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?” 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, 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.
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. 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. There has also been some engagement with the historical Jesus debate, including with the Jesus Seminar. Yet, this is not “a dominant strand” of biblical scholarship in New Zealand. 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. 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. 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. 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, but he does so at the total expense of his divinity. He sees the “new world” Jesus promised as the world which was created by the enlightenment, and which is still coming into being. 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” 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. 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. 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. 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. Yet there are something’s which are common to all kiwi culture, which we will now turn to.