If I may add a couple of comments myself, as author of the piece, divisions within Evangelicalism are, of course, only a reflection of divisions within Protestantism generally. I have just been reading Alister McGrath’s Protestantism - Christianity’s Dangerous Idea, which is a powerful reminder of this, and it was, I think, Jim Packer who referred to the “fissiparous nature” of Evangelicalism.
As long ago as the first NEAC, at Keele University in 1967, Evangelical Anglicans were discussing their commitment to the Church of England and their ‘division’ from the wider Evangelical community.
Later (in my own time as a Christian), the divisions in the 1970s and early 80s were between ‘old guard’ and ‘new radicals’ who wanted to experiment with liturgy and explore the application of Christianity to the arts, politics and social involvement.
Unfortunately, two things happened. First, the new radicals turned out to lack Evangelical roots and drifted from a recognizably Evangelical theology. To see this in microcosm, look at the theological development of the Greenbelt Arts Festival. Secondly, the ordination of women in 1993 created a ‘fact on the ground’ which embodied theological divisions not only about biblical interpretation but ministry, gender, marriage, church, society, sexuality and, ultimately, the Holy Trinity.
What is happening now amongst Open Evangelicals is a tendency to react almost automatically against Conservative Evangelicalism, and to cheer for anyone, such as Bishop Tom Wright, who attacks it.
Two key areas are the ordination of women (and thus anything which smacks of ‘headship’ theology or subordination within the Trinity), and penal substitution, where the key argument is over the ‘penal’ aspect and the wrath of God - hell and judgement being also matters for reconsideration in the development of theology.
The latter is somewhat ironic, given Bp Wright’s clear personal endorsement of penal substitutionary theology. But his own assault on the work of Oak Hill theologians, Pierced for our Transgressions, and his endorsement of the popular theologian and pastor Steve Chalke, despite the latter’s total rejection of penal substitution (something which Wright simply misunderstands) has opened the door for a more radical stance amongst Wright’s own followers.
Ironically, therefore, I would argue that Open Evangelicals are, in fact, hyper-Protestants when compared with Reform. The approach of Reform is that there are doctrines we ought to receive - such as those expressed in the Thirty-nine Articles - as authoritative and, thus, binding interpretations of Scripture, if we are to remain within the tradition of the Church.
The most ‘open’ Open Evangelical is willing not only to question everything (as were the Radical Reformers in the sixteenth century) but, in the end, to be an extreme advocate of ‘private judgement’. For an Open Evangelical, the Faith is ultimately what “I” can believe, and thus the Opens, who claim the Evangelical Centre (pace Fulcrum) turn out not to belong [not] at the centre of the Reformation, but on its radical wing!As evidence of this, we now see Reform beginning to consider co-belligerency with Traditionalist Anglo-Catholics, who of course lie much nearer to Rome - something which the extreme Open Evangelical would, I suspect, find very hard.
Thursday, 23 October 2008
Why Open Evangelicals are hyper-Protestants and REFORM is moving to the centre
This is a comment I have posted in a thread on the Stand Firm website, where they are discussing an earlier article on this blog. I am hoping to develop some of the ideas here in an address I am giving to a Forward in Faith gathering in Lincoln Diocese in a few days time:
22 October 2008
Update: There are also responses to this in a thread on the Fulcrum website.
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