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.