Adelaide Anglicans and the Gospels: A mixed-method inquiry through the lens of transformative Gospel literacy

Mark Thomas

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This thesis explores and analyses what a sample of Adelaide
Anglican laity know about the content of the Gospels, how they understand and interpret the Gospels and the difference the Gospels make to their own lives and their Christian influence in the lives of others. The thesis originated in my observation as an Anglican priest in the Province of South Australia for over thirty years of a seeming lack of life-giving reflection on the Gospels and a resulting lack of transformative impact of the Gospels in the lives of lay Anglicans.
The thesis reflects an ‘ordinary theology’ approach as it seeks to explore and understand lay engagement with, knowledge of, and use of the Gospels. It adopts a mixed method design based on questionnaire and interview. The design is weighted towards the quantitative survey by self-administered questionnaire with an interview phase complementing and supplementing the primary quantitative results.
A literature review revealed an almost complete lack of survey work in relation to Gospel literacy or lay engagement with the Gospels. Analysis of literature on previous survey work in biblical knowledge and the absence of any suitable questionnaires on the Gospels led to the development of a quantitative data collection questionnaire. Guidance for the content of the questionnaire was provided by a definition of transformative Gospel literacy which included knowledge of Gospel content, the ability to interpret that content and the capacity to apply the interpreted content in life and in relation to offering the Jesus story to non-Christians. This definition was itself derived from reflection on academic literature around biblical/Gospel literacy and analysis of the idea of transformation from academic, confessional and scriptural perspectives.
The resulting data questions were extensively explained, validated and tested with the aim of providing both a transparent survey instrument with possible wider applicability and a significant methodology for developing a useful questionnaire. In addition, and on the basis of grouping data questions, a number of unique indices were developed to gain deeper insight into what was known of the identity, teaching and mission of Jesus as understood by lay Anglicans, and to investigate the engagement with and influence of the Gospels in lay Anglican lives. A sample of 135 respondents was obtained and the resulting research data was processed using SPSS. The quantitative investigation was supplemented by a qualitative follow-up of which the results were brought into relationship with the quantitative findings in the final chapter. Apart from providing a snapshot of the knowledge and understanding of the Gospels in the Diocese of Adelaide, the project produced results relevant to practical ministry. Findings included that greater knowledge of the Gospels was associated with greater application of the Gospels to daily life and significant issues affecting their lives. One significant and suggestive result was that laity who used electronic devices to engage with the Gospels were consistently more knowledgeable because of that engagement. A slim majority of the Diocese indicated that they interpreted the Gospels from a less traditional framework. The division between traditional and less traditional interpreters was clearly associated with churchmanship.
Findings indicated that lay members were not in the habit of recalling Gospel content, of reflecting on the Gospel content or considering its meaning for their lives. Many respondents appeared to be reluctant to discuss their Gospel knowledge, understanding or commitment with others, or able to articulate the basic story of Jesus. A majority felt underconfident to answer questions about the Gospels from family, friends or enquirers. A majority also indicated that the Gospels could play a greater part in their lives, and this
was supported by significant gaps in lay knowledge of Jesus’ teachings in the Gospels. Feedback has indicated that completion of the quantitative questionnaire and reading of the completed thesis have both provided challenging and potentially transformative experiences in their own right. The project thus contributes to both practical and academic knowledge through the exploration and analysis of the largely unexplored area of lay engagement with the Gospels. As such I hope that it will provide outcomes for those concerned with education and discipleship in the Diocese of Adelaide, and hopefully will inspire others to investigate this neglected but increasingly important area of knowledge.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Ministry
Awarding Institution
  • Charles Sturt University
  • Ambler, Gillies, Principal Supervisor
Publication statusPublished - 2018


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