Julian Mann on an important Australian contribution to British conservative evangelicalism which shook up its complacent tendencies
The brothers Jensen – Peter, Archbishop of Sydney and Phillip, Dean of St Andrew’s Cathedral – continue to exercise an influential ministry within the Anglican Communion from their conservative evangelical stronghold in Sydney Diocese. As a British conservative evangelical ministering in the Church of England, I would like to explore how much our constituency owes under God to Australian evangelicals such as these.
Australia shook British conservative evangelicalism out of its bourgeois complacency through the ministry of the Jensens, among others, at Proclamation Trust (PT) conferences in the Eighties and Nineties. The PT grew out of the preaching ministry of Prebendary Dick Lucas at St Helen’s Bishopsgate in the City of London. Instrumental in its establishment in the mid-Eighties was a former curate of Mr Lucas, the Revd Jonathan Fletcher, vicar of Emmanuel Wimbledon.
As with all of us, they had their faults and their excesses. But their rigorous evangelicalism and magnificent biblical exposition did us a power of good. There is a whiff of gunfire about the Jensens’ contributions. Without that, we in British conservative evangelicalism are inclined to be too Home Counties, too Oxbridge, too safe.
What they got right
It is instructive to consider what the Jensens have been right about since the Eighties; firstly, the complementarity of the sexes and male headship – if British evangelicals had taught this more rigorously in their churches, the ordination of women to the presbyterate may never have got through General Synod in 1992. Secondly, they were right about the dangers of experience-driven charismatic theology.
They were aware of the need for more thoroughly evangelical theological training. UK evangelicals were often more knowledgeable about critical theories of the Bible than they were about the wealth of evangelical theology. They also realized that liberalism is getting ‘incarnated’ in the older denominations through measures such as the ordination of women and the need to take structural steps to protect evangelical pulpits.
They have also been right about the need for proactive church planting; the need for biblically-shaped evangelism, modelled in the ‘Two Ways to Live’ tract; the fact that the focus on biblical exposition meant church people could miss out on necessary doctrinal framework; and the priority of the local church and the need for church-based ministry training schemes.
There are also two things they have been wrong about; firstly, the homogeneous unit principle – i.e. targeting specific demographic groups for rapid church growth, which pandered to the elitism already latent in British conservative evangelicalism; and secondly, writing off small churches in the older denominations as no hopers for the Gospel. With support from larger evangelical churches, and in some cases without that support, they can be recaptured for Christ and can grow. It just takes time.
What they have been right about vastly outweighs what they have been wrong about. If Phillip Jensen is not invited to speak at a PT conference within the next two years, that may be a sign that we are getting too comfortable with a consensus agenda and need to be shaken up by the call to radical discipleship. ND