Category Archives: Evangelical

Peter Sellick promotes fake theology[1]

 Photo of Peter Sellick

Peter Sellick an Anglican deacon working in Perth with a background in the biological sciences.

By Spencer D Gear PhD

This article by Sellick in On Line Opinion (20 February 2019) was loaded with Sellick’s presuppositions – “The origin of facts.” We’ll examine some of them.

Firstly, why have I designated Sellick’s teaching as ‘fake theology’? The Oxford English Dictionary defines fake news as: ‘False information that is broadcast or published as news for fraudulent or politically motivated purposes’ ( 2020. “fake news”).

So, what would fake theology be? Rev Dr David contends that ‘fake theology [is] even more dangerous than fake news’.[2]

We live in a world where extreme views can be propagated easily through social media channels. These views are sometimes supported by very dodgy theology, and Christians today need to be able to recognise these distortions of the gospel and to counter them. . . . [They] use four key techniques: distraction, confusion, power and lying’.[3]

I find Sellick’s theology to be manipulative because of his imposition of his theological liberal world view on the text. Let’s see how he does it.

1. Who made this comment?

Who, do you think, could have said this? “When we declare the miracles which God has wrought, or will yet work, and which we cannot bring under the very eyes of men, sceptics keep demanding that we shall explain these marvels to reason. And because we cannot do so, inasmuch as they are above human comprehension, they suppose we are speaking falsely.”   Could that be Billy Graham, John MacArthur, Jr. or Benny Hinn?

It was written by St. Augustine who lived in the fourth & fifth centuries [ca. AD 354-430], and was one of the most prominent church leaders in his era (Augustine 2004, City of God, 21.5).

Have you seen a miracle lately?  Do we pray in church for miracles to happen?  Is it the will of God for miracles to be happening around the world in answer to believing prayer?  What was the last miracle you saw happen to people in this church?

I made a lot of comments as Oz in the “Comments” of this article.

1.1 He promotes false theology

Please understand my presuppositions. They are: “All Scripture is breathed out by God” (2 Tim 3:16-17 NIV). I start with the premise God inspired the writing of Scripture through human agency (2 Peter 1:20-21) and God is a perfect Being. That which He composes is truthful.

1.2 Impoverished and suffocated imagination

Sellick’s liberal Anglican view is that

At the centre of this impoverishment is the suffocated imagination. When you have facts, or think you do, then you do not have to have imagination. The fabric of the faith is set out in rational terms accompanied by verifiable facts. Of course, none of these facts are verifiable since we are dealing with events that occurred two thousand years ago and it is the nature of biblical texts to be more preaching that modern historiography. The rich brocade of centuries of theology is reduced to points of fact (emphasis added).

Sadly, the shoe’s on the other foot. It is Sellick’s “impoverished imagination” that adds to the biblical text and does not allow it to speak for itself. There are valid historical indices that can be used on any data from ancient history to determine the reliability of that history.

I have explored some of them in Evidence for the afterlife. He claimed “none of these facts are (sic) verifiable since we are dealing with events that occurred two thousand years ago. This is a false view of historiography as all of the facts of faith can be tested by the indices of historiography. These are explained in,

1.3 Assent to “facts” displaces faith.

Sellick continued (emphasis added):

The problem is that once these “facts” have been established, assent to them displaces faith. Faith then demands that we sacrifice our intellect and believe in the impossible. A great chasm opens between how we experience the world and our beliefs. We do not experience the power of prayer or the performance of miracles. In our world, bodies do not rise from the dead nor are they propelled into space. This is how Christianity has become a laughing stock in our time and why the Church is falling apart all around us.

clip_image001Mangrove red snapper / Mangrove Jack

To the contrary, faith in catching Mangrove Jack is bolstered if I fish where I’ve seen them being caught. I have faith in my Mitsubishi taking me places because it exists in fact and I’ve used it for that purpose.

Faith in Jesus Christ requires Him to have existed, lived on earth, being crucified for our sins and raised for our justification (Rom 4:25 NIV). If the facts surrounding Jesus did not happen, our faith is in an imaginary being.

Paul also confirmed this in 1 Cor 15:16-18 (NLT), “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. 18 In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost!”

Sellick seems to pursue a faith based on fantasy, wishful thinking, a leap of faith rather than on facts. His view is:

  • We do not experience the power of prayer or the performance of miracles” (emphasis added). They are Sellick’s presuppositions and are not based on factual evidence. Miracles are excluded from his world view because of his theologically liberal position. It is not based on the Scripture that says, “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father” (John 14:12 NIV).

If my faith in Jesus is not based on fact, it is fantasy – without any foundation.

  • He wrote: “In our world, bodies do not rise from the dead nor are they propelled into space.”

That should read, “In Peter Sellick’s world, bodies do not rise from the dead nor are propelled through space.” After Jesus returned to the Father, He said, “I tell you the truth, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these” (Jn 14:12 NLT).

  • The works done by Jesus on earth included miracles, but Sellick denied that could happen for believers now. That’s his theologically liberal world view speaking with its low view of Scripture.
  • What are the “greater things than these”? It seems to me nothing would be greater than resurrection from the dead, so “greater things” could refer to greater in quantity. D A Carson explained:

The works believers are given to do through the power of the eschatological Spirit after Jesus’ glorification, will be set in the framework of Jesus’ death and triumph, and will therefore more immediately and truly reveal the Son. Thus greater things is

constrained by salvation-historical realities. In consequence many more converts will be gathered into the messianic community, the nascent church, than were drawn in during Jesus’ ministry (cf. 15:26-27; 17:20; 20:21, 29) [Carson (1991:496)].

I would never attempt to place my faith in a chair with faulty design. I check the facts of a Kensington Pride mango without “bad signs” on the flesh before I sink my teeth into it.

See my article, Are Miracles Valuable?

1.4 Bodies do not rise from the dead nor are they propelled into space.

Again, these are statements from Sellick’s theologically liberal world view. Bodies do not rise from the dead if John 14:12 is discarded as making Christianity a laughing stock.

The disruption that the gospel causes in the world is not a disruption in our understanding of how the physical world works but in what may be called “the ways of the soul” those habits in life that seek security at all costs. Whereas the gospel would have us let go of all false security, one of the hallmarks of faith, fundamentalism would tie us to a written word that displaces the Word to which it is a witness. We must remind ourselves that the bible is not the centre of faith but that it is a witness to the centre: Jesus Christ. In being a witness, it uses all of the facilities of the ancient world; rhetoric, story, poetry and legend. What it does not do is to give us dot points pertaining to facts. (emphasis added).

Let’s pick up on these emphases to examine Sellick’s presuppositions that overwhelm his interpretations.

1.4.1 The disruption of the Gospel

Sellick considers the disruption the gospel causes is a disturbance of “the ways of the soul.” That is not how Scripture sees it:

  • Jesus said: “And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?” (Mark 8:26 NLT). The soul is related to the whole person who can be lost. The Gospel changes everything about a person, including goals in life.
  • I agree that the Gospel disrupts the normal, natural ways of the soul by bringing a new, supernatural focus.
  • Sellick’s false understanding of Fundamentalism is it “would tie us to a written word that displaces the Word to which it is a witness.” Again, he’s barking up the wrong tree. Fundamentalists / evangelicals regard the written Scriptures as one of God’s way of speaking to individuals.
  • Over more than 50 years as an Evangelical believer, the Lord has spoken numerous times to me from Scripture but it has never been a message contrary to what is in Scripture.

1.4.2 Fundamentalists and the Word of God

Let’s survey a few verses that have two emphases: (1) True believers are led by God’s Holy Spirit; (2) Do not add to God’s Word (for the Old Testament).

  • Rom 8:14 (NLT), “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.”
  • Proverbs 30:5-6 (NLT), “Every word of God proves true. He is a shield to all who come to him for protection. Do not add to his words, or he may rebuke you and expose you as a liar.”
  • John 17:17 (NLT), “Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth.”
  • 1 Thessalonians 2:13 (NLT), “Therefore, we never stop thanking God that when you received his message from us, you didn’t think of our words as mere human ideas. You accepted what we said as the very word of God—which, of course, it is. And this word continues to work in you who believe.”

These 4 sets of verses demonstrate God’s written word is truth and we are not to add to it (Prov 30:5-6). Also, in agreement with Sellick, there are those who can be led by the Spirit of God. Having the boundary of Scripture is a solid “fence” against false doctrine.

Jesus warned – even people like Peter Sellick would arise: “For false messiahs and false prophets will rise up and perform great signs and wonders so as to deceive, if possible, even God’s chosen ones” (Matt 24:24 NLT). Therefore, it is necessary to have theological boundaries that are rock solid as the Scriptures (2 Tim 3:16-17 NIV).

1.5 How about after Apostles’ deaths?

Have there been miracles recorded after the death of the Apostles?

1.5.1 St. Augustine of Hippo

Here are a few examples of miracles, performed by the power of God, described in The City of God.

Augustine of Hippo

Triunfo de San Agustín.jpg

The Triumph of Saint Augustine painted by Claudio Coello, c. 1664

a) In Milan, when Augustine was there,

a blind man was restored to sight. . . .  the emperor was there at the time, and the occurrence was witnessed by an immense concourse of people that had gathered to the bodies of the martyrs Protasius and Gervasius. . . .  By virtue of these remains the darkness of that blind man was scattered, and he saw the light of day” (City of God, 22.8).

This miracle involved the use of relics associated with the bodies of martyrs. I will address this issue of relics shortly.

(b) Innocentius at Carthage had a bowel condition, was “treated by medical men” with surgery but it was not successful.  Second surgery was threatened with the surgeons saying “he could onle be cured by the knife.  Agitated with excessive fear, he was terrified.”  There was such “wailing” in the house.  It seemed “like the mourning at a funeral” because of “the terror” the “pains had produced.”  He was exhorted “to put his trust in God.”  Then they “went to prayer ” with “earnestness and emotion, with what a flood of tears, with what groans and sobs.”  When it came time for the proposed surgery, the surgeon searched and searched but there was no disease found.  Augustine writes: “No words of mine can describe the joy, and praise, and thanksgiving to the merciful and almighty God which was poured from the lips of all, with tears of gladness. Let the scene be imagined rather than described!” (The City of God, 22.8)

(c) A woman had breast cancer and her breast was to be removed because the “physicians” said it was “incurable.”  This godly woman went to “God alone by prayer.  [At] Easter, she was instructed in a dream to wait for the first woman that came out from the baptistery after being baptized, and to ask her to make the sign of Christ upon her sore. She did so, and was immediately cured.”  When the physician examined her and now found no cancer, he asked her what “remedy” she had used.  When she told him, he spoke “with a contemptuous tone” and she feared that “he would utter some blasphemy against Christ.”

He said that he thought that she would tell him of “some great [medical] discovery.”  “She, shuddering at his indifference, quickly replied, ‘What great thing was it for Christ to heal a cancer, who raised one who had been four days dead’” (City of God, 22.8).

2. An objection, with a difference, by Forster

Forster worries that since the resurrection is the cornerstone of Christian belief, (I agree) then if it was found not to have happened then the Church will fall. The irony here is that the Church has already fallen. All Nicene denominations that I know of have a critical shortage of priests/ministers who serve smaller and smaller congregations. The Church is spurned by educated men and women because it is presented by Evangelicals as a collection of beliefs that, ironically, do not connect with our experience of the world. These beliefs trail questions behind them too numerous to count. This means that the Church loses its authority because it is plainly irrational. Modern epistemology, applied to biblical texts, produces nonsense and trails unsolvable questions in its wake. The damage to the Church is inestimable.

How should I reply?

  • “The Church, after Nicea, has already fallen.” I agree, but that’s not because it is Evangelical. It has fallen because theological liberalism has torn the heart out of the church.

2.1 Theologically liberal churches declined.

The general trend is for liberal churches to be declining in numbers and Pentecostal and Evangelical churches growing. The exception is the Presbyterians which were the biggest losers in this survey. Take a look at these Australian statistics:

Some Australian denominations are in rapid decline while others are growing. According to our calculations based on various surveys, between 1996 and 2006, the numbers attending on a typical Sunday in Australia declined in the following denominations:

-36% Presbyterians,

-31% Uniting Church,

-25% Lutheran,

-19% Catholic,

-12% Anglican, and

-1% Seventh-day Adventist.

“The Church of England is just one generation away from extinction‘, (said) the former Archbishop of Canterbury” (Lord George Carey).

When John Shelby Spong was Bishop of the Episcopalian Church, Newark NJ, the Episcopalian Church lost 40,000 people. “His works infamously speculated that the Virgin Mary was impregnated by a Roman soldier, that St. Paul was a self-hating homosexual, and that Jesus’ unresurrected body was torn asunder by wild dogs.”

The numbers attending the following denominations grew:

+88% Oriental Christian denominations,

+27% Pentecostal denominations,

+25% Brethren,

+11% Baptist, and

+3% Salvation Army.

The Christian Brethren is a very conservative denomination that closes down women in public ministry in the church service, yet it grew by 25%. There are various levels of conservatism in the Christian Brethren, ranging from the Exclusive (Plymouth) Brethren to the Open Brethren.

2.2 Shortage of ministers

I agree there can be a shortage of ordained ministers in some denominations. My view is that it is related to an unbiblical view of the need for a one-person main pastor. The early churches were house churches where all believers were encouraged to minister. See:

2.3 Serving smaller congregations

That is so for theologically liberal congregations. In the greater Brisbane suburb of Burpengary, on Pitt Rd, there is an old Anglican church and a much larger and more modern Baptist Church building almost opposite each other. The Baptist Church tells which is the more prosperous.

2.4 “Evangelicals do not connect with experience of the world.”

If they don’t, they have moved away from Jesus’ model of being the “light of the world” and the “salt of the earth.”

2.5 “Church is plainly irrational.”

Yes, it can be if we are not thinking Christians who engage in apologetics in defence of the faith. Church that becomes touch-feely and into feelings can sound like irrationality. My personal experience is that I’ve experienced that dimension in some charismatic churches.

The Christian faith is rational. See: Logic and Christian discussions.

I must admit I’ve battled to see apologetics as an important dimension of most churches’ ministries. See: The battle for apologetics in Christian thinking

2.6 “Modern epistemology applied to biblical texts produces nonsense.”

What could he mean by “modern epistemology”? Epistemology means “the theory of knowledge, especially with regard to its methods, validity, and scope, and the distinction between justified belief and opinion” (Oxford English Dictionary 2021, “epistemology”).

The Christian theory of knowledge is comprehensive, including origins of all life, divine revelation of God and his universe, origin of values, a comprehensive world view, and destiny for life and creation. One does not have to like God’s view but it is not nonsensical. In fact, the Christian view of truth is that which coincides with reality.

What could be “nonsense” about a Christian view of contemporary epistemology? It seems he could be pointing to:

2.6.1 What is truth?

See: What is truth?

Truth, aletheia, is that which conforms to reality.

Here are two recommended resources for an analysis of the nature of truth:

2.6.2 It is crucial that we understand Christianity as truth.

Down through the centuries, people have tried to find answers to life through the biblical world view and hundreds of other philosophies. But we have reached utter despair in Australia today. I see it in kids who are high on all kinds of drugs, youth who are committing suicide as a phenomenal rate. When I was working for the international Christian-based drug rehabilitation and counselling agency, Teen Challenge, Canberra, we as staff were confronted with three attempted suicides referred to us in one week. There is a sense of hopelessness and disillusionment in Australia. Families that are busting apart. Crime on the increase. Approximately 100,000 unborn babies slaughtered in Australia every year through abortion. That’s about one every seven minutes.

This should not be surprising when our society is influenced by the Eastern mysticism and occult of the New Age Movement, or straight secularism — this life is all there is to live for and then you die you (your body) rot. So eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow you die. In eastern mysticism you seek meaning within yourself. For secularism, it is this life — so rip into it and use and abuse people, yourself and your environment. Who cares? You only go round once.

As a result, the Australian culture and much of the world are morally exhausted. If you don’t believe me, just take a look at the suicide rate, sexual promiscuity, divorce rate, premarital pregnancy rate, abortion and euthanasia, sexually transmitted diseases (in 1988, there were 51 STDs. Now we are approaching 60 STDs, with a new one discovered about every 9 months.)[4]  Australia and the Western world are morally destitute.

It is critical for Christians to understand that Christ is the truth, ultimate truth. This will alter your view of Christianity and the nature of the world. Your university studies, the environment for political and ethical decisions, your personal worth and significance, the whole of life, need to be measured by Him. If a personal God is not there, who is? When Charlie Chaplin heard that there was no life on Mars, he said, “I feel lonely.”[5] Ultimate questions are too horrid to contemplate if there is no meaning apart from me and the universe. Thank God we have this revelation:

Jesus Christ says, “I am the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (Rev 1:8; 21:6; 22:13). The beginning and the end flow from him. The past, present and future are His.

Colossians 1:15-17 says: “And He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on the earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities — all things have been created by Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.”

This Jesus, who said, “I am the truth; I am the beginning and the end” and “all things hold together through Him” is also the one who said, “Sanctify them by the truth; [the Father’s] word is truth” (John 17:17 NIV).

2.7 Leaves unsolvable questions trailing.

Not for me. It leaves questions for which I seek answers. Old Testament scholar, Dr Gleason Archer, would not accept the Bible’s inerrancy until he had answers for all the biblical doubts he had about certain passages. Read his conclusions in Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties.

There are not unsolvable questions, but questions for which answers need to be sought and found.

2.8 Damage to Church is inestimable

I would put it in the realm of challenges to the Church to provide answers for the young people of a new generation. In addition to Gleason Archer’s book, I recommend:

Hard Sayings of the Bible by Walter C Kaiser Jr., Peter H Davids, F F Bruce, and Manfred T Brauch. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1996.

When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook of Bible Difficulties by Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1992.

3.  Works consulted

Carson, D A. The gospel according to John. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press / Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991.

Sellick, P 2019. The origin of facts. On Line Opinion (online), 20 February. Available at: (Accessed 16 September 2019).

Whitford, Chris 2020. Christchurch Clarendon Park. ‘Fake theology: even more dangerous than fake news?’ Available at: (Accessed 12 July 2020).

4.  Notes

[1] Sellick (2019).

[2] Chris Whitford 2020. Christchurch Clarendon Park (online). ‘Fake theology: even more dangerous than fake news?’ Available at: (Accessed 12 July 2020).

[3] Ibid.

[4] John Ankerberg & John Weldon, The Myth of Safe Sex. Chicago: Moody Press, 1993, p. 53.

[5] In Charles Colson, The Body, p. 161.

Copyright © 2021 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 10 September 2021.

Damning evidence against theological liberalism

By Spencer D Gear

J Gresham Machen wrote this book in 1923, Christianity & Liberalism (New York: Macmillan). It is now in the public domain. An html version is HERE.

(image courtesy Eerdmans)

He wrote:

In the sphere of religion, in particular, the present time is a time of conflict; the great redemptive religion which has always been known as Christianity is battling against a totally diverse type of religious belief, which is only the more destructive of the Christian faith because it makes use of traditional Christian terminology. This modern non-redemptive religion is called “modernism” or “liberalism.” Both names are unsatisfactory; the latter, in particular, is question-begging. The movement designated as “liberalism” is regarded as “liberal” only by its friends; to its opponents it seems to involve a narrow ignoring of many relevant facts. And indeed the movement is so various in its manifestations that one may almost despair of finding any common name which will apply to all its forms. But manifold as are the forms in which the movement appears, the root of the movement is one; the many varieties of modern liberal religion are rooted in naturalism–that is, in the denial of any entrance of the creative power of God (as distinguished from the ordinary course of nature) in connection with the origin of Christianity. The word “naturalism” is here used in a sense somewhat different from its philosophical meaning. In this non-philosophical sense it describes with fair accuracy the real root of what is called, by what may turn out to be a degradation of an originally noble word, “liberal” religion (Machen 1923:4-5).

If it was bad then, imagine what it is like in the early 21st century?

What are the differences in belief between orthodox Christianity and liberal Christianity? How do we define ‘orthodox Christianity’ and ‘liberal Christianity’?

The orthodox, evangelical Christianity with which I am associated can be defined according to the Statement of Faith of the National Association of Evangelicals:

  • We believe the Bible to be the inspired, the only infallible, authoritative Word of God.
  • We believe that there is one God, eternally existent in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
  • We believe in the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ, in His virgin birth, in His sinless life, in His miracles, in His vicarious and atoning death through His shed blood, in His bodily resurrection, in His ascension to the right hand of the Father, and in His personal return in power and glory.
  • We believe that for the salvation of lost and sinful people, regeneration by the Holy Spirit is absolutely essential.
  • We believe in the present ministry of the Holy Spirit by whose indwelling the Christian is enabled to live a godly life.
  • We believe in the resurrection of both the saved and the lost; they that are saved unto the resurrection of life and they that are lost unto the resurrection of damnation.
  • We believe in the spiritual unity of believers in our Lord Jesus Christ.

The liberal Christianity to which I refer can be defined according to ‘This we believe’ of the Progressive Christian Network (PCN) in Britain. The development of this credo was explained:

Gradually the focus of discussion changed. The statements in the Nicene Creed do not make any reference to the implications for us as followers of Jesus, they are historic statements to meet the particular need of the time when they are created … but for all of us, it was the commitment to follow Jesus which was paramount. It was agreed that we all regarded ourselves as “followers of Jesus whose life expressed something utterly profound and took to the limit the idea that power is not all important, that expressed the values of love, peace and justice.” We are all “committed to the way of Jesus which we find worthwhile and which takes us nearer to the underlying sacredness …. To God” and therein is mystery.

This is a developing, possible statement of faith or credo of progressive, liberal Christian faith by the Progressive Christian Network (Britain). It states:

    We are committed to:

  • being Jesus’ followers
  • imitating / living Jesus’ values
  • valuing Jesus’ example
  • sharing Jesus’ way to deity
  • trusting life’s ultimate goodness, sacredness and purpose.

The National Council of Churches (USA) has a liberal Christian statement of faith that lacks the essential theological specifics, just like the PCN’s credo. The NCC’s statement of faith it:

The National Council of Churches is a community of Christian communions, which, in response to the gospel as revealed in the Scriptures, confess Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word of God, as Savior and Lord.

These communions covenant with one another to manifest ever more fully the unity of the Church.

Relying upon the transforming power of the Holy Spirit, the communions come together as the Council in common mission, serving in all creation to the glory of God.

Both of these affirmations of theological liberalism don’t want to get into the specifics of the nature of God, human beings, sin, salvation, and Jesus Christ. Nebulous is the way to go!

Enter John Shelby Spong

Bishop John Shelby Spong portrait 2006.png

(photo courtesy Wikipedia)

One of the most damning pieces of evidence against John Shelby Spong’s theologically liberal views are what happened when he was bishop of the Episcopalian Church, Newark, NJ. It is reported inNewark’s Disastrous Decline Under Spong: Post-Mortem of a Bishop’s Tenure’.[1] Here it was reported:

Prior to Spong’s arrival as bishop coadjutor in 1977, the Diocese of Newark, like the Episcopal Church in the U.S.A (ECUSA), was facing a slow but steady decline from its peak membership in the 1960s. After Spong became the bishop in 1979, the rate of decline began to pick up.

Between 1978 and 1999, the number of baptized persons in the diocese fell from 64,323 to 36,340, a loss of 27,983 members in 21 years. That’s a disastrous 43.5% decline. The Episcopal Church, by contrast, saw a decline in the number of baptized persons from 3,057,162 in 1978 to 2,339,133 in 1997, a loss of 718, 499, or a substantial 23.4%, according to the 1998 Church Annual.

The Diocese of Newark under Spong, thus, has declined at a rate 20.1 percentage points higher than the rate for the entire Episcopal Church. This rate of decline is 86% faster than the Episcopal Church, whose losses are considerable in and of themselves.

As any statistician would note, the losses in the Diocese of Newark represent a highly statistically significant variation from the trends within the Episcopal Church. No systematic effort has been made to get at the exact causes that made losses in the diocese so much greater.

Ominously for the future, church members in the diocese are also getting older and there are fewer children in Sunday School. In 1976 there Were 10,186 children pupils in Sunday School. In 1999 there were only 4,833, a loss of 5,353. That’s 52.6% decline.

By 1997 the diocese had closed at least 18 parishes or missions which had existed when Spong became bishop. All of these parishes or missions were in urban areas. The details of the closing of these churches was reported by the author in an article in United Voice in 1997 titled “The Diocese of Newark’s Graveyard of Urban Ministry.”

The rate of decline under Spong – already fairly torrid – sharply accelerated after 1995. During the 1980s and early 1990s, there was often a loss of 1,000 members a year. From 1995 to 1998, there was a stunning drop from 44, 246 to 36,597 in only three years, a drop of 7,649 — or more than 2,500 a year.

The rate of membership decline under Spong is disastrous by any reasonable measure. Such a pace of decline cannot continue if the diocese is to survive and if the Episcopal church is to retain more than a marginal presence in northern New Jersey.

What’s the truth about the death of theism? Wherever theological liberalism has taken hold, church numbers have declined. Frank Pastore put it this way: ‘We’ve all witnessed the plummeting attendance of liberal mainline denominations for decades’ (‘The National Council of Churches should have died’).

An example would be the USA Episcopal Church. This recent article, ‘Episcopal Church Task Force Releases Report on Restructuring Plans(July 17, 2013).

“Entrenched bureaucracies and dozens of committees or commissions have accumulated over time. This has occurred even as the Episcopal Church has dropped from a high of 3.6 million members in the mid-1960s to 1.9 million members today,” said Walton. “The large amount of money that sustained these structures in the past is long gone, and the church looks very different than it did a generation ago.”

What’s the evidence for Church growth & decline?

Missions Jump

(image courtesy ChristArt)

Go to Christian forums on the Internet and you can find those who are promoting theological liberalism and want to put down anything that seems to be of a conservative Christian persuasion. Here are samples:

In my research on church growth or decline, I found these helpful statistics on church growth and decline:

As these links indicate statistically and generally, conservative, evangelical Protestants and conservative Roman Catholics around the world are growing in numbers while liberal Christian denominations are diminishing in size. The statistics are in and they are not applauding theological liberalism. Conservative, orthodox Christianity is on the upswing (generally) while liberalism is on the decline.

Frank Pastore’s assessment of the theologically liberal National Council of Churches (USA) was:

So much for the ‘church’ part of the National Council. These liberal groups really are putting their money where their mouth(piece) is, right onto the lips of the NCC.

The next time you hear or read the words “National Council of Churches”, remember they don’t represent the people in the pews, they represent the liberal foundations and organizations that are keeping them on life support.

The market had shouted. The NCC should have died.


[1] This is referring to retired Episcopal bishop, John Shelby Spong. See his website HERE. See also:

(1) Bonhoeffer versus John Shelby Spong;

(2) John Shelby Spong: Anglican Nightmare;

(3) Spong, the Measure of All Things;

(4) Bishop Spong, the Theological Criminal: The Virtual Atheism of John Shelby Spong;

(5) Spong Kong Phooey: Why Spong’s “Christianity” is already dead;

(6) What’s Wrong With (Former) Bishop Spong? Rethinking the Scholarship of John Shelby Spong;

(7) Things John Shelby Spong Thinks He Knows About the Gospel of John;

(8) The bishop who was not.

Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 13 March 2017.

What’s happening to music in evangelical churches?


(image courtesy ChristArt)

by Spencer D Gear

There was a discussion on the use of instruments in church music on Christian Forums. One writer wrote:

[My] argument is in reference to those churches which have music bands with drummers and guitarists…. it doesn’t’ attract youths but certainly make them comfortable, the music is the same with the world’s music. Furthermore did anyone researched on the origins of drum beats? it originated from voodoo practice whereby they would beat a rhythm during their witchcraft worship. How many churches still practice old fashion hymns with just an organ or piano?[1]

[2]How does this view of drums fit with the use of cymbals? They are pretty loud instruments.

Here are some cross references dealing with loud percussion instruments:

Drum Praise

(image courtesy ChristArt)

1 Corinthians 13:1 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.

2 Samuel 6:5 David and all Israel were celebrating with all their might before the LORD, with castanets[3], harps, lyres, timbrels, sistrums[4] and cymbals.[5]

1 Chronicles 13:8 David and all the Israelites were celebrating with all their might before God, with songs and with harps, lyres, timbrels, cymbals and trumpets.

1 Chronicles 15:16 David told the leaders of the Levites to appoint their fellow Levites as musicians to make a joyful sound with musical instruments: lyres, harps and cymbals.

Ezra 3:10 When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the LORD, the priests in their vestments and with trumpets, and the Levites (the sons of Asaph) with cymbals, took their places to praise the LORD, as prescribed by David king of Israel.

Nehemiah 12:27 At the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem, the Levites were sought out from where they lived and were brought to Jerusalem to celebrate joyfully the dedication with songs of thanksgiving and with the music of cymbals, harps and lyres.

New International Version ©2011 by Biblica

As for churches that sing hymns accompanied by piano and/or organ, there are not many around my region. However, the last 2 churches my wife and I have attended, including the current one, sing hymns from hymn books (now on digital projectors). One was Baptist and was packed to the rafters with people, including considerable numbers of teens and young adults. There was no need to do thrash music to attract the youth at that Baptist church.

The other, the one we currently attend, is Presbyterian. The congregation is elderly with a few young families – but not too many – and the numbers are dwindling. That has more to do with the lack of outreach than the nature of the music. I know of another Presbyterian church in Brisbane that has thrash music with expository preaching. A friend I know attends that church and puts up with the music so that he can be edified by the preaching.

Some of the issues for us

Listen to iPod

(image courtesy ChristArt)

These are some of the musical issues in churches for my wife and me:

  1. Does the service focus on worship of the trinitarian Lord God Almighty or is it human-centred? We seek the former.
  2. Is the content of the lyrics of the songs, hymns and spiritual songs Christ-centred and promoting sound doctrine? I’m finding many contemporary songs to have too many trite, subjective lyrics. There are a few with these characteristics in the older songs as well.
  3. Does the music drown out the lyrics or is the music meant to be an accompaniment to help with the adequate singing of the hymns/songs?
  4. Are the melodies singable for the average person who attends a church service? I’m a very average singer and I find many of the contemporary songs to be not meant for congregational singing, but are meant for performance by a group and band.
  5. Does the music support or detract from the message of the preacher/teacher?
  6. How much of the music is influenced by the nature of music in the contemporary culture?

To be honest, I am concerned at the direction in which many evangelical churches are going with music and preaching content in my part of the world. Contemporary music, light lyrics and topical sermons are the order of the day in evangelical churches.

Here are but two examples of the light lyrics, in my understanding:

Air I Breathe[6]

This is the Air I Breathe
This is the Air I Breathe
Your holy presence living in me

This is my daily bread
This is my daily bread
Your very word spoken to me


And I
I’m desperate for you
And I
I’m lost without you

Never let me go[7]

In the shadows; My spirit weak
Love broke through the darkness and lifted me
And I know you’ll never let me go

In the storm in the raging sea
Love conquered the fear and delivered me
And I know you’ll never let me go

Oh love in the shadows
Be the light who leads me on
You’re love I will follow
Be my guide, You’re will be done
Oh Lord

In the arms of the One unseen
Love carried the cross that was meant for me
And I know you’ll never let me go

Oh love in the shadows
Be the light who leads me on
You’re love I will follow
Be my guide, You’re will be done

Oh Lord I surrender, now forever I’ll be loved
In the love of the Father, You are faithful You are strong
So hold me now, hold me now, hold me now

Nothing in this life has walked these streets
Love opened my eyes show me what You see
And I know I’ll never let You go

Now compare

There is power in the blood

Would you be free from the burden of sin?
There’s power in the blood, power in the blood;
Would you o’er evil a victory win?
There’s wonderful power in the blood.


There is power, power, wonder working power
In the blood of the Lamb;
There is power, power, wonder working power
In the precious blood of the Lamb.

Would you be free from your passion and pride?
There’s power in the blood, power in the blood;
Come for a cleansing to Calvary’s tide;
There’s wonderful power in the blood.


Would you be whiter, much whiter than snow?
There’s power in the blood, power in the blood;
Sin stains are lost in its life giving flow.
There’s wonderful power in the blood.


Would you do service for Jesus your King?
There’s power in the blood, power in the blood;
Would you live daily His praises to sing?
There’s wonderful power in the blood.


How great Thou art

Lord my God! When I in awesome wonder
Consider all the works thy hand hath made,
I see the stars, I hear the mighty thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed;


Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, how great Thou art!
Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, how great Thou art!

When through the woods and forest glades I wander
and hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees;
when I look down from lofty mountain grandeur,
and hear the brook, and feel he gentle breeze;


And when I think that God his son not sparing,
Sent him to die – I scarce can take it in,
That on the cross my burden gladly bearing,
He bled and died to take away my sin:


When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation
And take me home- what joy shall fill my heart!
Then I shall bow in humble adoration
And there proclaim, my God, how great thou art!
Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, how great Thou art!
Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, how great Thou art!

Do you see the picture of what is happening to music in the evangelical church?


Youngblood, R F 1992, 1, 2 Samuel, in F E Gaebelein (gen ed), The expositor’s Bible commentary, vol 3, 553-1104. Youngblood, R F 1992, 1, 2 Samuel, in F E Gaebelein (gen ed), The expositor’s Bible commentary, vol 3, 553-1104. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.


[1] Christian Forums, Baptists, ‘Music: If it feels good, do it!’ zanness#171, available at: (Accessed 2 May 2013).

[2] The following is my response as OzSpen#181, ibid.

[3] The 1978 edition of the NIV translated this word as ‘songs’. Youngblood explains: ‘”Songs” (perhaps of victory….), the singular of Hebrew for which is sometimes equivalent to “music” (cf. 1 Chron 25:6-7) introduces the list of accompanying musical instruments that follows’ (Youngblood 1992:870). It does not make sense to me that the 2011 NIV translated with ‘castanets’, which is not common English here in Australia, when ‘songs’ would be much clearer to the contemporary reader. The ESV translates as ‘songs’ but notes that this is from the ‘Septuagint, 1 Chronicles 13:8, Hebrew fir trees’.

[4] ‘The systrum, mentioned only here in the OT, was used widely throughout the ancient Near East, especially in Egypt. It consisted of a handle fitted to “a metal loop with holes through which pieces of wire were inserted and bent at the ends. Since the holes were larger than the wire, the instrument produced a jingling sound when shaken. The Hebrew word comes from a verb which means ‘shake;’ so it is reasonable to suppose that the mea’an’im were sistra (Sellers, “Musical Instruments of Israel,” pp. 44-45)’ (Youngblood 1992:870).

[5] ‘”Cymbals” were of two kinds, one set of which were struck vertically (harsh/noisy cymbals) and the other horizontally (clear cymbals). The former may be reflected in the “clash of cymbals” and the latter in the “resounding cymbals” of Psalm 150:5. The cymbals here were probably clear cymbals (similar to but smaller than their modern descendants, bronze examples of which (cf. 1 Chron. 15:19) archaeologists have found at several cites in Israel (e.g. Beth Shemesh …; Hazor. While not mentioning sistrums, the parallel passage in 1 Chronicles 13:8 concludes the list with “trumpets,” resulting in a total of six different musical instruments used to accompany the first attempt to bring the ark from Kiriath Jearim to Jerusalem’ (Youngblood 1992:870).

[6] Available at AlltheLyrics: (Accessed 2 May 2013).

[7] Available at AlltheLyrics: (Accessed 2 May 2013).


Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 16 April 2016.

Is fundamentalism a theological swear word?

Image result for photograph J I Packer

(photo J I Packer, photo courtesy Vertical Living Ministries)

By Spencer D Gear

In my part of the world (Australia), to be labelled a ‘fundamentalist’ in relation to Christianity is to talk down to a person who is strict in his/her understanding of Bible doctrines. He or she may even dare to believe that the Bible in the original documents (the autographa) is the inerrant Scripture from God to human beings.

I also meet this kind of thinking on Christian forums on the Internet. Here’s one example:

Many in this forum hate me because I don’t accept the same fundamentalist views that they share. They don’t understand that outside of America, fundamentalism isn’t common and is viewed as a fringe belief.[1]

This was my response as OzSpen[2]

As far back as 1958, J I Packer[3] wrote, ‘Fundamentalism’ and the Word of God (London: Inter-Varsity Fellowship). Some of his points include:

  1. Fundamentalism ‘is a word that combines the vaguest conceptual meaning with the strongest emotional flavour. “Fundamentalist” has long been a term of ecclesiastical abuse, a theological swear-word’ (p. 30).
  2. Fundamentalism ‘is, we maintain, the oldest version of Christianity; theologically regarded, it is just apostolic Christianity itself’ (p. 38).
  3. ‘The problem of authority is the most fundamental problem that the Christian Church ever faces. This is because Christianity is built on truth: that is to say, on the content of a divine revelation’ (p. 42).
  4. ‘To deny the normative authority of Scripture over the Church is to misconceive the nature of Christianity, and, in effect, to deny the Lordship of Christ’ (p. 68).
  5. [He is responding to liberalism’s attacks on ‘fundamentalists’ when he stated that] ‘The fundamental cleavage between so-called ‘Fundamentalists’ and their critics. The latter are, in fact, subjectivists in the matter of authority. Their position is based on an acceptance of the presuppositions and conclusions of nineteenth-century critical Bible study, which are radically at variance with the Bible’s own claims for itself’ (p. 72).
  6. ‘We have seen what the real issues are: the authority of Christ and the Scripture; the relation between the Bible and reason; the method of theology, and the meaning of repentance; the choice between Evangelicalism and Subjectivism…. First principles must be first dealt with. Evangelicals should not let themselves be intimidated by the shower of explosive words–‘Fundamentalist’, ‘obscurantist’, ‘literalist’ and the rest–that is regularly poured out upon them. they should request a reasoned statement of the accusations preferred against them…. For Evangelicals are bound, as servants of God and disciples of Christ, to oppose Subjectivism wherever they find it. Defending truth, and exposing error, are two aspects of the same task’ (p. 176).

That should be a starter from someone who is a British-born Anglican fundamentalist / evangelical scholar, theologian and exegete, J I Packer. He’s a Brit and thoroughly fundamentalist, but a scholarly presenter of biblical truth.

By the way, outside of USA and here in Australia, fundamentalism / evangelicalism is seen as Bible-based Christianity with a high view of Scripture. Of course, there may be extremists who are KJV-only and somewhat sectarian, but I’ve seen that in liberal Anglicanism and Uniting Churches Down Under as well. Try being an evangelical in a liberal Anglican, Uniting or Roman Catholic Church in Australia and you’ll be on the outer – really quickly!

So, who really are the fundamentalists? Those who disagree with your Bible-believing Christianity and label you as fundamentalist!


[1] Greneknight #56 , Christian Forums, Apologetics, ‘Morality’, available at: (Accessed 22 August 2012).

[2] OzSpen #59, available at: (Accessed 22 August 2012).

[3] The InterVarsity Press website gives these CV details of Packer, ‘J. I. Packer is Board of Governors’ Professor of Theology at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia. He also serves as contributing editor to Christianity Today. Packer’s writings include books such as Knowing God (IVP Books), A Quest for Godliness (Crossway), Growing in Christ (Crossway) and Rediscovering Holiness (Servant), and numerous articles published in journals such as Churchman, SouthWestern Journal, Christianity Today, Reformation & Revival Journal and Touchstone. Available at: (Accessed 22 August 2012).

Copyright © 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 17 January 2019.

Is N T Wright an evangelical?[1]


(N T Wright 2007, courtesy Wikipedia)

By Spencer D Gear

What is N. T. Wright’s position regarding evangelical Christianity? Rowan Williams, (hardly known for any evangelical persuasion) on the back cover of N. T. Wright’s magnificent exposition, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Fortress Press 2003) states:

No one could read this without learning something fresh about almost every verse of the Synoptics, and being provoked into new wrestling with the text … an Evangelical energy that will make it a book for prayerful meditations as well as intellectual stimulus (emphasis added).

You (ebia) may not like what Tom (N T) Wright calls his own theological perspective. He unashamedly calls himself an Anglican evangelical, but you don’t want to be identified as an evangelical, but you want to be associated with Tom Wright’s theological perspective. This is what Tom Wright says about his own view of his theological position:

I believe that to call myself an evangelical Anglican, and/or

an Anglican evangelical, is not to precipitate an identity problem, let alone a crisis, but rather to place myself at that point on the ecclesiological map where I am free to learn how to be a Bible person, a Gospel person, a Church person (emphasis added).[2]

This article associates N T Wright with the “open evangelical” movement.

Ridley Hall at Cambridge University, where Wright has taught, gives this explanation of the meaning of ‘open evangelical’:

We are unashamedly evangelical in our commitment to the authority of Scripture, the need for personal faith, the uniqueness of Christ and the free gift of eternal life for humankind only through his death on the cross. We recognize the truth of orthodox Christian belief as expressed in the early Creeds of the Church. We are open in a number of ways:

Open to the world around us. If we are to communicate the Gospel effectively we must be engaged in a process of “double listening” to the Bible and to the world, hearing the questions and the insights of others around us, and working to hear the message of the scriptures in the light of this.

Open to God’s work in other Christian traditions. Evangelicals do not have a monopoly on the truth, and through partnership and dialogue we seek to be open to learn from what God has done and is doing in other parts of His Church. This refers to other Christians in our own Western setting, but must also increasingly include the voices of our fellow believers in the Two-Thirds World.

Open to playing our full part within the Church of England. Following the lead set by the National Evangelical Anglican Congresses at Keele in 1967 and Nottingham in 1977, Open Evangelicals are committed to involvement in the structures of the Church of England and to making a significant constructive contribution to the direction of the Church’s life. And finally.

Open to God saying new things through the Bible and His Spirit. Being under the authority of scripture means we may need to be ready to change our mind as we understand more fully.

So, in identifying with the theology of Tom Wright, are you distancing yourself from identifying yourself as an Anglican evangelical when you say that you are not an evangelical. If so, you are not associating with the theology of Tom Wright as he defines his own theology.

Ebia did admit:

I don’t choose to use the label about myself [evangelical or liberal theology]. I’m not a big fan of labels.
I’m not a member of the green party either.[3]
I have been an active member, including Warden and lay-preacher, in an evangelical parish for the last few years. I’ve also been teaching Catholic RE. I’m comfortable in both contexts.[4]


[1] This was my response (I’m OzSpen) to ebia, Christian Forums, Christian Scriptures, “Documentary Hypothesis” #36, available at: (Accessed 30 December 2011). Ebia did not want to identify herself as an evangelical (Anglican) or a theological liberal.

[2] Tom Wright 1980. “Justification: The Biblical Basis and its Relevance for contemporary Evangelicalism”, available at: (Accessed 30 December 2011).

[3] However her icon on Christian Forums indicates that she identifies with the Australian Greens Party.

[4] Christian Forums #41, available at: (Accessed 30 December 2011).


Copyright © 2011 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 15 October 2015.