Essentials

EFAC's Global Reboot

EFAC is back, internationally speaking. Changing times in the Anglican Communion have catalysed the restart of the global dimension of EFAC. Stephen Hale, Chair of EFAC Australia, was our man on the spot.

Recently I had the privilege of attending the meeting of the revived Global Council of EFAC in Nairobi. EFAC International (now EFAC Global) has been inactive for the past decade or so, however in 2017 the Trustees (Bishop Keith Sinclair, Canon Chris Sugden, Stephen Hofmeyr, Bishop-elect Phillip Mountstephen) met and resolved to reactivate the Global Council of EFAC. There was a constitution, a set of aims and a statement of faith plus some money in a bank account. Richard Crocker was appointed as the General Secretary, ably assisted by his wife Caroline. They have worked tirelessly since to get EFAC Global back into operation.
The Council meeting took place in two parts, firstly at GAFCON where Richard Trist was present and then more fully in Nairobi. Present in Nairobi were representatives from existing EFAC National groups: England (CEEC), the USA, South Africa, Nigeria, Australia, Scotland, Madagascar plus Peter Walker who is Convenor of the Theological Resource Network. Also present were the Trustees, plus people from India, Kenya, Congo, Mozambique, Tanzania, Malawi and Burundi. The potential for new EFAC National groups to form is high. They were a fascinating group to be with and it was privilege to forge new friendships. The only weakness was the total lack of gender balance which we have vowed won’t happen next time!
We resolved to establish a new Council with representatives from existing EFAC groups and to add members as new national groups emerge. We also appointed an Executive comprising Bishop Keith as Chair, Bishop Henry Okele from Nigeria, Canon Vijay Kumar from North India, Bishop Seth Ndayirukiye from Burundi, Richard Crocker, Stephen Hofmeyr and myself. We are one of the strongest EFACs globally but pale into comparison with Nigeria with its 35,000 members! We also supported a resolution to amend the Statement of Faith to incorporate the GAFCON statement on atonement and to add a new supplementary statement which is the GAFCON statement on marriage.
EFAC was affirmed as a fellowship which enables evangelical Anglicans to come together. In Scotland and the US, for example, it is a good place for evangelicals who have stayed and evangelicals who have left to come together. We also had the opportunity to participate in the 10th Anniversary Celebrations of CMS Africa. This in itself was intriguing as many African nations now work together to share in mission in and beyond Africa.

Editorial Autumn 2019

Fresh Legs

This year will bring some fresh legs onto the Essentials editorial team. You may have noticed that a disproportionate number of the contributions to Essentials come from Western Australia (which is the price you pay when the editor lives in Perth!) In order better to tap into the EFAC networks in other states, we are glad to be welcoming two new editors: Gavin Perkins, Rector of St Judes, Bowral, NSW, and Mark Juers, Assistant Minister at St Hilary’s Network, Kew, Victoria. I hope and expect that these two will help us hear from new contributors and bring more national breadth to the journal. I am very much looking forward to what they will bring to this journal in 2019 and beyond.
Of course, as I always do, I encourage readers to contact me about making contributions to Essentials, wherever you live. It gives me great pleasure to have articles, book reviews, Bible Studies and Cabooses from city and bush, east and west, north and south, and off the mainland too.
And so in this issue we hear Stephen Hale’s news of EFAC International’s rebirth as EFAC Global and the meeting of the reconstituted Global Council in Nairobi. Landing then in Sydney, Kara Hartley writes of the measures the Diocese of Sydney have taken to raise awareness, and levels of education and preparedness when it comes to the terrible blight of domestic violence, as it finds its way into churches, and the homes of Christians. A long haul from there to Geraldton, from where Eugenie Harris gives us a snapshot of life and ministry in the north of WA. Our feature essay this issue picks up a phrase from Article 1 of the 39 Articles, and delves into what lies behind our conviction that God is ‘without parts’. In our Bible Study, political junkie and Perth rector Marc Dale meditates on how Jesus’ Nazareth sermon pointed far beyond any political revolution, and how good that is. Reviews of books on ministry and leadership, evolution, environmental action and mutual care populate our back pages, and the Caboose questions whether some books on ministry burn-out undo themselves in the end. I hope you find plenty to think on here.
Ben Underwood - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The wedding at Cana: Just what hour is it?

THE BIBLE AND ME

The wedding at Cana: Just what hour is it?

Recently, I heard some excellent teaching on John’s Gospel. Setting the cultural scene for the wedding at Cana (John 2: 1-11), the speaker explained that in first century Jewish weddings, it was the duty of the bridegroom to provide the wine and so the lack of wine at the wedding would be the cause of great embarrassment for, and possibly even legal proceedings against, the bridegroom. That led me to reflect on that awkward verse 4. Mary had explained to Jesus that the bridegroom (a friend or cousin?) at this wedding was facing exactly that situation, and whatever his mother expected of Jesus here, she clearly thought he was not going to leave his mate in the lurch. But Jesus responds, ‘Woman, what to me and to you? My hour has not yet come.’ I have looked at the dozen or so commentaries I have access to and, besides a few which are rather vague, largely suggesting Jesus’ time for miracles has not come, most say that the 'hour' referred to is Jesus’ glorification in his death, resurrection and ascension.

Now please allow me the folly of boldness. Verse 1 has already hinted that we are looking beyond, or through, the Cross to ‘the third day’, the day of resurrection. In the previous chapter, John the Baptist has introduced Jesus as the ‘Lamb of God’ (1: 29). In the following, the Baptist refers to himself as ‘the friend of the bridegroom’. (3:29) These two images together point to the marriage of the Lamb (Rev 19: 7-9). In the light of all of this, would it not be reasonable to suggest that the ‘hour’ which Jesus refers to is that of his own marriage, for which he will provide all, abundantly, even the ‘fine linen, brilliantly clean’ for the bride? So, paraphrasing John 2:4, we might have something like: ‘Mother, what does this wedding have to do with me and you? Mine has not yet come.’

This would mean that the preacher’s jump from the wedding at Cana to the marriage of the Lamb would not just be a good bit of biblical theology but rather an exegetical necessity. Perhaps we could even see Jesus, in a sense, taking from the stock of wine for his own wedding to provide for this unfortunate bridegroom, bringing the future into the present, just as the Evangelist has done in calling to mind the ‘third day’, at the beginning of this account and early in this Gospel. Makes sense to me, anyway.

Frances Cook, Chile

Editorial Autumn 2019

Fresh Legs

This year will bring some fresh legs onto the Essentials editorial team. You may have noticed that a disproportionate number of the contributions to Essentials come from Western Australia (which is the price you pay when the editor lives in Perth!) In order better to tap into the EFAC networks in other states, we are glad to be welcoming two new editors: Gavin Perkins, Rector of St Judes, Bowral, NSW, and Mark Juers, Assistant Minister at St Hilary’s Network, Kew, Victoria. I hope and expect that these two will help us hear from new contributors and bring more national breadth to the journal. I am very much looking forward to what they will bring to this journal in 2019 and beyond.
Of course, as I always do, I encourage readers to contact me about making contributions to Essentials, wherever you live. It gives me great pleasure to have articles, book reviews, Bible Studies and Cabooses from city and bush, east and west, north and south, and off the mainland too.
And so in this issue we hear Stephen Hale’s news of EFAC International’s rebirth as EFAC Global and the meeting of the reconstituted Global Council in Nairobi. Landing then in Sydney, Kara Hartley writes of the measures the Diocese of Sydney have taken to raise awareness, and levels of education and preparedness when it comes to the terrible blight of domestic violence, as it finds its way into churches, and the homes of Christians. A long haul from there to Geraldton, from where Eugenie Harris gives us a snapshot of life and ministry in the north of WA. Our feature essay this issue picks up a phrase from Article 1 of the 39 Articles, and delves into what lies behind our conviction that God is ‘without parts’. In our Bible Study, political junkie and Perth rector Marc Dale meditates on how Jesus’ Nazareth sermon pointed far beyond any political revolution, and how good that is. Reviews of books on ministry and leadership, evolution, environmental action and mutual care populate our back pages, and the Caboose questions whether some books on ministry burn-out undo themselves in the end. I hope you find plenty to think on here.
Ben Underwood - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Book Review: Evolution: Still a Theory in Crisis

Evolution:
Still a Theory in Crisis
Michael Denton
Discovery Institute Press, 2016

It was 3 am. Unable to sleep, I arose to continue reading Michael Denton’s Evolution: Still a Theory in Crisis (2016). To my surprise I turned a page and found it was the last. Some authors have a lot of footnotes!

Sadly, I have never studied biology, so am unable to assess much of the evidence and argumentation, except in a superficial common sense way. I wish someone better equipped than I would help us here. Having said that, the book reinforces my own growing conviction that the Darwinian model of evolution is too simple by far, and fails to bring us to a right understanding of what one of my childhood books on evolution called ‘the miracle of life’.

Denton does not declare himself as a believer or even a theist; Wikipedia calls him an agnostic. His faith position generally remains hidden. He approaches Darwinism (and Neo-Darwinism) as a molecular biologist and an evolutionist, assessing its evidential basis, finding it lacking, and reaching out for an alternative mechanism for the bewildering variety of life forms.

Variation and adaptation he fully accepts, along with the notion of natural selection. However, he observes that there are many big structures imbedded in nature—he calls them types or homologues—which are the foundations on which this variation operates, and which cannot themselves be accounted for as gradual modifications of an original simple life-form. Examples he explores in detail are the pentadactyl limb (one bone plus two bones plus five digits) ‘conserved in all tetrapods for 400 million years’; also the feather,  hair, the insect body plan, the flower, the amniotic membrane, the insect wing (‘every detail of the developmental program is an enigma in terms of adaptive gradualism’; p. 95), the enucleate red blood cell of all mammals (this is Denton’s speciality; he did his Ph. D. on the red blood cell), and the cell itself. The ground-plan of the cell, ‘the basic unit of all life on earth’ is unchanged in 4000 million years (p. 120). He has many more examples; Denton speaks of ‘a universe of non-adaptive forms’ (p. 76). At one point he mentions a million ‘taxon-defining homologues’ (p. 45).

These homologues have no apparent antecedent structure in the fossil record, nor any theoretical pathway by which they might have arisen by small adaptive steps. Writing on the cell, and the developments in biology in the thirty years since he wrote Evolution: A Theory in Crisis (1985) Denton says, ‘Despite a vast increase in knowledge of supra-molecular chemistry and of cell and molecular biology; the unexpected discovery of ribozymes; and an enormous effort, both experimental and hypothetical, devoted to providing a gradualistic functionalist account of the origins of life in terms of a long series of less complex functional replicating systems … leading from chemistry to the cell, no one has provided even the vaguest outlines of a feasible scenario, let alone a convincing one.’ (p. 121) This should be read along with his mind-blowing description of the cell in the 1985 book: pp. 328-330.

In 1989 I read Denton’s first book. It left me in wonder at the complexity of life and life forms—especially the cell—and a growing scepticism regarding the evolutionary model I had grown up with. Mistakenly, I thought Denton was challenging the whole macro-evolutionary paradigm. Reading his latest work makes it clear that he is not. His challenge is to the Darwinian and Neo-Darwinian paradigm. His quest is for an alternative. Recently I re-read, Evolution, A Theory in Crisis. I see now why it impacted on me so powerfully in 1989. As a student in the 60s I accepted Darwin’s notion that the whole of life evolved as a result of small changes, natural selection, and the survival of the fittest. I accommodated it easily to my new faith, reasoning that God’s providence could have guided the whole process to his intended conclusion. I could not see how a structure as complicated as the eye could have arisen without some guidance; age has added to that conviction. However, doubts over Darwin arose when I was still a student. In 1959 Everyman’s Library published a centenary edition of The Origin of Species. The introduction was by a leading Canadian biologist. He summarized the theory and then inquired whether the evidence of one hundred years supported it. He found it did not, and lamented the amount of biological research which was wasted on building imaginary evolutionary trees. From then until 1989 I was an evolution ‘agnostic’. A Theory in Crisis (1985) reviews the evidence for grand evolution and concludes that it not only does not support Darwin’s idea, but conflicts with it at many levels. Denton’s argument is so strong, especially in his own area of molecular biology, that, with my Christian spectacles, I read it as an outright refutation of grand evolution—which it is not.
This becomes clear in his later book, Evolution: Still a Theory in Crisis (2016). Denton thinks the world is old, and that the various forms of life evolved. The question is how. He finds Darwin’s solution unworkable and seeks an alternative in what he calls ‘structuralism’. In this he is going back to some of the great biologists of the nineteenth century, in particular Richard Owen, founder of the Museum of Natural History in London. There are deeply imbedded biological structures, which appear to be part of the nature of things in the physical world. In the inorganic world crystals form under certain conditions, constrained by the forces of nature; so, structures ‘emerge’ in the biological world as a result of physical constraints. Denton illustrates this from an amount of recent research. It was an eye-opener to me that the 20th century notion that everything is determined by what is encoded in our DNA, is being abandoned in the 21st. The shape of the human body, for example, does not seem to be determined genetically, nor does the language ability of humans (which Denton identifies as another ‘homologue’). DNA is not all there is to it! Some other explanation is required, and he finds this in ‘epigenetic’ forces (analogous to crystallization) which emerge in extraordinarily complex protein systems. Admitting that this might be a factor in biological development, I baulk at it as an explanation of, for instance, the pentadactyl limb-structure. It clearly does not work as an explanation of the cell itself, where Denton has himself ruled out intermediate forms.

In his last chapter Denton explores the implications of his work for teleology (he avoids bringing God into the discussion) where he favours the view that the basic forms of life are ‘no less built into nature than the properties of water’ (p. 278). ‘There is the deep hint—arising from the cosmological discovery of the fitness of nature for life—that the life forms on earth may be after all, an integral part of the cosmic order.’ (p. 278f. Denton’s italics.) For those who know God, this has evident interest. This latest book should be read and discussed, though the first is foundational, and is an easier read. Evangelicals who for a long time now have accorded Darwinism almost the status of a doctrine should take note of this authoritative scientific refutation of Darwin’s grand scheme and review their thinking.

David Seccombe, WA

Ministry burn-out

Why that book about ministry burn-out you’re reading may be doing more harm than good

Jonathan Holt

There is an expanding section at your local Christian bookshop dedicated to helping pastors to avoid or recover from burn out. I have read a few of these myself, but with a growing sense of disquiet. I began to notice a certain pattern to these books: firstly, they were written by someone who had experienced burn-out themselves. We respond to this experience-based knowledge, and you’ll often find the opening chapters of the book tell the story. You get to hear about the wide-eyed ministry novice, brimming with confidence and ready to see the world changed for Jesus. But the story soon spirals downward and the crash at the bottom is terrible. And yet there is hope, because the author learns hard truths about themselves, they find the mistakes and miscalculations. The slow and determined work of repair and rebuilding then unfolds. They grow into a new phase of ministry: sharing what they have learned, to help others.

I am grateful for their honesty and vulnerability, in sharing their story and hoping to save others from the same pain and failure. However, it is at this point that I begin to feel the unease I mentioned earlier. It is here that the author turns their own personal path to recovery into a system for all of us to follow. All the things that helped them to experience restoration are explained, and often backed up with science, and finally put into dot-points (maybe in a box) at the end of the chapter. But it’s not just the universalizing of personal experience that bothers me. It’s the subtle move from hitting rock bottom, re-discovering the depths of God’s grace, to beginning to do better, do the right things and follow the self-help actions the author offers up. The better versions of the ministry burn-out book serve us well by leading us to the deep, deep well of God’s grace in the midst of failure, sin and burn-out. But they often serve us a refreshing drink and then urge us back into the fray of sorting out our priorities; doing more exercise; getting our rest right; observing the Sabbath; or whatever it was the author found renewed their energy and resource for serving Jesus. My niggling concern is that we fall so easily for the Galatian error each time we read one of these books. I hear the deep need of the author in their downward spiral, that leads them to a deeper understanding of grace. But having begun with grace, many of these books move onto the efforts I must make if I am going to avoid burn-out. Chapter after chapter guides me through the things I must do if I am going to succeed where the author had failed. But what if I needed to stay at that deep, deep well of God’s grace? Not just stay there longer (before moving onto the call to get my act together, have this day off, learn that ancient practice of the early church), but just stay there. Far too many of these burn-out-recovery books have the chapter on grace towards the front and leave it there to get on with my effort, and my improved activity.

The book The Imperfect Disciple, Grace for People Who Can’t Get Their Act Together, by Jared C. Wilson was a refreshing change. Not least because his exploration of the sufficiency of grace is taken up in the second last chapter (it’s not the first time he mentions it, but it is the place where he takes up the topic at length). Wilson riffs on the legend of the old lady verses the scientist. Versions of this story abound, in which the scientist finishes a lecture on how the earth is round and revolves around the sun. The old lady corrects the scientist, with her view that the earth is flat and rests on a turtle. The scientist asks what the turtle rests on, to which the old lady replies, ‘Another turtle.’ The scientist asks again: ‘And what does the second turtle rest on?’ And she replies: ‘It’s turtles all the way down!’ Wilson’s point is important and good to hear over and over again: ‘…when it comes to our dependence on God, it is all grace or no grace. If our standing with him rests even an ounce on our works, we are utterly and hopelessly lost. No, it must be grace all the way down.’ (p198)

I believe this is the kind of burn-out help we need. It was my effort; me trying to work harder, that led me into danger – how on earth could more of that be the way to recovery? I’d love to read a burn-out-recovery book, which led me to the deep, deep well of God’s grace and left me there. And in that place, drinking that refreshing water, I might stand a chance of finding a way to be in ministry, safe from dangers of burn-out.

Book Review: A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix

A Failure of Nerve:
Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix

Edwin H. Friedman
Seabury Books, 2007

The purpose of this review is to help Christian leaders engage with Edwin Friedman’s genuine insights into leadership in a society that has become increasingly anxious. I will offer up at points, in no great triumph of exegesis, some scriptural observations as to why we might not always wholeheartedly agree with him, yet in general affirm his conclusions on leadership. Edwin H. Friedman was an ordained rabbi who was for twenty years a leader in a synagogue. He was also a practicing family therapist and consultant to leadership in different spheres of life, from the family through to the American defence force. A Failure of Nerve was published sometime after his death and is at points an incomplete manuscript. This book is great, a summary of a secular sage’s life investment in leadership. 
               
Here is Friedman’s own confession of who the book is for and what it is about:

‘This book is for parents and presidents. It is also for CEOs and educators, prioresses and coaches, healers and generals, managers and clergy. It is about the leadership in the land of the quick fix, about leadership in a society so reactive that it cannot choose leaders who might calm its anxiety.’

Friedman makes his analysis based on American society, but this book is so compelling because of the universal nature of the behaviours of people in a chronically anxious system. Needless to say, if he is right, this book has a global appeal for leaders and goes at least part of the way in helping us understand why leadership today is in urgent need of people who are able to hold their nerve and stay the course in a highly anxious society.

Here is a quick taste of the contents: chronically anxious systems are stuck, unable to move forward. Anxious systems don’t have to be societies, of course. They can be families, business relationships, churches etc. We can all be trapped into thinking we cannot possibly do X or Y because we live with what Friedman calls ‘emotional equators’. Sometimes our fears and insecurities are the emotional equators and when we do not recognise these ‘equators’ for what they are, we become a regressive, rather than evolving, progressive society, workplace, family etc. Friedman explores what a chronically anxious environment looks like. Without spoiling the book, here are the essentials of a highly anxious community; highly reactive, herding, blame displacement, a quick fix mentality, and a failure of nerve in leadership.

The chapters following offer a critique of a data driven world, and a negative analysis of empathy—which is food for thought. Other chapters include a robust argument for the importance of ‘self’ and how the concept of self is being eradicated and renamed ‘selfish’; an analysis of relationships as emotional triangles and the importance of understanding these relational dynamics if we are to lead change through the path of least resistance; and a chapter on ‘crisis and sabotage’ with some of the soundest advice of the book.

These three things I liked about Friedman’s book: first, it attempts to free leaders to make decisions and follow through on them, to use their imagination, to risk, to refuse to be driven by data alone, and to realise that all good leadership will be subject to sabotage. Second, the book has an amazing set of metaphors or allegories and stories that excite and motivate leaders to be decisive, even in an anxious climate, affirming a clear, calm, connected approach that encourages leaders to be patient and hold their nerve. Third, its appreciation of the fact that when people make decisions, they are rarely driven by rational processes alone. Decisions are almost always driven in part if not in whole by emotional processes.

However, I did not like everything. The references to the evolutionary processes of how we came to be who we are felt a little forced. Though the allegory of evolutionary development is novel and fruitful in helping the reader understand concepts about chronically anxious systems, togetherness forces and forces of differentiation, one could equally arrive at the same conclusions via a biblical understanding of what it means to be a creature in the image of God.

Also, from a Christian perspective Friedman’s definition of good leaders reads a little like Nietzsche’s superman. His read on good leaders is, they will be called narcissistic, cold, and calculating just because they refuse to be reactionary, just because they remain well differentiated. Though we can affirm that sometimes this is the case, sometimes good leaders will lead poorly and will at times be cold and calculating narcissists who need to repent of their sin.

Further, Friedman doesn’t believe in empathy, only sympathy and compassion. He believes empathy has been hijacked and becomes a tool for sabotage. This may be true, but the bible has many examples of what we might consider empathetic gestures. The apostle Paul puts it like this; ‘and our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort’. (2 Cor 1:7). If empathy is about being able to put yourself in the position of another, this passage is a good example.

Finally, Friedman provides plenty of pragmatic initiatives to help leaders remain differentiated, unaffected by the emotional processes of others whilst remaining connected. However Christian leaders need a more realistic assessment of human frailty than Friedman is willing to offer. Ironically, it is our doctrine of weakness that makes us strong and able. It is our doctrine of childlike faith, a faith that expresses itself in total dependence upon God that will help us stay the course.

If you’re a leader in a church, read this book. If you’re a leader in a dying church, definitely read this book. If you’re a Christian leader about to encourage a new path for your church, a necessary but unpopular path, read this book. The privilege of this book is the many years of experience that drives the conclusions that liberate leaders to take risks and enjoy a treacherous journey.

Tim Ravenhall, Newcastle Presbyterian, Civic Park, NSW.

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