Sydney Anglicans Going Missional?

Mission demands downsizing Sunday. This was the message of Total Church author Steve Timmis to Sydney Anglicans recently at Moore College.

You can read the full article at

Now the curious thing here is Timmis was apparently quite keen to distance himself from the emerging church movement (“He says it just a historical accident that that Crowded House began around the same time that the emerging church was coming to prominence”). And yet, this message is the same message I’ve been pushing and modelling myself (“Less expectations need be loaded onto a single hour each Sunday”) as a missional approach to doing church. And of course I’m not alone there. Really, just an accident?

Sounds to me that Timmis’ is possibly playing word games or maybe just operating out of a narrower definition of emerging church than I do. My definition includes Reformergent types within a broader, global understanding of the movement. His definition sounds possibly reliant on the Don Carson definition which, if taken seriously, would limit your vision to a narrower, Emergent Village centric understanding of the movement that would exclude even myself. How much of this difference is just semantic? There is certainly a degree of overlap.

Anyway, maybe if we can work past the semantics to true understanding there may be some common ground opening up here in Sydney. I have been encouraged by the conversations I have been having with more missionally open Anglicans here in Sydney. I still have some areas of serious disagreement with the Archbishop, particularly his media silence over gay hate groups like the “God Hates Fags” crowd, but I conceed that is something we may just have to agree to disagree on and if the Jensens are allowing missional talk at Moore College then that sounds encouraging.

I would like to think that one day those committed to mission in Sydney could work closer together. I think the big stumbling block is going to be penal substitution model of the atonement though. Moore College seems to teach this as the only valid model and Mathias media doggedly hangs on to the “Two Ways to Live” gospel and it various clones. But there are many outsiders like myself who consider penal substitution only one of many models that may be drawn on, and not always the most appropriate one. Can we work together for the gospel given such disagreements over how narrowly we define the gospel? I suspect there’s a lot of ground to cover first, even for those equally committed to mission. I hope there are those who are willing to take the journey.

11 thoughts on “Sydney Anglicans Going Missional?

  1. Whenever anyone uses the world total three things immediately spring to my mind.
    The parable of Humpty Dumpty which tells us that all the kings horses and all the kings men can never ever put the totality back together again.
    How can fallen, sinful people, even convicted of “original sin”, ever create anything that encompasses the totality of all things.


  2. Well I am still trying to lay my hands on a copy so I have no idea why he called it that. I can hazard some guesses but would prefer to wait. I have been reading some of the reviews and it does sound like there is some meat in this.


  3. Actually, I thought I’d throw in here a link to a review by Michael Jensen, son of the Sydney Anglican Archbishop.
    It would seem the book has stretched him, but ultimately gets the thumbs up. But from all the rewiews I am reading it seems to be focussing on many things I would, about the medium and the message and text and context being deeply interrelated. Just with different language. I get the inkling it may be communicating some of what missional Christians find important to Reformed Christians in a language they understand, that’s not as offensive as some of our language evidently is. It seems to be reassuring them that you can be more missional-incarnational without watering down the gospel. I am wondering if this book has potential as a bridge builder, at least in the Aussie context.


  4. Hey Matt,
    There are some decent discussions now happening amongst the Syd Ang crew which is good.
    I went to the conference which was very good. I think Timmis’s point re: lack of alignment with the emerging church was not so much a limited scope (EV only) but more that what they ended up doing with TCH was through their own thinking & wrestling with scripture rather than driven ideologically by dialogue with others. So in that sense they were probably emerging in the broad sense of the term but ignorantly so!
    My feeling is that many things with the Crowded House Model will resonate with you. I am reading the book myself at the moment which is proving helpful.
    One thing I would say re: Syd Ang and Total church is that there would be significant challenges for this model re: leadership. Some voices though are up for challenging the status quo here which is great.
    On the PSA issue you mention, I think you will find that many in the reformed camp are happy with a multi-faceted theology of Christ’s work on the cross. The main beef is the denial of PSA altogether, not a lack of exclusive focus on it.


  5. Yes, as someone who has taught the atonement at Moore in 2nd year doctrine, can I confirm what Jeff says? PSA is affirmed, but definitely the full range of biblical language and metaphor is taught. In the uk this is far more emphasised.
    I also thought the TC book could be an interesting bridge builder – showing that you could use innovative and missional methods of doing church without falling into theological sloppiness.


  6. Jeff, well, you see the thing is, the same could be said for many emerging church pioneers.
    What we today call the emerging church conversation emerged as more and more people working independantly at the grass roots level came to realize there were others working independantly at the grass roots level and decided, hey, we’re doing similar things, it may be worthwhile talking together about this. So it didn’t start as a top-down ideology driven thing at all, it was a messy bottom-up emergent thing, hence the name. Many of us were doing this before we had a name for it. I certainly was.
    Now, as things have gotten more centrally co-ordinated in “some” quarters the scene has shifted, but there are still plenty of us in the global scene that don’t buy into what is touted as the grand “ideology” any more than you do. There is still a healthy diversity of opinion and this is what Carson missed. For instance, though I appreciate some of what Brien McLaren has said, I don’t take my marching orders from him, and, in the one conversation I have had with him, it was apparent we had very different views on some subjects. I am fine with that. And on the one occasion where Carson did engage in conversation with emerging church leaders in Australia he conceeded he wouldn’t call anything in Australia “emerging church” as he understood it. This is precisely the definitional gap I alluded to. Whether people appropriate the name or not seems to have more to do with expediency in their context, the external ideologies they butt up against, than anything else. The label often doesn’t tell you one iota about what missional leader’s views actually are with so many fuzzy and divergent definitions floating around. All it says is that they’re Christians trying to engage with culture in ways that are a bit new and experimental.
    So, some are more evangelical, some are less so. The fact that the Australian scene contains both Uniting Church and Baptist leaders who are miles apart on some issues is testament to the broadness of it. No single ideology encompasses everything going on. It is in this broader definition, one that allows for theological diversity, that I think there IS space for those more informed by the Reformed tradition.
    But if its not, if the word “emerging church” is just too closely associated with “emergent village” for comfort then, that’s fine, just remember that even when I apply it to myself … you shouldn’t, if you’re going to be consistent. For if you don’t you’d be at risk of projecting some associations and agreements that just aren’t there. Diversity reigns in truly emergent systems.
    As for the Crowded House Model, from reading the blogs and reviews on Total Church it sounded like their leadership model was one of the things that would reasonate with me (laughs). That could make for some interesting conversations.
    On PSA, I don’t deny it, its just the least preferred model in my kit bag. I should explain this though: the model depends utterly on a deep understanding of the Trinity, for when PSA becomes uncoupled from Trinitarian understanding it can quickly start sounding like divine child abuse. I consider it reasonably safe for use amongst, say, lax or nominal Christians in need of revival, but extremely high risk for initial encounters with the utterly unchurched, who are of course the people I witness mostly amongst. Quite simply, I consider it a deeper mystery best left for later, after the Trinity is more fully appreciated.
    And my observation from my time in Sydney Anglican circles is that whilst a diversity of models may be accepted by some in theory, it is so rarely practiced at the coal face that its almost a moot point. My personal experience was that while talk of gospel contextualization didn’t get me people like me thrown out or burned at the stake, it was by and large casually ignored. But this is obviously an important area for discussion, for seeing if there is more common ground moving forward.


  7. Sorry Michael, missed your comment before answering Jeff. It is reassuring to hear a broader range of models and metaphors is taught systematically, but I think I would stick to what I said about the gap at the coal face situation.
    I base this on (1) personal experience as a convert to Christianity through a Sydney Anglican church (where I met Jeff), (2) as a small group leader and helper in Sydney Anglican evangelistic programs there and elsewhere, as well as (3) through hearing a wide range of speakers at various Sydney Anglican churches and conferences.
    You mention in the UK the diversity is more emphasized, I suppose that’s the crux of it then, the emphasis, and how its less in Australia. But if its only a matter of emphasis and not one of fundamental disagreement then I suppose there’s some elbow room isn’t there. Of course there are those that reject substitutionary atonement altogether, I don’t deny that, but, there’s that diversity rearing its head again. Maybe Sydney Anglicanism can’t work with all the emerging church but maybe it could work with some of it. Is that too fuzzy?
    I expect it’s how we denine theological sloppiness that’s the important issue. You should have a look at the comments here on personality types.
    The issue is, that what some call unnecessary sloppiness, others call necessary breathing space. So is there space for people to be theologically “sloppy” yet orthodox, ideosyncratic but non-heretical? Or, can you be tollerably “sloppy” in peripherals if you’re “solid” on the essentials? And how would you define these essentials? Nicene Creed? PSA? 5 point Calvanism? More?
    For me to consider someone Christian its enough they affirm that Jesus is risen and is Lord (Romans 10:9) and my working benchmark for theological orthodoxy is the Nicene Creed (or a critically contextualized understanding that affirms much the same things). Or to put it another way, the closer the issue is to who Jesus is and what he has done, the more important it is. That leaves a lot of room for perceived sloppiness, to the left or the right, without parting company. As I’ve already said, I accept PSA too, but its not a benchmark for me. I may disagree with people who deny it ANY validity (for Jesus is the Lamb of God) but I don’t trot out the H word that easily. And, as an aside, think twice before drawing conclusions on where I stand on Calvanism vs Arminianism; I’m not Reformed but it’s not that simple.
    I could handle being regarded as “sloppy” from a Reformed perspective; it’s when the ante is upped to emerging church as “heresy” that things become unworkable my end. So how (if?) people publically distinguish between the two is vitally important. There are others I might consider sloppy within the emerging church, but the proportion who I’d consider heretical is considerably smaller, by a rather wide margin. Of course, I should say with all this, may we mutually sharpen one another.


  8. Hi Matt
    one of the things I appreciate in what Timmis is doing is that the gospel drives everything. Obviously you need to look at what he means by “the gospel” but I think you find its something like “the rescuing rule of Jesus in bringing about a people for his own glory”.
    This informs how he understands other loaded terms like missional, mission of God, church and the like.
    On that, Steve and I went to the Forge Grassroots Festival a couple of weeks ago and were pretty disappointed to be honest. If that is what ‘Emerging’ is, then it is no surprise that he would distance himself from the movement (though his comment in the media interview came prior to Melbourne).
    Stay tuned, i am hoping that Steve or I or both together might write on what I have been learning along with my relfections and concerns from a reformed yet radical eccleisological perspective.
    On the Don Carson book, whilst i like alot of D.A’s stuff I found that book his most disappointing for two reasons.
    1. he sees Emerging church as an epistomological movement – I don’t think emerging is that well thought out to be post modern in any systematic way to be honest, and its not the way the more vocal emerging types see themselves. If anything it is primarily a protest ecclesiology from the hungover and disenchanted children of evangelicalism.
    2. Carson does some serious straw maning in the two examples he uses by taking the worst examples in McClaren and Chalke. Its like typifying all 80’s music through the lens of Michael Jackson and Madonna.
    a far better critique (and more sympathetic) is Scot Mc Night.
    I am interested in your terminology by the way. Like distinguishing between reformed and missional. or making a statement like Sydney Anglicans becoming missional. your own terms seem pretty loaded and got me thinking “what does he mean when he says …”
    imo missional incarnational language needs a lot of work – partly because it doesnlt seem to be the language of the bible, and in practice ends up in imitating Christ in a way that forgets his uniqueness and exaltation and glory of the FAther- but I’ll wirte more on that later.
    one final comment – Total Church concept is lost on most Australians unless you can remember a syle of Dutch Football in the 70’s and 80’s where every player played every position on the field. The more accessible idea of ‘Total’ is gospel intentionality in the whole or total sum of life. (Steve Timmis is sadly a Man U tragic)
    trust that makes sense
    in Jesus


  9. Shane,
    Yes how we understand loaded terms like missional, church and gospel is important.
    In saying “the gospel drives everything”, is Timmis saying (sharing the) gospel drives everything or (Christ whom we know through) the gospel drives everything? I would find it difficult to affirm the former but easily affirm the latter; reason being that evangelism is only part of what I see glorifying God as being about, and I see God as the ultimate driver here, not anything we do.
    Your explanation helps a little but not heaps, not least because I am also wary of “rescuing” metaphors; in my mind that language is far too closely associated with Left Behind type eschatology. But I trust that is not your intended meaning and so take this as more of a semantic issue. So not a major issue but for the record I am far more comfortable talking about his “mediating” role and the like which I find are far less suggestive of divine indifference to fleshy and material reality.
    On the Forge Grassroots Festival I can’t really comment as I wasn’t able to attend. I do appreciate what Alan (and Mike) have been saying elsewhere about ecclesiology following missiology and all that, but you only have to compare between our blogs to see our missiology is still different in many ways, so again, diversity to contend with. It may take a deeper look to understand it all. And hey, as I have no idea what the others might have said, well, I am not going to prempt anything. I’d have to read Steve’s comments and hear other sides to gauge how much I’d agree with or not. Do you have a URL?
    I would be interested in what you’d write on reformed yet radical ecclesiology. Note that part of what I’m interested in exploring in my context is multi-cultural church, and how people with vastly different perspectives can coexist and pull together within the one community. Can Charismatics, Calvanists and guys like myself work together without strangling each other (laughs) is part of that.
    It’s encouraging that people like yourself are reading Carson’s book critically. I agree there are many things worth critiquing within the emerging church but setting up straw men wasn’t the most constructive way for Carson to go about it so his effort was dissappointing. Critiques from people who are actually engaging with the movement across the broader spectrum have a greater chance of hitting the mark. I am quite open to what Scot McKnight has had to say.
    As for my terminology, I suspect you may have caught me using too big brush strokes as well but recall I did acknowledge there are already some (like yourself) who seem to be pursuing more missional approaches. To clarify my terminology in using the word missional I am first and foremost challenging the “field of dreams” approach of “If we build it they will come” and instead advocating a “meet people where they are at” model. In the process I am also challenging the conventional dichotomy between overseas cross-cultural mission and local mono-cultural evangelism, advocating we bring much of what was learned overseas back home and apply it in our increasingly multi-cultural Australia.
    Note however, that missional for me includes gospel contextualization, not just church contextualization. It involves meeting people where they are at holistically; cognitively and not just physically. I do not suggest we abandon a commitment to Jesus as the way, the truth and the life, but I do suggest that different language, motifs and metaphors may be needed to communicate this. By way of illustration, I once participated in a Sydney Anglican effort to reach business people in a pub in North Sydney. But I became disenchanted because while their bodies were in the pub their minds were not, not by a long shot. No one but me was willing to have a beer for starters, let alone get more deeply in tune with the context, and how God might have preparing the way within that context. Nice people, but contextualization means more that a shift in decore. That’s one of the things I find important.
    As for missional-incarnational language, I agree it needs work and would be happy to bounce it around with you guys. See here for starters and note that the tension between the uniqueness and universality of Christ was something I specifically highlighted. See, I find falling away to either side is equally problematic and would assert there are problems with practice on both sides of the fence. Neither error is lesser. What I think needs to be reaffirmed is a commitment to Christ as both 100% divine and 100% human and what needs to be renounced is either / or compromises. So, his uniqueness and exaltation and the holiness and glory of God are things I would agree need to be kept in center stage, but I am afraid a problem I find very much in evidence amongst committed Christians is the opposite, a tendency to dehumanize Jesus, to turn him into a mere formula and ignore his example. As for the language, “incarnational” ultimately derives from John 1 but I agree it’s been loaded up with Philippians 2:5-11 as well. As for not being the precise language of the Bible, well neither is gospel or Trinity really. Back to the beginning though, I am happy to chisel off the rough edges with you. Note we are not using it without precident though, we are following overseas missionaries like Hiebert and others.
    On the last comment, I had to Google Man U to see what you meant (I was wondering if you were talking about a Promise Keepers clone) so point taken.


  10. Hi Matt,
    I theorise that any narrowness of understanding on the coal face is due to a general lack of proper systematic theological instruction. This is a HUGE beef of mine and, in my view, is a symptom of a purpose driven/willowcreek-isation of many SA churches. Big harsh call I know, but not completely without substance.
    Personally I’m not sure how we can have a “preferred” (or least preferred) atonement model. For my understanding (and my learned friends MJ and Shane could better justify I’m sure) we really need to be holding all facets together to understand the whole. Perhaps you are saying “don’t lead with PSA”, but at the end of the day, the very fact of Jesus’ crucifiction is just that – a big fat (from our viewpoint) undeniable fact! Surely people will ask why on earth did Jesus have to die? Sure you can answer this with Christus Exemplar, but this seems (to me anyway) to be “worse” than penal substition if you pitch it as a preferred model. Reason being, if the main thrust of the killing of Jesus was as an example for us then that seems way OTT.
    Also, it seems to me that PSA is much more a gospel issue than a trinitarian issue. I get how the interplay between the Father and Son comes to bear on the issue, however, for me PSA lies at the heart of the gospel so I find it hard to see how it can be minimised, even to those who find it offensive. After all, the scriptures do say the gospel is offensive and PSA is definitely one of the key reasons why!
    Again, I am a lay Christian with little theological training (save almost 20 yrs of being a Christian!) so may be off track.
    Grace and peace,


  11. Jeff, I was conversing with Shane via facebook and we both agreed it would be better to meet in person to talk through some of this in greater depth than the medium here allows.
    In talking of preference, yes I am talking more in terms of whether it should be in the front seat or the back seat of the discipleship car, I am not suggesting it shouldn’t be along for the ride. Towards understanding of where I am coming from biblically I would suggest reading Acts, keeping a critical eye open as to how often resurrection (as climax to the crucifixion) is the “good news” the apostles preach in comparison to the crucifixion (as PSA spelt out in detail). Or for that matter, look at what Peter leads with in 1 Peter, what comes later and take a harder look at some of his more explicit statements like 1 Peter 3:21-22. That’s just some off the top of my head examples. As a holistic minded guy I acknowledge I’d be inconsistent if I said it ok not to cover PSA at some point, so don’t hear me as saying that. PSA is an important way of understanding the crucifixion, but I don’t see it as “the gospel” in an exclusive, exhaustive and holistic capital letter sense. And while saying yes teach it at some point, I also warn that serious risks attend using it before you’ve got people up to speed with the Trinity. Yet I have often seen PSA used amongst the totally unchurched with little or no mention of the Trinity, as if , oh that’s so much harder. Well its not for some of the people I walk amongst, that’s the truth, so this grass roots problem concerns me greatly.
    And so far I have only alluded to how the nuances of the Father-Son relationship are important. A deep discussion would also involve talking about the Father-Spirit and son-spirit relationship too. Their is a blind spot in contemporary evangelistic training when it comes to witnessing amongst pantheists and panentheists. Standard training tends to have this built in presumption that the most likely people you will be witnessing amongst will be atheists, or at least profoundly secular, and so training tends to be structured accordingly, with all the focus on the Father and virtually none on the Spirit. This is a bad, bad, really bad mistake with pantheists, and I can say this from the experience of having been one once and having witnessed amongst pantheists for over a decade. There needs to be much more focus on the Spirit amongst pantheists and panentheists, right up front. Some times the Spirit is the “alter to the unknown God” (Acts 17) in the lives of the people I meet. But again, this just opens up another Pandora’s box I’m sure so would be better to speak in person. So, open to that?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s