Evangelism in an Emocratic World

The late Margaret Thatcher who was the Prime Minister of the UK from 1979 – 1990 was attributed with saying the following:

“Do you know that one of the great problems of our age is that we are governed by people who care more about feelings than they do about thoughts and ideas.”

Recently I was watching an interview where former Australian Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson speaks with academic and author Niall Ferguson and Ferguson quotes his wife, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, whom in a speech said:

“We no longer live in a democracy but an emocracy, where emotions trump facts”. 

Ferguson cited his wife in the context of speaking about how the ‘old’ rules of engaging in discourse and debate no longer apply. An argument had to be supported by facts, but in today’s culture this no longer applies;

“What you try to do [when arguing/debating in our western culture] is to try to destroy the reputation of the person on the other side. You simply attack their good faith and it does not matter what facts they may bring to the table”.

He wrote an article about Emocracy which you can read on his website.

So given the cultural penchant for aggrandising emotions and feelings at the expense of facts, how is the Christian to  evangelise in such a culture? Actually, another question that I think is germane in this piece is:

How are Christians to contextualise the gospel in such an emocratic culture?

The example of the Apostle Paul is very helpful in this regard. Acts 17 is very worth looking at for in this chapter we see two different principles that the Apostle incorporates into his evangelism.

By the way, when it comes to the book of Acts it is very important to remember what sort of book Acts is. It is primarily a descriptive, not prescriptive, it is primarily not a ‘how to do book’, because Luke is chronicling a very unique time, the birth of the church, the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the Holy Spirit empowering the church and the Apostles. But having said that, there is still much here that we can apply to our lives.

Firstly in  Acts 17, we see that  Paul reasoned with Jews from the Scriptures. His starting point was what they knew, he started where they were at. Yet in Paul went to Athens,  he does not use the Scriptures at all as his starting point but quotes Greek poets whom they knew.

Paul is a wonderful model for us to emulate because it is evident from his practice that he can proclaim the gospel to a variety of people from different grounds, in ways that are culturally appropriate.  He can proclaim the Gospel of the Lord Jesus to Jews who would have known the OT really well; to God Fearing Greeks, so who probably knew some of the Bible, but would have come from pagan backgrounds. And the people in the market-place would have believed in all sort of things, there would have been rich people, poor people, educated people, uneducated people, tourists, students, tradies, people who worked in the stalls. Paul was very good at adapting the content of the gospel to the different contexts in which he proclaimed it. In other words, he was mindful of his audience. It is a good thing to adopt Paul’s practice or be willing to learn it so that we can adapt the gospel to those whom we are sharing it with (not the content, but the presentation).

So again, back to the question (slightly rephrased):

How are we to adapt the  gospel to a culture that appears to becoming more emocratic?

Are we to make our churches, pulpits/lecterns places where safe spaces exist to protect unbelievers feelings? Are preachers to provide trigger warnings before every sermon to ensure that unbelievers are not #Iamsooffendedrightnow?

I don’t think so.

But it is a tough question. Something I am wrestling with.

My initial thoughts are:

  • Emotions are not always reliable indicators. For example, someone hears about the Lord Jesus and their emotional response seems to be positive and yet they don’t come to faith. Yet someone else hears about the Lord Jesus and their emotional response is hostile, they are offended and they repent and believe.
  • God’s people are to discern their culture through the lens of Scripture and not the other way around. Thus there are some aspects of culture that the Christian has the liberty to accommodate and even embrace, and there are other aspects of culture that the Christian must reject, and sometimes there are aspects that appear to be not so black and white require God’s wisdom. So as far as our emocracy is concerned, I don’t think it is wise for Christians to acquiesce and be hijacked by the subjective whims of emocracy which seem to change constantly.

I know that I am missing something, and that others have said more on this and said it better.




So over to you dear reader. How would you answer this question, (whilst being cognisant of the following)?

  1. Remember the Power of the Gospel (Romans 1:16)- the Gospel is God’s power to save. Thus the Gospel does not need dressing up or garnished with a pitch to emotions. The Apostle Paul contextualised the Gospel and he proclaimed the Gospel, unapologetically.
  2. Remember the Primacy of the Gospel (1 Corinthians 2:2). The Apostle Paul did not speak about himself, but about the Lord Jesus. Evangelism is not easy, and it is important to build bridges, starting where people are at, but we have to get to Jesus, the real Jesus, the Jesus of the Bible. We have to cross the bridge as Paul did.
  3. Remember the battle is spiritual (Ephesians 6:10-12) – in observing our culture, and the “culture wars” that exist in the West, it is easy to be bogged down in cultural analysis and forget that the core battle we are facing in regards to evangelism and unbelief is spiritual, even though it is often played out in flesh and blood.
  4.  Remember the importance of truth (2 Corinthians 4:1-2) We are to preach the truth, even if our culture tries to deny it with emotions. When the Apostles preached, there was often emotional responses. But it did not stop them from proclaiming the truth.
  5. Remember some will be offended  (2 Corinthians 2:16) No matter how clear we are, how well we build bridges, how well we contextualise the gospel, someone will be offended. But something that our culture seems to have forgotten, nothing bad ever happens to someone because they are offended. It is not as if someone hears you tell them about the Lord Jesus Christ, his death and resurrection, why they need to believe in Him, and they get offended; the next morning they wake up and discover to their horror that they have leprosy.
  6. Remember Paul was offended (Acts 8:1-3) and look how he turned out!
  7. Remember the true human condition (Ephesians 2:1) – the heart of the human problem is the problem of the human heart. The heart problem is that all humans are spiritually dead in sin, not almost dead, not spiritually sick, or spiritually drowsy, but stone cold dead! The problem is their sin, not their feelings, nor their emotions.

When I look at our culture,  it does seem that Western culture has the emotional resilience of a snowflake. We are #offended by everything and anything, including the truth but emotions change all the time. They are subject to the whims of fads, foods and flavours, the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ is not, for the Gospel is God’s Gospel and the Gospel never changes.

So don’t be ashamed of it, it is God’s power to save, point people to Christ and not yourself, praying always remembering that the battle is spiritual.  Remember that the Gospel will offend, so let it be only the Gospel that offends and not you.




The Fallacy of the Three Streams


Dictionary result for ‘fallacy’

  1. a mistaken belief, especially one based on unsound arguments.
    “the notion that the camera never lies is a fallacy”
    synonyms: misconception, mistaken belief, misbelief, delusion, false notion, mistaken impression, misapprehension, misjudgment, miscalculation, misinterpretation, misconstruction, error, mistake, untruth, inconsistency, illusion, myth, fantasy, deceit, deception, sophism; More

I have never been shy about expressing my enthusiasm for what God is doing with Anglican Christians in North America. I used to joke that the former Presiding Bishop and Primate of the Episcopal Church of the United States, Katharine Jefferts Schori was the most successful church planter in American history and that thanks to her skill-set we now have the Anglican Church in North America.

There is much to love about ACNA, their enthusiasm for the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, their passion to see new Anglican churches planted across the United States, and more importantly to see North Americans introduced to the Lord Jesus Christ. I think it is brilliant that many Evangelical Christians are discovering the Book of Common Prayer, Scripture soaked liturgy and are moving away from the shallow theo-tainment that has become rather prevalent in North America. It seems that liturgy is cool again.

I love the optimism of the American Anglican Christians, their ‘can do’ attitude, their entrepreneurial mentality. There is clergy within ACNA who even take time out of their busy schedules to email me, write to me, talk to me via FB video and to pray for me. I have been blessed by even practical gifts (such as books on pastoral ministry) from fellow Anglican clergy in the USA.

But there is an aspect of the ACNA that I find puzzling at best, concerning at worst. I touched on it very briefly in a previous post entitled Fudging Anglican Unity. What I am talking about is what is known in ACNA circles as the three streams or perhaps I should refer to it as Three Stream Anglicanism or TSA.

So what is Three Stream Anglicanism?

TSA is an attempted fusion of evangelical, Catholic, Pentecostal theologies under the auspices of Anglican Christianity. Those proponents of TSA claim that this is not only possible but desirable and is authentically Anglican. For example in his paper, The Anglican Tradition – Three Streams, One RiverThe Rev. Dr. Les Fairfield (who) taught Church History for thirty years at Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, PA. states:

Cranmer was a competent thinker and a composer of exquisite prose—see his magnificent Prayer Book—but he was not a Luther. This fact meant that over the next five hundred years, Anglicanism was free to extrapolate in three directions from the basic Biblical Christianity that Cranmer had affirmed.

Bishop Eric Vawter Menees who is currently serving as bishop of the Anglican Diocese of San Joaquin in his piece entitled Why I am an Anglican- we are a three streams churchwrites why he is an Anglican and gives nine reasons:

1) Biblical, 2) Liturgical, 3) Sacramental, 4) Evangelical, 5) Rational, 6) Episcopal, 7) Ecumenical, 8) International, and 9) We Are A Three Streams Church!

He also devotes three small paragraphs elucidating the characteristics of Anglo-catholic, Evangelical, and Charismatic “Anglicans”. His treatment of each, theologically, historically and liturgically is scant but his big idea is clear – one can be theologically Evangelical, or theologically Anglo-Catholic or theologically Charismatic and all three can claim to be authentically Anglican because they are Anglican.

Fairfield, in his piece, claims that:

All three strands are grounded in the Gospel. Each one extrapolates the Gospel in a specific direction.

But are they grounded in the Gospel? Even a cursory glance at Anglican theology, liturgy, and history shows that this is wishful thinking at best and to hold to TSA I cannot see how one can get over the theological differences between Evangelical Christianity, Anglo-catholicism and Charismatic doctrine, what I call the triple-bar hurdle.

The Triple Bar Hurdle

Proponents of TSA face what I call the Triple Jump Hurdle in order to hold to their position. The hurdle is made up of three bars: theological, liturgical and historical.

Yet the only way one can jump this triple bar hurdle is to attempt to go around as the theology of each “tradition” is not only vastly different from each other, only one is evident in the Book of Common Prayer, the Ordinal and in the 39 Articles.

Regarding Charismatic theology no-where in the Anglican Formularies do we see:

  1. The Exegesis of experience over and above Holy Scripture
  2. The doctrine of subsequence – a two-tiered approach to conversion, where you have non-Christians, and amongst the Christians you have two types, those who are not spirit filled, and those who are spirit filled.
  3. The over-realised eschatology of the charismatic movement, (i.e. heaven now)
  4. The emphasis of the gifts of the charismata (i.e. tongues, healings, words of knowledge, prophecy)
  5. The overemphasis of the Holy Spirit at the expense of the Lord Jesus

Regarding Anglo-catholic theology, no-where in the Anglican Formularies do we see:

  1. The doctrine of baptismal regeneration
  2. The doctrine of trans-substantiation or anything close to it
  3. The doctrine or practice of a sacerdotal priesthood
  4. The doctrine of clergy being ontologically changed due to their ordination (i.e have the power “to ABC”; absolve, bless, consecrate).
  5. Apostolic succession
  6. The Calling of the Lord’s table an altar (this change was deliberate on Cranmer’s part)
  7. An affirmation of any Roman Catholic doctrine
  8. Semi-pelagian theology.
  9. A three-legged stool relationship between reason, tradition, and Scripture.

The Anglo-Catholic movement was an attempt by a small group of clergy within the Church of England to move the C of E back to Rome. One of its leading proponents was the Anglican Priest John Henry Newman, who became a Roman Catholic Cardinal, but before doing so worked very hard to try and re-interpret the Anglican Church formularies, the BCP and the 39 Articles in line with the doctrines of the RCC. His infamous Tract 90, published in 1841, encouraged Anglicans to read the Thirty-nine Articles as a Catholic document.

When we do read the Anglican Formularies what we do see is that:

  1. The Book of Common Prayer, the Ordinal, the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion is protestant and reformed. By reformed I mean that it expresses a theology and other doctrines of grace rediscovered in the Reformation of the 16th century.
  2. The theology is the middle way between Luther and Calvin. It is neither Lutheran, nor simply Calvinist, though it resonates with many of Calvin’s thoughts.
  3. The supreme authority is Scripture. Article VI, “Of the sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures for Salvation,” puts it this way: Holy Scriptures containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.
  4.  Scripture alone is supreme as the saving Word of God. Reason, tradition (and experience) play an auxiliary role, unlike Anglo-catholicism and the Charismatic movement).
  5. The role of clergy is functional not ontological. (See post Ordination)

This is not meant to be a big post, but it seems that three streams Anglicanism is a modern-day 21t century invention. Just as the Oxford Movement try to reinterpret the 39 Articles in order to reimagine and reinvent the Anglican Church to be something that it is not (Roman Catholic), TSA seems to be reinvention of the Anglican church, not via attempting to reinterpret the 39 Articles, but attempting to bypass them in order to re-imagine the Anglican Church to be something that it is not.

Why do some within the ACNA support and endorse TSA?

There is one commonality that Anglo-Catholics, Charismatics, and Evangelicals within ACNA share and that is their opposition and abhorrence of revisionist theology – the cancer that has eroded and is continuing to erode TEC. Perhaps this is what feeds and drives TSA. There is a brilliant quote: “The enemy of the enemy is my friend”. (though not sure if this quote originated with a middle eastern prince), and perhaps this quote encapsulates the mentality of proponents of TSA within ACNA. However I believe that this will not do, as it ignores the theology, liturgy, and history of the very church it seeks to identify with and protect, and in reality, is the exchanging of one error for another that will only lead to a watering down of the very thing that Anglican Christians with the ACNA want to see recovered – Confessional classical Cranmerian Anglicanism.

Anglican Christianity is protestant and Reformed.  The theology, the liturgy and the history back this up. It is the hurdle that proponents of TSA should not go around, nor attempt to jump over. If one is an Anglican, why would one want to even try to?

‘A Commination’ service – A Forgotten Jewel in the Anglican Crown

Next Wednesday on the Church Calendar marks the beginning of Lent, and for the first time since I have been the Vicar of my parish one of our two Ash Wednesday Services is going to be the service of Commination.

Here are some interesting aspects of the service of Commination:

  1. I don’t know any Anglican clergy who use it, or who have mentioned it. I once asked a former Anglican Bishop if he had used it. “Not once”, was his reply.
  2. It is in the Book of Common Prayer. Yes…on page 338. So it is well and truly and thoroughly Anglican.
  3. It is to be used on the first day of Lent, (and at other times as the ordinary shall appoint).
  4. I don’t know if any Anglican clergy has even heard of it. If Anglican churches don’t observe Lent, nor use the church calendar or the BCP for that matter, then that would explain why it is unknown.


Anglican priest, Adam Charles Young explains the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ very well…

What is the purpose of the service of Commination? Why is it an important service? What does it teach? Why should we still do it in the 21st century?

Commination literally means the action of threatening divine vengeance or as the service itself explains:  a denouncing of Gods anger and judgments against sinners.” The idea of God being angry may make us uncomfortable, but it is very Biblical. God’s anger or wrath at sin and sinners is mentioned around 600 times in the Bible. The most frequently mentioned attribute of God is His complete Holiness. Because God is Holy, He cannot stand to be near sin—He hates and despises it. Importantly, Scripture does not say ‘hate the sin, love the sinner’—that was Gandhi. God is perfectly just, we are all sinners, we all deserve judgment and the death penalty as the Apostle Paul says the wages of sin is death (Romans 6.23). That the service of Commination is based in the Bible can be seen by the over 75 verses of Scripture that it quotes—with many more alluded to.

In his worship song ‘Here I am to Worship’Tim Hughes wrote these lyrics Ill never know how much it cost, to see my sin upon that cross. This is the essence of the teaching of the Commination service—until we understand God’s hatred of sin, and all He had to overcome to restore us to a right relationship with Him, we will never know how much He loves us. Commination begins by displaying God’s anger and judgment against sin. Importantly though, even at the beginning, it says that God’s anger and judgment is only a curse against those who refuse to repent—it is only those who don’t repent to Jesus who face such judgment. For the next part of the service the ‘curses’of Scripture are read, and like the 10 commandments, we are all guilty of breaking them. Explaining that the Day of the LORD is coming—judgement day—the service compels the believer to fear God and turn away from sin and not to despise His goodness, His patience, and His long-suffering. 

Boldly the service proclaims that through Jesus there is forgiveness of any sins For though our sins be as red as scarlet, they shall be made white as snow, and though they be like purple, yet they shall be made white as wool.” It declares Jesus to be on our side Although we have sinned, yet we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus the Righteous; and He is the propitiation of our sins Propitiation is a word which means the removing of wrath against sinners. We are then reassured that Christ is ready to receive us whenever we come to Him in humility, no matter what we have done or how many times we have done it: (Jesus is) most willing to pardon us, if we come to Him with faithful repentance.

Scripture teaches that everyone has sinned (except Jesus) and not only that but that we are all ‘depraved’–26 verses of Scripture declare that even from conception all of us are lost and our hearts are inclined to evil, even from conception we are all in desperate need of a Saviour. Indeed, we are so lost that of our own power and choice we would never seek out God None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God (Romans 3.10-11). If we are ever to truly get right with God, to make progress in our faith and discipleship, to be moulded by the Holy Spirit into the likeness of Christ, we must first look in the mirror, deeply, and recognise how fallen we are. We are far worse than we like to imagine but Jesus is far stronger than we could ever hope. This is why towards the end the Commination service declares “spare Your peoplethose You have redeemedand enter not into judgment with Your servants, who are nothing but vile earth and miserable sinners. Instead, turn Your righteous anger from us, who humbly acknowledge our sinful vileness, and truly repent us of our faults.”  Also worthy of note is that it is not by our own doing that we are saved, we are not saved by ‘good works’or keeping The Law. We are saved by the grace of God: “Through the merits and mediation of Your blessed Son Jesus Christ our Lord.

As I hope you can see, the service of Commination, though an uncomfortable one, is full of the Good News of Jesus. It is designed to, at the start of Lent (or at other times), bring us to our knees, to acknowledge our sinfulness, to fall on the mercy of God and not our own strength, to see the judgement against sin and so be encouraged to fight valiantly against it, and to know the assurance of forgiveness through Christ. This message is more relevant than ever and just as important as the day it was written.

Sadly however this jewel,  like many other jewels in the Anglican Crown seems to be forgotten. Why not use it? Cranmer did!


Acknowledgment: A big h/t to  Rev Adam Charles Young – Associate Minister at All Saints Ferriby, UK  whose explanation I have adapted above.


Resources Adam has also put together a modernised version of A Commination.