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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 public theology (42)

Wednesday
Jun152016

The classroom - a room of class? On Theological education and justice

What is the purpose of learning and knowledge? Does it hold value in the world today? In what ways do we learn, and should we learn, for appropriate discipleship as Christians? What is the relationship between education and justice?
In this VLOG we talk about the different ways in which persons are formed for Christian life and consider some different approaches to theological learning. We look at the traditional knowledge, values and skills approaches (head, heart and hands) and discuss how each holds value. Moreover, we consider the different ways in which the discourse and discussion around Higher Education is shaped by the metaphor of geography (the models of the University as Athens, Berlin and Calcutta).

The papers that I mentioned in the show are:
Olivier, B. 2011. Ethical Challenges Regarding Globalization of Higher Education. US-China Education Review, 6(B):816–823.

Kinsler, F.R. 1978. Theological Education by Extension: Service or Subversion? Missiology: An International Review, 6(2):181–196.

This book by Stanley Hauerwas is a helpful resource on education and the ethical considerations, ‘The state of the University: Academic knowledges and the knowledge of God
And, this book ('Doing Ethics from the margins') gives a wonderful insight into how the two-thirds world thinks about education and justice, as De La Torre points out, the classroom is indeed a room of class (one can very quickly, and sadly, see how class impacts and plays itself out in contemporary higher education. Who gets to study, when they study under what conditions do they do so, what is their previous educational background etc.).

Find out more about Stellenbosch University (where I teach) at:

I'd love to hear your take on these thoughts! Leave a comment here, or on youtube.
Tuesday
May242016

An ethics of care? Gender, politics, justice and care


Is care tied to gender? What is an ethics of care? What are the political implications of care?

Today's VLOG is Part 1 of an interview with Prof Frits de Lange from the Protestant Theological University, Groningen on the Ethics of Care.

He introduces the topic for us, suggests some wonderful reading and we also get to see a bit of Groningen in the video.

My thanks to Prof de Lange for hosting us for a wonderful conference on Compassion, and for his willingness to be interviewed on his research specialisation.

In Part 2 of the video that will be released later this week Prof de Lange speaks to us about 'Loving later life: An ethics of ageing' which is his recent book. So keep an eye out for that. 

Enjoy the video - Frits is wonderful to listen to! I would love to hear your thoughts, ideas and feedback on this important topic!

Monday
May022016

We don't decide who's invited: The Church as inclusive Eucharistic community

 

Is the Church intended to be a closed (exclusive) community, or an open (inclusive) community?
Today I talk about an image of the Church as a Eucharistic community - and I show you some incredible views of the Helderberg mountains!
My views on this were shaped by the theology (and ethics) of the Anglican theologian Sam Wells, who I met first at Cambridge and then at Duke Divinity school when he arrived there in 2005.
The image is that of a the Eucharistic table - many contemporary Churches have structured themselves more like a restaurant table than a Eucharistic table. What do I mean by that? Well, at a restaurant table you decide who sits with you, you expect service and you are the center of the social attention, you pay for what you want, you are a client. I hear people using this language in relation to their Church, 'I don't like that type of person here', or 'The sermon and music were not very good', 'I am not feeling satisfied with my Church, it is not doing much for me'.
The Eucharistic table is very different, however, at the Eucharistic table we are not the hosts - Christ is the Host! We are invited. That means that we don't get to decide who is at the table. Our responsibility, out of love for Christ and those whom He loves and has invited, is to work out how best to love those around the table. They may be very different from who and how we are. But, like us, they have been welcomed in grace.
Watch the video if you can - I'd love to hear your take on this!
Remember, it's not a lecture, just a thought…

 

Thursday
Apr282016

Celebrating Freedom Day! Is South Africa post apartheid or MOST apartheid 22 years later?

As we celebrate Freedom Day in South Africa we have so much to be thankful for! We have a constitution that intends the protection of all our citizens. We have a functional judiciary, we have section 9 institutions that are still free and fair, we have an active civil society and faith based organisations, we have beautiful citizens and one of the most beautiful countries on earth!
Yet, the reality is that we are still facing such significant challenges in South Africa! As you will see in this VLOG we are more unequal (economically) than we were in 1994, the Reconciliation barometer of the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation shows that there is growing distrust between the races. Our nation is not yet in a Post Apartheid condition - we are not yet free! 27 April 1994 won the possibility of Freedom, but as citizens we need to find ways to make that freedom a reality for all - where every person is free to excel and flourish, where there is both personal and institutional solidarity for life.
I'd love to hear your take on this!
Remember, it's not a lecture, just a thought…
I’d love you hear your feedback, comments, questions and ideas!

 

Tuesday
Apr262016

Can you trust everything YOU read? The Bible and Christian ethics

The Bible is the most important source for Christians in moral and ethical decision making. It should shape both our beliefs and our actions. However, it is often abused and dealt with in a careful and responsible manner when it comes to Christian ethics.
In this VLOG I talk about a chapter I wrote in a book called 'Restorative Readings: The Old Testament, Ethics and Human Dignity' (Claassens and Birch, eds) see it here:  http://amzn.to/1Nvuw0w
My chapter is focussed around the notion of hospitality and the need to create some space for the 'other', in this case the 'other' of the text and the 'other' of different readers of the text.
I also share a chapter that I wrote in 'What is a good life: An introduction to Christian Ethics' http://amzn.to/232BPi5
This chapter shows that as Christians we sometimes forget that our gender, age, education, race, social class and a host of other factors shapes how we understand and read the text - and that our reading may not be the only one!
I'd love to hear your thoughts and ideas!
Remember, it's not a lecture, just a thought…
I’d love you hear your feedback, comments, questions and ideas!
Please subscribe and like the video!
Thursday
Apr212016

The decline of religion and the rise of spirituality?

In today's VLOG I interview Professor Jan Jans from Tilburg University in the Netherlands. He was at Stellenbosch University to teach our Master of Divinity class and my third year Public Theology class on Secularism, Secularization and the decline of formal religion and the rise of spirituality in Europe. We learnt a lot of interesting things for our own context - you may find the same.
I apologize for my poor framing of the video in the first few minutes! I either need to learn to frame my camera better, or save up to get a camera that has a flip screen to see what my shots look like! It gets better and I am learning!
The books that are mentioned in today's VLOG are:
  • Linda Woodhead, 'Religions in the modern world: Traditions and Transformations' http://amzn.to/1Nm09tu
  • Diana Butler Bass 'Christianity after religion' http://amzn.to/1VlP7qH
  • Charles Taylor 'A secular age' http://amzn.to/2436WfS (This is a very important book! I get all my PhD students to read it). You can also read the following great 'introduction' and engagement with 'A secular age', entitled 'How not to be secular' by James K Smith http://amzn.to/1Wf43FZ
  • Peter Berger 'The Sacred Canopy' http://amzn.to/1VlPh1i and 'The desecularization of the world' http://amzn.to/1T0OxbU
I'd love to hear your thoughts and ideas!
Remember, it's not a lecture, just a thought…
Please subscribe and like the video!
Thursday
Apr142016

Detrimental health? Just health and a just health care system

Prof Jean Pierre Wils delivered a paper at a biomedical ethics conference at Stellenbosch University in August last year (if I recall correctly). He made a deeply challenging and thought provoking point that contemporary ethics seems obsessed with just health care, but the more important ethical issue is just health. Simply stated, unjust societies contribute to illness among their populations. This is not just a matter of providing adequate health care, it is a larger issue, it has to do with gender, economics, access to a healthy diet, sexual and reproductive rights etc.

I was asked to write a paper in response to his paper - which I have done and it is currently under review for a special edition of the journal 'In luce verbi' in which his paper and mine will appear. I will let you know when they are published.

In the meantime I discuss the issue of just health care and the South African biomedical theological ethical context in this video entitle 'Detrimental to your health'. I'd love to hear your insights, thoughts and comments!

Thursday
Apr142016

Stellenbosch - The most unequal city in the world? Economics, inequality and justice

Is Stellenbosch really the most unequal city in the world?

Today I rode my Brompton through Stellenbosch - I had 25 minutes between meetings and wanted to get something for lunch. It was the first time I had been on the bike in more than a week. I came back form Johannesburg with a rather nasty flu and still wasn't feeling great. But it was awesome to be out in the sun and enjoying the fresh air and beautiful western Cape scenery!

As I was riding my bike I reflected on Stellenbosch, which is the most unequal city in South Africa (a country which is among the most economically unequal countries in the world).

Watch the VLOG for some beautiful scenery, and think with me about a better economic system in which no one has too much while anyone has too little.

I’d love to hear your feedback and thoughts! Don’t you love my old folding bike? It goes with me when I travel.

Monday
Feb292016

Invitation to Steve de Gruchy memorial lecture by Bishop Heinrich Bedford-Strohm

Professor Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, the presiding bishop of the Evangelical (Lutheran) Church in Germany, and a close friend of the late Prof Steve de Gruchy, will give the Steve de Gruchy Memorial Lecture, on Tuesday 1st March 2016 at 19:00 at the Rondebosch United Church, Belmont Road, Cape Town. He will speak on the refugee crisis in Europe and the situation in the Middle East.

This is an open invitation to anyone who may be interested in attending. Prof John de Gruchy will also say a few words.

I hope to see you there!

Friday
Jan012016

Let us all, together, struggle for the New South Africa - Happy new year (2016)

It is a new year. Of course nothing is different from yesterday. However, there is something special about a marker in time, a change of dates; it allows one to reflect, to take stock and to resolve to live more intently, perhaps even differently, beyond that point.

We ushered in the new year with friends. We talked, laughed, prayed, and even argued. I guess that there was hardly a gathering in South Africa that didn't have some conversation about the challenges we face in South Africa - many of which were exposed in 2015. We remain economically unequal. We remain divided by race and class. We remain suspicious and fearful of one another. We long for change.

I said to my family and friends that my commitment in the year ahead would be to work more ardently for the common good of all South Africans, and for South Africa. I am inspired by the following quote from Desmond Tutu's sermon at the funeral service of slain anti-Apartheid activist Steve Biko in 1977:

We are experiencing the birth pangs of a new South Africa, a free South Africa, where all of us, Black and White together, will walk tall, where all of us, Black and White together, will hold hands as we stride forth on the Freedom March to usher in the new South Africa where people will matter because they are human beings made in the image of God… for the sake of our children, Black and White together, let us dedicate ourselves anew to the struggle for the liberation of our beloved land, South Africa. Let us all, Black and White together, not be filled with despondency and despair. Let us Blacks not be filled with hatred and bitterness. For all of us, Black and White together, shall overcome, nay, indeed have already overcome.

- Desmond Tutu (at the funeral of Steve Biko in 1977).

The task may be challenging and complex. It will require courage, sacrifice, perhaps even robust engagement, and above all grace and love. But just because it is complex we must not, and should not, shy away from doing what we can do. We should find ways to address what we can see needs to be done. We must move from a modality of blame to a modality of working together for the common good.

Rich blessing to you and your family, your community and our people and land in 2016. May the end of 2016 show that we have laboured well and achieved much.

Hope is hearing the melody of the future. Faith is to dance to it.

- Rubem A. Alves (Brazilian educator and liberation theologian).

Tuesday
Oct062015

#ChurchesUnitedAgainstCorruption - #UAC @SAChurchesUnite why it matters

A week ago (30 September 2015) thousands of Christians gathered in cities across South Africa to show their discontent with increasing corruption in government and business in South Africa. It was beautiful to see women and men from a wide variety of denominations and theological traditions uniting to show that they are not afraid to act against persons who use prominence or power in politics or economics for personal and unjust gains. I was pleased to participate in the gathering in Cape Town, and know of friends who participated in Durban and Johannesburg gatherings.

Of course there are various forms of corruption - persons who pay bribes, and persons who solicit them, so that deals can be done. These drive up the costs of products and services, meaning that less can be done for the common good.  Fewer schools can be built, fewer hospitals staffed, fewer meals dispensed, fewer persons brought to justice, fewer crimes are solved, fewer communities are safe, and it is the poor and the powerless who suffer first, and who suffer most.

Someone asked me whether marches like this matter. Of course on some level they don't. In truth, nobody will admit to being 'for corruption', even the most corrupt have a public rhetoric against corruption - it is what they need to retain the trust and inactivity of those who allow them to remain in office, or conduct corrupt business.

On the other hand events like this are of critical importance. They matter because we cannot be silent in the midst of injustice.  Events such as these matter because we are showing that more and more sectors of South African society are impatient with the injustices and inequalities that are upheld by corrupt persons and corrupt practices.  Events such as these matter because they show that we have a moral conscience, and that people from different religious groupings, and different traditions, can stand together.  They matter because they show that we are not powerless or voiceless.  They matter because they show that we are citizens who are engaged.

So, I would encourage you to act. Recognise that you have a right, even a responsibility, to speak out when things are wrong. Call those who abuse their office or position in business for unjust means to account. Remind elected officials that they are civil servants of the people, not civil masters. Remind businesses and business people that we, the consumers, are the ones who hold the wealth that allows them to operate, and if they will not do so for the common good we can exercise our right to choose someone or something else.

If you are a follower of Jesus it is important to remember that submission to his Lordship has political, economic and social consequences.  What we believe must change how we live - and it should always be for the common good. This is the way of the servant King. As Stanley Hauerwas reminds us, the church does not have a social ethic, it is a social ethic - we are to become what we believe, our story, our witness, our worship, is to reflect what we believe and what we hope for.

I would like to invite you to visit the Churches United Against Corruption website, or consider joining the campaign Unashamedly Ethical.

Monday
Jul272015

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.