My post about Open Evangelical attitudes to the 2008 mini-NEAC has prompted some interesting responses, but also sent me back to look at the history books.
There is an interesting 'brief history' of NEACs, CEEC and Evangelical division from an Open Evangelical perspective by Andrew Goddard, a frequent contributor to the Fulcrum website, available here on the website of the 2003 NEAC 4. Interestingly, this must have been written just about the time the decision was being taken to launch Fulcrum at that NEAC!
NEAC 4 is often seen by Open Evangelicals as itself suffering from Conservative bias (see here). What is often forgotten, though it is reflected in Andrew Goddard's piece, is that Holy Trinity Brompton staff (specifically, as far as I am aware, Nicky Gumbel and Sandy Millar) were involved in both the planning and the platform, but withdrew at the last minute. Sometimes attempts to create breadth are made, but are frustrated for various reasons.
However, Andrew Goddard's article also makes reference to the previous NEAC, at Caister in 1988, which he describes as "a wasted opportunity" in that "the apparent unity previously marking Anglican evangelicals was, as their numbers grew and the world changed, being overtaken by their plurality."
Others saw it as itself expressive of a negative shift in Evangelicalism, symbolized by the change of title from Congress (1967, 1977) to 'Celebration'. They, too, perceived a bias in platform and programme, but at that time away from traditional Evangelical doctrines and values into something else. The emphasis in the 2003 NEAC 4 was a conscious reaction to this, as well as a reflection of the influence of Conservatives on bodies like the CEEC.
Andrew Goddard attributes this to the possiblity that "so many of the other evangelicals who had previously been active in CEEC were now too busy running the Church of England" in new-found senior posts. (Five years on, one might be forgiven for wondering where they, and their influence are now.) Certainly this is a recognition of the kind of 'disengagement' of Open Evangelicals of which I wrote previously.
Assessments of the 1977 NEAC vary, but as Andrew Goddard points out, it is interesting to look at the history of past NEAC participants to where they are today. I cannot help observing that one of those who wrote a paper for NEAC 2 was our very own John Gladwin!
However, I note also, with a wry smile that not only was John Gladwin a key platform speaker at NEAC 3, but that alongside him as a workshop leader was a certain Canon Chris Sugden (both of whom get some stick in this negative review here (pdf file).) At what point, and for what reason, I wonder, did those two cross in different directions?
I was actually present at NEAC '77 and thoroughly enjoyed it. However, I do remember an address by Alec Motyer which seemed quite at odds with the upbeat mood of the Congress as a whole. Years later, I obtained a tape of the talk, curious to wonder why he had seemed so out of step. What I discovered was that many of his concerns about the trajectory being taken by Evangelicals were later ones which I came to share.
And that takes us back to the first NEAC, at Keele University in 1967. That was a very different occasion at a very different time, when Evangelicals were called to consider whether they had a place at all within the Church of England. As is well known, the answer, robustly supported by John Stott, was that they did. Looking at the Statement itself, however (currently buried somewhere in my books), I have been struck by its theological 'thinness' - a problem which has bedevilled Evangelicals ever since.
Anglican Evangelicals, of whatever persuasion, are pragmatists first and theologians second. Understandably we put a 'relationship with Jesus' at the top of our priorities in ministry. But often that relationship and its subsequent development, are treated, quite unbiblically, as if they were independent of our doctrines and dogmas. Thus, at worst, Conservative Evangelicals act as if the 'truths' we need to know could be jotted down on the back of a napkin, whilst Open Evangelicals act as if truth itself were a suspect concept, especially when we are speaking about the claimed 'truths' of Conservative Evangelicalism.
Preparing a talk for tonight on the history of Evangelicalism, I am struck by how often the same cycle repeats itself: Evangelicals preach the gospel, plain and simple, people get converted, Evangelicalism rises in influence in the Church and country, Evangelicals fail to consolidate their gains and divide amongst themselves, some other group rises to prominence, feeding off the invigorated Church created by Evangelicals, Evangelicals are marginalized and go back to preaching the gospel, plain and simple, people get converted.
They do say that those who don't learn from history are destined to repeat it. I wonder why?
13 August 2008