General

Tribute: Servant of the Church of God

Servant of the Church of God:
Donald William Bradley Robinson, 1922–2018

A series of highlights from the full tribute by Rory Shiner which you can read online at au.thegospelcoalition.org
Early on Friday 7 September one of Australia’s most brilliant biblical scholars and influential church leaders went to be with the Lord whom he loved and so faithfully served. If you are an Australian evangelical, you owe him a great debt, even if you’ve never heard of him. His name was Donald William Bradley Robinson. He was 95 years old.

Robinson described 1947 as “the summer of his life”. He travelled by boat to San Francisco, then overland to Chicago and then up to Toronto. His final destination was Boston, where he was a student representative of the International Leaders Conference of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students at Harvard University—the conference that launched the modern form of the IFES. The meetings in Boston were chaired by the prominent Welsh preacher Martyn Lloyd-Jones, who apparently complained at the lack of a “decent cup of tea, which always makes a situation more civilised.” (Feel free to take a moment to enjoy the thought of a Brit complaining about tea in Boston). It was at this meeting that the influential IFES doctrinal basis was hammered out.

Robinson was very deliberate in going to Cambridge in order to access the vibrant biblical scholarship being produced there. This is an interesting point of contrast with British evangelicalism. At the time, many British evangelicals went to Cambridge in spite of the Divinity faculty; Robinson went because of it. For Robinson, scholars such as C. H. Dodd and C. F. D. Moule were people with whom conservative evangelicals could have a fruitful and productive engagement.

Donald and Marie married back in Australia on 30 July 1949. He returned with her to Cambridge where Robinson completed his studies. They came back to Australia in 1950. They had four children, Martin, Anne, Mark and Peter. Martin was born in the UK, the rest in Australia.

After ordination and two curacies, Robinson began what was to be the largest segment of his career—teaching on the faculty of Moore College. It was there, where Robinson served as lecturer and then vice-principal, that Robinson exercised his most lasting influence. Robinson introduced the College to the discipline of understanding the Bible on its own terms, seeking to uncover how the Old Testament and New Testament relate themselves to each other. By this teaching he ignited, for example, the imagination of Graeme Goldsworthy to what we now call ‘biblical theology”.

Along with D. B. Knox, Robinson also made a significant contribution to the topic of ecclesiology. This project, conducted in conversation with wider developments in scholarship, theology and church life, led to an emphasis on the centrality and spiritual prestige of the local gathered church. It is profound work, which has influenced and been developed by scholars such as Robert Banks, Peter O’Brien and William Dumbrell, as well as a younger generation including Lionel Windsor and Chase Kuhn.

On 1 April 1982, Bishop Donald Robinson was elected Archbishop of Sydney. The pace of life was very demanding. Extensive travel, an ambitious programme for new churches in Sydney’s west, and the regular run of an archbishop’s duties were supplemented by several significant controversies. He opposed the move toward the ordination of women to the priesthood in the Anglican Church of Australia, arguing that it would represent a fundamental breach with apostolic instruction. And he opposed the loosening of traditional Anglican forms of worship and patterns of leadership within the Diocese of Sydney.

Robinson retired in 1992 and he resumed teaching at Moore College, a role he continued in until 2002. Countless scholarly works, from Peter Bolt, John Painter, Robert Banks and many others continue to grapple with and extend his biblical thought. Early in the morning of Friday, 7 September 2018, he went to be with the Lord. We owe him more than we can tell.

Trump Makes Us Ask Again

If evangelical votes have been credited as part of Donald Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton in the last US presidential election, does this damage the evangelical brand? If so, is it time to drop the moniker? Rhys Bezzant asks us to treasure the name ‘evangelical’ and its story.

Rhys Bezzant is Dean of Missional Leadership and Lecturer in Christian Thought at Ridley College, Melbourne


No doubt you are hearing this question too: why is it that so many evangelicals voted for Trump? Many used this term to describe their voting choices in the US, even if amongst the unsophisticated media pundits it meant simply ‘white, non-Hispanic Protestants’. Of course, if your politics don’t align with Trump, you might be asking the question to distance yourself from those Christians who take on this label. There are however many who vote Republican, but have serious questions anyway about whether the evangelical brand is damaged. The populism of American presidential elections is often a bellwether for other countries too. Many nations around the world are experiencing either discomfort with, or disdain for, the international order, and are making their opinions known through the ballot box. Here is not the place to canvass the economic drivers which lead to different kinds of extreme politics, or to analyse the strategy of fear-mongering adopted by world leaders. But here is the place to ask the question whether the word ‘evangelical’ is past its use-by date. I say it is not.

Like any technical word, we need to get behind popular usage to find out what generated its adoption in the first place. Only then can we decide whether it is worth junking. And as an historian, I want to help us understand that technical words are valuable because they summarise a story, and alert us to debates and decisions, of which we are beneficiaries, even when the narrative has got confused in the meantime. The word ‘evangelical’ contains the beautiful resonance of Gospel-centredness, and in the Reformation it meant something like Bible-focussed. However with other descriptors arising to summarise Protestant convictions, like Lutheran or Reformed or Anglican, the word ‘evangelical’ in the eighteenth century was used again in a fresh way.

In the 1700s, when Enlightenment philosophers pushed God out of the world, and instead taught that human beings have the capacity to make sense of their experience without him, conservative Protestants began to call themselves ‘evangelicals’ because they wanted to remind their listeners that God was not distant but close, and that we can experience him being near through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. The language of regeneration became a hot-button issue. Not that the likes of John Wesley or George Whitefield or Jonathan Edwards had given up on the doctrine of justification by faith. Far from it. But they did turn up the volume on the language of being born again. Remember: many nominal Christians upheld justification in their statement of belief, but they didn’t act like it was true in their heart. If you want a succinct definition of being evangelical, this is it: the protection and promotion of vital piety in the modern world. After the 1730s, being a conservative Protestant needed a modern theological defence. As Doug Sweeney so eloquently says, being an evangelical is being a conservative Protestant ‘with an eighteenth-century twist.’ If you prize vital piety, or a real experience of the Lord, or a personal faith, you can call yourself an evangelical.

The world was changing dramatically around the time of the Great Awakening. Early capitalism was creating a new kind of economy, which was no longer defined by face-to-face encounters of producers and buyers. Now, more impersonally through money exchange and not bartering, a worldwide commercial economy was born. Mobility of goods and of people was essential for this early globalisation to thrive. The postal service was created for carrying letters and parcels, and personal identity was no longer defined by your village or locality. No wonder itinerancy flourished, with preachers travelling throughout countries or across the sea to make converts. As offensive as it might have been for Whitefield to come to town and win souls to Christ without asking for permission from the settled pastor, it worked. And he used the postal system to encourage advance publicity, and reports of his work travelled around the world quickly. There was a new sense of space and time amongst citizens of the eighteenth century, and in the experience of the newly regenerate too. One of the most frequent words used to describe a conversion was ‘enlargement.’ When you are converted in the fields and not in a church building, God somehow seems bigger.

This openness to God’s active presence in the world has made evangelicals more open to cultural movements of their own day, for good or for ill. Our evangelistic commitment means that we get close to the people we are serving—as the Apostle Paul suggests we should in 1 Corinthians 9—and our evangelistic flexibility enables us to apply new cultural means for traditional Christian ends. This sometimes gets us into hot water. We have felt the fear of the French Revolution and have grown more conservative. We have reacted to the teachings of Darwin and have instead pursued a vision for history that is not based on gradual evolution but rather apocalyptic intervention. We have brought flowers into church as a result of the Romantic movement, and we have savoured the imaginative beauty of C. S. Lewis’s children’s books which were composed in contrast to a world where technology seemed out of control. After World War II, we had to rethink what Christian civilisation might look like after old norms had come tumbling down.

One of the ways to respond to a post-Christian world is to engage through politics. This has been one of the chief strategies for evangelicals in the US, given Americans’ commitment to participatory democracy and power pushed down to the most local level. They elect their police chief, whereas Australians do not. They have a nervousness about big government, going all the way back to Thomas Jefferson, whereas we recognise our need for governments to help a small population cultivate a big and sometimes brutal land. Christian witness in the realm of politics is certainly one possible path which evangelicals have taken, but our very own tradition alerts us to the fact that there are options too.

Evangelicals over the last three hundred years have reshaped nations through local revival tents, prayer meetings, petitions to abolish slavery, involvement in trade unions, establishing hospitals or orphanages, grassroots protests against racism, conventions in the mountains or missions at the beach. We have built publishing houses and published magazines. We have welcomed the nations who have come to us, as well as sending our own to serve our neighbours overseas. As we adapt yet again, this time to a post-Christian and yet strangely pre-Christian society, evangelicals will pursue vital piety in a number of different ways, through our speaking gifts and our service gifts, as Peter summarises so well (1 Peter 4:10-11). Our individual contexts will vary, and our responses will no doubt also be carefully calibrated to needs and opportunities.

But in all this, please don’t ignore our story, the history of one of the most powerful Christian movements in the modern world. And to remind us of the story, let us keep using the word ‘evangelical.’ It may not be perfect, but if we did jettison it, we would still have to find another term to capture the wonderful ways that God has worked amongst conservative Protestants since the eighteenth century. We can hold this story of vital piety, or the power of godliness, in trust for the sake of the universal church. In fact, we must.

Editorial Spring 2018

 

Although the life of parishes and congregations is the fundamental expression and experience of church and the coalface of ministry, there are other levels of fellowship and ministry that arise amongst Christians. They arise, for example, from the relationships between the churches that make a diocese, and the dioceses and provinces that make a communion, these relationships being focussed and conducted through the unity and collegiality of the clergy and bishops who teach and lead these churches, dioceses and provinces.
In this issue of Essentials we hear from bishops labouring to give leadership to dioceses. I’m not sure the last time Bishop Kay Goldsworthy paid her EFAC subs (or if she ever has), but given that she is the new incumbent in the metropolitical Diocese of Perth, where I and many other evangelical Anglicans find our church home, I thought it would be good to hear from her about how she is thinking and feeling about the task of shepherding the churches and people of the Diocese of Perth. Across the continent, Bishop Richard Condie has had more time to find his feet, set a direction and seek to lead the Diocese of Tasmania on in difficult circumstances. He contributes two articles, one on the state of the Diocese, and another on the specific, current, fraught and consequential issue of making redress in the wake of the scandal of child abusers finding opportunity in churches to assault the innocent and to escape unprosecuted.
Another level of fellowship and ministry is the whole Anglican communion, which, as you will know, is being strained to breaking point by the very different theological directions in which various individuals, parishes, dioceses and provinces wish to go. GAFCON was held again in 2018, gathering together those who wish to remain where the church has historically been on issues of biblical interpretation and authority, tested at present in particular by debates over the bounds of permissibly orthodox understandings of homosexual desire and behaviour. Of course GAFCON is not about sexuality, it is about establishing and affirming the unity and collegiality of Anglicans from around the world as we seek to do what we can to keep our communion faithful, united and vital. In this issue we include three reports from Australian participants in the conference.
The training of clergy is a key factor in the character and health of the churches, and many Australians are following with interest the establishment of ETC Asia, and so ETC Asia principal Andrew Reid has given us a report on this new venture in this issue. Bishop Peter Brain brings us resources to reflect on Jesus’ rebuke to the Ephesians, ‘you have forsaken your first love’, and there are a clutch of book reviews to round out the issue.
I have had positive comments about the biographical piece on Peter Soedojo by Tony Nichols in the winter 2018 issue, and I would like to be able to include such biographical sketches from time to time. If you think you could write an interesting and encouraging appreciation of the life of faith of an admirable Christian you have known, do be in touch with me.
Ben Underwood
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Editorial Summer 2018

Our friends across the Pacific

Australia has an important relationship to the USA, and Australian Christianity has an important relationship with US Christianity. Sometimes we have been on the whole very positive about things American that wash across to our shores, sometimes we are rather more negative. Almost always reaction is mixed: as a body we might simultaneously wonder at the mysteries of the American Way, or resist what we feel is an alien and unhelpful influence, or rejoice at a great help from a good-hearted ally with much to offer, or deplore the baggage we feel they sometimes encumber us with. Our two feature articles touch on ways that US Christianity impinges upon Australian Christianity. The first is Tony Nichols’ personal account of the visit of Billy Graham in 1959 (the 60th anniversary of which approaches). As Tony testifies, plenty in the churches, including influential local leaders, doubted and resisted the Graham Crusade then, but what a moment that visit proved to be, with so many hearing him speak, either live at the venue, or by some kind of relay, and with so many later testifying what an impact it had on their spiritual lives. Tony takes us back to the ferment and excitement of the Crusade and its lasting aftermath.

Our second feature article by Rhys Bezzant begins in the present with the dismay in some quarters over Evangelical support of Donald Trump at the US presidential election. He asks whether this should make us consider shedding the label ‘evangelical’, and answers with a resounding ‘no’, seeking instead to outline briefly the long and distinguished history and associations of the term, which transcend the political turmoil and polarisation of the moment.

Our leaders are focussed on things Australian. We return to Tasmania for a further instalment of news about the energy there around the pursuit of the Diocesan Mission to be a church for Tasmania, making disciples of Jesus. We peek into the councils of the St Hilary’s Network as they wrestle with a pastoral policy responding to the amendment of the Marriage Act to provide for same-sex marriage. Third, Peter Adam honours the late Harrie Scott Simmons, an evangelical clergyman who was instrumental in his conversion, short term discipleship and long term mentoring into ordained ministry.
Adrian Lane opens up Jesus’ call to build your life on his words in Luke 6:46-49, and we round out the issue with book reviews of books by Brian Rosner, Alistair McGrath, Charles Taylor and Kevin Vanhoozer. I hope you get leisure to read some good books over the summer.

In case you worried that our interview with Bishop Kay Goldsworthy last issue was meant to signal endorsement for the kind of liberal theological agenda she has shown sympathy for, let me say that that is emphatically not the case. Rather, the interview was included in an issue with an interest in what bishops have to offer by way of vision, of analysis of what the present moment requires of Christians, of programmes for what we should be doing and why we should be doing it. Bishop Richard Condie provided one offering, and Archbishop Kay Goldsworthy provided another. As I did last issue, I leave it to readers to make up their minds for themselves about the depth, wisdom and promise of these two offerings.

As always, I value hearing from readers about how Essentials is making them smile, frown, think, give thanks or pray. And if you have something to contribute to the pages of Essentials, whether a book review, piece of news from your neck of the woods, personal story, reflection on ministry or topical essay, do be in touch.

Ben Underwood

Understanding and responding to gender dysphoria

Ben Smart is keen that Christians disentangle the strands in transgender issues, so we respond well to struggling people. Ben is on staff at St Matthew’s Shenton Park, WA

Transgender issues have increasingly become part of our cultural conversation, and they’re not about to go away. This means that all Christians—and especially Christian leaders—need to work hard at thinking through these issues and responding to them with truth and grace. We need to hold firmly to what the Bible teaches and speak its truth, but we also need to do so in a way that is gracious, compassionate, and loving. The Diocese of Sydney recently published a very helpful document called A Theology of Gender and Gender Identity.It makes many helpful points, and I want to draw attention to one in particular. In the first two paragraphs, it highlights a distinction between two phenomena that often get blurred together in our thinking on this topic. The first is gender dysphoria (or gender incongruence), and the second is non-binary gender theory (the idea that gender is a spectrum, etc.). The former is a psychological condition. The latter is an ideology. A person can suffer from the former without believing in the latter. Paragraph 1.2 explains;

‘It is important, therefore, to disentangle these two discussions. This will help us to make a wise and compassionate response to those who experience genuine gender incongruence, without having to embrace the claims of contemporary Gender Theory.’ 1 a>

My hope in this article is to help us understand gender dysphoria so that we are better equipped to give that wise and compassionate response.

What is gender dysphoria?

Strictly speaking, ‘gender incongruence’ and ‘gender dysphoria’ are distinct but related terms. Gender incongruence is a feeling of mismatch between one’s perceived gender identity and their biological sex. A mismatch between mind and body. Gender dysphoria, on the other hand, refers specifically to the psychological distress that stems from that feeling of incongruence. This feeling of distress can range from mild and periodic, to severe and debilitating. Exact numbers are hard to determine, but best estimates are that approximately 1 in 10,000 men (0.001%) and 1 in 20,000 women (0.0005%) experience gender dysphoria. For as many as 80% of children who experience gender dysphoria the condition resolves itself by adulthood without intervention. But for others it remains throughout their life and is deeply traumatic.

What causes gender dysphoria?

Gender dysphoria is not something anybody chooses. In his helpful book on this subject,2 Mark Yarhouse surveys the main theories of what causes gender dysphoria and examines the evidence put forward to support them. The two main strands of thought are the brain-sex theory, which points to biological factors in the brain, and the psychosocial theory, which point to a person’s upbringing. Essentially, these two theories are nature (it’s how their brain is wired) and nurture (it’s because they were raised in a certain way). But the evidence shows that neither of these fully account for gender dysphoria. After surveying all the claims and data, his honest admission is this: We don’t know what causes gender dysphoria (p. 79). You will hear many people confidently state that it’s simply a person’s upbringing that causes it (sexual abuse for example), but the evidence does not support that claim at all. The cause is quite mysterious, and undoubtedly a combination of many factors.

Despite this mystery, it is clear that gender incongruence and the dysphoria that follows is not something people choose. Who would choose deep psychological distress? People don’t choose to go through all the pain and difficulty of gender dysphoria. That might seem obvious, but it’s a point that needs emphasising. For just as Christians have (wrongly) claimed that people simply choose to be same-sex attracted, Christians today may believe that people simply choose gender incongruence and dysphoria. But when we believe this, we will not only fail to listen to those who are experiencing these struggles, but we will add to their pain by blaming them for the distress they’re facing. Yarhouse shares the story of a 16 year old girl named Ella who came to him with her parents for consultation:

‘Both her parents expressed dismay at their daughter’s claim that she was born the wrong sex. They did not know what to make of her statements that she was a boy. In a private meeting with Ella, I was talking to her about theories about the etiology of gender incongruence. At one point I shared, “I don’t think you chose to experience your gender incongruence. It sounds like you ‘found yourself’ with these experiences of incongruence at a fairly young age, and that your experience of dysphoria has increased in recent years.” She was stunned. I asked her about her blank expression. Ella shared, “My mom and dad have taken me to three pastors. All of them said I chose this—that I was sinning. All three said this gender thing was a sign of my disobedience. You are the first person I’ve talked to who said I didn’t choose to feel this way.”’ (p. 58)

We can well imagine how difficult, confusing and shameful the lead-up to this moment must have been for Ella. Instead of helping her come to grips with the psychological distress she was facing and offering support to her in walking through it, Christian leaders told her she was sinning and that she chose this. This kind of response will silence people with these struggles, or chase them away from the church. Jesus has hope to offer those with gender dysphoria, but if we shame them into silence, we will never be able to walk with them and show them what that hope is.

This is not an 'us verses them' issue

The reality is that there are people in our churches who are struggling with gender dysphoria. When we talk about transgender issues primarily as a ‘culture war’ and ‘us vs. them’ issue, it can make it extremely difficult for these people. It may make them feel even more ashamed and confused, and isolate them. It’s true that there are people who want to transform society and eliminate God’s good design of gender. There are those who argue for non-binary gender theory and want to impose it on the rest of society. But they are a vocal minority. Yarhouse has counselled many people who struggle with gender dysphoria, and he points out that,

‘most transgender people I know are not in favour of a genderless society. Quite the opposite: they favour a gendered society, but they long for a sense of congruence in which their mind and body align. Most are not meaning to participate in a culture war; they are casualties of a culture war.’ (p. 42)

We can respond compassionately to those who struggle with gender dysphoria (the psychological condition) without embracing the claims of contemporary gender theory (the ideology). We need to disentangle the two from each other so we can care for those who struggle with genuine gender incongruence.

So how can we do a better job at loving people in this situation? We can start by taking the time to learn about gender dysphoria, being willing to listen to those who struggle with it, and not to blame them for their situation. Churches need to be places that are safe for people with gender dysphoria to talk about their struggles. Jesus said that he didn’t come for the healthy, but the sick. So Jesus’ church will not be for people who have it all together—because none of us do. We all experience brokenness and the reality of living in a fallen world in different ways, whether we’re gay or straight, cis or trans. We’re all just as in need of God’s grace, and we’re all just as loved by him. So we need to work hard at loving those who suffer gender dysphoria.

Taking up our cross and following Jesus

Just to be crystal clear, I am not in any way saying that loving those who struggle with gender dysphoria means embracing contemporary gender theory. On the contrary, I believe the most loving thing we can do is point them to Jesus and to God’s good design of humanity as male and female. Following Jesus is never easy, and for those who struggle with gender dysphoria—just as for the rest of us—following Jesus means taking up our cross, denying ourselves, and looking to him to find our identity rather than looking within ourselves and how we feel.

If you want a more thorough explanation of a Christian response to transgender issues, I highly recommend God and the Transgender Debateby Andrew T. Walker (reviewed in this issue of Essentials). But hopefully this article has been a good starting point so that we are better equipped to respond wisely and compassionately to those who struggle in this area.

If someone shares with you that they are struggling with their gender identity, please don’t assume they have chosen it or are sinning simply by having this struggle. Have compassion on them, listen to them, love them, and keep pointing them to Christ. Experiencing gender dysphoria is not easy, and they’re going to need your help and encouragement to persevere in taking up their cross and following Jesus.

Footnotes

1. www.sds.asn.au/sites/default/files/ATheologyOfGenderAnd GenderIdentity (SydDoctrineCommission).Aug2017.pdf?doc_id=NTQ3NjY%3D

2.Mark A. Yarhouse, Understanding Gender Dysphoria: Navigating Transgender Issues in a Changing Culture (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP, 2015).