At its 159th commencement ceremony on Sunday, May 19, the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago (LSTC) presented its Confessor of Christ Award posthumously to the Rev. Dr. Vítor Westhelle, a valuable member of the LSTC faculty and international scholar and teacher who died May 13, 2018. His wife, Christiane, was present to receive the award and colleague and friend Jose David Rodriguez spoke on behalf of the family.
“In his writings and theological conversations Vítor used to clarify the important dimension of a ‘gift,’” Rodriguez said, quoting a line from Westhelle’s writing: “A gift can only be given if it is free and without any reciprocity; otherwise it is no longer a gift. Its sheer reception is called faith.”
Rodriguez, Augustana Heritage Chair of Global Mission and World Christianity, said Westhelle was being granted the “gift” of being a Confessor of Christ “in his teaching, scholarly endeavors and his personal and professional ministry. Vítor cannot be present to receive this gift. However, his humble and continuous presence in his family and friends will receive this gift in faith with great appreciation to continue to witness to the gospel among our brothers and sisters in the world. Thanks be given to God.”
Westhelle (1952-2018) contributed to the high academic quality of LSTC’s programs of study. His participation in global Luther research, specifically his insights about Luther and the Reformation from the global south, about the theology of the cross, and about Lutheran eschatology yielded numerous publications. Students from around the world interested in these areas of research, particularly those at an advanced level, came to LSTC to study with him. The significant number of Westhelle’s PhD students who published their dissertations shortly after completing their advanced degree speaks to the level of his scholarship and mentorship.
Westhelle’s scholarship is recognized in the U.S., throughout Latin America, in Europe and in South Africa. He received numerous invitations from universities and seminaries as a lecturer or visiting scholar to bring his fresh contributions in various areas of human knowledge, including theology, philosophy, social and natural sciences, and literature. His commitment to creatively enriching the Lutheran legacy in Latin America, the United States, and in other parts of the world was an important contribution in the present and will remain so into the future.
Westhelle’s publications in English, Portuguese and Spanish include 14 books, numerous articles and book chapters. 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 held a BTh (1977) and an honorary doctorate (2018) from the Faculdade de Teologia da IECLB, Brazil; a PhD from LSTC (1984), and was an honorary professor of the University of Aarhus, Denmark.
From 1989 to 1992 Westhelle was professor of systematic theology and ethics at Escola Superior de Teologia (EST) in São Leopoldo, Brazil. Since 1993 until his untimely death in 2018, he was professor of systematic theology at LSTC. He held visiting professorships 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). Between 2010 and 2016 he taught at LSTC, at the University of Aarhus, and at EST in São Leopoldo.
The Confessor of Christ Award
The Confessor of Christ Award originated at Christ Seminary-Seminex, a predecessor school of LSTC. When the Seminex faculty joined LSTC, the award transferred to this seminary. The Confessor of Christ Award is given to “a Christian individual whose commitment to Christ Jesus and the Gospel manifests itself through extraordinary personal sacrifice for the sake of Jesus Christ and the Gospel or exemplary witness to Christ Jesus and the Gospel by selfless service to others.”
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The Lutheran School of Theology (LSTC) is dedicated to bearing witness to the good news of Jesus Christ. Based in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood, it is the leading urban Lutheran seminary training students for purposeful vocations in the global community. Aligned with its Lutheran heritage and built on a foundation of intellectual rigor, LSTC’s innovative, nationally recognized curriculum gives students skills for visionary Christian leadership in the public sphere.