Vítor Westhelle, professor of systematic theology at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago (LSTC), died May 13 after living with cancer since early 2017. He was a deeply respected and revered theologian, colleague and mentor at LSTC and globally. The LSTC community gathered on May 14 and 15 for prayer services to honor Westhelle. A celebration of life service will take place on Thursday, May 17 at 11:15 a.m. in the Augustana Chapel at LSTC. Following the service, a potluck meal and time for fellowship and sharing memories will be held in the Third Floor East Conference Room at LSTC. He is survived by his wife of over 40 years, Christiane; three sons, Carlos Henrique, André, and Felipe; three daughters-in-law and two granddaughters.
“For me, one of the many remarkable things about Vítor was that he not only reflected the riches of global Lutheranism beyond a narrowly Euroamerican frame, but in turn contributed to that gift in ways that were always insightful, surprising, and graciously unsettling,” said James Nieman, president. “Knowing him and his impact for my entire life in teaching and administration, I am very saddened by his untimely death, but also very hopeful that his impact on an emerging generation of scholars is enduring and profound.”
“The depths of Vítor’s language and his wry humor opened our hearts and minds to God’s presence in unexpected and ordinary places. We have been changed through knowing him and through contemplating his theological writings,” said Esther Menn, dean of academic affairs. “It is no wonder that LSTC students flocked to his courses. He reciprocated their regard through his remarkable dedication to all of his students, in particular to his numerous doctoral students.”
In a letter to Menn the week prior to his death, Westhelle announced his retirement from the faculty. In the letter, which he asked to have shared with the faculty, Westhelle continued his teaching vocation with a reflection on how he was learning life’s last and most difficult lesson of how to receive life as a gift. He also communicated the happy news that the Executive Council of Faculdades EST, the seminary that he left to come to LSTC, voted to grant him the prestigious title, Doctor Honoris Causa in Theology in Latin America.
Westhelle’s impact on the global church cannot be underestimated. He was a prolific writer and editor who published works in English, Portugese and Spanish including 14 books and hundreds of articles and book chapters. Students familiar with his writing came to LSTC from around the world to study with Westhelle. His recent books, The Scandalous God: The Use and Abuse of the Cross (Fortress Press, 2006);Eschatology and Space: The Lost Dimension in Theology, Past and Present (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012); and Transfiguring Luther: The Planetary Promise of Luther’s Theology, (Cascade Books, 2016), are examples of his deep and wide-ranging scholarship.
Westhelle was born January 25, 1952, in Taquara, Brazil. He began his theological studies in 1972 at the former Faculdade de Teologia da IECLB, now Faculdades EST, in São Leopolodo, RS. In 1977, the year he completed his bachelor’s degree, he participated in the Lutheran World Federation Assembly in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Westhelle received a scholarship to study at LSTC and earned a ThM in 1980 and completed his PhD in systematic theology in 1984 while teaching at Luther Northwestern Theological Seminary (now Luther Seminary) in St. Paul, Minn.
In 1985 Westhelle returned to Brazil and served as pastor of a 13-point parish in Paróquia Evangélica de Matelândia and as coordinator of the Commission on Land in Paraná working with those struggling for land and justice. From 1989 to 1992 he was professor of systematic theology and ethics at Escola Superior de Teologia in São Leopoldo. He returned to LSTC in 1993 as associate professor of systematic theology and was named a full professor in 1999. He has served as visiting professor at the University of Natal, South Africa; University of Aarhus, Denmark; Gurukul Theological College and Research Institute, India; Universidade do Vale do Rio dos Sinos –UNISINOS, Brazil; ISEDET, Argentina; and the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia (now United Lutheran Seminary), USA. From 2010-2016 he split his year between Chicago, Denmark and Brazil, serving as honorary professor of theology at the University of Aarhus and occupying the Chair of Luther Research at Escola Superior de Teologia as well as professor of systematic theology.
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