If you’ve never heard of W. J. de Kock then please keep reading. If you have then I know you’ll already want to keep going. He’s an inspiration and a pioneer. Not to mention he’s experienced faith struggles unlike any most of us will ever encounter. I wrote the below text as the foreword for his book, Out of My Mind: Following the Trajectory of God’s Redemptive Story. I hope you’ll read it, and then continue on to the book itself:
For many Christians, the faith struggles of W. J. de Kock will prove to be reflections of their own. While it is unlikely that the existential situations in which he found himself are anything like their own, it will not be difficult for them to understand someone’s social construction of reality can be blasted apart by experiences that defy integration into their understanding of God’s will on earth. Those experiences that deconstruct what were their respective “Christian” worldviews can leave them, as it did the author of this book, spiritually disoriented and socially in a state of anomie.
W. J. de Kock had been indoctrinated since his youth with a form of neo-Calvinistic theology that served as a legitimating ideology for a social system that defined his own ethnic group—the white Afrikaners—as a people of God, for a divinely appointed mission. That mission was to usurp land in South Africa and claim it as “holy” land which God had designated for them. W. J. de Kock and his people believed that, much as God had chosen Israel to be his people and given them a promised land that was already populated by the Canaanites and the Amalakites to be theirs, so God had elected the Afrikaners to occupy a special territory in South Africa and make there a holy nation to be governed by God’s laws. Within their worldview, it seemed acceptable to treat the indigenous black people in South Africa as an inferior race, doomed as were the sons and daughters of Ham, and deserving nothing better than to be exploited as servants.
The God that W. J. de Kock saw as legitimating this worldview and its justifying ideology was a God who had ordained that “the elect Afrikaners” make themselves separate and pure. This necessitated and justified what, in time, became the social arrangement in South Africa known as apartheid. Living apart from indigenous black people and preventing any kind of mixing of white and black blood through intermarriage were social practices that had to be preserved at all costs.
To persons who have been socialized into such an unquestioned, closed way of thinking can come unexpected events that put cracks in their ideological comfort zones, and raise doubts that become difficult to handle. At first such doubts can be suppressed, but when additional doubts put more cracks in the worldview that had served as a protective dome over what had previously been an undisturbed system, there is a good chance that the once unquestioned worldview might tumble down. That is what happened to W. J. de Kock. Not only did certain events in his life cause such a shattering of the social order in which he had previously believed, but with that shattering came the demise of the theological construct that had legitimated it. What was particularly traumatic was that the God whom W. J. de Kock had been taught was the ordainer of that system became increasingly distant. It is no wonder that in the wake of such a crisis of faith de Kock fell into a “dark night of the soul.” With the crushing not only of his long-held assumptions about God, but also his own identity, W. J. de Kock came to realize that his only hope for salvation was to be found in what he would call “regenerative theology.” This would be his new way of doing theology.
Sociologists call this process “the creation of an alternative consciousness through praxis.” Over and against the long-held dictum that it is what we think that determines what we do, sociologists, especially those out of the Frankfort School of Social Science of the 1930s, point out that there is a dialectic at work here. They say that it is just as true that what we do changes what we think. Reflection in the context of action is what they call “praxis.”
In this book, W. J. de Kock tells us how events in his life, and the way in which he reflected on those events, forced him to dismantle the theology that had previously served as the ideology legitimating the oppression of indigenous blacks in South Africa and the creation of apartheid. In the process of reconstructing his beliefs—even his beliefs about the nature of God—de Kock realized he would be required to do theology in a new way. He calls this process his “regenerative story.”
The reader will realize that de Kock is still in process and is continuously recreating his beliefs in the face of new events that require still more reflection. The author’s new theology has created a new man, unafraid of doubt, because he now understands that there is more faith in honest doubt than there is in the unquestioned creeds of many who call themselves Christians.
Stanford Lyman, the one-time dean of The New School of Social Research in New York City, once said, “Life is absurd! And sociology is the study of how humans have tried to create meaning out of that absurdity.” With this book and its author there is some similarity to what Stanford Lyman said that sociologists do. When his world became absurd, W. J. de Kock set to work, trying to create meaning out of that absurdity. He did this by employing what he calls “regenerative theology.”
As he engages in this process of generating new perspectives on his theology of God and his worldview, de Kock does not do so as would the followers of Jean Paul Sartre. He does not try to create out of “nothingness.” Instead, going back to the Bible and re-reading it under what he believes to be the guidance of the Holy Spirit, de Kock demonstrates for those who must go through the existential traumas that shake the foundations of faith, a model for handling such crises, which, as Søren Kierkegaard would say, “Leave any of us suspended in a hundred thousand fathoms of nothingness.” W. J. de Kock offers hope for deliverance from such an abyss. He shares with all those who struggle for meaning, what has been going on in his own life, and the creative method through which he strives for resolution.