“A Riddle of Christianity in Aotearoa “

Rev. James Gibb amongst Sunday School Girls First Church, Dunedin. 1901

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.

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