"Sydney's One Special Evangelist": Reverend Canon John Charles Chapman and the Shaping of Anglican Evangelicalism in Sydney and Australian Religious Life, 1968-2001

Baden Stace

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This dissertation is the first academic historical study of a figure who came to play a defining role in the Australian evangelical movement of the late-twentieth century—the inimitable preacher, evangelist and churchman—John Charles Chapman. The study situates Chapman’s career within a period marked by momentous changes to the social and religious fabric of western society. By the end of the 1960s, such realities contributed to a statistical decline across historic Christian denominations and marked a sudden end to the social and religious contract that had regulated western society. At the same time, global evangelicalism was reviving, bringing vitality to large swathes in the Global South and creating a re-balancing in western societies as conservative religious movements experienced growth and even renewal amidst wider secularising trends.
The study examines Chapman’s contribution as a leading figure in the Australian evangelical response to this period of challenge and opportunity. In his expansive ministry as director of Sydney’s Anglican Department of Evangelism (1969–93) Chapman stood at the vanguard of the growing Australian evangelical movement for a generation, while playing a significant role in the development of the movement in prominent pockets of the English-speaking world. To this end, the study examines Chapman’s contribution along three distinct yet interrelated lines: in homiletics, missiology and as a vigorous advocate for the tenets of Reformed evangelical faith. As a preacher, Chapman played a defining role in the revival of a classically Reformed Protestant expository preaching model, becoming one of the leading Australian preachers to exemplify, popularize and adapt this model for use in congregational and evangelistic settings. Chapman preached an estimated 7,500 sermons across five continents to audiences of three quarters of a million people. Few Australians may lay claim to such a legacy, ensuring his homiletic theory and praxis became an influential model in the formation of other Australian and international practitioners. Chapman’s contribution as an evangelist was also highly significant. In the changing environment of the post-1960s era, Chapman emerged as a key figure in the development of new missiological tools, successfully differentiating evangelical modes-of-witness from the institutional and revivalist modes of the past. Chapman’s development of a first generation of post-war theologically oriented and popular evangelistic works, alongside his insightful missional-advocacy (given in seminaries, conventions, churches and other civic forums) also supplied motivation as well as a framework and vocabulary for a generation of Christians to re-engage their culture with the claims of Christ. Chapman’s vigorous advocacy for the tenets of Reformed evangelical faith was also significant. The study explores the way in which, across a wide array of domestic and international fora, Chapman contended for the soteriological priority of the gospel in Christian life, mission and thought. While highly polemical at times, the result was a stimulating history of public advocacy that sought a revival of confidence in evangelicalism’s message, and a constantly reforming vision of evangelicalism’s method. Such a legacy marks Chapman as a key figure within the generation of post-war leaders whose work coalesced to give Australian evangelicalism its contemporary shape and dynamism. Moreover, in its analysis of this period of Australian religious history, the study contributes to a growing, yet surprising, dynamic within the twentieth-century historiographical storyline—the presence of resurgent religious, and particularly evangelical, Christian faith.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Charles Sturt University
  • Gladwin, Michael, Principal Supervisor
  • Broughton, Geoffrey, Co-Supervisor
Award date20 May 2021
Place of PublicationCanberra, ACT
Publication statusPublished - 2021


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