Skip to main content

A Rising Tide by Stuart Lange—Some Thoughts

I have just finished reading A Rising Tide: Evangelical Christianity in New Zealand 1930–65 by my friend, mentor, and colleague, Stuart Lange. 

Like Destiny by Peter Lineham referred to in the previous blog-post, it is a fine book. Both Lineham and Lange are great writers. I enjoyed Stuart’s book greatly. Dr Lange writes as an observer-participant. As one who has worked with Stuart in Affirm, the evangelical wing of the Presbyterian Church for the last 20 years or so, I read it with the same bias; although in a more indirect sense only joining the story in the mid-80s. Certainly my bias led me to find a lot to love about the book, as I found context for the movement I have participated in since my conversion in 1985. Indeed, this occurred at one of the evangelical churches that represents the evangelical stream Lange explores—St Columbas Presbyterian then under the leadership of Rev Graeme Murray, an important evangelical leader. It was intriguing seeing familiar names like Roxburgh, Meadowcroft, Don Elley, Derek Eaton, and so on.

The book certainly describes the period of the rising tide of Presbyterian and Anglican evangelicalism. It was reaffirmed to me that I am an heir not to some of the more belligerent American forms of evangelicalism,  but the more irenic British evangelicalism represented by the likes of Stott and Packer. I feel I now understand more fully the tradition I stand in in the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa NZ and Presbyterian Affirm. I am indebted to the wonderful work done for the evangelicals who went before. The word “evangelical” is much maligned, but the story woven by Lange gives me a more positive and optimistic sense of ownership of “my” heritage. I found myself more motivated than before to live a life faithful to the gospel.

For me, like J.I. Packer, evangelicalism is defined by “faithfulness to Scripture.” This leads to a range of other core elements of Christian life like image bearing; gospel; Christ and Christ alone; a life filled with the Spirit; God in history and creation; the problem of sin and evil; mission with evangelism at its centre but embracing the transformation of a world; faith, hope, and love; conversionism; crucicentricism; the second coming; eternal judgment; and eternal life, among others. Knowing how to read and apply the Scriptures remains my deepest desire.

I was struck throughout his descriptions of core leaders by the recurring reference to the importance of biblical preaching and exposition, prayer, and passion. In this regard, the description of evangelicalism in many ways reflects Stuart Lange. I know him well and found in the story of his forebears reasons he is what he is. He knows the story in which he is embedded and has sought to live the best of it. In my biased view, he is an embodiment of the positives of the story. He has carried on the work of Miller, Orange, and others, and the evangelical heritage has been in great hands.

A few things bugged me. I wish there were chapters on the evangelicalism in the Baptist, Open Brethren, an d Methodist movements. They were not without mention, but I think a full picture of evangelicalism would include these two important evangelical traditions more fully. I feel the book is slightly misnamed and should include specifically evangelicalism as represented in universities, Anglicanism, and Presbyterianism. The book to me calls for further volumes that explore  other evangelical traditions and their relationship to those described in this fine book.

I thought there may be more critique of the evangelical movement. Disputes and limitations were mentioned. However, the tone is very positive, unsurprising for an author who identifies so strongly with it. I wondered if more thought could be given to why, despite the rise of evangelicalism, the two denominations and university ministries mentioned have declined (including the evangelical wing). Why has it declined? In the PCANZ evangelicalism has become more dominant, despite some very vibrant parishes like Stuart Lange’s own church in Massey, overall it is declining like all the Church. What has gone wrong? Was it avoidable? What did the Westminster Fellowship and other organisations fail to do that may have contributed? Why did so many abdicate even evangelical mainline churches for Pentecostalism? What blind spots led to this? I don’t have the answers myself, or better, I have some ideas, but I would like to have heard his view. To me the book demands a series of sequels looking at the charismatic renewal more closely, and the subsequent history including the decline of the WF and the rise of Affirm. Perhaps Stuart is not the one to write such stories, as he is so embroiled in the subsequent period that it may need the hand of someone a little further removed. The good news is that Stuart Lange is well-positioned to look for able Church History PhD students to carry on the story and extend it.

All in all, I loved this book. I am excited to read such wonderful works from Kiwis like Peter L and Stuart L. I recommend these two books heartily to all who want to understand who we are in NZ.


Rex Ahdar said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Popular posts from this blog

Ten Reasons Why A.J. Miller is NOT Jesus!

Note: Forgive me for the long blog, but this one really got me going! Last Sunday night on TV One's Sunday aired the report A.J. The Messiah. The program was the story of A.J. Miller in Queensland in Australia, who, unlike most of us, genuinely believes that he is Jesus. Miller appears at one level to be a normal Aussie bloke, in his early thirties, longish brown hair, unshaven, good looking, articulate and charismatic. Yet, unlike anyone I know but in the manner of other Messiah-claimants, he says without inhibition, "I am actually Jesus." He claims to remember vividly his former life and death including his experience of crucifixion. The memories supposedly began when he was 2 years old and realised later that he was Jesus around 33. In the program he writes on a white-board, "I am Jesus. Deal with it"—to applause from his congregation. He has disciples, some of whom claim to have been with him 2000 years ago including Mary Magdalene who is his "soul-ma

The First Unlikely Evangelists!

I realised something the other day that I think is rather cool that got me thinking about the first evangelists. The first evangelists were Moses and the prophets, who prophesied the coming of Messiah, the Spirit giving them prophetic insight into a coming Messiah, Son of Man, Servant and Son of God. Then, immediately before Jesus Messiah appeared on the scene, there is John, the locust and honey eating, camel wearing, wilderness wandering preacher and baptiser, sent by God to prepare the way for the Messiah, fulfilling Isaiah 40 and Malachi 3, 4. Then there is the Great Evangelist, Jesus himself, who came preaching the “gospel of the Kingdom” calling people to repent and believe the good news. Then there were those he selected, a motley crew of fishermen, tax-collectors, zealots and more, and the 72, sent to preach the King and Kingdom.  We see the first followers at work in John’s Gospel. First, in John 1 John the Baptist who effectively instructed Andrew and another disciple

Tribute to Stuart Lange

For anyone who is interested, I have attached my tribute to Rev Stuart Lange here. He is a legend! It was fun to roast him.... A Tribute to Stuart Lange, No Longer Vice Principal Community of Laidlaw… But still church history lecturer… so not a good bye, but my way of Saying Thanks to you for your years as VP Community… Stuart Lange, not Langey; or Longey; or not langgggg.. but Lange! Or, as I like to put it, S.lang… Slang… for good reason. Stuart Lange, history prof, a man who truly embodies his subject; the quintessential historical prof… Slightly eccentric, crooked smile, hooked and bent nose… you know he has a crook elbow too, took the dog for a walk, hit the chain, smashed the elbow… Of course the dog was unharmed… No Surprise, a lover of animals, each year looking after the animals at the Massey Christmas drive through, donkeys, lamas… etc… Then there is his Einsteinlich hair… kind of a wild man of Southland look… in fact… Stuart Lange A face a cartoonist would die for! The ne