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Vic Bredenkamp RIP

15 March 2011

I learnt recently, from a friend on Facebook, that Vic Bredenkamp had died.

Vic Bredenkamp was a lecturer in the theology department at the University of KwaZulu/Natal, and I attended his lectures (sometimes) in my first and third years, when he, quite unwittingly, I think, led me to liberation theology.

He was both a great inspiration and a great disappointment.

When I was a student there there were only two lecturers in the department, Prof A.G. Rooks and Vic Bredenkamp. Prof Rooks taught Old Testament, Philosophy of Religion and Ethics, while Vic Bredenkamp taught New Testament and Dogmatics. In my first year I found Vic Bredenkamp rather dull.

In my final year I found him inciting and exciting, though it was more because of the subject matter than because of the style of his lectures. In New Testament he was teaching about what St Paul had to say about principalities and powers, and that was a great revelation to me. I had hitherto thought of “principalities” as places like Monaco and Liechtenstein, and “powers” as places like the USA and USSR, then locked in the Cold War, but he spoke as if they were spiritual beings. After one lecture I asked him about this, and he pointed out that St Paul had said (in Ephesians 6:12) that they were spiritual powers in heavenly places. He recommended that I read a book called Principalities and powers by G.B. Caird. I  did, and  embarked on some research into the occurrences of the Greek words exousia and archon in the New Testament, and discovered some interesting things. In Romans 13:1 St Paul urges us to be subject to the principalities and powers (or rulers and authorities), yet in Ephesians 6:12 he says we are in conflict with them. In Colossians 1:16 it says that Christ created them, and in Colossians 2:16 Christ triumphs over them, while Romans 8:38 assures us that principalities and powers cannot separate us from the love of God.

If 0ne looks at separate occurrences of the word there is more. Pilate tells Jesus after he is arrested that he has exousia to crucify or release him, and Jesus replies that he would have no exousia unless it was given to him from above (John 19:10-12) — a dual reference to Pilate’s being under the authority of the emperor, but also to the emperor’s exousia being in the heavenly places and under the authorty of Christ.

And suddenly everything fell into place — political power is a spiritual thing: principalities like Monaco and powers like the USA and USSR had their angels in the heavenly places. And of course the Roman state religion of emperor worship was not the worship of the flesh and blood emperor, but of his genius or exousia. But even if we are to be subject to his exousia (or that of any other government) that is not the ultimate power or authority, because all exousia in heaven and on earth has been given to Christ (Matthew 28:18). Apartheid was not just an ethically bad system, it was doctrinally bad as well, hatched in the pit of hell where angels and demons are locked in combat. To support apartheid was not just ethically bad, it was doctrinally bad as well. It wasn’t just immoral, it was apostasy.

This train of thought was unwittingly sparked off by Vic Bredenkamp.

But that was just his New Testament lectures.

His lectures on doctrine reinforced it.

In his lectures on soteriology (salvation) he spoke of three main theories of the atonement:

  1. The classic, dramatic or ransom theory
  2. The satisfaction or penal substitution theory
  3. The moral influence theory

For the first he cited Gustav Aulen’s book Christus Victor, which presented the atonement as a victory over the principalities and powers, and fitted in well with the writings of G.B. Caird, and so seemed to me far more convincing than the other two. And, like the teaching on principalities and powers, it made a great deal more sense of the political situation in South Africa, and also helped to explain why Evangelicals, who were wedded to the penal substitution theory, thought that religion and politics should be kept separate and that Christians should not criticise apartheid because we must render unto Caesar what belonged to Caesar, and unto God what belonged to God. But in the light of the classic theory of the atonement, their arguments looked suspiciously like saying that we must render unto Caesar what belonged to God.

When I left Pietermaritzburg and went to study theology in Durham, I continued to follow this line of thought and studied it further, though it was not really part of the curriculum at Durham. And in my time overseas I also encountered Orthodox theology, in a seminar on Orthodox theology for non-Orthodox theological students, and discovered that what I had been looking for was in Orthodoxy all along.

Some years later, back in South Africa, I met Vic Bredenkamp again, and tried to tell him about the exciting journey he had set me off on fifteen years before. I was disappointed. All he could speak of was “ripe scholarship”. It became clear to me that the political and theological dynamite that he had given me, and lit the fuse of, was to him nothing more than an academic curiosity, something that belonged in an acadmic ivory tower, that would make no difference to the world apart from earning a doctorate for someone who studied it.

But it got me deported from Namibia. It got me banned. Yet Vic couldn’t see it, even though he had lit the fuse.

But he did light the fuse, and changed my life, and for that I am grateful.

May his memory be eternal!

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Graham Downs permalink
    15 March 2011 9:04 am

    It’s a real shame you never became a preacher, Steve. I think I would’ve enjoyed your sermons.😉

    • Val hayes permalink
      16 March 2011 12:30 pm

      Steve usually preaches at St Nicholas of Japan Church in Brixton every alternate week. We go to Mamelodi the other weeks

  2. 15 March 2011 9:00 pm

    Vic Bredenkamp taught me too, shortly before he retired I think. And of all my lecturers he is the one who stands out in my mind as a classic “liberal Protestant.” But the other thing that I will remember about him is hearing a couple of years ago that he was still involved in literacy teaching in prisons. May he rest in peace.

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