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’ (lexico.com 2020. “fake news”).
So, what would fake theology be? Rev Dr David contends that ‘fake theology [is] even more dangerous than fake news’.
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’.
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,
- The Bible as reliable history
- Old Testament documents confirmed as reliable again
- The Bible: fairy tale or history?
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.
Mangrove 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.
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:
-31% Uniting Church,
-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.”
+88% Oriental Christian denominations,
+27% Pentecostal denominations,
+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.”
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:
- Challenges to evolutionary ‘factual’ evidence
- Science becomes scientism
- Has evolution been proved by science?
- Evolutionists denying presuppositions of evolution
- · Learn how to screw up your worldview
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:
- ‘What is truth? (on the nature and importance of truth today)‘, Douglas Groothuis
- See Norman Geisler’s 3-part series, ‘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.) 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.” 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: https://www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=20167&page=0 (Accessed 16 September 2019).
Whitford, Chris 2020. Christchurch Clarendon Park. ‘Fake theology: even more dangerous than fake news?’ Available at: https://www.christchurchcp.org.uk/fake-theologyeven-more-dangerous-than-fake-news/ (Accessed 12 July 2020).
 Sellick (2019).
 Chris Whitford 2020. Christchurch Clarendon Park (online). ‘Fake theology: even more dangerous than fake news?’ Available at: https://www.christchurchcp.org.uk/fake-theologyeven-more-dangerous-than-fake-news/ (Accessed 12 July 2020).
 John Ankerberg & John Weldon, The Myth of Safe Sex. Chicago: Moody Press, 1993, p. 53.
 In Charles Colson, The Body, p. 161.
Copyright © 2021 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 10 September 2021.