Academics Spark Discussion in Debrecen

2017. július 20., csütörtök

A high-level conference recently took place in Debrecen, Hungary as part of the city’s Reformation celebrations. Prominent church leaders were in attendance, as well as many important academics who received honorary doctorates from the Debrecen Reformed Theological University in the past. 

High-profile church leaders from the RCH and around the world recently gathered in Debrecen, Hungary from July 9-12 for the Collegium Doctorum event, an international conference commemorating the 500th Anniversary of Reformation. The speakers in attendance had all received honorary doctorates from Debrecen Reformed Theological University and had a unique bond to the school. Speakers discussed topics such as the Old and New Testament, systematic and practical theology, missiology, ecumenical relations, church history, and more. The plenary was opened by Bishop Károly Fekete and Gusztáv Bölcskei, Rector of the University. Below are details regarding the speakers and their fascinating topics brought to the event.

The first input came from Professor Herman Selderhuis, director of the Refo500 program, an international research cooperation of academic institutions. Selderhuis addressed the question how far current generations are able to represent and pass on the values of reformation. In his paper, The Heart of the Matter: Luther´s concept of Reformation, Selderhuis reflected on celebrations of John Calvin, Philipp Melanchthon, the Heidelberg Catechism, the Greek New Testament of Erasmus and Luther’s reformation from 2009 to 2017 and how we can make history relevant for church and theology. “Reformation was a significant event not just concerning church history and theological reflection, but also in world history. Doing research on it is a prominent task of today’s theologians,” he told the audience.

Stewart Brown, Professor from Edinburgh, reflected on the impacts of Reformation in Scotland and noted that Scotland also embraced the idea of a new model of society, the “Godly Commonwealth”.. Brown’s paper, The Reformation and the Godly Commonwealth in Scotland, discussed how this social ideal was world affirming and revolutionary; it called for the transformation of every aspect of social, political and economic life. This godly commonwealth ideal would profoundly influence Scottish history and national identity.

Michael Weinrich, professor of Systematic Theology and member of the Council of the Community of Protestant Churches in Europe emphasized the ecumenical character of Reformation whose aim was to re-establish the Church and the faith practices according to its catholicity and universality. In Reformation and Ecumenism, Weinrich pointed out that the basic impulse of the Reformation was ecumenical by asking for the really catholic substance of the church and her profession of faith. Catholicity is not granted by the reference to Rome and the observance of the canon law, but given by the common and uniting faith in the Gospel witnessed in the scriptures of the Bible. It is not something we can achieve but something we have to receive and to save by reforming the church again and again.

Gusztáv Bölcskei, Rector of the University and president of the College of Doctors, reflected on the consequences of the recent Association of the WCRC to the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification. When discussing his paper, Catholicism from a Reformed Perspective, Bölcskei noted that there are still painful divisions between Protestants and Catholics. There is also a tendency to accentuate the differences and disagreements, rather than get to know and learn from each other’s theological line of thinking. In his paper, Bölcskei focused on the interpretation of a few theological issues that have historically divided the two Christian churches.

Robert Vosloo, professor at the Faculty of Systematical Theology of the Stellenbosch University presented the theological considerations concerning reconciliation after Apartheid stressing that reconciliation, especially in reformed perspective, cannot be reflected without justice being taken into consideration. Vosloo’s paper, Reconciliation and the Reformed Legacy in South Africa, attended to the theological discourses on reconciliation in Apartheid South Africa, and more specifically to some contributions from the Reformed tradition. Attention is also given to the use of the notion after the transition to democracy (including through the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission).

Dirk Smit, professor emeritus from Southern-Africa, addressed the issue of Church being a confessing community. His paper,  On the importance of the Belhar Confession today, touched on how the convictions and claims of the Belhar Confession (which he co-drafted), a Reformed confessional document that originated more than three decades during the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, have been received in new and creative ways in many other churches, places and times. He stressed that, “Confessions are formulated in a certain context, but they can have relevance in other times and places, way beyond the initial context and intent.”

Ulrich Körtner, professor of ethics from Vienna, gave a lecture about public theology. In his paper, Key Issues of Bioethics and Reformed Heritage, Körtner discussed how bioethical issues are part of what is called “public theology”. His paper argued for a concept of ethics of responsibility which may justify the freedom of research as well as its ethical limits.

Jerry Pillay, former WCRC president, was also in attendance at the conference.  In his paper, Protestant Unity in the 21st Century, Pillay reflected on John Calvin’s call for the unity of the church, the need for unity in Protestant and Reformed churches, explores issues which prevents this from happening and offers suggestions as to how some of these challenges can be addressed.

Following his time in Debrecen, Jerry Pillay and his family came to Budapest to meet with staff from the national RCH office, including Presiding Bishop, Rev. István Szabó, and Ecumenical Officer, Balázs Ódor. The visit to Budapest was the perfect end cap to his seven years as WCRC president.   

The 166 registered participants attended 14 different sections throughout the conference. The meeting concluded with the General Assembly of the Collegium Doctorum, chaired by President Gusztáv Bölcskei. The Collegium Doctorum was a wonderful way to gather prominent academics from around the world to celebrate the Reformation and the Debrecen Reformed Theological University while sharing their research on poignant and timely church topics.



Article via the Collegium Doctorum Reformation 500 – Program

Translation by Balázs Ódor

Edited by Kearstin Bailey

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