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Department of Historical and Constructive Theology

By dr Calvin Ullrich, Senior Lecturer in Interdisciplinary Theology in the Department of Historical and Constructive Theology at the University of the Free State

This week we want to introduce one of our new lecturers in the Department of Historical and Constructive Theology, Dr Calvin Ullrich. From September 2023 he took up his new position as Senior Lecturer in Interdisciplinary Theology in the Department of Historical and Constructive Theology here at the University of the Free State. Joined by his fiancé and sixteen-month-old daughter they have begun to settle into their new lives in the City of Roses, a sure and definite adjustment to his place of birth, Cape Town, and the site of his former employer at the Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Germany. Nevertheless, the liturgical season of Lent invites reflection, and he would like to take this opportunity to look, as if into a mirror, about where he finds himself, so as to look forward to the future of theology today.

“One could begin right here, this heat-soaked landscape, yet teeming with the vitality of youth – both of age and heart – with all its historical layers: The outer and most visible its profound sense of community. But we are still new, and there is much to learn and see, smell, and hear. So let me zoom in closer. Here in the Department of Historical and Constructive Theology, where the history of the church, its polity and development are taught, and the doctrines of the faith (a nod to what is usually known as systematic theology) are placed in deliberate contact with the pressing issues of our society and our world at large, theology is put to work and its relevance tested. But what could ‘constructive’ theology mean in such a context? Are we talking about bending what is timeless to meet shifting criteria for truth? On the contrary. Theo-logos or ‘talk of God’ in both the sense of God’s revelation and our human responding, is always mediated for us, and as such can never be a closed system. Indeed, the life of faith is a constant hopeful unfolding of God’s promises, always in process, unpredictable, and surprising.”

Dr Ullrich was most delighted to find that the title bestowed on his position was accompanied by the adjective “interdisciplinary”. “This goes to the heart of what theology, in my view, should come to be today. We can no longer operate in silos, neither in academia nor in our own disciplines, but we must confront the dynamisms of faith as they are played out in the flux of everyday life, and we must do so with all the help we can get. My own approach is deeply indebted to learning from what philosophy can tell us about being human in relation to ourselves and to our non-human others. This does not mean philosophy has the final word, but it does mean that theology can learn from philosophy about how to theologise better. In the end, to do constructive and interdisciplinary theology is to be committed to the profoundly human endeavor of faith and belief, which takes place in particular places, times, and among particular groups of people in response to an experience of God. As such, it does not shy away from tensions, contradictions, and differences, it seeks rather to inhabit, analyse, and even embrace them, in order to come to a fuller understanding of what it could mean to live a faithful life in a complex world coram Deo.”

Welcome to our faculty, Dr Ullrich, here in the heart of the Free State – serving together in God’s Kingdom.

 | Provided: Dr Calvin Ullrich from Germany, Senior Lecturer in Interdisciplinary Theology in the Department of Historical and Constructive Theology at the University of the Free State

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116 | Maatskaplike NOODLYN