Association of Contemporary Church Historians

(Arbeitsgemeinschaft kirchlicher Zeitgeschichtler)

John S. Conway, Editor. University of British Columbia

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Newsletter- January 2002- Vol. VIII, no. 1


Dear Friends,

The beginning of a New Year is perhaps the appropriate time to
widen our horizons, so I am delighted to be able to offer you a few
observations on the world-wide ecumenical mission of the Church
during the last century, from the point of view, first of a missionary
to India, and one of the founding bishops of the new Church of
South India; and secondly a review of the masterly survey of church
history in Africa by the late Swedish scholar Bengt Sundkler, as
completed by his research partner Christopher Steed. Once again,
these comprehensive studies made me very envious of their authorsí
skills. Perhaps they will be an incentive for all us church historians
to follow in their footsteps.

1) Book reviews: a) Wainwright, Lesslie Newbigin
b) Sundkler and Steed, A history of the Church in

2) Bonhoeffer Symposium - Bonhoeffer and the Pomeranian aristocracy

3) Christian-Jewish Relations revisited

4) Journal articles a) Moses, Australian Anglican leaders and the
Great War
b) Fletcher, Anglicanism and National Identity in

Index of books reviewed in 2000

1) Geoffrey Wainwright, Lesslie Newbigin. A theological life.
Oxford University Press, 2000 459pp. ISBN 0-19-510171-5

In retrospect, it is clear that twentieth century church history
falls into two periods. The caesura is in the mid-1960s: for the
Catholics, it came with the Second Vatican Council and its
reforming pronouncements; for western Protestants it was marked
by such events as the 4th Assembly of the World Council of
Churches in Uppsala, Sweden. The earlier period saw the attempt
to recover the authority and authenticity of Christianity after the
disasters of the two world wars, the skeptical attacks of modern
secular science, and the onslaughts of radical political ideologies,
such as Nazism and Communism. But the later years saw a
different challenge, coming from within and from below. A newer
generation, mainly from the so-called Third World, brought
different priorities than the restoration or reinvigoration of
ecclesiastical institutions. Instead, Christian witness was now seen
as renouncing the structures of the past, even living as though God
did not exist, and identifying with the worldís poor and oppressed,
and taking up the cause of justice, righteousness and peace.

Lesslie Newbiginís long life straddled both periods. As a
bishop in South India, a high-ranking official in the missionary arm
of the world ecumenical movement, and as an accomplished
practical theologian, he can be seen as demonstrating how an older
generation came to terms with the newer trends, sometimes with
enthusiasm but sometimes wistfully longing for past patterns of
witness and service. Geoffrey Wainwright, who is a professor at
Duke University, has written, not a biography, but an extended
examination of Newbiginís numerous theological writings. He
provides an excellent and ìthickî guide to the various phases of
Newbiginís thought, and shows how, in both India and Europe, he
wrestled with the issues of the day, and sought a theological
response to personal, political as well as institutional challenges.
Since Newbigin contributed his own Unfinished Agenda: An
Autobiography in 1985, Wainwright concentrates on the literary and
theological legacy, rightly convinced that here is a treasure trove
deserving a wider reception.

Like Joe Oldham a generation earlier [K.Clementsí
biography was reviewed here in July], Newbigin was brought, in
part, to dedicate his life to Christ and his services to the missionary
movement through John R. Mott and the Student Christian
Movement, while at Cambridge. After ordination he was posted to
the Presbyterian Mission in Madurai, South India and soon made his
mark there. In the 1930s and 1940s South India was the worldís
most promising experiment in the search for visible unity between
the various Protestant denominations. As such it attracted an
enormous amount of attention, and theological arguments surged to
and fro. Finally in 1947 unity was achieved, at least between the
Presbyterians, Anglicans and Methodists. Newbigin became one of
the new churchís champions and, despite his background, was made
a bishop at the opening ceremony. In the following year he attended
the inaugural Assembly of the World Council of Churches, which
also had Christian unity, and the overcoming of the disastrous
denominational rivalries of the past, as one of its chief goals. From
then on, Newbigin was in constant demand at ecumenical gatherings
around the world at frequent intervals. Many of these required him
to write extended papers or lectures or even books, all of which
Wainwright carefully and systematically examines.

From 1959 to 1965, Newbigin served as General Secretary of
the International Missionary Council and its successor the Division
of World Mission and Evangelism in the World Council of
Churches. Early on he recognized that the tasks of world mission
and ecclesial unity were deeply affected by the rapid dissolution of
the thousand-year synthesis between the Gospel and the cultures of
western Europe, by which Christianity had become more or less a
folk religion for that region. But now it was necessary to rescue the
Gospel from such outward clothing and to find a new authentic
witness suitable for all continents. Obviously Newbigin believed in
the need for a unified expression of this new witness, but he was
also well aware of the difficulties of moving beyond the legacies of
the past, in order to achieve some new reality beyond mere
occasional co-operation. Such unity had to be both local and
universal - visibly one fellowship. ìOnly if the Church at every
level is moving towards the unity to which God calls all humankind
is it true to its natureî. But such idealistic hopes still remain to be
realized. In 1974 when he finally left India, Newbigin remarked:
ìThirty years ago we had been innocent enough to hope that three
decades would be enough to enable the divided churches of England
to catch up with Indiaî. But, sadly, the goal is no nearer twenty five
more years on. The united churches on the Indian subcontinent are
regarded as marginal oddities rather than pioneers.

Similarly Newbigin could not fail to be disappointed by the
performance of the World Council of Churches whose meetings he
attended for forty years. He increasingly found himself out of tune
with the politicized rhetoric of its recent gatherings, so different
from the traditional emphasis on biblical and personal witness and
on the unique claims of the Gospel. Where some church leaders
stressed the need to accept religious pluralism lest rival claims for
hegemony produce a fatal clash of cultures, Newbigin lamented the
absence of any Good News to redeem the world.

Wainwrightís chapter on Newbigin as a missionary strategist
is excellent. Going out to India in the last decade of the Raj, he
quickly saw the need to abandon the racially-dominated paternalist
structures of the former missions, with their innate assumption of
European superiority. He readily accepted the need for the new
Indian church to be self-governing and self-reliant, just because this
was a far more healthy recipe for Christian witness and expansion.
For too long the local converts had been willing to be dependent and
avoided the necessity of responsibility. So too, at the international
level, it was Newbigin who led the way in uniting the structures of
the International Missionary Council - heavily centred in Europe and
North America - with those of the World Council of Churches with
its emphasis on the full participation of the younger churches. One
Body, One Gospel, One World was the title of his book justifying
this integration. Yet he continued to insist that the Churchís priority
was to bring more people to recognize Jesus as Saviour, and
opposed any identification of political or social revolutionary
movements with the work of redemption. The danger of
Pelagianism in such an approach was obvious. But increasingly
Newbigin was concerned about the need for a missionary attack on
the powerful paganism of the western world, which too often had
successfully relegated Jesus to the irrelevance of the private sector.

Wainwrightís exposition of Newbiginís writings on other
themes is equally cogent and supported by lengthy quotations. His
leadership positions and involvement in world-wide church agencies
meant that he was frequently required to speak, lecture or preach on
significant issues, which were then incorporated in his writings. For
example, as a European present when India gained independence,
his publication on Christian Participation in Nation-Building was
an attempt to chart the constructive role which the minority
community of Christians could play if it so chose. Luckily he found
Indian partners, such as M.M.Thomas, who attempted to carry out
this programme. Political responsibility was what all the avant
garde argued for in moving from a church-centred to a more secular
approach, as reflected at the 1968 WCC Assembly in Uppsala. But
later in his life he retreated from the overblown expectations of such
a stance, and again emphasized the need to witness to Christ and His
Kingdom as a transcendental reality. On his final return to Britain
from India in 1974, he was shocked by the decline of the religious
faith he had known as a boy. He now summoned the churches to a
new missionary encounter with the culture. Relying on the Christian
heritage of the past was not enough for a Britain where there were
now more Muslims than Methodists.

In his old age, he set out valiantly to combat the social
fragmentation, the intellectual skepticism, the moral cynicism and
the spiritual despair of late twentieth-century society. His particular
targets were the relativistic interpretation of freedom and the
acquisitiveness of consumer capitalism. Both he believed led the
individual to a paganism of a deadly kind, worshipping gods that
were not God. His two books, Foolishness to the Greeks and The
Gospel in A Pluralistic Society, along with other writings, such as
his last book Faith and Power - Christianity and Islam in ìSecularî
Britain, were powerful reflections of the need for a redemptive
missionary approach, which would confront modern culture with its
failings and call for repentance. In the light of the centuryís
disasters, he believed, the popular assumptions aroused by the
Enlightenment, especially the belief in education and
self-development, could only be seen as illusory. The Churchís task
was to witness against such fallacies, to resist the temptation of
accommodating to the surrounding culture, and instead to be a sign
and foretaste of Godís Kingdom, as both a promise and a warning
for the present day. With such views, it was hardly surprising that
Newbigin was ìlionizedî by certain conservative circles in the

Wainwrightís thoughtful and thorough analysis of
Newbiginís writings is obviously imbued with his admiration for the
man, whom he compares to the great bishop-theologians of the early
church. This careful assessment of his career and achievements
should surely serve to uphold the causes he embraced with such
Christian devotion and skill.

1b) Bengt Sundkler and Christopher Steed, A History of the Church
in Africa. Cambridge: University Press 2000. 1232 pp. ISBN 0521
58342 X

Inevitably this huge compendious tome will be compared
with the only slightly less voluminous study (706 pp) by the British
Catholic scholar, who sadly died in May of last year, Adrian
Hastings, The Church in Africa 1450-1950, (Oxford University
Press, 1994). Both were attempting to do the impossible: cram
within the covers of a single volume the story of the Christian
presence in Africa over many centuries and many societies.
Hastings limited himself to black Africa and dealt only with four
hundred years. But Sundkler was more ambitious, or shall we say
more visionary. He wanted to take in the whole continent from the
time of the Holy Familyís flight to Egypt up to the present, and
resolutely includes all branch

es of the Church in his wonderfully
ecumenical panorama.
Equally inevitably, the question of methodology arises. Both
Hastings and Sundkler was deliberately reacting against the old-style
missionary history, which reflected the nineteenth century carving
up of Africa by European imperial powers. Such histories were
designed to record the missionary societiesí successes, but were
inevitably top downwards in focus and often limited by
denominational blinkers. African Christians were often merely the
passive recipients of the European-bestowed blessings. So in
contrast, Sundkler stresses the African character of the Christian
presence from the time of the desert fathers, through the unbroken
native tradition of the Ethiopian Church, unconquered until 1936, to
the full transfer into black hands from 1950 onwards. Sundklerís
qualifications were unrivaled - as a former missionary, and
subsequently a Lutheran bishop in Tanzania, he was committed
throughout his career to the cause of Africanization of the church
structures and institutions. He later studied these developments
closely from his professorial chair at Uppsala University. This
massive tome was twenty years in the making. Unfortunately
Professor Sundkler did not live to see its completion, which was
undertaken by his research associate Christopher Steed. But his
overarching vision certainly shows through, and his mastery of
detail makes this an encyclopaedic account, both as a reference
work, but also as a guide to outside readers eager to follow events in
the continent where Christianity is growing at its fastest.

Half the book is dedicated to the twentieth century, and
begins with a survey of the impact of the European-started wars of
this era. Even though Africa was only tangentially involved,
nevertheless Sundkler makes the point that thousands of Africans
were recruited for service overseas, thus widening their horizons and
expectations irrevocably. This was to be the first stimulus towards
self-rule, both political and ecclesiastical. The challenge to imperial
control began after 1918 and swept to victory over the whole
continent after 1945. But it was matched by the European churchesí
own changed feelings, with the desire for a creative abdication of
the white manís control and a willingness to transfer power into
African hands. Of course, missionary paternalism made many
missionaries on the spot reluctant to anticipate this handing over of
authority. But instructions from home base, and expectations from
below, swept the board in a remarkably short time. In the case of
the Catholics, as early as the 1920s, Pope Pius XI had issued
instructions for the training of an African clergy, and the first
African bishop in the modern era was consecrated in 1939. On the
Protestant side, despite the example of Bishop Crowther on the
Niger, consecrated in 1864, it took longer for the British missionary
societies to see the need for change or to recognize that the era of
white-controlled local churches had come to a close. But the
evidence soon proved overwhelming. The success of African-led
churches in preaching the gospel was far greater. Conservative white
missionaries or their supporters might deplore the rapid growth of
African sectarianism, or the rise of independent churches, along
with a syncretic mixture of native traditions. But their vitality could,
and can, not be denied. And who is to say that Gregorian chant, a
baroque mass or a Wesleyan revival meeting are the only true
models for Christian witness?

For most of the century, African education was entirely in
the hands of the missions. But its long-term impact was to be
disruptive of the traditional agricultural societies. Revolutionary
expectations were aroused, not least, as Desmond Tutu so frequently
noted, by that revolutionary book, the Bible. The village teacher
now appeared to be the key to the future. Many of this centuryís
great political leaders, from Nkrumah to Nyerere, began their
careers as school teachers. As a result the churchesípolitical role has
often been conspicuous, though not uncontroversial. But in
Sundklerís view Christianity modified the potential for
revolutionary violence, and kept in check both secularism and
socialism. Its formative impact on the transition to black majority
rule in South Africa was one of the centuryís most notable

After these general remarks, Sundkler turns to 300 pages of
detailed description of conditions in each locality or country. This
demonstrates a vast empirical knowledge, which only whets the
appetite for more. But it also makes clear the multifaceted
pluralism of conditions for the Christian presence, which makes
general conclusions virtually impossible. Paradoxically, rapid social
and political change can sweep the church along with it; yet islands
of age-old tradition still remain, such as the Coptic monasteries in
Egypt or Ethiopia, where the same liturgy has been celebrated for
fifteen hundred unbroken years. In many countries, a new found
passion for politics undermined the old social arrangements,
including those supported by the early missionaries. Nationalism
and urbanization often caused a critical escalation of tension and
violence, especially in Southern Africa. The influence of the
churches could, at best, be palliative. And yet their connections,
both to the past, and to other Christian societies abroad, proved to be
significant in fashioning the new Africa.

If indigenization was the hallmark of the Christian
experience in the second half of the twentieth century, it still took a
wide variety of forms. Inevitably there will be some who find
Sundklerís attempts to include all church expressions in all
countries to be rather breathless. Others will find fault that too little
has been said about a corner of the continent they know best. Even
such a monumental tome has its limitations. But the vignettes
Sundkler provides of the Churchís struggles and successes, the
confidence of his analyses and the inclusive comprehensiveness of
his broad brush strokes are magisterial, and magnificent. This is not
a book many will want to read right through. But invaluable to have
on hand to refer to, and to use its excellent bibliography and
footnotes. Its achievement will not likely be repeated until, perhaps,
an African scholar comes along as well equipped to survey his
continentís Christian destiny in so sympathetic a manner.


2) The International Bonhoeffer Society - German section has
recently published the texts of a Colloquium held in 1990 on the
topic of Bonhoeffer and the Pomeranian aristocracy. Commentaries
by four members of these families, with whom Bonhoeffer was to be
associated had he lived to be married to Maria, along with other
Bonhoeffer relatives, seek to explain the seemingly strange links
between this highly educated scholarly theologian and the landed
gentry, still caught up with their militarist, nationalist and hunting
and shooting backgrounds. No satisfactory conclusion was reached
at this Colloquium, and the whole issue was highlighted even more
sharply in the collection of letters between Bonhoeffer and Maria,
Love Letters from Cell 92, ed. Ruth-Alice Bismarck (Mariaís sister),
translated by John Brownjohn, London: HarperCollins 1994, or
Nashville, Tenn: Abingdon Press 1995.

3) Christian-Jewish relations revisited.
Last month, a new stage in Christian-Jewish relations was begun at
Sacred Heart University, Fairfeld, Connecticut which was in marked
contrast to the controversy described in last Septemberís Newsletter.
This conference consisted of presentations by Rabbi Norman
Solomon, Oxford and Cardinal Walter Kasper, President of the
Vaticanís Commission for Religious Relations with Jews. Their
helpful and constructive dialogue on the subject of ìCovenantî is
fortunately available on the web-site:
See also Marcus Braybrooke, Christian-Jewish Dialogue. The next
steps, London: SCM Press 2000, with a very pertinent response by
Rabbi Bayfield.

4) Journal articles:
John Moses, Australian Anglican Leaders and the Great War,
1914-1918: The ìPrussian Menaceî, Conscription and National
Solidarity in The Journal of Religious History, Vol. 25, no 3,
October 2001, 306-323.

John Moses portrays the Australian Anglican leadersí efforts to
convince their countrymen of the spiritual dimension of the struggle
against Germany, or most particularly against ìthe Prussian
menaceî, which they rightly saw as central to the future of
Australiaís place in the British Empire. For such men, a future
without the empire was unthinkable, since they were persuaded of
the Empireís mission bestowed by Almighty God to bring the
benefits of British political culture to distant parts of the earth.
Irish-born Australians were not convinced, especially after the
British denial of Home Rule to Ireland. The Roman Catholic
Church in Australia campaigned strongly against the ìBritishî war,
or conscription for Australians - a situation which led to heightened
resentments between the two denominations. Moses takes issue with
those Australian historians who have decried the influence of the
Anglican bishops, or indeed of all the clergy in this turning point of
Australiaís development.

Brian Fletcher, Anglicanism and National Identity in Australia since
1962 in The Journal of Religious History, Vol 25, no 3, October
2001, 324-345.

In 1952 Anglicans in Australia at last gained a new constitution,
breaking the link with the Church of England and providing an
opportunity to become more Australian. In the past four decades
other social changes, particularly in the position of women and the
indigenous people, have also challenged the ascendancy of the white
British-born males. But the Anglicansí new sense of identity still
has to be achieved, striving to shake off any nostalgic bondage to the
former mother country (or church), while adapting the old liturgies
and architecture to the new age. Fletcher argues that the widening of
the Anglican horizons, particularly through the arrival of non-British
immigrants, and a new openness to native spirituality, has benefited
the church, and prevented it remaining in an Anglo-Saxon ghetto. It
had brought its identity more fully into line with that of the nation,
thus opening new paths into the future.

With every best wish to you all for a successful and prosperous New
Year. I shall again appreciate having your communications and
comments, so please keep in touch.

John S.Conway
Association of Contemporary Church Historians

List of books reviewed in 2001

Allen, John L, Cardinal Ratzinger June
Bedarida R, Les Catholiques dans la guerre July
Besier, G, Zwischen nationaler Revolution . . . October
Brenner, M., et al, Two nations January
Chadwick, K ed., Catholicism in 20th century France July
Clements, K, Faith on the Frontier. J.H.Oldham July
Denzler G., ed Theologische Wissenschaft April
Dixon, Joy, Divine Feminine November
Dudley-Smith, T, John Stott. The making of a leader December
Eman. D, Things we couldnít say: (Dutch resistance) December
Feldkamp, M, Pius XII und Deutschland June
Gerlach, W, And the Witnesses were silent May
Kertzer, D, The Popes against the Jews December
Lindemann, G., ìTypische judischî January
Locke, Hubert Learning from History February
Pangritz, A, Karl Barth in the theology of Bonhoeffer May
Pollard, J, The unknown Pope. Benedict XV July
Rauscher A. ed., Wider der Rassismus October
Sampson C., ed., From the Ground Up (Mennonites ) May
Schaeffer, B., Staat und katholische Kirche in der DDR February
Schjorring, J.H., ed History of the Lutheran World Federation
Stayer, J., Martin Luther January
Ustorf, W, Sailing on the next tide (German missions) November
Zucotti, S,Under his very windows (Pope Pius XII) April