Interview with Archbishop of Sydney
Dr. Peter Jensen

from the Anglican Church League newsletter, April-May 2003.

Archbishop Peter Jensen

In February Archbishop Peter Jensen returned from a trip to the UK during which he addressed groups of evangelical Anglicans on the future of the Church.

Widely reported in the media as a “challenge to the new Archbishop of Canterbury”, the visit was in fact organised more than a year ago, well before the identity of the new archbishop was known.

Before his trip, ACL News spoke with Peter on a range of topics which will be close to the hearts of ACL members – focussing on the task of presenting the gospel of the Lord Jesus to the people of Sydney. In view of the importance of the Diocesan Mission, the ACL is also sending this newsletter to lay Synod members, with our best wishes.

Questions are in italics – and we began by asking the Archbishop how he had found the first eighteen months in his new ministry…

Being Archbishop

How do you feel after 18 months in the job?

Christine and I miss the Moore College community very much – where we spent so long, and which means so much to us.

On the other hand, to have the privilege of this new position has been very invigorating and interesting – and it has given us an opportunity to meet an even wider group of people and to have an appreciation for what goes on in the churches. We’ve found the two have flowed into each other – our deep contacts with so many students has paid dividends as we move around the churches because we know so many people in the churches – including both the ministers and their wives. So it’s been tremendous to see the work being done in the college being capitalised on in the churches.

What about particular challenges? Personally, have things been unexpectedly difficult?

The loss of community has been the biggest thing. That has been made up in other ways – we’ve met other people, and there’s been fellowship with others we didn’t have before. So that’s been good – but we no longer live within a community. We also miss Newtown, which is an exciting and interesting place to live, though we are enjoying where we are now as well.

I don’t think there have been many surprises – if you’ve been in the Diocese for as long as we have and have observed Archbishops, you have a fair idea of what’s involved and what’s needed.

In some ways, this has coincided with our family reaching a point of independence and therefore we have slightly more time to ourselves in some ways, though the difference between this job and Moore College is that there is less time for solitude and working on my own than there was before. This job has more people in it – and less time for reading, reflection and thought.

Less community and less solitude?

Paradoxically, both are true.


What challenges do you see facing the Diocese?

There are challenges which face us – many of which are connected to the Mission.

There is the challenge to engage with the community in which we are living. We can no longer assume that people will know what Anglicans are – or even know what the Bible is and what the Christian faith is about. Simply the task of making these things public is a big one.

There’s also the future of Anglicanism. Although the tensions within the Australian Church have eased a little bit, that is because people are more prepared to go their own way and to let others go their own way – and that’s OK, but I don’t think we’ve resolved the nature of our relationship very well.

The outside world continually says that we (Sydney) are not Anglican and I think we need to do two things – firstly to reassert the nature of evangelical Anglicanism and to say that it is a true heir to the Reformation Anglicanism of the sixteenth century, and certainly has its place within the Anglican spectrum.

Secondly, we need to continually develop that Anglicanism and to Australianise it – in other words, to contextualise it.

I think people need to recognise that the word “Anglican” does not indicate something static. It has always been developing and will continue to do that. Unless we develop it wisely and well, we will lose it.

The Diocesan Mission

Sydney Synod has endorsed and committed itself to the Diocesan Mission. However a number of our brothers and sisters – some clergy, some lay people, not only feel inadequate, but are also apprehensive about the idea of aiming to see 10% in Bible-believing churches. Some have said that they feel it is a pragmatic and ungodly focus on numbers – even Arminian! How do we allay people’s fears when we are talking about 10% and measurable results?

First of all, feelings of inadequacy are widely shared – and not least by me. I’ve given several reasons why we’ve chosen 10% –

The first of which is that is it impossible for us to do it – it really needs to be a movement of God’s Spirit. We all feel inadequate about it and furthermore, many of us are in situation where it’s going to be very difficult to achieve something like that.

But it would be a shame to feel so inadequate as to have nothing to do with it or to back away from it.

Archbishop Peter JensenSecondly, in regard to whether it is theologically accurate or helpful or not – I just see it is part of planning. I don’t see anything inconsistent with us planning for mission. If you were a missionary going into a foreign country, you would certainly survey the scene and try to work out what to do. You would engage in mission planning.

The “ten percent” becomes Arminian or ungodly if it’s not surrounded by prayer and if it’s not recognised as a tool for mission – if people turn it into some sort of magic number or something which must be achieved by human effort.

You can see it working in very helpful and godly ways by opening people’s minds and imaginations as to their situation. Calvinism isn’t a quietist philosophy – it doesn’t put you in your chair and keep you there – it ought to galvanise you to action if it’s properly understood. The ten percent is part of that galvanising for action, that opening of the imagination and as long as it’s done, bearing in mind that it’s God who must do it, I see no danger in it at all. On the contrary, it’s been very useful so far.

Christine and I saw a video recently called “How the West will be won”. It wasn’t a professionally made video, it was better than that. It was an amateur video of quite a number of people just saying, “Look, we’ve started. We’re doing this, we’re doing that.” Ordinary people. They, too, feel inadequate, no doubt, but we mustn’t let feelings of inadequacy get in the way of doing what’s right.

Around the place, the ten percent vision is unlocking people’s imagination. That is clearly happening as people think what to do. And they are using it as a means of getting parish councils and other groups to do some real planning.

As well as that, all the big organisations of the Diocese are rethinking who they are. They are bringing themselves into alignment with the Mission. The Schools Corporation, Anglicare, the Anglican Retirement Villages, Moore College… they are all thinking, “How can we progress the Mission?”

So, organisations which have been sailing along, doing their work, but more or less independently, as a sort of broad flotilla, are now coming together and are also talking together for the first time ever. We’ve been having meetings of the leaders of all these big organisations – and they are actually taking together about the best way of doing this Mission. That’s extraordinary and wonderful.

There are lots of things happening.

We need to remember that it is not the alleged “centre” that will make these things happen. It really needs to be done locally and by individuals.

There are many churches which are small and struggling and might not see very much growth. Do you think the “10%” might be a negative thing if they don’t see growth anywhere near that?

I can understand that – and that’s why we need to be Calvinists. It is God who will work, not us. While we will work, we will do so under him. We will work faithfully, prayerfully. Where the ten percent challenges us is to work in a much more focussed and realistic way in what we’re trying to do. It oughtn’t to crush us.

We’re talking about 10% in the whole of the region – it may or may not occur in various areas. So I’m hoping that in a small and tough place, people will continue to be faithful, continue to be thinking beyond themselves, continue to look for God to work, to look for people who will get things going.

The ACL and The Mission

Do you see that the ACL can play a part in the Mission?

Yes. The ACL is a tremendously important organisation because it continually brings before us the need to make sure that our organisations and our diocesan committees are guided by Biblical principles. Part of the way the Diocese has been kept inside those Biblical parameters, has been through the work of the ACL.

So the ACL must keep doing what it’s been doing – and all the more – particularly if God blesses us and lots and lots of people flood into the churches. It’s all the more important that the mature Christians who are already in the churches should be alert to keeping our organisations going, keeping our committees sound, and to making sure that the Diocese keeps the evangelical fervour.

So the ACL, just by being the ACL, continues to have a crucial part to play. But then the developments in the last decade of the ACL, where it has taken a real interest in the affairs of the Diocese – whether it’s the Prayer Book, or whether it’s running meetings before Synod and so forth – in all those things the ACL is excellently placed to give evangelical leadership to a considerable number of people in our Diocese who look for that, value it and respond to it.

So I’d encourage the ACL, while not giving up its core business, to continually challenge us with the sort of theological-practical aspects of the Mission.

The Media

Not long after your election, you said that you want to talk as much as possible about God, Jesus and the Bible in the media and I think we’ve all seen that. Do you have any reflections on how you have been treated by the media and how you have gone in getting God onto the public agenda?

PFJ at Deep Impact 2001The media doesn’t owe us a living. We can never assume that they have to be friendly towards us. We must learn the art of speaking for Christ, God and the Bible when the subject matter is not of our choice. We can’t tell, in advance, what is going to interest the media and we have to take the opportunities as they are offered to us and still bring that Christian perspective explicitly to the front. I’ve not always found it easy to do that – or even possible to do that – but I will keep on trying.

The media, unconsciously perhaps, sense what we say, and doesn’t like us talking in this way, and therefore it requires persistence and skill to get that message out.

The thing that struck me, however, is the importance of so doing. Clearly, speaking strongly about Jesus, God and the Bible, has been of great importance for ordinary believers who had begun to think that they would never hear such things in the public media, and I’ve received many reports from people who have taken terrific courage in their own situations and have begun to use their own language in their own situations because I’ve had these opportunities to do so in the media. So we must keep doing it!

But the public arena, as defined by the media in this country, can be an uncomfortable place because there is lack of understanding about the Church and about our message and there is a focus on things that we don’t necessarily regard as being very important.

There has been some criticism of you and Christine personally – both in the media and from some other churchmen. How do you handle that?

On the whole, thanks to God, the media attention of the last eighteen months has not really affected me a great deal – one just learns to live with it and press on. There have been moments in the last couple of weeks where the attack has been on my personal integrity.

[Ed: In late 2002 some media carried allegations of ‘nepotism’ concerning the appointment of Phillip Jensen as Dean of Sydney and Christine Jensen to an unpaid position on Archdeacon Narelle Jarrett’s women’s ministry team.]

I have been sorry not to have been able to put the matter right so that our ordinary church people can see that there is nothing at all underhand or wrong in anything that has been done. It would be good to get the matter straight, but that is not the nature of the media and we have to learn to live with it.

Islam is in the media and in everyone’s thoughts. How can we respond in a helpful way to what is happening?

Tony Payne’s book “Islam in our Backyard” was published by Matthias Media in late 2002.

Subtitled “A novel argument” it is part novel and part essay. It goes behind media stereotypes to examine the beliefs and teaching of Islam in their essence and their diversity.

Tony explores the challenge that Islam brings to Western society – not just in relation to perceptions of terrorism, but more importantly in how we are going to deal with the big questions of ‘God’ and ‘truth’ in a multicultural society.

As a result, the book is not only useful for Christians who want to understand Islam, but it is appropriate for non-Christians who are open to investigating the truth about God.

It is available from most Christian bookstores and can also be purchased directly from Matthias Media at – phone 02 9663 1478 – and Moore Books at 21 King Street, Newtown, phone 02 9577 9966, for $18.50.

The book’s ISBN is 1 876326 48 4.

Tony Payne has written a very good book on Islam – which I hope is read widely.

That is a reminder that we need a lot more information. We have in our Diocese a number of people – Michael Raiter, Peter Rodgers, John Bales, Stewart Binns all come instantly to mind, and there are others as well, who have a deep understanding of Islam. Learning from people like them is going to be one of the key issues in the next decade undoubtedly.

These are good days because the question of Islam is raising in the community in a very serious way the whole question of religion and the truth of religion. So, although in some ways it’s awkward and we’d rather this not be the agenda in this way, it is the agenda – and it gives us opportunities. Tony’s book is an ideal illustration of that because it is an excellent book to put into the hands of people who are thoughtful unbelievers.

The wider Church

What roles do you think Sydney Diocese might have in the wider Australian context and also in a global context?

The evangelicalism of much of Sydney Diocese is long-standing and famous, and it is perfectly clear that particularly in the Anglican Communion – but more broadly than that – a lot of people look to Sydney and its leadership for encouragement, advice and for taking positions in defence of the gospel.

There is evidence that like-minded dioceses overseas are looking to us for theological leadership and there is certainly evidence, too, that people in Great Britain and elsewhere in the Communion are seeking that leadership from us. In January I have been invited to go to England to speak at eight provincial centres to clergy and people, setting forth the evangelical gospel and its implications for church life in Britain. I’ve been invited specifically because I am the Archbishop of Sydney.

Likewise, there is talk of me going to Africa in the next couple of years to strengthen the hand of Anglican evangelicals there. We have links with dioceses in South America and Asia as well.

That also applies in Australia. Although there are many other evangelical Christians in Australia – and we must never forget that – it is surprising how often people turn to the Diocese of Sydney, Moore College, and the Archbishop for advice, help and leadership to put forward the Christian cause in the whole of Australia.

One of the most practical ways people apply to us is for manpower. They are hoping that we will export our people to ministry positions, within Australia and also in New Zealand. This is happening more and more. It’s a good thing – I just hope we will also have enough people here to do the work we have to do in Sydney.

Are there dangers in Sydney’s role beyond Sydney?

Dangers of exhaustion! There are also dangers that we may take ourselves too seriously.

There are dangers that we will not listen to others and only speak to others. But, on the whole, I think this is a very good thing for us all.

Keeping the centre sound

Back to Sydney – what do you see as being absolutely crucial to the Mission and to the future of the Diocese?

In the excitement of the Mission, we need to underline always the importance of Moore College. We can afford to take risks, to fail in things and we can afford to try new things – as long as the centre remains sound. Keeping the centre sound is integral to the job of Moore College.

Three former Principals of Moore College - photo taken in 1993.

Furthermore, the College is going to be the conduit through which hundreds of Christian workers come. So, Moore College is an absolutely central player in the Mission and I’m hoping that it gets great support from the Christian public – in prayer, in giving, in people going to the College – and in Diocesan support for it. It’s got to be right at the centre of our Diocesan strategies.

Do you have anything to say to parents who are anxious about their offspring “throwing their lives away” by going into Christian ministry?

When my son Michael told me he was going to Moore College I initially felt disappointed. And I was the Principal of Moore College! Then I thought, “I can’t be disappointed, this is an excellent thing.” I’ve often told that story.

So I feel sympathetic because, when you have raised a child, even if you are a Christian, you have ambitions for them and a career path mapped out. You have invested a lot in their education and you see what you want them to do or be.

But the task of ministering God’s Word is so vital and the need for people to be doing it is so great – here in Sydney and throughout the world – we as Christian parents need to be willing to give our children, and to give them the help and support they need if they choose to enter into this lifelong ministry.

My experience is that, even with unbelieving parents, once they get over the initial shock, there’s usually a great deal of support. I think parents, even non-Christian parents, can see the value of what their children are doing. They can see here is a choice which is not about money, not about prestige, it’s about conviction and commitment. And they honour that choice. •


With thanks to Anglican Media Sydney and Geoff Beatty for the photograph at the top of this page and to Moore College for the photo of the three Principals.

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