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New Zealand Jesus

Social and Religious Transformations of an Image, 1890–1940

Geoffrey Troughton

What did early twentieth century New Zealanders make of Jesus, and what do their understandings tell us? This study provides the first historical analysis of New Zealand images of Jesus. Using a diverse range of churchly and secular sources it examines key themes and representations. These images provide insights into the character of New Zealand religion and its place in the nation’s history and culture – from dimensions of childhood and gender through to debates about social reform. They also highlight broader dynamics of social and religious change. Crucially, this work traces the rise of a new kind of Jesus-centred religiosity that reflected wider cultural shifts. The form was particularly evident among Protestant Christians, who embraced Jesus in their efforts to modernise Christianity and extend its influence within the community. The author shows that this development was a response to change that profoundly reoriented Protestant Christianity.

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5. Children’s Jesus 151

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151 5. Children’s Jesus In many ways, New Zealand’s Jesus was the children’s Jesus. First acquaintances with him came almost universally in childhood, and this was also the time when he was most regularly invoked. Children probably had more occasions to consider Jesus than any other group, and beliefs about the nature of childhood, religion and society ensured that these representations were enduring. Stated more forcefully, Jesus and childhood were strongly correlated. Jesus featured prominently in the religious idiom associated with children and became an increasingly important focus, especially in the religion of Protestant children during the first half of the twentieth century. Jesus’ prominence in the religion of childhood reflected the rise of Jesus-centred Protestantism, and the impact of long-term social and religious patterns. There is widespread agreement that more pluralistic urban societies favoured ‘the gradual emergence of a prolonged version of childhood and adolescence’.1 In the nineteenth century, childhood lengthened along with education. The twentieth century concept of adolescence extended childhood still further. Smaller families altered age relations, while the philosophies of Locke and Rousseau, Romantic ideals and psychological ideas about human development all encouraged gentler, more sympathetic, child-centred ideals. Religious values were also important. Christian concern for children was often inspired by the New Testament. The Gospels suggested that Jesus elevated their status within the family, and generally, by describing them as exemplary entrants into the Kingdom of God.2 Later Puritan and evangelical traditions emphasised doctrine of Original Sin, though the implications for child-rearing practices were often...

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