Yesterday Parush and I attended our respective section meetings at Vrije Universiteit (VU). We now have 29 IBTSC Amsterdam whose proposal have been accepted by VU and are now part of their/our PhD Research Programme. In the next year we anticipate that two or three will graduate and that by the end of the year several more will be officially registered.
Following our meetings we attended the annual Abraham Kuyper lecture at VU. This was delivered by Richard J. Mouw,
formerly President of Fuller Theological Seminary and one time visiting Professor at the Free University. The title of his lecture was ‘Of Pagan Festivals and Meta-Narratives: Recovering the Awareness of our Shared Humanity’. His basic argument was that Kuyper’s view of common grace should open us up to appreciating the shared humanity we have with others. He argued that for Kuyper, while Christian fellowship may be considered a special relationship our shared Christian particularity was only one root of this fellowship the other being our shared humanity in which the Holy Spirit is also active.
He also went on to argue that the formative practice of Christian fellowship should shape in us such an openness to others.
Without debating the particular reading of Kuyper’s Calvinistic theology I want to reflect on the idea that if our worship practices are formative, an idea commonly asserted at the moment by such as James K. Smith (although I think that this requires some discussion), then they are of course possible of shaping our ideas and actions negatively as well as positively. In this respect work by Siobhán Garrigan in The Real Peace Process: Worship Politics and the End of Sectarianism (London:Equinox, 2010) demonstrates the way in which liturgies and worship can develop a hostility towards rather than an openness to others. This being the case, the question I posed to Professor Mouw was what practices can we introduce to our worship to ensure that they form ’empathy’ towards others rather than disregard?
His own answer in the limited time picked up on my suggestion about the significance of intercessory prayer for the world – as one practice that expands our interests although of course this in turn begs the question of ‘who’ do we pray for in our common prayers and ‘how’ do we pray for them? For the way in which we pray for others can of course reinforce difference rather than affirm a shared humanity recognized as a theological conviction.
It was a fascinating and clearly presented lecture which invites further reflection not simply in relation to academic discussion but in relation to our church practices including prayer. The opportunity to attend and participate in such activities is one of our present benefits from IBTSC being a collaborative centre within the faculty of theology of the VU Amsterdam.