Famously good last words from Peter Jensen

Peter Jensen is leaving some pretty big shoes to fill in the Sydney diocese. His final speech to synod as Archbishop is a cracker – it’s a model of engaging with the problems of our world, and presenting Jesus as the solution.

“If the gospel contrasts so favourably with individualism in community, family and death, why is evangelism hard? Precisely because it is a spiritual matter and human individualism is the love of self which it takes the Holy Spirit to make us abandon. Our society is even more in the grip of a malign individualism than ever before and its resistance to all relationships and especially an all demanding relationship with God is powerful indeed. But there us another side to this. I think that many people are tiring of the fruit of individualism and want to know the God who brings order and family and acceptance and relationship into the community.”

“I have never had such good opportunities in speaking to people about Jesus as in the last few three or four years. Our theory of Connect 09 is true – there are people everywhere who would like to know the gospel and will want us to befriend them. In particular lay people are ideally placed to quietly but confidently share Christ and show what a difference he makes. It may be that the evils of individualism will become so apparent that the world will be more open to the gospel, especially a gospel which stresses love in the face of community and family breakdown and hope in the face of death. In the meantime we preach a gospel which offers a radically different view of the world. After all this Lord did seize another communications revolution and turn it to good. He did hear Tyndale’s last Prayer and he did open the King of England’s eyes and so we have our English Bible and so here we are tonight.”

I think this bit is especially nice.

“I see the gospel becoming visible in the media. We will engage with the ideas of this generation and refuse to accept the censorship which is so easily imposed on Christianity. We must find ways of putting our case for Christ and making it natural to speak about God in the general community. The large mail I received after the recent QandA program showed me that once the gospel is visible, Christians in the workplace can and will make use of opportunities.”

I still have some questions about why Sydney needs as many incredibly trained people for its mission, if it is the place where 1/5 of all Australians live, it’d be nice to see some sort of proportional approach to the distribution of reformed evangelical workers in Australia where the other 4/5 live (let alone globally) – but I realise that this isn’t how denominations, particularly Anglicanism, work.

Here are two pertinent comments:

“We have proliferated workers. Many denominations are declining in workers, with people becoming part time and being older. For us the reverse is happening. The biggest expansion of workers has been amongst the ordained clergy where the numbers have advanced by an astonishing increase of 26% from 480 to 604. Our workers are better trained and higher quality in gifts than ever before. Most parishes are now using teams of workers, including a very significant number of women.”

“Furthermore we have started to move forward in creating new parishes. For years we have been gently stagnating at around 260 parishes, quietly amalgamating the dying ones, leaving suburbs unpastored and letting buildings go. We have now begun to go forward, refusing to close parishes or amalgamate them without the hope of re-opening them in the future, finding new congregations and uses for buildings and doing what we had forgotten to do – inaugurate new parishes. This changed mind-set must be permanent.”

I’d say there’s an inefficiency at play here, and it might be based on the “small church in every suburb” mentality that appears to underpin some of the visions of the future, I’m not sure that this model of thinking about and doing church (ecclesiology) is necessarily the best fit for how modern Australians will meet Jesus (missiology), which the Archbishop suggests is his goal. I’m sympathetic for the need for small churches for the people who want small churches, but there’s a reason that corner stores are making way for big shopping centres. There’s something to be said for an “incarnational” approach to church – where being part of a suburb is how we minister to it, but I don’t think it follows that if a suburb doesn’t have a building with open doors operating in it that the church isn’t part of the suburb – especially if you’ve also got an incredibly able laity (which the Archbishop notes in his piece). This seems to deny most of the realities of life in modern Australia – we work, rest, play, and live in very different locations every day of the week.

I’m not sure that if every Christian in Australia adopted a completely fluid commitment to their time, resources, and approach to Christian community, in the interest of the gospel, that the current lay of the land would be what we’d produce – in terms of how we think about what we do on a Sunday, who does what, and where it’s done. I’m certain there are essential aspects of our ecclesiology that don’t make way for “contextualisation” – like clear articulations of the gospel in everything that we do, and some space for the sacraments, but I’m not sure that reproducing more of the same is the best response to the changing Australian landscape. But I’m open to being convinced otherwise.

In the last 15 years I’ve been part of a small and very faithful suburban church, a small and faithful rural church, a medium sized church in a regional centre, and two bigger and equally faithful churches seeking to reach bigger pockets of a city – and while God works through his gospel amongst all this faithfulness, and we should prayerfully expect him to, the economies of scale in the bigger churches create opportunities that were less than a dream in those smaller ones.

I’m very thankful for the Archbishop’s faithful and gospel centred approach to his work in the last ten years, he’s going to be incredibly hard to replace – his performance on Q&A recently is fairly typical of the way he’s discharged his responsibilities with the great gifts God has given, and he’s certainly (along with a couple of others) the model I look to, and point to, when it comes to engaging our culture with the gospel… but as an outsider looking in (albeit with incredible vestigial, substantial, and direct and indirect ties to the work of the diocese in the past, and the Jensens and others in particular) – I’d love to see the Sydney Diocese think a little bigger, and a little differently about the work of the gospel in Australia.

The author

Nathan runs St Eutychus. He loves Jesus. His wife. His daughter. His son. His other daughter. His dog. Coffee. And the Internet. He is the campus pastor at Creek Road South Bank, a graduate of Queensland Theological College (M. Div) and the Queensland University of Technology (B. Journ). He spent a significant portion of his pre-ministry-as-a-full-time-job life working in Public Relations, and now loves promoting Jesus in Brisbane and online. He can't believe how great it is that people pay him to talk and think about Jesus.

17 thoughts on “Famously good last words from Peter Jensen”

  1. He’ll be missed. It is as though a generation of those men are retiring. Mahaney a few years back. Piper shortly. Macarthur can’t be far off, and now Jensen. We can only pray that the next generation don’t buy into pragmatism.

    should sydney anglicans start evangelising in the rest of the anglican churches in australia where there are plenty of goats showing up every sunday? it’d be akin to the PCQ sending out missionaries into the uniting churches. plenty of people with moral therapeutic deism but not enough of the gospel.

  2. Indeed an impressive term as AB.

    The idea of thinking more broadly is a little controversial, isn’t it? Surely the Sydney diocese’s core mission is geographically localised, and secondarily to send people out?

    1. Sure. It’s controversial. Except that Moore College accepts students from all over the world, not just all over Australia, and I’d say it’s more controversial to keep planting churches on every corner of Sydney when there are towns and regional centres that are essentially without a Bible teaching church all over Australia… especially regional Australia.

  3. It seems that the past 12 years under Jensen have seen a consolidation of a robust Calvinism within the diocese – in many ways a good thing, in some ways not. It’s been refreshing to see an AB engage with the media and be unafraid to preach the Gospel – his interview on AM yesterday (Oct 9) a case in point. Yet it’s been frustrating to see the diocese’s hard-line approach to women in ministry become more polarizing and often more patriarchal. This reality has filtered through to many para-church and church planting activities as well in my experience. It hasn’t been pretty in some quarters…

  4. Hi Fred,
    to get to the point where you can ordain women, you have to do all sorts of damage to holding the bible to be authoritative. women can and should be involved in the life of the church, but aren’t qualified to hold some positions. Grudem wrote a good book on this “evangelical feminism: a new path to liberalism?” where he goes through the hermeneutics that are used to defend ordaining women and pulls them to bits. being wayne grudem, he does it in a nice way, though.

    1. Hi Bruce, I’ve read Grudem and found his response to the issue unconvincing. I understand why the complementarian view is held as a “primary” issue in some Evangelical quarters – and fair enough since there are many reasons to hold firmly to it if one interprets some of the key passages (1 Tim 2:9-15, 1 Cor 14:34-35, 1 Tim 3:1-13, Tit 1:6-9) as trans-cultural in terms of gender specific instruction. Given that there is considerable contention that they are not (a view held by numerous evangelical scholars such as William Webb, Gordon Fee, Leon Morris, F.F.Bruce, John Stott and many others), then it’s difficult to understand why the complementarian view is used as a wedge to divide the church and exclude the ministry of capable women. Fortunately many evangelicals (even of the complementarian persuasion) recognize the issue as secondary and have a more pragmatic attitude. Sure there are some issues that are non-negotiable (i.e, Justification by faith, traditional teaching on marriage, the Holy Trinity, Resurrection of Christ etc etc), but I fail to see why strict complementarian gender roles should be placed in the same boat.

      It will be interesting to see where the next AB stands in respect to this.

  5. There’s considerable contention about almost everything that matters, the fact that there are evangelical scholars who read the passages differently does not mean that this should not be a dividing issue. Even whether God knows the future is questioned and scholars can be named who disagree in how to interpret passages traditionally used to establish a view that God does know the future, and yet may would see that as simply basic to a biblical view of God.

    Unless a denomination runs by a loose structure of basically independent churches – such as baptist unions, pro-women’s ordination and anti-women’s ordination churches cannot co-exist together in the same structure. For to truly recognize women’s ordination and to truly give its supporters the freedom to pursue it, the other side has to be prepared to be in situations where a women has authority over them – which they will consider collaborating in sin.

    If unity is the issue, then the only real solution is that those people in favor of women’s ordination, but who don’t think that it is a real evil to not ordain women, choose to not pursue their cause in the interests of unity. Those who think that women having authority is disobedience to Scripture and those who think that not ordaining women is a serious evil have no ‘wriggle room’ to transgress their consciences for the sake of unity. So the only group capable of putting unity first are those who are in favor of women’s ordination but can live without it. So if unity is the great concern, that would lead to abandoning the push for women’s ordination for all except the most committed to its necessity.

    But I’m skeptical that most supporters of women’s ordination will accept that they should be the ones to step back from their cause in the interests of unity in the gospel. In practice, as the Church of England shows, the sequence goes like this:

    1. Christians are asked to allow a range of views to be catered for in the institution to give freedom on a secondary issue.
    2. This is done, and women enter into authority roles.
    3. As a critical mass develops, it is then observed that, as an institution, it has already been concluded that that body is okay with women in authority. Hence that is the default position of the body, and those who disagree are the dissenting position.
    4. At some point they are then required to accept women in authority over them.

    I don’t think that’s evil, or a conspiracy or the like. I think that it is basically inevitable on this question, because this question is a question of what we do or do not do. It is not just beliefs, it is acting on those beliefs, and that makes unity across the divide in the same structures almost impossible.

    1. Mark
      Superb points.
      Then, one generation later, as has happened in NZ baptist circles, if you dare to raise questions as to the ordination of women you are perceived to be a knuckle dragging mysogynist.

    2. I agree with Mark. I’d want to add that I think while this is an issue to divide over, because I don’t buy into the idea that dividing is a huge problem, for our witness or ecclesiology… it’s not an issue to no partner across denominational boundaries for the purpose of mission over… so I think if you’re a parachurch/mission organisation it’s fine not to declare a position on this issue, until you start planting churches…

    3. Given the nature of episcopal church structures your argument largely holds sway. Personally I’ve been a congregant of a staunchly evangelical Anglican church in Victoria which has had men and women ministers who are passionate about the gospel and connecting with the community. Within the diocese there are churches which inhabit the whole spectrum along the evangelical-liberal continuum (and yes, it does mean the bishop in some sense ends up tolerating churches I consider way out-of-line).

      Which brings me to my next point – does (or has) the episcopal system really fostered Biblical Orthodoxy when it seems more loosely structured denominations have often done better in this regard? I probably should mention that some of my background includes the Open Brethren and Churches of Christ where the priesthood of all believers is emphasized while hierarchical authority is de-emphasized… So for the next AB, how much will he be willing to uphold a traditional episcopal structure or on the other hand foster looser structures with more lay involvement???

  6. Yes, I don’t think, and never claim, that there you can’t be a staunch evangelical and have women in roles of spiritual authority – that seems too much like a ‘true scotsman’ argument for me. I do basically agree with Bruce and Grudem that, overall, the effect of the hermeneutics to justify this position seems to (to this point in time at least) have had bad effects in the generation or two after its been introduced – the ensuing generations seem to be much less ‘staunch’ evangelical. But there’s certainly churches that buck that general trend, and if yours is one than I thank God, and more power to your arm.

    It’s not just Anglicans for whom that problem I outlined exists – it’s similar for presbyterians and any other denomination where the churches are enmeshed and are subject to authority structures that are transcongregational (assembly and presbytry for example).

    I agree with you that episcopal structures don’t have a great track-record for evangelicals compared to less centralized structures. However, I think that in this, and in many areas, the Sydney Diocese seems to have found a way to make the Anglican tradition work for them by ensuring that staunch reformed guys keep control of that strong centre, and by keeping it over the hands of broader evangelicals as much as possible – this tends to mean that Sydney prioritizes being ‘evangelical’ over being ‘Anglican’ and subordinates the latter to the former. I doubt very much that they’ll change that strategy to something flatter like the Bretheren until such time as it stops paying dividends – among other reasons it would add fuel to the charges that they aren’t ‘true Anglicans’ for them to do that, and they are committed to being Anglican both for reasons of conviction and pragmatism (avoiding court cases that try to take all their property off them like in the U.S.).

    Having said that, I think that in practice most Anglican ministers in the Sydney Diocese have more freedom and independence from overseeing authority than in many other dioceses – being rectors rather than vicars gives them a very strong hand in dealing with their bishop and archbishop.

  7. On a different topic, I think the issues you’re critiquing are quite complex, Nathan, and I doubt many people in the Sydney Diocese think they have ‘the’ answer. Having been there for almost tend years there are three factors that I think are playing into the strategy you’re querying:

    1. Land in Sydney is prohibitively expensive and getting worse. Every building sold and every suburb without a church will never, ever have one in the future under current conditions. The choice to close and sell, or to not have a church, is a choice to never have one there (without shelling out a sum of money that is unsustainable as a strategy to reach the city). Sydney doesn’t like closing options for the future. And that leads to the next point.

    2. The Sydney Diocese, with the odd aberration, tends to make decisions today about property looking to the next fifty years or more of ministry. It is a centralized denomination that has been there, kind of, since the first colony. It’s institutional memory that it draws on goes back a very long time. This leads it to be conservative in decisions and to buy and hold – the same kind of strategy that in the financial world leads to wealth in the long term. It’s one reason why it hasn’t spent all the wealth it was given when most othe Dioceses are in poor financial situations now because they kept spending their capital (however much or little they had) to pay the groceries and fund the latest radical ministry fad that everyone was into that decade – Sydney never spends beyond its means, and always spends less so it can spend more in a few years time by increasing the capital. It’s church planting strategy reflects this basic constant, that has had a lot of huge benefits for it – ability to fund a very well resourced college, ability to subsidize independent students at the college, churches not having to pay money to the centre to keep the denomination framework going (a very big framework) but extra money floating around to prop up weak church and (sometimes) plant new ones – strong well resourced denominational arms – department of evangelism, youthworks and the like. This strategy fits with a bigger strategy and that bigger strategy has helped to create a raft of strong churches.

    3. Rightly or wrongly, they’ve concluded that the way to reach Australia is to maximize preaching stations, rather than focus on a smaller number of larger ones centred around the most gifted ministers of their generation. It’s the opposite strategy to the U.S. where the majority of evangelicals are in a relatively small (for the U.S. :) ) number of megachurches.

    That third point seems to me to be where your contention with them really lies. I don’t know what the answer is. But I’m not convinced that big churches are going to be the answer in Australia (my hunch is that they are going to be part of the answer, able to create more resources for other churches, but not able to do the majority work of reaching the population). The Sydney Diocese is growing – slower than they like, but a bit above population growth, and that’s with an increasing multi-cultural context that is not their strong suit at all. American evangelicalism, with its big church strategy, appears to be flatlining and going backwards with disturbing swiftness. It is possible that Sydney are calling this one correctly, and the way ahead is to plant more smaller churches rather than try and build large buildings and grow the big churches from 1k members to 2k or the like. Or the difference may have nothing to do with church size strategy and they’d do even better if they adopted your method.

    Especially when it comes to methodology they tend to be highly ideology free and very pragmatic. Usually if they’re doing something, they’ve got reasons why they think that’s going to have the best outcomes in the current situation. They make mistakes, but they have a simply staggering pool of talent and experience to draw upon to thrash out these strategies, and multiple churches experimenting and trying new things in their parish, of which the ‘winning entries’ then get picked up and used as a more global model by others or the diocese as a whole. Their relative theological narrowness that they are often criticized for has the pay-off that most rectors in sydney are able to work with their neighbours and pool wisdom in a way that isn’t possible in denominations that have a very wide range of theologies at work. Because they are on the same page with each other theologically to a degree that is rare in Australia either among evangelicals or among Anglicans, they can create synergies that are impossible to most of the rest of us.

    1. Hey Mark,

      I’m glad you got to this point – much as I think the complementarianism debate is important, it just wasn’t something I was anticipating being the thing in this post…

      Anyway. I largely agree. My criticism is slightly idealistic, and somewhat anachronistic, or whatever the equivalent is when it comes to structures/space/time… I recognise that the Sydney Diocese is limited to Sydney, mostly, and that Moore has been incredibly beneficial to ministry around Australia and the world. By the by, I think that’s one of the reasons the Pressy system is better. It makes much more sense to think about the distribution of resources on a state basis, where there’s some sort of accountability to provide care to the less populated regional areas, than to just be looking after the people in the big smoke – over realised city based theo-missiology notwithstanding…

      I’m not so bought into the big church model that I think it’s the only solution. I’m much more interested in the number of functionally unchurched regional centres, and towns, than how many megachurches should set up shop to saturate Brisbane or Sydney. I think megachurches producing good resources for these centres is part of the solution while willing workers are being raised up, because a well trained laity is better than a no trained laity.

      I completely agree with your assessment of what’s going on in Sydney, and I know there are political realities that mean spreading that kind of situation beyond the boundaries of the diocese is difficult – but wouldn’t it be great if every diocese in NSW had a proportional representation of that talent pool, by hook or by crook, rather than every block of Sydney’s eastern suburbs?

      No doubt there’s a reason Maccas makes more money when they have great geographical saturation – but they still service the country regions, because there’s money to be made there, and it’s not ultimately that hard to reproduce a McDonalds when you’ve got the recipe for success at your fingertips. My problem is, particularly in the Queensland context, which I’m better equipped to speak about, there are large swathes of the state that rely on a PIM missio, or the other denominational equivalents, and their bi-annual visits. If you make the standard “faithful, gospel centred, Bible teaching with a view to being part of God’s mission” – which I think is a pretty reasonable yardstick for whether a church is doing what the church should be doing (and a yardstick most Sydney Anglican churches would be measuring up to) – then I’d say there are huge parts of Australia not being catered for… that’s what I mean when I say if we were redoing the shape of the evangelical church in Australia now, it’d look a bit different. I’m not suggesting all our churches merge into bigger churches, simply that keeping the doors open and the lights on at a church when there are three (or more) good ones within a 20 minute drive, doesn’t seem to be the best allocation of resources.

      That politics and denomination structure get in the way of the gospel like this doesn’t seem good enough for a hot-headed, idealistic young pup like me…

      1. Great discussion guys!

        In Australian rural contexts where a gospel presence and churches that preach the gospel are lacking – several factors have often been at play. There are many many towns where there are a Roman Catholic, an Anglican, and a Uniting Church, but no evangelical church. Often the Anglican diocese (or parish) there is not open to employing an evangelical minister, and for the Uniting Church it can be a lottery! If there is an evangelical presence – it’s usually been Baptist, Church of Christ, or pentecostal (of various shades). (I include pentecostal here because most do preach the gospel, even if it’s not the Calvinist variety). I know of a couple of situations where evangelicals have ministered at established Anglican/Uniting churches but when they moved on they were quickly replaced by wishy-washy liberal ministers, who to use a Sydney radio announcer’s expression, went about “destroying the joint” (and they were blokes btw).

        So where are we at now? One response to this has been for churches to be planted in “hostile” territory independent of the local diocese (and they had no choice really), usually with support from Sydney. But I have to say that down here in Victoria the ‘strict’ doctrinal position that is held on what many down here see as secondary issues within their Statements of Faith has been barrier for many – both to lead a church plant or join it. I don’t for once see these church plants as a bad thing – often solid Biblical teaching which has been so lacking in some of these contexts is today bearing fruit. Praise God!!!

        Another response has been to plant churches at the “emerging” end of the spectrum. Unfortunately some have such open ended or non-existent Statements of Faith and doctrine that they have become anchor-less boats that have drifted off into wild and wacky heresies. The number of souls (often coming from evangelical backgrounds) being ship-wrecked has been devastating.

        Perhaps my cynicism is showing, but a little bit more pragmatism, flexibility, and contextualization wouldn’t go astray… Church History has many good examples of this and it doesn’t involve heresy.

  8. I think your analysis is quite fair, Nathan, and I think many/most evangelical leaders in the Sydney Diocese would agree (me too). The difficulty is that they are Anglican, and they are restricted to their Diocese unless other dioceses are open to having clergy trained in Sydney and with reformed evangelical convictions working in their churches. This is rarely the case, just as Sydney isn’t really interested in having Anglican ministers without reformed evangelical convictions working in its churches.

    Their other option is to plant independent churches or to begin another denomination. The former isn’t attractive to most people – after a period of experimentation with the strategy, I think most people at the moment aren’t that keen on planting churches outside of a denominational structure – whether rightly or wrongly.

    Beginning another denomination would *seriously* strain relationships with other dioceses and potentially shut down open doors in overseas missionary contexts (such as Africa) where there are a number of national churches in the Anglican Communion quite keen to forge partnerships with Sydney. So to pursue the gospel in Australia would threaten to stop opportunities to pursue it overseas – and at that point your Maccas example works in reverse as any Australian anywhere in the country has far more gospel opportunities than people in many missionary receiving countries.

    When you also factor in that even most other evangelicals in Australia really don’t like the Sydney Diocese – except for those of us basically on the same page with them – they’ll say something nice and perfunctionary but then indicate that they want Sydney to fundamentally change its theology and practice. For Sydney their experience means that ‘friend’ means something like ‘someone who smiles at us while running us down and stabbing us in the back’. I think it’s fair to say that the prospect of the Sydney Diocese starting some pseudo-denomination to church plant outside its turf would *not* play well with other evangelicals either. Factor that in and it makes it very unlikely.

    Factor in further that Sydney is a ‘world city’ (albeit small by those standards) and like other world cities is very introspective – ‘Australia’ basically equals ‘Sydney’ for most of that city. There’s a vague awareness that there’s a place called Melbourne, and there’s deepest darkest Queensland up north somewhere, but they don’t really matter the way Sydney does. This isn’t a problem with the Christians, it’s a problem with the whole city and Christians absorb it by breathing – much the same way as Brisbaners and Melbourner Christians are entirely predictable once you know the culture of those citiies. Factor that in, and I think it’s almost impossible to see the Sydney Diocese driving any kind of big church planting strategy across the country any time soon, more’s the pity.

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