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Michael P. Jensen, Pieces of Eternity, Acorn Press, 2013.

One of the advantages of semi-retirement is that when an interesting book sent by a publisher or author for review arrives in the mail I can sometimes put everything else aside and read it in one sitting (or reclining, in bed).

That happened with this one.

I don’t know Michael personally but I think we’ve corresponded once or twice via Facebook; and of course the surname is fairly (!) well known in Anglican circles.

Michael Jensen was born in 1970: by then our family had attended St Thomas’ Kingsgrove during the halcyon years of  Rev. (now Bishop) Dudley Foord, and his curate Alan Nicholls, I’d preached and ‘seminared’ at a couple of dozen Sydney Anglican Clergy and Church conferences, youth groups and house parties, and encountered many Anglicans in University and College Christian groups.

This Baptist has found it fascinating listening to members of their various tribes talking – often heatedly – with one another. I can mostly/quickly spot a recent Moore College graduate, for example, via their idioms/’lingo’ – and of course their theological emphases.

But something interesting happens to these people when they serve in dioceses which are not almost exclusively ‘conservative Evangelical’. Or they read more widely, say, for a higher degree. Rough edges are smoothed; biases give way to more ‘perhapses’. I love it!

Michael’s done a lot of reading, though his heroes – St Augustine, Alvin Plantinga, C S Lewis, Miroslav Volf et. al. – tend to be theologically conservative. He affirms ‘the great teachings of the Reformation – justification by faith alone, the sole authority of Scripture, and the priesthood of all believers’ (p. 80). But in the last of these 36 short essays, Michael eschews both religious fundamentalism and theological liberalism (see below). He unapologetically uses masculine pronouns for Deity, and prefers the NIV (‘Let your light shine before men…’ p. 90). (To be fair that version may have been chosen for other reasons, given that most of his 36 essays originally appeared in the Bible Society’s Eternity magazine, and the NRSV is a bit expensive if you use it too much).

Michael’s writings – at least in these essays – have, in my judgment, a more irenic flavour than the less nuanced utterings of many of his conservative, especially ‘Reformed’ Anglican colleagues.

He’s quite in touch with popular culture – citing YouTube videos, popular TV programs, social media stuff, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Monty Python, etc. And he has a charmingly relaxed way of employing idioms which are probably outside his parents’ vocabulary (‘popping off down to Ikea’, ‘a giraffe is like a giraffe is like a giraffe’, people in the Bible bursting into music ‘at the drop of a hat’, the idea that an organ is a more sacred instrument than the electric guitar ‘is just silliness in spades’ etc).

Oh, he can be judgmental. Eg. ‘One of the silliest things I have ever heard is that because God is a God of order this must mean that human babies ought to be fed on a four-hour routine’ (p. 48).

He includes a very interesting chapter on music. Tentative thesis: “‘folk’ music is the best way to describe the form of music that ought to be found in churches…’ (I’d have liked to know more about how he might differentiate ‘folk’ from Hillsong music for example… I guess he’s got to be circumspect here, in deference to the many Hillsong readers of Eternity Magazine).

This got me thinking: ‘We are so used to living in the world of un-grace that we cannot bring ourselves to really understand what a world of grace might actually look like’ (p. 31)

And in the ‘Did you know?’ category: ‘When the King James version was first published William Shakespeare was 46 years old. If you go to Psalm 46 in that translation you will discover that the 46th word from the beginning of the Psalm is “shake”; and that the 46th word from the end is… “spear”.’ (p. 66). (There’s a theory – Michael doesn’t mention this – that Shakespeare used this trick to secretly sign his name on the KJV translation).

Here are three short cheeky/brilliant/revealing/inspirational paragraphs to close the book:

‘Fundamentalism tries to make Christianity an alternative to materialistic atheism. It tries to make it an answer for everything. But it has to read the Bible as badly as the atheists do to get there. It is no mistake that both fundamentalism and atheism have grown as parallel movements – they have an almost symbiotic relationship. Both exhibit (to use the American scholar R. Scott Clark’s term) a QIRC – a Quest for Illegitimate Religious Certainty.

‘Christian liberalism, for its part, pretends to be a kind of believing unbelief, but it is really just a failure of nerve. It sits somewhere in the middle, neither believing nor sufficiently doubting. There is a kind of craven unbelief, or a persistent doubt-for-no-purpose, which revels in its own posture of superior not-knowingness. It characterizes much of English Anglicanism, in fact. It is smug, but without reason to be.

Rather, truly biblical and orthodox Christianity keeps nagging away at us, challenging our human pride and upsetting our self-made securities. It turns us always to the twin wonders of a crucified Messiah and an empty tomb. It speaks to us of the majesty and the steadfast love of the God of Jesus Christ… and it offers us confidence, just enough, to live in the turbulence of this difficulty world.’ [pp. 161-2].

A good read, thanks Michael.

Michael Jensen is rector of St Mark’s Darling Point and is also the author of My God, My God: Is it Possible to Believe Anymore? 

Rowland Croucher

Rowland is writing ‘my last book’ – Questions and Responses: The 30 Most Difficult Questions I’ve Been Asked as a Pastoral Counselor – to be published by Mosaic Press.


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