• 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 Theology (68)


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

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

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

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

The foreword was written by Walter Brueggemann.

Here is some additional information about the book:

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

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


What hope is there for South Africa? A public theological reflection on the role of the church as a bearer of hope for the future

I discovered today that an article I had written some time ago had been published and made available to the public from the Theological Journal, HTS.

The details for the article are:

Title:  What hope is there for South Africa? A public theological reflection on the role of the church as a bearer of hope for the future

Please follow this link to download a copy from the Journal website: 


What hope is there for South Africa? What role can the church play as a bearer of hope in South Africa? This article seeks to address these important questions. Firstly, it problematises the contemporary notion of hope in South Africa by showing that it is a complex theological and social concept. Next, a nuanced understanding of hope is presented by adopting a public theological methodology that brings dominant theological perspectives on eschatological hope into dialogue with the most recent statistics about the quality of life in South Africa from 1994, 2004 and 2014. The article proposes that the complexity of Christian hope necessitates an understanding of the present reality that is held in dynamic tension with the desired future – namely a present-futurist eschatology. Finally the article shows that from this vantage point the church, in its various forms and understandings, is able to be a bearer of Christian hope that can contribute towards shaping a better future for South Africa.



Forster, Dion A. “What Hope Is There for South Africa? A Public Theological Reflection on the Role of the Church as a Bearer of Hope for the Future.” HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies, Original Research: P.G.R. de Villiers Dedication, 71, no. 1 (2015): 1–10.



If you have a chance (and the stamina!) to read it I would appreciate feedback and comments.  There is an itneresting set of statistical data on living conditions in South Africa.



Celebrating the 100th Anniversary of Beyers Naude's life

Today the Faculty of Theology at Stellenbosch University celebrates the 100th anniversary of Beyers Naude's life - a courageous witness to justice, reconciliation, hope and God's Kingdom on earth.

Pictured here (L-R) areDr Horst Kleinschmidt, Prof Denise Ackermann, Prof John de Gruchy, Dr Murray Coetzee who are all friends and researchers in the Beyers Naude Center.

The meeting was opened with a reading from Isaiah 32.1-8, and 15-20. A deep challenge for our current context.

Here is the text:

"See, a king will reign in righteousness
and rulers will rule with justice.
Each man will be like a shelter from the wind
and a refuge from the storm,
like streams of water in the desert
and the shadow of a great rock in a thirsty land.
Then the eyes of those who see will no longer be closed,
and the ears of those who hear will listen.
The mind of the rash will know and understand,
and the stammering tongue will be fluent and clear.
No longer will the fool be called noble
nor the scoundrel be highly respected.
For the fool speaks folly,
his mind is busy with evil:
He practices ungodliness
and spreads error concerning the Lord;
the hungry he leaves empty
and from the thirsty he withholds water.
The scoundrel’s methods are wicked,
he makes up evil schemes
to destroy the poor with lies,
even when the plea of the needy is just.
But the noble man makes noble plans,
and by noble deeds he stands." ...

"till the Spirit is poured upon us from on high,
and the desert becomes a fertile field,
and the fertile field seems like a forest.
Justice will dwell in the desert
and righteousness live in the fertile field.
The fruit of righteousness will be peace;
the effect of righteousness will be quietness and confidence forever.
My people will live in peaceful dwelling places,
in secure homes,
in undisturbed places of rest.
Though hail flattens the forest
and the city is leveled completely,
how blessed you will be,
sowing your seed by every stream,
and letting your cattle and donkeys range free".

Prof Nico Koopman encouraged us to be inspired by Oom Bey's life to become "faithful disciples and active citizens" for the sake of the healing and transformation of our nation.


The mission of the Church and the Work of God?

A morning discussion with Prof Darrel Guder from Princeton. We are discussing the missional nature of the Church - what does it mean for Christians and the Church to participate in God's work (the missio Dei) of transforming, renewing and bringing healing the world?


Invitation Stellenbosch Theology Day - Dr Mamphela Ramphele on poverty, inequality and joblessness in South Africa

Dear friends,

I would like to invite you to attend the Stellenbosch University Faculty of Theology Open Day on 2 February 2015.  There is no cost and it promises to be an interesting and topical day of input and reflection on some of the current issues we face in South Africa.

You are also more than welcome to attend the opening service of the Faculty of Theology at the Stellenbosch United Church on 1 February 2015 at 19:00.

Please see the details below.

Best regards,


The annual Theological Day, which is the start of the academic year of the Faculty of Theology at Stellenbosch University (SU), will take place on Monday 2 February 2015 from 09:00 – 13:00 in the Attie van Wijk Auditorium at the Faculty of Theology, 171 Dorp Street, Stellenbosch. The theme for the day is: Theology and Public Life: Facing the Challenges of Poverty, Unemployment and Inequality.

Prof Nico Koopman, dean of the Faculty of Theology will introduce the theme, followed by Dr Mamphela Ramphele who will deliver the keynote address. Rev Malcolm Damon, executive director of the Network for Economic Justice, Prof Ronelle Burger from the department of Economics, SU and Prof Piet Naudé, director of the SU Business School, will make further inputs during the panel discussion.

In 2015 we celebrate the 100th anniversary of Beyers Naudé’s birth, and the topic for the Theological Day is well in line with his concern for a theological and prophetic response to public life, including socio-political and economical aspects. In 2015 we also participate in the 30th anniversary of the Kairos Document which is known for its prophetic message. Last year at the Theological Day former minister Trevor Manuel spoke on the National Development Plan, followed by responses by theologians and church leaders. This year we want to continue this conversation: How should Christians, churches and the ecumenical movement respond to the giant challenges of poverty, unemployment and inequality? Hopefully this can contribute to a process of further mobilization and theoretical and theological depth. 

Attendance is free and all are welcome! Limited parking is available at the faculty and guests are advised to park in The Avenue or on the banks of the Eerste River (opposite Paul Roos Gymnasium). Please allow ample time for traffic.

The welcoming church service of the faculty will take place on Sunday 1 February 2015 at 19:00 at Stellenbosch United Chrurch, 8 Van Riebeeck Street, Stellenbosch. Dr Dion Forster will deliver the sermon and Dr David Hunter will be the liturgist.

Enquiries: Helette, e-mail, tel 021 808 3255.


Are 'whites' South Africa's problem?

 A good friend of mine, Sanda Fata, posted a quote on his timeline last week that caused me to reflect and think very deeply. I respect Sanda and so trust his perspective. Here is the status that Sanda posted:

Most white South Africans don't want to be part of South Africa, but all they want is huge stake of South Africa (Nkosivumile Gola) uvuthiwe mntanam.
The statement above touches on two very sensitive issues, namely the massive issue of inequality between South Africa's citizens, and of course the painful and ongoing issue of race politics.


I am convinced that the issue at stake in South Africa is not a race issue (race classification and the empowerment of one race and denigration of another is the cause of our problems, and so it cannot be our solution). As I prayed, and thought about this issue I wrote the following response to Sanda.

Comrade Sanda Fata - thanks for sharing this. It caused me to think deeply. I agree with part of the statement of Comrade Nkosivumile Gola. Indeed there are certain South Africans who want a larger stake of the nation at the expense of others, and I am afraid that in large measure they are white South Africans. However, I think that it is a mistake to tie the struggle for emancipation and transformation to race. It is a mistake because it is wrong and so in the long run it will be futile. We cannot base our struggle on something that people cannot choose or change. The core of the issue here is not whiteness, it is something more powerful, something about which people can make choices and can actually choose to change. Apartheid ideology did its best to problematise blackness. We can see how wrong that was. I contend that it is a mistake to judge persons based on something they did not choose and cannot change. So, what should we do? In my view our struggle should be a class struggle. There are South Africans of a certain class that subjugate others through their choices, their consumption of resources, their desire for power and wealth at all costs, their denial of human dignity (and so also human rights). These South Africans are white, but they are also brown and black. It is their choices around class that are problematic (hence I contend that a class struggle is necessary, and not a race struggle). A class struggle emerges when there are competing social and economic interests between people in society (such as access to health care, education, dignified work, a living wage, the right to flourish). These choices can be changed by the classes who hold wealth and power, and so I feel we need to spend our energy, time, and creativity addressing the class issue rather than the race issue. History has shown that race struggles are based on prejudice (about something that people cannot choose or change) and so they never succeed. Persons who appeal only to race do so because it is very easy to blame the 'other' who is different from ourselves, but it is a mistake since there are poor whites, poor brown people, as well as wealthy black people, powerful black people etc., I would encourage you to look at this great book by my friend Joerg Rieger We hope to have him visit South Africa again soon: Rieger, Joerg ed. 2013 Religion, Theology, and Class: Fresh Engagements after Long Silence New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan

At the core of my argument is that South Africans need one another. Our diversity is a gift. I am convinced that we need each other in order to forge a better future for all, we cannot attempt to make things better by once again polarising persons along the lines of race. Moreover, I am convinced that social and economic issues are central to the struggle that we face in South Africa today - indeed, suffering is still almost entirely a reality among our black sisters and brothers. However, it is not their race which causes this suffering, it is our economic and political choices. Inequality is a class issue, not a race issue.

I would love to hear your perspective.


San Diego - American Academy of Religion (AAR)

As I write this I am sitting in a rather comfy seat in the JetBlue terminal at JKF airport in New York - it is thanksgiving, the busiest travel day of the year! In hindsight it might not have been all that wise to travel home today! Still, as I told a friend, I have flown through Lagos airport in Nigeria, which on a normal day makes JFK on Thanksgiving look like a quiet country airport! It is 5am here and the airport is bustling with people heading all over the USA to be with family and friends.

I arrived on an overnight cross-country flight from San Diego (we left there at 9pm last night). My next flight leaves JFK at 11am for Dakar, then from Dakar I go to Johannesburg and then from Johannesburg to Cape Town and home with my darlings!

The reason for this trip was to participate in the American Academy of Religion (AAR) and the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) which took place in beautiful San Diego this year. I participated in three 'streams' of the AAR/SBL. Primarily I was in the Wesley Studies stream - on my first day I sat next to Douglas Meeks (who I have known for some years since first meeting him at Christ Church College, Oxford University in 2007), behind Randy Maddox (from Duke Divinity School, who I have also known for some years - probably as long as Douglas Meeks), and in front of Ted Campbell who I met while he was President of Garrett Evangelical Seminary in Chicago in 2005. The Wesley Studies sessions were great and it was wonderful to be a part of them and share a bit of a perspective from South Africa. I told the group about my research on Nelson Mandela and the Methodist Church of Southern Africa and it looks like this group may consider focussing on Wesleyan Public and Political Theology around the world as a result of that. I hope to be able to participate in that group in 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia. The point of interest is how John Wesley's theology in its various forms has made an impact on Public Theological discourse in different places in the world. Just this year I have seen how it has been received in Malaysia, in Brazil and of course in South Africa. I'm sure that it will make for some fascinating papers and discussion!

The other group that I participated in was Joerg Rieger's discussions on religion, economics and class (as part of the Theological Ethics stream). Joerg and I had dinner together on the 24th of November, it was great to catch up and hear of his work in Dallas and he new projects. His book 'Occupy Religion' was a point of discussion, and of course the reception of Liberation Theologies in his context and in ours.

One of the issues that I want to reflect on a lot more is the notion of class as a social differentiation. In one of the sessions there was a discussion on class, religion and economics and the point was made that in the United States (and so I guess in South Africa as well), we often collapse race and economics into one another. For example, if one were to do a demographic study of South African society it would be true to say that black South Africans are generally poorer than white South Africans because of the legacy of apartheid. Moreover, the wealthiest members of South African society are almost all white (of course that is changing rapidly with Black Economic Empowerment, but by and large it is still the case that white South Africans are among the wealthiest persons in the country, what the 'Occupy movement' have called the 1%). However, because we tend to associate and differentiate by race the middle class, or those with limited privilege tend to associate with their counterparts in the 1%. However, if we consider class, rather than race, as an economic differentiator we would very quickly see that the average white South African has more in common with his or her black South African counterparts than with the 1% (whether they be white or black). The illustration used in the sessions was that an American who earns $200 thousand per year has more in common with a poor person than with Bill Gates - simply stated they are in closer solidarity with the poor than with the 1%. This 'deep solidarity' as Joerg puts it requires a certain kind of response from the faithful Christian. When we are in solidarity with persons of our class it allows us to use our limited privilege to support people in our class and engage oppressive social and economic systems from a point of relative power (or at least more power than those who are less powerful than we are). This was an important thought for me.

I find it particularly poignant since we are launching a new movement in South African on the 2nd of December called the AHA movement (a movement of hopeful action that will facilitate creative and engaged conversation and thought around issues of poverty in South Africa).

Lastly, I participated in the Matthew studies group. It was wonderful to catch up on the most recent developments in Matthew Scholarship - even though there were no papers touching on the topic of my second PhD (Matthew 18 and forgiveness, intergroup contact theory). I had a chance to meet with my Doctoral Supervisor / Promotor, Prof Jan van der Watt from Radboud University. Ben Whiterington was also at that meeting.

Among the other persons that I met at this AAR/SBL meeting were Miroslaf Volf (I had a chat with him about the most recent research that I had been doing on faith and work. He was very kind to listen, comment and offer encouragement. Like many others who I met, however, he was most excited to know that I am from Stellenbosch University - people sure to love that beautiful place and are always keen to find an excuse to spend more time in beautiful Stellenbosch). I also met Prof Darrell Guder from Princeton who is visiting Stellenbosch in February 2015 for a missional theology conference we are hosting. It was also wonderful to spend some time with my friends Prof Wentzel van Huyssteen (also from Princeton) and Elizabeth Gerle (from Upsala, who is also a STIAS fellow and is keen to be back in Stellenbosch).

Then, it was so awesome to be in San Diego with my long time friend and colleague, Dr Wessel Bentley (and his son Matthew - such an amazing young man!) It was wonderful to have breakfast and catch up on the days events with Wes and Matt. They also seemed to have a blast. I am so encouraged by Wessel - not only is he a brilliant theologian and scholar, he has maintained great balance as a dad, bringing his son along to experience America and the AAR.

Then I attended papers by my good friends Dr Charlene van der Walt (in the feminist Biblical interpretation group - she is doing incredible work that is going to be a huge help to me in finishing this second PhD I am busy with), and Dr Retief Muller (in the African studies group). They were both fantastic. Profs Julie Claassens, Jeremy Punt, Lious Jonker and Elna Mouton were also there from Stellenbosch, as were Prof Ernst Conradie and Christo Lombaard from UWC, Jonathan Draper, Smanga Kumalo and Gerald West from UWC. It was also great to get to know Dr Jacob Meiring (from Pretoria) better. I also got to meet, for the first time, two friends that I have only known via social media - Dr Curtis Holtzen and Lisa Beth White. Curtis did his PhD at UNISA many years ago and we connected online around the institution. Lisa Beth is a United Methodist minister who has been very kind and encouraging over the years! She is completing a PhD in Mission at Boston - it was wonderful to finally meet her in person.

Another highlight was hearing former US President Jimmy Carter talking about religion, women and issues related to the environment. His basic message is that religion has an important role to play in shaping society for the better, and that two critical issues in our time that require our positive action are environmental stewardship and engaging gender inequality around the world.

So, all in all it was a wonderful opportunity to connect with old friends, make new friends, and think deeply and learn a lot!

One less good memory of the trip will be the darn cold I contracted on the flight over! My goodness, I felt poorly for most of the week and still don't feel great. However, that didn't stop me from grabbing a bicycle from the Kimpton Hotel Solamar where I was staying (a beautiful hotel!) and going for two rides around San Diego. On Sunday morning I did just over 30km's along the San Diego Harbour front from the Island to the mainland. The second ride was around 20km (on that day I was really not feeling well), where I rode up to Balboa park, it was so beautiful up there. I am impressed with the city of San Diego - beautiful people and a beautiful place.

All that being said, I cannot wait to be home with Megie, Courtney and Liam. I find that it becomes more and more difficult to travel without them! So, enough typing, time to find where my next flight boards and get home!

I have uploaded a few photographs from the trip with this post. I'm afraid they are not formatted since I am typing this post on my iPhone.


Evangelism and Public Theology

Last week I was asked to write an article for the Lausanne Global Pulse on Evangelism and the Christian response to Global (and local) Corruption and its relationship to poverty. I shall add a link to it here when it is published.

In my reading I came across this wonderful quote by the eccumenical theologian Lesslie Newbigin. It was quite challenging and profound:

It is not so often acknowledged that evangelism means calling people to believe something which is radically different from what is normally accepted as public truth, and that calls for a conversion not only of the heart and will but of the mind. A serious commitment to evangelism, to the telling of the story which the Church is sent to tell, means a radical questioning of the reigning assumptions of public life. It is to affirm the gospel not only as an invitation to a private and personal decision but as public truth which ought to be acknowledged as true for the whole of the life of society.

Lesslie Newbigin Truth to Tell (p.2).

I was left with the question, can the Christian's response to issues of justice be considered as the work of evangelism?

I think it can, particularly if one understands 'evangelism' as facilitating the reality of God's good news (and 'goodness') for the world (rather than just preaching the content of the good news, or Gospel). I am convinced that our proposition of what the Gospel is, finds fullness of meaning when persons (and creation) begin to experience something of what God's goodness is.

Some years ago I wrote an academic article entitled "Prophetic witness and social action as holiness in the Methodist Church of Southern Africa's mission" which locates this argument within a historical and missional context. You can download the article here and follow my line of reasoning. I also attempt to argue for the location of mission and evangelism as activities of Christians and the Church within the public sphere (to use Martin Marty's terminology). In this sense evangelism as social action (or even social action as evangelism) is a form of Public Theology.


South South partnership - Brazil and South Africa / Public Theology

This week I have been in Sao Leopoldo in Brazil at Faculdades EST for the bi-annual conference (this year focussing on religion and the media).  It forms part of the South South partnership that exists between Faculdades EST and some Universities in South Africa (these include the University where I teach, Stellenbosch University, as well as UNISA, UKZN and even a colleauge from the University of Cape Town).

South Africa and Brazil share a number of similar aspects in our social, political and economic history and current reality.  Both have suffered under oppressive regimes.  In both instances the Church and religious organisations played a significant role in helping to end the oppression.  Liberation theologies, public theologies and post colonial theologies are common discourses in both settings.  Of course they are not the same - there are many obvious, and some less obvious, differences in the two contexts.  However, there are great opportunities for mutual enrichment and support.

Thus far the partnership has involved the exchange of academic staff, exchange of Masters and PhD students, and projects which have resulted in publications (such as the book that will be launched tomorrow evening, and the set of publications in English that will go into the Journal of Theology for South Africa JTSA).  Language is something of a barrier, since we only have one colleague from South Africa who speaks Portuguese, and only a few colleagues from Brazil that speak English.  I have committed to try and learn Portuguese in the years ahead so that we can serve the partnership better from our side.

It has been wonderful to hear the debates and inputs on public theology, liberation theologies, and a variety of contextual and post-collonial theologies.

On Thursday evening for fly back to Sao Paulo to have a meeting with the Vice Rector of International Affairs at USP.  USP and Stellenbosch have an institutional agreement that is now being developed into a South South partnership between the two Universities.  USP is one of the largest, and most prestigious, Universities in South America.

This post contains a few photographs taken on the trip.  One is of me and one of my former students, Ndikho Mtshiselwa.  It was great to see him here.  Among the other colleauges were Prof Nico Koopman, Prof Rothney Tshaka, Prof Rudolf von Sinner, Prof Reggie Nel, Dr Pieter Grove, and Dr Elaine Nogueira-Godsey.


Launch of the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Unit, John de Gruchy conference

This evening we launched the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Unit in the Beyers Naudé centre for Public Theology at Stellenbosch University.

In the front row of this picture are some of the most famous Bonhoeffer scholars (from left to right), John de Gruchy, Clifford Green, Wolfgang Huber, Dirkie Smit, Frits de Lange, and Wentzel Van Huyssteen next to Robert Vosloo.

I recorded John de Gruchy, Dirkie Smit, Nico Koopman and Robert Vosloo's short presentations at the launch. They were fascinating. I will upload that audio as soon as I have had a chance to edit it. So do look back - I found de Gruchy's section on Bonhoeffer reception in South Africa and Beyers Naudé fascinating. As was Dirkie Smit's talk on Russel Botman and Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Tomorrow we will host a three day conference in honour of John de Gruchy. Many of these visitors are speakers at the conference. Others include Prof Graham Ward Regis Professor of Divinity at Oxford University and Prof a Serene Jones (President of Union Theological seminary - where Dietrich Bonhoeffer studied before his return to Germany). The prominent ethicist Larry Rasmussen will also be a speaker, as will Prof Iain McGillchrist from Oxford.

I will be chairing the panel on science and theology.

Here's a peek at the program.

Wednesday 3 September 2014

9h00: Opening

Session 1: Engaging Dietrich Bonhoeffer [Chair: Robert Vosloo]
9h20-10h00: Wolfgang Huber: Dietrich Bonhoeffer's question: How a coming generation
is to go on living?
10h00 -10h40: Nico Koopman: Bonhoeffer and the Future of Public Theology in South
10h40-11h10: Tea:
11h10-12h40: Panel Discussion: Clifford Green, Michael Phiri, Karola Radler, Frits de
12h40-14h00: Lunch
Book launch: A Theological Odyssey: My Life in Writing (John de Gruchy) (Sun Media);
Chair: Len Hansen; Speakers: Keith Clements, Roderick Hewitt, Cas Wepener
Session 2: Theological Aesthetics [Chair: Lyn Holness]

14h00-14h40: Graham Ward: Sanctification: Towards a Pedagogy of Affect
14h40-15h20: Frank Burch Brown: The Aesthetics of Forgiveness: Representing
Forgiveness Artistically.

15h20-15h50: Tea
15h50-17h20: Panel Discussion: Janet Trisk, Marnus Havenga, Awet Andemicael, Johan
18h15-19h15: Welcoming function
19h15: Concert: Libertas Choir

Thursday 4 September 2014
9h00: Opening: Robert Steiner
Session 3: Christian Humanism [Chair: Elna Mouton]

9h10-9h50: Denise Ackermann: The Mystery of Hope
9h50-10h30: Jim Cochrane: The Spirit of Humanity: Contra Theologies of Death

10h30-11h00: Tea
11h00-12h30: Panel Discussion: Karin Sporre, Martin Prozesky, Nadia Marais

12h30-14h00: Lunch
Book Launch: Denise Ackermann, Surprised by the Man on the Borrowed Donkey:
Ordinary Blessings (Lux Verbi)
Speaker: Dirkie Smit
Session 4: Theology and Science [Chair: Dion Forster]
14h00-14h40: Iain McGilchrist
14h40-15h20: J. Wentzel van Huyssteen: The Emergence of Personhood: Why the
Evolution of the Moral Sense and Symbolic Behavior defines the Human Self
15h20-15h50: Tea
15h50-17h20: Panel Discussion: Ernst Conradie, Gys Loubser, Larry Rasmussen, Rika

18h15: Evening reception: Clos Malverne wine estate

Friday 5 September

9h00: Opening: Bruce Theron
Session 5: The Struggle Continues [Chair: Edwin Arrison]
9h10-9h50: Serene Jones: Economic Freedom
9h50-10h30: Allan Boesak: 'A Hope Unprepared to Accept Things as They Are':
Reflections on John De Gruchy's Challenges for a Theology at the Edge

10h30-11h00: Tea
11h00-12h30: Panel Discussion: Rothney Tshaka, Christo Lombard, Helené van Tonder,
Deon Snyman
12h30-13h00: Conclusion: John de Gruchy


Today's sermon - Bishop Will Willimon from Duke Chapel on God and patience

It is Sunday! In a little while I will be in worship with sisters and brothers, who I don't yet know, in a beautiful Catholic Church near where I am staying here in Holland.

When you are a theologian who spends all your time in the Text, in the confessions and beliefs of the Christian faith, every day can be filled with learning and deepening of the knowledge of your faith. However, that could never compensate for the kind of growth that comes from simply being with others in community - the mystery of the Trinity is that we are made for one another. Our truest identity, our deepest meaning, is not something that comes only from our heads, it is ignited in our hearts and finds full expression through the work of our hands. We are people, and God's work with us, and in us, is with us as whole people, connected to other whole people.

This kind of work is slow. It is slow and messy because people are not all the same. That is the gift of course. We are not robots that get taken in for a firmware update. No, we are people whose lives are shaped through joy, pain, and even 'ordinary-ness'. The longest season in the Christian liturgical calendar is called 'ordinary time'. It stretches from Ascension Sunday to the start of Advent (about 22 weeks if I remember well). That is where most of the Christian life is lived, in ordinary time, among ordinary people, with ordinary experiences. I don't think many of us like living there, it is just too ordinary. We want drama, excitement, pleasure, novelty. I think that is one of the reasons why churches with great worship and drama teams, and entertaining preachers, draw such crowds. But sadly we cannot live there.

Tomorrow we return to our work, to our waiting, to our 'dailyness'. Amazingly the sermon I listened to early this morning by Bishop Will Willimon that was preached at a Duke Chapel reminds us that God is active in ordinary time. He remarks that God is patient. That is where and how God works, in time. Often God's work is slower than we expect, out of step with our expectation for the instant miracle, the sudden flash of brilliance, the unexpected solution.

I think this is true, it is true because God is working with people, ordinary people in ordinary time. The miracles of whole bodied people, free from suffering and pain, takes care and commitment. In ordinary time it takes commitment to a better diet and some exercise, to limiting our intake of alcohol and sugars and all the other bad things we consume. In our relationships it takes commitment to service of those who we love and live amongst. It takes a willingness to compromise, to see the side of the other, to look at things from their perspective and give a little, perhaps even take on a little. God is busy working with people, and that is a slow and deliberate task that takes time.

So today I have been encouraged to grow in patience and to be thankful for the work of God in ordinary time. May God bless you in every part of your life.

Here is Bishop Willimon's sermon (from about minute 40 to more or less 1h05). He is a remarkable man. I had the joy of meeting him at Duke a decade or so ago, and also at a World Methodist gathering some time later.

Sunday Service - 4/6/14 - William Willimon - YouTube


Zotero or Mendeley? Which academic citation manager is better?

There is a well known saying among academics the world over, Publish or Perish.

It is true! In the academic world the publication of research is critical to one's career - I like to see it in a less 'survival' directed framework.  Namely, that I want to publish my research because I believe it serves the world and helps the Church and Christians in their task of making the world more just, beautiful and blessed.  Perhaps I am being a little idealistic?

Regardless, I try to publish a book over other year or so, and I also try to get about three scholarly articles in peer reviewed journals each year.  When you consider the work that it takes to do that while still teaching undergraduate and postgraduate classes, as well as supervising multiple Masters and PhD students, you can imagine that I need a pretty efficient system to keep a record of what I am reading, and easily get that information into my books and academic articles.

For some years I have been using Zotero as a citation manager.  It is a great tool since it is open source, it works really well on the Mac and PC, and it stores your reference database (books, articles, documents, web pages, videos, interviews etc.) in the 'cloud'.  It also has plug ins for Microsoft Word (on the PC and the Mac), and also for open source word processing software.  It is really easy to use!

However, I have been frustrated by two things.  First, it does not have an iOS client for use on my iPhone and iPad.  I often only travel with my iPad and when I have a few spare moments it would be great to be able to catch up on the latest journal articles and books and add them to my citation index for later use.  Alas, that cannot be done.  I have to wait until I am back at my Mac, fire up my web browser, either find the article or book on Google Scholar, Amazon, or Google books, and then add the source automatically.  Or worse still, if it is an older or lesser known source I have to add it manually.

My second frustration is that Zotero is not supported by the University of Stellenbosch Library system (I am a faculty member at Stellenbosch University).  This means I often search for titles in the library, and once I have found them there I have to search for them a second time (on Amazon, Google Books, Google Scholar, Gale etc.) to be add the reference to my library.

One of our library staff suggested I try Mendeley.  It is also a free piece of citation management software.  It also works on the Mac and PC (and Linux), and as a bonus it also has an iOS client! So that is great.  However, it is not opensource - that always worries me a little.  Often it means that if there is a problem, or the owners no longer make money from the software or loose interest in it your data could get 'stuck' in an outdated piece of software.  Opensource solutions tend to updated more quickly and over a longer period of time since it is the users who drive that process.

Still, it is worth checking out since it is tied into our University library system (a huge bonus that will cut at least one significant step out of my Zotero workflow).  Moreover, the University has some sort of agreement with Mendeley that allows faculty to have more space for storing references on online copies of PDF's and articles (Zotero charges for extra space).  It also works well with the Mac and has a lovely interface, and as I mentioned above it also has an iOS client.

Here is a little video from Portland State University that does a good job of comparing Zotero and Mendeley

Do you use citation management software?  I know many folks find the learning curve too steep and have stuck to manually entering every citation! My goodness, I simply don't have time or patience (or enough of an eye for detail) to do that well.

If you do use citation software what do you use and why?  If you use either Zotero or Mendeley I would love to hear your reasons for choosing one over the other, and any tips you may have to help me maximise my use of the software.