Christians for Biblical Equality

An outsider's response to an insider's defence of the Anglican Diocese of Sydney given by  Michael P. Jensen in his book, ' Sydney Anglicanism: An Apology', (Eugene, Or.:  Wipf and Stock, 2012).
Kevin Giles

(I encourage those who get this paper to buy Michaels' book and read it carefully before reading my response and when they read my work that they check carefully my quotes of what Michael says.)
A book defending the Anglican Diocese of Sydney, written by a true blue Sydney evangelical Anglican, is well overdue after a number of books written by critics who have majored on what they think are the more negative aspects of the diocese. Few could be better placed to do this than Michael Jensen. He has lived most of his life in the diocese; he is the son of the Archbishop of Sydney, and therefore free to say things no one else could say without crippling censure or marginalisation; he is a lecturer at Moore Theological College, the flag ship of the diocese, and he is a scholar, holding a doctorate from Oxford University.

Before turning to what Michael says,[i] I need to make it clear that when I speak of “Sydney Anglicans” or “Sydney”, like him, I am speaking collectively of those who endorse the prevailing doctrines and practices of the Anglican Diocese of Sydney, and in particular of those who hold power in the diocese. I am well aware that there are many dissenting voices, and on some matters, Michael Jensen is one of these.


Several of the chapter headings in this book are given as questions and following this pattern I respond with a list of questions for consideration.

Are Sydney evangelicals simply evangelicals?

The many contemporary books on evangelicalism are agreed that contemporary evangelicalism is a very diverse phenomenon and that there are many different kinds of evangelicals: Reformed evangelicals of several varieties, charismatic evangelicals, social-activist evangelicals, Arminian evangelicals and even “post-evangelicals”.[ii] At an even deeper level, some argue evangelicalism is divided between those who have sharp and well defined boundaries as to who is “in” and who is “out” of the evangelical fold, and those who have fuzzy and open boundaries. [iii] Throughout his book Michael Jensen argues or implies that Sydney Anglicans are just evangelicals.[iv] He claims that much of the criticism they get is simply because they are evangelicals. However, virtually everyone outside of Sydney, including other evangelicals, are convinced that there is something quite distinctive about Sydney evangelicals. I have travelled widely and wherever I go people indicate this belief the minute I say I trained at Moore Theological College Sydney.  Michael acknowledges that the Sydney kind of evangelicalism is distinctively “Calvinist” or “Reformed”.[v] I would add that it is also distinguished and characterised by its congregational ecclesiology;  its view that church on Sunday is a “gathering” rather than a time for worship;  its insistence that the preaching of the Gospel has precedence over both social concern/action and the sacraments;  its opposition to the manifestation of spiritual gifts, especially the healing ministry; its synod-endorsed doctrine of the eternal subordination of the Son, and by its principled opposition to the leadership of women in the church and the home.

When we come to the closed and open boundaries division, there can be no debating that Sydney theologians tend to have very sharply defined boundaries. Not only are liberals and catholic Christians regarded as not among “the chosen ones”, the true evangelicals, but neither are evangelicals of other persuasion such as myself.  Indeed, many Sydney leaders seem to be most hostile to their fellow evangelicals who differ with them on women, the Trinity, charismatic gifts and social involvement in the world.

Michael implicitly recognises that there is something very distinctive about Sydney Anglican evangelicals because he chooses to write a defence not of evangelicals in general or even of Australian evangelicals, but of Sydney Anglican evangelicals.  And he explicitly acknowledges this distinctiveness when he quotes Archbishop Robinson as speaking of Sydney’s “brand of conservative evangelicalism.”[vi]

Are Sydney evangelicals fundamentalists?

This is a hugely important question for Sydney Anglicans. Michael’s father, Peter Jensen, in his first major address after his election as archbishop in 2001, insisted that he and his diocese were evangelicals and not fundamentalists.[vii] Michael is of the same opinion.  Both argue that Sydney theology does not reflect the ideas of the original American fundamentalists who were world denying, biblical literalists and often poorly educated. The problem is that the word “fundamentalism” in the post 1970’s era no longer carries this meaning. How could it, if it can be used not only of conservative Protestants but also of some Roman Catholics, Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus?

Today, the cognate words “fundamentalist” and “fundamentalism” have two meanings.  In the old sense, they refer to conservative Protestants in America or elsewhere whose beliefs can be enumerated and their fear of change almost felt. Sydney evangelicals are by and large not fundamentalists in this sense. However, in the post 1970’s period, the words “fundamentalist” and “fundamentalism” came to refer to any ideology which has an absolutist hermeneutic: what I/we say/teach is “the truth”, or any religious person or movement that asserts, “what I/we say is what God says”. Religious fundamentalists in this contemporary sense believe that what they teach reflects exactly the mind of God. There is no gap between the holy text and what “I” say the text says. This kind of fundamentalism reigns in Sydney, albeit in softer and harder forms, even if it is masked by subtle turns of phrase.

Closely allied with what has just been said on fundamentalism in general is the question of whether or not Sydney evangelicals have a distinctive and indefensible doctrine of scripture. Michael gives a whole chapter to discussing Broughton Knox’s assertion that all biblical revelation is propositional revelation and “only” this. This, Michael tells us, is the prevailing understanding of scripture in Sydney. This claim raises two questions, first what does Knox mean by asserting that biblical revelation is “propositional” and second, is all biblical revelation of this nature? For Knox, to argue that biblical revelation is propositional indicates that revelation is “given to us by God in the form of truths couched in words.”[viii] He is specifically arguing against the idea that God reveals himself “only” in acts or events that fallen human beings then interpret, and that their interpretations of these events are the content of Scripture. On this view, he says, the Bible “merely witnesses to the revelation of God” and as such is fallible.[ix] In contrast, he argues that the Biblical writers “infallibly” and “inerrantly” reflected the mind of God in their interpretation of his acts so that what they wrote is “in the form of inerrant propositions” – factually true statements. [x] Their interpretation is that of God himself;[xi] “their words were the words of God.”[xii] What Dr Knox means by “propositional revelation” is clear. He is arguing that the words of Scripture infallibly and inerrantly reflect the mind of God and that they have cognitive content. This indeed is a very high view of Scripture. Scripture, while in human words, is literally one for one the words of God. “What the Bible says, God says.”[xiii]

In reply, we may agree that there is propositional revelation in Scripture. I doubt if any would disagree that in saying “God is love”, St John was making a propositional statement, an assertion in words of what he believed is factually true. The question is, should we agree that all of Scripture is made up of propositional statements? I think not.  So too does Archbishop Peter Jensen. He says “the backbone of Scripture is narrative”[xiv] – stories. To reduce the Bible to one form of speech is untenable. However, the more questionable Knox assertion is that “What Scripture says, God says”.  All evangelicals have a high view of Scripture, being pleased to call the Bible “the word of God” and to confess the authority of Scripture in matters of faith and conduct, but many would feel uneasy about Knox’s position. He is claiming that every word in the Old and New Testaments is literally one for one the very words of God. A more nuanced evangelical doctrine of Scripture would say, in biblical revelation God the creator condescends to speak to human beings in their own creaturely language with all its limitations, and within the restraints of human history, yet in doing so faithfully reveals himself and the way of salvation.[xv] On this view, the Scriptures can contain teaching that does not reflect one for one the unchanging mind of God. It can at times reflect life in a fallen world. A telling example of this is slavery which both Testaments uncritically accept and regulate.

Michael accurately outlines the Sydney doctrine of Scripture but as he does in most chapters he offers his criticisms of it. So he says Dr Knox “overstated his case. Propositional revelation is most certainly not the only revelation”, [xvi]and that his “use of the term ‘propositional’ was probably ill-advised”.[xvii] He also says the way Knox put his argument “exhibits his characteristic pugilism”; [xviii] it is “provocative and polemical”.[xix] In contrast, Michael himself holds that the revelation given in the Bible is both personal and propositional.[xx]

Are Sydney evangelicals the best of biblical theologians?

In chapter 3 Michael argues that in Sydney a distinct form of Biblical Theology has emerged that is the envy of the world. It was pioneered by Donald Robinson and perfected by Graeme Goldsworthy, a graduate and one time lecturer at Moore College. He even suggests that Robinson “pioneered” the evangelical turn to Biblical Theology, a claim that can bear no scrutiny.[xxi] What is distinctive in this Sydney form of Biblical Theology is that it emphasises “the unity”[xxii] and the “theological coherence”[xxiii] of the whole Bible.

Here we need to note that the “Biblical Theology” of Robinson and Goldsworthy that Michael eulogises has little to do with what mainline contemporary scholarly evangelicals consider to be Biblical Theology.  We see evangelical critical and historical Biblical Theology at its best in the three volume Intervarsity Dictionaries, Jesus and the Gospels, Paul and his Letters and the Later Writings of the New Testament and their Development. The depth and scholarship of these volumes, written by evangelical scholars who read scripture historically and critically, is of another standard altogether than the so-called “Biblical Theology of Sydney” that Michael Jensen praises.  In the Biblical Theology seen in these volumes the distinctive contribution of each biblical author is given voice. The diversity in scripture is acknowledged and noted.

Are Sydney sermons the best in the world?

In chapter 5 Michael enthusiastically praises the quality and nature of Sydney sermons. He says they are of a “distinctive kind”, expository sermons.[xxiv] This kind of sermon means that the preacher has “the heroic task of mediating the divine voice to the present day hearer.”[xxv] To this he adds, “the quality of preaching in ordinary Sydney pulpits is very high.” [xxvi] With this chapter my response to Michael is quite brief. Good sermons that are biblically based, interesting, relevant, delivered with warmth and a bit of humour are the life blood of the local church. I am also in agreement that John Stott, the great English evangelical theologian and preacher, exemplified expository preaching at its best.

It is true that there is much good preaching in Sydney, but good preaching is not limited to Sydney Anglican churches. I have heard wonderful expository sermons in America, England and elsewhere in Australia, and not just by Anglicans. Furthermore, we should not think that expository sermons as such are always good or interesting and accurately reflect what scripture is actually saying. If all expository preachers could expound the Bible like John Stott their sermons would be riveting, but they cannot.  The expository sermon in the hands of lesser preachers, even Moore College graduates,  all too often becomes a verse by verse Bible study unrelated to life, and boring.

Is Sydney’s doctrine of the church defensible?

Michael begins chapter 6 on ecclesiology by extolling what he calls the Knox-Robinson doctrine of the church.[xxvii] This is the view that the Greek word ecclesia means “assembly” or “gathering” and nothing more. It can only be applied to two realities, a local church on earth that actually gathers and the ongoing assembly in heaven of all believers. A denomination is not “church”, there is no such thing as “the Anglican Church”, and there is no universal or catholic church on earth but only individual believers. In my book, What on Earth is the Church? [xxviii], I argue that at every point this reasoning is mistaken. Without referring to my work Michael builds on my critique.[xxix] He argues first that the Greek word ecclesia can be used of Christians who are not gathered (1 Cor. 15:9, Gal. 1:13, Acts 3:8 and almost certainly Acts 9:31. He does not mention Matthew 16:18.) Second, that a study of any one word cannot produce doctrine. We need to accept that the church idea or concept may be present when the word is not. Thus the many collective titles for Christians in Acts, the ecclesia, the disciples, the brethren, the saints etc. are virtual synonyms, and Paul can speak of the church by using other terms or expressions such as “the body” or “the temple”. Third, he argues that the apostolic comments about Christians gathered in heaven refer not to a Platonic-like assembly paralleling what is on earth but are rather eschatological. Fourth, that the Knox–Robinson doctrine of the church virtually eclipses the Holy Spirit. There is no recognition that for Paul it is the Spirit who makes Christians one community in Christ. Michael’s critique of the Knox-Robinson doctrine of the church is devastating and irrefutable. The problem is that my case and Michaels against the Knox-Robinson doctrine of the church does not seem to have been accepted by the diocese. I still hear Sydney theologians saying that the Greek word ekklesia exclusively means assembly/gathering and the only church on earth is the local congregation.

At this point, we clearly see a profound tension between Michael Jensen the enthusiastic apologist for the Sydney Diocese, and Michael Jensen the critically minded scholar, who can distinguish between good and bad theology. He begins this chapter by praising the Knox-Robinson doctrine of the church as if it were something of huge significance, but goes on to point out that it is contrary to the teaching of scripture, and finally admits that if it is accepted it completely eliminates any sense of Anglican identity, which he believes is a dangerous and unhelpful in today’s world. He develops this last point in the next chapter to which we now turn.

“Are Sydney Anglicans actually Anglicans?”

In chapter 7 Michael addresses the commonly voiced critique that Sydney Anglicans are not true Anglicans in any meaningful sense. The charges we often hear made are: Sydney Anglicans have virtually abandoned the use of the Prayer Book; their clergy do not wear robes; lay presidency is advocated and practised; the doctrine of the Trinity as defined in the creeds and Article1 of the Anglican 39 Articles of Faith is rejected; “word ministry” is so emphasised that the sacraments and social concern are marginalised, and to cap everything, it is said “there is no such thing as the Anglican Church.”

To his credit, Michael is totally opposed to any breach with historic, world-wide Anglicanism. He argues that the Anglican Church in Sydney should recognise and affirm its membership of the Anglican Communion and its allegiance to the creeds and 39 Articles. Sydney Anglicans, he says, “should remain committed to the Anglican Church”.[xxx] “They ought to be Anglicans, as evangelical Anglicans have traditionally been, not only of convenience but of conviction.”[xxxi] Very significantly he adds that they “cannot point the finger at those who transgress in areas of faith and conduct if they themselves are eroding the Anglican edifice.”[xxxii] He specifically says, “It is not possible to remain an Anglican and to deny the resurrection or the Trinity with any integrity”.[xxxiii] Prior to this, he says the scriptures cannot be set in opposition to the Articles. The “reconfiguration of orthodoxy” as defined by the creeds and articles, is simply not possible for an Anglican.[xxxiv] He also says it is “not possible to remain an Anglican with authenticity and honesty and have a greatly reduced role for the Lord’s Supper and baptism”,[xxxv] as is often the case in Sydney.

Does the Gospel involve both word and deed?

In chapter 8 Michael discusses Sydney’s characteristic disconnect from the cares and injustices of this world. This arises because it is believed that “mission” is about preaching the Gospel and nothing else.  He expresses considerable unease with this disconnect between the Gospel and the life and needs of the world, seeing that a change in theology in Sydney is needed, but he shows no evidence of embracing the mainline evangelical consensus today that Christ’s sending of his disciples into the world, his “mission”, always and by necessity involves both word and deed.  One without the other is not authentic Christianity.

Are women permanently subordinated to men?

In chapter 9 Michael come to the matter of the ordination of women to the priesthood and the distinctive Sydney teaching on the doctrine of the Trinity, with which the women question is inexorably connected in Sydney theology. He says that “If there is any single issue with which Sydney Anglicans have found themselves identified, it is surely the matter of the ordination of women to the priesthood.”[xxxvi] And he says, this is the “line in the sand” over which Sydney will never cross.[xxxvii] It cannot be crossed because he believes this issue distinguishes Christians who stand under the authority of scripture from those who do not.[xxxviii] Because Michael makes this the defining issue for Sydney more needs to be said on this matter than on other matters raised by him in his book.

In what he says on women Michael lands himself in very muddy water and seems to flounder around. Most of what he says in this chapter is an attempt to obfuscate what Sydney theologians have in fact been teaching from the 1970’s, namely that in creation, before the Fall, God set woman under man and that this hierarchical social ordering prescribes God’s unchanging ideal for the man-woman relationship. This teaching is claimed to be firmly grounded and unambiguously prescribed in what he calls, the “decisive" text, 1 Timothy 2:11-15, where according to the Sydney theologians and other “complementarians” [xxxix] Paul forbids women to teach/preach or exercise authority in church on the timeless and transcultural theological principle indicated by Pauls’ appeal to Genesis. Women are not to speak or lead in church because Adam was created first and is thus first in precedence, and because it was the woman who was deceived not the man. For those who embrace this interpretation, what this means is that women cannot be ordained is solely because they are the subordinate sex. The ordination of women is forbidden because it would allow women to assume leadership in the church where men are present.

This is the position first enunciated in Sydney by Broughton Knox and then endorsed in print by Peter Jensen, Philip Jensen, Paul Barnett,  John Woodhouse, Robert  Forsyth, Peter Bolt, Mark Thompson, and many other Moore trained Sydney leaders.  Broughton Knox put the case in plain English with no attempt to hide what he was arguing: God in creation before the Fall made men “superior”, and women “inferior” in a “hierarchical order”.[xl] And because men are head over women in the home, men and men only should be head over/lead the church.

When we turn to Michael Jensen’s lengthy discussion on Sydney Anglicans and women we move into what I have already called very muddy water. What he says Sydney believes about women is not what Dr Knox taught and not what Sydney theologians generally teach in their publications. So we note that he denies explicitly that Sydney evangelicals hold to a “hierarchical view of humanity”,[xli] and that male “headship” in the home can be “transposed into the church”.[xlii] He boldly affirms that “Paul did expect women to speak in the church gathering in some capacity” and then he mentions women prophesying, the gift Paul sets above teaching in 1 Corinthians 12:28.[xliii] Furthermore, he says that Sydney theologians insist on “the profound equality of all human beings in God’ eyes”.[xliv] They believe that Scripture speaks “of the profound and ineradicable sameness and mutuality of the human male and female.”[xlv] They do not endorse an “essentialist” view of the sexes.[xlvi] They believe that, “Like political order, gender is a very human, culturally interpreted, and negotiated realization of the created nature of our sexed bodies.”[xlvii] And, to crown it all, he says that among the many Sydney evangelical marriages, “I know [their] marriages are remarkably egalitarian.”[xlviii] This he implies is highly commendable. If only all this were true; that this was what Dr Knox taught and Michael’s father, Peter Jensen, and Uncle Philip Jensen, and other leading Sydney theologians taught.

Then Michael takes a contradictory tack and attempts to justify the Sydney “biblical” case for what is best called, the permanent subordination of women. He praises Sydney Synod for fifteen times resisting the call to ordain women and for standing in opposition to “complete gender equality in ministry”. [xlix] This he argues was done on the basis of biblical teaching which cannot be questioned, because for Sydney “the primary issue is the authority of scripture.”[l] It is not for him a debate over the interpretation of scripture, which to outsiders seems obvious and undeniable, but between those who stand under scripture and those who do not. On this basis, he says, he endorses “the principles of headship [for men] and submission [of women] in church order”.[li] Like other Sydney theologians, Michael tells us that the “decisive” text, 1 Timothy 2:11-15, clearly reveals the mind of God.  This text settles everything. It teaches that God has permanently excluded women from teaching/preaching in the church, putting man in authority over the woman because of what Genesis 1 to 3 teaches.[lii] He does not say what this is, but every Sydney reader knows what he has in mind: that in creation God set the man over the woman before the Fall.  That virtually no scholarly contemporary commentator on Genesis can find any hint of a pre-Fall subordination of woman is not of concern to Michael or other Sydney theologians.  He then refers to Dr Knox’s teaching on the sexes which speaks of their “hierarchical” ordering , arguing that if in the home the man is set over the women this pattern should be reflected in the church, the Christian communal family. Further evidence that Michael is not an egalitarian is seen in his attack on modern culture that he claims raises acute “anxiety” by allowing people to work out their own relationships in “freedom”, rejecting any biblically prescribed “notions of roles” or male “headship”, or acceptance of a “social order” “dictated to me” in scripture.[liii]

Michael obfuscates matters profoundly by consistently claiming that the great issues at stake are male/female “roles”, sexual differentiation and the ordination of women. They are not, and Michael should know this because I have been saying this to my Sydney friends for thirty years. First of all, the word “role”.  In a dictionary or in sociological texts a role speaks of characteristic behaviour that can change and is not person-defining. So social scientists tell us the roles of men and women have changed in the last forty years. Most women now are part of the workforce and some men do their share of house work and child nurturing. For Michael, and all so-called complementarians, male and female “roles” are all about power relations, who rules and who obeys, that are ascribed by God and can never change. Men have the “role” of headship; women the “role” of subordination. This doctrinaire use of the word “role” cannot be justified.  Admittedly, Michael tells us he does not like the more extreme ideas on sex-prescribed roles promulgated by some American “complementarians”. I am glad to hear that!

Second, male-female differentiation is not the central issue, and to suggest it is misleading.  Do male Sydney theologians think that only they have seen their wife in the shower and noticed a few differences? And do they really think that evangelical egalitarians reject Genesis 1:27-28 where God explicitly says he made us male and female?  No one in this debate denies male-female differentiation. What the Christians who are not “complementarians” deny is that God permanently subordinated women to men in the created order before the Fall. It is not male-female differentiation that sharply and painfully divides evangelicals today; it is the claim that women are subordinated to men in the created order and that this can never change. To claim that the central issue is “difference” is simply untrue. Why then do Sydney theologians claim this incessantly? They themselves give the answer. Michael tells us that if “difference” is not stressed the God-given “roles” of men and women will be undermined.[liv] The constant attempt to make the “differences” of the sexes the key issue is a deliberate attempt to obfuscate what is in fact being taught. In this argument for women’s permanent subordination the word “difference” is a code word telling insiders that we believe God has appointed men to rule, women to obey, without telling outsiders this is what we believe. I say again, for Sydney always the key issue is the subordination of women. I apologise for being so sharp in my wording but to go on making “difference” the key issue is inexcusable.

Third, when it comes to ordination, this too is not in fact the primary issue for Sydney theologians, contra Michael‘s claims.[lv] In Sydney women are excluded from ordination solely because women are the subordinate sex and so must not be in leadership when men are present. They can be “ordained” as deacons because this does not allow them to be in charge of a parish in Sydney. I personally do not crusade to see women ordained into a ministerial office invented by men for men in the middle ages, without biblical warrant, that does not work well today for many men and is even more difficult for women, especially women with children. My great crusade is against appealing to scripture to justify the subordination of women as if it is the God-given ideal, when scripture makes the rule of the man over the woman an expression of sin (Gen 3:16)..  In Genesis chapters 1 to 3, before the Fall, man and woman stand side by side in substantial equality. Genesis makes it plain that it is as a consequence of the Fall that the man comes to rule over the woman. Virtually all contemporary scholarly commentators on Genesis reject the traditional idea, held by Sydney theologians, that before the Fall woman was subordinated to man and thus her subordination is the creation-given ideal.

This debate on the status and leadership of women is not going to go away. Michael may be encouraged that most of Sydney Synod opposes the ordination of women,[lvi] as we would expect that they would after thirty years of being told this is contrary to the Bible. What surprises me is that 30% of lay people and 15% of clergy in the Sydney synod are of another opinion as to what the Bible teaches.[lvii] The huge problem is that today most scholarly evangelicals reject the interpretation of 1 Timothy chapter 2 and Genesis 2 given by so called “complementarians”, and they follow the (egalitarian) Michael Jensen in arguing that the “headship” of the husband is all about serving one’s wife,[lviii] and that marriage is a “partnership” of “equals”.[lix] What is more, arguing that women are a subordinate class in today’s world is patently nonsense and must eventually become untenable.  It will be seen in the diocese of Sydney, as it has been elsewhere, that this is a self-serving theology developed to preserve male privilege and power. In the 1860’s very similar appeals to the Bible to support slavery were made by leading evangelical theologians of Reformed persuasion in the United States, and in the 1960’s by evangelical theologians of Reformed persuasion in South Africa in support of Apartheid.

The Trinity

In the midst of his parallel defence and rejection of the distinctive Sydney doctrine of women, Michael digresses to make a parallel defence and rejection of the distinctive Sydney doctrine of the Trinity. Again we have a matter that demands an extended discussion. The doctrine of the Trinity is the primary doctrine of the faith. It is “our” Christian doctrine of God. The 39 Articles begin with a definition of the doctrine of the Trinity.  Michael recognises the huge importance of this debate over the doctrine of the Trinity. He sees clearly that, if Sydney theologians have got this wrong they have put themselves out of the Anglican family. He says, “a reconfiguration of orthodoxy” is simply not possible for an Anglican.[lx]

Michael tells us the debate about how the doctrine of the Trinity might inform the man-woman relationship began when a Sydney egalitarian evangelical, Dr Stuart Piggin, argued the Trinity could not be appealed to in support of the permanent subordination of women because the Athanasian Creed spoke of the three divine persons as “co-equal”.[lxi] Piggin was actually countering Dr Broughton Knox who introduced into Sydney the appeal to a hierarchically construed Trinity as the ground for the subordination of women. Here it should be carefully noted that it is the evangelicals who argue for the permanent subordination of women who, first in Australia and in America, appealed to a hierarchically construed doctrine of the Trinity as the ultimate ground for the permanent subordination of women, and who pursue this argument today. Appeal to the orthodox “co-equal” doctrine of The Trinity has virtually played no part in the evangelical egalitarian case. I have never developed it. Egalitarian arguments for the substantial equality of the sexes are primarily biblical. In any case, I personally cannot see how the relations between three divine persons in heaven who are all confessed as “Lord” can be prescriptive for human relationships on earth, let alone the twofold, male-female relationship. The triune God is the creator; we are all fallen creatures. It is an egregious theological error to think either the equality or the hierarchical ordering of the male-female relationship can be prescribed by the life of God in eternity.

Michael’s discussion of the 1999 Sydney Doctrine Commission Report, “The Doctrine of the Trinity and Its Bearing on the Relationship of Men and Women”, later ratified in Sydney Synod as the agreed statement of faith on the Trinity for the diocese, is convoluted. He wants to affirm what is said but he accepts that it is deeply flawed.  In this document drawn up by the senior staff at Moore College including Peter Jensen, the then principal, and Archbishop Robinson, the authors openly say they are “subordinationists”, adding that they put the term in inverted commas to distinguish their position from heretical subordinationism.[lxii] This is a strange admission because this term is a technical one for a heresy. In my nearest theological library I found fifteen definitions of this word in theological dictionaries and theological text books and they all defined it in slightly different wording as the error of ranking of the three divine persons or their hierarchical ordering in the eternal life of God, exactly what the Sydney statement of faith teaches! Michael in defence says this statement of faith only seeks to affirm the “functional’ or “role” subordination of the Son. If this functional or role subordination alluded specifically to Jesus’ earthly ministry in “the form of a servant”, and as such is temporal, there would be no debate. But as Michael concedes, the statement repeatedly says this functional subordination of the Son in authority is “eternal”. This means the Trinity in eternity is “hierarchically” ordered - as the Arians argued.[lxiii]

It cannot be contested that the authors speak of this “functional” subordination in ontological terms.  They tell us that speaking of “role” or “functional” subordination is “only true as far as it goes”.[lxiv] What needs to be added, they say, is that “the subordination which ‘subordinationists’ [the authors] see in the Trinity belongs to the very Persons themselves in their eternal nature.”[lxv] Similarly, they say, “the Son’s [functional] obedience arises from the very nature of his being as Son”[lxvi] and most egregiously, the Athanasian Creed “makes these differences in being most clear.”[lxvii] In saying this Sydney theologians actually directly contradict what the Athanasian Creed teaches (and the Nicene Creed), namely the “oneness of being” (Gk. homoousios) of the Father and the Son.  Time and time again, in the midst of affirmations of orthodoxy this convoluted document explicitly and unambiguously denies and contradicts what the Creeds and the 39 Articles state is what the Bible teaches. For these Sydney theologians, the difference between the Father and the Son is explicitly described in ontological terms (“being”, “nature”, “very person”), as in Arianism.  They tell us that, “subordination in the Godhead is part of orthodox Christian teaching and it expresses the truth of scripture”.[lxviii] Michael says, “Giles completely overstates what his opponents are claiming for their description of Trinitarian relations,” and that my criticisms are “extreme.”[lxix] Are they?  Can he offer one example where I misquote what the Sydney theologians put in print and ratified in Synod,  and is it “extreme” to criticise brothers who teach “the eternal subordination of the Son”, a “difference in being” between the Father and the Son and eternal “hierarchal” ordering in divine life, claiming this to be orthodoxy? I suspect Michael too readily shoots the messenger rather than listens attentively to what he says. He accuses me of hurting the diocese of Sydney on the international scene but the truth is, Sydney dealt itself a huge blow when it decided to subvert the creedal and confessional doctrine of the Trinity in its quest to uphold the subordination of women.

Michael tells his readers that the Sydney Diocesan Doctrine Commission did not prepare this document with the purpose of grounding the subordination of women on the most profound basis possible, the life of God in eternity. He says, the “Sydney Doctrine Commission report explicitly denies this move”.[lxx] How Michael can make this claim with a straight face escapes me. The doctrine commission report is entitled, “The Doctrine of the Trinity and Its Bearing on the Relationship of Men and Women.” What could more plainly attest the intention of those who developed this distinctive doctrinal statement on the Trinity? Furthermore, at least 14 paragraphs in this document explore how eternal hierarchical relations in divine life prescribe hierarchical male-female relations on earth.[lxxi] I do not resile; this document was prepared with the sole purpose of grounding the subordination of women in the life of God in eternity.

Michael confesses that this debate on the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity has made it hard for him to “think straight.”[lxxii] On one side is his father, the Archbishop of Sydney, who was involved in formulating the Sydney statement of faith on the Trinity and has strongly defended it for ten years, as well as most of his esteemed teachers at Moore College, some of whom are now his colleagues, and his uncle Philip, the Dean of Sydney, who dogmatically supports the statement. On the other side stands Kevin Giles who continues to appeal to the Bible, the creeds and confessions in support of his case and is supported, as Michael admits, by numerous “evangelical luminaries”.[lxxiii] And, I would add, by numerous mainline Protestant and Catholic luminary Trinitarian scholars. I can make this claim because nine of the most informed published Trinitarian scholars in the world, Catholic, Protestant and evangelical, have endorsed my account of historic orthodoxy.[lxxiv]

This is a huge problem for the Sydney Anglican Diocese, one that their next Archbishop will certainly need to “revisit”, as Michael acknowledges.[lxxv] It was indeed a bad “a tactical mistake” to make the eternal subordination of the Son what differentiates him from the Father.[lxxvi] It is untenable to have a synod endorsed statement of faith on the Trinity prepared by the diocesan Doctrine Commission, which stands in contradiction to the teaching on the Trinity given in the creeds and in Article 1 of the Anglican 39 Articles. I completely agree with Michael when he says, “Anglicanism is a Trinitarian form of Christianity. Positing the authority of Scripture does not allow for revision of that article of faith”, and that the “reconfiguration of orthodoxy” is simply not possible for an Anglican.[lxxvii]

Is lay administration (presidency) at the Lord’s Supper Anglican?

I must admit it came as quite a surprise when friends we were staying with in Sydney took us to their large Anglican Church morning service and, when it came to communion, one of the laymen came forward to lead the service. When I asked our friends about this they said, “Oh, that often happens. Our Rector encourages lay people to lead communion.”  For the last twenty years many leading theologians in Sydney have been advocating lay presidency, or as Sydney folk call it, “lay administration” of Holy Communion. When Peter Jensen was appointed the Archbishop of Sydney in 2001, many anticipated he would authorise this practice because he was a strong advocate of lay presidency. This is not something that offends evangelicals as evangelicals, because the Bible does not prescribe who should lead Holy Communion and evangelicals do not believe only an episcopally ordained minister, defined as a priest, is needed to lead communion. However, it is something that evangelical Anglicans have not generally advocated, because the sixteenth century Anglican Reformers ruled that as a matter of good order only an ordained minister should lead communion, and they know it would deeply offend catholic Anglicans. It would be an uncharitable thing to do.

Michael defends his friends in Sydney for pushing hard to get lay presidency accepted, which he thinks may have become for them their “great cause”. Nevertheless, he himself is of the opinion this move should no longer be supported or advocated.  However, the reason he gives for this is worrying. Michael says not to this change primarily because he sees it as a barrier to Sydney diocese assuming the leadership of Anglican evangelicals on the world scene at this time of Anglican fragmentation.  He says, “There is far more for Sydney to lose in opportunities for leadership within national and global Anglicanism than there is to be gained by pressing ahead” with lay presidency.[lxxviii] He says to desist from advocating this “is simply a matter of tactics”[lxxix]

Is the Anglican Church League a very ethically ambiguous lobby group?

In the last chapter before his brief conclusion, Michael discusses the notorious politics of Sydney, which rivals anything in the Labour party. This, Michael tells us, has been fully documented in the 2005 book by Chris McGillion, The Chosen Ones; The Politics of Salvation in the [Sydney] Anglican Church.[lxxx]He does not dissent from what McGillion says. The lobby group that “dominates Sydney Anglican politics” is the Anglican Church League (ACL). [lxxxi] This body selects approved candidates for every diocesan position and puts out a “how to vote” ticket. Today its power is in the ascendancy and unassailable. It is even able to determine who will be the Archbishop, as it did in the case of Peter Jensen.  No opinion or position contrary to the wishes of the ACL can now get a hearing in Sydney. What did Lord Acton say about power?

Michael seems awed by the success of the ACL and praises its achievements profusely. Its great virtue, he says, is that it is “remarkably good” at getting what it wants.[lxxxii] However, he does ask whether church power politics can “be played christianly?”[lxxxiii] In reply to his own question he outlines six principles which do not question the “winner takes all” approach to church politics in Sydney, but ask for more civility and grace to be shown. One of his suggestions for improvement is that women be encouraged to take part in Sydney church politics – something I am sure most of them do not seek![lxxxiv] Among these principles we find no mention whatsoever that democracy demands open debate which is facilitated by publications that give opposing opinions, and by respecting those who dissent. The great tragedy for Sydney is that they have deliberately and successfully closed off all significant debate. No counter opinion on anything of importance is allowed. In publications controlled by them, views contrary to those who hold all the power are excluded.

The disastrous consequences of this policy are illustrated by their teaching on the Trinity. Sixteen Sydney theologians of one mind in opposition to the leadership of women drew up their doctrine of the Trinity in consultation with no one outside of their closed and united circle. Not surprisingly they got it wrong.  The insular nature of Sydney with its closed-in mentality, I think is its Achilles heel.  It would seem to me that it is in great danger of becoming a breakaway group, with its own distinctive doctrines, believing that it alone possess the fullness  of truth, and it alone interprets the Bible correctly. In other words, it is in danger of becoming a sect.


Michael Jensen has done the Australian Anglican Church, and indeed the world-wide Anglican Communion, a great service by outlining as an insider what is distinctive about the Anglican Diocese of Sydney. In the past we have had critical accounts of the diocese, which Michael thinks have been unfair and inaccurate. Now we have a sympathetic but not uncritical perspective from a genuine insider.

The exciting thing about Michael’s book is that it hints that a change in thought is underway in Sydney on many important matters. On almost every issue he raises he not only defends the prevailing Sydney position but also offers telling criticisms of it.

Kevin Giles is a graduate of Moore Theological College, Sydney and has served as an Anglican parish priest in Sydney, Durham, England, Armidale, NSW, Adelaide, and is now active in the diocese of Melbourne. He has published books on the doctrine of the church, church renewal, ministry in the apostolic age, gender equality and the Trinity.


>[i] I have dared to address Dr Michael Jensen as “Michael” throughout this essay. We are both Australians and we Australians mainly use first names; we are both evangelical Christians, and we know each other personally. I sent an earlier draft of this essay to Michael to look over as I do not wish to misrepresent his views in any way.


>[ii] As Michael concedes in Sydney Anglicans, 100.


>[iii] See Roger E. Olson, Reformed and Always Reforming: The Post Conservative Approach to Evangelical Theology, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007).


>[iv] Sydney Anglicanism, 5, 7, 15-18, 22-25, 31-33 etc., and particularly, 99-103.


>[v] Ibid., 93-94.


>[vi] Ibid., 33.


>[vii] M. Porter, The New Puritans: The Rise of Fundamentalism in the Anglican Church ( Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2006),  23ff, tells this story


>[viii] D. B. Knox, Collected Works, 1, (Sydney: Matthias Press, 2006), 307, 308.


>[ix] Ibid., 312.


>[x] Ibid., 313.


>[xi] Ibid., 313.


>[xii] Ibid., 316.


>[xiii] Collected Works, chapter 15,“God’s Word”,  293.


>[xiv] The Revelation of God: Contours of Christian Theology (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2002), 192.


>[xv] Dr Knox does not deny that biblical revelation is in human words. However, he argues that God in his sovereign power so directs the mind of men that what they write in Scripture inerrantly reflects the mind of God. Their words are God’s words. “Propositional Revelation”, 316.


>[xvi] Sydney Anglicans, 52.


>[xvii] Ibid., 44.


>[xviii] Ibid., 49.


>[xix] Ibid., 43.


>[xx] Ibid, 54-56.


>[xxi] Ibid., 34, 36.39.


>[xxii] Ibid., 42, c.f., 27, 38, 41.


>[xxiii] Ibid., 41, 42.


>[xxiv] Ibid., 57.


>[xxv] Ibid., 59.


>[xxvi] Ibid., 65.


>[xxvii] Ibid., 75-76.


>[xxviii] (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1995).


>[xxix] Sydney Anglicans, 84-89.


>[xxx] Ibid., 105.


>[xxxi] Ibid., 106.


>[xxxii] Ibid.


>[xxxiii] Ibid.


>[xxxiv] Ibid., 97.


>[xxxv] Ibid. 106


>[xxxvi] Ibid., 126.


>[xxxvii] Ibid., 126.


>[xxxviii] Ibid.,127


>[xxxix] This is the self-chosen title of evangelicals who believe that the Bible permanently subordinates women to men. This self-designation was first adopted in the early 1990’s. Of course all Christians who believe God made us men and women are “complementarians”. I have been using this term to speak of what the Bible teaches on the sexes since 1977. Now I have to say, I am an “egalitarian-complementarian”!


>[xl] D. B. Knox, “An Addendum by the Revered Canon D. B. Knox” in, The Ministry of Women: A Report of the General Synod Commission on Doctrine 1977 (Sydney: General Synod Office, 1977), 29-33.


>[xli] Sydney Anglicans, 127.


>[xlii] Ibid., 129.


>[xliii] Ibid., 143


>[xliv] Ibid., 127, 138. I put “in God’s eyes” in italics, because both sides can says this. The issue is always what takes place on earth. White supremacists in the USA and in South African could affirm this while not being able to endorse substantial equality in everyday life.


>[xlv] Ibid., 137. I am not too keen on the word “sameness” because I believe God made us men and women but I can gladly accept  the point I think Michael is making. We are the one species made in the image and likeness of God.


>[xlvi] Ibid., 138.


>[xlvii] Ibid., 139.


>[xlviii] Ibid., 140.


>[xlix] Ibid., 126.


>[l] Ibid., 127.


>[li] Ibid., 130.


>[lii] Ibid., 128.


>[liii] Ibid., 136.


>[liv] Ibid., 136-137. On the ABC program, Q&A (Series 5, episode 22, Set 2012) his father, Peter, Jensen, Archbishop of Sydney, sought to put the “difference” argument as the summation of the Sydney doctrine of women, never once mentioning the real issue, woman’s permanent subordination, and was savagely mauled by Catherine Deveney who took his reply as cant.


>[lv] Ibid., 126.


>[lvi] Ibid., 126-127.


>[lvii] These percentages are based on Michael’s figures.


>[lviii] Ibid., 138. 140. For a biblically consistent, exegetical reply to the hierarchical view of the man-woman relationship, see in popular form, Kevin Giles, Better Together: Equality in Christ (Melbourne: Acorn, 2010). And for a more scholarly reply see, Giles, The Trinity and Subordinationism, 141-268. The definitive egalitarian exegetical study is, P. B. Payne, Man and Woman in Christ, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009).


>[lix] Sydney Anglicans, 140


>[lx] Ibid., 97.


>[lxi] Ibid., 131-132.


>[lxii] This document is quoted in full in Giles, The Trinity and Subordinationism. It is divided into numerical paragraphs. Para 14, 17, 18. Particularly note the wording of para 33.


>[lxiii] Para 23 actually commends the Greek tradition for ensuring “a hierarchical mode of conceiving God.” In para 9 egalitarians get criticised for opposing reading “hierarchy and subordination” into the eternal life of God.


>[lxiv] Para 13. There can be no question this is what is meant if one reads all of para 32 and 33.


>[lxv] Para 33.


>[lxvi] Para 18,  italics added


>[lxvii] Para 25, italics added


>[lxviii] Para 29.


>[lxix] Sydney Anglicans, 134.


>[lxx] Ibid.


>[lxxi] “The Doctrine of the Trinity and Its Bearing on the Relationship of Men and Women”, para 3, 4, 27, 28, 30, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 39, 40, 41.


>[lxxii] Sydney Anglicans, 134.


>[lxxiii] Ibid., 133.


>[lxxiv] My endorsed summary and commentary on the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity was published in Priscilla Papers, 26-3, (2012), 12-23. Christians for Biblical Equality International sent a copy to the more than 3000 evangelical scholars who belong to the Evangelical Theological Society and a Sydney lay man sent an electronic copy to every ordained minister in the Anglican diocese of Sydney.  I invited critical response to this work but so far none have been forthcoming, only affirmations.


>[lxxv] Sydney Anglicans, 133.


>[lxxvi] Ibid.


>[lxxvii] Ibid., 97.


>[lxxviii] Ibid., 145 and pages 156-158.


>[lxxix] Ibid., 158.


>[lxxx] (Sydney, Allen and Unwin, 2005).


>[lxxxi] Sydney Anglicans, 168.


>[lxxxii] Ibid., 160.


>[lxxxiii] Ibid., 169.


>[lxxxiv] Ibid., 170.