Category Archives: News

Greg Jenks to become Dean of St George’s College, Jerusalem

The Anglican Archbishop in Jerusalem and Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Jerusalem and the Middle East, has announced the appointment of the Reverend Dr Gregory Jenks as Dean of St George’s CGreg Jenks2ollege in Jerusalem.

More details here:


As Academic Dean and Lecturer in Biblical Studies, St Francis Theological College, Brisbane and Senior Lecturer in the School of Theology, Charles Sturt University, Dr Jenks has had a long-standing interest in Christian origins and is the lead researcher for the Jesus Database project. He has been Visiting Professor and Scholar-in-Residence at St George’s College, Jerusalem on several occasions, and is a co-director of the Bethsaida Archaeological Excavation in Israel. Greg is a Fellow of the Westar Institute, and served as its Associate Director 1999-2001.

We have had a long association with Greg and have appreciated his contributions to local, national and international seminars on progressive christianity.  His recent publications include:

Wisdom and Imagination: Religious Progressives and the Search for Meaning, edited by Rex A. E. Hunt & Gregory C. Jenks. Melbourne: Morning Star Publishing, 2014.

Jesus Then and Jesus Now: Looking for Jesus, Finding Ourselves. Melbourne: Morning Star Publishing, 2014.

Free Study Guide – ePub format for iBook and other tablets, and also a PDF version.

The once and future Scriptures: Exploring the role of the Bible in the contemporary church. (editor & contributor)
Salem, OR: Polebridge Press, 2013.

The once and future Bible: An introduction to the Bible for religious progressives.
Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2011.

A full listing of his writings can be found at:

We offer our congratulations to Greg on this appointment and look forward to the fruits that will follow.

Westar Institute Spring Meeting Report

Thanks to Rex Hunt for forwarding this reporWestar Feature-Banner-S15-revt from Dr Lorraine Parkinson:

Westar Spring Meeting,

Flamingo Resort, Santa Rosa, California, March 2015.

 There were about 166 attendees at the Westar Spring Meeting, mainly from the US, 4 Canadians, 1 from the UK, 1 from Japan and 3 Australians!  The age group looked mainly like the average church congregation, except for a great group of 6 youngish clergy, gathered together by David Galston.

The meeting kicked off with a public lecture from Bernard Brandon Scott on his new book ‘The Real Paul’.  To start, we were given ‘5 quick and dirty rules for understanding Paul’!  Most memorable for me was BBS’s regular instruction to ‘forget Acts!’ as repository of historical information about Paul.   He also argued that we set aside ideas that Paul was converted to anything.  Instead, that Paul saw himself as called to be an envoy of God’s news about Jesus the Anointed.  He is to take this news to ‘the nations’, not to the whole world, but to the nations that make up the Roman Empire.

In a panel discussion on ‘The Search for the Real Paul’, Lane C. McGaughy’s translation work on the letters of Paul was discussed, where LMcG argues against Luther’s translation of Romans 3:22.  Instead of the subjective genitive, (Jesus the Anointed’s own faithfulness), Luther translated 3:22 with the objective genitive (faith in Jesus the Anointed).   The question was, does Lane McGaughy’s work undermine the Protestant Reformation?

The Christianity Seminar (that began in 2013) was engaged in considering the stories of Christian martyrdom that appeared from the second century CE.  Various scholars, including Jennifer Wright Knust, argued that many of the martyr stories were written later than that, and were used alongside scripture as affirmations of loyalty to Jesus Christ, instead of to Caesar.

Hal Taussig made the important point that before the Emperor Decius’ edict (249 CE) there was no systematic persecution of Christians.  It only happened during the period 303 – 311 (the Diocletian persecutions).  Most martyr stories were written after the legalization of Christianity.  Why was that so?  This was part of an imperial mentality developing among Christians.  The stories were to be read to celebrate the dead leader (as happened re the emperors). Monasteries had full sets of martyr story texts long before full sets of canonical material.

Westar continues to expand its repertoire into new areas of scholarly conversation.   This spring it introduced a new seminar on ‘God and the Human Future’.  The lectures and conversations began with Peter Steinberger’s ‘Thinking about thinking about God’.  Steinberger is a professor of humanities and political science who argues that we are all aproleptics, aprolepticism being what he calls ‘the idea of not having an idea’ – about God – because we are not talking about something real, that conforms to ‘cause and effect’.  But cause and effect does not explain the existence of the universe, either.

John Caputo (theological philosopher) took us into two ways of thinking about God – the ‘Weakness of God’ and the ‘Insistence of God’.   Regarding the first, he quoted Derrida’s illustration of the ‘weak’ force of justice.  The law has force.  If we can’t make justice strong, we must make the law just.  Justice itself is a ‘weak force’.   Justice is force associated with God.  Therefore God is a ‘weak force’.

Caputo’s lecture confirmed for me the non-existence of God the being.  I found his concluding observation compelling: “The audacity of weak theology is the audacity of hope and the audacity of hope is the audacity of God.”

The ‘insistence of God’ represents for Caputo the insistence of the ‘call’.  This can be disturbing whispers in the ears of theologians – who then (he says) get fired!  God ‘calls’, but bringing about God’s existence is our responsibility.

Jeffrey Robbins (Assistant Professor of Religion and Philosophy) affirmed the opportunity Westar gave for collaboration of scholars across disciplines.  He made the point that there is a re-thinking of philosophical theology going on.  “But when philosophers think themselves to the limits of their thought, they ‘stumble upon religion’.  Philosophy and religion are now ‘bleeding into each other’.   Robbins declared that Westar can build conversations between historians and philosophers.  “Radical theology dissolves the distinction between theism and atheism.  The better response is ‘non-theism’.

Joe Bessler (Professor of Theology) wondered what theology is like after the Death of God.  There must be something there to talk about, a basic something, like pure water, to add flavour to.  If there is a foundational essence, what is it?  Or is there nothing?

The Meeting included plenty of time for talking with other attendees, including receptions and the final banquet, where a moving memorial to Marcus Borg was led by Art Dewey and Robin Meyers.

The meeting was indeed a feast of intellectual and conversational stimulation.  I hope this short summary conveys something of what was offered.

Rev Dr Lorraine Parkinson, Melbourne


Marcus Borg – remembered, repected, recognised

Marcus J. Borg (March 11, 1942 – January 21, 2015) was an American New Testament scholar, theologian and author. He was a fellow of the Jesus Seminar and a former Hundere marcus borgDistinguished Professor of Religion and Culture at Oregon State University, a position from which he retired in 2007. Borg was among the most widely known and influential voices in progressive Chrisitianity and is a major figure in scholarship related to the historical Jesus. He died at the age of 72 on Wednesday, January 21, 2015, after a prolonged battle with  idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

David Gibson, National Reporter (New York) for the Religion News Service, posted a comprehensive ‘obit’ on 22nd January on the RNS website Religion News Service. He highlighted the way in which Borg ‘popularized the intense debates about the historical Jesus and the veracity and meaning of the New Testament’.

Gibson relates how Borg questioned the Bible but never lost his passion for the spiritual life or ‘his faith in God as “real and mystery”.

In 1979 Borg joined the faculty at Oregon State University and taught religion there until his retirement in 2007.

Borg’s 1987 book, “Jesus: A New Vision,” launched him to prominence. The book summarized and explained recent New Testament scholarship for a popular audience while presenting Jesus as a social and political prophet of his time who was driven by his relationship with God. Borg viewed this relationship as more important than traditional Christian beliefs based on a literal reading of the Bible.

Borg loved to debate but was no polemicist, and over the years maintained strong friendships with those who disagreed with him, developing a reputation as a gracious and generous scholar in a field and a profession that are not always known for those qualities. Continue reading

G20 and Equitable Development

The latest bulletin from our friends Earthlinkat EarthLink leads with comment on the Brisbane meeting of world leaders for G20 and gives information about how to participate in the People’s Summit. It follows with a wonderful list of green resources, local events, book reviews and conferences as well as international visitors and future national events.

Recommended reading at:  Earthlink News  and EventsEarth Link

Earth Link

Milpara appoints a Project Coordinator

Greg Mackay takes up duties in September

We are very pleased to announce the appointment of a new member for the project leadership team.

After receiving an excellent response to the advertised position, an outstanding short list of interviewees has produced Greg Mackay as Milpara’s inaugural project coordinator..

Greg is a proven leader in partner, organisation, and sector influence possessing substantial expertise in responding collaboratively to new challenges. He not only brings excellent qualifications to the position he has experience in fields that excited the selection committee. Greg hold an MBA with specialisations in association management and professional practice management, an M.Litt (Peace Studies) and a BA (Psychology). He is currently undertaking studies towards a PhD in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies. His work experience is expansive and impressive. He has worked as Director of Uniting Care Centre for Social Justice, was the inaugural Director of State Disability Services Complaints Management System, and Manager Family Relationships Program within the Department of Family and Community Services. Previous to these he has worked in senior positions in several Commonwealth and State Departments of Health, Disability and Intellectual handicap Services.

Milpara Director, Rodney Eivers and CEO, Paul Inglis welcome Greg into the team and look forward to a productive period of developing and growing the project.

To follow Milpara’s development go to: Milpara Project

Church Closures

It has come to our notice that, regrettably, two more Uniting Church congregations have come to extinction.

Appropriate closure  services will be held at Rathdowney Uniting Church (south of Beaudesert) on February 23rd 2014 and at Knox Moorooka on 9th March 2014

Val Web’s Tour of Progressive Groups in the UK

” Progressives … In England’s Green and Pleasant Lands”
Dr. Val Webb
In June 2013, I did a speaking tour of progressive groups in the United Kingdom, arranged by Rev. John Churcher, a Methodist minister and former chair of the Progressive Christian Network in Britain ( and by Peter Gibson from the Open Christianity network in Ireland ( Groups around the country were informed of my
availability over a few weeks and a tour of twelve lectures in sixteen days was organized – Belfast and Dublin in Ireland; Dundee in Scotland; Kendal, Sheffield, Stockport, Harrogate and St. Albans in England; and Barry in Wales. The tour was billed around the updated version of my book In Defence of Doubt: an invitation to adventure (Melbourne: Mosaic Press, 2012) but at some places I also gave presentations on “Talking about God” from my books Like Catching Water in a Net: human attempts to describe the Divine and Stepping out with the Sacred: human attempts to engage the Divine. In each place, Maurice and I were hosted by wonderful progressive members which added so much to our experience.

The Belfast meeting was held in St. George’s Church of Ireland (Protestant), a progressive city church welcoming of GLBT people. Its non-stipendiary curate Rev. Dr William Odling Smith is a retired surgeon, ordained when the Church of Ireland began ordaining people to work within their secular profession. His wife, Anne, is chair of OCN Ireland. The Dublin meeting was at Taney Parish Church of Ireland (Protestant), chaired by Andrew Furlong, an Anglican priest who, in 2002, was charged with heresy for denying the divinity of Christ, the first heresy trial in one hundred years in the Church of Ireland (Andrew Furlong, Tried for Heresy: a 21st century journey of faith (Hants: O Books, 2003). Numbers at the Dublin meeting were swelled by an advertisement in a Catholic newsletter Women Spirit which brought some younger Catholic women not previously familiar with the progressive group, but very excited with the discussion. It is evident that the Catholic-Protestant divide still underscores most things in Ireland, adding an extra context to the role of the progressive movement there.

In Dundee, Scotland, Angela Smith, current chair of the Progressive Christian Network in Britain, organized two gatherings in the downtown West Dundee Parish hall (Reformed Presbyterian Church of Scotland), one of few progressive churches in that denomination. The informal afternoon discussion on “God” gathered a small but well educated group keen to talk.

This continued at the restaurant in the church’s basement, followed by an evening meeting with coffee, wine and goodies. Angela described how the Dundee group ebbed and flowed, providing a place for people to ask their questions but not necessarily remain long-term. In time, another bunch of people build enthusiasm again as they also experience the need to ask questions.

We hired a car in Scotland and drove the rest of the trip with boxes of my books for sale on the back seat, supplied by my British publishers. The group in Kendal in the beautiful Lakes District was relatively strong and established, with good ties with the Kendal Ecumenical Group. We had an afternoon session on “God” in a lovely Manor House Hotel in the country, followed by an evening meeting in the Kendal United Reformed Church (Presbyterian and Congregational union). There are quite a few Quakers in these progressive groups, finding such places of silent meditation more conducive to progressive thinking than liturgies and sermons in churches promoting traditional theology. This group were especially thankful that we had come to this regional location as most overseas speakers pass them by.

In Harrogate, the meeting was in the downtown Wesley Chapel where there was a strong progressive group drawing from neighbouring areas as well. Three young people who saw the advertising came for the first time. They were studying theology and philosophy and were very pleased to hear the discussion, especially as they had attended another church group the previous week promoting a seven day creation! One was studying feminist theology and writing a project on it – very gratifying. Given the usual lack of young people in such groups, they were welcomed enthusiastically by the regulars! In Sheffield, St. Mark’s Anglican Church has a long and strong reputation for progressive thought, having hosted Spong, Holloway and Borg in their Centre for Radical Christians. Consequently, the meeting was enthusiastic and welcoming with people happy to be in a progressive congregation where any views could be expressed. I reminded them how lucky they were!

In Stockport, the progressives met at Groveland Baptist Church with enthusiastic support from their minister. Advertising had brought people from other Baptist churches and beyond. This church is active in providing meals for the needy and space for mothers’ groups in their church-in-the-round building where they simply remove the chairs and use the open space. In
discussion at that meeting, I realized how many different progressive-style groups are working in England, with their particular emphases coming from their various contexts, such as the Emerging Christianity group for the Evangelicals and the Modern Church group for Anglicans. In talking to theologian Emerita Professor Ursula King on this same visit to England, I was surprised that she knew nothing of progressive Christianity groups, yet her books would be ideal for progressive discussions. I was also made aware in this Baptist church of young people from Britain going to Moore Anglican College in Sydney in order to get a “sound” conservative Anglican theological education to bring back to English churches.

In Barry in Wales, birthplace of Julia Gillard, we met briefly with the wonderful woman who had organized our visit and was the leading light in the local progressive group. She was weak with recurrent cancer and has died since, but she was thrilled the visit had come to pass, even though she could not attend. That night, we dined with their progressive group and the following afternoon met for a discussion on God at the Barry Methodist Church where John Shelby Spong had also been hosted. At Spong’s meeting, a group from the Evangelical Alliance came to heckle and they came for me as well. One interrupted my talk after ten minutes and, when I requested questions at the end, a woman occupied the front of the church to give her testimony about certainties, not doubt. We did, however, have a lot of good questions and some of the hecklers stayed for dinner and the second session, which began with great Welsh singing, followed by another presentation from me. Some of the progressives I met in Barry were involved in an alternative church service, The Gathering, under the leadership of Methodist minister John Stacy-Marks whose work with disadvantaged youth brought many young people to church.

Rev. John Churcher, who organized the tour, hosted us at St. Albans near London. John is a Methodist minister who, in semi-retirement, gives presentations around Britain and promotes progressive thought. He is the author of Setting Jesus Free (Winchester, Hants: O Books, 2009) and Dying to Live (2012:). We met in a United Reformed Church in St. Albans whose woman
minister is a progressive.

The meetings across the UK averaged about 50-60 people per session. Although these were good numbers for them, they were apologetic there were not more, but explained that I was not well known in the UK. In fact, they knew very few progressives from Australia and even less about Australian progressive authors, yet they were eager to widen their resources beyond the few authors all progressives read. I have since remedied that by providing a list of Australian progressive authors and books they have written in the last six years. We need to promote our experiences more widely overseas after importing theologies from overseas for so long. We have a progressive story to tell that can revive the globe! People in some places in the UK did, however, know of George Stuart’s hymns and Rex Hunt’s liturgies.

The questions asked were similar to those in Australia – how to introduce progressive material into churches; how to talk with grandchildren; how to talk with fundamentalist relatives and friends who would be horrified with all this; what to do about hymn language; what about prayer and spirituality? Some wanted to move beyond deconstruction and bring constructive
progressive thinking to bear on ethics and other areas of life. Many people talked of being hurt by the church, whether because of their doubts or because of their sexuality. There was discussion about images of God but not as much about going beyond any idea of God at all. Most were still faithful in their churches, but struggling with traditional rigidity. Their progressive groups offered places to share with like-minded people and with those who have given up and left the church.

As for the usual question “Where are the young people?” there was a feeling that, since they had not been indoctrinated as had the older generation, they did not have the same questions or, at least, did not feel bound to stay in outdated world views. We need to stop thinking about bringing young people into the church, one person said, and learn from them out in the world. At the suggestion that we had failed our children’s generation, one younger person spoke up, “You didn’t fail us. You gave us what we needed — permission to think for ourselves — and we did!”

Talking with different groups every evening, I became aware that progressive Christianity is, in many ways, a remedial movement. We become so concerned about the lack of young people, without considering that our questions and concerns are from our generation raised in the Billy Graham era. Most of our children were raised in a different era of Sunday School curriculum where more was said about God is love than about heaven and hell. Answers that liberate us do not have a corresponding question in their experience. We need to be thankful that liberating progressive theology is available to our age-group and not feel guilty all the time if it is not as relevant to the next generation. Permission to doubt, however, is something we can pass on by personal example. In a post-modern world, however, most learn this along with their toddler

The people in UK progressive groups ranged across the spectrum – the second woman moderator of the Presbyterian church in England, Scotland and Wales; clergy of various denominations, active and retired; Billy Graham converts; ex-missionaries and non-government international workers; university professors and engineers; the widow of a well-known hymn writer; people not raised in churches. Most groups had some clergy support and some were organized by clergy. The majority of members were still in their churches and many attendees, given publicity about the event, were new to progressive thought. They are not dismissing God as much as looking for fresh and authentic ways to talk about God. They enjoy the deconstruction but do not see the need to throw the baby out with the bathwater. This is a lesson to progressive groups whose leaders try to push their group further than the group is prepared to go. We have to think carefully about group hospitality to those just starting the progressive journey.

There are some 55 small, independent progressive Christianity groups across the UK reading similar authors. This as a contrast to the Australian scene where most progressive groups are in capital cities or larger regional towns and progressives travel to bigger centres for events. This struck me as something to develop further in Australia – a network of small independent groups in country towns and rural areas supported and linked by the larger network. Such small groups could be encouraged by visiting progressives travelling and talking in their retirement. We tend to dismiss “country” churches as conservative, but people ask questions wherever they are. We need to encourage doubters in small towns to get together, regardless of numbers — the “where two or three are gathered” principle. As anyone knows, enough small ink drops on a map eventually join up into one large pool!