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EFAC Australia

General

Rob and Claire Smith begin to address what you have probabaly noticed—that there is a continuing and deepening advocacy in our culture for further revolution in our attitudes to gender and identity.

Rev Rob Smith is an Anglican Minister at St Andrew's Cathedral, Sydney. He teaches theology at Sydney Missionary & Bible College and works for the Department of Ministry Training & Development.
Dr Claire Smith is women's Bible teacher and the author of God's Good Design: What the Bible Really Says About Men and Women (Matthias Media, 2012).

The transgender tipping point
In May 2014, a year before Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner became headline news around the world, the cover story of TIME magazine declared that we’ve now reached a ‘transgender tipping point’. Sociologically speaking, a tipping point is that point in time when a minority is able to bring about a significant change in the minds of the majority, such that long-held attitudes are reversed and the momentum on an issue begins to move in a completely new direction.
That new attitude and direction is, in essence, a new way of thinking about gender. And it really is new. Much of the discourse on homosexuality over the last 40 years has been about the fluidity or variability of sexual orientation, but not about the fluidity or variability of gender itself. In fact, both sides in the same-sex ‘debate’ have tended to view gender as something that is not only binary (i.e., you’re either male or female) but also as something that is fixed (i.e., it’s determined by your biological sex).

Bringing the Gospel to our World

Are we tempted to trust more in methods for gospel growth, than in the gospel itself?

The Anglican Futures Conference in Melbourne in March was a great time. Lots of people (465) from all states and New Zealand, excellent organisation, stimulating plenary sessions and a great variety of highly appreciated workshops. And finished with a financial surplus. The Conference touched on a number of important areas in our life as Anglican Christians and this issue of Essentials follows up more of those matters.

We have more summaries of some of the papers and discussions of other issues as well. Jude Long continues to give us some insights into Indigenous matters and Peter Brain critiques the significant General Synod Report of the Viability and Structures Task Force. (Peter has further material in Facing the Future: Bishops Imagine A Different Church Stephen Hale (Ed), Andrew Curnow (Ed) ISBN 9780908284900).

Plans, methods, schemes and models continue to proliferate in the attempt to bring the gospel to our world. Many of them represent ways in which God has blessed the work of his servants. However evangelicals know better than to trust in the repetition of things that worked somewhere else. What we ought to continue to trust in is the gospel itself and the Lord who continues to spontaneously expand his church, to use the words of Roland Allen.

Allen has wise words for a generation entrenched in method. “By spontaneous expansion I mean something which we cannot control. And if we cannot control it, we ought, as I think, to rejoice that we cannot control it. For if we cannot control it, it is because it is too great for us, not because it is too small for us. The great things of God are beyond our control. Therein lies a vast hope. Spontaneous expansion could fill the continents with the knowledge of Christ...” That was in 1927. It seems that he was right. A number of our book reviews highlight the same story.

In the face of competing stresses, opposition, and white-anting, evangelicals are under pressure to be ashamed of the gospel. But most evangelicals are unlikely to give it away. We are more likely to be tempted to trust in gospel methods than in the gospel.

Dale Appleby, Essentials Editor

Tradition and change, old and new, debates, opinions, discussions, experiments, can make one feel a bit sea-sick. If you pay attention to social media you will hear lots of voices telling you what's wrong with church and why people don't like going. To a lesser extent you will hear some discussion of what kind of message, or what form the message might take, in relation to different groups – Muslims, secular atheists and so on. You might even hear a variety of ideas about the Bible and how to read it.

Church, gospel, Bible are of great interest to evangelicals. And the broad church that is modern evangelicalism has a whole range of views on these topics. And these are not even the controversial Shibboleth topics. So much talk could drive you to the monastery.

Or make you think you were in the monastery and wanted to get out.

What we may not hear much of in the monastery is talk about the criminally oppressed poor. Or talk about our indigenous brothers and sisters. But, I suppose that depends on which cell you are in.

Are there too many voices? Is the Christian world too noisy? Is it a post-Babel world where everyone talks and no one understands? Maybe. But the post-Babel world is a very old world. And although God spoke everything into being before Babel, he continued to speak to the world after Babel as well.

Can he be heard? Can I hear him? Sometimes we can identify with David who recognised that God had dug out his ears for him (Ps 40.6 ESV fn). Quite an interesting picture, don't you think?  Paul says it a bit more eloquently, “For God, who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.” (2 Cor 4.6).

Both of those can be turned into excellent prayers.  Amongst the noise, we want to keeping hearing the voice, and seeing the light, of God himself.

What happened at the AFC shouldn’t stay at the AFC.

This issue of Essentials seeks to capture some of the central themes of the recent Anglican Future Conference (AFC) held in Melbourne in March. We include here as feature articles edited versions of talks given at the AFC by Stephen Hale and Peter Adam. These two pieces give a sense of the burden of the conference: a concern for Anglican effectiveness in engaging with our society in evangelism, coupled with an interest in the ways that Australian Anglicans might imagine better alternatives to our current methods and structures, then plan humbly and change flexibly to meet the challenges of this historical moment. The decline of churches and the rise of a post-Christian West form a sombre backdrop in these articles. Stephen and Peter encourage us to see in the foreground the bright possibility of ministering the old gospel through changed or new means. Stephen suggests some practical and proximate ways ahead, and Peter digs into history to remind us that Anglicanism is always transitional: it has changed radically and can change again to overcome weaknesses and seize opportunities. Peter especially encourages us to trust that God will honour his Word, save his people and fulfill his ancient promises whatever the future holds.

I am pleased that we have a series of short reflections on the conference by some of those who were there. Their places of life and ministry vary widely, and they all offer distinctive observations arising from the conference. They remind us of the variety of delegates who were at the conference and the range of concerns which evangelical Anglicans have about our Anglican present and future. The conference was jointly hosted by EFAC Australia and The Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (FCA) Australia, and first up in this issue we debrief the AFC in an interview with conference ringmasters Stephen Hale (EFAC Chair) and Richard Condie (FCA Chair). They pack a lot of comment into a small space, and appeal to us to continue to talk and think together, wherever we are, about our Anglican future. To this end, Essentials intends to publish more material from the conference in forthcoming issues, and we hope that in these pages you might find a place where the conversation about these matters continues in an insightful, useful and encouraging way, galvanising our faithful, hopeful, joyful and (may it please God) indomitable service of the one for whom we live, and who lives and works in us, Jesus our Lord and Saviour.

P.S. Don’t miss Kanishka’s Bible study from 2 Peter 1, and his moving account of the singular protest against Nazi persecution of Jews led by Yorta Yorta man William Cooper in 1941. You’ll find it at the back, in The Caboose.

Ben Underwood Shenton Park, WA is Acting Editor of Essentials.

Our day is not unique in being concerned for effective methods to proclaim the gospel. There seems to be no end to the different means by which the gospel can be proclaimed. Amongst churches that aren't too keen on an evangelical gospel, the methods of evangelicals still seem attractive. But the search for good means to evangelise can confuse us.
Such a search assumes that we are the organisers and leaders of evangelism. But this is a mistake. God is the Evangelist. And it is he who chooses and uses his own methods. Of which there are three: his gospel, his Spirit, and his disciples.  We are one of the means and part of the method. Although we have found that the Holy Spirit has used us in some particular ways in the past, we should not be confused about what has happened. We can look back at large gatherings for evangelism (Whitfield, Moody, Graham). We can remember small scale efforts (Dialogue Evangelism, Alpha). We know about personal evangelism, and apologetics, and church planting. But merely repeating the method does not necessarily produce the same effects.
Because those means are not the primary means. Gospel, Spirit, Disciple – they are the means.
Another temptation we face is to make the gospel sound reasonable. To put it in the terms which our hearers want to hear it. To clothe it in a form or style that makes the hearers feel comfortable.  This is different to stating it in terms that they can understand: in their language and in thought forms which they can grasp. Always we should try to make the gospel clear and plain. 
But the gospel intentionally subverts humans' demands to have it expressed according to the way they view reality. It intentionally appears foolish and weak. That is part of God's really effective method. Explaining the foolish message of the crucified Lord does require some careful tracking to make it clear in plain language without adapting it so that it is no longer the gospel but just an agreeable religious message. 
That is one reason we need to follow the Spirit as the chief Director of Evangelism and not get too carried away with the really good ideas we have tried out or read about. 
In this issue of Essentials we have a lot about Mission. Lots of books and practical ideas. Quite a few are set in the context of Islam. Evangelism amongst Muslims, I think,  is a good case study of the poverty of methods and the power of God's means. Grant Lock's Shoot Me First is a wonderful testimony to God's power. I hope you are encouraged by this issue. 

Dale Appleby

Dale Appleby is the rector 
of Christ the King Willetton 
and the editor of Essentials

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