Keynote Allan Boesak: Belhar at forty, between the politics of manufactured contentment and the hope of life abundant

7 April 2022 13:30

Dr. Allan Boesak provides the final keynote at our international PThU conference on the good life in times of crisis. Dr. Allan Boesak is cleric, politician, and anti-apartheid activist from South-Africa. He has a doctorate of the Theological University in Kampen (1976) and was president of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches from 1982-1991. Dr. Boesak is an award winning author of 22 books. His latest book is Children of the Waters of Meribah: Black Liberation Theology, the Miriamic Tradition, and the Challenges of 21st Century Empire (2019). You can view the keynote live via YouTube.


"The Confession of Belhar was first drafted, debated and adopted by the synod of the Dutch Reformed Mission Church in 1982. After making the required rounds in presbyteries and congregations, it was formally accepted and the fourth standard of faith at the synod of 1986. For the purposes of this paper, I will take 1982 as the year of conception for Belhar. Here, I will read Belhar as an expression of faith in the hope for the good life amidst calamities and crises. First, the question: what has happened between 1982 and 1986? How did the confession survive those turbulent years? Was there any sign of ‘the good life’ Belhar proclaims as the hope of the church and humanity in those times of chaos and calamity? Now, forty years later, this contribution is asking the question: what does Belhar mean after forty years? Are the burning questions of faith and life, of ethics and action, of love, solidarity and reconciliation still relevant now?

Do the ‘pillars’ of Belhar – the lordship of Jesus Christ, reconciliation, justice, and unity, matter in South Africa, and the world today? Do they make any difference when it seems that every tenet of Belhar is under severe strain if not open attack? How would Belhar answer the question of ‘the good life’ in a world fallen among thieves (John 10), a ‘scandalous world’ (Accra Confession)? Can Belhar claim relevance for humanity struggling to make sense of faith in a world ‘shaken by deadly convulsions’ (Gollwitzer)? The forces of imperial power people are enjoined in struggle with today, are forces of violence and destruction. Our world is governed by systems of violence, injustice, and systems of concealment of violence and injustice.

While Christians are called, as Bonhoeffer put it, to not live ‘with our heads in the clouds’, to not be content with an unjust world, to prove that our faith is not opium, but that our protest is to be ‘stubborn’ and ‘purposeful’, our struggle is against what I have come to call ‘the politics of manufactured contentment’. So how do we struggle for ‘the good life’ against these formidable forces? For some answers, I will turn to the Belhar Confession."

Watch keynote

You can view the keynote here from 2.30 PM CET. Please click the play button to start the video.

Keynote Allan Boesak: Belhar at forty, between the politics of manufactured contentment and the hope of life abundant


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