Evangelical tribalism, a return to court, and a captain of Cricket

A week of reading

Tribes: The Other Cheek reported on a minor storm among some Australian evangelicals over Jesus v. Evangelicals, a book by the Aussie academic Constantine Campbell, a former lecturer at Moore College. Ironically the book has a great chapter on tribalism. Here’s a taster:

“Early on in my preparation for Christian ministry, I attended a preaching workshop run by Colin Marshall, an influential voice in Sydney evangelical circles. Since I had never heard Col preach, I somewhat arrogantly wondered what I’d learn from him. As it turned out, I was given a precious insight that has informed my thinking for two decades since. In preparation for the workshop, we had been asked to create a sermon outline of Mark 2:1–12, Mark’s account of Jesus healing a paralysed man. 

“While chatting about the sermon outlines we’d constructed, Col asked how many of us had made verse 5 the main point of the sermon. This verse is where Jesus tells the paralysed man, before healing him, that his sins are forgiven. Every person in the workshop put up their hand because we’d all jumped on the striking reality that upon seeing a paralysed man, Jesus did not immediately heal him but first forgave his sins. All of our sermons claimed that this passage taught that forgiveness of sins is our biggest need, just as it was this paralysed man’s biggest need. His real need was spiritual, not physical. 

“Col then asked how many of us gave attention to verses 6–12, in which the teachers of the law complain that Jesus blasphemed by saying he forgives sins since “who can forgive sins but God alone?” (v. 7). 

“No one put up their hand. We had all pretty much skipped over that part of the passage, or at least we’d subjugated it to the “most important” point of verse 5. Col then told us that he was not surprised. Because evangelicals love to talk about the forgiveness of sins as part of the evangelical gospel, it’s not surprising that we all zeroed in on verse 5.

“But the problem, Col said, was that Mark 2:1–12 is not about that. Forgiveness of sins is in the passage, to be sure. But it’s not the main point. The main point is that Jesus demonstrates his divine authority to forgive sins. More than that, he implies that he might be divine himself. That is the main point of the passage, and we had all skipped over it. Why? Because we’d been blinded by our evangelical preferences. The evangelical gospel of forgiveness of sins through the penal substitutionary death of Jesus meant that we could not read the passage properly. The claim of Jesus’ divine authority—his divine status—was just not that important to us young evangelical preachers in the making. I’m grateful for Col’s insight and gentle rebuke. He rebuked not only us but also evangelicalism for being so preoccupied with something true that we could not see other things that were also true, even the text’s main point. If evangelicals are true Biblicists, they must not read the Bible in a way that blinds them to what the Bible says.”

Campbell, Constantine R.. Jesus v. Evangelicals (pp. 89-90). Zondervan. Kindle Edition. 


In the dock: The court lists can sadly be essential reading. The Wagga Wagga Local court list reveals that John Macmartin, formerly senior pastor of Inspire church, a large Pentecostal congregation in Liverpool, Sydney, is facing a charge of common assault. He was found guilty of assault with an act of indecency and common assault in December last year.

The credibility of his testimony at Brian Houston’s trial last year was undermined when letters critical to the timeline of knowledge of Frank Houston’s pedophilic crimes were discovered at his church. He had denied ever receiving them – but a quick search under subpoena discovered them in the Inspire church archive. Up until then, he had been perhaps the most hostile witness to Brian Houston in the view of this observer of the trial.


Strength from God: Gideon Haigh, the Australian’s wonderfully fluid cricket writer, remembers the late Brian Booth, Australian captain, as a man of faith:

Had he, I wondered, ever sought strength from God in the heat of a sporting combat? Oh yes, Brian said. There was a day at Sabina Park in March 1965 when, as he came in to face the bruising, bent-armed Charlie Griffith, Brian called to mind Philippians 4:13: ‘‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.’’

How did it go? ‘‘Charlie yorked me all over the place,’’ Brian laughed. ‘‘I didn’t even see it.’’ He added that he’d told the story to his fellow cricketing Christian Trevor Goddard from South Africa, who recommended Philippians 4:11 for solace: ‘‘Not that I complain of want; for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content.’’ Brian liked that.


A parallel life: Browsing the shelves at Katoomba’s The Little Lost bookshop (also the home of the Wandering Bookseller,) I came across Lowitja, the authorised biography of Lowitja O’ Donoghue, the great indigenous leader.

The book took me down pathways of my South Australian boyhood, the United Aborigines Mission with a pall of silence over their Colebrook girls home and yet a pride that Lowitja had been there, Unley Park and Parkside baptist churches and the missionary family the Swincers. And a constant theme of the book is that this Aboriginal leader has had to struggle to get her voice heard.

The UAM was full of well-intentioned, self-denying missionaries who laboured for little money and who made grave mistakes. With some evil-doers among them. Who is to say that our best efforts today might turn to dust too?