Stimulus Volume 21 Issue 1 - Apr 2014


Seeking the Welfare of the City: The Contribution of Theology to New Zealand's Public Square
Andrew Bradstock

Voluntary Euthanasia in New Zealand: The Case for Support from Christians
Jack Havill

How should Christians Respond to Proposals to Legalise Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide
David Richmond

Models and Metaphors: Human Nature and Science
Nicola Hoggard Creegan

The Voice: From Text to Life
Geoff New

Of Gods and Men: Radical Hospitality and the Monks of Tibhirine
Yael Klangwisan

Oswald Sanders: An Antipodean Hero?
John M Hitchen

Educated Guesses: New Zealanders and our History
Dianne Scouller

Freudian Slips: Happy Endings
Sarah Penwarden and Watiri Maina

St Imulus

Bibleworks 9 : A Review Article
Philip Church

Book Reviews


This issue of Stimulus is engaged, intentionally" or otherwise, with that most fascinating of subjects: ourselves. It is a wondering about who we are as human animals on this planet at this time. But beyond that, it is a wondering at who we are as people of faith – indeed, people of a particular faith – who share our place with other humans. This manifests itself most evidently in several articles engaged in the enterprise of what has come in recent years to be known as public theology. Public theology is characterised by theological engagement with matters of concern to the human community as a whole. Of course, theologians have always claimed that theology is “public” in nature, in that it is dealing with the great themes of God in relation to humanity – to knowledge and being that undergirds all knowledge and being. But the fact is that most theological conversation, at least in the modern period in the West, has increasingly taken place within the fence of the church and those parts of the academy that are interested in theological themes. Public theology seeks to leap the fence and engage theology with society, both by arguing that reflection on God is a legitimate and necessary partner in key social conversations and by making its own contribution to those conversations. This means that public theology is often interdisciplinary in nature, and needs to be if its voice is to be heard. Considering that to be the case, though, a recent analysis has suggested that much public theology has a “worrying self-referential tendency,” and is likely to be heard primarily in explicitly theological contexts. I suspect, for instance, that, even allowing for the cultured intelligence of basketball fans, the average follower of the New Zealand Breakers, whose agony and ecstasy I share, is highly unlikely to be aware that an Interface issue on theology and sport a) exists, and even b) has a basketball as the cover photograph.

Professor Andrew Bradstock recently completed nearly five years as the inaugural director of the University of Otago’s Centre for Theology and Public Issues. In this issue he provides a survey of the contribution (or otherwise) of church and theology to public conversations in New Zealand. In doing so, he notes the growing appreciation of religion as a factor in society and argues for the ongoing importance of a theological voice in the public square. This is followed up by two contributions of differing outlook on an issue that is likely to emerge as a significant public debate during the next electoral cycle: voluntary euthanasia. Our two voices on that matter are Jack Havill and David Richmond. This is a debate within which the church will surely demand a place, and in doing so will hopefully make a robust contribution to the formation of public policy around an issue that has at its heart an understanding of what it means to be human.

The question of the nature of humanity is partly a scientific one, and Nicola Hoggard Creegan features twice in that respect in this issue. Her own column, “Models and Metaphors,” poses a range of questions put by the science of our day to a theological understanding of the nature of humanity. Look out for a robust set of seminars on that general theme run this year by the TANSA network. And a review by Andrew Shepherd of Nicola’s book, Animal Suffering and the Problem of Evil, as well as a response to the book by Yael Klangwisan, ponder further those questions. Any attempt to live well in the light of God needs to be founded on thinking about the nature of our humanity.

Making a contribution to those around us, however, is not always or best achieved by the conscious expression of public theology. Sometimes faithful living emerges as its own contribution to an understanding of what it means to be human in the light of God. Yael Klangwisan’s appreciation of the film Of Gods and Men, the story of seven Trappist monks caught up in the Algerian civil war, draws that out nicely. At other times Christians are simply engaged in the stuff of life that preoccupies everybody else. In our regular “Educated Guesses” column, Di Scouller ponders her own awakening to the significance of the Treaty of Waitangi for all New Zealanders. And Geoff New in his “Text to Life” contribution notices the steady theme in Scripture of complex family relationships, and wonders how that theme might inform our own complex webs of family relationships. In preoccupations with such archetypal human themes as family relationships and societal equity, Christians also contribute in the public square.

While family dysfunction is a distressing feature of the human experience, it is only possible because of the truth so memorably expressed by seventeenth century poet and one time Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, John Donne:

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent A part of the main.

One expression of this interdependence is that human beings are inspired by heroes. John Hitchen demonstrates that in his personal account of encounter with J. Oswald Sanders. Another expression of that interdependence is that no one person has the necessary talents and means for survival; human beings need specialists and to specialise. In assessing and advising readers on a recent Bible software upgrade Philip Church demonstrates the value of human talent and resource made available to others.

Our hope is that the set of writings in this issue will stimulate readers to ponder more deeply our humanity in the light of God, the better to bring that understanding to bear at those points where our own lives intersect with the lives of those around us.

Tim Meadowcroft
Senior Lecturer in Biblical Studies at Laidlaw College and a member of the Stimulus Editorial Committee.