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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 Theology (96)

Friday
Nov142008

God is not great: How religion poisons everything. AND kissing with bad breath...

I have reading a fascinating book over the last few weeks.  It is entitled "God is not great:  How religion poisons everything" by Christopher Hitchens.  I started reading it out of curiosity and have enjoyed reading it a great deal.  In short, I do NOT share the author's view!  Hitchens describes himself as an anti-theist, rather than an atheist.  Richard Dawkins could be considered an atheist in the popular usage of the term (i.e., he does not believe that God exists).  Hitchens however takes this a step further, not only does he not believe that God exists, but he believes that the belief in God is bad for society and individuals (hence the sub-title of his book 'How religion poisons everything').

Hitchens' book is filled with whit, it is well researched and the argument is largely sound (I would not say that it is valid, but simply that it is sound i.e., it is in keeping with his prejudice and within that context it is carefully pieced together to make his point).  Hitchens sites a number of examples of how religious belief harms freedom of choice and enslaves people to abusive systems of authority and power (whether it be a form of religious belief in a transcendent deity, such as that in Christianity, Islam or Judaism; or some form of 'emperor' worship, such as that in North Korea).  This, in my opinion, is one of the greatest weaknesses of the book - it is devoid of all wonder, mystery and grace.  It assumes that the human intellect is the most noble of all realities, and that everything else in society can somehow be quantified, explained, and reasoned out of the realm of the mysterious.
What makes the book so enjoyable is that Hitchens has put together an admirable collection of injustices on which we would both agree!  I frequently nodded my head, smirked, and thought 'how true' when I read of his accurate and articulate deconstruction of abusive religious practices and inconsistencies between faith and reason.  Hitches is correct, in this point at least, there are so many elements of our human nature that destroy, debase, and denigrate the majesty, beauty and wonder of creation!  In this sense I would carefully venture that I would hope that such a destructive God is indeed dead!
However, I would venture that these are not elements of true faith, rather these are perversions of true faith.  Neither is the god about whom he writes, the true God.  The loving God I have come to know in Christ, the One that I have experienced through the grace of other persons, whom I have marveled over in nature, is not the God of Hitchens' book.  Christ would probably also agree with much of the underlying concern that Hitchens expresses about abusive and destructive religious practices he lists.  I'm sure that God's heart is broken daily by the abuses that we perpetrate in God's loving name!
So, I enjoyed what I have read of the book so far, because it confirmed for me that my experience of the loving God, that experience that is most real in the loving community of the Church, is not the god about whom Hitchens writes.  I hope this doesn't sound smug...  But, the God who lovingly grasped me is NOT dead!  That God is lovingly alive in Jesus Christ.
Should you read this book? Sure!  Why not?  But, don't get caught in the hype - it is entertaining, but that's about all.   If you do read it, do not read it as a dialogue, or to try and disprove Hitchens' argument, since I would venture that his argument is not about true religion, rather it is about the worst of human nature, our capacity to take the most beautiful, life giving, and gracious of all realities and abuse it to divide, discourage, enslave, and destroy.  In conclusion this has been an interesting book that has made me appreciate the glorious love and grace of Christ, and the wonder of his love, even more.  It has also challenged me to think much more carefully about Christian community, what we get right, and the many things that we get wrong.
I long for a Church that attracts people!  A Church that lives the reality of Christ's love!
Ed Silvoso commented in his book 'Transformation' - Preaching the good news without tangible acts of love is like giving someone a kiss when you have bad breath.  No matter how good the kiss is, all the person will remember is that you had bad breath!
Perhaps my faith, and our Church, needs a loving breath mint?

 

Wednesday
Nov072007

'Rapture ready' death freaks discuss their hope for the end of the world... It's sad really... [Video]

One of the things that most scared me about the pre-millennial eschatology of those folks who believe in the rapture was what would happen if I was raptured with them (however, most of those folks tell me (quite frequently) that I don't stand a chance... They seem to think that if I am going anywhere it will be south rather than north)...

However, can imagine the rapture takes place and there is chaos here in earth as cars crash through barriers, flights fall from the sky, and ice cream cones lay melting on the sidewalk (oh the horror!) BUT, there is something even more scary than that... The person who first introduced my delicate mind to the theology of the rapture was wrinkled 100 and something year old Religious Education teacher at my highschool... If the movies (Left behind, et al) are anything to go by then when we are raptured our clothes will be left behind... Can you imagine the horror of seeing my RE teacher naked flying through the sky at 1 million miles an hour....

Nope... It is too scary to imagine. Here's the first video.

This one seems to suggest that I must wear clean underwear all the time... He seems to know when it is happening... Come to think of it, that's not a bad suit. I wonder if I can have that when he goes?

And here's another one -

Two final thoughts.... Considering the post about Joyce Meyer and Benny Hinn... If they get raptured, do you think I can keep their cars? ALSO, a word of advice to preachers, evangelists, and Religious Educators... People tend to respond much more readily to love than they do to fear... Rather preach the Gospel and LEAVE OUT the fear induced flakiness... I think it's the way of Christ....

Then again, I could be wrong!

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Friday
Oct052007

A life unreflected is not worth living - Plato

Last night the students and staff of John Wesley College took time to recognise the gift that God has blessed us with, the gift of Christian community. Dr Jennifer Slater (OP) gave a magnificent address to the leaving students about the relationship between Theology, Spirituality, and Ministry. I shall edit it and upload it over the weekend. It was Jenny who reminded us of the nexus where Theology (head), spirituality (heart) and ministry (hands) meet - they meet in the theological, spiritual, ministerial, discipline of reflection. When the scholar, the minister, the believer, takes time to reflect upon the world, upon God's desire and will for the world, and what role one can play in that great will and plan, then theology, spirituality, and ministry meet one another. The moment we neglect the discipline of regular reflection we will start to see the impact upon all these spheres of our life.

Truly "A life unreflected is not worth living" (Plato).

The Methodist Church of Southern Africa is in very good hands! This year's group of students have shown remarkable commitment to their formation for ministry! They have approached their spirituality, studies, and skills development with an attitude of openness and seriousness. I am certain that among this group will be many of the most significant leaders our denomination will see in the next generation! I has been a joy to share in this lives of these people, and I wish them well as they move back into Churches in the coming months.

Here's a cross post to Wessel Bentley's blog. The text and photos comes from his page.


Class of 2007

Tonight we celebrated the journey of the 2007 students at John Wesley College Kilnerton. I like what I do, but I love being on campus, engaging with students on theological issues. It is always a good feeling to look back and to remember the bewildered eyes, but now to see ministers and theologians who can think, act and preach with confidence. A big thank you to the class of 2007 for your commitment, love and hard work. To the full-time staff at JWC, your loyalty and dedication to ministerial formation is already seen in the ministries of those who have journeyed in this place - as Dion says, the most hallowed of theological institutions.

Class of 2007:

Front Row (L to R)

Joan Jackson (PhD), Larry van der Walt (MTh), Sox Leleki (MTh), Gavin
Taylor (Bishop - DMin), Ruth Jonas (EMMU - MTh), Dion Forster (Dean -
PhD), Neville Richardson (Principal - PhD), Madika Sibeko (EMMU -
MTh), Wessel Bentley (PhD), Morapedi Diutlwileng(MTh), James Massey
(MSc), Marina Malan (MTh)

Second Rown (L to R)

Motshedisi Makhudu, Nomakula Sodo, Kedibone Mofokeng, Vuyelwa
Cimela, Vuyelwa Sebolao (Vice Chair SRC), Luvuyo Sifo (Chair SRC),
Zola Zide, Fundile Mjwacu, Mziwoxolo Mkabeni, Thembeka Mkabeni,
Dipolelo Tlale

Third Row (L to R)

Mashna Sasman, Pius Ntlangulela, Tshegofatso Mokgosi,
Nkululeko Kapiyana, Claude Kimpinde (Treasurer SRC), Jacob
Mokhutso, Barrington Southwood, Christian Mokone, Bongani
Mquqo, Vuyo Ngwenyana

Last Row (L to R)

Phathisiwe Mthi, Siyakudumisa Mbuyazwe, Ryan Killian, Godfey Baqwa,
Thembile Klaas, Phezile Koekoe, Andile Sinandile, Nomathemba Mnanzana

From left to right: Wessel and Dion.


I have also uploaded some photos from my camera. Simply follow the link for photographs from the 2007 JWC Valedictory.

Sunday
Sep232007

When I am not.... Who am I?

This morning my friend Alan Storey and I drove to the Ordination service in Stellenbosch. As we drove we did what friends do, we talked. Alan challenged me with something he said about himself...

Alan will be leaving the Church he planted and built in Midrand at the end of next year. He is so passionate about his ministry and the people there. So I asked him how he felt about placing those people, that ministry, and that place, into the hands of another person. He responded by saying that he has been on a journey to find who 'Alan' truly is, particularly who he is when he is not a minister of the MCSA, when he is not the pastor at Calvary Methodist Church, when he is not a Storey.

He challenged me to ask "Who am I, when I am not..." Who am I when I am not the Dean, when I am not a Doctor? Who am I when no one knows what I do, what my name, or nationality are? Who am I when I am just a face in the crowd? Who am I then?

I would hope that when no one but God knows me, I am only what God wants me to be!

I need to work harder on that... Blessings to all my colleagues who were affirmed in their Ordination today. Blessings particularly to Juan and Dorah!

Tuesday
Sep042007

Seminari Theoloji Malaysia - new friends, learning, and teaching

Yesterday I made a new friend, Rev. Sivin Kit, he is a theologian, and pastor, and to our amazement we found that we have so many things in common! Rev. Kit kindly collected me from Kuala Lumpur at the end of the MPC to bring me to the 'Seminari theoloji Malaysia'. He is a past graduate of the seminary, and now serves as a Lutheran pastor in KL.

As Sivin and I talked I was amazed to discover just how many things we have in common as persons (for one thing we're the same age, but for another we are both avid bloggers! Please take a look at Sivin's blog here: Sivin Kit's Garden. Sivin is also the co-ordinator for 'emergent Malaysia', a network of pastors and laity that are engaged in the conversations of the emergent Church movement. He knows so much more about both the theology, and the ideals, of this movement than I do! What is more, Sivin hosted Brian Mclaren on his visit to Malaysia (I even got to eat in the same restaurant as they ate!) Thanks Sivin for your hospitality, friendship, and patient engagement with me!

The Methodist Prayer Convention ended on a spectacular note on Sunday with a mass worship service of 13 000 Methodists in one of the local stadiums in Kuala Lumpur. This is the first time in the history of Malaysia (a Muslim country) that such a large gathering of Christians has met. The service was wonderful with a diversity of cultures (Malay, Chinese, Tamil, English, and many others) represented both in cultural items and in the liturgy and worship. Bishop Hwa Yung, whom I have come to regard very highly, preached a very challenging charge to us on how we can be faithful to live by faith in challenging circumstances, just as Abraham did. I am greatly encouraged by the conviction, spirituality, and social concern of the Malaysian Methodist Church. It is a very exciting place to be, and of course there are so many wonderful people! I look forward to spending an eternity with these wonderful sisters and brothers in Christ's presence.

Yesterday Sivin collected me to come and do some teaching at STM. A group of 20 or so faculty (for our South African readers, that means lecturers / Professors), alumni, and Masters / Doctoral students, gathered for the day's workshop. I lead two sessions:

  • Social holiness as Christian perfection - the Methodist Church of Southern Africa’s (MCSA’s) response to oppression and violence in Southern Africa. This presentation concentrated more on the contextual history of Southern Africa, and traced both the effects of colonialism and apartheid on society, and charted the MCSA's response to these social phenomena.
  • An Outcomes Based Education (OBE) approach to equipping clergy and laity for ministries of social holiness (‘A Christ healed Africa for the healing of the nations’). This second session was more practical, examining how the MCSA's training processes have sought to equip clergy and laity for the ministry of 'social holiness'.
If you're interested you can download the Powerpoint slides for the two presentations here:
STM Powerpoint.ppt (6MB).

I was so pleased at the incredible discussion and interaction that resulted from the presentations - it would seem that we share many commonalities between South Africa and Malaysia. Issues of race, discrimination, and of course also the issues of poverty, corruption, systemic and social struggles, and a host of other similarities were discussed.

I have included one or two photographs taken by Sivin. Those of you from South Africa will recognise the photo of me doing the 'buffalo hour' posture - afternoon sessions are pretty much the same the world over! A nice lunch, a warm afternoon, and a droning spearker's voice (that's me) set most people's heads nodding! Ha ha! Thanks Sivin for these great reminders of the time with the group.

I have made some wonderful friends here, Dr Ezra Kok (the principal of STM, who studied New Testament under J Dunn at Durham, pictured on the left of the photo below), Mr Cheeseng Yip (a theologian and business man who is the general manager of the seminary, and my gracious host), and Rev Dr Albert Walters (a past faculty member of the seminary, and now an Anglican Parish priest in KL).


Today I will be taking a trip out to the historic city of Malacca. The grave of St Francis Xavier is still in that city, and it has Dutch, Portuguese, and of course many local historical connections.

Well, it is almost time to come home. I have so missed Megie, Courts, and Liam!!!!

I lave Malaysia on Wednesday evening and fly to Singapore, from there I fly to Johannesburg. Upon arrival I head straight for a meeting with Dean Greg Jones (the Dean of the Duke Divinity school) at our Presiding Bishop's office, and then on to a wedding rehearsal out at Muldersdrift for my friends Doctors Andrew and Susan!

My health is good, my spirits are up, and I am looking forward to being home!

Friday
Aug242007

Do 'emergent' church, and post-modernist approaches to Christianity, mean that everything goes!?

My friend Jenny posted an incredibly poignant blog entry about the emergent church movement. When it gets down to it does the emergent movement fall apart because of its lack of boundaries?

Read Jenny's post here.

Here's my response to her in which I try to make a case for two contemporary theological movements that seem to inform the emergent church, i.e., post-liberalism and radical orthodoxy:

Hi J,

I agree, this is the tension between 'everything goes', and 'nothing is allowed'.

Every theology comes with an up side and a down side. The up side of the emergent church is that it allows enough freedom for people who have been constrained by, or hurt by, structures and hard nosed ideals to find a place within the faith. The downside is that it lacks enough structure to be safe for those of us who need it.

I have recently been reading in the areas of 'post liberalism' (who are the 'brains' behind the ideas that inspired the emergent movement) and radical orthodoxy (what I perceive to be a further move beyond post liberalism - with the Anglican theologian John Milbank). Both are very popular movements in contemporary theology.

Among the post liberals you have persons such as Hans Frei and George Lidbeck (from Yale), and my favorite - Stanley Hauerwas from Duke.

Check out the following links for some insights:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Narrative_theology

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radical_orthodoxy

Whilst there are some shortcomings, this still seems to be the most sensible theology for our time. It is a mistake to think that there are no boundaries in this theology, and that everything goes (that is liberalism, and some would say heresy). Rather, this theology asks 'what is truly orthodox?', and also 'why have we believed certain things to be wrong and others to be right?' i.e., do we still believe that this is where the boundaries should be? Or should they be shifted (as opposed to completely doing away with all boundaries, which seems to be a simplistic liberal approach)?

Rather than being unquestioning, which is what most assume, it is asking MORE rigorous questions in the pursuit of real truth... However, many of us (myself included) often feel a little bit uncomfortable with some of the questions that are asked, and also by who is asking them. The questions are no longer framed by respectable old white men from Europe and America. Now they come from young women, people from the two thirds world, young Americans who dislike their society and don't have jobs... Of course their questions are just as valid as those of the 'old theologians' like myself.

I think that this too will change... These radicals will one day become the establishment and a different process will challenge the same old content when that happens. Then, those people will wish for the days when things were their way once again... I guess that's part of being human. Revolutionise the world until it is your world, then build structures to support it (like the oxymoron of an 'emergent' 'church' - church is establishment (i.e., it has already emerged). You know what I mean!? I hope I've been sensible enough with this.

Of course, all this is great for theology! It pushes the boundaries, and stretches our thoughts... But, it is not so great for a person who has been beaten up.

Rich blessings,

Dion

Friday
Aug242007

Have you ever wondered!? What's the difference between Catholic and Protestant heaven?

I met a friend the other day who used that cliched old phrase that Catholics and Protestants have used about one another since just after the Reformation "I guess they're Christians too..." It always makes me want to ask "what makes you so sure that you're a Christian!?"

Something of 'the otherness' of Catholicism, the structure, the depth of the liturgy, the rich symbolism of vestments and icons, has always attracted me as a Protestant... Although, can I tell you a little secret? Can I? I was baptised Catholic! My mom is Irish. So, according to the Pope, even though I am an ordained Methodist minister, I am nothing more than a lapsed Catholic!

So, I guess I'm a Metholic! Ha ha! So, have you ever wondered what the difference between 'Catholic heaven' and 'Protestant heaven' would be? Well, here's a thoroughly sensible, and theologically rich video of the difference between the two!

I know which one I prefer!

Seriously, if you would like a real, and thought provoking, take on joy in the Christian faith, please check out my friend David's wonderful post here: Alternative party plans.

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

My chapter has been published!

Here's a picture of a BRAND NEW book entitled "44 Sermons to serve the present age" edited by my friend Angela Shier-Jones, and Kimberly Reisman.

I have written chapter 23 in it.

The aim of this body of work is to present John Wesley's 44 sermons in an accessible format for contemporary readers that are facing contemporary issues in their own context.

My own chapter interprets the use of money and resources from a Southern Africa Liberation theology perspective. I am so proud to be in the book with other authors such as Angie Shier-Jones, George Freeman, JC Park, Trevor Hudson, Mvume Dandala, Paul Chilcote, Theodore Jennings, Brian Beck, Richard Heitzenrater, Leslie Griffiths and a host of others! This is my first international publication! How cool is that!?

Tuesday
Aug142007

An odd Church!

This morning Matthew Charlton, an American Methodist minister from Nashville, delivered his remarkable paper in our working group. His paper is entitled " “That’s Not So Odd: The Spiritless Church in a Post Christian Age.” (simply click on the link to download it).

In this paper Matthew argues that one of the real problems with the Church in a 'post-Christian' era is that it has become tame, ordinary, and so much a part of society. Of course I asked the question whether we do truly live in a post-Christian era (you only need to look at the Church in the two-thirds world that is growing at a rate of knots to realise that perhaps we are not living in a post-Christian era, but merely in a post Western-Christian era!)

However, Matthew's paper (which is incredibly well written and is WELL WORTH READING - hint, hint to all my students!!!) resonated with a feeling that I had whilst in London. On Saturday I visited St Paul's Cathedral (my New Testament students should be familiar with this image, remember this is the Cathedral that the Queen described as "Awful, amusing, and artificial" after Christopher Wren spent most of his life working on it. I use this as an illustration to show how important it is to understand the context locked language of statements - in Wren's time awful meant to be filled with awe, amusing meant amazing, and artificial meant something that is intricately crafted and well engineered - all in all she was giving him a compliment, of course. The point that I try to make is that the language of the Bible (which is much older, and more context locked than the English of 300 years ago) can be similarly misunderstood and abused).

However, I have digressed!

Matthew's paper reminded me how I felt when I visited St Paul's Cathedral. This is a magnificent testimony to the triumphalism of Christianity some 300 years ago! It was erected at the height of the relationship between Christendom and the empire to offer worship and honour to God! I am certain that over its life it has served as a place of refuge, comfort, inspiration, and even discovery of new life and forgiveness, for many people. However, in 2007 it was nothing more than an oddity! It was something to visit and marvel at. However, for most of the persons who visited it it had nothing to do with faith, with Christ, with death, with sacrifice, with real life. Rather, the building was amusing (in the modern sense of the word!) There are 443 steps to climb to the top (I climbed them all! Here's the picture to prove it! This picture shows the view from the top of St Paul's across the Millennium bridge to the Tate Modern art Gallery along the Thames in London). Sadly, St Paul's does not seem to have space to encounter God. Well, very little of it anyway. Mostly it is just a hustle and bustle with tourists coming to be amazed and amused.

I wondered if the 'institutional' Church of our day is not facing a similar challenge? People look at it and can recognise that at some stage it was grand and glorious, but it is so far from what they need, want, and experience in their everyday lives that they simply regard it as "awful, amusing, and artificial" - in the modern understanding of these words. I think that Matthew's paper, which suggests that the Church needs to be odd (in a very different way to that of St Paul's) gives us some real answers! The Church needs to be odd in discipline, in holiness, in vocation, in mission, in true live. The Church needs to be Spirit filled and Christ lead. It needs, not to be in contrast to the world (like a prophet), but lovingly and evangelically presenting the world with a real alternative that may seem odd, but that brings life - a message of Christ that saves, of a world in which no one person has too much, and no one has too little.

Anyway, I was challenged by this!