The Faculty of Theology at the University of Pretoria, established in 1917, is celebrating its centenary in 2017. This Faculty was not developed from a seminary, but was developed as a Faculty with full academic status since its inception. It is the oldest fully fledged Faculty of Theology in South Africa.
The earliest decisive statement with regard to the nature of the Faculty, which was eagerly pursued at the time, was probably made by the Rev. MJ Goddefroy in 1888 and characterises theological training as of academic deference, i.e. as training provided by a faculty at a university, and not by a seminary:
‘Wij moeten een Hoogeschool hebben – geen Kweekschool ... een kweekschool is tegen ons Ned Herv beginsel. In onze kerk word nooit leeraars toegelaten of zij moesten hunne opleiding aan een werklijke universiteit gehad hebben.’
This illustrates the character of Theology at the University of Pretoria and the premise of intellectual inquiry is an uncompromised value pursued by the Faculty.
The main role players in this Faculty's history of a hundred years were the Netherdutch Reformed Church of Africa (NRCA) since 1917 and the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa (DRCSA) since 1938. The Presbyterian Church of Southern Africa (PCSA) was also involved during the first five years.
On 1 January 2000, the two separate sections amalgamated to establish a multi-ecclesial Faculty, which is currently officially acknowledged as a training institution by the NRSA (NG Kerk), DRCSA (Hervormde Kerk), UPCSA (Uniting Presbyterian Church), EPCSA (Evangelical Presbyterian Church), URCSA (Uniting Reformed Church), ACSA (Anglican Church), FELSISA (Lutheran Church) and CTBS (Baptist Church).
In compliance with the UP 2025 Plan, the Faculty developed a Faculty Research Theme and adopted the challenging concept of Ecodomy as an umbrella term for its focus on Life in its Fullness. Global justice entails the whole of creation, the human and non-human world. With this all-inclusive term the Faculty articulates its vision and its challenges for the next 100 years. It provides for the reconciliatory diversity that the Faculty embraces and actively promotes in all its research, teaching and learning.
The centenary celebrations, of which this prestigious publication is an important component, offer us a wonderful opportunity to re-affirm both the current orientation and the future profile of the Faculty. Two words that come to mind and should, in my opinion, be characteristic of this whole enterprise, are inclusivity and diversity. This is spelled out clearly in the vision and mission of the Faculty:
Vision: To be a faculty recognised for its creative engagement with life-giving theology and religious insight, of service to academia, church and community. Mission: To achieve this, we commit ourselves to –
- providing relevant theological and religious education;
- nurturing transformative leaders;
- undertaking quality research;
- promoting justice, peace, the integrity of creation and a reconciling diversity; and
- engaging with people on the margins of society.
The Centenary Committee has chosen a theme for the celebrations: ‘A gateway to …’ (Afrikaans: ‘Oopmaak van die hekke …’). The Faculty’s mission is to to practise theology in such a way that the love of God reaches all. In the past, the gates were closed to the marginalised because of ideologies such as nationalism, racism, sexism, dogmatism and homophobia. Many theologians at the University of Pretoria were proponents of these, but there were others too. God has opened the gates. The challenge is to acknowledge that God will always open the gates and that, despite resistance, the message will continue to promote radical inclusivity.
Regardless of how important the previous hundred years might have been, the emphasis of any centenary celebrations should be on the next century. History is not a destination, but an orientation. It is a prerequisite for responsible triangulation with regard to the future.
I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude towards Professor Graham Duncan and his team for compiling this excellent publication. He has succeeded in placing the emphasis where it belongs, namely on accessibility and the opening of the gates to ensure an inclusive future.
Professor Johan Buitendag