Chappo and the magic potion

I’m not sure John Chapman would have approved of this article, on two counts. For a start, it speaks more positively of him than he would have been comfortable with; but more particularly, this article tries to do two things at once, a vice that Chappo decried in many a trainee preacher. (I can hear him now: “My dear Tony, there was enough excellent material in there for two good articles. What a shame you decided to write them both at once!”)

It may well fail to do either adequately, but this article is meant to be a reflection on Chappo and his writing; and at the same time a review of Michael Jensen’s new book, Sydney Anglicanism: An Apology.Sydney Anglicanism - An apology

The impetus for this connection began at Chappo’s thanksgiving service in St Andrew’s Cathedral in November last year. Sydney’s Anglican Archbishop Peter Jensen opened the service in an unusual way by referring to two books about Sydney Anglicanism that he had read, neither of which mentioned Chappo in the index. He said that he knew immediately that both were worthy of the bin, on the grounds that it is impossible to understand or explain present-day Sydney Anglicanism without reference to the titanic contribution of John Charles Chapman. And the remainder of the service was a magnificent thanksgiving for that contribution.

Now having investigated this matter, I can confirm that the Archbishop’s remarks were not directed at his son Michael’s new book, which seeks to explain and defend Sydney Anglicanism, and which does indeed fail to list John Chapman in its index. I can also confirm that Michael’s book is not bin-worthy. On the contrary, it is a stimulating and intelligent piece of writing that judiciously explains many of the people, events, themes and controversies of Sydney Anglicanism, and provides a compelling defence against some of the key criticisms levelled at Sydney by its harshest critics. All the same, I do have my reasons for wanting to talk about Michael’s book and Chappo at the same time, and they will become apparent in due course.

Using a cleverly conceived illustration, Michael makes clear from the outset that his book is addressing two audiences. It deserves quoting at length:

The famous Asterix the Gaul comic books that I read when I was a kid begin in this way:

The year is 50 B.C. Gaul is entirely occupied by the Romans. Well, not entirely… One small village of indomitable Gauls still holds out against the invaders. And life is not easy for the Roman legionaries who garrison the fortified camps of Totorum, Aquarium, Laudanam and Compendium…

The Gauls gain their fabulous strength from a magic potion brewed by their druid, Getafix. But the secret of their ability to defy the odds, and the Romans, comes from somewhere else. They are possessed of a remarkable inner fortitude. They have an almost casual confidence about them that drives their opponents to distraction. They have a clear sense of shared identity in the face of what seems like insurmountable opposition. They love to eat wild boar.

The way the story of the Anglican diocese of Sydney has been told by her supporters and critics alike often sounds like the opening to Asterix. In the view of Melbourne journalist and Anglican laywoman Muriel Porter, for example, the evangelical variety of Anglicanism that in general characterizes the diocese of Sydney is defiantly peculiar. As she reads it, an Anglicanism that is Catholic in liturgy and liberal in theology has triumphed everywhere. It is the dominant form, and reigns unchecked and unchallenged across Australia and even across the globe. This one small diocese of indomitable, very conservative, and (to be frank) completely unhinged evangelical Anglicans holds out against the onward march of liberal Catholic Anglicanism… They simply get in the way of what would be a normal development in other places.

The same story can be told from within the gates of the Sydney Anglican village as well. While all around, Anglicanism has capitulated almost totally to the liberal, broad-church paradigm—with the exception of a few parishes in each diocese that are allowed to remain traditional Anglo-Catholic or conservative evangelical—Sydney is the only diocese in which an evangelical form of Anglicanism holds sway. Alone it holds the torch against the onslaught of darkness. Alone it defies the complete capitulation of Anglican Christianity to Western cultural mores. Alone it holds to priority of Scripture over culture as authoritative for church belief and practice. Splendidly, nobly alone.

It is the thesis of this book that this narrative is simply untrue and that holding to it is potentially disastrous.

In the chapters that follow, Michael seeks to convince the wary outsider that Sydney Anglicanism, far from being a weird little isolationist tribe, is a perfectly sane, intellectually robust, legitimate form of historic Anglicanism that looks back with integrity to our Reformation foundations and formularies, and sits within a tradition that contains such worthy names as Jewel, Wesley, Whitefield, Simeon, Ryle, Packer and Stott. His point is that if Sydney Anglicanism is the lunatic fringe, then we must also dispense with a large swathe of the Anglican communion throughout the world and throughout history. If the evangelicalism represented by Sydney (and other parts of the Anglican world) seems strange to critics such as Porter, it has more to do with the current hegemony of the liberal-Catholic form of Anglicanism in so many places than with any departure by Sydney from historic Anglicanism.

In making this point, Michael explores ten topics, five under the heading ‘Bible’ and five under ‘Church’.

Under ‘Bible’, he explains why the charge of ‘fundamentalism’ is unhelpful and inaccurate in describing Sydney’s view of the authority of Scripture; how Sydney came to be a pioneer in ‘biblical theology’; how Broughton Knox’s views on ‘propositional revelation’ have been misunderstood; and why preaching of a particularly expository kind has come to have such a central place in Sydney Anglican churches.

Under ‘Church’, he explains and explores the Knox-Robinson view of the church; he asks whether Sydney Anglicans are still legitimate Anglicans (unsurprising answer: yes); he looks at some of the major controversies that have caused friction between Sydney Anglicans and other Anglicans around Australia (such as the ordination of women, and the push for lay administration of the Lord’s Supper); and he looks at the political nature of the Sydney Anglican synod, and the role of the Anglican Church League.

These topics are covered with a lucid and informative mix of theological reflection and historical explanation. I cannot say how effective the presentation will be in convincing the suspicious onlooker that Sydney Anglicans do not in fact have two heads (or ten horns), but as an insider I found it persuasive and encouraging. Certainly as an exercise in defusing some of the more explosive attacks of Sydney’s detractors (such as Muriel Porter, Kevin Giles, Nicholas Taylor and Humphrey Southern) the book has to be judged a real success.

However, the curious or suspicious outsider is not Michael’s only audience. As he makes plain from the outset, he also wishes to address his Sydney brothers and sisters. In this sense, the book is an attempt not only to defend and disarm, but also to explain Sydney Anglicanism to itself, and (at least to some extent) set an agenda for a new generation.

I confess to finding this aspect of the book less convincing. The opening illustration, for example, has a message for Sydney about the dangers of isolationism. We must resist the temptation of seeing ourselves, like Asterix and the Gauls, as the last remaining faithful remnant, holding the torch of evangelical Anglicanism against the onslaught of darkness “splendidly, nobly alone”.

This is no doubt a danger worth avoiding, but I struggled to think of who this was being aimed at. Sydney Anglicans have warm, strong and productive links with Bible-believing Anglicans all over the world, and with evangelicals in other denominations as well, and have had for as long as I can remember. Why ‘noble isolationism’ is a danger for us I found difficult to understand.

Similarly, I found chapter 9 (on the ministry of women) quite puzzling. While good points are made, especially in response to the Arianism accusations of Kevin Giles and others, I finished the chapter none the wiser as to what ‘complementarianism’ or ‘headship’ actually meant, so many and so complex were the qualifications and caveats that were made.

The insider-directed material in chapter 7 I also found unpersuasive. In discussing what it really means to be and remain Anglican, Michael urges his Sydney brethren towards a ‘churchier’ (for want of a better term) Anglicanism that retains a stronger emphasis on the sacraments, conducts a more ordered form of corporate worship, and is more reticent to make changes in church practice and order without the approval of the denomination.

Now I have no problem with Michael putting his case about these and other matters, even though (like many in Sydney) I would not share his particular view of things. The more serious shortcoming is with what is left unsaid.

Reading the book as a Sydney Anglican, I was struck by an absence at the book’s centre. The consequence is that those readers wishing really to understand the essence of Sydney Anglicanism (whether as an outsider or insider) will miss a vital aspect—I would suggest the vital aspect—of what is important and distinctive about our identity.

And this is where I come to John Chapman. I do not mean to imply that Chappo’s absence from Michael’s book is itself the problem, as if genuflecting to the blessed St Chappo has now become the shibboleth for any genuine account of Sydney Anglicanism. (How he would shudder with laughter at that thought!) Even so, his absence is baffling. The two passing mentions of his name occur in the chapter on preaching: once in relation to his being revolutionized by hearing John Stott preach, and again as one of the regular speakers at the Katoomba conventions in the 1980s. It is a strange omission not to mention Chappo’s decisive role in shaping the particular nature of preaching in Sydney—such as his establishment with Dudley Foord of the College of Preachers (which did so much to bring Stott-style exposition to Sydney), and the decades he spent training evangelists and expository preachers through his work at the Department of Evangelism, Moore College and SMBC (not to mention through his book Setting Hearts on Fire). Perhaps more than any other single figure, Chappo made Sydney preaching what it is. And yet this is passed over entirely in Michael’s account of the subject.

It is also decidedly odd that when Michael comes in chapter 8 to discuss Sydney’s ‘face to the world’, including its evangelistic and missionary efforts, there is discussion of the Billy Graham crusades and of Connect 09, but not a word about Chappo’s 25 years at the Department of Evangelism, his incessant itinerant evangelism around Sydney, Australia and the world, his mentoring of evangelists, his development and successful implementation of ‘dialogue evangelism’ in the 1980s and 90s, and his two extraordinarily influential books of that period: A Fresh Start and Know and Tell the Gospel. Failing even to mention Chappo in a discussion of Sydney’s evangelistic culture over the past 40 years is a startling oversight.

However, it is not the absence of Chappo himself that is the gap in the presentation so much as what Chappo embodied, perhaps more than anyone else in our recent history—which is the theological and practical centrality of the gospel within Sydney Anglicanism.

The gospel and its growth is what animates Sydney Anglicans. As Peter Jensen reminded us at Chappo’s service, we are evangelicals first and Anglicans second. The gospel is our passion, our song, our motive force. The gospel explains us. It’s the reason why we stopped wearing robes and running formal set liturgies in the 1980s and 90s (because we wanted to reach a lost Australian community with the gospel); it’s why our ‘face to the world’ has been less about whether to say ‘no’ or ‘yes’ to it, and more about how to preach the gospel clearly and compellingly to our neighbours and communities; it’s why we have been active in planting new churches, even (the horror!) across diocesan boundaries; it’s why our numbers have grown through conversion at the same time as other Anglican dioceses around Australia have precipitously declined; it’s why Phillip Jensen and others were able to persuade thousands of young men and women to enter Moore College and SMBC, and pursue full-time ministry in Sydney and around the world (because of the priority of the gospel over the ambitions of our careers); it’s why our biblical theology is the way it is (it reads the whole Bible through the lens of the gospel); it’s why our doctrine of church emphasizes the prayerful speaking of the gospel word as the essence of what gathers and unites and edifies us; it’s even why we oppose the normalization of homosexuality and the ordination of women (because gospel obedience to Jesus as he speaks to us in his word is far more important than keeping pace with the trends of worldly thought). And in the end it is also why we are glad to be Anglicans, because Reformation Anglicanism was a gospel movement, seeking to restore gospel preaching to a lost nation and gospel doctrine to a corrupt denomination.

To slightly subvert Michael’s opening illustration, the gospel is the magic potion that gives Sydney its strength and its character. And it’s hard to think of a Sydney Anglican who drank more deeply of that potion, and dispensed it more generously to others, than Chappo. Just to trace the catalogue of his published books reveals this preoccupation:

  • Know and Tell the Gospel: a coherent and highly influential theological account not only of the gospel but of the involvement of every Christian in its spread
  • A Fresh Start: the most widely used gospel give-away book of the past 30 years
  • Setting Hearts on Fire: an inspiring and informative training resource for evangelistic preachers
  • A Sinner’s Guide to Holiness: a short guidebook on how the gospel calls sinners to a holy life as the fruit, not the means, of salvation
  • A Foot in Two Worlds: a simple guide to the eschatology of the gospel—that we belong to the next age but live out our salvation in this evil age
  • Making the Most of the Rest of Your Life: an evangelistic book for seniors on the meaning of eternal life
  • Making the Most of the Cross: a simple exposition of the key facets of the death and resurrection of Jesus
  • Making the Most of the Bible: a simple argument for the authority and sufficiency of Scripture as a necessary corollary of our faith in Jesus as Lord.

Chappo is the emblematic Sydney Anglican because he was a classic evangelical. He lived and breathed the gospel, and it shaped his approach to everything including everything he wrote.

It’s this gospel-centred character or heartbeat that is strangely lacking in Michael’s portrait of Sydney Anglicanism. The word ‘gospel’ is used quite often, but the theological and day-to-day centrality of the gospel doesn’t drive the description of what it means to be a Sydney Anglican.

In one sense, this absence is not surprising. It is one of the dangers inherent in all apologetics—that in seeking to answer the accusations and critiques of your questioner you end up participating in a discussion that is shaped by your questioner’s presuppositions and world view. (I can well remember Chappo exhorting us in apologetics lectures to answer all questions honestly and openly but to do all that was possible to shift the discussion towards the real issue, which is Jesus and the gospel.)

Michael meets his opponents on the ground of their choosing—their unhappiness with Sydney’s supposed puritanism and fundamentalism; their distaste for how ‘un-Anglican’ Sydney is compared with the practice of most other Australian Anglicans; their abhorrence of our doctrine of church, our opposition to women’s ordination, or our advocacy of lay administration. This locates the discussion within a world view where the truly significant questions revolve around church structure and order, the sacraments, the debates of academic theology, the search for social justice for the oppressed (women, gays), the quest to influence society for the better, and the maintenance and reform of Anglican liturgy and tradition.

But these issues are of less (and in some cases very little) significance for Sydney Anglicanism, because our worldview rests on different foundations. The abiding and central issue for us remains the gospel of Christ, including the repentance and faith that it calls forth and the disciple-making urgency that it motivates.

Of course, I am not implying for a moment that Michael himself does not believe this gospel. And I am reluctant to criticize any book for what it does not say, for no book can say everything. But in this instance, the missing element is vital to a clear understanding of the subject, and its relative absence diminishes the value of the portrait, both for outsiders and insiders. In Sydney Anglicanism: An Apology the gospel remains too much in the background as an unstated assumption, rather than where it belongs—in the foreground and at the centre, as the most important thing about us, both in our recent past and in the challenges that we face in a new generation.

Chappo understood and lived this. What is assumed and left unstated in one generation is lost in the next. The gospel was the central preoccupation of his life, of his preaching, and (to our lasting gain) of everything he wrote.

40 thoughts on “Chappo and the magic potion

  1. Thanks Tony – a very insightful and helpful review.

    It is just so important to keep asking ourselves – what is driving us? Why do we do what we do? Is it the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ? Or something else?

    And so – every now and again – we do have to ask these hard questions


  2. Just another quick thought – that is an interesting comment on the narrative of isolationism – that we are under attack.

    On one hand – there seems to be so many arrows aimed at us – from books being written again and again, newspaper articles, blogs set up seemingly just to attack us (such as Sydney Anglican heretics or katays blog) – to attacks from so called friends who just seem to want to have a go.

    Yet – as you rightly point out – we work so well – and so hard with such a wide range of people and organisations. Organisations such as CMS, AFES, SU, CRUSADERS, KCC, GAFCON. We have strong relationships all around the world and Australia across parish borders, denominations, diocesan borders, state borders and national borders.


  3. Hi Tony,

    I found this a really curious review after your piece on playing the man and not the ball. Surely the whole way you have set up this article is an example of playing the man and not the ball – and not in a way that is unavoidable since the man is holding the ball! Why combine a review of Michael’s book with a reflection on Chappo’s life? In what way is that fair to Michael? And you are right – Chappo would have hated it!

    Chappo is apple pie in the diocese at the moment. No one could possibly object to anything connected positively with him. He is the embodiment of all that is praiseworthy and desirable – and all the more so because of our grief. So to use him to point out what you think are the flaws in Michael’s book is hardly fair. Can we argue against apple pie? You are saying that Michael’s book is good-ish in parts but the problem is that Michael isn’t like Chappo. He doesn’t sound like Chappo, he doesn’t write like Chappo. So, in the current climate, the take home message must be that Michael is no good.

    Now I know that you did include information about what Michael actually wrote – and your arguments may have merit. But by presenting them in this way you don’t give your readers a chance to assess Michael’s words for themselves – which is quite unfair both to Michael and to your readers.

    Further, I think that a little more sensitivity could have been shown in your comments about the archbishop. It would be easy for a reader to infer from your words an antagonism between father and son that, to my knowledge, doesn’t exist.

    Simone Richardson

  4. This article raises a number of very important issues to think through, and in the context of the earlier articles on playing the man or the ball, leaves a lot to discuss.

    I have to agree with Simone that the way Chappo is used in the article doesn’t allow Michael’s thoughts or Tony’s review of them to be understood first on their own terms.

    However, the point can and should be made (as it was in the article) that Chappo was a Sydney Anglican through and through. Anyone that knew him or really had much experience of his ministry could accuse him of the isolationist narrative that Michael (and other voices within Sydney Anglicanism) wants to guard against.

    This raises the much bigger question of who actually determines what Sydney Anglicanism is. Is this why you ended up talking about worldviews, Tony?

  5. the third paragraph should read:

    ‘Anyone that knew him…could *hardly* accuse him of the isolationist narrative…’

  6. Arguing over if the method is fair or not will distract from the main issue the critique raised.

    Has the book missed the beating heart of the diocese?


  7. I think the charge of isolationism is correct. Perhaps it is harder for Sydney-siders to see. I’m not from Sydney (though am very thankful for the three years we spent at Moore). When we were there, there was something we called the ‘Sydney Anglicans Saviours of the world’ mentality – A feeling you got speaking to people that they really thought that sydney was the one place in the world that had it all together. Curious. Syd Angs do work with others, but often the way that they work communicates that if something doesn’t come from Syd it isn’t to be entirely trusted. Kind of like American Exceptionalism in a way. No one actually says it, but outsiders feel it.

    • Yes. Speaking from a British perspective, it is very evident that Sydney Anglicanism (while we rejoice in all it has done and does) at the slightest hint of charismaticism rejects anything to do with it. This is obviously a reaction to the presence and influence of Hillsong. But it seems (from afar) a truism what Mark Driscoll said about Sydney Anglicans that the Syd Ang gospel is often (usually?) ‘Father, Son and Holy Bible’.

      • Hi Duncan. There are about three cheap (and inaccurate) shots in there! And I was going to just let it pass, but it might be worth taking up one aspect for a response.

        It would be fair to say that Sydney Anglican evangelicalism (considered as a whole) has been more resistant to charismatic theology and practice over the past 40 years than British Anglican evangelicalism. Whether or not you think that’s a positive for Sydney or Britain rather depends rather on your view of charismatic theology and practice!

        You could caricature the Sydney resistance by making us out to be eye-twitching extremists who go splenetic every time someone raises their hands above waist level during the singing. Funny but hardly helpful. I could caricature the Brits in reverse by saying that they’re all so polite and pathetically sentimental old chap, that they went to water in the face of the charismatic challenge. Again, doesn’t achieve much.

        What is worth saying is that Sydney attitudes towards the charismatic movement were not forged in reaction to Hillsong, but were more the result of the damaging divisions that ‘charismatic renewal’ brought to Sydney churches in the 1970s and 80s. That story is now fading from memory, and needs to be told. Another time.


    • Hi again Simone.

      I get what you’re saying, and it would be astonishing really if the kind of attitude you’re describing didn’t exist to some extent, people being who they are. Sydney Anglicanism is (relatively speaking) the ‘big dog’ in Australian Anglican circles, and we do fly the flag for classic Reformed-Evangelical Anglicanism in a way that is noticed and either appreciated or attacked around the world as a result. Would some people become self-important or arrogant or possibly overly-defensive because of this? Alas yes. Read Romans 3:10-18.

      The same would be true in reverse — you’d be bound to find people in other Australian cities who had an ungodly chip on their shoulder about Sydney, who were jealous and suspicious of anything coming from Sydney, etc. Sadly, it’s human nature.

      And theological college is just the sort of place you’d be likely to find these sorts of attitudes — young men and women, full of enthusiasm and drive, prone to the youthful sins of arrogance or self-importance. It would be amazing if you didn’t come across that species of ungodliness (in both directions).

      But I hope you don’t mind me saying that it’s a bit methodologically unfair and unnecessarily emotive to say on the basis of your (limited) experience that this sort of mentality or attitude is true of ‘Sydney Anglicans’ (considered as a whole) — esp given the warm and rich relationships and cooperation that takes place at so many levels between Sydney Anglicans and other Christians (Anglican and otherwise) all over the world. Perhaps I see more of this than you do. At Matthias Media, bastion (people would say) of conservative Anglican Sydney-ism, we have so many friends and partners in so many places worldwide, without whom our ministry would probably no longer exist, that I find the isolationist tag a bit risible.

      Anyway, I won’t blather on. Thanks again for interacting.


      • The isolationist tag certainly doesn’t hold and water here in Latin America. All sorts of denominations, colleges and christian groups are incredibly thankful for the generosity of Matthias Media and their willingness to be partners in providing quality resources in Spanish. I regularly have conversations with people who are asking me when more MM resources will be available in Spanish – because they are great tools for helping people to understand the gospel and teach it to others. It is not seen as “the only way” or “the superior way” or anything like that – just as what it is – good stuff, and we want more of it in languages other than English.

        I suspect if Sydney Anglicanism and Matthias Media were as isolationist and “superior” as is sometimes suggested, there wouldn’t be the strong, and warm international partnerships that clearly do exist.

  8. @Mike Doyle:

    Do you think there is any place for an insider to raise questions, and, heaven forbid, criticize some things that happen in the diocese? Claiming that Katay’s blog was set up to ‘attack us’ is a bit much. I’m sure you are aware that Katay is a Rector in the diocese; obviously you have certain people tagged as ‘enemies within’. Your comment adds fuel to the argument that some Syd Anglicans just cannot handle criticism and honest reflection. If you think guys like Katay are wrong, fair enough, but give them the courtesy of offering a counter argument rather than simply dismissing the blog on account of your suspicions.

    Concerning the article in question though, you are right when you say that the article is about asking ‘what is the heartbeat of the diocese?’, and the review of Chappo’s legacy is simply a device to get at that. To be fair, Michael Jensen’s book is aimed at the more extreme critiques and at the main points of controversy, and to do this graciously he needed to listen first and then respond, hence the ‘cannot offer an apology without an apology’ idea. I think Tony’s response is a helpful follow up in that it identifies ‘gospel’ as the category we most readily self-identify with, so together with MPJ’s book this creates a useful dialectic to further the discussion (this is how academic work ought to proceed, yes?). My question is now this: Are we willing to ask whether or not we are genuinely acting as gospel people? Mike, I hope you allow this question to be asked, and that you’re willing to hear a negative answer if necessary.

    • @Martin Kemp – it’s an example of a blog that seems to be almost exclusively having a go at Sydney Anglicans. The content speaks for itself. It’s a fair example of why perhaps “Sydney Anglicans” would feel they are under attack from everywhere – insiders and outsiders. Which may give weight to MJ’s argument that we need to be concerned about an attitude that “we” are under attack.

      I haven’t made any other comments concerning it. Perhaps you could give me the same sort of courtesy that you demand of others.

      I also think my first comment speaks pretty clearly that I think it’s very important to ask the hard questions.

      • You were pretty clear in what you were saying; I really don’t think I was acting out of some sort of suspicion, if that what’s you mean by not ‘extending the same courtesy’. And yes, you did say you want to ask the hard questions, which is a good thing. But in your second comment you seem pretty quick to dismiss some of the ‘friends’ who have been asking questions. I’d like to hear more about your criteria for dismissing such questioners. What is it about them that makes you think they are simply ‘having a go’? What makes them ‘so-called friends’?

        And yes, the content of the blog in question does speak for itself: stuff about Redeemer City-City conferences; sermons on Deuteronomy; stuff about evangelism, adverts for ministry positions; a series on Pauline theology; as well as plenty of ideas about how the diocese could be administered differently. I think it really is drawing a long bow to suggest it’s all about attacking ‘us’ (who is ‘us’?) from within, but readers can make up their own mind, of course.

        • Marty and Mike, Can I suggest you take this aspect of the discussion (ie. the nature of Andrew Katay’s blog) offline or in another context? I think we’re veering well off topic.

          • Well, the issue of what consititutes a legitimate narrative of isolationism is something that is raised by both the book and your review. In fact you say you ‘struggle to work out who this is aimed at’. I think Mike’s second response gives us an idea of this type of isolationism at work. I was simply challenging Mike’s account of that narrative. He clearly has an ‘us’ and ‘them’ in mind, and even gives an example – unfairly in my opinion – and an unfair swipe in a public forum ought not to go unchallenged.

            But I get it, the blog itself is a thrid party, so if we were to go too far down that path it would be a separate conversation. Point taken.

  9. Hi Simone

    I’m tempted to say that this is a curious response because you seem to be playing the method rather than the substance — that is, rather than discussing whether or not the basic points I am making are reasonable or justified you criticise the method of making one of those points (i.e. Chappo).

    If you read the review carefully, you will see that my main criticism of the book is not that Michael does not measure up to Chappo (that he doesn’t write or sound like Chappo etc.). My point is that what Chappo did and stood for and strove for and exemplified in our midst is strangely absent from the book’s description/definition of Sydney Anglicanism.

    Now, that contention (or any other positive or negative statement about the book) can only be assessed by readers in one way — by reading the book itself, and deciding for themselves. (I can’t see how my review prevents anyone doing that.)

    I’m guessing by your comment (‘your arguments may have merit’) that you have not read the book yet Simone?

    Forgive me if that’s not right, but if it is, can I suggest you do so, and then you’ll be in a position to assess whether my referencing of Chappo was fair or not.



    • Yes Tony,

      I am ‘playing the method’ because I think that your method is more at fault here than your criticisms. (You are right that I haven’t read the book. I will eventually but Cairns is a long way from Sydney so it isn’t high on my priority reading list.)

      I think that your method has brought far more emotion into a simple book review than was necessary. I think a review like this is likely to hamper your relationship far more than was needed. You could have said the same things in a more productive way.


      • You’re entitled to that view of course, Simone. And I doubt that we will persuade each other in this limited form of dialogue.

        I’ll leave it to others who have read the book and the review to comment on:
        – whether the numerous things I commended in the book were worthy of praise or not
        – whether the main shortcoming I pointed out was a fair criticism
        – and consequently whether the connection with Chappo (as illustrative or emblematic of that point) was fair and reasonable in content and tone.

        And as for this being ‘a simple book review’ — I rather suspect we wouldn’t be having this discussion if it was!


  10. Pingback: More on Michael Jensen’s Apology for Sydney Anglicans

  11. [Disclaimer – I still have three chapters to go on the book, but I wanted to contribute while the discussion is hot. I have read Tony’s review twice]

    I was very pleased to hear that Michael was writing this book, and it has lived up to my expectations. It’s well written, superbly researched, and brimming with lots of helpful insights. For these reasons, I found Tony’s review puzzling and a bit disappointing.

    To be fair, Tony gives the book significant praise at the start of the review. However his conclusions are so damning that they render the praise void. You can’t say the author has completely misunderstood the diocese, but it’s otherwise a fine book about Sydney Anglicanism. “Apart from that, Mrs Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?”

    Tony claims that the gospel is conspicuously absent in the book. I would respond that the book describes itself as an apology/defence rather than a comprehensive theological description. This necessarily means you have to let your opponents set the agenda. At the end of a murder trial, it would be strange if the successful defendant complained that his defence team hadn’t really captured his essence and spirit and heart. That was not the purpose of the exercise!

    But even so, I think it’s unfair to complain that the gospel is absent from Michael’s book. Kindle tells me that the word “gospel” appears in it 95 times – about the same number as the New Testament! The word “evangelical” (meaning “of the gospel”) appears a whopping 284 times!

    Yes, word counts don’t mean everything, but if you grant he talks about the gospel a lot, it all becomes a bit subjective. “It’s the vibe of the thing, your Honour”.

    I’m disappointed that many people in the diocese will be discouraged from reading this fine and helpful book. I can only urge people to balance Tony’s review with several others that have appeared around the web.

    • Hi Craig and thanks for the thoughtful comments. A few points in response:

      1. This is one of the key paragraphs in the review:

      “It’s this gospel-centred character or heartbeat that is strangely lacking in Michael’s portrait of Sydney Anglicanism. The word ‘gospel’ is used quite often, but the theological and day-to-day centrality of the gospel doesn’t drive the description of what it means to be a Sydney Anglican.”

      I phrased this quite carefully. I didn’t say that the “gospel was conspicuously absent”, but that the theological and day-to-day *centrality* of the gospel is lacking in the narrative; that’s in not in the foreground where it belongs. I don’t think this is a question of vibe but of reading. As you read the book would you say that this facet of who Sydney Anglicans are — this heartbeat for gospel-driven priorities, this classic evangelical passion for the lost — is adequately conveyed as perhaps the most significant thing about us? I would judge not. Once you’ve finished the book, get back to me on this if you think I’m wrong (i.e. with some evidence from the book itself).

      2. But is it unfair of me to point out this relative absence, since the book is an apology, where one’s opponents set the agenda? No I don’t think so, for two reasons:

      a) all apologetics starts with meeting opponents on their ground, but all good apologetics moves the conversation to the important issues; there was nothing in the genre or frame of the book that precluded it from describing this vital aspect of our identity, especially since …

      b) Michael framed the book as a word not just to outsiders but also to his Sydney brothers and sisters. It was an exercise not just in apology but in self-definition, and quite explicitly so. It was a book designed not only to defuse attacks but in part to set an agenda. And that’s a perfectly good and reasonable thing to do! But it does close off to you the defence of “MIchael was just defending against outsiders; the question of who we are and where we should go next wasn’t on the agenda”.

      3. I’ve never believed that books should be damned or deified, as if they are the only options. This (as you say, and as I also say) is a really well written book with lots of good things to say, and I would certainly recommend it for reading. To say that it has a flaw or gap in its presentation is just to say that it has a flaw. It’s not to damn it, as if that is the only option available other than unalloyed praise.

      4. Accordingly, I hope people will assess my review not by balancing it with other reviews, but by digging into the book itself. You will find it a stimulating and worthwhile read.


  12. Thanks for taking the time to respond Tony, I’ll make a couple of brief comments in return, then write again at greater length once I’ve finished the book. Provided I’ve anything further to say!

    1. I think this is a deeply evangelical book, and I offer the word counts I cited before as some evidence of this. One thought just occurred to me, though – Michael seems to consciously avoid the evangelical cliches, catch-phrases and shibboleths that most of us fall into without thinking. It’s something I find attractive about his writing. But, in a sense, he is speaking evangelical with a funny accent.

    2. Politicians have a common habit of answering different questions to the ones they were asked. I personally don’t admire this, and I think there is something respectful and useful about sitting with your opponent for a while in their space.

    Regarding the word to insiders, I think that needs to be taken in context. Michael dealt with about a dozen controversial issues. For each, he firmly refuted the critics of the diocese, then (very briefly) turned and offered a couple of gentle challenges to those on the inside. It wasn’t a comprehensive agenda by any means.

    3. I think your review sounded harsher to my ears than it does to yours. Will be interested to hear what others think.

    4. I completely agree with you! And I hope we see many more books on the diocese. I’d certainly enjoy a book from yourself on this topic.

    • Thanks Craig. Always enjoy interacting with you!

      1. I think you might be arguing both sides here. Is it deeply evangelical because it uses ‘gospel’ and ‘evangelical’ a lot, or is it evangelical even though it doesn’t use our cliches and shibboleths?

      In any case, I’m a bit leery of discussions about whether something is true-blue ‘evangelical’ or not. It seems to descend so quickly into the mire. It wasn’t and isn’t my intention to talk about the book in those terms. I’m more interested in the content and concepts.

      2. Granted, it’s not a comprehensive agenda or starting with a blank slate, but the chosen topics do cover pretty broad and significant ground (biblical theology, revelation, preaching, Anglicanism, church, outreach/face to the world, nature of ministry). Hardly a constraining range of subjects for bringing out things that you wish to emphasize.

      3. Yes, I didn’t think my review was harsh (in language or fairness). But there’s no doubt that it was a hard criticism — hard to make and hard to hear. It’s no small thing (especially in Sydney) to accuse someone’s work of lacking a gospel-centric focus. Ironically, this is because gospel-centrism is so important to us (which I guess is my point).

      4. I’ll add that book to my list!

      Thanks again Craig.

  13. Briefly, I second Simone and Craig. This is not a fair and friendly review. I say this without having read the book in question. I don’t need to, because the problems with this review do not involve whether it has “nailed” the book. I’ll make four points, and I’ve split the second to fourth off into separate posts to make it easier to skip through. They are:
    1) The review did two things at once, and so one thing affected the other.
    2) It framed issues in ways that were unhelpfully personalised.
    3) It doesn’t support its criticism with examples.
    4) It doesn’t always interact well with the points it acknowledges.

    The train wreck began in the opening paragraph, which admitted that what the review was attempting to do was unwise. Was this a review, or an ad for all the Chappo books that Matthias Media sells? Look again at the layout of the last page of the review in the print edition – it’s almost crass. Tony, you apparently think that you overcame the dangers of trying to do two things at once. I disagree. The memory of the late John Chapman is a very big stick with which to hit someone.

    Because it tried to do two things at once, the review failed to separate out very well the *criticism*, that the book didn’t stress gospel-centrism as a Sydney distinctive, from the *felt criticism*, that the book sells Chappo short, and sells out the gospel. The transition from one to the other uses too much personal language (“He lived and breathed the gospel, and it shaped his approach to everything including everything he wrote. It’s this gospel-centred *character* or *heartbeat* that is strangely lacking in Michael’s portrait of Sydney Anglicanism.”) so the criticism is personalised in an unhelpful way. There was almost a more helpful transition (“however, it is not the absence…”), but then the review circled back again for the catalogue.

    I know you felt this, too, Tony, because of the number of qualifiers you added. The problem wasn’t in the qualifiers, it was in what they were all working to qualify. For example: “…a vital aspect—I would suggest the vital aspect—of what is important and distinctive about our identity. And this is where I come to John Chapman. I do not mean to imply…” If you didn’t mean to imply it, then you shouldn’t have implied it.

    All I *know* at the moment about Michael’s discussion of Sydney’s evangelistic culture – and I know there is a discussion, this review told me – is that it doesn’t mention Chappo. And yet the review claims that the gospel is strangely lacking as a distinctive. I’m not complaining the review didn’t represent the book fairly, I’m complaining that it hasn’t told me *about the book which I have not read yet*.

  14. The other way that this review personalises what may or may not be a valid criticism is in the final few paragraphs. Let me first quote The Briefing from two years ago:
    “There is a model of ‘intergenerational theological decline’ that has been doing the rounds of late, and perhaps you may have heard it: the first generation wins or establishes the gospel in their context, the next generation assumes the gospel, and the third generation loses the gospel.”

    Now from the outsiders, here’s Mike Carlton in the SMH:
    “The St Jensen’s Parish Newsletter
    Meanwhile, for your diary: our Archbishop-for-Life, Dr Nesbitt Jensen, will be our guest at Men’s Bible Study next Tuesday. The chair of our Women’s Subordination Committee, Mrs Hephzibah Jensen, will arrange supper…
    Yours in Jesus,
    The Rev Obadiah Jensen-Slope, Curate.”

    What’s a Sydney Anglican in Mike Carlton’s argot? Well, their name is Jensen, for a start.

    Now, back to the review:
    “In Sydney Anglicanism: An Apology the gospel remains too much in the background as an unstated assumption, rather than where it belongs—in the foreground and at the centre, as the most important thing about us, both in our recent past and in the challenges that we face in a new generation.
    Chappo understood and lived this. What is assumed and left unstated in one generation is lost in the next. The gospel was the central preoccupation of his life, of his preaching, and (to our lasting gain) of everything he wrote.”

    Two things:
    If I were trying to say, ‘Michael Jensen is not a true son of Abraham-I-mean-the-elder-Jensens-and-Chappo, his work represents the second *generation*, the one that *assumes* and leaves *unstated*, so that *the gospel* will be *lost* if we follow after him’, then I’d write what is written here, using those words. At first I thought I was being unduly harsh – then I re-read, and realised that you’d name-checked the ‘three generations’ logic in your final paragraph! This leaves you open to ‘hermeneutics of suspicion’ arguments – ‘why is Tony attacking Michael like this?’
    Second, can you see how potentially hurtful this is to Michael personally – if I were him, I’d hate the ‘3 generations’ meme as a rankling slur, never used in a way overt enough to challenge, but always raising doubts about him. I don’t know Michael well enough to ask, but I certainly hope you had the decency to do so.

    Your disclaimer, “Of course, I am not implying for a moment that Michael himself does not believe this gospel”, is inadequate, because belief is not the issue with the second generation, is it? That’s not the way the meme is used.

  15. I see that the reviewer is concerned with the danger of an attempt to set the agenda for the next generation that leaves out the gospel. It’s a right concern. Craig has read the book, and isn’t convinced of premise B (that this book leaves out the gospel). I haven’t read the book, but I can’t see *in the review* any substantiation of premise A – that this book is an attempt to set the agenda for the next generation. I don’t know if Michael says or was thinking anything like this, *because this review didn’t show me*.

    Without good examples, I’m left knowing only what the reviewer suspects is a purpose of the book. It may or may not be so, but at present it feels like I’m operating on a hermeneutic of suspicion – help, the text is attacking me! What am I to do?

  16. Finally, I had to laugh when you “struggled to think of who this [warning against isolationism] was being aimed at”. This reads as denial, an example of the very defensive thinking and failure to hear words spoken in love that I would expect ‘isolationism’ to produce. If the review is going to acknowledge the point being alleged, it should interact with the caricature as a warning, not as a blanket description.

    Yes, Sydney has warm and productive links with Anglicans all over the world – but I notice you left “Australia and” out of that sentence. If we are going to hold John Chapman up as archetypal, he willingly left Sydney to work for a broad-church bishop with Anglo-Catholic clergy, and he was welcomed back. He didn’t go to Armidale, plant a Bible-Believing Fellowship, and collect the disaffected. Would the willingness and the welcome happen now, and if not, is that entirely the “other side’s” fault?

    Last January at the Provincial Conference – a flicker of, a pointer toward better relationships – Peter Jensen pointed out that coolness between Newcastle and Sydney, say, is a natural state of affairs – not just between Christians. But it is something that Christians on both sides should fight against within themselves – and as someone who has loved Sydney at a distance, up close and again from afar, I would say it is Sydney who has to grow up first. I love Sydney Anglicans, but I think they (and I) ought to be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. When has that ever described Sydneysiders? Naturally, Sydney comes across to other Australians as the brash teenager who happens to be the biggest and loudest in the house. Coolness, suspicion and isolation are always going to be dangers that we have to guard against – and from those to whom much has been given, much is demanded.

  17. Hi Alan

    If the problem with my review is that it is not ‘fair and friendly’, how would you characterize your own response? (Fails on both accounts it seems to me …)

    As I’ve pointed out above, the appropriateness and fairness of the Chappo reference rests heavily on whether my assessment of the gap in the book’s presentation is valid. It’s a little difficult to give evidence of an absence — the only way to assess it is to read the book and see if I’m right.

    I’d be happy to engage with you once you’ve done that.

    Regards, Tony

    • Tony, is a review for those who *may* read the book, *will* read the book, or *have* read the book? Why are only the reactions of the third group valid?

      I will read the book, once I can get it. I think a lot of the ‘may reads’ – in fact, people you claim to Craig ‘should read’ it – won’t read it because of your review.

      I don’t think it’s a good review as a review. It does three things:
      * reviews Michael’s book;
      * talks about Chappo’s publishing legacy;
      * opens up (or joins) a dialogue about the identity of the diocese and the agenda for coming years (thanks Martin for pointing this out).

      I think it was unwise to mix the first two things. Accuracy, I can’t speak to – but it doesn’t sound appropriate or fair. And I think in a year where you’ll be electing a new archbishop (and so everyone is sensitive to who’s in and who’s out), it did the third thing in an unhelpful way. You didn’t write ‘it’s a great book, you should read it, but here’s what I think he should have said much more about’. Instead what you wrote came across to me as overwhelmingly negative.

  18. I’m a little late to the party, so not necessarily expecting a reply at this point :)

    First off, I’ve skimmed Michael’s book a couple of times to get the ‘feel’ for it, and am about a third of the way through a first in depth reading. I have read Tony’s review of it three times.

    I also write this as a member of probably the first generation of Sydney Anglicans who have had precious little contact with the man John Chapman himself, even though we are beneficiaries of his legacy.

    So, first off, I had the immediate sense on reading this review (in the context of Issue 404) that the review was deliberately structured in order to play into the wider theme of the legacy of Chappo. So (acknowledging that the answers may not in any way effect the validity of any other argument in the review, and also noting it can be hard to give these answers in retrospect) my fundamental, but simple, questions to Tony are:

    1) If this had been any other issue of The Briefing, would John have featured as prominently as a point of criticism of Michael’s book?
    2) Depending on 1), would the conclusions of the review have at all differed as a result of his absence or continued presence in the review?

    For my part, my sense of the book so far is that it is very specific about what and how it addresses things, and particularly given it’s size, is quite intentional about having a narrow brief. Given that the gospel is no doubt a contested idea between Sydney Anglicans and people outside (there are many churches that disagree with Sydney precisely because they disagree, fundamentally, on what the ‘gospel’ really means), and again given the specific focus, would it have been fruitful for this book to make an exhaustive argument for Sydney’s stance on ‘what the Gospel means’ as the ‘main thing?’

    To me, the book almost reads like a case study in presuppositional apologetics – deal with the easier issues around the periphery, so as to drop defences and make people more ready to hear and deal with the bigger issues. That being the case, is it then fair to to criticise the book for not doing that? I am undecided on this issue, and welcome comments pushing back on that.

    • Just a quick point on question 1—Graham Cole reviewed Michael’s book back in mid-February sometime, and came up with similar points of criticism; specifically, he talks of Chappo & related points not having due weight given them.

      Obviously I’m not Tony, and I don’t speak for him, but it’s interesting that quite disconnected from a general look at John’s legacy, another reviewer made the same comparison.

      • I’d forgotten completely about the review on TGC. That’s helpful that you’ve pointed that out, thank you.

        The tone of the mention there seems different to the weight it was given in this review, which is perhaps why it didn’t immediately strike me as it did in the Briefing. Graham seems to speak of the hypothetical addition of Chappo and the general evangelistic nature of Sydney as ‘extending’ or ‘completing’ the picture Michael already paints, and this particular critique comes in the space of half a par. So it’s certainly a criticism, but it seems to be one that is less fundamental to a general appraisal of the book, at least for Graham.

        I also note that the TGC review also follows after Chappo’s passing, so it’s perfectly understandable that he would mention it. It was obviously (and still is) in the immediate mindscape of many people, and with good reason.

        But food for further thought, for sure :)

  19. Hmm. A bit of heat in the comments page!

    My minor contribution is to ask (with tongue somewhat in cheek) whether Michael’s book is called Sydney Angicanism, or Sydney Evangelicalism? I’m fairly sure I’ve met others from Sydney who might wish to be identified as potion-drinkers. And they aren’t even Anglican!

    It is hard to separate Sydney Anglican from evangelicalism, but, without having read the book, it seems to me that perhaps the grief is due to Michael working at defending our form of Anglicanism within Anglican categories, rather than defending evangelicalism within theological categories.

    My guess is that Chappo was more interested in preaching wherever he could, and less in defining Anglican-ness in a local form. His influence was on our evangelicalism rather than our denominational character, perhaps?

  20. Thanks for comments one and all. Just letting you know that I’ll be offline for a couple of days starting now, and will check back in on Sunday to see how the discussion is going.

  21. Another thought has occurred to me as I’ve been mulling this situation over. How overtly do we want SA authors to wear their colours on their sleeves? Michael attempts a degree of academic dispassion in his tone, which lends it credibility, and potentially gives it a wider audience.

    I’ve been thinking about this as I consider the tone of my own book, a biography of Rev. Richard Johnson. I’d like to imagine it is something that Black Inc or Melbourne University Press could publish (dream on), but that involves the rejection of blatant partisanship. I wonder if fellow SA travellers will be disappointed for that reason?

    (I still think what I’ve written is very pro-evangelical, I should say)

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