Conversation with Dr. Dirk J. Smit - Princeton Theological Seminary

Dr. Dirk Smit joined the Princeton Seminary faculty in the fall of 2017 as the Rimmer and Ruth deVries Professor of Reformed Theology and Public Life. He is a leader in public theology in church life in South Africa and in the ecumenical world. He has written extensively, in both English and Afrikaans, on the legacy of the Reformed tradition and its relevance to contemporary theological, social, and political questions.

In 2018 Professor Smit was awarded an honorary doctorate from the Protestant Theological University (Protestantse Theologische Universiteit) in the Netherlands.

Dr. Smit will deliver this year’s Annie Kinkead Warfield Lectures at Princeton Theological Seminary March 19–22 on the theme “Hope for Even the Most Wretched? Speaking of Election.”

Recently we sat down with Dr. Smit to ask him about his work and what motivates his teaching at Princeton Seminary.

Q: How does your work in South Africa speak to the current American context?

A: In South Africa, Reformed churches were deeply involved in many spheres of public life. Together with colleagues and students, I have been active in public theology, and I have been part of the work of the Beyers Naudé Centre for Public Theology. In the circles of public theology, but also through the ecumenical church, I have taken part in many projects addressing contemporary global challenges for faith and for societies in general.

Q: What is your area of study and what impact do you hope it will make on the church and society?
A: I am a systematic theologian. Early in my career, I taught ethics at the University of the Western Cape. I was teaching during the years of political and church struggle against apartheid. While at Princeton Seminary, I intend to concentrate on the role of the Reformed faith in public life, given the diverse intellectual traditions within the Reformed tradition and the complex nature of our contemporary global world.

I find Princeton Seminary’s residential community and strong sense of belonging to be new, supportive, and enriching.

Q: How will your students be equipped to participate in the church’s public witness?
A: Equipping students for the church’s public witness is indeed at the heart of my teaching. This includes teaching students to understand contemporary public life in our global world, to understand the passion, power, and problems of the Reformed tradition, and to recognize the rich and diverse nature of witness in today’s world.

Q: What’s struck you most in your first few months at Princeton Seminary?
A: Having taught in various university settings—at the University of the Western Cape, the Stellenbosch University, but also for semesters as a visiting professor at the Universities of Marburg and Heidelberg—I find Princeton Seminary’s residential community and strong sense of belonging to be new, supportive, and enriching. The residential community, daily worship, and spiritual life are unique to the Seminary and differ from my experiences at secular universities.