Prof Buitendag honoured for his life-long theological contributions

Posted on October 11, 2016


Prof Johan Buitendag, Dean of the Faculty of Theology at the University of Pretoria (UP), received the HCM Fourie honorary award in honour of his exceptional contribution to Biblical Reformed theology and in recognition of his outstanding service as theologian, minister and former chairperson of the General Assembly of the Nederduitsch Hervormde Kerk van Afrika (NHKA).

Prof Buitendag was ordained as minister of the Netherdutch Reformed Church in 1977. During the period 1984 to 1985 he studied under the supervision of the internationally acclaimed Lutheran scholar Friedrich Mildenberger in Erlangen, Germany. He was the first theologian in South Africa who completed a doctoral dissertation about ecotheology. In 1985 he received his DD degree at the University of Pretoria. In 2001 he was appointed as professor in Systematic Theology and Christian Ethics at UP, as Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Theology in 2004 and as Dean in 2010.

His theology is characterised by a dynamic understanding of reality while his theological emphasis is grounded in an ethically responsible life in the presence of God. His ecotheology is particularly relevant to his understanding of time and eternity. He has published numerous academic articles and chapters in books.

With the conferral of this award, the Church mentioned that his contribution to theological training in his role as Dean of the Faculty of Theology at the University of Pretoria, has been invaluable. The award was made to him because, with his critical solidarity he has realised the ideal of what the NHKA expects of a Biblical Reformed theologian. He also led the Church on a path of no return during his chairmanship of the General Church Assembly during 2004 to 2007 and reunited the church with the Reformed family of churches all over the world.

Upon receiving the award, Prof Buitendag pointed out that he has not been responsible for establishing or presenting a well-rounded or even definable theological design. To him, theology is simply too wide, too deep and too high to achieve that. It was through searching and feeling his way that his theological journey developed particular contours.

'My theology is therefore burgeoning in nature. It develops constantly and is gradually expanded and refined. For me, theology is therefore: an understanding of reality or, stated more correctly, a modest effort to be a responsible participant in man’s search for understanding and being understood,' he explained.

At this special occasion, Prof Buitendag shared his personal definition of theology: 'Theology is a scientific attempt by believers in the public sphere to develop an understanding of a multidimensional reality in such a way that it matters'. To him, a university without theology is lame, as universities are spaces where debates and scientific exploration take place, and where new knowledge is developed through intellectual activities and freedom of thought.

In his opinion, theology as a scholarly discipline can indeed contribute to our understanding of reality. 'We have to hear each other and learn from one another. In my opinion, it is logical that theology should be given a place at a university and should be allowed to make a contribution to human’s search for meaning.'



- Author Petronel Fourie

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