Looking Up Down Under

Monday, 08 Sep 2014

I’ve just returned from nearly 3 weeks in Australia, encouraged and enlightened. I went to Moore Theological College in Sydney to deliver the annual Moore Lectures, founded in 1977 with F. F. Bruce. My topic was “Lord and Giver of Life: A Theology of the Holy Spirit.” I added a week-long intensive course at Sydney’s Presbyterian seminary (Christ College), finishing up in Brisbane on Saturday (Queensland Theological College) and Sunday (preaching at Village Church).

Founded in 1856, Moore College is not only the premier Anglican seminary in Australia, but has long been a model and resource for evangelical Anglicans worldwide. As the website puts it, “The college has a strong tradition of conservative evangelical and Reformed theology with a strong emphasis on biblical languages, the use of primary sources and, critically, the importance of learning in community.” With 600 students, Moore continues to train all of the ministers in the Sydney diocese as well as many others. There aren’t many seminaries (much less Anglican dioceses) with an unbroken succession of evangelical ministry. Especially when compared with the Church of England and the Episcopal Church in the U.S. and Canada, Sydney churches are thriving.   And they’re planting churches locally in challenging mission-fields (including Muslim neighborhoods) as well as training ministers for Asia, India, and beyond.

I first became familiar with Moore as an outsider when I was doing my doctoral work in Oxford, England. You might recognize other Moore faculty from the recent past, such as Broughton Knox, Paul Barnett, Peter Jenson, Graeme Goldsworthy, and the recently retired but still (happily) active New Testament scholar, Peter O’Brien.

Today Moore College is led by Mark Thompson. Prof. Thompson has written a number of key articles and books on the theology of Luther and Calvin as well as critiques of contemporary challenges to classic views of Scripture and Christ’s saving work. Mark is also a key leader in the Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, the result of the 2008 Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) in Jerusalem. GAFCON leaders called for the event because of “a false gospel” actively promoted in the Anglican Communion that “denies the uniqueness of Jesus Christ” and affirms homosexual practice “as a universal human right.” I met Mark in Oxford many moons ago (sharing Alister McGrath as a supervisor) and he was my host—with his wife Kathryn and four lovely girls for the two weeks in Sydney. Fellowship with faculty members and their family over dinner and morning tea with scholars like Peter O’Brien were additional privileges.

Over one afternoon, Glen Davies, Archbishop of Sydney, explained the work that the Lord is doing not only in Sydney but through “confessing Anglicans” globally.  I also taught a week-long intensive course at Sydney’s Presbyterian seminary, Christ College.The course was “Reformed Ecclesiology in Changing Contexts,” with a full class of students, pastors, and—to my delight—faculty who were especially encouraging and informative. I also gave their annual Ferrie Lecture. The Presbyterian Church in Australia is composed of the 600 congregations (with 54,000 members) that refused to join the Uniting Church in 1977 and is engaged energetically in church planting and missions.

The trip concluded with a weekend at the Presbyterian seminary in Brisbane (Queensland Theological College) and preaching at Village Church. It was especially nice being hosted by a good friend from Oxford, Gary Millar, and his family. Gary is a superb Old Testament scholar and is actively engaged in missions. You may know him as a regular participant in The Gospel Coalition, both in the States and in Australia.

As Archbishop Davies pointed out, there are more Anglicans in Nigeria than in the Church of England and the Episcopal denominations of the U.S., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand combined.   The same can be said of Reformed and Presbyterian churches: with 8 million Nigerian members, compared to 367,000 members in the Presbyterian Church in America, the largest conservative Reformed denomination in the US.. Establishing closer ties with reformers in key centers of the Global South will be crucial for us at WHI especially as we seek to help brothers and sisters in the developing world to avoid catching North American viruses and to help them to know what they believe and why they believe it.

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