Sunday, September 08, 2013

a rising tide

Over my first two early jet-lagged mornings in our new home in Bangalore, I devoured (choosing my words carefully) Stuart Lange's A Rising Tide: Evangelical Christianity in New Zealand (1930-1965). When I told him I was going to miss the book launch by a few days, Stuart popped around to our house with a signed copy. Thank-you!

Here are ten random personal reflections...

1. It is exciting to see Stuart's PhD lead to this outcome. Over the years our lives have intersected at various times. Stuart led the ISCF/Christian group at Auckland Grammar School in 1977 in my last year of high school. We were pastors in Southland in the late 1980s. Our wives (Christine and Barby) first met in hospital with newborn babies in their arms. We were both appointed to the faculty at BCNZ, now Laidlaw College, in 1989 where we served together for eight years before I went off to Carey Baptist College. We've seen very little of each other since those years...

2. The ethos and era which the book covers is the one which shaped my heritage. I remember my parents going on about Christian Endeavour and Crusaders. My father received his missionary call at a Pounawea Convention. And while the story centers around Thomas Miller and his sons (Presbyterians), together with William Orange and his 'Orange Pips' (Anglicans), as the tide 'turns' (in 1930-1945) and then 'rises' (in 1945-1965), one EM Blaiklock does play a supporting role. Blaiklock was like a patron-saint for all four of my grandparents. He was revered, almost canonized. As a member of the same church at the time, Blaiklock actually showed up to my farewell event when I headed off for theological training. My opinion of him had started to shift a little by then, arrested as I was by my simple-faithed grandmother's gruff surprise that he should find it so difficult to deal with his wife's death at an elderly age after a long marriage (written up in Kathleen). I had not realised Blaiklock's vehement opposition to Calvinism (which explains a bit in my upbringing) - and then, later in life, Stuart relates how Blaiklock was 'moved to paroxysms of rage and despair at the irrationality he perceived in the neo-Pentecostal movement' (134). A strong-minded chap!

Stuart does hint that Blaiklock's appointment to a university lectureship at Auckland in 1926 could well be the start of the turning tide (see p210) and that he 'arguably did more than any other New Zealander to raise the public profile of evangelical Christianity in New Zealand' (49). Further afield, in global evangelical Christianity, I have often wondered if something similar could be said of JO Sanders. For me and my house? If we could live the recent decades again, I'd kinda like to have had Orange as our patron saint instead :).

3. I do hope that Christian movers-and-shakers in New Zealand read this book closely and recognise afresh the strategic importance of work among tertiary students (generally) and Tertiary Student Christian Fellowship (TSCF) specifically. In the story Stuart tells, 'the crucial catalyst was the establishment of the university Evangelical Unions (EUs)' (21). [NB: the EUs are the direct ancestors of TSCF]. These Evangelical Unions 'effectively relaunched evangelicalism in mid-twentieth century New Zealand' (42). 'For at least two decades into the post-war era, EU/IVF was a crucial defining and unifying element in the resurgent New Zealand evangelicalism' (207). Sure, Stuart chooses to narrow his story (as he must) to 'the evangelical formation of university-trained leaders, both men and women, and especially future ministers' (21). This does give the story a certain hue, but its importance cannot be denied.

I loved some of the angles on this IVF/TSCF part of the story. That this was all sparked by the visit to NZ, in 1930, of a twenty-five year old Howard Guinness. That 3% of NZ's tertiary student population in 1950 were in IVF/TSCF-related groups. That Otago EU was mainly Presbyterian (with Thomas Miller to the fore), Canterbury EU was mainly Anglican (with William Orange to the fore) with some Brethren, and Auckland EU was mainly Baptist and Brethren (with Blaiklock to the fore).

4. On the subject of the need to narrow things for PhD (to Anglicans and Presbyterians) ... it was disappointing not to be able to engage more with the Baptist perspective (other than Blaiklock). But I do wonder aloud whether it was an issue of focus alone. Did Baptists, other than Blaiklock and Joseph Kemp, play a major role in the formation of NZ evangelicalism? I've always had my doubts. My experience of Baptist life, particularly in the years as principal of their theological college (which quickly became identified with a different 'tribe' than Blaiklock or Kemp), is that 'evangelical' was more commonly a term of convenience than of conviction. The connections with the wider global evangelical story just aren't there. In my early years I heard a bit of critique from within and without about me being a 'fundamentalist' - merely demonstrating how ignorant people were of the story Stuart tells, with the evangelical:fundamentalist divide occurring some 50+ years ago (see pp130-133). And then there is the little story of having to order John Stott's magnum opus, The Cross of Christ,  for the Carey library when I started because it simply was not there on the shelves. It was pleasing to read in the Epilogue, referring to the years after 1965 - that 'the evangelical ethos of the Baptist churches was consolidated' (213). That is good news - but I wonder what that means?

5. Yet again I am struck by how theological liberalism sows the seeds of its own demise. The Student Christian Movement (SCM) and the Methodist stories in NZ seem to illustrate this. There is life to be found in holding to both a high view of scriptural authority and the substitutionary death of Christ. History has shown that Miller and Orange and IVF/EU were right to make a big deal of these two. I wonder, too, whether today's interest in contextualisation - or, more specifically, the over-contextualisation that can become syncretism - needs to relearn this lesson. Yesterday's liberalism has similarities with today's syncretism. More seeds of demise methinks!

6. The key to the effectiveness of both Miller and Orange was not a focus on the relative largeness of their churches, but on the relative smallness of their 'work among the next generation' (40). Orange had his 'Orange Pips' - and Miller started with his own offspring. Is this something that gets lost today? The lingering, deeper work in a few and the multiplication that results for those who are patient and far-sighted? Isn't it the magic of discipleship? Repeatedly, Stuart mentions the number of people called by God into the ministry out of a single ministry. For example, the first Orange Pip to be appointed a vicar in Christchurch was Roger Thompson - and 'at least thirty persons' who spent time in his Bible Class later became Anglican ministers. These Pips were into some serious stuff. For example, here is Betteridge at St Matthew's (Dunedin):
At 5pm every Sunday there was a Bible Class, a solid Bible exposition for one hour. Then there would be tea, followed by a prayer meeting and the evening service. The evening service would be mainly university students, but also often included people invited from off the streets. After church, some sixty or so would go to the vicarage for supper and a 'sing-song'. All this was a familiar pattern, derived from Orange and implemented by numerous Orange Pips (162-163).
7. With my friend, Geoff New, being a Presbyterian minister in South Auckland I was fascinated by the story of how South Auckland became a Presbyterian 'stronghold'. Quite remarkably, God called Graham Miller to Papakura, Donald Kirkby to Pukekohe, and Arthur Gunn to Manurewa within ten years of each other. It seems like the center of Presbyterianism shifted from Otago to South Auckland. Reading the story, one wonders if Gunn was a bit like Blaiklock, with personalities and skill-sets that made them influential in their early years, but more inhibiting later on.

8. Stuart's story is more than mere narrative, more than a collection of faces and facts and figures. I enjoyed the way he drew conclusions from his observations. Sometimes this came through in his paragraph-length pile-up of contrasts and comparisons. For example, on p15 (comparing British and American evangelicalism); on pp46-47 (comparing SCM and EU); on p142 (the tension surrounding Tyndale House); or, on p199 (comparing Reformed and Westminster Fellowship groups). Then there are his comma-laden descriptions of people. Like here, as the critics attack Thomas Miller early in the story:
...they had regarded him as outmoded and obscurantist in theology, suspect in his revivalist sympathies, standoffish in his churchmanship, obdurate in his opposition to church union, and treacherous in his support of the Evangelical Union. (40)
This is typical of the book and where Stuart is at his best. A simpler example is the description of the approach to preaching which Thomas Miller shared with Orange: 'he spoke quietly, with polished language, rich imagery, and great spiritual intensity' (69). In all of this, Stuart is alert to the way this history relates to the 'unique mix of New Zealand's geography, demographics, regions, denomination and personalities' (209).

It is the kind of history that is so satisfying to read. There is a hint of George Marsden's peerless Reforming Fundamentalism (the story of Fuller Seminary) with Stuart's work. He has lived among the trees (there are no less than 50 oral history interviews and 25% of the book is endnotes and bibliography) - but he also lifts-off and sees the forest too. In order to appreciate this fully, maybe it is best to read the Conclusion (206-211) first.

9. 1965 is a long time ago for the story to stop! As I read, I was thinking about the Geering controversy, about charismatic renewal, about the way the influence of American Christianity began to eclipse that of British Christianity, about the diffusion of tertiary student ministry - and then all of these received coverage in the Epilogue. However, while by that time my appetite was yearning for another smorgasbord, I had to be satisfied with nuts and raisins. I understand. But a question to ask is whether history has been true to itself and whether there has been another ebbing and flowing in the years since 1965... Maybe one of Lange's Leftovers will have to pick up that story.

10. Ever the sentimentalist, I relished encountering the names of people I have loved and who have influenced me over the years, as a result. Beryl 'solvitur ambulando cum deo' Howie (whose funeral I led just last December), John Hewlett, Bob Glen (a 'later Orange Pip'), Ian Kemp, David Penman (in whose home Barby and I were engaged), Peter Warner, David Stewart, John Roxborogh, Tom Wilson (my uncle),  Derek Eaton (who spoke at my induction as principal), Rob Yule (who drew near to encourage as I led not one, but two, big funerals over the years) ... and I was left waiting for John Balchin's name - but alas, it never came. What a lot they have given me and what a lot Stuart has given all of us who partake.

nice chatting

Paul

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi Paul

I've got a question for you!
You say, "There is life to be found in holding to both a high view of scriptural authority and the substitutionary death of Christ."

I totally understand, and in fact actually agree, with the high view of scripture part, but I have been wrestling with the substitutionary death part. Could you just expound on that for a moment to clarify. I would really love to know why you specifically think the substitutionary death of Jesus, as opposed to other areas of Jesus' life and death, that needs to be a particular focus!?

I've been reading Stott's The Cross of Christ and he talks extensively about the substitutionary death of Jesus but maybe I'm not far enough through for it to become crystal clear why that is central=) Hope you understand my question!

God bless

Paul Windsor said...

I am not surprised that you are struggling with the 'substitutionary death' part. A lot of people have been around the Western world.

In a nutshell... I think it is the clear teaching of scripture that Jesus died in our place (ie substitutionary). Our sin, as rebellion to God, is deserving of death and so the only death that is not what is deserved is the death of a sinless one. Jesus died our death so that we can live his life. The cross is not just about love - it is about justice ... it is the place 'were heaven's love and heaven's justice meet'. The substituionary death of his son is an expression of God's great love and justice.

But in recent years the idea of God sending his son to die has offended peoples' sensitivities - 'divine child abuse' etc - and so they have tried to revise orthodox theology so that they can be less offended by the idea. But I am not convinced this is the way to proceed. It opens the door to more problems than it solves.

I think our task is to try and be even-handed with the Bible - keep the tensions and the balances alive and allow stuff we don't like still to sit there until the time comes when 'we know as we are known' (1Cor13.10).

In my view the substitutionary death of Jesus is at the heart of the gospel. Believe and worship ... while longing and thirsting for the day when our questions are answered - as this is part of our hope.

Hope that helps - and keep reading Stottie's book!

Paul

Tim Jacomb said...

Hi Paul

Great, thanks, that helps!
The substitutionary death of Jesus is something I haven't heard a whole lot of preaching on, so it almost comes across as a jarring topic when I read about it or hear about it. Its something I'll keep wrestling with because if it is, as you say, one of the most life giving and central aspects of the gospel then I would be really silly to ignore it!

Thanks again! I'll let you know how I find the rest of Stott's book=)

Paul Windsor said...

I'm not surprised, Timothy. Many in your generation have shied away from this aspect of the gospel.

Recently I saw a powerful skit performed by a bunch of young kiwis. A mime. A young woman is befriended by a 'Jesus' figure. He drifts away and she progressively gets drawn in and entangled with all the classic dangers, one by one. Money. Sex. Drugs. Eating disorders etc etc. Awful stuff. Each represented by a person in the mime. They hold her and won't let her go. Very powerful stuff - with a sound track. Brought tears to my eyes as I think of the pain that is endured by this young woman. The fighting and struggle is intense.

Then slowly 'Jesus' re-emerges and gradually the 'powers' are defeated and the woman is freed.

The skit was introduced as a presentation of the gospel. Powerful though the skit is - it is NOT a presentation of the gospel. I have seen this sort of thing so many times in NZ settings over the years. There is no cross. There is no repentance. Yes, it is a very moving rescue by Jesus - but it is NOT a presentation of the gospel.

Don't get caught making the mistake of preaching and teaching and living a reduced gospel. You can't expect the Spirit to be at work in peoples' lives when that happens.

thems methoughts

paul

Tim Jacomb said...

Yea, I know the skit you talk of! As you say it is one of the common 'presentations of the gospel' in NZ.

You're making me think now, when was the last time I heard a 'gospel presentation' in a church that meets some of the basic criteria you mention? Cross, sin, repentance. I would genuinely have to think long and hard to remember a gospel presentation that is made up of those things.

I heard it said a little while ago that we as Evangelical Christians "know why Jesus died, we're just not too sure why he lived..." But from what I'm reading, and what you're saying, this does not seem to ring true for a lot of Baptist Christians in NZ. True, we may not know too well why Jesus lived, but we don't really know why he died either...

Thanks for the thoughts, I've got some more thinking and reading to do now =)

Tim

Paul Windsor said...

Maybe this can be part of your calling in ministry in New Zealand...
There is a whole generation of younger people who have experienced some rescue by Jesus, without it leading to an authentic, life-altering conversion. Then when they grow disappointed with God - as will happen in that state - they drift away.
The tendency is for church leaders to treat them as lapsed when I'd want to ask whether they were ever converted in the first place. I have my doubts.
Never, ever look past the deeper lingering work of discipleship among the few - it is ever so strategic over the long haul ... but never, ever shut down the gospeling either (but no shrunken, reduced gospels, please!)

paul

Myk Habets said...

Thanks Paul, intereting stuff. I am struck by one idea though, it seems to me that the more recent history of Carey Baptist College (I mention this because you bring it up), is more thoroughly evangelical now than it has ever been in its entire history. The entire current faculty are informed and passionate evangelicals, biblical scholars, theologians, and historians. But we are not North American Evangelicals, and that is important. While penal substitution is central to atonement, it is not the major integrative motif of Scripture that NA evangelicals make it out to be. The Incarnation and Atonement need to be more thoroughly worked out than a penal substitutionary theory alone can accomodate. So if Stuart were to continue his narrative, I would think that the influence of the Baptist College would loom large in that narrative. Any thoughts on that? Blessings,

Paul Windsor said...

Agreed, Myk. Although I am not sure if this comment is really for me - or for others who may be reading this post(BTW: of the 380 posts on this blog, this one took off and became the 'most-viewed' in a matter of hours - leaving me to ask something like 'Oh Lorde, how come'?. I am still not sure...).

Thanks for reminding me of Carey's current evangelical credentials - impeccable as they are. I think I am familiar with that story (!!) - but maybe you have forgotten, or maybe other readers need to be informed :).

Carey in 1930, Carey in 1965, Carey in 1997, and Carey in 2013 are all very different creatures. In terms of Stuart's 'rising tide' imagery (and associated definitions and terminology) - the analogous 'tide' did not occur at Carey, in my view, until much more recently.

If Stuart's trajectory took him into the 2010s then I think Carey would loom large, as you say. Most definitely. I have written on these matters relatively frequently (see under the label, 'theological education', in this blog). I reckon it could be argued that Carey's clear evangelical statements and commitments in the 1998-2002 time-frame, helped wake-up a somewhat slumbering evangelicalism at BCNZ/Laidlaw...and now, ten years later, evangelical theological education in NZ has never been healthier. Praise God.

I also have an abiding sense that this is something God just wanted to do - most fully and most obviously expressed in the string of great faculty/staff he brought to Carey - and has kept bringing to Carey (you being one of 8-12 people).

However I am surprised that someone like yourself uses the phrase 'North American Evangelical'. I think I know what you mean - but there are plenty of them thinking and writing in the UK, Australia and the uttermost parts of the earth. I don't like it much either and steered clear of making those sorts of staff appointments. They are ones who not just tight and solid at the core - but also at the periphery. I prefer a bit more spaciousness in the periphery!

I won't engage the likes of yourself in a debate on penal substitution - but you better not be diluting its significance to the gospel. Ahh - I would be shocked if you were.

Paul