• 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 Theology (98)


A visit to the Seth Mokitimi Methodist Seminary

This week I had the wonderful privilege of visiting the Seth Mokitimi Methodist Seminary. This is where the minister of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa are trained for the 6 nations of Southern Africa.

SMMS pano.png
It is a truly remarkable place - the attention to detail and excellence is visible throughout the property. Moreover, that staff and students of the seminary exemplify excellence in their commitment to their vocational formation.

SMMS Chapel.jpg I was invited to SMMS to do some examinations for 3rd year students in Systematic Theology (for a course in Ecology and Caring for the earth), and also for 3rd year Church history students. My friend, Peter Grassow, who is a lecturer (and the Chaplain at SMMS) invited me. I also the joy of working with Dr Lilian Siwila, as well as preaching in the magnificent Chapel (for the SMMS community, which makes up staff, students and their families).

SMMS forms part of a theological cluster around the University of KwaZulu Natal in Pietermartizburg. Among the 'cluster' institutions are the University's theological faculty, the Lutheran Seminary, the Catholic Seminary and an Anglican house of study. As a result of this diversity the students get a great deal of ecumenical interaction, as well as the highest level of theological formation for ministry.

SMMS chapel 2.jpg

Giving thanks for the life of the Rev Dr Angela Shier-Jones

It was with great sadness that I learnt that Angie (Dr Angela Shier-Jones) passed away in September this year.  This is such sad news.  Angie had been struggling against cancer.

I remember a great conversation we shared last year when I was in the UK.  We were on the train after a meeting at LEAT and we were talking about dissease and faith.  The topic of our conversation centered around a special edition of the Epworth Review of which Angie was the editor for which I had written an article on being Christian in an HIV+ world.  As always her input was deeply challenging, a magnificent theological mind matched only by her pastoral heart!

Thanks for sharing the news of her passing with me Jenny.  I am deeply saddened by the news of her death.  However, I can only imagine what she is doing in heaven!  

Here are two wonderful memorial posts I would encourage you to take a look at.  Each of them gives a wonderful insight into one of the great (Methodist) theologians of our age.

Indeed, Lord, thank you for the gift of your daughter Angela.  Teach me to number my days correctly that I may gain a heart of wisdom (Psalm 90.12).


Do you believe in angels?

In this video I share a short story that leads me to ask the question:  Do you believe in angels?

Some may say that it is quite a strange thing for me to be asking this question.  However, since Psalm 91.11 and Luke 4.10 relate so clearly to the little story I recount in the video I thought I would ask you for your opinion.  So, do you believe in angels? And could you tell me why, or why not?  Also if you have any stories to tell of an encounter with angelic beings I'd love to hear about them.

When I posted this question on twitter I had three almost immediate responses from @hayesstw @gigglebug and @ursh13 to say that they all believe in angels.  Knowing the persons who left the comments, and their theological perspectives, I'm sure that their reasons for believing in angels would be quite different.  That's what most interests me - why do you believe in angels?


Intuitive? Try God!

I was alerted to this fascinating research, done at Harvard, by my friend Philip Collier.

In summary, the researchers found that persons who are capable of making intuitive decisions are more likely to be people of faith. Intuition is an extremely complex function of the human brain, since intuition relies on gathering lots of data, processing it at speed, and reaching a conclusion.

God is related to decision-making style, with those who rely more heavily on intuition reporting higher rates of belief, while those who are more reflective tilt toward atheism.
By linking religious belief to intuition, the study supports the idea that there is something in the cognitive makeup of humans that promotes belief in a higher power. For example, the natural tendency that people have to see a purpose behind random events, or the need to reduce uncertainty in their lives — as well as the anxiety it causes — may promote a belief in God.

The research makes no value judgement on intuitive versus reflective cognitive ability (since this is a matter or style rather than intelligence).

What do you think? Are intuitive thinkers more likely to be persons who hold faith convictions?

PS. My doctoral work was in cognitive neuroscience and theology. You can read more about that work on this blog by clicking the neuroscience link (tab) at the top of the page or the tag below.

Here's the link to the Harvard Article:


Why I am a pastor scholar

“[Theology] has often overshot its goal and degenerated into repeating the same empty phrases…. Sometimes it seemed to proceed from the idea that it could answer all questions and resolve all issues. It has often been lacking in modesty, tenderness, and simplicity. This was all the worse inasmuch as theology has to do with the deepest problems and comes into contact with the most delicate stirrings of the human heart. More than any other science, it has to take to heart the admonition ‘not to think of itself more highly than it ought’ (cf. Rom. 12:3). It is better honestly to admit that a thing is not clear than to make a wild guess.”

Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), p. 605.

This is why I am a 'pastor scholar' - my desire is to think deeply about faith and the world in order to serve, not to merely 'tell' or 'teach'.


Another chapter published!

On Friday I received an email from Paul Chilcote to let me know that 'Making disciples in a world parish: Global perspectives on Mission and Evangelism' was published.

I was privileged to contribute one of the chapters that make up this book.  I wrote about the theology and ministry of Christians in Southern Africa in response to the HIV/AIDS pandemic.  In my chapter I discussed issues such as the contextualisation of theological methodology, an insight into what it means to live with HIV/AIDS and what it could mean for Christians and the Church to respond appropriately in that context.  It is entitled 'Evangelism, mission and discipleship in Southern Africa: How hope is overcoming tragedy'.

I'd encourage you to check out the book at the following URL - you can purchase the book from Amazon here.


Lent - the importance of Easter in the Christian faith

As I'm going through Lent, and preparing for Easter, I have been reflecting on the importance of this feast in the Christian tradition. Somehow in the West we place more emphasis on Christmas - perhaps it is because we're so self centered and are caught up in the reward and response of giving and receiving gifts!

This quote reminded me how important Easter has been for all of Christian history:

Take Christmas away, and in biblical terms you lose two chapters at the front of Matthew and Luke, nothing else. Take Easter away, and you don’t have a New Testament; you don’t have a Christianity; as Paul says, you are still in your sins. We shouldn’t allow the secular world, with its schedules and habits and parareligious events, its cute Easter bunnies, to blow us off course. This is our greatest day. We should put the flags out.

- N.T. Wright, Surprised By Hope (via @invisibleforeigner's tumblr blog)

May the Lord richly bless us as we prepare to celebrate the significance of God's generous gift in Christ.


The body of Christ

I'm reading Hauerwas, Yoder and Cavanaugh...

The task of the church in the temporal is to embody what Christ has already accomplished in history by remembering his broken and victorious body. Christ’s victory is already won, and the Kingdom is to have transformative effects on Christian practice in history. The task of the church is to live as if this is the case, until Christ comes again and fully consummates his reign.
— William T. Cavanaugh, Torture and Eucharist(via @invisibleforeigner's tumblr blog.

And it is good...

I would suggest that you follow invisibleforeigner's tumblr blog. It has been such a great blessing to me to read the quotes, thoughts and ideas on it, many of which you will see on my blog. Thanks!


The ministry of a chaplain in the contemporary missional Church

For the past 3 years I have been seconded by the Methodist Church of Southern Africa to serve as a Chaplain.  My chaplaincy has been to a number of organisations (which are all connected with the work and ministry of Graham Power, a prominent Christian Businessman and member of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa).

I have served as the Chaplain to the Global Day of Prayer, the Unashamedly Ethical movement, to two of the teams that helped to arrange the Third Lausanne Congress in Cape Town, and to the 2000 employees of the Power Group of Companies.

I often get asked what a Chaplain is, and of course what a Chaplain does!  In particular people seem to find the concept of 'corporate', 'industrial' or 'business' Chaplaincy quite interesting.  Most people are familiar with military Chaplains, prison Chaplains, and hospital Chaplains.

What is a Chaplain?  A little bit of theology and history.

Before I talk about what I do let me give a little bit of background to the concept of Chaplaincy.  Most scholars trace this history of Chaplaincy to St Martin of Tours, a 4th century Roman soldier who was convereted to Christianity.  He was stationed in the North of France and tradition tells of how he encountered a destitute man at the gate of the city of Amiens one day.  He was filled with compassion for the poor, naked, man and so took his sword and cut his Roman cloak (capella) in half and gave one half to the shivering man.  The legend further suggests that the poor man that he helpded later revealed himself as Jesus (similar to what we read in Matthew 24:34-36).  St Martin was later ordained and allowed to minister outside of the 'gathered Church' in places of great need.  He became known as the keeper of the bisected cloak (the capellanus) - from which we derive the name 'Chaplain'.

It is interesting to note that Martin and his cohorts spread throughout the country meeting the needs of people and establishing places of worship (which where known as Chapels, after those who birthed and nurtured them, the Chaplains).  The Chapel this came out of the ministry of the Chaplain, and not the other way around as it is commonly assumed.

Robert Jones writes in the Journal, Epworth Review:

Here then is the initial feature of chaplaincy, that it first addresses the acute need with practical care. Secondly, it goes to where people are without wating for them to come where we are....  Finally, this story says something to us about status, for at the moment of the inception of [St Martin's] ministry, Martin was still a lay person. He was later ordained... Chaplaincy has had the potential from the beginning to be a ministry of the whole people of God.

I have found this image very helpful in my own ministry.  I am one who is called to meet people at their point of need.  The 'world of work' is often a place of great struggle, hardship, and drudgery.  I have had wonderful opportunities to offer practical and spiritual care in the workplace. Second, I constantly strive to facilitate instances of worship (Chapels if you will).  Sometimes these are places (like the prayer room we have at our offices).  And at other times they are short momemnts either with groups of individuals - for example when I go out onto our building and construction sites to meet with our staff.  Most importantly I have attempted to 'extend' the office of Chaplain to numerous people in our company and in other companies and contexts.  We have numerous 'lay people' who are ministers in their own right, offering pastoral care, teaching, and mobilizing ministry.

What do I do as a 'corporate' or 'business' Chaplain?

My Chaplaincy is primarily characterised by service.  I'm sure that each Chaplaincy is unique in its character and form, attempted to meet the needs of the context in Christian love.

However, since I serve a Christian man, and serve in a Christian organisation, I have many wonderful opportunities for ministry.  Among other things I do the following:


  • Offer counselling and care to our staff and their families.
  • Lead prayer meetings and Bible study groups in and around the workplace.
  • I develop and share materials on spirituality in daily life (prayer guides, daily reflections, ideas for ministry and service etc.)
  • I oversee and assist in the ministry of The Global Day of Prayer internationally and perform the same function with the team in our Unashamedly Ethical Office.
  • I oversee the management of our company's Corporate Social Investment and Charitable giving (we have a Charitable Trust for this purpose).
  • I do executive coaching for some of our senior leadership (with a particular emphasis on work life balance, spirituality, personal calling etc.)
  • I sit on numerous committees in the company that have an input into the wellbeing of our employees, that look after aspects of our decisions (particularly in regard to ethics and social responsibility).
  • I travel to lead workshops and retreats on the book that Graham Power and I wrote together called 'Transform your work life: Turn your ordinary day into an extraordinary calling'
  • I consult to individuals and companies who are serious about finding God's direction, guidance, and will for their lives and their resources.  I help to reshape both individuals and structures for greater significance in God's Kingdom.


Of course I perform a myriad of more mundane tasks that relate to budgest, meetings, planning, strategy, correspondance etc.

What is central to everything that I do as a Chaplain is the understanding that 'work can be worship' (Col 3.23).  And the little phrase I often use which says:

While some are called to pastor congregations, everyone is called to ministry.

I'd love to hear your ideas, feedback!  Do you do something similar?  Do you long to do something similar?  Have you got any creative ideas or inputs that could shape and form such a ministry?


Prayer, social action and change.

Some years ago I wrote an article entitled 'Prayer, compassion and social change: Towards an understanding of prayer and spiritual activity as a praxis transformative of the individual and society'.

It's a mouthful, I know, but then what would the academy be if it is was not at least a little verbose!  ha ha!  The point of the article was to show how prayer and spiritual discipline are critical elements for individual and social transformation.

The following little quote reminded me that article:

Prayer is not an old woman's idle amusement. Properly understood and applied, it is the most potent instrument of action.  

- Mohandas Gandhi

Here's the abstract for the article:

This paper will argue that prayer and spiritual activity are not only effective means for transformation, but that they form a sound basis for all forms of personal and social transformation.

In order to develop this argument it is essential to start with a brief explanation of an emerging paradigm of reality.  In brief, this paradigm bridges the gap that has been created between creation and redemption.  The new paradigm no longer separates God’s ongoing work of creation from God’s activity of redemption.  Understanding this notion forms an essential basis for investigating how and why prayer, compassion and contemplative activity are effective in bringing about transformation, in both the individual and in society.

This paper will show, that prayer or contemplative activity is an extremely important starting point for embarking on any form of transformation or social change.  It will show that prayer puts one in touch with the source and goal of true transformation.  Along with this, it will be argued that true transformation takes place physically and spiritually (since the two can not be separated).  In the past great emphasis has been placed on mere physical action to bring about social change.  This paper attempts to show that true transformation or social change requires some measure of spiritual activity and awareness in order to bring about meaningful and holistic changes to individuals and societies.

It is in this sense that prayer and spiritual activity act as transformative praxis of self and society.

It was quite an interesting article since I attempted to bring together elements of traditional spirituality (with a focus upon the discipline of prayer and Christian meditation) and tie it in with elements of quantum theory, consciousness studies, some sociology and integrative theory.

I'd love to hear your thoughts (if you do read it!)  I have long since progressed to more subtle and intricate understandings of Wilber's thoughts on holarchy (of course Wilber has published a great deal in the past few years on this subject).

You can download the paper here.


Is God a heretic?

In Mark 2.13-17 to we read one of the many accounts in the Gospels where Jesus was judged by the Pharisees for fraternizing with sinners.

There is little doubt that the religious establishment of his day thought that Jesus was a heretic!

I was reminded of this today as I was speaking to a friend about one of my little books 'Christ at the centre - discovering the cosmic Christ in the spirituality of Bede Griffiths'.  We were remarking how different Fr Bede's Christology was from that of his friend CS Lewis.  In fact, Fr Bede's theology developed in a very different way to CS Lewis' - I think that it may be because each of the men honoured the context in which they served Christ.  Lewis formed his faith in the University City of Oxford, while Griffiths formed his faith as a missionary monk in Southern India.  Both were committed to Jesus, yet that commitment found expression in quite different ways.

I was milling over our conversation as I was driving to a meeting at the University of Stellenbosch (where I was to give input into a new Master's degree for ministry practitioners).  My thoughts turned to two rather strange questions:

1)  I wonder how the contemporary Church would 'judge' God's radically gracious theology?

2) Would we, like the pharisees of Jesus' time, consider God to be heretic?

Here's a video I recorded while driving.

In the December 2008 volume of the Journal STUDIA HISTORIAE ECCLESIASTICAE I did a review on Richard Burridge's wonderful book 'Imitating Jesus: An inclusive approach to New Testament ethics' - Burridge makes an interesting point in his book, one that I tend to agree with.  He notes that if we read the words of Jesus (his teaching) we will see that he had a rather stringent ethic, a high set of moral standards.  Yet if we observe the actions of Jesus we will find that he acts far more graciously.  It is not a matter of incongruence, or cognitive dissonance, rather it is that the teaching of 'the law' finds it's fullest expression in a life of loving grace.

Perhaps the contemporary Church, and many Christians, have become too caught up in the stringency of 'the law' and have not held on to a lifestyle of loving grace.

Perhaps we would consider God to be unorthodox, maybe even a heretic? What do you think?

As for me, I am trying to be a little more like Jesus every day! I want His love for this world to run through my speech, my thoughts and my actions.  Some may find the company that I keep difficult to bear, the may even call me unorthodox, perhaps even a heretic!


Could this be true? Study shows atheists know more about religion than professed believers.

Boing Boing is reporting the findings of an American study which shows that atheists have greater knowledge of some elements of religions than the followers of those faiths.  Boing Boing's report makes for interesting reading! However, what it fails to mention is that that while atheists may have far greater knowledge about certain elements of various faiths (by virtue of the fact that they would justify their stance by having reasons to support their lack of belief), surely they cannot have a better general, or overall, understanding of the subtleties of a particular religion?

For example, while many atheists may know some interesting facts about the creation narrative (I have even heard some atheist friends quoting words and portions of verses from the original Hebrew text to make a point), it is unlikely that they would have equitable 'technical' knowledge about others elements of a particular faith, e.g., the emphases of compassion, goodness, or love as expressed in those faith traditions.

Regardless, this is a an interesting article.  What do you think - is it true, do atheists know more about religion than professing believers?

A new Pew survey on religion in America finds that atheists and agnostics are more likely to be well-versed about different religions' beliefs and practices than people who profess a belief in those religions. For example, atheists and agnostics are more likely to know that during Communion (Catholicism's central rite), the wafer and wine are meant to transubstantiate into the literal flesh and blood of Christ -- they aren't merely symbolic, as 40% of Catholics believe. Atheists and agnostics are also more likely than Protestants to know that Martin Luther sparked the Protestant Reformation (the majority of Protestants could not identify him).

Interestingly, Mormons are, on average, better versed on the traditional New Testament Bible than evangelical Christians and mainstream Christians, many of whom consider Mormonism to be apostasy.

American atheists and agnostics tend to be people who grew up in a religious tradition and consciously gave it up, often after a great deal of reflection and study, said Alan Cooperman, associate director for research at the Pew Forum.

"These are people who thought a lot about religion," he said. "They're not indifferent. They care about it."

Atheists and agnostics also tend to be relatively well educated, and the survey found, not surprisingly, that the most knowledgeable people were also the best educated. However, it said that atheists and agnostics also outperformed believers who had a similar level of education.

The groups at the top of the U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey were followed, in order, by white evangelical Protestants, white Catholics, white mainline Protestants, people who were unaffiliated with any faith (but not atheist or agnostic), black Protestants and Latino Catholics.

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