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  • Peter Carnley

ARMIDALE DISARMED

Updated: Jun 19

SOME PROBLEMATIC POSTINGS ON THE WEBSITE OF THE ANGLICAN DIOCESE OF ARMIDALE.

The diocesan website of the Anglican Diocese of Armidale in New South Wales currently carries two documents that are of some theological concern. These documents may be read by following the link https://www.armidaleanglicandiocese.com.

The author of one is the Rt Reverend Rod Chiswell, the current diocesan bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Armidale.  The author of the other is The Reverend Dr Mark Earngey, Head of Church History at Moore Theological College in Newtown in Sydney. Both of these authors purport to be reviewing a recently published book by Professor Thomas Fudge of the University of New England in Armidale, entitled Darkness, The Conversion of Anglican Armidale 1960-2019

Though both authors set out to review Professor Fudge’s monumental work (of over 800 pages), it is somewhat surprising that they both studiously avoid any real attempt to outline Fudge’s actual historical thesis. It is consequently inevitable that any serious discussion of, or engagement with, his main argument is also missing. Instead, both authors opt for what amounts to an ad hominem attack on Fudge’s own alleged theological shortcomings in an apparent attempt to discredit him. Indeed, far from providing a review of Fudge’s historical argument, both authors appear to be more concerned to produce a defensive apologia for their own shared theological position, specifically in relation to what they discern to be two basic flaws in Professor Fudge’s theological thinking.

The first issue has to do with Fudge’s alleged approach to the authority of the Christian Scriptures, which is said to fall short of Anglican norms; the second is Fudge’s alleged dislike of the penal substitutionary theory of the Atonement, which they feel an urgent need to defend. We are meant not to take what Fudge has written seriously, and to discount the historical argument of his book on the ground that “the Anglicanism that Thomas Fudge represents is not truly Anglican.”

Professor Fudge’s historical thesis is that in the period from 1960 to 2019 there was a highly orchestrated attempt of a concerted sectarian kind within the Anglican Diocese of Armidale to replace an inclusive and generously diverse presentation of the Christian Gospel, and the rich variety of approaches to styles of worship that is characteristic of Anglican inclusiveness, with a rigid and highly exclusive form of conservative evangelicalism. He demonstrates that over time a succession of reforming enthusiasts were driven by a political agenda, characterized particularly by a literal interpretation of Scripture that bordered on a kind of biblical fundamentalism, and the substitutionary theory of the Atonement worked out on the basis of an adherence to legal principle, effectively   promoting an understanding of God’s grace understood in terms of salvation from his wrath and the necessity of following principles of justice. This alone was understood to qualify as a really acceptable presentation of the Christian Gospel; anything else could justifiably be condemned and removed as not authentically or “truly” Anglican, or even really Christian.

It is ironic that, by trying to suggest that Fudge should not be taken seriously because he does not qualify to represent what is “truly Anglican” that both “reviews” aptly demonstrate the fundamental historical contention of Fudge’s book. In other words, Fudge himself suffers the same fate as others in the recent history of the Diocese of Armidale who were condemned and encouraged to move elsewhere, and were replaced because they did not measure up to the requirements of the exclusive package of belief and worship that was agreeable to the reformers’ own liking.

Without doubt, the theological package to which the Armidale reformers appealed in securing their own sectarian identity, and which provided the motivation of their reforming agenda, had its roots in the thinking of T. C. Hammond who came from Ireland to be Principal of Moore Theological College in Sydney in 1936, though it has antecedents in European “federal” theology which notoriously worked out a theory of grace of a contractual and legal kind that held that God the Father required the death of his own Son in order to pay the penalty for Adam’s disobedience – and because Adam was the contractual or “federal head of the human race”, all humanity after him.This was at the expense of the tradition of the promise of God to Abraham to be steadfastly loving and faithful to his covenant promise and thus generously disposed even in the face of human frailty and disobedience.

This style of theology that was introduced by T. C. Hammond from 1936 onwards has since become domiciled in the Anglican Diocese of Sydney and is easily discerned in its insidious colonizing extension into other Australian locations, of which Armidale is but one example.

Professor Fudge as a professional historian is more than capable of defending himself.  I have had an initial interest in his work, only because I myself was invited to review his book for the Journal of Anglican Studies. I have been drawn more deeply into this current discussion, however, precisely because Dr Earngey, in his “review” of Fudge’s book, somewhat cavalierly makes the charge on the Armidale diocesan website that I am responsible for leading Professor Fudge into error. Unfortunately, Earngey arbitrarily refers to the “errors of Peter Carnley” without specifically saying what these alleged errors are, save for the fact that they relate generally to Fudge’s understanding of the historical origins of the contractual or federal theology of T. C. Hammond. In other words, Earngey appears to wish to contest the validity of my classification of  T. C. Hammond as a federal theologian.

This is despite the fact that Hammond himself not only speaks of Christ as “the federal head of redeemed humanity’  and works out a theology of the relation of the persons of the Trinity in clear contractual terms, but openly confesses his admiration for the seventeenth century federal theology of James Ussher, his confessed historical mentor, along with his admiration for the theology of the Synod of Dort and the Westminster Confession, both important historical examples of federal theology. Furthermore, Hammond even commend the nineteenth century federal theology of A. A. Hodge, though mistakenly describing “the federal view” as “the best way of combining the scriptural  evidence in a coherent whole.”  A full discussion of Hammond and federal theology may be found in my recent book, Arius on Carillon Avenue (Cascade Books, Wipf and Stock, Oregon, 2023) which Professor Fudge was able to consult in the final stages of preparation of his Armidale history,

On the other hand, both Bishop Chiswell and Dr Earngey apparently not only wish to adhere to and defend the penal substitutionary theory of the Atonement, which Fudge certainly and rightly believes to be highly problematic, but to insist that it is “a central Anglican doctrine”. This is a very provocative assertion that cannot be allowed to go unchallenged.  The truth is that orthodox Christianity has never defined any single doctrine of the Atonement, let alone the penal substitutionary theory. Anglicanism does not depart from orthodox Christianity at this point. This speculative theory is certainly not a central doctrine of Anglican Christianity.

Though Bishop Chiswell says that Article 15 of the Anglican Thirty-Nine Articles states the theory of penal substitution “plainly”, that Article contains no mention whatever of penal substitution.  Furthermore, Chiswell’s statement that "the doctrine of Penal Substitutionary Atonement is found all through the Bible" is quite patently untrue. At this point Bishop Chiswell seems to muddle the penal substitutionary theory and the sacrificial theory when he says Christ "died a sacrificial death to pay the price for human sin" - as though the language of the Temple and the language of a court of law were univocal.

 

Amongst other things all this fails to take note of the rich variety of soteriological metaphors in the New Testament. The fact that redemption is described metaphorically as something concretely experienced means that in the New Testament Redemption is not just a rationalistic and speculative theory to which assent may be given, but something to be participated in through faith in Christ as, indeed, in the tradition of orthodox and catholic Christianity. 

 

Apart from the implications of the metaphorical nature of the language of the New Testament’s soteriological texts and their rich diversity, even the basic presupposition of this penal and substitutionary view of the Atonement, which  is said to be found in the Old Testament, has to be questioned. This is the alleged “penal” view of death itself as a publishment imposed on Adam and all humanity after him. This has tended (at least since the advent of federal theology) to be based on a misreading of God’s warning in Genesis 2.17 so as to be understood as a threat with legalistic contractual overtones. This is questionable, not least because God’s punishment of Adam was not death but expulsion from Eden. This means he was not created as an immortal who became mortal as a punishment, but was created as a mortal, whose disobedience meant that he forfeited access to the Tree of Life at the centre of the Garden from which he was expelled and thus forfeited immortality.  Even so, in the Book of Genesis Adam is said to have gone on to live for nearly a millennium - 930 years!

Ironically, the attempt to defend the penal substitutionary theory of the Atonement by both Bishop Chiswell and Dr Earngey actually demonstrates the truth of  Professor Fudge’s historical thesis when he contends that assent to the penal substitutionary theory of the Atonement was a kind of benchmark of the kind of evangelicalism that drove the reforming zeal of those who were hell bent on changing the complexion of the diocese between 1964 and 2019

The fact that this led to so much unhappiness across the Diocese of Armidale from 1964 onwards takes on the sense of a Greek tragedy, for this reforming agenda was based on an unfortunate theological mistake. I have dealt with this more fully in The Subordinate Substitute:  Another Wrong Turn on Carillon Avenue (Cascade Books, Wipf and Stock, Oregon, 2024).

We cannot in all honesty accept this problematic theory of the Atonement, and certainly must challenge the contention that it is “a central Anglican doctrine.”  Attempts to make the penal substitutionary theory of the Atonement into a required belief or even to give it de facto status by treating it as the central meaning of the Gospel have on Biblical and systematic theological grounds to be resisted at all costs.

 

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