Topics in Theology & Ethics


St Martin’s Church, Dominion Road, Mt Roskill.
William Blake, ‘Teach these souls to fly.’ Enitharmon (Pity) with her son Orc (Revolt). 1796.

Integrating theology with the arts is a topic in itself; the attempt also calls for diverse aspects to be given close scrutiny. Thus this forum does not follow a systematic course. While in GAPS ARTS there is a particular interest on drawing upon intellectual sources of the Middle Ages, the topics here discuss issues and ideas in terms of our contemporary world. It is evidently our society’s majority view that a Christian world-view is obsolete and untenable. It is not the intention in these topics to mount defense ‘proofs’. However there are very big gaps in popular thinking—and in much Christian thinking—which seem to be seldom, or inadequately, articulated.

In many ways there is a new interest in ‘spirituality’, albeit apart from religion. It seems unsatisfactory—perhaps a bypath—if it is apart from a cogent theology. Theology connects and centres things, away from self-centredness and even ‘self-realisation’.

Christian mentality is often reckoned to be shackled by literalism and anthropomorphism; yet there is an intellectual strength in it which can understand such things as maybe necessary devices. The interesting question is whether it is possible to go much further, whether efforts to demystify are valid and vital. It is really to ask, Are humans capable, on some level, of grasping and expressing deity?

‘Teach these souls to fly’

‘Theology’ is the label for ‘the study or science which treats of God.’ In one way it calls us to the highest human intellectual plane; in another way it seems like an oxymoron, and the height of arrogance—that we should study God. It’s the convenient word to use, but worth reflecting on. Somewhere C. S. Lewis asked, ‘Which is the more important: how I regard God, or how God regards me?’ or words to that effect.

In the GAPS forums, we may see theology as having implications in present-day thinking and living. It understands things by reference to God. It expands the mind. It furnishes meaning and perspective capable of answering the clamour and confusion of humanistic culture.

Formal study of theology may be directed in various ways, such as systematic, dogmatic, historical, mystical, etc., all of which in their full curricula are beyond our scope. Rather more tricky issues of modern and post-modern philosophy and theology may obtrude in various ways in this forum. However, these may actually be diversions, and we want to be able to judge if current theories are dead ends. They have commanded a platform in part because too many important gaps have been glossed over in traditional or mainstream theology and learning. The constructive purpose is to discover or recover insights which have been largely unappreciated. In the GAPS an aim is particularly to be alert to aspects which help to integrate theology, the arts, and all of life.

As to the Church, it is not a purpose here to advance a defense of it, but attention to some of these issues might offer a little more intellectual satisfaction than is often given regarding its authentic nature. If common awareness of the Church stops at the images of buildings and ideas of it as an organisation, the greater reality of the spiritual entity is missed.

I often reflect on this remarkable passage, Hebrews 12. 22-24, telling of reality, fullness, citizenship, society, spiritual order, all connected to—coinhering in—God, mediated through Christ who contradicts Cain:

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to a judge who is God of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks more graciously than the blood of Abel.

A somewhat eclectic selection of future topics in theology and ethics, other than topics of medieval focus, may include considerations of 'the city', explorations of the nature of the 'spiritual body', and the matter which Charles Williams called 'romantic theology'.

Younger participants—especially university students—can be great contributors to this forum. Feedback provoked by any of the topics, and related suggestions for others, will be welcome.

GAPS ARTS Lectures


James Hay  •  7.00 pm, Sunday, 31 October, 2010


Painting by Helen Momota, 2003, generously presented to John Lewis in 2009.
One of the great paradoxes conspicuous in the life, the teachings, and mission of Jesus is the weakness of the methods of the good and the true, compared with the successes of the politics of power. It seems connected to the aims. It is also apparent that there are two spheres of operation—human and divine—which are mostly out of harmony, if not in actual conflict.

The same paradox is everywhere in societies, even nations; and the concomitant stresses and conflicts are tackled from every direction by educational, psychological, social and political strategies. These seem to struggle to find the root causes. This is a gap which needs a theological insight.

A theology of weakness is not a counsel of despair; rather it transposes all our real problems to the larger arena of divine purpose. That sounds very lofty, but our speaker, James, knows much of both worlds from experience.

  • James Hay, seems to have been always squeezing university theological study into his busy life. He was doing it while living here for a while. He worked a lot with children and youth, and then trained for school teaching, putting it into practice in Kawhia (his wife’s home), until a recent move to Whangarei. A man of appealing sincerity and openness.


Dr Carolyn Kelly  •  7.00 pm, Sunday, 14 October, 2012

BEAUTY is ‘a word from which religion, and theology in particular, have taken their leave and distanced themselves in modern times by a vigorous drawing of boundaries.’—Hans Urs von Balthasar

More recently, a number of thinkers have addressed this distance and attempted to dismantle the boundaries widely assumed between certain Protestant theologies and the realm of the arts, or aesthetics.


THIS LECTURE seeks to contribute to that communal exploration by addressing the particularly imposing boundary line demarcating on the one hand, reformed affirmations of the beauty of truth; and on the other, a romantic commitment to the truth of beauty. It will reflect on what romantic, aesthetic ‘sensibility’ might gain from its modern counterpart; and in turn, what reformed, theological ‘sense’ might have to gain from a re-cognition of beauty.  —Carolyn Kelly.

  • Carolyn Kelly BD (Otago), PhD (Aberdeen) has taught in the Theology Department at Auckland University. She has made a special study of George Macdonald, a 19th century Scottish writer and mystic who was influential for C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien.


Prof. Warren Brookbanks  •  7.00 pm, Sun., 14 April, 2013

Love and love
‘Civil Law’ and ‘Canon Law’. Detail of a fresco by Andrea di Bonaiuto (1366), Chapter House of Santa Maria Novella, Florence.

Law and love are fundamental paradigms of civil society. While a purpose of law is to facilitate the flourishing of right-living citizens, there is no law against the moral virtues identified in Christian theology as the fruit of the spirit. However, these are not paramount in our world, although represented in the lives of individuals.

While law and love co-exist as foundational ideas, the relationship is strained. Arguably, law makes excessive demands which inhibits the capacity to express love.

I explore this dilemma by first discussing what love and law are respectively and seeing how, in some aspects, they overlap. This leads into a discussion of sensate law and the emergence of the individual as his/her own “moral legislator”—an idea attributed to Pitirim Sorokin.

The lecture finishes with a discussion of how law and love might be reconciled, given that they appear to co-exist in a complex tension. I question whether we are capable of moving more purposefully towards embracing love at the expense of greater dependency on legal regulation, or whether that is simply idealistic.  —W.B.

Love and loveWarren Brookbanks, LLB, LLM, BD, is a Professor of Law at The University of Auckland, where he has taught since 1983. His teaching is mainly in criminal law, mental health law and therapeutic jurisprudence. He is the author of a book on unfitness to stand trial and co-author and co-editor of a number of books, and numerous journal articles, on criminal law, psychiatry and law, medical law and criminal justice. He chairs the Oakley Mental Health Foundation Trust Board.




David Burt  •  7.00 pm. Sunday, 3 November, 2013

Ancient of Days

What is time?  Is it absolute?

Is it possible to think outside the time box?

If eternity exists, what clues do we have as to its nature?

What happens when time and eternity intersect?

After death, what sort of time (if any) may we encounter?

Ancient of Days, William Blake. 1794

This world of three dimensions of space plus that of time defines the world we inhabit. But time may not be as absolute as we would first think. First, there are factors of mass and movement which can affect the passage of time. And subjectively we have different experiences of time.

Eternity can only be considered in relation to God. We cannot use ‘time’ language for it. To us, time began when space came into existence. God’s creative Word existed before that— ‘in the beginning.’ He has entered the time/space box from outside.

God is spirit. With him there is neither space nor time dimension. The risen Christ, however, has bodily form, and therefore both time and space dimension. So too, the heaven he inhabits. The limits have dissolved. The eternity on the other side of death is not the timeless eternity in which God alone dwells. But it offers new discoveries and experiences without limit.

  • David Burt B.A., LLM (Auck), B.D.(Melb.), MCS (Regent), has been a practising lawyer since 1959, a principal in the law firm now called Gaze Burt. He Is a theologian and church leader with numerous advisory roles.



David Burt  •  Sunday, 20 November, 2016, 7.00 pm.

In September GAPS ARTS had a presentation (78, John Lewis) of the Four Cardinal Virtues identified by Greek and Roman classical authors - Prudence, Justice, Fortitude and Temperance. Virtues indeed, but where does one find the motivation to practise them?

St Augustine's City of God.

What stops you from doing something dastardly? Legal sanctions? Peer pressure? Or is it rather that doing the right thing makes you feel good about yourself, and contributes to your happiness? What would motivate you to go to the extent of taking upon yourself the suffering of another?

St Augustine's City of God.

From a 12th C. illustration of
St Augustine's City of God.

In this post-modern age, is there any high ideal to take the place of religious motivation? Would anyone, these days, be influenced by the Fear of God? Or is Love what it is all about?

  • David Burt B.A., LLM (Auck.), B.D.(Melb.), MCS (Regent), was a practising lawyer from 1959, and until retirement was a principal in the Gaze Burt law firm. He Is a theologian and church leader with numerous advisory roles.