Monday, 4 March 2013

Towards a New Zealand Christology: Making Christ a hometown hero in backyards across New Zealand.

This essay was written to answer the Question: Does a “New Zealand Christology” make sense? Defend your answer. It is one of my favorites for two reasons 1) it got an A 2) it included quotes from both The Lads and Mumsdollar. 

Towards a New Zealand Christology: Making Christ a hometown hero in backyards across New Zealand.

 New Zealand musicians the lads once asked “What if God came down? Came to your hometown?[1]” They were, of course, referring to Christ’s incarnation, when God came to Earth in human flesh. But what if Christ became incarnate and came and dwelt in the “hometowns” of New Zealand? What if our theological reflections, as the People of God in Aotearoa New Zealand,[2] allowed Christ to make his home in the culture of New Zealand? This essay will explore that possibly. It will look at some of the key elements of New Zealand culture, and what that says about New Zealand people. It will them attempt to integrate a Christological understanding of who Christ is with New Zealand culture. It will do so from the conviction that this should not be undertaken simple as an academic exercise, but rather, out of a desire to create a missional encounter with the culture of Aotearoa, in order to effectively communicate the gospel narrative to the people of the land. As we do so, the Spirit of Christ will teach us what it means to follow Christ in New Zealand.[3]

   We will begin by considering some of the attempts to make Christ a home in New Zealand by theologians. The research carried out for this essay suggests that most of the theology done in Aotearoa is ecclesiology or practical in nature. It is about understanding the Church in the New Zealand context. Others have also made this observation.[4] Yet, as important as ecclesiology is, it should not be done without a clear Christological basis. You cannot build a theology around what the church should look like in Aotearoa, without first attempting to understand who Christ is in New Zealand. One attempt which has been made is the Kiwi Bible by Chris Grantham. This is an attempt to “Kiwiise” the biblical native. For example, Jesus’ parable of the muted seed becomes the parable of the Pohutukawa seed.[5] There has also been some engagement with the historical Jesus debate, including with the Jesus Seminar.[6] Yet, this is not “a dominant strand” of biblical scholarship in New Zealand.[7] In general, it would seem that much more work is needed to be done in this area. Much of what has been done has less refection on kiwi culture than would have been hoped for.[8]  Therefore, this essay will focus on New Zealand culture, and how Christ can be related to it.

   An important figure in New Zealand’s theological history is Lloyd Geering. Geering is famous for his assertion that Jesus did not rise from the dead.[9] He argued that the New Testament reflects the early churches understanding of Jesus, rather than the “historical” Jesus, and understands Christianity to be concerned with history rather than mythology.[10] Unfortunately, this assertion is based on the assumption that there is no supernatural and thus no miracles, and therefore any claims of miracles must be mythological. Geering emphasises Jesus humanity,[11] but he does so at the total expense of his divinity.[12] He sees the “new world” Jesus promised as the world which was created by the enlightenment, and which is still coming into being.[13] He represents the voice of Liberal Protestant Theology in New Zealand. He was, at the time, Principal of Knox College, and was tried for heresy by the Presbyterian Church. However, the ideas articulated by Geering were not his own ideas, but rather part of a broader theological stream in western theological thought, of which New Zealand is a small part of. Yet they had an impact on the church in Aotearoa.

   It is fair to say that historically, the New Zealand Church has depended largely on the overseas “Western Church” for its theology and practices, in particular, the United Kingdom and the United States. In the ninetieth century, New Zealand’s churches developed a doctrinal framework which was both a “continuity and dependence[14]” on what it had received. This has largely continued until today. It means that much of New Zealand’s theology does not fit the rest of the ways Kiwis view life.[15] A current example would the Harvest outreaches, which relied on an American evangelist and American bands to give a gospel message. To some degree, this is inevitable. New Zealand is a small nation, and in an age of growing globalisation, it would be foolish to cut out overseas voices in the New Zealand Church. Yet there is also an opposite danger that the Church in Aotearoa is unable to grow theologically, as it realise on imported theologies. Christology is a critical area for this engagement, as Christ is the center of the faith.

   Theology is always done in a context. Therefore, in one sense, any Christology done in Aotearoa can be considered a New Zealand Christology. Yet there is more to it than that, as it is possible to do theology without reference to the context in which it originates. Kiwi Christology should come out an engagement with Kiwi culture and the issues facing Kiwis.  It must be Christology which is consciously done in response to a New Zealand context, to make Christ at home in Aotearoa, rather than just a Christology which happens to be written in Aotearoa or by a New Zealander. Therefore, a New Zealand Christology should go hand in hand with mission in New Zealand. It should not be done as an academic exercise,as an attempt to help New Zealand take its theological place in the academic world. Rather, it should be done out of an attempt to connect New Zealanders with Christ, out of the issues which New Zealanders face, and out of an attempt to answer the questions which New Zealanders are asking.

   Before this is possible, it’s necessary to decide if there is a New Zealand culture, and if so, what it is.  There are two key objects to there being one. Firstly, it could be argued that Kiwi culture is simple a part of the wider western culture, which is largely derived by America culture. This is partly true, as New Zealand is part of the wider, globalising world, which impacts the culture.[16] Yet it would be a mistake to say that New Zealand is just a reflection of American culture. There are cultural themes which reflect a distantly kiwi culture, which will be discussed below. Furthermore, it’s equally questionable to speak of a “western culture”, as it itself is made up of diverse cultures.  American culture, for example, is different to British Culture. Secondly, it can be argued that Aotearoa is so diverse that it has no distinct culture of its own, but is the collation of many sub-cultures. Again, this is partly true. New Zealand is a very diverse nation, which will also be discussed below. Yet Darragh defines New Zealand’s context as a national one.[17] He justifies this by the fact that geographically, New Zealand is an isolated unit. He goes on to say that within New Zealand however, there are many other contexts, based on race, culture and location.[18] Yet there are something’s which are common to all kiwi culture, which we will now turn to.

   Firstly, this diversity itself is culturally critical. Many New Zealanders pride themselves on being a multicultural nation. Indeed, New Zealand has been described as having a “zealous pluralism.”[19] The most obvious example of this is New Zealand’s great ethnic diversity. While people of European decent make up the largest proportion of the population, people from Asian, Pacific and also African nations now call Aotearoa home.[20] This is alongside to the tangata whenua of Aotearoa, the Maori. In this context, we need to remind people that Jesus is building a kingdom which includes people from every “nation, tribe, people and language.” (Revelation 5:9, 7:9, 11:9, and 13:7) New Zealand is also diverse when it comes to the ways people worship. There are many different denominations in Aotearoa, rather than a dominant one, like in many parts of the world. This is partly because many denominations sent missionaries to New Zealand, but also is due to the fact that a diverse range of people immigrated to New Zealand, bringing a diverse range of denominations. This also means that there has been an increase in other religious beliefs in New Zealand. Neo-paganism has had a revival[21] and religions such as Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism are also practised in New Zealand to a much larger extent than in the past. Therefore, Christology in Aotearoa must interact with a plurality of religions. It could also be argued that different regions, gender and age groups in New Zealand have different cultures.[22]

   New Zealand’s diversity can be traced back throughout our history. New Zealand has always been an immigrant nation. Aotearoa was one of the last places on earth to be peopled. When Europeans began to come, they came from many places.[23] The largest people group was from England, but there were also significant minorities for Scotland and Ireland as well.[24] Michael King, for example, writes about growing up in an Irish Catholic family which did not see itself as belonging to the dominate culture.[25] Later, people came from all over the world.  New Zealand Christianity goes back to the missionaries who came to convert the Maori. The first was Samuel Marsden, who gave the first gospel message on Christmas day 1814. However, it was not until Henry Williams arrived that the CMS have any successes.  While the CMS (Anglican) were the first and largest missionary group to come to Aotearoa, missionaries came from many different denominational groups.[26] This too, shows that diversity is part of our national fabric.

   As well as diversity, New Zealanders value equality. In Aotearoa, it is believed that all people should have equal opportunities when it comes to things like employment and education, and that all people should be treated equally under the law. While this is a western value, it has particular significance for New Zealanders. The best example of this is the fact that New Zealand was the first nation in the world to give women the vote in 1893.[27] A more recent example is the fact that New Zealand switched to a MMP system of government in 1996, which means that more parties and a greater diversity of people can be elected.[28] Therefore, a Christ in whom all are equal is a Christ which appeals to Kiwis.  Galatians 3:28[29] is a key verse for articulating this. It’s only when we view all people are being created in God’s image (Genesis 1:26-27), and all have can be redeemed equally through Christ that we can truly understand equality.

    Freedom, or liberty, is another value which New Zealand culture holds, which comes from our western heritage. The idea that humans are autonomous and should be free is embedded in New Zealand culture. Likewise, Individualism is very strong in New Zealand. This idea is tired up with the desire for individuals to be successful,[30] which if often associated with owning your own home. Despite this freedom, many New Zealanders feel a sense of being lost.[31] Or, put another way, they feel homeless. While freedom is also part of the story of Christ,[32]  it is a different type of freedom.  The Christian faith is about a community of Gods people. Therefore, Christ offers them a home in Gods community of redeemed people: the church, of which Christ is the “Firstborn” (Colossian 1:15-18, Hebrews 12:23, Revelation 1:5). Furthermore, it’s this very freedom which can enslave us.[33] It means that while people know what society owes them, they don’t know what they owe society. We are enslaved by our refusal to make choices.[34] Thus apathy is a growing problem in Aotearoa. One example of this is the fact that fewer people than before vote in elections. In contrast to this, Jesus was a radical activist, to the point that he was willing to go to the cross. He calls us to live a life which is not apathetic, but a life of loving others. Thus is can be argued that the Christ which is preached to Kiwis must be one who calls them out of their enslavement to apathy into the freedom to live a radical life in Christ.

   Any Kiwi Christology must help Christ make his home, or wā kāinga, amongst the Maori people. This is a big topic, to which a whole essay could be dedicated to. Here, were will only have space to discuss a few very brad points about Maori Christology. At one point, a large proportion of Maori were Christian, thanks to the efforts of the missionaries.[35] It was due not just to the European missionaries, but it was largely Maori missionaries who took the gospel to Maori.[36] However, many rejected the faith after the ninetieth century land wars.[37] It is also important to note that many indigenous expressions of Maori Christianity have arisen, such as the Pai Marire and Ratuna movements.[38] Before European contact, Maori did not understand themselves as needing salvation.[39]  Rather, they have a greater desire for peace, which Jesus, the prince of Peace brings.[40]  That said, while New Zealanders in general do not to see themselves as needing to be delivered from anything, Maori people often see themselves as needing to be delivered from Pakeha.[41]  Thus Christ could be seen as their deliver in that regard. Another aspect of the Maori worldview is that it is a more holistic than a western worldview, as it holds nature in a much higher place, than more westernised New Zealanders. Thus the Christ of Colossians 1, in whom all things are held together, is more likely to appeal to.[42]

   Finally, we will look briefly at some elements of popular New Zealand culture, and how Christ could make his home here. Firstly, Sport is a big part of New Zealand culture.  In sport, New Zealanders often see themselves as the underdog who punches above its weight on the world stage. This was seen recently at the Fifa world Cup, when the All Whites, ranked 78th in the world, drew with World Champions Italy. This is part of a wider mentality where New Zealand sees itself as a small and insignificant nation, as seen on the Flight of the Concords television series. It can thus identify with Jesus of small-town Nazareth (John 2:46). Secondly, Aotearoa is famous for sheep.  While New Zealand’s sheep population is declining, it is nevertheless something which many Kiwis understand, particularly those in rural areas. Jesus is often understood to be the Lamb of God (e.g. John 1:29).  While sheep held a different place in ancient Israelite culture than in twenty-first century New Zealand culture, there is nevertheless common ground here. Another part of Kiwi culture is the number eight wire mentality. New Zealanders understand themselves to be a people who can fix anything with “kiwi ingenuity.” Christmas is popular in New Zealand, thus attempts have been made to create a “kiwi Christmas.”[43]  With this aim, Some “New Zealand” Christmas carols have been written.[44] The most famous example is probably te harinui, which celebrates the first Christmas message in New Zealand.

   This essay has argued that New Zealand Christology is about letting Christ make his home amongst the people of New Zealand. Christ must be home in Aotearoa, weather is amongst the shoppers on Auckland’s Queen Street, in the corridors of power in Wellington, supporting Cantabrians rebuilding their quake-shattered lives, in the cowsheds near Cambridge or by the winepresses around Waipukurau. Yet this is ultimately not an end in itself. Jesus wants to make his home amongst the people of New Zealand so they might find their real home with him. It must be done with the eschatological hope that, one day, New Zealander will “look around” at their new “hometown” and “see me (Jesus) now clothed in righteousness crowned in majesty.[45]” They will see Christ as he really is, yet, they will also see him in a uniquely kiwi way. Thus Kiwis will come from “the ends of the earth” (Isaiah 41:5) bring this treasure into the city, into their true hometown (Revelation 21:24).  The treasure will be an expression of worship of Christ which reflects how Kiwis see Christ out of our own cultural expression. It will reflect the very best of kiwi culture: openness to diversity, equity and freedom. Yet it will also reflect kiwi ingenuity and creativity, and will reflect the lands and the biodiversity of the land from which we come from. Aotearoa New Zealand will then dwell in the hometown, where Christ will be at the centre.


Andrews, M.E. Responding in Community: Reforming Religion in Aotearoa/ New Zealand. Dunedin: University of Otago, 1990.

Andrews, Maurice. "A Theology of Combinations: New Zealand Theology and God for New Zealanders." Stimulus 16, no. 4 (Novemver 2008): 6-11.

Darragh, Neil. Doing Theology Ourselves: A guide to Research and Action. Auckland: Accent Publications, 1995.

Davidson, Allan. Christianity in Aotearoa: A History of Church and Society In New Zealand. Wellington: Education For Ministry, 2004.

Fitzgerald, Gerald. Christ in the Culture of Aotearoa-New Zealand. Dunedin: University of Otago , 1990.

Geering, Loyd. God in The New World. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1983.

Grantham, Chris. Bits of The Kiwi Bible. Camberwell, Vicroria: Penguin Books, 2005.

Hoggard-Creegan, Nicola. "Jesus in the Land of Spirits and Utu." Pacifica 18 (June 2005): 141-153. Accessed electrically 1 June 2001 at

King, Michael. Being Pakeha Now: Reflections and Recollections of a White Native. Auckland: Penguin Books, 1999.

King, Micheal. The Penguin History of New Zealand. Camberwell, Victoria: Penguin Books, 2003.

Knight, G.A.F. New Zealand Jesus. Wellington: Presbyterian Church of New Zealand, 1974.

Lads, The. "Creator." Marvel . 2001.

Mumsdollar. "One Day." A Beautiful Life. 2005.

Pearson, Clive. "Christ and Context Down Under: Mapping Transtaman Christologies." In Mapping the Landscape: Essays in Australian and New Zealand Christianity, by Susan Emilsen and William Emilsen, 296-317. New York: Peter Lang, 2000.

Statistics New Zealand. "2006 Census " Statistics New Zealand. 2006. (accessed June 12, 2011).

Wainwright, Elaine M. "In the Lands of the Eucalypt and The Long White Cloud:Jesus Research "Downunder."" Colloquium 40, no. 1 (2008): 3-22.

Windsor, Paul. "KiwiKulture: Towards A Definition." In New Zealand Made: Perspectives on Mission in Aotearoa, by John Crawshaw and Wayne Kirkland. Auckland: Impetus Publications , 1994.

[1] The Lads, Creator, 2001
[2] Aotearoa, the Maori word for New Zealand, will be used interchangeable with New Zealand, to reflect the fact that both Maori and English are official languages in New Zealand. Kiwi and Kiwis will also be used interchangeable with New Zealand and New Zealanders.
[3] G.A.F. Knight, New Zealand Jesus (Wellington: Presbytrian Chruch of New Zealand, 1974) 44
[4] Maurice. Andrews, "A Theology of Combinations: New Zealand Theology and God for New Zealanders." Stimulus 16, no. 4 (Novemver 2008) 9
[5]  Chris Grantham, Bits of The Kiwi Bible (Camberwell, Vicroria: Penguin Books, 2005) 29
[6]  Elaine Wainwright, "In the Lands of the Eucalypt andThe Long White Cloud:Jesus Reaserch "Downunder."." Colloquium 40, no. 1 (2008): 3-22. 8
[7]  Ibid, 8
[8] Examples include Knight, New Zealand Jesus, 1974 and Clive Pearson, "Chrsit and Context Down Under: Mapping Transtaman Christologies." In Mapping the Landscape: Essays in Australian and New Zealand Christianity, by Susan Emilsen and William Emilsen, 296-317. New York: Peter Lang, 2000.
[9] Allan Davidson, Christianity in Aotearoa: A History of Church and Society In New Zealand, (Wellington: Education For Ministry, 2004)  168
[10] Lloyd  Geering, God in The New World. (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1983) 122
[11]  ibid, 122-123
[12] It is difficult to say which, if any, if more prevalent in New Zealand Christology in general. In different places, both his humanity and divinity are emphasis.
[13] Geering, 127
[14] Davidson, 90
[15] Neil Darragh, Doing Theology Ourselves: A guide to Research and Action (Auckland: Accent Publications, 1995)  17
[16] Gerald Fitzgerald, Christ in the Culture of Aotearoa-New Zealand  (Dunedin: University of Otago, 1990) 4
[17] Darragh , 21
[18] Ibid,  22
[19] Paul Windsor, "KiwiKulture: Towards A Definition." In New Zealand Made: Perspectives on Mission in Aotearoa, by John Crawshaw and Wayne Kirkland (Auckland: Impetus Publications , 1994) 59
[20]  Statistics New Zealand. "2006 Cencus." Statistics New Zealand. 2006. (accessed June 12, 2011).
[21]  Nicola Hoggard-Creegan, "Jesus in the Land of Spirits and Utu." Pacifica 18 (June 2005): 141-153. Accessed electronically 1 June 2001 at 142
[22] Unfortunately, there is no scope to explore these areas here.
[23]  Micheal  King,  The Penguin History of New Zealand (Camberwell, Victoria: Penguin Books, 2003) 170-173
[24] While people tend to think of theses as being one group, there is in fact much divinity within the British people, and even within the English people, who were the majority group.
[25] Michael King,  Being Pakeha Now: Reflections and Recollections of a White Native (Auckland: Penguin Books, 1999) 13-15
[26] For more on the early missions to New Zealand, see Davidson, 7-26
[27]  King, The Penguin History of New Zealand,  266
[28] Ibid, 493, 502
[29] There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
[30] M.E.  Andrews, Responding in Community: Reforming Religion in Aotearoa/ New Zealand, (Dunedin: University of Otago, 1990)  147
[31] M.E Andrews, 7
[32] Fitzgerald 1990 3
[33] Fitzgerald 1990, 11
[34]  Ibid, 12
[35] Davidson 44.
[36]  Ibid, 17
[37]  Ibid, 44
[38] Ibid, 45 and 129. Again, much more could be said on these and other movements, which blended elements of Christianity with traditional Maori beliefs. These often focused more on Old Testament ideas, rather than on Christ.
[39] Hoggard-Creegan , 142
[40] Ibid, 143
[41] M.E. Andrews, 17
[42] Hoggard-Creegan, 147
[43] M.E Andrews , 54
[44] Ibid 55-57
[45] Mumsdollar. "One Day." A Beautiful Life. 2005.

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