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'And who do you say that I am?'

Geurt Roffel to defend PhD thesis on answers to the question whether Jesus is the Son of God
18 June 2018
Geurt Roffel

The Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies has no less than four PhD defences scheduled for the months of June and July. See the second part of this message for a complete overview. One topic is particularly eye-catching: Geurt Roffel’s thesis discusses answers to the question whether Jesus is the Son of God.

Thesis Geurt Roffel
Thesis Geurt Roffel

It all started when in his work as a clergyman Geurt Roffel realized that Christians interpret the expression ‘Jesus is the Son of God’ in very different ways, and that the differences are sometimes so great that the interpretations appear to be incompatible. Geurt says, ‘The beauty of this plurality of views is that we can see it as an invitation to debate, an opportunity to use discussion to help us find our way towards an articulation of our own view. But how does the process work? And what happens when you come across several interpretations that appear to conflict with each other but also contain elements that appeal to you? These are the questions I set out to answer in my research.’

By choosing ‘But who do you say that I am?’ as his main title, Roffel takes a personal question as his point of departure: this is a personal question Jesus posed to a group of people, in this case his disciples. Geurt explains, ‘This question begs an individual answer, but it also requires a connection to be made between that answer and other individuals in the group who are seeking their own answer the same question.’

Following the example of Gadamer and Derrida

Geurt Roffel argues that anyone aiming to sift their way through the many and varied interpretations and arrive at their own answer to the question whether Jesus is the Son of God must engage in discussion with others. In his research, Geurt does just that, by investigating the interpretations six leading christologists (Kasper, Pannenberg, Dalferth, Crisp, Henriksen and Welker) give of the expression ‘Jesus is the Son of God’. He uses two complementary research methods borrowed from philosophers Hans-Georg Gadamer and Jacques Derrida.

Taking each of the six christologists in turn, Roffel outlines how he analysed their interpretations of the expression ‘Jesus is the Son of God’ based on the methods developed by Gadamer or Derrida, adding his own comments. He explains that whilst the ways in which the two philosophers interpret texts have their strengths and weaknesses (as discussed in his thesis), they do help him to bring together the results presented in previous chapters in his final chapter and construct his own coherent view on the expression ‘Jesus is the Son of God’.

Our own view develops through debate

Geurt Roffel explains why he decided on this research approach. ‘My choice was founded on the fundamental conviction that theology is not possible without discussion and debate. It is in debate with others that people who feel a connection with Jesus Christ are able to develop their own understanding of who he is. My own thesis is a case in point: following Derrida’s method, I studied the various views from a distance, and as I did so it became clear that there were areas in which I had allowed myself to be far too easily persuaded by the christologists. I then observed which alternatives came to light as a result of my pondering the question from a greater critical distance. That meant forcing myself to identify, name and substantiate my reservations, and to question the ideas put forward by the theologians. This created the space I needed to develop my own view, which I explain in detail in the last chapter. What I find so special about this whole process is the case that emerges for plurality actually having the potential to connect people, because it is in discussion with others that individuals are able to develop their own views.’

PhD defence

Geurt will defend his thesis on 28 June in the presence of his three supervisors, Prof. Rick Benjamins, senior lecturer in Dogmatics at the Protestant Theological University and Professor by Special Appointment in Liberal Theology at the UG’s Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies, Prof.  Wouter Slob, also Professor by Special Appointment in the Protestant Church, Theology and Culture at the UG’s Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies and Prof. Renée van Riessen, senior lecturer in Philosophy at the Protestant Theological University and Professor by Special Appointment in Christian Philosophy at the University of Leiden.

  • Date:             Thursday 28 June 2018
  • Time:           14:30
  • Location:       Academy Building, UG

Other thesis defences Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies

Last modified:21 June 2018 1.00 p.m.
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