Monday, 5 January 2009

Oliver Barclay, CEEC and lessons from Evangelical history

The Church of England Newspaper has published today a letter from Oliver Barclay, author of a history of English Evangelicalism, in response to an earlier article by Colin Craston, a veteran of the first NEAC Conference, deeply critical of Conservative (what Barclay prefers to call 'Classical') Evangelicals. I reproduce it below, with apologies to the CEN for nicking it, but with a link where you can subscribe to the online edition for £15 per annum here.

I think the letter neatly sums up our problems as well as being a useful bit of history.

Sir, Colin Craston (December 12) does not go back far enough in his history of the Church of England Evangelical Council (CEEC). It grew out of a situation in which evangelicals were sharply divided between the Conservative Evangelical and Liberal Evangelical wings of the evangelical movement. The liberals were numerically dominant and had their own literature and as an alternative to Keswick, their own convention at Cromer, etc. There were very few conservatives (Classical Evangelicals is a better term than conservative) in the precursor to Synod or other influential positions and varying degrees of liberal views were held by the many who thought of themselves as evangelicals. Many liberal evangelicals were warmly devotional and godly people who had been brought up in a more classical tradition. I knew some of the leaders personally from 1938.

The CEEC grew from a small private committee set by UCCF (then IVF). I was secretary and Alan Stibbs and other conservatives formed the group to try to develop a strategy to recover lost ground for the Classical tradition. When it was decided to make it a public body it separated from the interdenominational IVF and I withdrew. John Stott and Dick Lucas took over the leadership at first. There was however, before long a change of policy and in an attempt to include all those who liked to be called evangelical, they drew in a number of liberals, to the dismay of Alan Stibbs and his co-workers.

Today there is a new sizeable liberal evangelicalism, though it rarely likes the name and includes many who do not want to draw too much of a distinction between evangelical teaching and the rest of the Church of England. The standing ovation for a speech by Archbishop Runcie at NEAC showed just how things had developed. If this is the present situation it is going to be extremely difficult and probably impossible to pull all evangelicals together. If CEEC becomes another liberal evangelica organization it should look back and see what happened to the liberal evangelicalism of the 1930-50 period, when it virtually disappeared for lack of doctrinal coherence.

It was left to others to recover the classical witness with new leaders and new organizations.

Oliver Barclay
When posting your comments please give a full name and location. Comments without this information may not be posted.


  1. Oliver Barclay does not say who the new 'Liberal Evangelicals' are. Many would say that Fulcrum, which claims to occupy the 'Centre Evangelical' ground are the new LE's although it may not be quite as simple as that. I suspect that it depends on what Fulcrum means when it says that it

    "offers an online community for fair and rigorous debate developing a nourishing and generous orthodoxy and a confident evangelical and Anglican ecclesiology."

    At what point does 'generous orthodoxy' cease to become 'orthodoxy' and becomes liberal? It is hard to see that its attitude to Conservative (classical) Evangelicals has ever been nourishing.

    Chris Bishop

  2. Hi John,
    Rachel and I are struggeling to comprehend why our blogs are getting posted as "links to this post" when they're not. Can you help?

  3. Two points--one of terminology, and one of identity.

    It is interesting that Oliver Barclay wants to decide for himself the term he prefers (Classical, rather than Conservative). But when it comes to another group, he decides what they ought to be called (Liberal rather than Open).

    But the real issue for CEEC (I speak as a newly elected member of it) is not about the past, but whether it is true to its *present* claim to be 'the authentic voice of Evangelical Anglicans.'

    To do this it either needs to make a good attempt at representing all those who call themselves evangelical, or it needs to define the term evangelical in such a way as to exclude those it does not represent. One of the 'rigorous debates' we have been having on the Fulcrum website is precisely this--what does the term mean? My own contribution has been continually to come back to the approach that the authority of Scripture is the founding identity of what it means to be evangelical. This means we cannot insist of each other anything that cannot be proved by the 'sure warrant of Scripture.'

    So evangelicals are not those (necessarily) who hold one view of mission rather than another, or one view of atonement rather than another, or one view of plenary inspiration than another, but who in all these things are content to be shaped by Scripture in all it coherence and its diversity.

  4. Oliver has a very straightforward view of history, and the IVF/UCCF oral and written history has always echoed the same story. In this account of history, we are always re-running the SCM/CICCU split. There are only "liberals" and those who remain faithful to the orthodox tradition and the gospel.

    Now, while I am clear that the SCM/CICCU split of 1910 was absolutely necessary, and would identify with the reasons why the Cambridge Christian Union made that stand (and would have absolutely sided with the Cambridge position), it isn't necessarily helpful to let that division (which was about the fundamental truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ) become paradigmatic for our reading of every other disagreement between evangelical Christians. UCCF do just that; they are always on the look-out for people from whom to separate over what they call "gospel issues".

    I want to suggest that the current situation where evangelicalism is multi-tribal makes the use of this paradigm much less helpful, and is in danger of driving wedges between orthodox evangelical Anglicans who ought to be on the same side. "Liberal" for those who use this paradigm has become a word which means "those with whom I disgree over..." [the ordination of women] [the specifics of substitutionary atonement] [the precise terminology I use to describe scriptural trustworthiness] [the propriety of co-operation with other orthodox Anglicans who wouldn't call themselves evangelical]

    Delete and insert your own area of controversy...

    We need perhaps to return to a little more precision in our use of the word liberal, rather than using it in a scattergun fashion.

    Runcie's speech at NEAC received a standing ovation because he told evangelical Anglicans to get an ecclesiology - we knew he was right and that we hadn't got one. It didn't commit us to agreeing with his own theology or eccesiology, and proved nothing about "how things had developed", despite Oliver's dark mutterings.

  5. Tim and Rachel, I have no idea why this is happening, except I see that you both have a 'feed' which automatically updates when something new is posted on this blog.

    My guess is that Blogger themselves have changed something and that this updated feed now creates an automatic 'link to this blog'.

    Try going to the Blogger discussion forums and seeing whether there is anything there. Then let me know!

  6. PS to Tim and Rachel, if you follow my earlier advice and go to here you will see:

    (a) this is indeed a new problem
    (b) other people are experiencing it
    (c) the 'advisers' at Blogger haven't understood the complaint
    (d) as yet nothing has been done to fix it!

    C'est la vie, I think.

  7. I found this post fascinating as I have many friends who are "anglican evangelical" in some way.

    There is such a thing as evangelical ecclesiology I believe but since it does not look much like the patronage structures of the CofE it is not surprising it is rarely given an airing outside of the "conferences" of like-minded men.

    Barclay, Stott and Lucas were/are fine men but the failure to seek real reform (for the sake of unity) means that the same old battles will be fought and largely lost in every generation that tries to be both Anglican and Evangelical.