Foundations of Anglican Evangelicalism in Victoria: Four Elements for Continuity, 1847–1937Foundations


If, like me, you are from a state other than Victoria, you may be asking yourself the question, “Why read a book on another part of Australia?” You may also be asking, “How can the period 1847-1937 be relevant today?” The key reason for reading this book is in its subtitle.

The Rev’d Dr Wei-Han Kuan has done a great service to the whole church, and especially to evangelicals in the Anglican Church, by identifying four key factors that enable ongoing evangelical witness in an Anglican diocese.

Buried in the detail of this book, based as it is on a Th.D. dissertation completed for the Australian College of Theology, is the evidence for Kuan’s thesis. For evangelicalism to survive—and I would argue for the church as a whole to thrive—it must have what the Diocese of Melbourne had during the leadership of Charles Perry, its first bishop 1847-1876. It needs:

  1. vibrant and vital evangelical parishes;
  2. vibrant and vital evangelical societies focussed on mission and evangelism;
  3. a robustly evangelical Anglican theological college; and
  4. a diocesan bishop willing to promote and support evangelicals and their causes.

Moreover, there is a circular flow from the parishes to societies, to this college, and to the bishop.

The author has selected a 90-year period of study that starts with the formation of the Anglican Diocese of Melbourne (then coterminous with today’s State of Victoria). He finishes at the cusp of the Second World War in 1937. The reasons the author provides for this somewhat artificial end date are rather weak, but he leaves the door open to further research which might prove very illuminating, especially if recent motions of Melbourne’s Synod, the rise of The New Cranmer Society and the resignation of the current Archbishop of Melbourne as Primate were to be included in such a study.

Kuan’s introductory chapters provide a helpful analysis of the definition of evangelicalism and (together with his 2019 Preface and Epilogue) the current situation for evangelicals in Australia. He continues by telling this largely untold story in the form of a very engaging narrative. The story of the impact of Charles Perry is so significant that it spans chapters 2 to 4; and the gradual unravelling of his evangelical legacy is told with great insight in the last two chapters, which cover the period after Perry’s departure.

Common misconceptions, based as they often are on hearsay rather than historical facts, are addressed, including that Perry’s immediate predecessor, James Moorhouse, dismantled the evangelical heritage of the first bishop. Kuan’s meticulous examination of the evidence shows that Perry himself sowed these seeds, mainly by not addressing the four issues listed above. This is surely an object lesson for all of us who are today committed to the persistence of evangelical faith and culture in a diocese. It suggests that, without observing these four ‘rules for ongoing evangelicalism’, even a robustly evangelical diocese such as Sydney could, in time, grow weak.

If we apply these rules to dioceses where there are hopes of a stronger and long-lasting evangelical presence (e.g. Perth and Adelaide), we can quickly identify the missing elements. For Perth, it is an evangelical archbishop and substantial growth in the strong, but still small, evangelical societies such as CMS and EFAC. For Adelaide, it is the lack of an evangelical Anglican theological college and an evangelical archbishop. An interesting conjecture is that the recent growth of evangelicalism in each of these dioceses may be due to Adelaide and Perth having three of these four key elements, albeit different ones.

For me the most exciting aspect of this study was the spiritual encouragement I received from Kuan’s research into the life and witness of one of the evangelical ‘greats’ of Australia: Charles Perry (1807–1891).

Perry was an undergraduate in Cambridge during the ministry of Charles Simeon and helped place (what was to become) the Anglican Church of Australia on a firm gospel footing. He is also a model and inspiration to us all of evangelical witness. Kuan argues that our churches must maintain this witness “in the face of growing secularism in the Minority World, and as they experience rapid expansion in many parts of the Majority World” (p. ix).

Perry’s influence on the wider church in Australia was evidenced by another interesting fact that Kuan has brought to light. During Perry’s episcopacy there were more graduates from Moore College ordained for Melbourne than any other Australian Diocese (including Sydney). His influence on the national church was huge, including through his successful promulgation of a conservative evangelical theology during the development of the protype Constitution of the Anglican Church of Australia. How we hope (and earnestly pray) that the current Archbishop of Melbourne and Primate of Australia would do the same!