This has been a year to remember! Forgive me, but this is a bit of a rambling post! Please feel free to skip it if you get bored. I have used this post as an opportunity to re-collect many of the important people, events, places and happenings in 2017.
At the outset I want to say how mindful I am that the blessing of this year comes from the many wonderful people and communities that I am priviliged to be associated with. I have received much more than I deserve, and in many instances, been recognised for work that belongs to a group of persons, not just to me. In addition to this, I am also mindful that any achievement is only worthwhile if it can lead to service. My hope is that the work of this year bears fruit for my students, for the Church I serve, for the people of the world that God so loves, and in some small way may help us to honour and protect the dignity and sanctity of humans and creation. This is about Christ, and community, and undeserved grace.
As I was reflecting on this year I was struck by this beautiful quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s, ‘God is in the manger’:
‘While we endeavor to grow out of our humanity, to leave our human nature behind us, God becomes human, and we must recognize that God wants us also to become human—really human. God raised his love for human beings above every reproach of falsehood and doubt and uncertainty by himself entering into the life of human beings as a human being, by bodily taking upon himself and bearing the nature, essence, guilt, and suffering of human beings. Out of love for human beings, God becomes a human being. This is about the birth of a child, not of the astonishing work of a strong man, not of the bold discovery of a wise man, not of the pious work of a saint. It really is beyond all our understanding: the birth of a child shall bring about the great change, shall bring to all mankind salvation and deliverance.’ – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, God Is In the Manger
I am truly grateful for this year!
It included, my daughter finishing high school and getting accepted to study at Stellenbosch University! Courtney also got her drivers license this year. My wife, Megan, completed a brilliant Masters degree, and my son Liam, is going to Grade 5!
I continued so serve as the Chair of the Department of Systematic Theology and Ecclesiology and the Director of the Beyers Naudé Centre for Public Theology in the Faculty of Theology at Stellenbosch University. I am so grateful for the opportunity to do the work that I do. I truly feel like I am fulfilling my calling and spending my time and energy among magnificent people, doing interesting and worthwhile things – I am in my ‘sweet spot’!
Here are a few of the highlights:
- My book was published: Forster, D.A. 2017. The (im)possibility of forgiveness? An empirical intercultural Bible reading of Matthew 18:15-35. 1st ed. Vol. XI. (Beyers Naudé Centre Series on Public Theology). Stellenbosch, South Africa: SUN Press.
- I was awarded a 2nd PhD from Radboud University in the Netherlands.
- The South African National Research Foundation awarded me an NRF Rating as an internationally recognised academic researcher.
- I was blown away to be awarded a ‘Distinguished Teacher’ award by the University of Stellenbosch in November.
- In January I was priviliged to attended the ‘African Doctoral Academy‘ to do some advanced training on ATLAS.ti (a powerful software package for qualitative empirical research analysis).
- The Wesley Works project nominated me to serve on their Board as a ‘Director at Large’.
- I was also nominated to the executive committee of the newly formed, Methodist Theological Society of South Africa.
- I continued to serve on the executive of the Global Network for Public Theology, and was appointed to the editorial board of the International Journal for Public Theology.
- Being appointed as an Associate of the Allan Gray Centre for Values Based Leadership at the University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business – thanks to my friend Prof Kurt April, he remains an inspiration, a source of encouragement, and blessing.
- I had the rare and magnificent privilege of participant in the G20 meetings in Berlin this year (thank you Prof Peter Petkof). As with the World Economic Forum that I attended in 2015, this was a remarkable event. It was particularly interesting to see how prominent religion and ethics feature in global policy.
- I was also appointed as a fellow of the Berlin Institute for Public Theology at the Humboldt University in Berlin. I am so grateful for Prof Torsten Meireis, a senior academic and senior colleauge who is a great help and inspiration in my academic development. I count it a great honour to work with Torsten.
- In September I was asked to deliver the Stellenbosch University ‘Form Lecture’ on the topic ‘Is forgiveness really possible in South Africa?‘
- The Graduation of my first PHD student at Stellenbosch University, Dr Anna Cho! I am so pleased for Anna – she wrote a magnificent disseration in Biblical ethics. We have also published an academic article together on this theme.
- Another highlight was meeting Prof Jürgen Moltmann and having lunch with him while on his visit to Stellenbosch! Thank you to my friends Prof Julie Claassens and Prof Robert Vosloo, for making this event happen.
- And, as a final highlight to the year I was awarded a place at the 2018 Oxford Institute for Methodist Theological Studies a Pembroke college Oxford. A particular honour is that I was asked to deliver the deliver the “Fernley Hartley Trust” lecture (Methodist Church of Britain) at the Oxford Institute for Methodist Theological Studies on Friday the 17th of August 2018 in Oxford. I’ll post more details in due course. I am already nervous! I am sure that Bishop Ivan Abrahams (President of the World Methodist Council) had something to do with this! Thank you Ivan.
Among my highlights in teaching and learning were:
- Teaching a group of international Doctoral Students at Wesley House, Cambridge University (as part of a joint doctoral program between Wesley House and Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC).
- Teaching two courses (Masters in New Testament and another in Leadership and Ethics) at Radboud University, Holland.
- The University of Cape Town, Graduate School of Business MBA program (Ethical Leadership).
- A seminar (with my friend Sean Temlett) to the University of North Carolina MBA cohort who visited South Africa – this is an amazing group of people! This year was the 2nd time that I was priviliged to join Sean and this group.
- And then of course, my own wonderful students! This year I taught courses in Human Dignity; Public Theology; Modern Theology and Contemporary Theological Trends; Faith and Public Life; Youth and Moral Formation; Apologetics (which includes issues such a faith and science, theodicy, secularism etc.).
Travel and conferences. I travelled a fair amount in 2017 (16 trips, of which 8 were overseas):
- Holland in January for the ordination and commissioning of our wonderful colleague Rev Rineke van Ginkel with whom I work in the Beyers Naudé Centre for Public Theology – I recorded two videos while on that trip here and here. And here is a great interview that Rineke recorded to highlight her work in the Beyers Naudé Centre for Public Theology.
- I was back in Holland in May to teach at Radboud University. While there I also spoke at a conference in Leuven (Belgium) at the invitation of my friend Prof Kobus Kok. Those were two magnificent trips! It was also wonderful to have the time in the evenings (after classes) to just work on the completion of my PHD dissertation. I sent the final full draft for examination on the 14th of May when I departed!
- I visited Germany from 5-23 June to do four things (see these videos here and here). I participated in the Summer School of Stellenbosch University, the Humboldt University and the Universities of the Western Cape and KwaZulu Natal. I also participated in the G20 meetings in Berlin. Then I delivered a Public Lecture at the University of Bamberg (such an amazing medieval city)! Finally, I returned to Berlin for the launch of the Berlin Institute for Public Theology (of which I am a fellow).
- In July I was in Cambridge to teach on the International Doctoral Program at Wesley House, Cambridge University.
- My second last international trip for the year was back to Holland do some doctoral seminars and defend my PHD! That was an absolute blessing and joy, and all the more so since Megan travelled with me! This little fun video shows some of the preperation for the defence and a bit of riding around Radboud University’s campus. And here is a video about the PHD defence and the award of the degree.
- My final trip for 2017 was a wonderful visit to New York, and Princeton University, and then on to the American Academy of Religion in Boston where I delivered a paper and had various meetings with publishers, editorial boards and research projects.
- Within South Africa I participated in the Methodist Theology of Southern Africa founding conference at Seth Mokitimi Methodist Seminary in Pietermaritzburg, I spoke at a conference in Potchefstroom in honour of my Doctoral Supervisor, Prof Jan van der Watt, I spoke at numerous Churches and institutions around South Africa. And of course participated in many conferences at Stellenbosch University (many of which will lead to publications, such as the Forgiveness, Reconciliation and Violence conference, the Religious Freedom conference, the Historical Trauma and Healing of Memory conference etc.)
As I write this I am on leave. There is a great deal to look forward to in 2018! I am due for research leave in 2018 and have been invited to undertake some part of that research leave in Sweden at the University of Gothenburg’s department of Religious Studies and Theology. I will also be spending some time in Oxford for the Oxford Institute for Methodist Theological Studies. And if my Humboldt Stiftung (Fellowship) is successful (please say a prayer!) I shall be spending some months in Berlin! It is my hope that Megie, Courtney and Liam will be able to join me for parts of those trips.
So, as the year ends, I want to give glory to God, express my love for my family, and give thanks to my colleagues and friends. I am truly grateful to share in this journey with each of you. May we continue to offer our selves, our resources, our passion, our training, our intellect, our creativity, and indeed our very lives, for the development of the common good, for justice, for peace, and for fullness of life.
I share my last little video for the year (recorded on the Campus of Princeton University) on the politics of forgiveness with you. May you be blessed at Christmas, revived, renewed, and replenished for what lies ahead.