EFAC Australia


Revelation 2 and 3. Seven what? Seven letters? Or something else?


The messages Jesus sends to the seven churches of Asia found in Revelation 2-3 are often thought of as letters – since the command to John is to write to the angels of those churches. But in many ways what is dictated does not have the form of a letter. The message-sender is identified, but not by name, and nor are there greetings. The opening formula, ‘these are the words of ’ are more reminiscent of a prophetic oracle than a letter. Is ‘letter’ the best way to think about what these pieces of communication are?

‘Why worry?’, you might ask. Isn’t the point to read them? Which is true. But we might have expectations of a letter that make what Jesus says in these messages strange. Why is he so stern? Why the rebukes and the threats to remove lampstands, to come like a thief upon sleepers, to spit his church out? Where is his tender love for his people and his unshakeable commitment to them? Are we allowed in the church at the start by grace, but need to stay in by our works? Is that the point of these messages?

It may help to think of these messages as more like communiques from the field commander to the troops on the battlefield, than personal letters from one individual to others. Jesus the Messiah, who stands at the head of the armies of heaven (Rev 19:11-16), whose troops are willing in the day of battle (Psalm 110), is writing as the great general to his churches, ‘personified’ here as angels, angels who might be imagined as part of the hosts of heaven. (The churches are ‘angelified’ rather than personified, really). The book of Revelation is a book full of conflict, conflict in which Christians are caught up, and must play their part. Sometimes the church is numbered (Rev 7:4-8, 14:1) like an Old Testament muster of fighting men (Numbers 1). And each message concludes with a promise to ‘the one who is victorious’, which sounds like a general exhorting his troops to fight in the hope of what victory will bring.

This may help explain why Jesus speaks so fiercely, and his expectations are so high. Jesus must lead his churches through a great conflict, and so he wants them to be fit for the fight. He must point out weaknesses in his churches and he must expect them to be dealt with, or he must deal with them himself. For this is not a drill. His people can come through, stand firm, bear witness, suffer and be victorious if they are ready, and not weakened by apathy, fear, entanglement with idolatry or impurity, inattention, lack of endurance, or a failure of insight. But if they lose their ability to love (Ephesus) or give way to fear and prove unwilling to suffer to be faithful (Smyrna) or fail to see teaching which leads them into sin (Pergamum), or allow such teachers to continue unopposed (Thyatira), or if they fall asleep (Sardis) or give up in the face of pressure (Philadelphia) or fail to see their true spiritual need, and fail to go to Jesus for it (Laodicea), then the churches will not be fit for the fight, and the hope of victory will be eclipsed by uncertainty.

This is not to say that Jesus’ troops will not be ready for the fight. I take it that Jesus is the kind of general that knows how to prepare his troops for battle, and to give them all they need to be victorious. But part of what they need is a frank communique to cause them to address their weaknesses so that when the day of testing and battle and suffering witness comes, they may stand.

Bishop Anthony Nichols died on 24 August 2019. This is an edited version of the eulogy his wife Judith gave at his funeral at St Lawrence’s Dalkeith, WA on 3 September 2019.

Anthony Nichols was born in Sheffield, Yorkshire to a working-class family. He never sought honours or preferment. Being a bishop did not define him as a person so there are no pictures here of him in clerical garb today. Like many people from Yorkshire, Tony took frankness to an Olympic standard, as many of you know. His dad was aspirational and liking the free-spiritedness of Aussie airmen with whom he served during the war, brought the family to Australia in 1947. They subsequently moved to Wollongong, an industrial city south of Sydney where Tony and his brother Roderick were educated.

Tony’s Christian journey began at 14 years of age when he was asked to teach Sunday School, so he thought he ought to read the Bible. The first text that gripped his heart was Ephesians 2:4-5, “but because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in our transgressions - it is by grace you have been saved.” The church he attended with his family was spiritually dead but he often claimed it was through the prayer book service that he learnt of the need to follow Christ wholeheartedly, for forgiveness through Christ’s death on the Cross and the absolute certainty of the resurrection of the dead and judgement when Christ returns. His university days laid a strong biblical foundation for his faith through the Christian Union and he was challenged by the opportunity to share the Gospel with overseas students. He was the first Caucasian member of the Overseas Christian Fellowship. He taught for 2 years at Temora in rural NSW where he established follow up bible studies after the Billy Graham Crusade because none of the churches were willing to hold them.

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!


Every now and then I like to devise and preach a topical sermon series. Some of these have been some of the most memorable series to me, and have sometimes gotten more engagement and discussion among the congregation than is usual. I’m no master of the genre, but here are three series I have preached.



I thought preaching through the creed would be good catechesis—a chance to present a mini-systematic theology, an overview of the gospel story. If people knew the bones of the creed, and through this sermon series could put some flesh on those bones, they might be clearer on the gospel themselves, and better equipped to explain it to others. The series went: Founding Father (Psalm 104, James 1:16-18), Incarnate Son (Luke 1:26-38, Col 1:15-20), Suffering Servant (Isaiah 53:1-6, Rom 3:21-26), Exalted King (Acts 17:22-31, Phil 2:5-11) and finally, Life-giving Spirit (Acts 2:1-21, 1 Corinthians 15:20-28). I did not expound any one of the readings, but preached sermons expounding the fatherhood of God, the incarnation of Christ, the atoning exchange of the suffering servant, his now and future reign, and the ways God is transforming the world to perfect Christ’s work. Years later a woman told me that when she had just come to church she arrived in time to hear these sermons and they were perfect for her as someone who needed a walk through the basics and the big picture. That was nice to hear.



Every so often someone writes a novel or makes a TV series based on the seven deadly sins: anger, pride, lust, greed, sloth, gluttony and envy. If they can give appeal to a TV series, why not to a sermon series? I developed these talks using a consistent set of questions to give structure, namely: 1) What is sin X, and why is it your enemy? 2) How is Jesus the remedy for sin X? 3) How is living by the Spirit the therapy for sin X? And 4) What do you need to do? This repetition (hopefully) hammers home the message that sin is your enemy, Jesus is the remedy and living by his Spirit is our therapy in this life, and that there are particular steps to take in escaping these sins. The individual sins bring out different sides of Jesus’ holiness of life and atoning work as they are opposed to all sin. His life and death are all humility, against all pride. His life and death for us are his faithful industry in God’s service, against all sloth. His life and death are his satisfaction in doing God’s will, against all gluttony and insatiability. After the gluttony sermon a group formed spontaneously to pursue the discussion. They read a book together and met several times. Food is a big deal, connected to a lot of personal issues, but it is not much talked about from the front of church (unless, for example, you preach through the seven deadly sins).



Reading Allan Chapple’s book True Devotion, I came across his section regarding the paradoxical nature of our relationship with God, which seemed to me a rare discussion of a true characteristic of our walk of faith. I hankered to explore this through a series of sermons on paradoxes of the Christian life, which came to birth last year. The six paradoxes were: Christ crucified (1 Cor 1:18-31, Is 53:1-5); Love your life and lose it, hate your life and keep it (Mark 8:22-38, Is 53:5-12); Christ is both absent and present (2 Cor 5:1-10, Psalm 13); We are at once sinners and saints (1 John 1:8- 2:2, Psalm 65:1-4); We are perfectly free and wholly enslaved (1 Cor 7:17-24, Exodus 19:1-8) and When we are weak, then we are strong (2 Cor 4:5-12, Psalm 22:1-11). I sought to use the same talk structure each time: first, Exploring the Paradox, where I showed each side of the paradox as it appeared in the Bible, and perhaps somewhere the two sides were both expressed together. Second came Resolving the Paradox, where I tried to show how both sides of the paradox were true and made sense, so that the paradox was not a contradiction, but an insight into the Christian life. Lastly came the section Living with the Paradox, where I tried to show how the truth of that paradox might shape our expectations and actions as we follow Christ. I may have bitten off more than I could chew at some points here, and I don’t have a story of these sermons making an impact on people. But I was very glad to have given it a go, and I might come back to this one day to see if I can distil the best of this series into a simpler and better set of talks.

The Road to CharacterCharacter


David Brooks says that he wrote this book to save his own soul (xi). As a New York Times columnist he is “paid to be a narcissistic blow-hard” who has to work hard “to avoid a life of smug superficiality” (xii). In an effort to avoid “self-satisfied moral mediocrity” he wants to clear away the overgrown road to character and try to start down it. ‘Character’ is your moral core, your capacity for responding to the needs of the world, for struggle and self-conquest, for humility and self-effacement, for maintaining dignity, for giving and receiving love, for being open to grace.

The road to character is overgrown, says Brooks, because our culture has become shallow.

We are too focussed on skills, achievement and success in the outer world, the world of wealth, knowledge, status and power. We have lost the knack of talking about the inner world, the world of wisdom, meaning and growth in the qualities of heart and soul. We have embraced ourselves, celebrating and affirming who we are, and lost an older, “crooked timber” tradition that emphasised all the ways we fall short of who we should be and how we must work to overcome who we are in order that we may be someone worth admiring or emulating, someone really integrated and mature.

Brooks opens by analysing a cultural shift in the West from values of self-effacement and modesty and a low opinion of one’s own importance (“little me”), to a “big me” moral ecology that encourages us to think that we are special, that we should trust what we find in ourselves, that the way to maturity is to unfold faithfully what we discover in our hearts, not to struggle to tame and transform it. The bulk of the book is then ten biographical chapters of figures that Brooks thinks have some moral nobility about their lives that makes them worthy for us to know and perhaps emulate in some dimension.

The subjects of the chapters are men and women, religious and secular, and their journeys along the road to character are various. There is Frances Perkins, summoned by her experience of the tragedy of the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Company factory fire to a life of single-minded political work in the service of workers. Tough and shrewd, she gave herself to the cause, and this sense of vocation took her to the inner circle of President Roosevelt. There is Dwight Eisenhower whose rigorous self control and moderation expressed the basic conviction that our sin gives us reason to distrust and control ourselves inwardly and outwardly. There is Dorothy Day, whose bohemian life gave way, in a conversion to Roman Catholicism, to a life of self-sacrificial service of the poor, inspired by a desire to live for God. There is George Marshall (of the Marshall Plan) who committed himself to the institution of the military, and submerged his own ego to serve those over him and what the army and the country asked him to do. There is Philip Randolph, the civil rights leader whose determined, dignified and disciplined life equipped him for the moral tasks of his moment.

Late in the book we get two interesting chapters where the direction changes from figures whose self-integration and maturity seems to come through a fair bit of choice and self-training, to figures whose self-integration and maturity comes more through things that happened to them. First comes George Eliot (the author whose real name was Mary Evans) whose early neediness and emotional immaturity stabilised with experience, and especially through her romance and domestic partnership with George Lewes, who unlocked and encouraged her novel writing. Then comes Augustine, whose experience of God’s grace broke the spell of his infatuation with ambition, pride and pleasure, and the method of self-cultivation, and re-ordered his loves, so that life could begin to become about living out love for God. Lastly comes the chaotic and incomparable Samuel Johnson: sui generis.

Apart from the astute social analysis it contains, this book testifies to the enduring hunger human beings have to pay attention to a real moral core we have, even if we neglect it. Brooks legitimises our desire to feel like our lives are meaningful, and that this is not some weak-minded illusion to be dispelled, but a vital cue to us for the task of personal integration and maturity. Brooks does not want to be shallow, and wants to resurrect the old vocabulary of sin, soul, spirit and grace, and the conviction that we should distrust ourselves, discipline ourselves and seek our own healing, rather than parading and primping ourselves. To the degree that he succeeds, he primes people to think they have the kinds of problems that Jesus came to address, and that what the gospel has to say might be more deeply and lastingly relevant than some productivity guru giving you life-hacks or some pop star urging you to believe in yourself. Brooks’ subjects are flawed and their roads to character are not systematic, and nor are they entirely admirable as people even at the end. Brooks does not try to line it all up neatly. I did find the account of grace in the Augustine chapter to be attractive and palatable enough that I am considering taking it to my Big Questions reading group to see what my secular friends make of it.


Welcome to the autumn Essentials, a road trip that will take us through all manner of country. From the seven deadly sins to the four rules of evangelical longevity; from a bishop-to-be expelled from the Anglican Church in his ardent youth, to the return of psychedelics; from Christian work amongst WA school students, to the preaching of eternal hope at Sydney funerals: all this and more is here between these covers.

Topical sermons done well can season a basic diet of working though Biblical books for both preacher and hearers. I share some of my adventures in topical preaching on the Ideas Page. The funeral of Bishop Anthony Nichols was a significant occasion for members of EFAC WA, and we have a version of Anthony’s wife Judith’s eulogy included here. I am sorry not to have been at the New Cranmer Society Breakfast last year to hear the talk that Rhys Bezzant delivered there, but the next best thing is to read it here. Rhys achieves a rare combination of integrated theological and personal reflection in this engrossing piece.

2020 has the potential to be a significant year in the national Church and in the communion as the business of the Appellate Tribunal, the General Synod and Lambeth all unfold. We have news and opinion on these matters from Stephen Hale, Matthew Brain, Kanishka Raffel and Karin Sowada.

There are reflections on fresh work being done in WA as CRU West begins to fly, and on past work done in Sydney, as Peter Bolt draws our attention to the first Australian-born clergyman, 44 years the Dean of Sydney, the eternity-minded William Cowper.

The Bible Study might have been better in time for Christmas, but there’s nothing wrong with meditating on the birth of the Messiah in prophecy at any time of year. Thanks Michael Bennett for this encouragement. The book reviews are (I hope) a stimulating mix of secular and evangelical titles.

I also hope you are enjoying our new journal design (thanks Clare Potts). We are back to black and white printing this issue, but the team is continuing to think about how we can give Essentials the most bang for your buck. We are thinking about three 24 page issues per annum, and wondering whether this will allow us to afford colour printing. Let us know what you think about the frequency, length and level of production you think Essentials should aspire to. Let us know what you liked and what didn’t work for you. We hope to stimulate, connect and encourage EFAC members and others across Australia. Drop us a line.

Ben Underwood

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How to change your mind: the new science of psychedelicsPsychedelics


I loved reading Michael Pollan’s book "Cooked", and watching the Netflix documentary series based on the book. He tackled an interesting subject in a multi-disciplinary manner and writes prose that carries you effortlessly along. Pollan’s interest has turned from food and its production, preparation and consumption to psychedelic drugs, and the renewal of scientific investigation of their effects. This is a fascinating story with a varied cast of extraordinary characters, told through Pollan’s mix of science writing, social history, journalism, and personal accounts of his own experiments (in this case, with psychedelics). The basic story of psychedelics that the book recounts is of the initial growth of a scientific programme of psychedelic research in the mid-twentieth century, followed by the infamy brought upon psychedelics by those (such as Timothy Leary) who wanted psychedelics out of the lab and in the brains of the general population, and the sooner the better. This led to the closure of the research programme and the scheduling of these drugs. However, there were those who worked quietly but determinedly for years to reopen the door that had been closed, and a generation later they have succeeded, so that today psychedelics are again being studied by doctors and neuroscientists. The hope is that on the one hand, psychedelics might give neuroscientists new tools for studying the brain and its operations so that consciousness, brain function, and their connection might be better understood. On the other hand, doctors and psychiatrists hope that psychedelics might prove effective in treatment of patients who face terminal disease, addictions or depression and anxiety. The book is a hopeful one that seeks to indicate the promise that these researchers are seeking to fulfill.

The book is also the story of some of the underground aspects of the history of psychedelics in the west.

The big thing about these non-lethal, non-addictive drugs is the power of the experience that people may have when taking them.

At its height, the psychedelic experience is equivalent to a full blown mystical experience, where people lose their sense of local and individuated ego in a larger, ineffable sense of self that is merged with the whole cosmos. Everything shines, and is full of beauty, meaning and joy; everything is one, and love is at the bottom of reality, and people come away from some psychedelic experiences deeply convinced that they have seen these things, and come to know them in a direct and undeniable way. The experience is so powerful that it cannot help but be undertood in spiritual terms. People often rate these experiences as among the most meaningful experiences of their lives. Many people, convinced of the power of psychedelics to give ordinary people a revelatory experience that leaves them filled with peace, openness and a sense of the meaningfulness of life, make it their business to keep the practice of guiding people on trips alive, whether or not such activities are legal. Some are wishing and waiting to see psychedelics become a much more mainstream way for people to have spiritual experiences that will benefit then in ordinary life. All acknowledge the unusual fact that any therapeutic potency of such drugs is not simply connected to its effect on the cells and systems of the body, so much as to the effect on the person that arises from their conscious experience of the trip, and the way they make sense of it. Hence the importance in the world of psychedelics of ‘set’—the attitude you take into the experience and the expectations you have of it—and ‘setting’—where you are, and who you are with, how they treat you and how safe and secure you feel. Bad trips are far more likely when people take psychedelics without attention being paid to set and setting by people who have some knowledge of these things.

You may be wondering why I am reviewing a book like this in Essentials.

Here are two reasons: first, the book is a testimony to the hunger human beings have for meaningful experiences, that is experiences that impress upon you the meaningfulness of the world about you and your belonging to that world of meaning. The conviction that love founds reality was mentioned in the book, but not discussed much by Pollan (whose longtime atheism was opened up to the possibility of something more through writing the book—the closing words are, “the mind is vaster, and the world is ever so much more alive, than I knew when I began”). The convictions people bring back from a highly mystical trip are a challenge to a hard core atheist view of the cosmos (although it is also easy to retort to the tripper that if you put a chemical in your brain that binds to your receptors, and suppresses your default mode network, why should you believe the experience that results is in any way a true insight?) But they are also something of a puzzle to Christians. Should we reinforce the convictions that may arise about a divinely made, meaningful cosmos with love at its foundation? Or should we repudiate any such convictions as having nothing to do with God and his truth? This leads to the second reason for bringing this book to readers’ attention: if in coming years psychedelics do become an accepted part of treatment of depression, addiction or end-of-life existential distress, how should Christians regard their use? As a pseudo-deliverance built on an illusion? As an alternative and therefore problematic claim to provide a revelation that is not the gospel of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ? Or as a useful therapy that might be baptised by using a set and setting consistent with Christian conviction? This will not have to be settled anytime soon, but Pollan is a big name writer and this book will no doubt give the movement to rehabilitate and utilise psychedelics a big push along.