GNPT greets Nico Koopman on his 60th birthday

The Global Network of Public Theology greets Prof. Nico Koopman, co-founder and first Chair of the Network, on his 60th birthday, together with his wife, Skatty, and all his family, as well as Stellenbosch University, which he serves as Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Vice-Rector for Social Impact, Transformation and Personnel of Stellenbosch University.

An online Birthday Celebration was held today, 23. Baaie dankie, Nico, blessings,health and lots of energy for many years to come.

Read the mensagem from Prof. Rudolf von Sinner, Chair of GNPT.

To Prof. Nico Koopman

Curitiba, Brazil, 23/06/2021

Good morning from Brazil, good afternoon in South Africa,

Dear Professor Wim de Villiers, Vice Chancellor and Rector of Stellenbosch University; dear Professor Reggie Nel, Dean of the Faculty of Theology, in whose names I greet all the authorities and institutions today present, esteemed colleagues from the academy, church and society; dearest Skatty and other family members,and, of course and foremost today, dear Professor Nico Koopman, vice-rector Social Impact, Transformation and Personnel of SUN, colleague, broer, ma-se-kind, friend and collaboration partner for 14 years now, on this auspicious day.

There’s energy here! This is a phrase I have heard many times from Nico and cited numerous times in various contexts, because it is so fitting. Not only because of the words as such and the meaning they carry, but the unmistakable way he pronounces them and, even more importantly, lives them. Be it as a university teacher, a student counsellor, a church minister, an administrator, a leader, and husband, father and grandfather, a transformer – this apparently soft-spoken and certainly most kind man suddenly transforms into a fervent preacher and reveals a package of incredible energy whenever there is a message of hope and encouragement, but also of prophetic challenge and the defence of justice to be delivered. While I know you have gone through some challenging moments of counterwinds, I have never seen this energy dwindle. And you don’t keep it for yourself, dear Nico, much less use it for your own, personal benefit, but share it widely with those around you and kindle the flame of their own, sometimes low energy to gain new momentum. This has a tremendous impact on all, from the cleaning lady to the rector of the University, all treated by you with the greatest dignity they indeed deserve! As I bring to you and this gathering the greetings of the Global Network of Public Theology and celebrate with you six decades of a blessed even if not rarely tough life and ministry, and wish you many more blessed years to come, I cannot but imagine that this energy will not stop, but continue to flow and give you and many others strength, hope, and passion. And it creates verbondenheid, as Prof Smit so well said in his lecture.

Among the many fruits of such energy are indeed the leadership you have given as one of the founders, promoters and first chair of the Global Network of Public Theology – and it is good to see so many former, current and, who knows, future members of the Network at this celebration. I stand here today as one of your successors, having the privilege to chair and host its Sixth Consultation in October next year at Curitiba, Brazil, under the theme “Public Theologies in Vibrating Cities: Precious and Precarious”. It all started for me with a coincidence – or should we say, providence? – that I could be present at the pre-foundation meeting of this Network in Edinburgh, 2005, and then as a member-in-residence of the Center for Theological Inquiry at Princeton in 2007, when the founding meeting was held. You, Nico were there and, again, much energy was there – theologically speaking, a moment of kairos and the presence of the Holy Spirit – and continued with the Network throughout the following years as intense interaction on the concept, content and consequences of the use of “public theology” developed. Through profound and creative elaboration and sometimes fierce, but necessary critique, it was forged not to present a globalizing, universal and unique concept, but to glocally aggregate energy as we reflect upon and put into practice the Gospel in critical analysis and constructive proposal we present to academies, churches and societies as a contribution towards justice and peace. Nico has given numerous contributions for South Africa and beyond, so that today we can say that if there is one person in the Network that cannot not be quoted, it is Nico Koopman.

The Network also created a journal, the International Journal of Public Theology. To create and maintain a journal, even more so a new one, is an enormous challenge. With Nico Koopman on the editorial board right from the beginning until he withdrew due to his ever increasing responsibilities at SUN, the journal can this year celebrate its 15th volume. Nico contributed with five articles and an editorial, if I see well. The latest one is from early 2019, where Nico summarizes his own contribution: “The central aim of public theology that I sought to practice was to advance a life of inalienable dignity, holistic healing, responsible freedom, reconciling justice and equality through equity.” Seeking to interrelate the public contents, the public rationality and the public meaning and implications of faith, he anchors public theology in a Trinitarian anthropology of vulnerability as well as in the threefold office of Christ as prophet, priest and royal-servant. The prophetic part Nico defines as fivefold: envisioning, criticizing, recovering storytelling, being technical (in terms of social, political, cultural and so on analysis), and as policy-making. In that article, Nico refers extensively to the late Brazilian theologian, educator and psychanalyst Rubem Alves, who suffered very directly the effects of “Protestantism and Repression” – one of his books’ title – as he was made a persona no grata both by the military regime of the 1960s and 1970s and by his own Presbyterian Church. In fact, he became a much more public thinker and activist once he was freed from the restraints of a church closed in itself and hostile to transformation, freedom and ecumenism. From Alves, Nico takes inspiration as to maintain hope, imagination and creativity against all pessimism and accommodation, because “imagination is more real and reality less real than it looks. It is the hunch that the overwhelming brutality of facts that oppress and repress is not the last word” (p.101).

Nico, in turn, has become a very important inspiration and reference for public theology in Brazil, which is much more inspired by South African ventures into Public Theology than by its North American or European versions. This enabled us to have, thanks to Nico and to our dear friend Clint Le Bruyns who so sadly left us all too early in January, a very fruitful South-South dialogue within the GNPT, which continues to be nurtured by the Beyers Naudé Center for Public Theology, created by Nico Koopman and today led by its current director, Prof. Dion Forster.

I therefore end with a very heartfelt expression of gratitude to Prof. Nico Koopman for all these most relevant contributions and all the energy he has given to the GNPT, and congratulate him, in the name of the GNPT, on his 60th birthday. I also congratulate his wife, Skatty, his children and grand-children, the Uniting Reformed Church, Stellenbosch University, the Faculty of Theology and the Beyers Naudé Center of Public Theology for having Nico in your midst. As my dear friend and colleague Dion Forster would say: you are a gift!

Baaie dankie – muito obrigado – and congratulations!

Published by gnpublictheology

The Global Network for Public Theology (GNPT) is an academic research partnership that promotes theological contributions on public issues, especially those issues affecting the poor, the marginalized and the environment in a glocal (global-local) context.

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