Book Review – Sydney Anglicanism: An Apology

anglcanSydney Anglicanism: An Apology.  By Michael P. Jensen.  Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2012. $9.99 for Kindle version and $21.00 for paperback here.

Sydney Anglicans are fundamentalist, sexist, theological and political bullies, and not faithful to historical Anglicanism.  These are some of the claims that Jensen seeks to debunk in his book Sydney Anglicanism: An Apology – though not before presenting a raft of issues that need addressing, as well as possible ways that Sydney Anglicans can move forward as they look to the future.

The book is divided into two parts: The Bible and The Church.  This division enables Jensen to not only address the concepts that are distinctively associated with Sydney Anglicanism, but also to engage with a number of opponents and arguments that have been pitted against Sydney Anglicanism.  Jensen also takes opportunities (especially in part two) to delve into Sydney’s unique culture and history to shed some light on why Sydney Anglicans are a unique breed.  This uniqueness, however, is carefully couched within an argument that seeks to maintain that Sydney Anglicanism is an extension not only of historical Anglicanism but also of the contemporary universal Anglican Communion.

Jensen begins part one by clarifying the term fundamentalism.  He subsequently defends the view that, according to the historical conception of fundamentalism, the labelling of Sydney Anglicanism as fundamentalist is at best misguided and at worst disingenuous.  The impression that Jensen gives is that the label fundamentalist is used of Sydney Anglicanism in the pejorative sense, in an attempt to impugn by mere association.  This is clearly an issue that Jensen seeks to lay to rest, which he achieves with the limited treatment that he gives.

The reader is then given a guided tour around the biblical distinctives of Sydney Anglicanism.  Of particular note is Graeme Goldsworthy’s pioneering of Biblical Theology.  This view holds that the Bible is a unity that centres on the cross of Christ, the event that orientates not only the New Testament but also the Old Testament.  As such the Bible is not a bunch of proof texts but a meta-narrative that informs not only how one reads the Bible but also how one teaches the Bible.

The final aspect of part one has to do with revelation and how this impacts praxis.  There are two primary discussions, the first of which engages with Peter Carnley’s mystical perspective, something not dissimilar to the Eastern Orthodox view of the unknowability of God.  Jensen portrays this view as seeking to distinguish itself from Sydney Anglicanism, which Jensen identifies is encapsulated in Broughton Knox’ clumsily titled article, ‘Propositional Revelation, the Only Revelation.’  The second discussion in this chapter engages with this article.  Jensen defends Knox by describing the title as hyperbole, however, Jensen does call for greater perspicuity of the issue for which he draws upon Peter Jensen’s The Revelation of God.  Essentially God’s self revelation is verbal, and it centres on the gospel of Jesus Christ, which is not to be understood as a static statement, but a living reality.  In other words, the words Jesus Christ is propositional and personal (a means of encounter).  Jensen defends the historicity of this claim.

In the last chapter of part one, Jensen demonstrates why preaching, and in particular expositional preaching, is the natural corollary of God’s self revelation. If God reveals himself in the gospel, then the reading, explication and application of this revelation must be central to the gathering of believers.  Jensen refers to John Stott’s influential visit to Moore College in 1958 and his book I Believe in Preaching, as formative to Moore’s current views.  In particular, that expositional preaching does not describe a particular style, as is commonly understood, but rather describes a particular content, that is, whatever the text is saying.

In part two Jensen looks at the doctrine of church, in particular the influence of Robinson and Knox.  Jensen is refreshingly critical of Robinson’s narrow view that church is local and verbal (an activity) on the basis of the word ekklesia.  Three arguments are worthy of mention.  Firstly, Jensen highlights the NT usage of ‘the Church of God’, a clear reference to an earthly church.  Secondly, Jensen shows that the Broughton-Know view was overly linguistically analytical and not sufficiently theologically informed.  Thirdly, Jensen highlights the dearth of attention given to the Holy Spirit in the Broughton-Knox ecclesiology.

In chapter seven Jensen gets to the real beef when he addresses the question, ‘Are Sydney Anglicans Actually Anglicans?’  In short his answer is yes.  Jensen cites the Sydney Anglican conviction and fidelity to the reformers and their associated texts, and that Sydney Anglican evangelicalism is a true reflection of the Anglican Church’s reformation past.

Jensen then deals with the topical issue of ordaining women in a helpful manner.  He highlights that the Sydney Anglican’s use of the term ‘subordination’ was a mistake and unhelpful.  To compare the subordination of women to men in role with Jesus’ subordination to the Father in role could be (and was) construed as Arianism.  Jensen engages this issues by clarifying the relationship using different terminology.  This is a welcomed correction.  Furthermore, Jensen offers a number of constructive discussions that could help clarify and promote better Sydney Anglican synthesis on issues regarding gender. The most helpful of these would be to engage in dialogue to better understand how Sydney Anglicans are using the words authority and obedience.

In the final chapters, Jensen identifies that Sydney Anglican’s have on many fronts dug their heels in and held their ground, however, he also shows that they have work faithfully within the Anglican political machine, giving ground where they could.

This book is the first stop to understanding Sydney Anglicanism.  Jensen does not try to convert, but rather reveal with fresh eyes and with an appropriately critical spirit what is Sydney Anglicanism.  This book would also be a great help to those people  throughout Australia and the world who wish to understand organisations that have been influenced by Sydney Anglicanism and Moore College, and even to understand the Biblical foundations of individuals who may have studied at Moore College.


Gay Marriage: a discussion for believers

I thought this link provided an interesting discussion on a number of issues surrounding the gay marriage debate.

The discussion is carried out by some staff from Carey Baptist College, Auckland, New Zealand.

The Bad Thing About Love

Why love?

I spoke at a friend’s wedding the other day here in Bulgaria.  It was an interesting experience as all first time cultural experiences are.  It went smoothly.  No hiccups are bloopers.  Always a good thing at a wedding!

A while after the wedding I was surfing the net and I was put straight by a prominent Christian pastor, teacher, writer, etc.  They undid my whole entire wedding sermon.  Let me paraphrase the comment they made: By loving others we will discover that it leads to happiness.

…and here I was telling the newlyweds that we as a culture have been stung by the lie that love is a commodity.

Where do we find in the Bible that when we love others there is something in it for us?  I’m still searching.  But is the quote an error?

Firstly, if you’re struggling to find such an idea in the Bible it’s probably worth asking the question if it’s worth teaching in the first place.  Secondly, as a good friend wrote on his blog the other day (here), fish in water don’t go around asking other fish how the water is – it’s a part of life that fish take for granted.  I think that this kind of statement betrays a culture that has become immersed in an idea.  It reflects the consumer nature of our culture – this is what we are immersed in, and we are seeing this become a part of the church’s water too.  Thirdly, and this is where I want to dwell, this statement robs believers of something greater than reaction driven happiness.

The point of my wedding sermon was grounded in Ephesians 5, but not the normal wedding section in verse 21-33.  I focussed on verse 1.  Here we get a real good look at love and we see that it is not presented as a commodity that brings a return.

‘Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.’

There are two lies that have seemed to gain traction that run counter to this passage.  The first is that the reason one should  love is because of what we can get out of it – happiness, for example.  Just look around.  This is a hopelessly flawed reason to love because loving others doesn’t always bring happiness – just ask my parents or any other parent!  In fact, loving people often hurts more than anything in the world and resembles or brings a return of anything but happiness.

The second lie is that the reason to love is because others love us, but this is a stupid idea!  Imagine if we all operated on that principle?  The world would spiral into a world of lovelessness as one act of non-love leads to another and to another…  Please help us.  I’m going to call this one ‘Hollywood Love’.  If I don’t get love (the kind of love that I want, when I want it, how I want it) I’ll find someone who can give it to me.

The Apostle Paul offers another motivation to love, which reflects, I think, the overwhelming sense that we see in the New Testament.  Imitate God’s love because God loved us.

Firstly the grounds.  He loved us even though we didn’t deserve it.  God’s love is not bound to my prior or subsequent love for him.  It stands alone, indifferent to my attitude to him.  He loves not because it made him happy.  He loves because it was his good will to love.  That is what love is!

Secondly, the extent.  He loved us that much that he would sacrifice his own son in our place.  He doesn’t love according to what I deserve.  There is no criteria that must be met before I receive love.  Love cannot be half-baked.  A half love, which is not the whole love, is not love at all – a twist on a saying about truth.  Love is costly and full.

Paul tells his readership to love as God has demonstrated his love to them.  We must love by assuming the same grounds for showing love and also the extent of love.

Love is a special thing and any use of it as a commodity robs the believer of something so much greater than happiness.  When we love we are constantly engaging with the greatest act of love ever shown.  We are constantly engaging with the beautiful result of being loved by God.  When we love, the result is that God’s love is exalted before the world.  Love, for the believer is about God and his love for his world that he would send Jesus to save it by dying a death that it deserved.

Loving others is the natural result of being a recipient of  God’s – it is willing and it is self-less.

This is unfortunately bad thing about love – it’s not about me!

Gay marriage and the logical compulsion

I’ve had some calls for thoughts on this current issue.  So here are some from a different perspective.

For those of you who are not up with Australian current politics, we’ve just had one of our most decisive arguments (in the right and, at times, wrong sense of the word) about the merits of legalising gay marriage.  As per usual the Christian voice was divided, weak, poorly thought through, and at times inappropriate in its manner of opposition.

But I am not about to add to the for/or against debate, but rather raise another issue that does not get enough of a hearing.

The de-liberalisation of society rarely occurs.  This is not necessarily a bad thing, which some of us may have immediately thought.  For example, it was not a reality for women and indigenous Australians to vote 110 years ago.  It is is inconceivable that such rights would ever be turned over.  Once the ball was rolling when women gained suffrage, it was only a matter of time before all Australians of age had the opportunity to vote.

Giving women the right to vote must not be seen as the start of the slippery slope that gave way to indigenous Australians having the right to vote; rather, it was the appropriate outworking of the law – that if a man could vote, then so could  a woman and so could indigenous Australians of both genders.  In this instance, the fact that one law followed on from another was not a slippery slope but a logical progression.

In this post I want to describe the logical compulsion that we as a society and church must deal with.

If marriage becomes legally something other than between a man and woman, then the concept of marriage is logically compelled to open itself to all permutations that might present itself.

In The Australian newspaper on the 10th of December there was an article that shocked me.  Not because of the content, but on the logical certainty of it.  The title read, ‘Three in bed more of a good thing.’  Now, polygamy is practiced throughout the world – legally in some countries, and illegally in places like Australia, but never has it ever been presented in such a way that it was in line for being recognised as a legal entity.

The first line of the article was telling,

FOR weeks, Sydneysiders and Melburnians who believe menages-a-trois and other polyamorous relationships can be just as committed, loving and valid as marriage between a man and a woman, slaved away together to earn their place in the sun.

The question is begging, how can we deny these people the rights that I enjoy with my wife, if marriage can be open to something other than a man and a woman?

The article goes on:

The polyamorous community has a further cause for celebration.

They believe last weekend’s vote by the ALP national conference to change the party platform to legalise same-sex marriage is a base on which they can build.

The agenda now is to seek recognition and the removal of prejudice against multiple-partner relationships, perhaps legislation to grant them civil unions and even legalised polyamorous marriage.

“My personal view is that any change that moves us towards a more loving, open and accepting society can only be a positive,” 

Notice the language: removal of prejudice; seek recognition; movement towards a more loving, open and accepting society.  We’ve heard it all before – many times!  Voting rights, women in the work place, the gay and lesbian marriage push and many more.  In every equal rights movement the language is the same, and how can we resist such inclusion?  My argument is that on many of these issues we cannot.  We are logically (though not biblically) compelled to show the tolerance that others on the same grounds have been afforded.

The photo above reads: Love knows NO Gender.

If this be true can we say that love knows NO Number.

Could we then say that love knows NO Age.

Further, perhaps it would be legitimate to say that love knows NO kinds of being, whether animal or human?

Ok, I’m getting a little silly but you get my point.

The issue that confronts us is not when do we stop, or when to draw a line in the sand, but on what grounds do we stop?  What reason do we have to give for saying ‘No’ to the next bunch seeking recognition, love, and tolerance for their lifestyle.  How can we say, ‘Sorry, that’s not marriage.’

If we cannot find a moral absolute then we have no basis to say to ‘No’ to any of the above searchers for equality.

It’s quite the moral conundrum… for some.