01 March 2018 Photo Eugene Seegers
Theological faculty highlights reconciliation as Biblical imperative
Prof Bram van de Beek (Liturgist; Emeritus Professor, VU Amsterdam); Prof Fanie Snyman (Dean: Faculty of Theology and Religion, UFS); Prof Nelus Niemandt (Guest speaker; Department: Science of Religion and Missiology, University of Pretoria); and Prof Mary-Anne Plaatjies-Van Huffel (Guest speaker; Department of Systematic Theology and Ecclesiology, University of Stellenbosch) at the UFS theological faculty’s official opening in Bloemfontein.

Does the current South African context and reality still allow for discussions around the topic of forgiveness and reconciliation? This was one of the themes discussed at the annual opening and Theological Day of the Faculty of Theology and Religion at the University of the Free State (UFS), which experienced a record attendance figure this year.

After welcoming staff members from the broader university community and from within the faculty, as well as guest speakers and international visitors such as Prof Bram van de Beek from the Free University Amsterdam (the Netherlands) and Dr Stefan Fischer from the University of Vienna (Austria), Prof Fanie Snyman, Dean of the faculty, stated, “We want to welcome pastors, dominees, reverends, fathers, spiritual leaders from a variety of church denominations.” He added, “I would also like to extend a special word of welcome to alumni of this faculty, who have kept their interest in our faculty alive by being present here.”

Reconciliation: Biblical imperative
In his sermon, Prof Bram van de Beek (VU Amsterdam) pointed out that “reconciliation is the Christian way, the way of love; therefore, to serve others should be more important to us than serving ourselves.” He explained further that, as humans, we run the risk of merely thinking about what is best for us, but to be true followers of Christ, we need to let others take priority.

Prof Mary-Anne Plaatjies-Van Huffel from the Department of Systematic Theology and Ecclesiology at the University of Stellenbosch’s Faculty of Theology spoke on Moving from forgiveness to reconciliation—Reconciliation as a fundamental Biblical category. She expanded on the Old Testament understanding of reconciliation as a means of repentance, atonement, and — ultimately — forgiveness.

The Jewish festivals of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, as well as the Biblical events recorded between Jacob and Esau in Genesis Chapter 33 were cited as examples of this understanding. Prof Plaatjies-Van Huffel said, “Having to face a painful past is a prerequisite for reconciliation,” adding that “broken relationships are only restored by the grace of God, who is the Author of reconciliation.” However, the responsibility for carrying out this message to the world belongs to each Christian, who must individually actuate divine reconciliation by the example they set, she concluded.

The reality of the post-Zuma South African landscape
Prof Nelus Niemandt, from the Department of Science of Religion and Missiology at the University of Pretoria, presented a paper entitled Competing narraphors in the post-Zuma landscape. His presentation painted a vivid narrative of the enormously complex time of rapid, radical change with which we as humans are ill-equipped to cope or to which we cannot adapt quickly enough. He highlighted several examples of the paradoxes evident in the world today, such as our mobile worldwide society versus the mass displacement of humans which creates migrants and strangers across the globe, or a growing super-diversity that feeds increased nationalism, racism, or fundamentalism, all of which challenge any preconceptions we may have of reconciliation.

He concluded with this expression: “My hope is that the Faculty of Theology and Religion at the UFS will be such eloquent storytellers that they will shape the imagination with narraphors of Christ’s future Kingdom.”