether it is guilt that is wrongly imposed upon me by another person, situation, or group).

But, let me give you three examples of my struggle with guilt...

Yesterday I was driving home from a meeting in Benoni. Just as I was about to enter the highway I saw a lady selling mielies (corn) on the side of the road. I am not particularly partial to corn - but I don't think that is her problem. I noticed that her clothes were threadbare and that she was quite thin. She had a tiny little baby on her lap. My heart instantly went out to her and her child. Here's a woman trying to eek out an existence selling corn on the side of the road. I had R20 in my pocket (about US$3). The moment I saw her I felt a desire to stop and give her the R20. But, I didn't. How sad is that... Do you know why I didn't do it? Pride - my pride to tell you the truth. I felt that I may embarrass her by stopping and giving her the money and then driving off. In fact if the truth be told I felt that I may embarrass myself by stopping, giving her the money and then driving off. And so I drove past onto the onramp of the freeway. About halfway onto the freeway I wished I had stopped... Then it started. Guilt.

I still feel guilty, guilty enough to make me write about it and ask your advice. You see, R20 is not a lot of money to me. I can do without it. I am fairly certain she can not. I haven't stopped thinking about it since. I lay in bed last night and asked God to forgive me. But, I still feel guilty! What do I do?

The second example has to do with my rather difficult personality. I am forthright, decisive, goal orientated, and able to see things that others cannot. This helps me to lead. However, the weakness of my personality is that it can be so functional that relationships suffer. Today I had a few appointments to meet, correspondence to catch up on, my 3 services to prepare for Sunday, phone calls to make, reports to write, minutes to edit... You get the idea. One of our students - an outstanding student - came to see me at the office. The student needed time more than anything. This student did not need guidance, or help with an assignment, or a decision to be made about vocational choices. This student needed time. I was so pressed by 'appointments' and a ringing phone that I didn't give the time that was needed to this person. The moment the student left my office I knew that I had missed the mark, I had dropped the ball, I had not done what was needed in that moment. And then, it started.

I feel guilty. People are much more important than tasks. I know it, I know it! If I had the moment over I would do it differently. But, what do I do with my guilt?

A third example has to do with a well-meaning person whose generosity overwhelms me. This person started putting money aside in an account some years ago to help me and my family. They have blessed Megan and I again and again at some of the times of our greatest need. There were times in our ministry where we didn't have either money or food, and somehow this person would just know, and phone, and we would be cared for. Over the last two years the money this person has been putting aside has grown to a considerable sum of money - tens of thousands of rands. Today he phoned to ask me where he can deposit this sizable amount. I had to tell him the truth, which is that Megan, Courtney, Liam and I are so blessed that we currently have no pressing unmet needs. We eat well, we have enough clothes, we have a lovely home provided by the Church. Both Megan and I have salaries. We have covered Liam's medical debts. We are blessed - I asked if we could put the money towards helping some of my students with their fees. I could tell right away that my response was not what he wanted to hear. He had sacrificed because he loves God, and he had heard the message I so often preach that he must love those who love God, but I wasn't allowing him to do that...

I know, rationally, that I had make a tough choice - of course I cannot take the money, but I feel guilty nonetheless. What do I do about my guilt?

I'm not sure what one does with guilt.

I pray about mine.

I write about it.

I try to apologize, and make choices that will help me to grow where I can, avoid repeating avoidable mistakes, and grow robust enough to face those situations where a tough choice will have to be made that has no easy outcome.

Guilt is a powerful emotion. I struggle with it.

This useful article by Rich Vincent helped me some time ago. I just spent a few minutes browsing it again last night. There's some good stuff out there.

PS. I like the way Rich refers to himself not as the 'Web Master' of his site, but as the 'Web Servant'. Good one!

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