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John J Lewis: Gracious Prophet

FOREWORD - Terry Wall
TRIBUTE - Tony Stroobant
TRIBUTE - Lynne Wall
The REV. DR JOHN J LEWIS and his THOUGHT - Lynne Wall
Additional Publications


J J Lewis was a respected spiritual guide both within Methodism and beyond, in ecumenical circles. He was recognised as one whose words should be listened to. Though his presence was quiet and gentle, one came to see that his contribution could never be ignored. The impact lie had on generations of Methodist and Anglican theological students continues to be evident in ministries in many parishes around the country.

The Living Word was at the centre of J J's life. Through careful attention to the text, he had gained a profound understanding of the biblical story. But it never remained there. He had opened his life to being summoned and challenged, interrogated and enticed by the God revealed in Jesus Christ. Scripture was never experienced as restricting, but always as liberating encounter.

In the life of this scholar, language was a constant source of delight. Word derivations and etymology occupied time and research. He wrote as he spoke, with insights made his own, polished over the years in memorable phrases. Poetic images illuminated sentences and brought to life streams of devotion and prophecy.

It was not surprising that J J made the vote of thanks to visiting speakers a work of art. He distilled the content, identified learnings and expressed indebtedness. He was free to be generous.

There is no doubt that his convictions were deeply held. Yet he offered them readily without any sign of stridency. He never insisted that his was the only way of seeing, nor did he give the impression that his was the last word. What we received as students was truth embraced and known and lived.

It was characteristic of the way of J J to encourage. He saw gifts and longed for them to flower. He would seek out individuals and be eager to hear how their ministry was developing. I remember him at Synod listening attentively to one exploring the possibility of further study abroad. There was always warm support and the sense that he at least had confidence in you.

Categories such as liberal and conservative seem to have little meaning in regard to Dr. Lewis. His sympathies were too broad for shallow labels. Central to his thinking on the church was its catholicity, incorporating diverse spiritual traditions, cultures and peoples as richness rather than threat.

Through his exploration of the Inter-testamental literature he came to an awareness of the Jewish crucible for Jesus' life and ministry. He taught that, without a lively appreciation of the fertile movements within Second Temple Judaism, it was impossible to see Jesus of Nazareth in his true context. This led him to commend a sensitivity in relations between the church and the synagogue, especially in the light of the history of hostility and persecution.

For JJ Christian faith had a dynamic that disturbed conventional ways of thinking and introduced possibilities for transformation. The Spirit of God was ever active in human lives and in the life of societies. In a presentation on "Spirituality in Biblical Perspective" at a retreat in Wanganui in 1983 he said simply that "to know God is to enter the life of God's new age." There was always the eschatological dimension that unsettled the present.

There is no doubt that there were things within the contemporary church that worried and exasperated him. He had pondered the mysteries of life in this world at depth and there were some questions that he wanted to address to its author. But throughout he was faithful to the call and covenant that had been opened up to all peoples through the gospel of Christ. We rejoice that we have seen God's grace at work in his life.

Terry Wall (the Reverend Terry Wall. a Methodist presbyter, is Maclaurin Chaplain at The University of Auckland.)

February, 2001