We arrived home safely about 9 p.m. last night (Thursday, August 24, 2000 Houston time), 28 hours after waking on the same date in the distinctly "Scottish" town of Dunedin on the South Island of predominately "British" New Zealand. New Zealand is an extraordinarily beautiful Pacific country composed of two major islands, situated 1200 miles southeast of Australia. Explorers launch out from NZ to Antarctica and the South Pole. If you imagine England and Scotland 125% larger, inverted in the South Pacific, you won't be far wrong. Or think of California, reduced by 25%, then stretched thinner to extend from Mexico to Canada. New Zealand is situated about the same distance south of the Equator as the USA is north, which makes August its final month of winter, with weather somewhat matching our entire west coast except upside down.
Although relatively small, and obnoxiously overshadowed by its distant neighbor Australia, New Zealand has numerous claims to fame. It was the birthplace of novelist Katherine Mansfield and of movie actor Russell Crowe, and it is still the homeland of explorer Sir Edmund Hillary. New Zealand yachtsmen beat the USA to capture the current America's Cup racing trophy. Golfer Tiger Woods' caddy, Steve Williams, is a native New Zealander. The black sand beaches in "The Piano" were filmed on New Zealand's North Island; its South Island mountains have been chosen as the site for a series of movies based on Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. New Zealand is homeland to kiwi fruit and the flightless kiwi bird (the people also call themselves "Kiwis") and the home of Cadbury chocolate. New Testament scholar E. M. Blaiklock is a New Zealander, as is theologian Murray J. Harris.
New Zealand's first known inhabitants were the 14th century Maoris, who presumably traveled there by dugout canoes from Polynesia, some 2,000 miles away. They named the thin, lengthy islands Aotearoa -- "the Land of the Long White Cloud." Dutch explorer Abel Tasman arrived in 1642 and called it "Nieuw Zeeland," after a province in Holland. British Captain James Cook came still later, and New Zealand soon was colonized by immigrants from England.
This was a working vacation to New Zealand, in which I averaged almost one presentation per day. On successive Sunday mornings I preached at Titirangi Baptist Church (pastor Jonathon Weir) and at Owairaka Baptist Church (pastors Bruce Hilder and Carl Josephson), sharing three points from John 3:13-17 -- that God desires to save people, not to condemn them; that he saves believers through the merits and for the sake of Jesus Christ; and that the alternative to eternal life is, indeed, to perish. Sunday evenings saw advertised public meetings at Remuera Baptist Church (pastor Warren Prestidge) and at Hamilton Church of Christ, Life & Advent (pastor Warren Salisbury). These 45-60 minute presentations of biblical teaching concerning final alternatives (eternal life or the second death) were followed by 30-60 minutes of animated questions and answers.
Between Sundays, I presented lectures at the interdenominational, evangelical Bible College of New Zealand (BCNZ), whose graduates now serve Christ in 110 countries around the world. BCNZ is New Zealand's largest Christian college/seminary, and it was the nation's first private institution authorized to grant university and graduate-level degrees. I was privileged to address Dr. Chris Marshall's post-graduate seminar ("Does Scripture Teach Everlasting Torment?"), to lecture Dr. Nicola Hoggan-Cregan's introductory theology class one day and to return the day after for Q&A ("Final Punishment in the Bible"), and to speak to a faculty seminar drawn from BCNZ and the (Brethren) Pathway College ("The State of the American Evangelical Debate Concerning Hell").
I also presented material for three hours (with two tea breaks) to an advanced theology class at Carey Baptist College ("The End of the Wicked in the New Testament"), by kind invitation of Dr. Martin Sutherland. That night, I gave a public presentation at Auckland University on the biblical view of hell. On the final night of our tour, I spoke for nearly an hour on the same topic, with another hour's Q&A, at a public coffee house meeting hosted by a Christian bookstore in Dunedin on the South Island. Somewhere between, I addressed a dinner meeting of the trip's sponsoring organization, the nondenominational Conditional Immortality Association of New Zealand (CIANZ), who had requested an informal history of the origins and effects of my books The Fire That Consumes (1982) and Two Views of Hell (2000, IVP). Audiences at eleven of the twelve presentations represented various opinions on the topics discussed -- my views were usually held by a small minority of those attending. Disagreements were politely expressed, however, and I attempted to make my own case with grace and in a nondogmatic spirit.
Sara Faye and I can never adequately thank Carl (and Sharon) Josephson, who scheduled the dozen meetings -- and got us to them, besides providing personal tour-guide services for many days. We were also pleased to meet pastor David Burge and family, presently CIANZ president, and pastor-author Warren Prestidge (and wife Jackie), whose own New Zealand-published book on "Life, Death & Destiny" admirably sets out the biblical case for human immortality as conferred only by God's gift, in the Resurrection, to the saved. For additional biblical material on these themes, see the CIANZ website.
Most New Zealanders speak English, with a modified British accent to American ears, although Maori is also enjoying a revival among the growing indigenous population. One-third of the nation lives in Auckland -- NZ's counterpart to New York City -- and one of them in five came there from some other part of Asia or the Pacific. By far the country's largest and most cosmopolitan city, Auckland's 1.3 million residents sprawl from Waitemata Harbor on the Pacific Ocean to Manukau Harbor on the Tasman Sea. Auckland appropriately calls itself "The City of Sails" -- its harbors' dancing waters sparkle with sailboats and yachts of all sizes. To this tourist of two weeks, it appears that most Aucklanders are proud to live in that city, while most people from the rest of the country are equally proud that they do not!
Eleven of my twelve speaking appointments were in or around Auckland, but we also enjoyed several days touring elsewhere. We visited Rotorua, a city of hot geysers, steam holes and boiling mud, built around a picturesque lake which actually is the crater of an extinct volcano. A popular tourist attraction there is named "Hell's Gate" -- a horrible place of spewing steam, green boiling pools and sulfurous odors. We drove up the North Island's rocky west coast and hiked its famous black sand beaches. We flew to Christchurch on the Pacific side of the South Island -- "the most British city outside of England" -- where we donned warm overcoats for trolley ("tram") rides around the city's charming shops and museums. When noon arrived, I warmed to a chapel Eucharist in the Anglican Cathedral while Sara Faye thawed out nearby with a cup of hot tea and a scone.
Another day we rode the four-hour Tranz-Alpine train from Christchurch on the Pacific, over the sheep-filled Canterbury Plain, across the snow-capped Southern Alps, to craggy Greymouth on the Tasman Sea -- a coast which, like northern California's, once beheld an onslaught of prospectors in search of gold. We also flew down to Dunedin, a Scottish enclave complete with a castle on the mountaintop and two huge, ancient, stone, cathedral-like, Presbyterian churches named First Church and Knox Presbyterian Church. In various towns we ate lamb and ostrich and beef, along with fish and squid and octopus and mussels, and probably consumed our weight in hot tea and coffees of a dozen varieties. This was an adventure we never expected -- and one which we will never forget.
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