We invited contributors to develop papers situated within the broad theme of Discipleship-Shaped Mission. Although there is certainly a risk of discipleship and mission becoming overused buzzwords that lack theological substance, there is strong agreement from the global Church that these two facets of the Christian journey must work in partnership. Growing as disciples should fuel our participation in God’s mission, and participation in God’s mission directs us to the need for constant growth as followers of Jesus.
The seven major articles which follow in this edition of Stimulus were originally presented as papers at the School of Theology. Representing several subdisciplines, each author has drawn connections between their current research, and how specific theological insights help us to develop further as discipleship-shaped missionaries. It is our hope that these discussions offer fuel for the fire of discipleship and mission for the Church in New Zealand.
David Bosma, a PhD student at Otago, identifies common themes emerging in research addressing the retention of young people within Christian communities. This provides the background for his own Canterbury-based research. Bosma affirms the importance of peer and mentor relationships for young people and makes the thought-provoking observation that despite the effort put into creating culturally relevant messages, preaching has a comparatively insignificant impact. Instead, it is the experience of the Church as a counter-cultural community that has the greatest impact on young people’s decision to belong to a Christian community.
Joel Banman and Michael Bartholomaeus, also PhD students at Otago, both explore issues of biblical interpretation centring on the primacy of encountering Christ in Scripture. Banman draws on Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s argument that Scriptural exegesis relies on the presence of Christ as God with us. Since Christology directs us to ask “who” rather than “how,” good exegesis places the reader face to face with Jesus. The primary hermeneutical question to be asked is therefore, “Who is this Jesus?” This is also a primary question of discipleship, for as Banman observes, “Wherever Christ is, he is there as the risen Lord. So, let’s not talk about him like he’s not in the room.”
Bartholomaeus acknowledges that God’s gracious self-communication in the text of Scripture requires us to intentionally approach the Bible as disciples. We cannot read Scripture as if we are somehow in charge of it, but instead need to set aside our pride in order to embrace the hermeneutical virtue of reading with humility. This leads to a helpful engagement with Karl Barth’s discussion of the correlation between faith and miracles, and the tricky question of whether miracles are reliant on human faith. Drawing on his discussion of a humble approach to Scripture, Bartholomaeus highlights that “faith is only attributed its saving and healing agency with a view to its utter dependence on and orientation to the preceding activity of God.” Reading Scripture in humility prohibits any self-aggrandising interpretation.
Andrew Burgess, Dean of Bishopdale College, argues that our vision of discipleship must be drawn from the call to union with Christ, rather than churchly practices. Discipleship is not about the external imitation of Christ but is rather about being formed into Christ’s image through union with him. While we may speak of the benefits that come with belonging to Christ, these should never be the goal of the Christian life; instead, “Jesus Christ alone, in His union with the Father and Spirit, is the goal.”
Graham O’Brien, Ministry Educator for the Diocese of Nelson and a senior lecturer at Bishopdale College, reflects on the use of imagination in working out how Jesus’ teachings might be best applied to our setting today. He observes that while the situations we face are constantly changing, Jesus’ call to serve each other in love has not changed. Drawing on his involvement with the InterChurch Bioethics Council, O’Brien explores the contemporary issue of physician assisted-suicide/euthanasia. With the End of Life Choice Bill currently before Parliament, this is a relevantly timed article.
Jean Palmer, an adjunct lecturer at Bishopdale College, brings an eco-critical lens to the task of Revelation as a way of broadening the scope of our thought about mission. Palmer highlights the multi-layered ways that the non-human creation features in Revelation, suggesting that John’s vision calls us to pursue discipleship in anticipation of the day when “the inter-relationships between God, humanity and the non-human creation, are transformed and restored.” Palmer’s article invites us to consider care for creation as part of a holistic discipleship.
Returning to the theme of miracles, Otago PhD student Jonathan Robinson observes that Jesus’ miracles function as a disciple-forming device in Mark’s Gospel. The miracles teach the disciples about who Jesus is, and are a way in which he invites them to participate in his ministry. However, the miracles themselves are an incomplete revelation of who Jesus is, for “No amount of miracles witnessed first-hand is enough to fully reveal Jesus without the cross and resurrection.” It is in light of this that Robinson encourages us to seek Christ, rather than seeking miracles.
As usual, there is an excellent range of other features in this edition. Jude Saxon, who oversees the internship programme at Bishopdale College, reflects on the idea that “leaders reproduce leaders” in Hearts and Minds, while this month’s Ministry Corner features retired Nelson Anglican Bishop Richard Ellena looking back over his journey in ministry. Both features contain some great perspectives on discipleship and producing leaders. In Synergeo, counsellor Darlene Adair shares how relational vulnerability helped her to connect with the good news of being known by God, during a personal experience of “not good news.” Easter Procession is this edition’s creative poem, and St Imulus returns with a humorous reflection on the ‘real’ backstory of Lazarus’ resurrection in the Gospel of John.
In the music, film, and book reviews, Peter Jelleyman considers the song Joy released by For King and Country, reflecting on whether the constraints of lyrical expression might inadvertently smooth out some important corrugations in the profoundness of human emotion, while Yael Klangwisan reflects on the ethical paradigm communicated by Avengers: Endgame. Derek Tovey has again gathered an excellent assortment of book reviews on new works that are both theological and pastoral.
It’s been a pleasure to work with Mark Keown, Fiona Sherwin, and Sarah Penwarden on this edition of Stimulus. We trust that you will find it both edifying and challenging, in all the right ways.
Kate Tyler is the College Director at Bishopdale College, where she is involved in everything from lecturing to ensuring that College life runs smoothly from day to day. She holds a PhD from the University of Otago, and a PGDipTheol and a BTheol from Laidlaw College.