Tag Archives: Phillip Jensen

Go west (or to any other point on the compass) young man

There are times when I engage passionately in arguments when I don’t really mean it. There are other times when I engage passionately because the stakes are incredibly high and I think the issue is both theologically and strategically important. This, friends, is a case of the latter.

I’ve stirred up a veritable hornets nest of criticism both here and elsewhere for daring to question the assumption that people should stay in Sydney to do ministry. I thought it might have been one of those cases where I took an argument too far and risked causing offense. So I read my comments on Izaac’s blog a day later and in a rare moment of clarity and conviction found that I still completely hold on to every word I have written both here and elsewhere.

I did unwittingly cause Izaac some offense by quoting his post in an email to Phillip Jensen seeking clarification on his position. This was by no means my intention. Izaacs editorial surrounding the comments is balanced (and far less polemic than mine). I have no bone to pick with his contextualisation of the quotes. And I want to, in a public forum, apologise for the way in which I presented his views. I do think before I go further in criticising the statements attributed to Phillip I should find out if my criticisms are on the mark.

The irony of this situation is that I had heard recently, on another matter, that Phillip himself was critical of someone for speaking what everybody was thinking because “every statement is political”.

I wonder about the political wisdom of making a statement – polemical or otherwise – suggesting that areas of the country where there are more people than sheep (and I suspect removing the hyperbole this can be translated to rural Australia) – are of less strategic importance than the city. That’s not the attitude demonstrated by the ministry of Jesus, nor is it the attitude expressed in the parable of the lost sheep. People of all stripes and locations are important to God and need the gospel. Which means people of all stripes and locations need gospel workers with a heart for sharing the message of the cross.

It doesn’t seem to serve the cause of the gospel in reaching the rest of Australia and the world – but it does seem to serve the cause in Sydney. Phillip’s statements are fine in that they represent political statements that further his cause – gospel ministry in Sydney – I don’t really get the flack I’m wearing for disagreeing and presenting an alternative priority for growth in Australia.

It’s all well and good to suggest that other regions and states should be looking after themselves and setting up sustainable cities – but if you choose the Billy Graham crusades when the Jensen brothers were converted as the start of a groundswell of evangelicism in Australia, or if you choose any other moment in Australian history, the influence of Moore College as Australia’s premiere and premier training institution for evangelical workers needs time in order to create a cycle of self replication.

Here are a couple of potential case studies.

Case Study Number 1 – Maclean

Maclean, the town Izaac and I grew up in, has a population of about 3,500 people. It’s not a “strategic regional centre”. When my family moved their 20 years ago there was a night service meeting in Yamba (population 5,000) and two morning services – one in Lawrence (population – from memory less than 1,000) and the other in Maclean. We stayed in Maclean for ten years and by God’s grace left a thriving and gospel centred church family behind when we moved to Brisbane. Maclean has been vacant for almost half of the last ten years (by my guestimation). The strategic regional centre for the Lower Clarence is not Maclean – it’s Grafton. Grafton is the natural hub for small towns in the region. And holds the lion’s share of the regional population.

The church in Maclean has, again by the grace of God, produced a number of Godly young adults who still live in Maclean and a number who are serving in churches around the country – in Perth, Tasmania, Brisbane, Sydney and throughout New South Wales. For a town of less than 4,000 people Maclean is more than punching above its weight in terms of people entering theological training and ministry apprenticeships. But there has been a pretty long lead time. It has taken 20 years from the moment an evangelical ministry beginning in Maclean for two of us to be entering Bible College (and I think we’re the first). I can’t even truly claim to have completely grown up in Maclean (and Izaac rightly credits the faithful ministry he has received in Sydney for propelling him to where he is today).

To suggest that Maclean should have produced its own ministers to sustainably and strategically (as some have done both overtly and between the lines) look after the future of the region is disingenuous and doesn’t really take into account the nature of regional centres where a high percentage of young adults leave to seek their fortunes (and education) in the city.

According to Wikipedia 3.2% of residents of the Clarence Valley earn a living in “sheep, cattle or grain farming”… there’s a pretty good chance that there are more sheep in the region than cattle. According to the Clarence Valley Economic Development stats page more than 7% of residents are engaged in agriculture. ABS census statistics indicate that the Mid North Coast region (which includes Maclean) is home to approximately 3,000 sheep. It seems going to Maclean is ok. But not if it is a question of cattle rather than sheep. There are 409,000 head of cattle in the statistical division and 297,000 people. The region extends from Taree to Grafton. Maclean is typically rural.

For it to produce its own sustainable gospel work (on the assumption that this requires a home grown college trained worker) either Izaac or myself would have to go back there. I can’t for at least 8 years (candidacy locks me into Queensland for six) and Izaac would have to do two years of PTC training at the end of a four year degree. The suggestion that these regions should fend for themselves is pretty laughable.

Case Study Number 2: Townsville

I’ve spent the last four years in Townsville. It’s fair to say that evangelical ministry in Townsville is in its late infancy. There are perhaps five churches in Townsville that could be defined as evangelical. Townsville has a population of 180,000 people. It’s growing at about 5,000 people a year. All the ministers serving in Townsville have come there from elsewhere.

Dave Walker has been working for AFES in Townsville for (I think) nine years. AFES Townsville, again by the grace of God, has trained hundreds of students in that time. A number of these students are in full time ministry in high school chaplaincy, others have left Townsville for graduate positions. None, at this stage (to my knowledge) have entered theological training at this point. Nine years of fruitful labour has not been enough to meet staff shortfalls with the student ministry – let alone going close to providing enough workers for church ministry in the city.

I don’t think Dave will have a problem with me pointing out that AFES have been trying to appoint a female staff worker for the last couple of years – pursuing a number of candidates but attracting none to this point.

According to the ABS, North Queensland has no sheep, but it does have 496,000 head of cattle. Compared to Sydney the North Queensland region is an evangelical baby. It is not in a position to be self sustaining – give it 150 years and perhaps the region will have a population, and training college, similar to Sydney’s now. Sydney apologists can’t forget that they owe their strength to missionaries who came to Australia in the first fleet. All regions around the world, since Jerusalem and Judea, require workers to come in from the outside.

There aren’t all that many sheep in Queensland. Just 3.9 million. Luckily there are 4.1 million people. We should have no trouble filling vacancies in regional Queensland now should we?

I’m sure my friend Mike from Rockhampton could share equal tales of unrequited ministry opportunity – which is why those of us outside of Sydney get a little put out when we see a map like the one featured in this post.

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The Amazing Joe Hockey Movement

The Amazing Joel Hockey Movement is a Christian Comedy Folk band/singer. I thought he was funny when I was in high school – I confess I haven’t listened to him much since…

The Amazing Joe Hockey Movement is the series of responses around the blogosphere to Joe Hockey’s vaguely stupid defence of the notion of Christianity in a speech to the Sydney Institute that was published in extract form in the Sydney Morning Herald the other day. It’s received a fair bit of press coverage. With speculation that he was using this speech to round out his character in order to one day make a leadership push.

The backbone of this speech is the idea that somehow the best place to learn about God is not the church – who take things all too literally – but the vibe. It’s mabo. It’s the serenity. It’s stupid.

The notion that somehow Jesus would be unhappy with the idea of people taking the Bible seriously – which he seemed to do throughout his life – is preposterous. It comes from some sort of social superiority complex that for some reason believes that we’re much more enlightened than those who came before us, and that we can stand in judgment on thousands of years of backwards thinking.

I read an annoyingly superior piece along this vein in Sam De Brito’s new “Building a Better Bloke” group blog. Apparently the idea that Jesus “wasn’t a Christian” should be profound. Newsflash. Jesus was the archetypal “people of God” – Christianity is just the way that concept has been branded since we follow him. That’s a dumb proposition, and it just gets dumber.

Apparently Jesus was not about restoring our relationship with God – you know, the “repent, the kingdom of God is near” stuff… no, he was about:

“These are the real issues Jesus was interested in: POWER, PRESTIGE and POSSESSIONS. He hits them again and again.”

I bring this up mainly because a commenter calling himself “the thinker” made this interesting point in the comments…

“In the same way it is the philosophies we as a culture evolve” – I have to pull you up on this one and refer you to scientific anthropology. This is a common mistake which we humans who accept evolution make all the time. We erroneously assume that culture within human society evolves in a forward manner, the same way as genetic evolution did.

Anthropologically, the scientific evidence is that human culture rises and falls more like a flat sine wave. When American culture crashes it can fall to the same depth as Roman culture when it crashed (or even further). There is NO cultural ’safety net’ for a modern culture which will prevent it falling past a specific level cultural level attained in the past. Also, remember that on a genetic scale we are no smarter as humans than the Greeks, the Romans, the Persians, the Mongols, the Huns etc as evolution takes longer than 2,000 years to significantly improve human brain power.

I thought that was interesting.

Anyway, back to Hockey. While suggesting that Christianity should be all about style – without worrying about substance – he made this odd statement about politics.

“The trend I see in politics is one where personality is winning over the substance that should be at the heart of political life.”

Somewhat contradictory methinks.

For a more astute takedown of Hockey’s statement read this response from Phillip Jensen. Or the letters to the editor that came in in response, or Gordo’s response to those letters. Here’s a snapshot from Phillip Jensen…

But Mr Hockey’s expression of values, with or without belief in any particular god, scarcely defends faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus – the man who is God. Christianity, void of Jesus’ divinity or sin bearing crucifixion – is hardly Christianity. Such a statement is not extremist literalism. The cross, not the golden rule, is at the very centre of Christianity. All religions do not teach the same truth when the death of Jesus is central to Christianity and denied by the Koran.

He noticed that the Opera House is usually playing music inspired by faith. But his kind of faith did not and will not inspire such music. He noticed that members of religious organisations are nearly twice as likely to be community volunteers. But his faith has not and will not lead to more community volunteers. He noticed the decline in religious observance in Australia. But he fails to notice that it is those who take their scriptures seriously that are retaining adherents and growing.

Jensenisms

While I’m holding out against the young evangelical male norm and not signing up as a Driscoll fanboy – I’m unabashedly a fan of Phillip Jensen. His well balanced article on the abortion debate got a run on the SMH website today (thanks to Findo for pointing it out) – and I assume in the printed version. It’s nice to have a fairly moderate Christian voice in the debate.

I linked to this when he put it up on his site a couple of weeks ago – but if you didn’t read it then, read it now.

Here are three paragraphs to whet your appetite…

“Arguments that it is a woman’s right to control her body do not deal, adequately, with the differences between the mother and the foetus. There are two lives for whom the mother is responsible. The question is whether her responsibility for the life of the foetus extends to making the decision of life and death, or whether her self-interest undermines the legitimacy of this decision. Should the state have some say in protecting this life from her?

There is little purpose in demonising those who oppose abortion by claiming they are imposing their morality on others, for the entire legal system is an imposition of morality on others. Rather than an anarchic jungle of society without law, our society imposes a moral system on individuals.

Our society uses a combination of Christian heritage, rational discussion, political democracy and judicial wisdom to guide its choices. On a range of issues, it has chosen to limit individual freedoms. On others, it has allowed the citizens to make their own choices. It is not unreasonable to make life and death issues involving a defenceless victim a matter of moral discussion, political decision and judicial wisdom.”

Jensen on Sacred Cows

“It is dangerous to shoot sacred cows. We all get upset, irrationally and emotionally when something we hold as precious is attacked. The more irrational our attachment the more anger is engendered when our favourite bovine is assailed.”

“One of the ways to test if something has become an idol is to remove it. If nobody notices or complains, it can safely be restored. If it is declared to be “the end of civilisation as we know it” – it is fairly safe to assume it has developed idolatrous importance to people.”

Dean of Sydney Phillip Jensen on Sacred Cows.

Perhaps his most telling criticism appears below – but the whole thing is worth reading.

One of our generation’s greatest sacred cows is the enlightened view of intellectual and rational discourse. There is the desire in some people to imagine that by the control of human reason we will be able to know God, or disprove His existence, or live a morally and theologically correct life. This emphasis can distrust those things emotional or miraculous; things which are unable to be controlled or which fit into our understanding.