Dion's random ramblings

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

'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, October 05, 2007

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.

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Sunday, September 23, 2007

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!

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Tuesday, September 04, 2007

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!

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Friday, August 24, 2007

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:



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,


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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.

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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.)

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Thursday, August 23, 2007

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.

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Thursday, August 16, 2007

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

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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

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!?

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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!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sunday, August 05, 2007

I'm a black, African-Christian, social-activist, and proud of it!

Yep, that's right, I'm proud to be a black, African-Christian, social activist! If that doesn't make sense then please read my paper below. I prepared it for the Oxford Institute where I will deliver it in the Systematic Theology working group.

You can download the paper here:

Dr Dion Forster - Oxford Institute 2007.doc

Here's the real title and abstract.

Title: The appropriation of Wesleyan pragmatism and social holiness in Southern African Methodism. By Dr Dion Forster

Abstract: While Wesleyan theology shares many core elements throughout the world, there can be little doubt that it finds rich and diverse application and expression in the many varied contexts in which Methodism has taken root.

This paper will present an overview of the application, and unique expression, of Christian Perfection as it has taken shape within Methodism in Southern Africa. Christianity, and in particular Methodism, is a dominant faith perspective in Southern Africa. This phenomenon, it will be argued, is largely due to the pragmatic nature of Wesleyan theology, and its emphasis on social holiness. This research aims to add value to the corpus of global Methodist Theology that tends to be dominated by western theological perspectives. Thus a new perspective on Methodist theology will be given by means of articulating the unique tenets of Southern African Methodist Theology. Insights gained from this study may be of value in similar contexts where Methodist theology is seeking to find a unique, and contextually relevant, expression. Moreover, understanding how Methodist theology is being shaped in the two-thirds world, an area in which Methodism is growing, may give some valuable indicators for the formulation and expression of Methodist theology elsewhere in the world.

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Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Getting into the theological journey of a lifetime! You could never be the same again.

A friend of mine (zoob) emailed me this morning to ask for some advice about getting into Stanley Hauerwas. I thought I would post my response here. Once again, I would suggest that you cannot be a serious contemporary theologian without reading some Hauerwas! Come on, engage me on this!

Thanks for the mail. Wow, you are in for a spectacular ride!!! I would suggest that you simply cannot get by without getting yourself a copy of the 'Hauerwas Reader' Check out Angus' review here There is also a direct link from his post to order it from Kalahari. This book has a representative selection of his own essays and chapters from books, so it will give you a superb insight into his theology... In particular you should read the chapter in it which is entitled something like "Why gays (as a group) are morally superior to Christians (as a group)"... I don't have my book here with me in the office to give you the exact title. However he makes an incredibly creative argument for pacifism based on sexual orientation and US's hunger for war! Incredible!!!

Hauerwas is a MIND BEND! He will revolutionize your theology in a way you have not yet thought possible.

Another exceptional read is his Gifford lecture series called "With the grain of the Universe" (SCM Press, 2001). I would also suggest some reading for Easter, "The cross shattered Christ" (2007).

A fourth book to read is his 'festschrift' called "God truth and witness: Engaging Stanley Hauerwas" - Neville wrote a chapter in the book!!! How incredle is that!? In this chapter he relates Hauerwas ethics (and his notion of community and expression of his eclessiology) to what is happening in the Church in South Africa. An incredible read - it was the first time that I actually began to want to Barth by the way! Up to this point I had been a firm Kung and Rahner person.
If anyone else has some suggestions to make here (Wessel, Angus, Neville?) please post a comment. Blessings, D.

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Thursday, June 28, 2007

Meetings, musings, and much less important things...

Today we ended the June General Committee meeting of the Education for Ministry and Mission Unit. These are always incredibly stressful meetings since we have the responsibility of making some very tough and conflicted decisions about the lives of our student ministers.

Thank God the meetings are done, the Theological Society is finished (week before), now I look forward to hosting some visitors from Cambridge in the UK, Garret in Chicago (US), and a Colleague from Detroit! Visitors are always a wonderful blessing. They bring new insights, energy, and a great sense of connectedness with this great wide world, and God's great church all over the world.

Just to mention three books that I am currently reading that are SO worthwhile (each for different reasons).

Firstly, I would strongly encourage all of you who are seeking a fresh and novel approach to orthodox Christian Theology to read Brian Mclaren's 2004 book "A generous orthodoxy". This has truly been the most encouraging, and gently presented, approach to Christian truth and the cause of the Gospel of the Kingdom of God that I have read in a long while. It is set to be my book of the year!

Secondly, I have been reading (for a book review in the Journal 'Studia Historiae Ecclesiasticae') a centenary festschrift on Cardinal Yves Congar edited by Gabriel Flynn, entitled "Yves Congar: Theologian of the Church" (2005). It has reminded me again of the discipline of working for the reform and renewal of the Church from within its fellowship. Congar was a leading light in Vatican II, a contemporary of Bernard Longeran, Karl Rahner, and Courtney Murray. His ecclesiology has lead in large part to the Catholic church's renewed ecclesiology and role for an 'educated laity' in the formulation and renewal of the evangelisation of the world.

Lastly, I have been reading a book by my favourite author, Bill Bryson, entitled "The life and times of the thunderbolt kid" (2006). This has to be one of the funniest, and most poignant, books I have read in a very long time. I have laughed so hard that I have almost bust a stitch!

Oh, and for the gadget freaks, take a look at this GREAT video review of the iPhone that gets released tomorrow evening in the US!

It was put together by David Pogue, a Mac fanatic with a great sense of humour.

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Monday, June 25, 2007

The paper I presented at the Theological Society of South Africa.

There are few things quite as boring as sitting through some strange man telling you all about neurons, dendrites, objective and subjective reality, quadrants, hierarchies and a host of things that would normally put the average person to sleep...

However, whilst there are few things as boring as being PRESENT to hear a paper, the one SURE FIRE thing that IS MORE BORING is reading someone else's BORING paper.... Ha ha!

So, I just wanted to announce that there will be a test for all my friends (particularly for those of you on facebook that keep poking me!) So you had better start reading the paper (all 31 pages of it) or else you may not go to heaven! What do you think Wessel, is that a fair soteriology!?

So, click here to download the BORING paper!

Do South Africans exist.doc

Here's the Abstract (hint - study this and you should be able to pass the test ;-)

A generous ontology: Identity as a process of intersubjective discovery - An African theological contribution.

The answer to the question "who am I?" is of fundamental importance to being human. Answers to this question have traditionally been sought from various disciplines and sources, these include empirical sources such as biology and sociology, and phenomenological sources such as psychology and religion. Although the approaches are varied they have the notion of foundational truth, whether from an objective, or subjective, perspective in common. The question in the title of this paper comes from the title of a book by WITS academic, Ivor Chipkin, entitled, "Do South Africans Exist? Nationalism, Democracy and the Identity of 'the People'" (2007). This paper will not discuss Chipkin?s thoughts on nationalism and democracy in any detail, however it will consider the matter of human identity that is raised by his question. The approach that this papers takes on the notion of identity is significantly influenced by Brian McLaren?s postmodernist approach to Christian doctrine as outlined in his book "A generous orthodoxy" (2004) - a term coined by Yale Theologian Hans Frei. The inadequacies of traditional approaches to human identity and consciousness that are based upon 'foundational knowledge' will thus be considered. Both subjective and objective approaches will be touched upon, showing the weaknesses of these approaches in dealing with the complex nature of true human identity. The paper will then go on to present an integrative framework for individual consciousness that is not static or ultimately quantifiable, rather it is formulated in the process of mutual discover that arises from a shared journey. The approach presented here draws strongly upon the groundbreaking work of Ken Wilber and Eugene de Quincey and relates their ontlogical systems to the intersubjective approach to identity that can be found in the African philosophy of ubuntu. This paper will show how the ethics and theology of this indigenous knowledge system can contribute toward overcoming the impasse of validating individual identity and consciousness.

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Take a look at this....

This book arrived in my post on Friday... What's so special about it!? Well, isn't it a nice cover?

Check out the last name and title of the chapter on the left hand side page (you may have to click on the image to enlarge it), and the fourth name and description on the right hand side page! ha ha, that's the great thing about this book with the rather 'generic' cover... I have a chapter published in it! I presented a paper on consciousness, identity, and Africa Theology (particularly the ethics of ubuntu) and it was published in the book. It is wonderful (and vain - Lord forgive me) to see one's name in print!

So, there we go! Have a blessed week!

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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

A resource for Society Stewards and Circuit Stewards (sometimes called Elders) in Methodist Churches

I have just completed writing up a little resource for Society Stewards and Circuit Stewards (sometimes called Elders) in Methodist Churches.

This document is an attempt at laying a foundational theology for the ministry of these important lay persons in our Methodist Churches. My document draws on four primary sources (all listed of course):

1. Tim Attwell's ecclesiology paper for DEWCOM.

2. My document that discusses orders of ministry (with particular reference to Ordained Deacons in the MCSA), also prepared for DEWCOM.

3. A superb little booklet written by Ken Leverton (from which almost the entire last point comes) - "Your ministry as a Steward" Leverton, K, 1996:21. Methodist Publishing House. Cape Town. Sadly this little booklet is currently out of print (hence the need for my little document).

4. The Laws and Discipline of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa (10th Edition! Note the edition number please, I did not have the 11th edition at the time of writing. As soon as I get a copy, I'll update the references).

So, here's the document entitled:

Your ministry as a Steward in the Methodist Church of Southern Africa.doc

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Sunday, May 27, 2007

Let's talk! Homosexuality and the Bible.

This evening I met with some of the senior members of our congregation to give an account of my stance on the same sex issue.

They were wonderfully gracious, incredibly understanding, and treated the subject, and me, with earnest and sincere integrity, seeking to understand, yet at the same time having the freedom to disagree when feeling inclined to do so. Thank you for your grace and understanding. Whilst we are not all on the same page with regards to an appropriate Christian response to persons of a same sex orientation, we are on the same page with regards to our love for Christ, our desire to see the Church remain one and undivided, and the fact that Christian scripture is authoritative and is the primary source of God's revelation.

Of course, each one of us approaches that same sacred text from very different perspectives, with a different life's history, differing experiences of the same God, and so also with different 'interpretive lenses' that shape what we read, and how we read and apply the text in our lives. This is often the source of misunderstanding. So let me say a few things about the lenses that inform my approach to God's Word.

I for one accept that all of scripture is God breathed (or God inspired), as the Word of God, however, I know that I have come to understand certain texts as being fundamentally culturally and contextually bound and so such texts are in need of some interpretation (for example those texts that suggest that women should not speak in Church, or that Christians may own slaves and still honour God in doing so, or some of the Old Testament dietary laws relating to pork etc.). I accept, without too much effort, that these elements of the Bible need to be understood as addressing particular cultural and social issues (for example dietary laws helped to keep people healthy - however, pork is no longer dangerous to eat (except of course of your cholesterol is as high as mine is!), injunctions about what is socially acceptable for women to do in the ancient near-east were about maintaining order in worship in a culture that frowned upon women taking a lead when men where present - most of us would certainly agree that society has changed significantly and that very few persons would find a woman in leadership offensive to their faith. And what about ethical statements made to Christian slave owners? These statements were clearly made in a context where ownership of slaves went unquestioned, so the issue is about being humane to those in one's service, not about ownership of others persons.

There are other even clearer examples of Biblical injunctions that many of us would not hesitate to 'interpret' through our 'modern lenses' as being so context bound that God would certainly not expect that we apply them unquestioningly. Let me list a few examples of texts in the Bible that I choose some interpretive license with - for example the expectation that I am entitled to sell my lazy daughter into slavery [Ex 21:9] (after all at what age does she become productive? How should I measure her productivity in this day and age? Would I not be transgressing Paul's injunction in Romans 13 to obey government laws by putting a child to work in this day and age? If so, which law do I obey, Exodus or Romans?), or what about my neighbour who works on the Sabbath, she is a nurse, Ex 35:20 says that she should be put to death for doing so. Does God really still expect me to do this? If so, what would you suggest is the best possible way to do it? Or what about the fact that the senior pastor of my Church should not be allowed to go near the altar, or even enter the temple, since he does not have perfect 20/20 vision (he wears glasses as proof of that fact) which is clearly prohibited by Lev 21:20.... and the list goes on. These examples, however, help to make my point. I hope that you will agree that we all choose some measure of interpretation when it comes to the Bible. Consistency in interpretation would thus seem to be the only integral approach in such a reality.

Now please hear me, that this does not mean that we must throw such texts out of the Canon of scripture, or that the Bible does not still maintain its authority! No, rather it means that we MUST always approach the text with a great deal of humility, sensitivity, and rigor, being constantly dependent upon the God who breathes authority into the text, and Christ who is the true Word, to help us understand God's will and desire through the texts that we read.

Please could I encourage those who wish to understand why I hold the views that I do, particularly in relation to sacred Scripture, to read the article below? It is not very long, but it will help you to understand the 'lens' that shapes my reading of the 5 texts that are usually associated with homosexuality and the Bible.

I am not asking that you change your mind, but simply that you understand that my position is based upon a deep conviction that has been shaped by much searching, committed prayer, and what I believe to be a far more responsible approach to scripture - letting the text tell me things, rather than trying to tell scripture what I want it to say to support my individual, or society's, prejudice.

Of course there are many other things, and people, who have helped me to understand that God loves gay people. However, that is the content of another post.

Here's the article: Walter Wink homosexuality and the Bible.rtf. It is in Rich Text Font (RTF) format. You should be able to open it in MS Word.

Once you've read it, let's talk! My great desire is to be obedient to God, and to be effectively used by God, to share grace and love in God's world. Please feel free to post comments. I promise to hear you with the same integrity and respect that I ask from you. However, please do read the article before posting.

Together with you in Christ,


PS. Please excuse the poor formatting in the Walter Wink article. I scanned it from a paper copy I got some years ago.

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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

What is the 'emerging church'?

My friend Arthur, who is the Children's Pastor at Bryanston Methodist Church, sent me an email about the emerging Church. WOW Art, this blows my mind! AND...., your blog needs updating.....

What is the emerging Church? Here's a quote from the paper you can download below:

Perhaps a little Mark Twain tomfoolery will give us a fresh start. Here's the urban legend: The emerging movement talks like Lutherans - which means they cuss and use naughty words; they evangelize and theologize like the Reformed - which means, in the first case, they don't do much of it, and in the second, they do it all the time; they confess their faith like the mainliners - which means they say things publicly they don't really believe in their hearts; they drink like Episcopalians - which means - to steal some words from Mark Twain - they are teetotalers sometimes - when it is judicious to be one; they worship like the charismatics - which means with each part of the body, some parts of which have tattoos; they vote liberal - which means they all move to Massachusetts come election time; they deny truth - which means Derrida is carried in their backpacks.

Ha! Isn't that GREAT! I loved the bit about worshiping with every part of the body, "some of which have tattoos"!

Download Scot McKnight's address to the Westminster Theological Seminary on the emerging Church here. (Gus, you and I will enjoy this guy, he is a progressive New Testament scholar! Very few of those around! Except you and I of course ;-)

Wes, I would love to hear your learned thoughts (being a Doctor of the ecclesiological arts yourself).

The article is a GREAT read, and certainly resonates with my idea of what the Church should be! I will be using some of this when I preach at the Highveld and Swaziland SYNOD of the Methodist Church in a few weeks!

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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

A biased perspective... An attempt at reading the scritupres through a women's eyes - Women and ministry.

I am seldom without an opinion... Or at least that's what Megie tells me! Ha ha.

Last week on Friday I combined my New Testament 2 class (with whom I am currently doing an introduction to the Pauline and pseudo-Pauline epistles and letters), and my Systematic Theology 1 class (with whom I am currently doing contextual theologies, such a liberation theology, feminist theology, and black theology).

We got together to study the topic of 'women in the ministry'. For those who are not familiar with the debate - two thirds of the Christians (that is Roman Catholic Christians) do not accept the ordination of women to presbuteral ministry i.e., they will not ordain women as priests. Moreover, for those who know anything about African culture, you will know that African men (particularly Xhosa and Zulu men) who hold to their ancient traditions are very patriarchal. This often means that women have a great deal to contend with when they enter the ministry in South Africa, not only do they have to face opposition from other Christian denominations, they also face cultural opposition.

So, here's what I did. I brought my two classes together. Just less than half of the students in these two classes are women. I then gave them an opportunity to prepare a debate on women in the ministry. However, I got the women to argue that women SHOULD NOT be allowed to be ordained, and the men to argue that WOMEN MUST be ordained to ministry. It was a lively and creative interaction!

Here is a little paper that I wrote to hand out to the students.

Women in Ministry 2007.doc (it is a small document in MS Word format).

It is an attempt at approaching the scriptures from a womanist perspective (in other words, I attempt to read the scriptures with the perspective of women who are called to ministry in mind).

Let me know what your thoughts are on the subject, and on the paper!



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Monday, March 26, 2007

A theology of the ministry of an ordained Deacon in the MCSA.

One of the great joys that I have is serving as the co-ordinator of training for persons who are training towards ordination for the ministry of word and service in the MCSA.

For those who are not aware, the MCSA ordains persons to the ministry of word and sacrament (called presbyters, the are most commonly ministers of local Churches, often called by the title Reverend), and then the Church also ordains persons who are called to the ministry of word and service (these persons are addressed by the title deacon).

The ministry of word and service is an incredibly high calling that has its roots right back in the early Church of Acts. Of course it can trace its character back to the ministry of Jesus, who was perhaps the very first Christian deacon. Jesus said that he came not to be served but to serve.

Sadly, deacons are often treated like 'second class' presbyters. This is most often because they do not administer the sacraments of baptism and the eucharist. The result has been that the Convocation of the order of deacons has requested, on numerous occasions, to allow ordained deacons to preside as ministers over the sacraments (particularly the sacrament of Holy Communion). This is also a pragmatic need since deacons are most often visiting the sick, the elderly and such persons that cannot come to a regular service of worship.

However, if one were to make such a concession it would require some significant theological gymnastics to sustain a credible position in its favour. As a result I was asked to prepare a discussion / position, paper on deacons and the sacraments in the MCSA.

This paper take the point of departure that there are three co-equal ministries in the Church (taking the triune God as a point of departure). These three ministries (the ministry of the lay, the ministry of ordained presbyters and the ministry of ordained deacons) are mutually interdependent, and of equal necessity and value in achieving God's mission for the Church.

Moreover, the paper argues that the traditional translation of the Biblical Greek words diakonos (acts of service) and diakon (the one who serves) have been inaccurate. You can read the paper for the finer points of this argument. The essence is that a deacon is not only a servant (in the Biblical sense), but more particularly an 'emissary servant', one who is sent to represent the King.

Here is the paper. It will be of particular use to persons who are considering offering for the ordained ministry and are unsure of whether God is calling them to be ordained presbyters or deacons. It will also be of use to deacons and presbyters who are getting ordained this year and need to write the assignment on the uniqueness and distinctiveness of each of these forms of ministry.

Deacons and sacraments.doc (MS Word document 88 Kb). NB! Students, please use accurate references when using sources from this document!

Please pray for us as we go to the Doctrine, Ethics, and Worship Commission meetings of the MCSA this week (DEWCOM). Amongst other things we will be deliberating on Same Sex Unions, Abortion, a theology of Mission, Human Sexuality and Marriage and a host of other important doctrinal issues.

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Tuesday, December 26, 2006

The Pope get's it right!

I am not a huge fan of Pope Benedict the XVI. In his previous position, as the Cardinal in charge of the 'Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith', he silenced many of the most progressive and sensible theologians of our time (these in include Hans Kung and Leonardo Boff).

However, there is no doubt that he is one of the most astute theologians of our time. He is well read, extremely intelligent, and has the power and authority to change trends in global theological discourse, and of course political and economic policy.

As a result I always try to read the Pope's Christmas address. I loved the central message of his address this year. I quote:

Pope Benedict said in his Christmas message on Monday that mankind [sic] [should read humankind], which has reached other planets and worships technology, cannot live without God or turn its back on the hungry.

I would encourage all my students, friends, and fellow Christians to read the superb summary on the CNN website. You can find a synopsis of Pope Benedict's message

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