Review of Mervyn Himbury: Principal and Preacher

Review by Robert Morsillo, Member of the University of Divinity Council.

Having studied under Principal Mervyn Himbury at Whitley College in the late 1970s and early 80s, I was very keen to get my hands on Frank’s biography to compare my own recollections and experiences against a more rigorous telling of the story of Mervyn’s life and contribution to Victorian Baptists (and to the University’s precursor, the Melbourne College of Divinity). Needless to say, I thoroughly enjoyed the book and recommend it to anyone interested in how our University’s vision “to address the issues of the contemporary world through critical engagement with Christian theological traditions” is born out of the passionate work of pioneers such as Mervyn Himbury.

Reverend Associate Professor Frank Rees (who also serves as Chair of the University’s Academic Board) has produced a very fine biography, academically rigorous, yet completely approachable, readable and engaging, producing many a wry smile and chuckle as the sometimes humorous tales of the past reflect into the challenging realities of the present. Frank captures a very nuanced and appreciative set of stories, with an eye out for the current debates and contentions about the role of theological education and ministerial training in Australia today. An overriding theme is the importance of knowing our history and traditions that speak to today’s dilemmas and challenges for us who seek to be ministers in the wider world. It shows that it is something we must continue to wrestle with constantly, and not settle for simple answers. This rings true in my own personal experience of seeking to be a “minister” in the wider world, with purpose and with a University of Divinity degree.

The biography brought back good memories of Mervyn’s ministry, including at Moreland Baptist Church in his later retirement years, where we became good friends and “in harness together” many times with me leading and him preaching on a Sunday. And it is Mervyn’s preaching that Frank brings to the fore and impresses as a way of doing theology while wrestling with the dilemmas of the contemporary world. I was particularly blown away by Frank’s recounting of Mervyn’s “There is Death in the Pot” sermon (based on II Kings 4:38). Mervyn’s words keep ringing in my ears: “You will not save the world by criticising it. You will not save the world by condemning it. You will not help one young person telling that person he’s going to hell, or that she is missing out on the real thing. You will only do it when you throw the best you’ve got into the pot, however little it may be, and however precious it may be. It’s the only way.”

Frank’s biography of Mervyn Himbury is a real gift not just to Victorian Baptists specifically, but to everyone who is grappling with the role and meaning of theological education in today’s world.

About the book

Mervyn Himbury: Principal and Preacher

Mervyn Himbury: Principal and Preacher
by Frank D. Rees

Imprint: Wipf and Stock

Mervyn Himbury migrated to Melbourne, Australia, in 1959. Through the sheer force of his personality, he led the transformation of a small, impoverished Baptist seminary to the premier Baptist institution in Australia. From the humble life of a Welsh mining village, Himbury proceeded to university studies in Cardiff and then Oxford. The story begins with the cultural and religious background of Himbury’s early life as a Welsh Baptist, exploring the distinctive ethos of the institutions where he studied during and just after the Second World War. Himbury’s lifelong passion for history is revealed through an examination of his Oxford thesis and subsequent publications about the puritan groups from which the Baptist movement arose. In Melbourne, he quickly became known as a brilliant preacher and media presenter. As professor and principal of Whitley College, Himbury’s central concern was ministerial education that would serve the churches in a rapidly changing world. For Himbury, the central task of ministry was preaching, and it is with this dimension of his life that the biography begins and concludes, drawing upon sermon records to demonstrate his commitment as a servant of the word of God.

Publication details

You can purchase this wonderful book from Whitley College for a special introductory price of $30 (RRP is $35). Please fill out the Mervyn Himbury Book – Order Form and send it to Karen at reception krulloda@whitley.edu.au to reserve your copy. Alternatively, you can call Whitley reception on 03 9340 8100.

About the author

Frank D. Rees is a Baptist pastor and theological educator in Melbourne, Australia, where he currently serves as the chair of the Academic Board in the University of Divinity. He studied philosophy, theology, and education in Australia, and in Manchester, UK, where he earned his PhD. In 1991 he was appointed professor of systematic theology, and in 2006 the principal, of Whitley College.

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