Thursday, December 22, 2005

Central Baptist Church, Sydney

One of the most interesting pastorates I've served was eighteen months as the Interim Pastor at Australia's first-established Baptist Church - Central Baptist Church in downtown Sydney. There's a bit in my story on the JMM website about our experiences there. Here's an email I received today from one of the then-young deacons at that time:


You mentioned CBC of the most memorable aspects ( there were many at that time) was the thrust into reformatting/ refocusing the evening services. I cannot recall all the 4 particular rolling events but the "Electric Church" and the "Central Forum" are two which certainly stick in my mind.... probably because I had a role in working up some of the arrangements under your mentorship). These initiatives were so far ahead of their time... even today I sit in Church Planning meetings etc where people are only tossing around the possibility of such things as potential changes to make some of our church "services" relevant to today.

Maybe you recall two of the Forums ...which were major drawcards and got Sydney Morning Herald coverage etc..."The Aboriginal Question: Is Black Power the Answer?" Some of the attendees I
recall were Mum Shirl, Paul Coe, Neil Appo, Professor Wooton UNSW... and the "Little Red Schoolbook." Justice James Burchett was one of the presenters looking at it from the legal perspective....

Another key thing I recall from CBC days - and which for me was a key new learning experience, was the whole issue of "change management". The exponential pace of change at CBC was not without its risk. I observed from your approach not only to identify "change" as an issue which needed to be managed, but some strategies for managing such. And I believe the results were extremely successful. Over the years I have been involved in significant change management roles (at times even having the position title of "Transition Manager") and have attended post graduate workshops/courses specifically on the topic... but the exposure at CBC by observing/following you on the job as it were was my first and defining moment. I will always be grateful for the time you spent with us (deacons, ministry leaders, etc ) in taking the time to do what a leader is supposed to do.... and this is particularly relevant to change management... in fact that's what leaders are really involved in.


When I get a bit of time I'll fill out more details of this story.


Rowland Croucher

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Enriching our Marriage

We do ourselves a big favour by loving our spouse/partner

The most important modeling we do for our children is to love their parent/ our partner

Marriage is hard work and doesn't become more fulfilling by accident or through the passing of time alone.

The basic idea of this inventory is that each of us goes away to a quiet place, and spends at least 24 hours thinking about the issues. These cover the basics, but there may be more...

Some of headings deliberately overlap: as in all surveys, that helps us cover the most important 'bases'

Then, go away for a long evening meal together, or a weekend, and listen carefully to each other's responses...

All the best: I'm cheering for you!


1. When we first met, and early in our romance, I was especially attracted by your....

2. Over the years, the qualities I have most appreciated in you are....

3. I love it when you....

4. The happiest time/s in our marriage have been....

5. The hardest times in our marriage for me have been....

6. Some of the 'triggers' which have made those times difficult have included....

7. In our communication, let's work on.... When we argue I feel that...

8. Our financial arrangements are O.K. in these areas.... but we may need to work on ....

9. Our sexual life is OK when.... but let's work a bit harder on....

10. In terms of parenting, I reckon when we look back we'll be grateful for.... but will also be sorry about....

11. When we make decisions I feel OK about.... But I'd be happier if ....

12. Each partner needs some freedom to pursue their own recreation/interests/ friends/personal
and professional development... Are the time/s and contexts for these OK for each of us? I feel that couple-time, individual time and family time can be better balanced if...

13. What kind of marriage enrichment-time should we budget for? What should we do together?

14. My goal and hope for the next year, and the next five years for us is... To build a foundation for this we need to...

15. I believe that in our relationship we have the following strengths to build upon...

Extra material...

Shalom! Rowland Croucher


1. Every marriage needs regular special times for do-it-yourselves marriage enrichment, and perhaps a 'marriage check-up' with another person/couple every few years at least

2. Each of us needs empowering friendships outside our marriage

3. Each of us needs empowering relationships in our vocational situations (but we don't always have our preferred needs met, of course)

4. Life for the vast majority of people has not been served up as we would have wished in many or most respects. A good life is all about accepting what can't be changed; courage to change what can be changed; and having the gift of wisdom to distinguish one from the other...

5. When it's tough-going, let us examine thoroughly all the options and work honestly through all the issues before even thinking about running away...

6. Every person needs a nurturing mother (and father) during childhood, and a nurturing father (and mother) during early adolescence. If those are not our experiences, there will be a void in our lives which we may fill with some sort of addiction (romantic/sexual, workaholism, pornography, gambling, substance abuse etc.)

7. Under-fathered males tend to have wrong attitudes to women - seeking unhealthy relationships with women-as-nurturers, or reacting with fear to strong women who may shame them, or treating women sometimes as objects for sexual (or imaginative) gratification

8. Sex with your partner should be playful, rather than simply 'goal/orgasm oriented'

9. When there are Big Problems (or even if there aren't), it's very wise to 'live in the now', in day-tight compartments

10. Gratefulness is the key to happiness

(Summary of random ideas put together with a client-couple)

Rowland Croucher

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

When Life Tumbles In What Then?

A sermon by Rowland Croucher at South Yarra Community Baptist Church

Third Sunday in Advent - December 11th, 2005

Lectionary Readings: Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11, Psalm 126, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24, John 1:6-8, 19-28.


Life will come crashing in on each of us some time. And different people will have different reactions...

The other day a hairdresser I hadn't met previously asked what I did? My usual response is 'I'm a counsellor.' 'So am I,' she said. Of course: most hairdressers and many taxi-drivers are 'counsellors'. 'So what's been an interesting case?' I asked. She said she was working in a suburb not far from here, and an elderly 'regular' came in on a different day than usual. Why did she change her day? Well, her husband was dead at home, dead in bed, he'd died during the night. 'Have you contacted anybody?' the hairdresser-counsellor asked. 'Oh no,' the lady replied, 'I had to have my hair done first!'

Last week I had a birthday (I forget how many I've had :-) and later that night Jan and I and two of our daughters were playing Rummycub. Our son, quite a brilliant poet and philosopher, who loves to 'stir' us Christians at every opportunity came over from next door where he lives with his family and asked: 'If you knew the end of the world was about to happen would you continue to play this stupid game?’ 'Yes,' we all responded. (Martin Luther when asked a similar question said he'd plant a tree)...

Three of the greatest sermons in the English language in the 20th century focussed on this question. Arthur John Gossip tragically lost his wife when they were in their middle years, and the following Sunday he stood in the pulpit to preach. His first sentence: ‘When Life Tumbles In, What Then?’ Gossip took as his text Jeremiah 12:5: 'So, Jeremiah, if you're worn out in this footrace with men, what makes you think you can race against horses? And if you can't keep your wits during times of calm, what's going to happen when troubles break loose like the Jordan in flood?' Gossip preached: 'I don't think you need to be afraid of life. Our hearts are very frail, and there are places where the road is very steep and very lonely, but we have a wonderful God. And, as Paul puts it, "What can separate us from his love? Not death," he writes immediately. No, not death, for standing in the roaring of the Jordan, cold with its dreadful chill and very conscious of the terror of its rushing, I, too, like Hopeful in Pilgrim's Progress, can call back to you who one day in your turn will have to cross it, "Be of good cheer, my brother, my sister, for I feel the bottom and it is sound."’ Gossip had reached the bottom of who he was in his grief. But at the bottom, he reached the core of all that he believed: 'You people in the sunshine *may* believe the faith, but we in the shadows *must* believe it. We have nothing else!'

John Claypool, a brilliant Southern Baptist pastor and preacher who became an Episcopalian priest, preached four sermons from the Book of Job while his nine-year-old daughter, their only daughter, was dying of leukemia. In the final sermon he said: 'God reminded Job that the things he had become so indignant about losing actually did not belong to him in the first place. They were gifts - gifts beyond his deserving, graciously given him by Another... To be angry because a gift has been taken away is to miss the whole point of life. That we ever have the things we cherish is more than we deserve. Gratitude and humility rather than resentment should characterize our handling of the objects of life.' In Tracks of a Fellow Struggler he tells how he came to thank God for the *nine years!!!* he and his family had enjoyed the company of their gorgeous little girl, Laura Lue.

The third powerful sermon on this theme was preached on Sunday 23 January, 1983, by the senior pastor of Riverside Church, New York, the Reverend Dr. William Sloane Coffin. The sermon began: 'As almost all of you know, a week ago last Monday night, driving in a terrible storm, my son Alexander - who to his friends was a real day-brightener, and to his family "fair as a star when only one is shining in the sky" - my twenty-four-year-old Alexander, who enjoyed beating his old man at every game and every race, beat his father to the grave...

'My consolation lies in knowing... that when the waves closed over Alex's car, God's heart was the first of all our hearts to break... And I know that when Alex beat me to the grave, the finish line was not Boston Harbor in the middle of the night. If a week ago last Monday a lamp went out, it was because, for him at least, the dawn had come. So I shall seek - so let us all seek - consolation in that love which never dies, and find peace in the dazzling grace that always is.'

If you listened carefully to those stories, there were *differing* but complementary responses to the reality or prospect of life tumbling in on us: self-respect, living in the ‘now’, faith in a good God, gratitude and humility, and an assurance of the tender love of God.


It's Advent in the Christian year, and that's what Advent is all about. It's about the hopes and fears of all the years, the triumphs and tragedies of all the years, the joys and griefs of all the years and in all of our lives... coming into a healing/salvific focus in the person of God's Messiah. The great classical Advent images are of darkness giving way to light, grief to faith or even joy, the barrenness of a desert to the beauty of paradise – paradise restored, longing to hope and the arrival of God’s salvation – especially in the advent of the Messiah, Jesus our Lord, then and now.

Our readings today are full of these themes.

The prophetic text in Isaiah 61, as you know, was applied by Jesus in the Nazareth synagogue to himself: ‘Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing’ (Luke 4:21). At the beginning of his messianic ministry he offers this brilliant summary of what he came to do, and what he commands us to do (John 20:21). Last time preaching here I suggested that Jesus’ mission and therefore our mission is three-fold, in every context: justice: confronting the ‘powers’; mercy: addressing people’s pain; and faith: the ultimate belief that the universe is friendly, that God can be trusted.

And it’s all here in our Isaiah text:

* faith that the Lord God has actually come into our situations of misery and pain and grief; bringing

* justice for the oppressed, for captives; the Jubilee ‘good news’ that those who’ve been sold into slavery through war or debt can legally be freed, those who’ve had their lands expropriated can have them back; a gift of hope that the future is as secure as God’s promises; that a covenant of justice will prevail between God and God’s people; and

* mercy – God comes with tenderness to bind up the broken-hearted… comfort those who mourn, giving joy to God’s people like that of a bride on her wedding-day…

By the way, let me lift some words out of our epistle at this point: ‘Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil’ (1 Thessalonians 5:20-22). Prophets are ‘seers’: they see beyond the obvious and the tangible to what is ‘really real’. So in a rationalistic post-enlightenment culture majoring on science and logic we’re a little wary of prophets. But in the Judeo-Christian faith prophets have a central role. The New Testament churches could name their prophets (see Acts 13:1-2). True prophets do two things basically: they comfort the disturbed and they disturb the comfortable: that is, they marry the disturbing word of justice or judgment to the tender pastoral word of love. In Isaiah we hear the prophet proclaiming healing for the wounded and the oppressed, and also ‘the day of vengeance of our God’ (a phrase which Jesus omitted, interestingly, from his mandate, and this was part of what would have scandalized his conservative Jewish countrymen!). It’s a pity our churches can’t train, and name, and accredit, their prophets…

Our Psalm (126) is a grand celebration: a paean of praise to God for doing these ‘great things’… for bringing God’s people back to Zion… it was like a dream; they laughed with ecstatic joy; like those who sow their seeds with toil and weeping and fear, but later bring in a bountiful harvest, they carry the sheaves home ‘with shouts of joy…’

John chapter one tells part of the story of John the Baptist, and the metaphor here is of light coming into the world, and baptism signifying the gift of new life, a new way of living.

The epistle reading is from the earliest written manuscript to become part of our New Testament, and Paul encourages us there to rejoice always, be always prayerful, live lives of gratefulness, and he sums it all up in a classical blessing: ‘May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.’ Another great Advent theme is of course ‘Christ will come again’. When I was a teenager I read over 100 books on the second coming: I probably knew more about the parousia than the apostles did! (The important questions about the proton – the creation of the world and the universe – and the eschaton – how God will wind it all up, are not ‘How? and ‘When?’, but ‘Who?’ and ‘Why?’).

Well, what would Paul know about life ‘tumbling in’? The disasters he lists in 2 Corinthians 11 cover it all: this great missionary seemed to live at the edge of life and death all the time - often without food, warmth or clothing, he suffered countless floggings, was stoned, left for dead, shipwrecked three times, a day and a night adrift at sea… you name it. His way of coping? Well, the basic secret is his ‘union with Christ’, and his expectation of Christ’s coming – either in the parousia or in his own dying. That’s Advent!

And now back to our main Advent question: when life tumbles in, what then? Well, we survive by affirming who we are in the midst of the storm. Paul Tillich, in The Courage to Be writes: the 'ultimate courage is to affirm our being against all the threats of nonbeing.' It’s a reality we face every day. The forces of non-being confront us saying, 'You are nobody - you don't have a right to exist.' To affirm who you are as a child of God is the greatest power we have to resist such threats.

There is a story about a Zen priest in China when the warlords were plundering villages early in the 20th century. When his village heard that the warlord was headed toward them, all of the people fled to the hills - except one priest. When the warlord arrived, he inquired if anyone was left in the village. The answer was, 'Only the priest in the temple.' The warlord commanded, 'Bring him to me.' When the priest was brought into his presence, the warlord drew his sword and cried, 'Do you know who I am? I am he who can run you through with this sword and never bat an eye.' The Zen priest replied, 'Do you know who I am? I am he who can be run through with your sword and never bat an eye.' I wish I had that kind of courageous assurance to face up to the threats in my life, don't you?

But Advent is mostly about who God is and what God wants to do in our world and in our lives. Ignatius Loyola founded the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits. It was his life-work, the fulfilment of a consuming ambition. He was once asked how he'd feel if the Pope suppressed the Society. 'A quarter of an hour of prayer', he replied, 'and I would think no more of it'.

How does someone get to be like that?

And so when life tumbles in on us, what is the ‘Advent secret’? Actually, we’ve noted several, and I’d like to close with a prophetic Advent prayer.

Somewhere in this prayer each of us is included:

Come, come, long-expected Jesus. To those who have too low a view of who they are, come Lord Jesus. To those in the valley of the shadow of death or despair, come Lord Jesus. To those who have nothing much to be happy about, for whom life is too hard, come Lord Jesus. To those for whom the griefs of yesterday or the fear of tomorrow is just too much, come Lord Jesus. To those of us who care too little or care too much, come Lord Jesus. To those who are living out the consequences of bad choices made by them or for them by others, come Lord Jesus. To parents of difficult or sick or wayward children, or to those who have been abused, or to those who are single and would like to find a partner, or who wish they didn’t have the partner they’ve got, come Lord Jesus. To those for whom work is hard to find or hard to enjoy, come Lord Jesus. To those who long for better bodily and mental and spiritual health, come Lord Jesus. To those who have lost their joy, come Lord Jesus. To each of us here, and to those absent today, in the real situations of our lives, come Lord Jesus with your healing touch. Amen.

Rowland Croucher

Wednesday, December 07, 2005


Snoopy was typing a manuscript, up on his kennel. Charlie Brown: 'What are you doing Snoopy?' Snoopy: 'Writing a book about theology.' Charlie Brown: 'Good grief. What's its title?' Snoopy (thoughtfully): 'Have You Ever Considered You Might Be Wrong?'

This points up a central Christian dictum: God's truth is very much bigger than our little systems.

Our Lord often made the point that God's fathering extended to all people everywhere. He bluntly targeted the narrow nationalism of his own people, particularly in stories like the Good Samaritan. Here the 'baddie' is a hero. It's a wonderful parable underlining the necessity to love God through loving your neighbour - and one's neighbour is the person who needs help, whoever he or she may be. But note that love of neighbour is more than seeking their conversion, then adding a few acts of mercy to others in 'our group'. Jesus' other summary statements about the meaning of religion and life in Matthew 23:23 and Luke 11:42 involve justice too: attempting to right the wrongs my neighbour suffers.

'Ethnocentrism' is the glorification of my group. What often happens in practice is a kind of spiritual apartheid: I'll do my thing and you do yours - over there. Territoriality ('my place - keep out!') replaces hospitality ('my place - you're welcome!'). I like Paul's commendation in Philippians 2:19-21 of Timothy 'who really cares' when everyone else was concerned with their own affairs.

Sometimes our non-acceptance of others' uniqueness has jealousy or feelings of inferiority at its root. You have probably heard the little doggerel, 'I hate the guys/ that criticise/ and minimise/ the other guys/ whose enterprise/ has made them rise/ above the guys/ that criticise/ and minimise...'

In our global village we cannot avoid relating to 'different others'. Indeed, marriage is all about two different people forming a unity in spite of their differences. Those differences can of course be irritating - for example when a 'lark' marries an 'owl' (but the Creator made both to adorn his creation).

Even within yourself there are diverse personalities. If you are a 'right brain' person, why not develop an interest in 'left brain' thinking?

The Lord reveals different aspects of divine truth to different branches of the church. What a pity, then, to make our part of the truth the whole truth. Martin Buber had the right idea when he said that the truth is not so much in human beings as between them. An author dedicated his book to 'Stephen... who agrees with me in nothing, but is my friend in everything.' Just as an orchestra needs every instrument, or a fruit salad is tastier with a great variety of fruits, so we are enriched through genuine fellowship with each other.

A Christian group matures when it recognises it may have something to learn from other groups. The essence of immaturity is not knowing that one doesn't know, and therefore being unteachable. No one denomination or church has a monopoly on the truth. How was God able to get along for 1500, 1600 or 1900 years without this or that church? Differences between denominations or congregations - or even within them - reflect the rich diversity and variety of the social, cultural and temperamental backgrounds from which those people come. But they also reflect the character of God whose grace is 'multi-coloured'.

If you belong to Christ and I belong to Christ, we belong to each other and we need each other. Nothing should divide us.



Rowland Croucher

Monday, November 28, 2005


Sometimes I'm asked which articles I've written really reflect the core of my thinking? Here's one:

God is mystery. We can never encompass him in thoughts or words. When we talk about God we are trying to describe the divine from the point of view of the human, the eternal from the standpoint of the temporal, the infinite in finite terms, the absolute from the severely limited perspective of the relative. Rudolf Otto describes the sacred as 'mysterium tremendum et fascinans', the awe-inspiring mystery which fascinates us. We are tempted to hide from the fearful majesty of God, but also to gaze in wonder at his loveliness. We encounter mystery in the descriptions of the ways of God in the Bible, in the sacraments, liturgies and rites of the church, in nature, and in the events of history. Mystery pervades the whole of reality. Indeed true knowledge and freedom are not possible without an experience of mystery. In the languages of literature, art, music, we touch the hem of God's garment and feel a little tingle of power, but God will always remain incomprehensible. Mystery also surrounds the human creatures who are both made in the image of a mysterious God and who have, by their sinning, marred that image. Pascal says this doctrine of the fall offends us, but yet, without this mystery, the most incomprehensible of all, we are incomprehensible to ourselves. So Christianity, says Kierkegaard, is 'precisely the paradoxical'. (Paradox - from the Greek para and doxa, 'against opinion').



Rowland Croucher

Friday, November 18, 2005


I have mixed feelings about Sydney Anglicans. They belong to the largest ‘evangelical’ Anglican diocese on the planet, and one of the two wealthiest.

When I served as a Staffworker/evangelist with the InterVarsity Fellowship (later The Australian Fellowship of Evangelical Students – AFES) for three years (1968-70) I often spoke at their churches and youth camps. I was impressed that over 20 of their churches saw at least 100 young people a week attending Bible Study groups – something you could not say about any other denomination in Australia at that time.

We’d been privileged to attend an Anglican church – St. Thomas’ Kingsgrove – for a whole year in 1963. It was led by an energetic and very gifted pastor-evangelist, Dudley Foord, who at the end of the year invited me to be his church’s youth leader. But I’d already determined to enter the Baptist Theological College in Sydney, and on a memorable day at Cronulla Beach when our two families were enjoying a picnic, I had to share that news with Dudley.

Dudley Foord was an excellent model of a conscientious Evangelical leader. Around that time he probably spoke to more University missions throughout Australia than anyone (see the references to his doing that in Timothy Dudley-Smith’s biography of John Stott), and there were many Bible study groups, neighbourhood evangelistic groups etc. operating from the church. Those neighbourhood groups encouraged church members to invite all their neighbours into a someone’s home, and Dudley or someone else would come and talk to them about the Christian faith, answer questions etc. The Sydney diocese’s statistics for this mode of evangelism were, if I recall correctly: on average 20 invitations would result in 14 individuals or couples saying they’ll come; 8 individuals/couples attended, and of these one would begin attending church and/or make a faith commitment. Not bad!

That’s the sort of evangelistic zeal which impressed me then, and does still. We used to say there were two ‘enemies’ within the Anglican fold - theological liberals who were (and are) too ‘wishy-washy’ and have no idea what Jesus and Paul meant by the ‘lostness’ of people without faith in God; and the ‘smells and bells’ Anglos who were ‘high church’ and whose sacramentalism bordered on the magical. Soon after these years charismatic Anglicans were a bit ‘off’ too.

That year with St. Thomas’s commenced my journey along ‘The Canterbury Trail’. I’m an ‘ordained’ Baptist clergyperson, but Jan’s and my church-of-choice on holidays etc. is usually Anglican. William Temple, Rowan Williams, John Stott and many other Anglican leaders – including two converts to Anglicanism, John Claypool and Matthew Fox - have had, and still have, an enormous influence on my thinking…

However, there’s been a sea-change in the flavour of Sydney evangelicalism since those days: it has become deeply influenced by a harder ‘Reformed’ theology, fueled from St. Matthias’ Paddington, and this has become pervasive among AFES groups and students at their seminary, Moore College.

Sydney Diocese's unique brand of evangelicalism probably goes back to T C Hammond, but the two 'godfathers' were undoubtedly Dr. Broughton Knox (principal of Moore for many years) and Director of Evangelism John Chapman - together with the Jensen brothers (Archbishop Peter, and Dean of the Sydney Cathedral Philip), Dudley Foord, Paul Barnett et. al. In 1984 I wrote a little book - Recent Trends Among Evangelicals - which David Penman, the Archbishop of Melbourne - a much broader evangelical – liked, wrote the Foreword, and launched. At one stage it was made required reading for AFES staff for them to study (and refute :-)

I've had the privilege of speaking to about 20 Anglican diocesan/ clergy conferences around Oz, three of them (Armidale, Canberra-Goulburn, Tasmania) twice - from Perth/Sunbury in the West to North Queensland. They included clergy of all theological and ecclesiological persuasions. One experience - in two parts - stands out in terms of evangelicals. I was twice invited to speak to the clergy conference of the purest 'evangelical' diocese - Armidale: they were/are (?) all Evangelicals, with the exception of the broader-church Tamworth. At the first of these, about 15 years ago, a little group of young recently-graduated Moore College boys sat in a huddle at the back of the room muttering to each other and flipping through their Bibles - to the annoyance of everyone, including the good bishop. I ignored them then, but ten years later when I was again their speaker, after a quiet word to the bishop, I reminded the group of the previous experience, and wondered if any of those people were still around, and would they like to share their subsequent journey with me privately? Two or three did, and actually apologized for their previous 'know-it-all' attitude. It's nice how life-experience often rubs the arrogant edges of us eh?

So what’s the problem? Put at its simplest, it’s Pharisaism – the doctrinaire and arrogant ‘We have nothing to learn from anyone else’ rejection of diversity within the broader Church. This brand of evangelicalism is easily spotted: their mantra is an incessant ‘The Bible says!’, there’s a lack of commitment to radical social justice, an emphasis on ‘receiving the Lord Jesus Christ – they like to use the full name of our Lord – as your personal Saviour’, diligence in Bible Study (thousands attend the Katoomba conferences), affirmation of ‘male headship’, abhorrence of the theology of Bishop John Spong, and a commitment to (their brand of) ‘evangelism’.

Now not every Sydney Anglican fits this narrow stereotype. I would exclude two friends, among others – (ex-Archbishop) Harry Goodhew and my fellow-Lausanne-traveler Bishop John Reid. And of course the three interesting churches – the Anglo-Catholic Christ Church St. Laurence, and more liberal St. James’ King Street and St.John's (?)Darlinghurst-Kings Cross which do not fit the mould.

And whilst a narrow evangelicalism eschews social justice, there’s still a significant emphasis on social welfare. I once spoke to the annual conference of their welfare arm (I’ve forgotten its name - the predecessor to Anglicare) at the Sydney Town Hall. Churches’ representatives sat at tables for dinner in the lower Town Hall with banners, and at the rally upstairs it was proudly mentioned that only seven parishes (I think) were not represented. The archbishop (Don Robinson) and the bishops sat behind me as I spoke on a biblical (!) view of mission – which must include justice, mercy and calling people to faith, ie. evangelism: ‘in that order’, I said, ‘cos that’s the order of Micah (6:8) and Jesus (Matthew 23:23). The archbishop was underwhelmed: I got the briefest letter – two-lines - of thanks from him I can ever remember receiving from anyone!

(Interesting: I had a Sydney-Anglican-type student in a graduate class recently, who in an assignment tried to impress me by talking about ‘justice, mercy and truth’. These Evangelicals are Very Big On Truth.)

Oh, that’ll do. I’ll post this on to some Usenet newsgroups and will certainly get a reaction. Best book to give to these people? I’ve bought Walter Brueggemann’s The Prophetic Imagination for a few (and never once got a response to indicate they’d read it). Although John Stott is viewed as ‘suss’ by the most rigorous, his two-volume biography (Dudley-Smith) and Issues Facing Christians Today is likely to open a few windows. I still have some copies of Recent Trends Among Evangelicals if anyone wants one (email me).

See what happens when we separate what God has put together? When we over-emphasize any of the four ‘canons of authority’ (Bible, reason, experience, tradition) we’ll become theologically lopsided; as will also happen if we don’t give equal weight to all three of the dimensions of every God-honouring relationship in the universe – justice, mercy, faith.

Rowland Croucher
November 2005

Tuesday, November 15, 2005


When I read (as distinct from skimming) a book I put a line in the margin against anything which grabs my attention - and a double line for ideas which I must ponder again and again.

Here are my double-lined markings in Tom Butler-Brown's 50 Spiritual Classics.

But first, a disclaimer: I'm impressed with St. Paul's market-place dialogue with Stoic and Epicurean philosophers in Athens (Acts 17): although he disagreed with many of their presuppositions he was willing to quote their poets when he agreed with them. I believe strongly that our Christian apologetic should follow a similar pattern. On this point I diverge from the stance of most of my fundamentalist friends, who somehow feel contaminated if they read or think about something alien to their conservative understanding of the Christian faith. If we are in dialogue with folks from a postmodern/ new age/ secular / whatever culture we ought to be familiar with what they're reading/thinking, and give credit to whatever wisdom we find, without necessarily agreeing with all they believe. Richard Rohr quotes Aquinas with approval: 'He does not ask where it came from, but if it is true: "If it is true, it is of the Holy Spirit".’ Jesus said 'Whoever is not against us is for us' (Mark 9:40). And remember Gamaliel's wisdom: 'If it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them - in that case you may even be found fighting against God' (Acts 5:30).

For some comments on the book in general, see


* In 'The Way of the Peaceful Warrior', the Dan character makes a great discovery: 'There are no ordinary moments!'

* There is a Persian proverb: 'Seek truth in meditation, not in moldy books. Look at the sky to find the moon, not in the pond'

* Asad [a convert from Judaism to Islam!] was not blind to the intellectual and material decay in many Muslim societies, which had led them to become scientific and economic backwaters

* If we could see that the nature of the universe is love, and that we are all part of an undying conscious life-force, we can no longer experience fear or doubt (Bucke)

* Physics and spirituality are two sides of the same coin (The Tao of Physics)

* The old man tells him (Castaneda) to constantly be aware of death lurking behind him. If he has this awareness, he will live differently

* Blessed is the one expecting nothing, for that one shall enjoy everything (G K Chesterton)

* The straight tree is the first to be chopped down; the well of sweet water is the first to run dry (the Grand Duke Jen to Confucius)

* Chuang Tzu's idea of the perfect person is someone who does not try to be their own source of light for the world: they act as a clean channel of that light whenever and wherever it is appropriate for it to shine

* Agrippinus is said to have remarked: 'I am not a hindrance to myself'

* [Gurdjieff] told his son to cultivate a space within his mind that was always free, and to develop an attitude of indifference to everything that normally disgusts or repels others

* Just by existing we have a debt to repay, and we do so by being fully alive in each moment, not worried about past or future (Hammarskjold)

* Things perish within time; time itself does not change. We should not speak of the flow or passage of time but of the flow or passage of space through time... Jews celebrate the Sabbath on a Saturday, Christians on a Sunday, and Muslims make Friday special, which suggests a basic human need to regain a still mind on a regular basis, to have time for meditation or contemplation even as the world continues to rush on (Heschel)

* Aldous Huxley died in 1963, on the same day as C. S. Lewis and President John F. Kennedy

* Jung: 'collective unconscious' - a larger human mind of which every individual is a part; 'synchronicity' - the occurrence of seemingly meaningful coincidences that go beyond the realms of normal probability

* Malcolm X's father was brutally murdered by the Black Legion, a white supremacist group

* 'Strive to see supernal light, for I have brought you into a vast ocean. Be careful! Strive to see, yet escape drowning' (Isaac of Akkor)

* Neither is there a hell in which people suffer interminably. Instead, some souls who have done bad things in life are separated from the main spirit world for a time of solitary reflection (Michael Newton)

* Loosen up, and see what is special in ordinariness (John O'Donohue)

* Offer a donkey a salad, and he will ask you what kind of thistle it is (Sufi teacher Abdull-Azziz)

* Angels understand eternity to mean an infinite state, not an infinite time (Swedenborg)

* Prayer is not for getting things, but for drawing closer to God and his will... Pray, even when you don't think it is effective... There is a time for penance, and a time for partridge (Teresa of Avila)

* The poverty of the West is not only a poverty of loneliness, but also of spirituality (Mother Teresa)

* We are addicted to thinking. By getting us to think all the time the ego gives us a sense of identity. Yet continual thinking prevents us from simply enjoying the moment... When we are in love, the other person makes us feel whole, but the downside is a growing addictiveness to this individual and the horror of any possibility of losing them (Eckhart Tolle)

* For thousands of years people have disbelieved the promises of God for the most extraordinary reason: they were too good to be true (Neale Donald Walsch)

* God specializes in giving people a fresh start (Rick Warren)

* The soul's natural inclination to love beauty is the trap God most frequently uses in order to win it and open it to the breath from on high (Simone Weil)

* The 'transpersonal' is an awareness of the universe unclouded by the ego or the normal self... Human development is a successive decrease in egocentrism (a world in which each mindset turns on the other to win) (Ken Wilber)

* He is a fool that cannot conceal his wisdom (Yogananda)

* If we are to achieve authentic power, aligning our personality with our soul must be the main concern of our life... To someone ruled by their five senses, intuitions are not really considered 'knowledge' and so are disregarded, treated as curiosities... For intuitions to be received, we have to clear our mind of mental toxins in the form of unexpressed emotions: only through the emotions can you encounter the force-field of your own soul... We chase fame, money, and position because we feel a lack of power inside, but without soul knowledge real power will always elude us (Gary Zukav)

Rowland Croucher

November 2005

Tom Butler-Bowdon, 50 Spiritual Classics (2005)


Over the next few days I'll be publishing some articles which form the core of my thinking.

Was Jesus a Christian? Of course not, he was a Jew. 'Christians' came later.

But the 13 or so Christian groups each claim him as theirs. Pity. Remember our title/motto? 'Victoria Concordia Crescit' - 'Victory - or truth - grows out of harmony'...

Visit here for more 'core' articles by Yours Truly...


Christians come in about 13 varieties. These varieties (or mindsets) can be found in all religions. You mustn't judge any religion simply on its caricatures. My theses:

Each mind-set makes *part* of Christianity the *whole* of it.

There's nothing wrong with the parts. But like a car, if you've only got parts lying around you're not going anywhere.

Jesus rejected all these mindsets (but not the essential concerns of each of them).

For convenience I'll use terms from early Christianity, and for the sake of brevity I'll oversimplify each mindset:

Sadducees are rationalists. If your *reason* can't comprehend something (miracles, resurrection, angels) you don't have to believe it. Their God is very reasonable; their theology is 'liberal'; they inhabit mainline church seminaries.

Zealots are passionate about *justice*. Justice is all about fairness, the relationship of the strong to the weak, the right use of power. Their God sanctions terrorism; their theology is 'liberationist'; today they're priests and others who advocate the violent overthrow of oppressive Latin American regimes.

Herodians love *power*. They climb to the top of religious institutions. Their God bestows favours on the 'haves' who are 'born to rule'. They do not realize that love of power is inimical to a devout spirituality.

Scribes, elders, teachers-of-the-law regard *tradition* as master, rather than servant. Their religious way of life is ruled by precedent, what has been. 'Come weal, come woe, their status is the quo'. If it's new, it's suspect. Their God is unchanging, not merely in faithfulness, but operationally.

Essenes are liturgists. 'If only we get our *worship* right, the Messiah will come.' Their God is 'wholly other'. Their liturgies are exact, their worship-forms utterly predictable.

Mystics major on *experience*. They are right-brain, rejecting rationalism, cerebralism, dogmatism. For them prayer (perhaps divorced from labour) is the essence of the spiritual life. They sometimes form monastic orders.

Gnostics are syncretists. They believe there's truth in every *religion*. They invite us to make up our own identikit picture of God. They're at home somewhere in the New Age Movement; they develop conspiracy theories from the Dead Sea Scrolls; they love the Gospel of Thomas.

Sophists or sages place a high premium on *knowledge* or *wisdom* (they're not the same). They develop beautiful theories about redaction criticism, whether the four gospels are 'reliable' when they describe what Jesus said and did. They write learned papers, which like those of their predecessors, will be seen in future academic circles to be largely nonsense.

Sign-seekers love *miracles*. With Herod (in Jesus Christ Superstar) they'd love Jesus to 'walk across their swimming-pool.' Their God wants everyone to be healthy, wealthy (but not necessarily wise: academia is suspect). Anything can be cured, instantly, given enough faith.

Materialists measure everything, not just *money*. The bigger, faster, more brilliant, the better. Bigger churches are better than smaller churches; brilliant preachers than ordinary ones. Success, fame, ambition, optimism, 'imaging' are their watch-words. They attend Amway conventions.

Do-gooders are given to paternalism. They do works of *mercy* for their own benefit, not just for the sake of the one done good to/against. Thoreau said of them, 'If you see someone coming towards you with the object of doing you good, run for your life.' These 'people-helpers' don't realize they're in it to solve their own problems: pure altruism is very very rare.

Antinomians despise holiness - at least for themselves in private. As the term implies, they're 'against law' and misuse *grace*. 'God loves to forgive, it's his business' - so they give God every opportunity to do just that.

Finally, Pharisees are preoccupied with two things - *law* and *doctrine*. So they become legalists and dogmatists. They talk a lot about 'truth' and 'error'. Their God is unambiguous, reducible to creeds and doctrinal statements. Their 'gospel': repentance precedes acceptance (with Jesus it was the other way around). The acid test: their non-concern for social justice and mercy amd true faith (Matthew 23:23, Luke 11:42, cf. Micah 6:8). They're fundamentalists, and proud of it.

All the entities *emphasized* are O.K. as part of a religious system, but are deadly if divorced from any/all of the others. Jesus did not align himself with any of the above groups: go and do likewise!


Rowland Croucher

Monday, November 14, 2005


Today’s lead item in several Australian TV newscasts was about an Airbus A380 flying here for the first time. Thousands lined the perimeters of airports, many standing with cameras on the roofs of cars. In The Age newspaper there’s a story about the death of Peter Drucker, guru of 20th century management theory, aged 95. And of course the latest Guinness Book of Records is in the best-seller lists (do some people – not just libraries – buy it every year?)

I grew up believing that bigger and brighter and stronger and more famous is better. It was a legacy of the books on How to Win Friends and Influence People / How to Succeed in Business etc. I devoured as a teenager. As a 15-year old I secretly wrote for the Charles Atlas ‘Dynamic Tension’ body-building program. (You needed no equipment, other than pitting your muscles against each other and/or the floor and the wall for just half an hour each day, and you too won’t have bullies kicking sand in your face).

But I never really succeeded (at least in my thinking) in being the best or the brightest. Someone always ‘pipped me at the post’. Or else (as happened in the last year of Primary School) I won the race but was disqualified ‘cos I finished in my neighbour’s lane…

Now in my 60s I’m rewriting my little bit of history, a history previously dominated more by hubris than humility. The yogic saying ‘He is a fool that cannot conceal his wisdom’ now appeals to me. So does Richard Rohr’s suggestion that holiness is only ‘attained’ with at least one humiliation each day. I’m not very holy: I recall an average of roughly one humiliation a month over the course of my life…

Back in 1949 at Mortdale Primary School, the Education Department Inspector came when I was in the sixth grade. He did an intelligence test on the class, and guess where I scored? Yep, second, after Michael Hornibrook, a very bright teacher’s kid. We both, with Malcolm Butters who was third, were chosen to go to Sydney Boys’ High School, a selective school for bright students. There I was sixth or seventh bottom of 2nd Year, and just squeaked into 3rd Year. I played sport with the Leftovers at Centennial Park, read a book a day, and was your typical teenage introvert. At our little church David Clines always did better academically (look him up – teacher of Biblical Literature and Languages at Sheffield University). Second again…

Teachers’ College – I topped the boys in my year academically, but got beaten by four or five girls. If one lecturer had not downgraded a research project from an A to a C for being submitted late I’d have topped the College. I was chosen – second to Don Gray – to play Rugby Union for the NSW Central West team against the All Blacks. (Fortunately it was College policy not to permit its students engaging in representative sport… Phew!). But I was awarded the athletics’ ‘blue’…

The NSW Baptist College? Second again in many subjects to Dr. John Olley (who had a PhD in nuclear physics, then went on to earn another one in biblical studies). But the church I was privileged to pastor during those four years – Narwee Baptist – was second-to-none. They were four good years…

Blackburn Baptist Church may have been the largest non-Catholic congregation in the country for a few months (!), but then a couple of AOG churches passed us… It’s still the largest Baptist church in Australia (and has changed its name to Crossway). Seven and a half years there taught me more about ministry and life and relationships than any other similar period before or since. While there I studied for a post-graduate theology degree – a BD with the Melbourne College of Divinity. As you can imagine some of those years were busy, and when November came and I felt I hadn’t done enough work to justify sitting an exam, I didn’t show up. So in my records they put ‘fail’ four or five times, together with some High Distinctions. Typical of my life really…

Not all of my Baptist pastorates were good. I was senior pastor for a short time at First Baptist Church, Vancouver (third largest Baptist Church in Canada), but four powerful people (average age 77.5 – true!) made it clear they did not like my style, and I resigned. I’ll write up that story soon: someone might find it interesting, and I might find it therapeutic… The only other ‘downtown/city’ church I pastored (as part-time interim) – Central Baptist Church in Sydney in 1971-2 – finished similarly. Folks attended the meeting where I did not score the requisite 75% vote to stay whom most didn’t know, but who were non-attending church members.

After Vancouver, a decade with World Vision Australia as their ‘Leadership Enhancement Consultant’ (or ‘Minister at Large’) – traveling the country and the world speaking to churches and pastors’ conferences. Second? Well, I was granted a fair degree of autonomy to follow my calling, but some bureaucratic types couldn’t figure why I should not report for duty in an office each morning like they had to. Being ‘second’ to institutional people is no joy for someone like me, and so on April Fools’ Day 1991 a few of us set up a little ministry which survives to this day – John Mark Ministries. The last fourteen years have been some of the most fulfilling of my life.

During the World Vision days I was told that I probably spoke face to face with, and was read by, more pastors and church leaders than anyone else in Australia. So what? (to use an Australian expression). Soon a few others had higher visibility – John Smith, Gordon Moyes, and later Tim Costello and Mike Frost.

Fuller Theological Seminary: a wonderful place for study and teaching. I was privileged to be ‘second’ to Eugene Peterson, teaching a Doctor of Ministry Intensive course on Spirituality and Ministry until he was available.

We have four terrific adult children. Two of them are committed Christians, and two aren’t. According to a 1998 survey only 37% of Christians’ kids follow their parents’ habit of attending church regularly, so we’re scoring better-than-average! All our children have post-graduate degrees/ qualifications, and two of us – our son Paul and I - are PhD candidates who have ‘demitted’. I have a Doctor of Ministry degree – a ‘second’ sort of doctorate (or as they say a ‘poor pastor’s doctorate)!

Oh, that’ll do for now. The Christian ethic is about ‘preferring others to oneself’, about living agreeably with the ‘bridesmaid’ / ‘second fiddle’ tag. Isn’t John the Baptist a good model for us in this regard?


Rowland Croucher

Sunday, November 13, 2005


Welcome to a new blog by someone who 'never has an unpublished thought' (was it Andrew Greeley who used that expression of himself first?)

I've borrowed the title from Arsenal Football Club's motto, and I reckon it's good for anyone's life: 'Victory grows out of harmony!'

Unfortunately I'd learned from somewhere that victory comes from succeeding, or not making too many bad mistakes, or not being thought a fool, or moving from 'outsiderhood' to belonging... Sad.

Today I finished reading Tom Butler-Bowdon's brilliant 50 Spiritual Classics. The last chapter is about Gary Zukav's The Seat of the Soul. Zukav invites us to explore the worlds beyond those of the five senses, to become 'multisensory' (like Jesus). Authentic personal power is based on love, humility, compassion, and 'aligning our personality with our soul'. Watch the John Mark Ministries website for a summary review of Butler-Bowden's book.

On that website you'll find My Story. This will be a different version - haphazard, a mix of faith and philosophy and confessions and journeyings and insights I've gleaned along the way. I invite you to share the journey and comment on it. If you want to email me use the CONTACT button on the JMM website (my various email addresses are on too many junk-lists :-(


On Friday I had a Sabbath in Melbourne, alone. I visited half a dozen secondhand bookshops and took a nostalgic journey back through my life via the books on the Religion shelves. About every 20th book brought back happy memories. Then last night I joined Jan and some friends at the Hamer Concert Hall to jive with the Harlem Gospel Choir. It was very good: first time I'd experienced several thousand people celebrating charismatically in that place! Being a 68-year-old (forgive me!) I'd have changed three things about their presentation: I'd give people more contemplative songs as well as loud ones; I'd have more choir items as well as solos with choir-as-backing; and I'd suggest they go the extra mile and give the half-audience waiting five minutes at the end an encore (even if they were tired, or we weren't as responsive/loud as a black audience/congregation)... Oh well...

In the next episode I want to write about coming second all my life... Some of you might identify...




Here's a Blog of articles and reviews.
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Rowland Croucher


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Husband, father, grandfather, great grandfather, pastor, teacher, writer, used-to-be-academic... See here for more: