Book Notice: Sydney Anglicanism: An Apology by Michael Jensen

Michael P. Jensen
Sydney Anglicanism: An Apology
Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock
Available from Amazon.com (USA) – $9.99 on Kindle
Available from Mosaic Books (Australia)

Here’s the blurb:

Sydney’s evangelical Anglicans have been the focus of a great deal of controversy and criticism in the Anglican world. Their blend of conservatism towards doctrine and radicalism towards the institutional church has made them something of an enigma to other Anglicans. But what makes them really tick? Michael Jensen provides a unique insider’s view into the convictional world of Sydney Anglicanism. He responds to a number of the common misunderstandings about Sydney Anglicanism and challenges Sydney Anglicans to see themselves as making a positive contribution to the wider church and to the city they inhabit.

The Sydney Anglicans are, nationally and internationally, among the most influential and despised group of Anglicans in the world. I’ve seen TV documentaries about them, read scathing critiques about them on-line and in print, and even be privy to several in-house debates that they have with each other! In this book, Dr. Michael P. Jensen, lecturer in doctrine at Moore Theological College and son of the out-going Archbishop of Sydney Peter Jensen, gives us a view from one who has grown up and works in the very epicenter of Sydney Anglicanism. He attempts to give an accurate depiction of Sydney Anglicans (SA), away from the pro-SA propaganda that the Anglo-Catholic Liberals are about to over run the Emerald City, and away from the vehement rhetoric of Anglo-Catholic Liberals who caricature them as raving fundies who hate women and gays. Jensen’s book has two parts: SAs in relation to the Bible and the Church.

In part one, Jensen attempts to dispel the rumour that SAs are fundamentalists. He notes that “‘Fundamentalist’ is a playground bully among words” (13) He observes that SAs do not generally believe things normally attributed to fundamentalists like six day creation, pre-millennial eschatology, and right-wing approaches to politics. Simply believing in the primacy of scripture as SAs do does not make one a fundamentalist, but it is a good way of immunizing against fundamentalism. Jensen further points out that SAs have been at the forefront of a resurgent biblical theology movement in evangelicalism, led principally by Donald Robinson and Graham Goldsworthy. This is a particular Reformed emphasis, reading the OT and NT as a unity. In fact, Jensen states that, “The strong critiques of some aspects of [N.T.] Wright’s work offered by some Sydney Anglican scholars masks the great similarities between the approaches they share as a matter of fact” (39). On propositional revelation, Jensen discusses Broughton Knox’s infamous article on the topic that appeared in a 1960 issue of Reformed Theological Review. He claims that Knox’s views have been partly misunderstood and the notion of propositional truth simply means that God speaks the truth. Of course, that does not mean that revelation cannot be personal at the same time, something argued persuasively by Jensen’s father Peter Jensen in his book The Revelation of God. It is this doctrine of scripture as revelation that has also led to the centrality of preaching in SA circles.

In part two, Jensen draws attention to the ecclesiology of Robinson and Knox, two influential SA figures. For Robinson, ekklesia meant chiefly the local church and it was more of a verbal idea, i.e., churching. The upshot is that there was very little concern for a universal or institutional church. Jensen proceeds to offer a well directed critique of this the Robinson-Knox view asserting that it wrongly denies that the NT has any notion of the church as universal, there is a lack of attention given to the earthly and heavenly aspects of church, and it lacks a concerted engagement with the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. The best chapter is chapter seven on “Are Sydney Anglicans Actually Anglicans?” The Anglo-Catholic Liberalism of most of the West, where Anglicanism has either minimal or no ideational content, sees unity in a shared liturgy, not in doctrine. The problem obviously is that the 39 Articles and the writings of Cranmer and Hooker demonstrate that the Anglican Church was a Reformed Church. Modern evangelicalism, far from being a betrayal of the Anglican way, is really an attempt to recapture the Reformed nature of Anglicanism. The big issues that SAs are known for is the opposition to women in the priesthood and episcopacy. Jensen details the various diocesan discussions of the matter including the late 1990′s and early 2000′s where a trinitarian model of Jesus as equal in being but subordinated in role to the Father was used to justify a view of women as equal in being but subordinated in role to men. He notes that a tactical mistake made by the SA committee was to use the word “subordinationism” since it did run the gauntlet of sounding Arian. Jensen thankfully endorses the view of Bird and Shillaker that it is better to think of the son’s eternal and obedient self-distinction from the Father. At the end of the chapter, Jensen believes that SAs need to do three things about gender:  To better define what is meant by authority, freedom and obedience; to decry sexism where it exists; and to develop a notion of ministry which includes partnership between men and women. Jensen notes too that the SAs have shown more restraint on the issue of Lay Presidency in the eucharist than what Anglo-Catholic Liberal churches elsewhere have shown on the ordination of actively gay men and women to the episcopacy. The final chapter about the Anglican Church League takes us behind the veil into the machinations of the primary conservative lobbyist group in the SAs itself.

Jensen’s book is worth reading because it addresses one of the most controversial diocese in worldwide Anglicanism. Jensen’s book is valuable as an insider’s perspective that gives clarity beyond hostile caricatures, it provides a historical explanation and theological defence as to why SAs believe and act as they do, but it also includes some healthy in-house critiques and recommendations as to how SAs can avoid being overly sectarian and contribute to both world Anglicanism and international evangelicalism.

  • Sue

    The son’s obedience to the Father lead straight to the cross. I sat under the ministry of three illustrious Sydney men, and I don’t expect to recover from The trauma anytime soon. If men wish to put women on the cross, as they so repetitively preach, could they please preach it somewhere that women don’t have to listen. I could not possibly imagine a more violence filled message. Many years in the Sydney fold undid me entirely. As it happens, the diocese has nobody assigned to listen to the stories of those women who suffer criminal violence, entrapped by the vow to submit. There is no venue in the Sydney diocese to listen to women who suffer violence. This is our fate, as we play out the relationship of Christ to God.


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