Seminars, Lectures and Reviews


by Gillian Bremner

Is Social Justice becoming unfashionable?  Some commentators may think so, some even may hope so (I’m talking about you, Fox News!)  A change in the world’s economy means the middle class is on the retreat.  The motives of a new age is ‘what is in it for me?’ and ‘can I get ahead’.  So can Presbyterians still have a radical vision for the vulnerable in our societies?  The obvious answer to that rhetorical question is we would hope so.  Gillian Bremner bases her talk on the work of Presbyterian Support Otago in the famous statement of the prophet Micah and reads it as social justice for our day, for the vulnerable: families, children and young people, and the elderly.  Maybe we still do have something to say on social justice, and maybe it should be heard more widely.  Read more…


Presbyterian way of life in 19th Century New Zealand

Our first posting for the year is the Lecture that Dr. Alison Clarke presented to the History Network on 15 October, 2009, titled  Presbyterian way of life in 19th Century New Zealand where she considers the various colonial approaches to Sabbath observance, Easter and Christmas celebrations, the communion season, baptism, thanksgiving and fasting.  Ali has been researching aspects of the Presbyterian Church for many years and she took the opportunity of drawing on much of her research for this stimulating paper.  


Dunedin Presbytery and the Compulsory Military Training Debate of 1911 

Presbyterians are well known for their vigorous debating.  The response of the Presbytery of  Dunedin to the Reform Government’s recommendations to introduce Compulsory Military Training in 1911 reflects the members conflicting emotions and understanding of the role of the Church. 

John Milnes’ lecture to the Research Network gives an insight into these arguments and  tensions, and highlights the different sources needed to explain them.  Read more …

“A Riddle of Christianity in Aotearoa “

by Prof Peter Matheson

Prof. Peter Matheson at the outset of his paper noted that he was asking more questions than he could give answers. The presentation, he stressed, was a reflection on the Church per se, as much as it was on the relationship of church and secular  history.   He had begun researching the V. Rev. James Gibb and found himself recalling the challenge given by Prof. Ian Breward in his 1979 article in the New Zealand Journal of History  whereby  both church and secular historians required to feed into each others research areas to answer the complexities found in New Zealand History.  He began to wonder if little had moved  in the last 40 years.  Although some steps have been made by younger historians into researching the social relevance of religious life and thought within the nation and people’s lives, Peter found that leading historians within NZ continued to neglect religious contributions.  And for Peter, herein lies the “Riddle”.   What are the questions we should be asking of the sources?  What are  the research priorities  for  the  next  decades compared with those  set  out  by Ian Breward  some  forty years  ago  now? he asks.

As Peter explored the Gibb resources the “Riddle”  developed further and further strings for seeking an answer.  James Gibb was a controversial figure in both the Church and wider society and is representive  of many “other outstanding Christian leaders and movements who carved out the shape of local and national community life. ”   

 Gibb was described  towards  the end of his life  as  ‘probably  the   first convinced  and outspoken  representative in the Church of the  fuller  life  and the more liberal type  of  theology which were beginning  to pulsate  in the Home Churches’ .  He  was  engaged  in fierce controversy for  much of his life,  not  least  through  his advocacy  of the Union of  the two Presbyterian  Churches, his advocacy  of  the  League  of Nations  and critique  of  militarism.  Like many others, he was also accused at  one point of heresy.  His correspondence leaves no doubt, however, that he was a very fine pastor, had a remarkable circle  of friends, whose  forthright  comments led him constantly to review  his theological and political  opinions read more … )

There are two  documents appended at the end of Peter’s reflection:  a brief outline of Gibb’s achievements and a time line.

Review  by Margaret Eton

 Theologia and Governance: integration and organisation in New Zealand ministry formation. 1961-1997. 


by the Rev. Dr. Susan Jones

The series of seminars hosted by the newly formed Presbyterian Research Network got off to an energetic start on 10 May 2007 with a paper presented by Susan Jones, titled  Theologia and Governance: integration and organisation in New Zealand ministry formation. 1961-1997.  The subject is clearly of interest to anyone concerned with the preparation of Presbyterian ministers. In recent years the issues have become sharper as the School of Ministry based at Knox Theological Hall (1996-2006) has moved from a campus-based model to a community-based model. (The Centre of Ministry & Leadership)  Read more…

Susan’s paper was based on her 2006 PhD thesis of the same title. It set the background for discussion and clarified issues for those who heard her. Susan not only presented historical facts, such as how Presbyterian ministry training in New Zealand has developed over time, but she also analysed the nature of the training itself. Her analysis showed that training has been fragmented and that ordinands have often learned academic subjects but have not been helped to integrate knowledge into their faith. Having a separate department of pastoral theology has not solved the problem; then, responsibility for integrating knowledge into ministry situations lies with that department alone and is not the specific task of anyone else. Nor was the situation been helped by the establishment of the Faculty of Theology within the University of Otago, because then the academic model took precedence. Later, Catholic seminarians and students who were not planning to be ordained began to take classes too. This had the advantage of making ordinands (both Catholic and Presbyterian) feel less isolated and giving them more opportunities for discussion with believers outside their own faith communities, but on the other hand lecturers could no longer emphasise one particular Christian tradition or use specific examples which applied to only a few of their students.

The Presbyterian Church has not been unaware of the problem. Indeed, many committees have been convened to address the issue, but so far have unable to identify the root cause of the problem or to suggest workable solutions. Susan’s analysis has allowed us to address the topic in a way not previously possible, and those who spoke during the discussion which followed hastened to do so.

 Some speakers pointed out that change is hampered by the obvious problems associated with money and with entrenched attitudes. A suggestion was made that perhaps the establishment board, not having specialist knowledge in this field, could co-opt consultants as needed. Others suggested a programme of mentoring but wondered if suitable and well-trained mentors could be found. Perhaps theology should be taught first, and then the formation could come after?

A further speaker explained that the problem is not confined to theological colleges. Those who teach in all sorts of professions grapple with how to train a person’s character as well as their brain.

Still another speaker alluded to the model of the church as an internal telephone network that has no connection with the outside. Church members need to be able to see how non-Christians see the world, and further to rub shoulders with those they don’t agree with. They need to be able to engage those of other faiths or no faith at all in dialogue. Perhaps, it was suggested, the lack of integration evident in academic departments is why contextual theologies like liberation theology do not sit easily within them.

Everyone is aware that these perspectives have changed over time. The struggle to integrate knowledge into faith practice is ongoing and it is not easy, but all agreed that Susan’s work has launched a new era in critical thinking on the subject.

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