From Strength to Strength
A Life of Marcus Loane
Allan M. Blanch
Australian Scholarly, 2015
This Review first appeared on the Gospel Coalition Australia website
Having recently attended WA Baptist leader Noel Vose’s funeral, it’s easy to come away with the impression that, compared to the War Generation, we are spiritually stunted. There was something about that generation’s combination of scholarly earnestness and personal piety I fear we (or at least I) am in danger of losing. And, if I may begin a positive review of an excellent book rather negatively, the question of what happened to our piety is one that has haunted me since reading Canon Allan M. Blanch’s account of the life and work of Sir Marcus Loane in his new book, From Strength to Strength: A Life of Marcus Loane (Melbourne: Australian Scholarly, 2015).
Sir Marcus Loane (1911-2009)
For those who do not know his name, Sir Marcus Loane (1911-2009) was an Australian pastor, author and leading Anglican churchman who served the Christian community with distinction from the 1940s to the 1980s and into his retirement (or “retirement”).
Born a third generation Tasmanian, the family moved to the Australian mainland in 1912, where they would eventually settle in Sydney and where Loane attended The King’s School in Parramatta. A graduate of Sydney University and Moore College, he was ordained in 1935 and married Patricia Knox in 1937. After active service in World War II, including in Papua New Guinea, he lectured at Moore College, where he would eventually served as principal from 1954-1958. He was succeeded in that role by his brother-in-law D. B. Knox.
He was made an assistant bishop by the then Archbishop of Sydney Howard Mowll in 1958, and served both Mowll and Archbishop Hugh Gough until, in 1966, he would follow Gough as Sydney’s Anglican Archbishop from 1966-1981—the first Archbishop of Sydney to have been born in Australia.
Telling Loane’s Story
In 2004 John Reid published a lively and readable a biography of Marcus Loane called Marcus L. Loane: A Biography (Melbourne: Acorn Press). However, at less that 150 pages, it always seemed incongruously small and slight for so towering a figure as Loane. It was clear in 2004 that another fuller biography would still be required.
Rev Allan Blanch’s 400 page biography has now stepped into this historiographical gap with grace and power. Blanch is well positioned to write this work. He was himself ordained by Loane in 1966, and served in several leading parishes in the Diocese of Sydney, including the parish of St Barnabas Broadway 1974-1982.
Blanch writes with elegant, austere prose. Deeply and meticulously researched, it is a warm and admiring account of Loane. The book does occasionally alert the reader to some of Loane’s errors (such as the time he harshly chastised a member of Synod whose innocent comment he had misunderstood). However, the book is overwhelmingly positive toward its subject, written by an intelligent admirer.
Loane the Anglican Evangelical
Marcus Loane’s life and work held together a tenacious loyalty to Anglican forms and order with an unimpeachable commitment to evangelicalism. He was insistent on clerical dress, refusing to take questions from clerical members of Synod not wearing clerical collars. Once in the 1970s he summoned the book's author, then rector of St Barnabas Broadway, to his office after introducing bishop Robinson at an F. F. Bruce evening lecture without wearing a clerical collar. He saw the The Book of Common Prayer as not just a bulwark for orthodoxy within the Anglican communion, but as a pure well of reformed and evangelical spirituality. He nevertheless moved freely in interdenominational circles and was warmly received and appreciated by non-Anglican evangelicals and in the wider Christian community.
In a way that people in my generation find hard to fathom, he was also able to hold together a deep loyalty to British culture, society and monarch with a similarly unimpeachable claim to be Australian.
One of the more controversial episodes of Loane’s life was his decision not to attend the ecumenical service at the Sydney Town Hall on the occasion of Pope Paul VI’s visit to Australia in 1970. It was a decision for which he received praise among reformed Christians including Francis Schaeffer and Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and severe criticism from both fellow Anglicans and the secular press. Interestingly, Loane was later to say that he found more understanding for his decision among Roman Catholics than among Anglicans (p 246). What Blanch makes clear is that it was a decision made on theological principle without any personal animosity or bigotry.
Blanch’s book also records some fascinating incidental anecdotes, such as the time Marcus and Patricia Loane travelled with John Stott the 100-plus kilometres from their home in Sydney to the Blue Mountains, only to discover Loane had left the keys to the house back in Sydney. Stott eventually managed to break in through a bedroom window to open the house.
What emerges most clearly from Blanch’s biography is the picture of a pastor. Despite holding senior office and despite a prolific publishing record, Loane operated fundamentally as a minister of the word of God—visiting the sick, leading people to faith, preaching the word of God and praying for the people in his care. (On visiting the sick, Loane—normally a stickler for the rules—would happy ignore the advertised visiting hours in hospitals in order to pray at people’s bedsides.)
I don’t know if my sense of the gap between the piety of Sir Marcus’s generation and my own is actually true. Perhaps the nature of biography is that Loane was singular within his generation? Perhaps for every Sir Marcus or John Stott or Leon Morris, there were thousands of ordinary Christians of that generation whose personal spiritual lives were as modest and meek as my own?
Or, perhaps Loane is an example of intelligent piety we can and should seek to recover? Whatever the case, the combination of warm personal knowledge of God with serious minded reading of scripture is an intoxicating thing to see. More of that, please.
Allan Blanch has written an excellent biography of an important figure in the story of Christianity in Australia. I warmly recommend it.
Rory Shiner studied Arts at the University of Western Australia and theology at Moore College in Sydney. He is currently completing a PhD through Macquarie University on the life and work of Donald Robinson. He is senior pastor of Providence City Church in Perth, where he lives with his wife, Susan, and their four boys. He has written books on Union with Christ and on the relationship between Jesus' resurrection and our own.
Rory serves as a member of the TGCA Editorial Panel as Editor for the Arts and Culture Channel and for Book Reviews.