The Christ-Light

On the occasion of the Opening Academic Year 2022-2023 Evangelische Theologische Faculteit, Leuven, 26 september 2022

The energy bills. These have gone from being a perfectly normal phenomenon to being the subject of a crisis. An energy crisis.

Crisis. A word that today fills all news headlines worldwide. But for each person, the word crisis will refer to something different. One person will connect it with an economic crisis that has a direct impact on his own household budget. For others, it’s about an ecological crisis. For another it’s about a war crisis that made her a refugee overnight. Some will think, indeed, primarily of an energy crisis, where others will immediately think of the Covid-19 crisis that brought sickness and death to the family. There will also be those who link crisis to a very personal existential experience: an experience that will not make the headlines but that can just as easily determine the course of life.

Existential experiences and existential questions are object of theological reflection and research. Thus, on a surface level, one could say that theology is super relevant in a time and context of crises. At the same time, academic theology itself, at least in this part of the world, seems to be in crisis. A theology in crisis is described and explained by Professor Miroslav Volf in his foreword to our academic anniversary volume “The Vitality of Evangelical Theology.” One of the reasons to speak of a crisis of theology is the insufficient or unsatisfactorily answered question of the relevance of theology. How relevant is theology nowadays?

How relevant is theology? What is theology good for? Answers to that question quickly point to current and future challenges in church and society that theology has to anticipate; and on which theology can have a determining influence. These kinds of answers are exhausting: you have to get yourself moving. You cannot just be a theologian but you have to be a theologian ánd be relevant.

I think what is helpful to not become too tired – constantly looking in the future and seeking relevance – is to not forget to look back and count our blessings.

What is theology good for? Well, let us look back. Then, you observe you are on a road that has been around longer than today and that has already been meaningful for a lot of people. Looking back by listening to alumni, for example. You then notice your faculty has significance. One alumnus for example explains: “the drive and knowledge of teachers, studying with students from all over the world made my studies at ETF Leuven a special time for me.”

If we look back we observe alumni being equipped for their mission by their studies at ETF Leuven: sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. Does this mean, ETF Leuven is relevant? Maybe. More important is this: it has to do with answering a calling. It is this calling from Scripture to share the good news of Jesus Christ that is part of our mission. And that can take many forms: from highly scientific theological work to teaching how to have a good pastoral conversation. And so much more.

Practicing theology in this way is not primarily wanting to be relevant, although there is a great deal of relevance to practicing theology. But it is primarily about answering or helping to answer a calling. And doing so, we are placed on a long road on which we are not the first ones. We can look back and see the fruit of many others.

At the beginning of this new academic year, we must consider for ourselves what our specific calling, our particular vocation is in this particular period of time. In academic theology, in the church and in our position in society. In the light of all these crises that fill the news headlines: the question is not “what is our relevance?” I suggest to let the question be: “what is our vocation?”

One answer to that question became clear to me, was pointed out to me, in a church service very recently where we sang the song “Brother, Sister, Let me Serve You” (Richard Gillard).

Here are two verses from the song: it pictures a shared path and journey. And in this song, between the lines, we are reminded of what God did to humanity in Christ on the long road from then to now.

I will hold the Christ-light for you

In the nighttime of your fear

I will hold my hand out to you

Speak the peace you long to hear

I will weep when you are weeping;

When you laugh I’ll laugh with you

I will share your joy and sorrow,

Till we’ve seen this journey through.

In the midst of the news headlines and the realities they refer to, I wish that all of us will live our lives before the face of God in this way: I will hold the Christ-light for you! And that this will also be a mode in which we will practice our theology. Also here on our campus, where we are placed on a road, a training path, and a research journey where students from different countries are preparing to share the good news of Jesus Christ: in Belgium and in many other places in Europe and beyond.

I wish a theological year where the Christ-light will be held high on various journeys, whether filled with fear and grief and crises, or filled with joy and excitement.

Prof. Dr. A. (Jos) de Kock


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