82 Inerrant Bible

Thinking about the Bible

Invitation to anarchy?

I have been reading a little about the history of the Anglican Church in Australia, and in particular the story of the Diocese of Sydney. Sydney has been for many years the centre of an extremely conservative form of Christianity and as I indicated in a previous post, Sydney Anglicanism has given financial and theological backing to a movement within Anglicanism called GAFCON (Global Anglican Futures Conference). GAFCON claims to represent the centre ground of Anglicanism and to be a return to the ‘biblical roots’ of Anglican thinking. This has spawned what can only be described as fairly vicious attacks on those who do not agree with its posturings about, among other things, women bishops and same sex marriage. As far as the situation in England is concerned, such opinions represent a fairly small minority opinion within Anglicanism, even if these opinions are given much coverage by the press.

Those who follow this blog know that I have very little sympathy with this approach to Christian truth and the way that it put tremendous personal pressure on the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams.   The sheer energy and stridency of the movement does however need to be understood and interpreted. It will not do to say simply that this is the view of the Bible and thus the truth about these issues. The historical perspective will want to indicate a more sophisticated way of understanding than this. It is my belief that part of the history of GAFCON is the history of conservative evangelicalism in Australia.

In a few brush strokes it can be stated the ‘low-church’ tradition has prevailed in the area of Sydney for over a century. But it is only in the past 50 or 60 years that this identity became part of a political struggle for power within Anglicanism both within and beyond Australia. I am hoping to write up this story at some point in a longer article, because it is well documented, even for a reader on this side of the world. The story centres around certain powerful individuals and institutions. There is one Broughton Knox who was the head of the only theological college in Sydney, Moore College, in the 60s and 70s and I have already mentioned him before. There are also two brothers, Philip and Peter Jensen. The first is now Dean of Sydney and the second served eleven years as Archbishop of Sydney. Two fascinating details emerge from the life stories of these men. One is that two of them studied the history of the English Reformation to doctoral level. Thus they became totally fluent in the language of Calvin and the English Puritan divines. Their enthusiasm for this period of history became a key aspect of their theology and teaching, well backed up by biblical quotations. Because both Peter Jensen and Broughton Knox had done their doctoral study in Oxford in Britain, their power to get their own way theologically in Australia was significant. The influence on the whole church was disproportionate as there were few others as well qualified theologically in Australia itself. Broughton Knox in particular introduced one distinctive aspect of ‘Sydney Anglicanism’ from the Reformation divines which emphasised the power of the local church. This was also an approach that sat lightly on denominational structures and the role of oversight. Peter together with his brother Philip came out strongly against homosexuals and women in ministry. All this was in the context of very conservative evangelical teaching with a strong 16th century flavour.

The second point about the Sydney Anglican ‘experiment’ was that it had a strong, almost obsessive interest in correct doctrine. The context of this style of Puritan teaching of the importance of ‘correct’ doctrine was the presence in Australia of a strong biblical cult, called ‘Tinker Tailor’ that was around in the 50s and 60s under one Lyndsay Grant. Lyndsay and Del Agnew, the leaders of this group were part of an evangelical network of socially influential families in the Sydney area. The influence of the group went beyond their members and some members of the family of Broughton Knox were life-long supporters. From their reading of the Bible, the ‘Tinker Tailor’ group put a great emphasis on the Keswick style of spirituality. This gave importance to the feelings of being saved rather than simple believing correct doctrine It is the opinion of the biographer of Broughton Knox that the rational, what I would call ‘dry’, style of evangelical belief so dominant in Sydney today in part comes out of a desire to remove Sydney Anglicanism from the influence of the ‘Tinker Tailor’ heresy.

The practice of finding ‘truth’ in Scripture will always be vulnerable to the personal limitations of the person who teaches it. Lyndsay Grant preached from the Bible and ended up with the highly destructive cult which shattered families and individuals. That story cannot be covered here. The Jensen brothers and Broughton Knox also preached from the same Bible and produced a variety of Christianity to reflect their own personal issues and concerns. There are in fact no rules in teaching from the Bible. Although no teacher of Scripture wants to admit it, it would seem that almost any opinion can be lifted from this source. If a preacher happens to have a personality disorder that craves power, that too can be supported from the Bible. The present struggle for power in the Anglican Communion, according to this summary, begins with a struggle for theological power and dominance in far-off Australia by a smallish group of powerful individuals. Their misuse of power, even their abuse of power, in this way has come, in the opinion of this blogger, to damage and undermine good Christian teaching right across the world.

About Stephen Parsons

Stephen is a retired Anglican priest living at present in Northumberland. He has taken a special interest in the issues around health and healing in the Church but also when the Church is a place of harm and abuse. He has published books on both these issues and is at present particularly interested in understanding the psychological aspects of leadership and follower-ship in the Church. He is always interested in making contact with others who are concerned with these issues.

6 thoughts on “82 Inerrant Bible

  1. Masterly, Stephen. I particularly like the first sentence of your final paragraph. It reminds me of the theologs who in attempting to observe the original Jesus “stared down a deep well and saw themselves reflected in the water at the bottom.” We all need to keep humble and pen to correction from others. Thanks!

  2. This issue of how the bible is used and abused is a labyrinth human creation. Having the ‘Right’ theoretically correct approach has used up hours of ‘bible study’. It has overshadowed the greatest command to love; ‘By this will all men know you are my disciples’. I look back on a wasted life,inverted elite little companies infected with spiritual pride (Studying the bible) and also working under ‘Bible believing christians’ in positions of authority, whose attitudes had more in common with a Rottweiler on speed.


  3. Dick, there are things here that trouble me. Firstly let me reiterate that my present mind state is that of a floating voter.
    These ‘Liberal’ evangelicals appear very attractive at first, I then see an intellectual elite that may not have travelled to an abuse stage yet, but, who knows what the future holds?
    The debate is a cerebral one, period.

    Looking back at a world full of former victims of evangelical abuse, seeing them in the wastelands and deserts, I have to ask myself if they were to meet a ‘New’ style of liberal Christianity, would it do them good or would it simply destroy them?
    Stephen Parsons, has rightly pointed out in former blogs that there is snobbery, and that the theological acolytes of academia can tyrannize just as much as a fundamentalist?
    I stand to be corrected but, if the end result of this is a priest, pastor, elder, looking down on someone for whom the penny simply does not drop, are we not (next bit censored) passing water into the wind?

    PEACE, Chris

  4. Thanks haikusinenomine, I would say that Scientology is a reasonable example. An intellectual elite created it and it has a fundamentalist mentality.

    Also a few observations:

    Any well-educated group is capable of forming a cult. Scientology is one example.
    Also the ‘ herding instinct ‘ is still obvious to see in the reigning ‘Christian’ intelligentsia of today.

    Being in favor of a group of set ideas. Sharing a belief in Women bishops, evolution, Gay marriage, how best to ‘Educate.’ Always assuming a position where knowledge is the only key to the door.

    Any of the above positions could be right and in tune with the will of God, but I don’t know!

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