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  • 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 Oxford Institute (11)

Sunday
Aug192018

Discussing theology, class, economics, and the labour movement with Prof Joerg Rieger in Oxford

In this video I have the joy of speaking with Prof Joerg Rieger, the Cal Turner Professor of Wesleyan Studies and Theology at Vanderbilt University.

Joerg is a great example of an engaged scholar who is deeply committed to justice and deep scholarship that serves communities for transformation, renewal and flourishing.

In this interview Joerg and I talk about a theology of justice, class, economics, gender, race and the task of organizing communities for change and transformation.

You can find out more about Joerg at: http://www.joergrieger.com

The books that we discuss in this interview are:

 

 

Thanks for watching!

As always, I would love to hear your comments, suggestions, ideas, feedback and questions!

Please subscribe and like the video and feel free to re-post and share it.

You can follow me on: Academia (research profile): https://sun.academia.edu/DionForster

Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/digitaldion

Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/dionforster

Friday
Aug102018

Starting my first academic sabbatical at Oxford University

Today I depart for Oxford. This is the first in a series of academic and research visits that I will undertake during my sabbatical. I am so very grateful for this opportunity!
 
I will be researching and working on a new book (on the politics of forgiveness and the complexity of social identity). I will also be finalising various chapters for other books, editing two books for which I am a co-editor, and finalising some long overdue research articles for publication in scholarly journals.
 
In-between I will be teaching and speaking at various Universities in Africa, Europe, Latin America, and North America. I am also presenting papers and lectures at a few conferences.
 
I don't take this opportunity for granted - it is a very rare privilege. What I do with this time, belongs to others. 
It belongs to my students and others who graciously and kindly read my work and engage my research. It belongs to colleagues who pick up my responsibilities so that I can have this time to read, reflect, write and grow - thank you! It belongs to the various communities of which I am a part (the church, our neighbourhood, and various organisations that I serve in society) who are giving me the freedom and support to be away. And of course it belongs to my precious family, Megie, Courtney and Liam, who I will miss immensely each time that I pack my bags!
The work that I do is not very important - it certainly is not more important than my family, the Church, my colleagues and students. However, it is the work that I am called to do, and so I will do my best! I will remain disciplined (while still having some fun!), be critical, creative and joyful as I go! And hopefully, I will get to see a few of you, my friends, along the way! So keep an eye on facebook, my twitter and instagram feeds (both are @digitaldion), any my youtube channel http://www.youtube.com/dionforster - I will post various forms of content to each of these platforms as I go.
First up is the Oxford Institute for Methodist Theological Studies at Pembroke College Oxford. For the first time, this year, I will be participating as a New Testament Scholar in the Biblical Studies group. In previous years I have always participated in the Systematic Theology and Ethics group.
I will be presenting a paper based on research from my last book on the 'politics of forgiveness' among South African readers of Matthew 18.15-35 at Pembroke College, Oxford. 
Then, I will also be presenting the Fernley Hartley Trust lecture in Oxford for the Methodist Church of Britain on Friday 17 August 2018 at Wesley Memorial Church in Oxford at 17.00. See details for that event here: https://www.facebook.com/events/216413309019437/
Wednesday
Aug212013

Reflecting on London and Oxford - so thankful!

As I write this I am on a coach (bus for us South Africans!) from Oxford to Heathrow.  I will be visiting with Craig and Kath, my brother and sister in law, before flying home this evening. I am looking forward to having some time with them! I am so aware of the blessing that it is to see them so frequently when Megie would love to have these opportunities to visit with her brother and sister in law.

I arrived in London just over a week ago.  It seems like a lifetime ago! Shortly after my arrival I began a series of meetings that classify the various aspects of my ministry / working life. First I met with the team from 'EXPOSED - Shining a light on corruption'. That very important project is coming to an end fairly soon - the end of October. We still have many things that we wish to do in order to mobilise Christians and churches across the world to take a stand against global corruption for the sake of the poor.  From that meeting cycled back to Kensington where I met with Tricia Neill - the international director of the Alpha course.  I love those people, and that movement, so much. It was wonderful to meet with Tricia and talk about the priorities for Alpha on the African continent. Great things lie ahead!
Then, on Saturday I had one lunch meeting and then went cycling out to Richmond - that was just wonderful, even though I was struggling with a head and chest cold. I'm pleased to say that the cold has passed now! I did quite a few rides on Doris my Brompton during the week (some in the morning before breakfast, and some during the 2 hours of free time after lunch - I think I did about 5 x 30km to 40km).

On Sunday I was at Holy Trinity Brompton and then met my friend Dr Wessel Bentley who arrived from South Africa.  He rented a Boris bike and I had Doris my Brompton and we did a good 30km cycle through London seeing just about every sight a tourist could cover in half a day!

On Monday we moved across to Oxford where we spent the week at Oxford University (Christ Church) for the Oxford Institute of Methodist Theological studies

I was honoured to be the co-chair, along with Dr Sergei Nicolaev, of the Theology and Ethics working group.  It was both an honour and a joy to be part of the planning of the institute, the selection of the members, and of course the task of chairing the presentations. I was also honoured to chair a plenary lecture given by Dr Rui Da Silva Josgrilberg.

In addition to the plenary sessions each of the working groups (of which we were one of five) presented their articles and engaged in discussion around the topic of the Institute. It was wonderful to be engaged in rigorous academic discussion and debate once again.  Our group was blessed with a number of senior scholars (Douglas Meeks, JC Park from Korea, Sondra Wheeler, Michael Nosner from Germany, and Rui from Brazil).  The group is making an exceptional contribution to scholarship across the world (Africa, Asia, the America's, Europe and the East). We also had some emerging scholars in our group - PhD students or recent PhD graduates.  I was deeply impressed by their fresh academic knowledge, the magnificent intellect and the capacity to engage on a relatively equal footing with some of the more senior scholars in the group.

I leave England looking forward to being home with Megie, Courtney and Liam who I miss so very much! I shall be home for just short of 4 weeks before departing for Malaysia (Megie is coming on that trip with me!)

The experience this week has reminded me that I do have a contribution to make in the academy. My teaching post at Stellenbosch University is important to me.  I also realise that I am a theologian for the Church.  My primary focus seems to revolve around a central Christology to which every is a missional response.

I am grateful for this week! In my younger life I could never have imagined the privilege that I am currently experiencing.  It is humbling, but it also comes with important responsibilities.

Wednesday
Aug072013

Leaving for London and Oxford tomorrow

Seven years ago I had the privilege going to Oxford University for the first time.  I was fortunate to be selected as a member of the Oxford Institute of Methodist Theological Studies at Christ Church in Oxford.

You can read about that visit in these posts on my blog.

Tomorrow I will be heading to England once again.  I have some meetings with our London team for 'EXPOSED - Shining a light on corruption' and will also be visiting my friend Tricia Neil at the Alpha International offices - they are doing such amazing work.

My very good friend, Dr Wessel Bentley (the Chief Researcher from the Unit for the study of religion at the University of South Africa) will be coming to Oxford as well.  Wessel and I have written a number of books together and have been friends for most of my ministry. I am so blessed to be able to share this trip with him!

Our most recent book is entitled 'Between Capiltal and Cathedral: Essays on Church and State relationships' - you can order it on kindle here and a paper copy here.

I will be presenting a paper at the Oxford Institute in which I argue for the importance of having a secular state.  I have often encountered a mistaken understanding in popular Christianity which assumes that if one has a Christian state (or head of state in some variations of that theme) then the nation will be better.  Sadly, research has shown that Christian political parties and Christian politicians often fair no better (and sometimes thankfully no worse) than their secular or 'other faith' counterparts.

In my paper I argue that what we need is a robust democracy with a just, secular, state that protects the rights of all of its citizens, regardless of their faith persuasion.

Think about this - there are three possible faith orientations in the modern state.

Religious state (such as in Iran, and currently in Egypt).  This is not helpful if you do not belong to that particular religion, or even to the variation of that particular religion that is the same as the persons who hold power (as we saw in Iraq under Sudam Hussein).

The anti-religious state - this is probably akin to what we saw in the former Soviet Union, Cambodia and China.  In this state religion and religious persons are persecuted.  Naturally I am not in favour of this approach since I believe that religious freedom and religious belief are central aspects to human flourishing.  Some of the modern anti religious fundamentalists (such as Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens) tend towards this approach - not only do they purport not to hold a faith position (which is utter nonsense! Of course they have a faith position, it is a form of secular humanism or scientism), but they wish to persecute and ridicule persons who do not hold their supposed 'no faith' position.  This form of fundamentalism is as dangerous as that of the fundamentalist religious state.

Neither of the two approaches above are Biblical or in keeping with the values of God's Kingdom.

My chosen view is that we should have a secular democratic state - this would seem to make the most sense to me.  In this state the rights of all the citizens are considered and advanced.  There should be no persecution of any sensible religious movement, and at the same time no privileged status accorded to any faith movement.

What makes this even more appealing for me is that I believe it leaves room for the 'Church to be Church' - evangelism, religious education, discipleship, mission, moral formation and the like are all functions of a healthy and effective Church.  I believe that the nation requires a strong, healthy, Kingdom minded Church.

Well, do let me know your thoughts on the above! Once my paper has been delivered I will post a copy here (it has already been published and so I will just need to get permission to share it).

I would appreciate your prayers for me and my family as always!

Tuesday
Aug242010

Re-Appropriating the term Evangelical - is it worth it?

My friend Jenny posted a great reflection on her blog about an 'evangelical' gathering that she attended.  I am reposting it below because it raises some very interesting points for consideration, however I would encourage you to visit her blog to see the discussion related to her post.

I've just spent the weekend at the Methodist Evangelical Renewal Movement consultation - or countrywide gathering. It was such an encouraging experience. I must admit that I went along with some hesitancy as I have struggled to fully understand what this fairly new movement is all about. I hoped to catch a sense of their vision - and I did. I am still trying to process and absorb everything and I hope that I will blog about it all eventually.
What I think at the moment- it's ok to believe the Bible is the word of God. It doesn't mean I am a fundamentalist (I don't read it word for word literally).
It's ok to believe in a 'whole salvation'. We speak of both personal salvation and social salvation. Personal holiness and social holiness.
The Bible informs us of these salvations and 'holinesses'. I go to the Bible to discover how to live in order to bring about the kingdom of God.
Sometimes people understand the word 'evangelical' differently and even negatively - that doesn't mean I am like their understanding!
The Methodist Church has always had a missional ecclesiology and we should reclaim that.
There is too much more and I really need to process it properly.
I came away believing that there is real hope for the Methodist Church and the God truly is a God of love and action.

My response to Jenny's post is below.  In particularly I am keen to re-appropriate the term / descriptor 'evangelical'.  I feel, rightly or wrongly, that it has been missunderstood in popular society and theology, and hijacked by a conservative element in the Christian tradition. As a result it has a fairly negative connotation in popular theology and even in social and theological discourse.

Here are my thoughts (reposted as a comment on Jenny's blog):

Hi Jenny,

Thanks for this reflection. I am so pleased to hear of your experience - I too have been on a journey to 're-appropriate' the term 'evangelical'. In my understanding the common usage has been far too narrowly applied to the act of 'evangelical preaching'. However, in the Bible we see that Jesus' 'good news' (Luke 4:19 ff) was very social. He not only wished to describe the state of 'good news', his intention was to establish God's good news as a life changing reality for those whom he encountered.

I am passionate about journeying with people towards a personal encounter with Christ. But that is only the starting point, not the end. Once the encounter has taken place the results of Christ's transforming love must flow out into society. You cannot love Jesus without loving His ways - and his was are just, merciful, inclusive, empowering and renewing. The ways of Jesus set people free from sin and the structures that enslave (some clear examples are Jesus' encounter with unethical business people in the temple, and false religious leaders with the woman and man caught in adultery. Jesus cares about the rights of children and the fate of the oppressed).

For me, the whole Gospel for the whole world means precisely that! Not just a narrow personal salvation from individual sin.

In this sense I am evangelical!

With regards to Wesley's theology of personal holiness and social holiness it is always worth remembering the context in which he served. Not unlike us, he faced some massive social challenges around his ministry. Slavery, the abuse of labour, unjust governing authorities, a Church that was disconnected from the needs of society etc., it was into this situation that he came to understand that personal piety (my prayers, my acts of worship etc.) is meaningless unless it is expressed socially.

As South Africans I think we can understand this relationship very well. For many years Christians would worship on Sunday's declaring the Glory of God in Church, reading our Bibles and praying. Yet, we lived in a society that was fundamentally unjust. 

Such a disconnect between faith and belief invalidates belief (as the Epistle of James clearly says).

You may be interested in the paper that I presented at the Oxford Institute of Methodist Theological Studies at Christ Church in Oxford in 2007. It deals with a history of social holiness (Wesley's 26th sermon, plus his theology around that), and in particular relates it to the South African Christian Church. You can find that article here: Dion Forster Oxford Institute - Social Holiness.

The chapter was later reworked and published in the book Methodism in Southern Africa: A celebration of Wesleyan Mission. Some of the stuff that was cut out of the chapter for the book was also published in 2008 in Journal of Church History Studia Historiae Ecclesiasticae.

Thanks for sharing this reflection! I am grateful to be an evangelical!

I would love to hear your thoughts on the use of the term evangelical.  Is my approach to this term appropriate, or should I seek some other descriptor?  Or, is the term so strongly 'branded' with negative religious and social connotations that we should move beyond it?

Friday
Aug242007

A few lingering quotes and thoughts...

As I have been processing some of the papers and presentations of the Oxford Institute there are a few lingering thoughts and quotes that have remained with me.

A Latin-American theologian, Nestor Miquez, said: "When I feed the poor they call me a saint. When I ask why they are poor they call me a communist".

Joerg Reiger (the author of "God and the excluded" 2001, Fortress Press, Minneapolis) asked the question "What is the difference between the poor and the impoverished?" His answer was, something along the lines of "poverty does not truly exist (i.e., there are enough resources in the world for no person to have to be in abject poverty), yet impoverishment is real (i.e., greed and sin have caused us to MAKE people poor - victimization is at the heart of poverty, and so it has not only to do with wealth, but also power and choice)." Joerg then asked the question why we are so slow to consider 'enrichment' as the oppressive process of 'making people and institutions rich'? Very challenging indeed! I think that sometimes we objectify "the poor" and "the rich" and forget that God's economy is sufficient for all creation, yet it is our choices that make some (like me) rich, and others poor. These are not objects, they are chosen processes - hence they have great theological significance. They tell us about the kind of God we believe in, and the way in which we view all of what God loves...

Theodore Jennings said "One cannot follow Jesus in the Church", he then went on to say that "the function of the Church is to prepare one for discipleship (i.e., the faithful response of a disciple to participate in God's mission in the world)". I am still wrestling with this one. I have often wondered whether the Church is merely a functional, human, construct. Something that we have created out of our necessity to facilitate our response to God, or whether the Church is an ontological community (a primary place of identity, belonging, fellowship, and discipleship - much like a representation of the perichoretic life of the Trinity)? Was the Church of our design, or God's will? Of course my good friend Dr Bentley is much more able to answer such questions. I guess that the answer is both and neither. Both, in that the Church has the potential to be God's will, and neither in that churches so often fall from that plan.

Joerg Reiger also challenged us theologians (particularly the systematic theologians whose responsibility it is to deal with all 8 areas of doctrine, yet in reality we tend towards one of the areas that interest us). His challenge was something along the lines of "the question is not who we are (anthropology), or what we do (ecclesiology), but rather who God is, and what God wants done (the doctrine of God)."

Another interesting thought that arose from Henk Pieterse's paper was about where the 'center' of the Church is. By this I mean, that we often think that our Church is 'normal' and that other Churches are a bit different, strange, perhaps "special interest". Most often we think that middle class, sub-urban churches are the norm and inner city, poor, or marginal communities are "special interest" churches. However, Henk reminded us that middle class Churches are ALSO "special interest" churches that require a particular kind of prophetic engagement in order to bring those on the margins into the center. This thought was informed by a reading of Rieger (who, by the way, will be spending some time here in South Africa from January! So, keep your eyes and ears open for that - we hope to be able to get him to do some work with EMMU for both our students and interested laity and clergy).

Douglas Meeks reminded us in Wesley's theology works of mercy were regarded as a 'means of grace' (i.e., something that facilitated the growth, exposure, and experience of God's grace). He went on to remind us that works of mercy (as a means of grace) are a two way street - we don't just minister TO others, that ministry encounters, engages, and changes who we are as well (so, in that process we also receive the grace of being ministered to). Joerg then challenged us to consider that the other means of grace also need to be a two way street, i.e., when last did we allow the Bible to read us, instead of just reading the Bible? When last did we listen to God, rather than just praying? He reminded us that "Wesley believed that people who gave up on works of mercy were falling from grace".

Two statements from my own context that made a significant impact, and generated some discussion, were the Methodist Church of Southern Africa's radical stance in 2005 to adopt the slogan "The Church has AIDS" - this was radical because it spoke of where the Church sees itself located, i.e. among the sick, the suffering, and the needy. It forces us to break down the dividing walls of class, race, gender, and even health! We don't just minister to people who are infected, and affected, by HIV, we are HIV+... Radical! (Thanks to Emily Oliver for the picture).

Another statement, which I made in relation to our Church's education and training policy, was that when we come to design and formulate our training programs one of our primary questions is "What does the Gospel look like in this situation?" Hence, we do not just ask the traditional knowledge based (content) questions about our theology (i.e., what should the Gospel say?) rather, we ask the contextually motivated mission question, "what would a 'Gospel encountered society' look like? If that is so, then what do we need to do in order to get there?"

This is one of the great blessings of the pragmatic (practical divinity) Wesleyan approach to the world that is expressed in a devotion to Jesus that requires both personal piety and social holiness.

I end with this quote from my paper:

...the gospel of Christ knows no religion but social; no holiness but social holiness. 'Faith working by love' is the length and breadth and depth and height of Christian perfection.

(from Wesley, J. Hymns and Sacred Poems (1739), Pref. 5. Quoted in Baker, F. Practical divinity.)

Thursday
Aug232007

Home where I belong, and feeling postliminal (if there is such a thing)...

It is incredible to be back home!

If I was not so jet lagged I would have mustered all of my creative juices to write something as poetic and profound as my friend Pete did about his return home. All I can say (like many of my first year students do), is that I agree with him, and with what he said, and I wish I could say it the same way. Megie, Courts and Liam - I love you, and coming home to you is the best possible feeling in the world!

I arrived home just before 8pm last night after being on the road for 28 hours... The coach, the tube, an express train, two aeroplanes, a few airport buses, and the car home. Whilst I didn't ride a single Vespa to get back, I did wear my favourite Vespa T-Shirt! The trip was great, and even with missing my family, and having to travel so far, I would do it all over again. I have been challenged and stretched to grow.

I slept well last night. I didn't mind getting out of bed just before 6am to make breakfast and coffee for the family. I had daydreamed about that simple act of service, one of my daily routines, quite a few times while I was away. After taking Courtney to school - and having a good chat about her party, her friends, and her recent conquests in Shrek (on her gameboy) I rejoiced to worship in the College chapel. The idiom of worship was truly African, we sang, danced, played the bell and the beat, and used many of our 11 official languages to do so.... and I knew that I was home!

I have often felt that liminal feeling, common to many white Africans, of being too white to be truly African, but too African to be European. However, this morning I knew that I belonged. These are my people - I am, because they are. Here it is not because of my race that I belong. Rather, it is because we are a community that I feel truly human, located, understood, appreciated, and loved.

Here's one of the last photos that I took before leaving Christ Church in Oxford. From left to right are myself, Dr Mercy Amba Odoyuye, Dr Richardson, and Dr Colin Smith. Auntie Mercy is one of our mother's in the faith. She has done so much to highlight the concerns and struggles of African Christians, and in particular the concerns of African Christian women. She is one of the most prophetic and Christ-like people I have ever met - gentle, yet just. Colin is a circuit Superintendent from the UK and was one of the co-chairs of the Oxford institute. I learned so much about the kind of calm leadership that is required to manage important processes, and people who sometimes imagine themselves to be more important than they are. He handled the institute with such dignity, respect, and care. It is with much thanks to him that we got such good work done over the 10 days in Oxford.

Now, of course, I need to get my head around what I shall be sharing in Malaysia at STM. The presentation and preparation for the Church conference is all but done. Most of the preparatory work for the seminary is also done, and so now it is just a matter of putting the final touches to it.

This is more or less what I am going to cover at STM:

Methodist Church in Southern Africa's response to oppression, violence and abuse before, during, and after apartheid. I will speak about:

- The effects of the missionaries, and English colonization, on Southern African church and society.
- The heresy of 'apartheid' and the effects of that ideology on Southern African society. I will chart the Church's response to this evil using the work from my paper for the Oxford institute together with papers written by Henk Pieterse, Ted Jennings, Joerg Rieger, and Ivan Abrahams, as well as some information supplied by Demetris Palos (this will probably be the Lion's share of the discussion).
- The challenges of reconstruction and development in post-apartheid Southern Africa (here I shall focus HIV / AIDS, economic development, crime and violence, racial reconciliation. In particular, I will address how the Church has sought to deal with these issues through its mission strategy, and through the training of laity and clergy).

Here's another memorable moment for me -


In this photograph are Aileen and Randy Maddox. Aileen was also one of the Institute organizers. Randy calls her his better two thirds! If that is the case she must be truly remarkable! I look forward to getting to know them much better in the future. Randy should be well known to most Methodists - he is a prominent Wesleyan scholar who now teaches at Duke Divinity school. My students will know him since his book "Rethinking Wesley's theology" is one of their prescribed books. By the way, for those who haven't yet read it, Peter Grassow (referred to above) has an oustanding chapter entitled "Wesley and revolution: A South African perspective" (Chapter 12). It is well worth reading.

Thursday
Aug162007

Bishop Ivan Abrahams' plenary paper at the Oxford Institute

Bp Ivan Abrahams, the Presiding Bishop of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa, delivered the following challenging paper entitled "A different world is possible: Positioning the Church in the 21st century".

The paper argues that globalisation, macro economics, and neo-liberal economics are a new form of slavery for the two third's world. He presents a Wesleyan theology as a critique of these policies of enslavement and domination.

The paper is very well researched, it offers a creative and engaging perspective on the strategies of enslavement, and some clear and helpful theological suggestions on how to overcome this tyranny. I will confess that I am very proud to be a South African Methodist! Our Presiding Bishop has represented us with courage and honour.

I have a second audio file that contains comments and feedback from participants of the conference. If you would like a copy of that please drop me a line.

The Podcast is in the MP3 format and is over an hour long (30mb). Please click the title below download the MP3 file.

Bp Abrahams paper at the Oxford Institute 2007

I would love to hear your feedback and any comments.

Regards from glorious Christ Church in Oxford! Dion

Tuesday
Aug142007

A few thoughts from the 12th Oxford Institute of World Methodist Scholarship

I arrived in a very hot Oxford on Sunday. I didn't realise that England could get quite as hot as it does! It has been lovely. Today, however, the "Queen's rain" (as I have jokingly been calling it) has started to fall. It is lovely, a bit cooler, and quite wet here in Oxford.

I am staying in Tom's Gate (off Tom's Quad) in Christ Church, Oxford. Here's a picture taken from just outside of staircase 5 where I go up to my rather extravagant parlour... It would seem that the title 'Dean' carries some weight here in merry old England. I am on the same floor as our Presiding Bishop, Ivan Abrahams, and a number of other dignitaries. If only they knew what a small fry I truly am!

Christ Church is a remarkable College, one of the early one's (starting in 1524!) Two of my colleagues studied here in previous years (Dr Neville Richardson did an MPhil, and Dr Donald Cragg did a DPhil). Those must have been glorious times! Of course there are many other notable figures that studied and lived in these hallowed walls. Among them are John and Charles Wesley (the founders of Methodism - and also the reason why we hold the Oxford Institute here at Oxford, since it is the home of the very first Methodist scholars), John Locke (the philosopher), Charles Dodgson (better know to most by his pseudonym, Lewis Caroll, who is the author of 'Alice's adventures in wonderland'). Albert Einstein even studied here in the 1930's! For more detailed (and accurate) information on Christ Church please check out their website here.

This picture was taken in the Christ Church dining hall. If it looks familiar don't be surprised! Take a closer look, indeed, this is the location where dining hall scenes from Harry Potter were filmed! I can assure you there are no candles floating in the air, or owls delivering messages!

The traditions are still very strongly adhered to. Guests go into the dining hall and are only seated once the dignitaries take their seats (although they are not sitting at the 'top table'), then we are served by 'Scouts' under the watchful eye of the 'Steward'. The gate and main door are guarded by 'Porters' to keep eager Harry Potter enthusiasts from barging in on the meals. You can see that the walls themselves are lined with the portraits of past students and lecturers of the College.

I am truly enjoying the hospitality and the tradition of being here. Of course, for an African, what makes this place most valuable is being part of the community. It has been wonderful to meet new friends (many of whom I have either only read about, or read their work), such as Randy Maddox, Douglas Meeks, Paul Chilcote, Neil Richardson, Brian Beck etc., and catch up with others who I have not seen in some years, such as my good friend Laceye Warner, the well known Geoffrey Wainwright, Ted Campbell, JC Park, and Dick Heitzenrater.

Each day starts with worship at 7am, then we have breakfast (in the Harry Potter dining hall!), after which we move to Wesley Memorial Methodist Church for the Plenary sessions, followed by our individual group meetings (I am in the Systematic Theology Group). In the group meetings the scholars present have a chance to speak to their paper, there is a respondent, and then general discussion. If you're interested to read some of the magnificent papers that are being, and have been, presented, then please download them from the Oxfrod institute website here.

I have only had limited Internet access in Oxford (I cannot believe how difficult it is to get online in the UK! I think as more and more people realise what a commodity communication is the wifi is shared less openly and is more often than not a service for which one is expected to pay). However, I shall be posting some reflections from the papers and groups, plus a number of audio recordings from the Plenary sessions, as I have a chance to do so.

I can't tell you how much I am missing my family!!!!! I miss Megie so much!!! Times away from her remind me just how desperately I am in love with her. I have also longed for Courtney and Liam. It has been very difficult to be away from them! Please do pray for them, and drop them a line or give them a call to let them know that we belong to a community of faith that cares for one another!

Here's a closing thought that came from Douglas Meeks in a discussion; we were talking about wealth and ownership of property (well, ownership in general) when Douglas reminded me that John Wesley's understanding of stewardship (how one uses one's money) was based upon that of the Patristics (the early Church parents). Wesley believed that whatever I do not need to survive today, or need in order to fulfill the mission to which God has called me, already belongs to the poor. And, as such, I should give it away! I was challenged by that!

Rich blessing to all! I miss you! Please check back for more news, thoughts and updates from Oxford.

Sunday
Aug052007

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.

Thursday
Aug022007

General relativity and time travel, or should that read 'relatively little time, generally, before one travels'?

On Monday I will be making my way to Christ Church, Oxford University, with Prof Neville Richardson. and our Presiding Bishop, Ivan Abrahams, to attend a conference, do some teaching, and deliver a paper at the Oxford institute.

I shall also be visiting our friends at Wesley house in Cambridge (although don't mention either visit to the other party... I believe there has been a rather fierce rivalry since the 13th century!).

To read more about the Oxford Institute you can click here:

http://www.oxford-institute.org/

I return to South Africa for my daughter"s birthday and some important meetings, and then have a chance to speak at a Methodist conference in Malaysia, and to visit and teach at STM, the Malaysian seminary. You can read about that conference here.

These are all very exciting events! I certainly feel unworthy, yet truly honoured, to be a part of such august and distinguished events! I will, of course, miss my family (however, Skype video does help!)

As usual I'll post pictures, podcasts, and thoughts here. So please do check back if you're interested.

In all of my research and preparation for these trips I have rediscovered the truth of Albert Eienstein's theory of relativity - time is truly relative, mostly time is inversely proportionate to the number of tasks one has to do before international travel. Oh well, I'll sleep on the flight!

Be patient with me - I promise to post more content soon! As for the value of that content... Well that's relative i.e., my relatives think it's great everyone else is bored to tears ;-)

Loved and blessing,

Dion (Tshwane South Africa)