Prof WD Jonker – D.Th, honorus causa

D.Th, honorus causa

Universiteit van Stellenbosch
12 December 1996

Omdat ek graag wil hê almal moet deel in die oorsig oor die lewe en werk van prof WD Jonker, sal ek my in my voordrag uitsluitlik tot ‘n aanbieding in Engels beperk.

I am to be envied and to be pitied at the same time. You, honorable guests, should pity me, because it is quite impossible to do justice to the legacy of Prof Dr Willem Daniël Jonker within the time span of five minutes. On the other hand, I am to be envied, for many a theologian would give a great deal to have the privilege that I have tonight to introduce you to a man of God, who played an unforgettable role in church and society and who became a formidable theologian and a legend in his own life time.

He was born at Biesiesvlei in the district of Lichtenburg on the 1st of March 1929. He matriculated at Lichtenburg and then set out on a long and impressive road of learning, which began at the University of Pretoria, where he studied from 1946–1952. Between 1952 and 1955 he studied at the Vrije Universiteit (Amsterdam).

His ministry commenced in 1955 when he was ordained as minister of the Dutch Reformed Church congregation of Johannesburg West. Subsequently, he served in three other congregations. During his ministry he served on many commissions of the church and made important contributions in this regard, sharing his knowledge, wisdom and insight.

In 1968 his theological genius was recognized when the extraordinary honour was bestowed upon him to be appointed as professor at the Theologische Hogeschool of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands. A year later his academic capabilities were also acknowledged when he was invited to take up a post as professor in Diaconiology (Practical Theology) at the University of Stellenbosch. He declined the appointment. However, in 1971 he was appointed as professor of Systematic Theology at Stellenbosch, a post that he filled until his retirement in 1992.

An impressive list of studies and publications contributes to the academic legacy of WD Jonker. Apart from his own doctoral degree in Theology, which he received from the Vrije Universiteit (Amsterdam) in 1955, he has received three honorary doctorates: from the University of Stellenbosch, the University of Potchefstroom and the University of the Free State. He has often been invited to be a guest lecturer at many overseas institutions of higher learning. He has received bursaries, medals, acknowledgements and prices for his academic brilliance. He published (as I counted) 10 books of high academic standard and participated in the publication of others. Many smaller publications, more than 70 popular articles and 24 books with religious themes were published, together with 35 articles in scientific journals, a total of 130 publications!

The contribution of Prof Jonker to the Reformed theology deserves our particular attention. His theological perspectives in general (for example in the fields of Practical Theology and Ecclesiology) and particularly in Systematic Theology forced both the church and theologians to rethink many theological issues. It was, and still is, impossible to do research on Reformed theology without taking notice of his work. Some of the most thought provoking and mind-boggling theology I have read came from the pen of Prof Jonker.

But Prof Jonker was not only honoured for his academic genius. With this honorary doctorate from the University of the Free State he receives the respect and gratitude of this university, the Faculty of Theology, church and society, for the phenomenal role that he played in breaking down the ideology of apartheid. His second name is Daniël, which immediately reminds one of the Daniël of the Bible, who refused to bend his knees to gods made of stone, who was not afraid to pronounce the word of God, no matter what the consequences might be. It is of this Daniël that a little ditty was written:

“Dare to be a Daniël,

Dare to stand alone;

Dare to have a purpose firm

And dare to make it known”

These words exactly apply to Willem Daniël Jonker. He had a purpose firm. He never tried to be a politician, but on theological grounds he knew, when others refused to understand, that apartheid was an unbiblical ideology, that it could not be justified on Christian ethical grounds, and he was not afraid to say it. He had the courage to stand firm in a church conference at Rustenburg and to make known his conviction that apartheid is a sin. He was the first to ask, on behalf of the Dutch Reformed Church, the pardon from those who were hurt by the policy of apartheid. Despite the sometimes ferocious protest from many within the Dutch Reformed Church, he refused to retract his confession. Of course, he was called unflattering names and in many ways he was isolated. But he stood firm and he never refrained from making known, what he believed was the wilt of God.

This, Mr. Chancellor and honorable guests, is the legacy of Prof Dr Willem Daniël Jonker, a man who made a difference, a theologian whose name is forever written in the annals of the church and the history books of South Africa. It is to this beloved and respected servant of God that we give our thanks and appreciation. It is, to the glory of God and to the acknowledgement of his contributions that I ask you in the words of a popular song:

“Stand up, for the champion, for the champion, stand up… ”

Honorable guests, I present to you Prof Dr W D Jonker!