EFAC Australia

Book Reviews

Together for the CityTogetherForCity
by Neil Powell and John James
IVP 2019

Wouldn’t it be great if the body of Christ in a particular area was a bit more coordinated! If our deaneries were more purposeful, if our minister’s fraternals were more strategic? Wouldn’t it be great if we could hear of the success of a church down the road or a church plant in the suburb along without an ugly defensiveness rising within us?

If you’ve got a fire in your belly to see more churches grow and be planted in your region; if you’ve got the uncomfortable sense that your church floats a foot above your locality and your people aren’t burdened to see your specific town/suburb/city reached for Jesus; and if you’ve got an inkling that this is a project that is going to need a vision bigger than any one parish, or even (perish the thought) any one denomination, then this is the book for you.

Together for the City is a book best read with a group of like-hearted pastors. It claims to be provocative. I found it provocative in the way that the smell of fresh-baked croissants in my kitchen provokes me out of my bedroom in the morning.

Neil Powell and John James both share that rarest of characteristics – people who can both do something well and explain how they did it. The book, in part, gives the narrative of how 2020Birmingham came to be with their vision to see 20 new churches planted by 2020, now extended to 30 planted by 2030 and 100 in their lifetime.  But in laying out this story, they’re also offering a  guidebook for how we might establish similar networks in our context to attempt the gospel goals that we couldn’t achieve working on our own.

The book breaks up into three sections, the first paints a vivid picture of the scale of the task before us, suggesting it’s akin to the Dunkirk evacuation of WW2. But rather than leaving us feeling exhausted before we’ve begun, it also suggests that the gospel not only requires, but enables collaboration across difference.

The practical meat of the book comes in the middle as they lay out a framework for the ‘how’ of collaboration using the equation: core + cause + code = collaboration. That is, although we may share a theological affinity with another church (core) that, in and of itself, is not collaboration. Collaboration comes when churches in a locality who share a gospel core also share a theological vision for what could be achieved in that area (cause) and flesh out a shared DNA (code) that energises a movement and carries it to action.

Having laid this all out, the third section offers several case-studies in the UK and abroad. It’s hard not to be excited reading this section, imagining similar partnerships and collaborations emerging in one’s own context.

It’s fair to say I came to this book suspiciously. “Are you asking me, a convinced Anglican, to give up my distinctives and plant churches with the [insert denomination I find disagreeable here] church down the road?” I protested. “I’m really busy – like Covid busy – and I’m not sure this is a good use of my time!” I complained. But at each turn I found both the argument and the narrative utterly disarming. They showed that they weren’t arguing that we plant churches together, but ‘to be together as we plant churches’ which is a masterful difference. It means that we can genuinely celebrate God doing new things in our area without experiencing threat or competitiveness. They also make the strong theological case for prioritising this work and can bear witness to how it has been life giving for pastors in collaborative partnerships around the world.

I hope there are many editions of Together for the City, and that with each the case studies section swells with stories of pastors who bravely worked together and, therefore, achieved what they couldn’t have alone for the cause of Christ in their region.

Steve Boxwell leads a church plant in Tuggeranong, Canberra

UnleashedArnold, John & Heather Wood (compilers)
Unleashed: Stories from All Saints’ Booval.

JF Arnold Publications, 2021.
Available from This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. $20 + $6 postage.

John Arnold and Heather Wood have done us a great service by collecting and publishing these twenty-one testimonies from parishioners at All Saints’ Booval, in celebration of the parish’s 125th anniversary. The faith journeys of the contributors had their origin in the period between 1955 and 1965, during the incumbencies of the Rev Colin Ware and his wife Judith and the Rev Don Douglass and his wife Margaret.

Booval is a working class suburb near Ipswich on the western fringes of Brisbane. Members of the parish were employed at the nearby railway workshops, woollen mills and underground coal mines. In many ways these are the stories of ordinary Australians at an ordinary Anglican parish in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. Yet this was no ordinary parish, as is evidenced by the extraordinary number of children in the Sunday School and Youth Group, and the extraordinary number of parishioners who went into full time vocational ministry, including service with the Church Missionary Society and Bush Church Aid (seven ordained priests and eleven missionaries). Many lives were extraordinarily transformed. Nor was the parish wealthy or educated. Yet God in His mercy delighted to make “something out of nothing”, enabling vibrant congregational life, evangelism and discipleship, substantial property improvements and even the establishment of a half-way house for residents discharged from the nearby Goodna Mental Hospital, where the parish maintained a long-standing ministry of visitation.

Very few parishes have such a record of sending so many into ministry. Furthermore, there have been few large and dynamic Anglican parishes in working class contexts. It is therefore illuminative and helpful to discern some of the common threads woven through this tapestry: A strong commitment to corporate worship and prayer – and not just on Sundays;  a commitment to expository preaching; the promotion and training in daily Bible reading and prayer, using Scripture Union resources; a massive commitment to relational children’s, youth and family ministry; a commitment to systematic gospel outreach, including parish missions; together with a commitment to global  mission, evidenced in a strong local Church Missionary Society League of Youth group.

Evangelicals and the End of Christendom: Religion, Australia, and the Crises of the 1960sEvangelicals EndofChristendom
Hugh Chilton.

With the soundtrack of the 1960s and 1970s as some of my earliest musical memories, I heard them again (metaphorically not literally) when reading Hugh Chilton’s magnificent book Evangelicals and the End of Christendom: Helen Reddy’s “I am woman,” Whitlam’s “It’s time” jingle, and “Leaving on a jet plane” by the trio of Peter, Paul and Mary. Indeed, the period which Chilton investigates will not only bring back ear-worms like these, but for some readers difficult debates, lost opportunities, perhaps even a sense of gratitude. These were decades in Australia that witnessed the rapid dismantling of the British Empire, Cold War conflicts in south-east Asia, a new sense of national purpose in Australia impacted by multicultural migration, and technologies which changed our quotidian lives. How evangelical Christians responded to or contributed to these tumultuous changes is Chilton’s goal in this book, which in other words is to summarise the place of evangelicals in the story of Australia at the end of Christendom. These are highly contested categories, but when they are placed here within the concrete framework of Billy Graham’s visits to Australia in 1959 and 1968-69, and 1979, they gain in clarity. If Graham is seen as a leading representative of post-war evangelicalism, reactions to him are a kind of bellwether, signalling a change of wind direction.

Indeed, concrete exploration of six leading figures in this period constitutes the substance of the book. Chilton has not begun with an ideological frame of reference into which these historical figures are shoe-horned, but rather he allows for complexity and nuance in the story he tells. The six chapters treat Fred Nile and the (youth movement) World’s Christian Endeavour, Han Mol the Presbyterian sociologist of secularisation, Billy Graham and Australian engagement with the American pseudoempire, Archbishop Marcus Loane in the context of the 1970 Cook Bicentenary, the Christian counter-culture and the Jesus People of the 1970s, and the substantial contribution of Bishop Jack Dain and Athol Gill to the Lausanne Congress, its backstory and impact (the selfconsciousness of indigenous Australians is an especially important dimension here). The introduction to these chapters expound the secularisation thesis in the light of the rupture of the 1960s, and the conclusion provides a bird’s eye view of the whole, important when there are so many layers to the story. Firstly, how evangelicals have positioned themselves in the nation, secondly how they have pursued an international network, and thirdly how they have managed tensions on the home front are the three dimensions to the presentation (p205).

This book, though not uncritical of the sins of the movement which reflect the sins of the nation, is however a respectful account of the part evangelicals have played in our national narrative focussed on the 1960s as a window into that story. To tell the story, Chilton takes up Bebbington’s language of conversionism, activism, crucicentrism and biblicism which have proved so enduring as markers of evangelical identity, but he is not beholden to them. Many commentators disconnect them from any longer narrative and therefore disconnect them from eschatology. Not so Chilton. In fact, he implicitly critiques their reductionism when he describes evangelicalism not merely as a set of abstract theological commitments, but sets these commitments within the bigger story of populist protest against nominal Christianity since the 1730s.

Evangelicalism promotes vital piety as a protest against the notion of establishment Christianity and navigates themes within the mental map of national understanding, therefore reflecting providential themes as well. Indeed, evangelicals have been nation builders and agents of cultural renewal. We have found ourselves engaged with the life of the nation when we have accepted the conditions of British imperial advance, or defined ourselves over and against Roman Catholic immigration, or taken sides during the Vietnam War. Our place in constructing modern Australia is not easy to narrate, nor is the contribution of evangelicals without tensions, but resoundingly our involvement has not been marginal, even when it has suited our temperament or theological convictions to speak prophetically from the edge.

Evangelical Christians have been carriers of modernity as well as leading opponents, which reminds us that our movement, one of the most vital in the Christian world today, is not merely defined by Trump activists or hyperspiritual separatists. It maintains a tradition of significant spiritual stature and philosophical pedigree.

Some surprising facts. After the Lausanne Congress of 1974, The Australian ran a four-page spread on the event, paid for by the Evangelical Alliance. Chilton notes – perhaps needlessly – that this is well-nigh inconceivable today (p186)! Church attendance per month in Australia is double the number of people who attend all kinds of football (p213). Billy Graham heard of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jnr in 1968 while playing golf in Brisbane, so his tour was shrouded by a sense of crisis in the US (p83). In an address in the presence of the Queen during her visit in 1973, Sir Marcus Loane amended Psalm 137:5 by replacing the word “Zion”: “If I forget thee, O England, may my right hand forget all her skill” (p133). Australia has perhaps the longest running survey of Christian beliefs in the world (p56). A global youth ministry network, the Christian Endeavor organisation was perhaps “one of the largest voluntary associations in the world” (p27) in the first half of the twentieth century and profoundly shaped the leadership of Fred Nile. The march on Canberra in 1973 by the Jesus People gathered under the banner of “Kairos,” meaning the appointed time, to rival Whitlam’s election slogan (p143). This book does double service by addressing questions concerning the metanarrative of Western history and by sifting through the granular details of personalities and events, a witness to much time and effort spent in archives. No wonder with so much fresh material, and with Chilton’s sure prose, this book is stimulating to read.

Now with this panoptic account in our hands, many other articles or books can now be written, taking up Chilton’s framework and exploring other people or moments. I would have liked to see some exploration of the work of David Penman in this period during his time labouring for the CMS and the IFES in the Middle East, given that his work in Pakistan especially was to influence his later ministry as Archbishop of Melbourne. The work of the Australian Fellowship of Evangelical Students in the 1960s and 1970s is worthy of much further historical attention, as would be the impact of new assumptions concerning authority on theological education. How church-planting fared at the perimeters of our cities after the boom of the 1950s is surely a doctoral dissertation in the waiting as well! This wish list aside, there can be no denying the value of the breadth of the material included in this volume, along with the groovy photos to anchor the text. I dare you to read and not find something to sing along to.




Rev Dr Rhys Bezzant is  Dean, Anglican Institute, and Senior Lecturer Ridley College, Mebourne

HarryGoodhewBiogPiggin, Stuart
Harry Goodhew: Archbishop, Godly Radical, Dynamic Anglican.
Morning Star Publishing: North Sydney, 2021.

Apparently, Marcus Loane thought that biographies ought not be written of the living, though he attended the launch of John Reid’s biography of him. Is this biography of Harry Goodhew, Archbishop of Sydney, premature therefore? Stuart Piggin argues that twenty years in retirement provides sufficient time for a good perspective. Is he correct? Piggin concedes that many would regard him as being too close to Goodhew, but Piggin then argues that he did not know Goodhew as well as he himself thought he did, thus implying more objectivity than might otherwise be anticipated. Is he right?

The closeness of Piggin to Goodhew certainly adds a personal dimension to this biography. Goodhew is not portrayed in any remote way. His warm personality and personal piety are always evident. Harry appears to be widely known as gentle, gracious, humble and godly in character. While Piggin’s depiction of Harry is always full of praise – too hagiographic? – the main point of commending Goodhew’s godly character is indisputable.

Character is undervalued in our world, even in Christian circles, where achievement and ability are rated so highly. We excuse people’s poor character in politics, sport, business and church because of their track record of getting things done. Secular leadership manuals often frame Christian leadership expectations, usually again devaluing character. This biography’s constant reference to Goodhew’s prayerfulness, humility, graciousness and spiritual fruit is as refreshing as it is important. Character matters, godly character above all.

NarcissismDeGroat, Chuck.
When narcissism comes to church: healing your community from emotional and spiritual abuse.
IVP: Downer’s Grove, IL., 2020.

"Many pastors get fired, but Driscoll got fired for being an a**hole" So goes the tag line of the recent long form journalistic podcast investigating the Rise and Fall of Mars Hill and its pastor Mark Driscoll. However, as emotive as this assertion is, it subtly misses the mark. While Driscoll may embody that trait, the more troubling problem was tied up in a personality trait that our culture slavishly fêtes: narcissism. Often we are too cavalier as we toss this term around and use it for informal diagnoses of all kinds. Nevertheless, narcissism—in its pathological and popular types—is profoundly damaging in personal and social relationships. Yet as the church elevates the humility espoused in Philippians 2 as a model for Christian discipleship it correspondingly seems to ignore the presence of narcissism within its bounds.

Chuck DeGroat's new book When Narcissism Comes to Church speaks into this difficult space. From a wealth of knowledge from twenty years of both practical and academic pastoral and counselling experience, he builds a solid and sobering picture of narcissism within the church, and how the church often fosters such traits within those who minister. It is this experience that also tempers the detached approach and sees narcissism as built upon power, desire, fear, and shame wrapped up in the 'compelling package' (19). Musing 'Could it be that the very men and women who are called to be shepherds of the flock struggle most with narcissism?' (19)

While many books have been written on the good, the bad, and the indifferent of narcissism, this work takes a different tack to many. After a helpful examining of the clinical basics of narcissism, DeGroat casts a wider net by highlighting other forms of narcissism than the traditional 'grandiose' incarnation. By including vulnerable narcissism a richer picture of overt and covert narcissism is built, helpfully leading to an extended discussion on the spectrum of narcissism and its interaction with other clusters of personality traits, addictions, and psychopathologies (39).

MarksSonOfManThe Son of Man in Mark’s Gospel: Exploring its Possible Connections with the Book of Ezekiel,

This book achieves what many would have assumed to be unattainable. Despite the immense amounts of scholarly effort invested in the study of Jesus’ use of “Son of Man”, David has contributed something that is not only new but also worth saying—and he has done it in less than one hundred pages! (This is the published version of the dissertation for which he was awarded the Master of Theology by the Australian College of Theology.)

The only surprise about what he says is that it needed to be said. There has been a long-standing consensus that Jesus derived this unusual self-designation primarily from the vision reported in Daniel 7. This leaves many thoughtful Bible-readers wondering why the scholarly eggs have been confined to this one small basket, when there is another that is much bigger and surely no less worthy of attention: the fact that the Lord never addresses Ezekiel by name but always (ninety-three times!) calls him “son of man.”