Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Goodbye Evangelicalism, hello Church of England?

Recently this blog has addressed two issues which, at first glance, may seem to be unrelated. One is the state of Evangelicalism. The other is the significance of the Vatican’s recent manoeuvres vis à vis the Anglican Communion. As far as Evangelical Anglicans are concerned, however, these issues are much more closely connected than might appear.
On the one hand, the divisions within Evangelicalism raise the question of exactly what is an ‘Evangelical’. On the other hand, the Vatican’s offer may, as a Guardian editorial observes, leave Evangelicals isolated within the Church of England, since, unlike the Anglo-Catholics, they have “nowhere to go”. Certainly one scenario being envisaged is that this development will purge at least some of the ‘bigots’ from the Church, leaving the ‘unbigoted’ majority free to introduce women bishops and, ultimately, to embrace same-sex relationships.
If this scenario is correct, then the prospects within the Church of England for the Evangelicalism of our forebears is bleak. Open Evangelicals, virtually by definition, favour the ordination of women and will welcome the consecration of women bishops. But as a ‘party’ they are defined less by their adherence to traditional Evangelical doctrines than their sitting light to them.
Meanwhile, the Conservative Evangelical response has been to close ranks and, at the same time, to look for help in the form of overseas links, such as those forged in the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans. Some even hope that such support would extend to episcopal oversight. Should it be offered and accepted, however, this would not merely isolate Conservative Evangelicals within the Church of England but might effectively remove them from it.
One is mindful of the lines from Sir Henry Newbolt’s poem:
The Gatling’s jammed and the colonel dead,
And the regiment blind with dust and smoke.
The situation seems beyond desperate. Our Evangelical unity is gone. Rome, which was for so long the antithesis of English Christianity, is offering English Christians a home. Have we not reached the time warned of by Bishop JC Ryle?
... so long as the Church of England sticks firmly to the Bible, the Articles, and the principles of the Protestant Reformation, so long I advise you strongly to stick to the church. When the Articles are thrown overboard, and the old flag is hauled down, then, and not until then, it will be time for you and me to launch the boats and quit the wreck. (Needs of the Times, in Holiness)
Maybe. But perhaps in Ryle’s warning lies the key to our problem. I may be quite mistaken, but desperate times call for desperate measures —and these seem to be desperate times. In the light of this, therefore, I want to suggest the abandoning of the Anglican Evangelical project and the consideration of an alternative.
By this ‘project’, I mean the notion that there is a primary thing called ‘evangelicalism’ which unites Evangelical Anglicans within their denomination and with others across denominational divides. That, I believe, is an understanding which no longer serves us well.
Crucially, as I have argued elsewhere, the notion of ‘Evangelical’ is too broad to be helpful when we move much beyond the shared goal of ‘seeing people become Christians’. When John Piper and Tom Wright can both rightly be regarded as Evangelicals, there is clearly a limit to the usefulness of the term ‘Evangelical’ as the basis for an identity. That is surely why we have seen the emergence of labels such as ‘Open’ and ‘Conservative’. If it ever was, it is no longer enough to be ‘merely’ Evangelical.
This is not to say that evangelicalism is an illusory concept, or that Evangelicals have nothing in common, but it is to say that evangelicalism is an insufficient basis for unity.
Furthermore, there have been two negative effects within the Church of England itself of this adopting of an ‘Evangelical’ identity. First, it has allowed Evangelicals to be isolated within the Church —indeed, they have encouraged this isolation themselves. Secondly, it has allowed the idea to take hold that the identity of the Church of England is properly broader than the ideas represented by this ‘Evangelicalism’. By buying into the Evangelical project, Anglican Evangelicals have actually encouraged the idea that the Church of England can define itself in non-evangelical ways.
At this point, however, it might easily be assumed that I am about to suggest the Church of England should be made evangelical. After all, many Evangelicals today say that they represent the ‘true Church of England’.
That is not, however, what I have in mind.
Historically, the Church of England was once exactly what it says on the tin: ‘the Church of England’. Anglo-Catholics often point out that the Church of England did not come into being at the Reformation. Rather, it was the Church in these isles before and after that event. When the term first began to be used, the only special thing about the ‘Church of England’ was its being in England (hence the Book of Common Prayer generally prints England with italics). Being a ‘particular or national’ church automatically allowed certain variations of outward practice. Variations of belief, however, were positively discouraged.
This contrasts radically with the Church of England today, even though it is often asserted that the ‘genius’ of Anglicanism lies in its comprehensiveness. The modern Church assumes a plurality of beliefs, even within its own ranks. But the broader this comprehensiveness becomes, the less the institution is able to take theology seriously.
What is taken seriously at the institutional level are the structures and regulations of the institution itself. As John Owen once complained, the typical bishop seems “zealous for the discipline and so negligent of the doctrine of the church.” And in case anyone should think this is simply a problem for some bishops, I would point out that the Clergy Disciplinary Measure, passed in 2003, does not cover any matters relating to doctrine, ritual or ceremonial. These were supposed to be the subject of a further Measure, but six years down the track it shows no signs of appearing.
Again, the lack of theological seriousness is seen in the training provided to Anglican ordinands. A key principle is that candidates for ministry in the Church of England should not be too theological ‘narrow’. The courses thus encourage ‘exploration’, but rarely seem designed to inculcate truth. Above all, perhaps, there seems to be almost no emphasis on the idea that there are received Anglican theological understandings. (How many ordinands have even read the Articles of Religion?) The justification for this is that ordinands are being trained for ministry in the Church of England as a whole, not one section of it, but the presumption is that this means being able to cope with theological variety. Yet such variety is possible in theological matters only to the extent that it is assumed not to matter very much.
It is within this framework that Anglican Evangelicalism as we now know it has taken shape. Hence Evangelicals today regard the institution as at best a place where their views must take their seat alongside other, non-evangelical, views and at worst as a lost cause.
In recent decades, this has increasingly impinged on Evangelicalism itself. In many areas, the old Diocesan Evangelical Fellowships are virtually defunct, as members look to other networks or to the structures of the institution for support. Some meet with like-minded groups, such as New Wine or Reform, though these themselves represent divergent theological views. Others, however, are happy to rely on official groupings, such as the Deanery Chapter for clergy, untroubled by the fact that their own theology may well be in a minority, or in formal conflict with the theology of many other Chapter members.
In the face of this, the natural response of traditionalist Evangelicals has been to withdraw both physically and mentally from the Church of England. The more they have done this, however, the worse —oddly enough —the problem has become. The answer advocated by most is increasingly to formalize this distancing from the institution. The answer I am advocating is that we reverse the process entirely.
 I remember once listening to George Carey, before he became Archbishop of Canterbury, describe himself as a Christian first, an Anglican second, and an Evangelical third. At the time I was distinctly unimpressed. I now want to suggest he was right, albeit for the wrong reasons. I now want to suggest that those who currently think of themselves as ‘Evangelical Anglicans’ should see themselves as Christians first, Church of England second, and Evangelicals only as a distant and carefully nuanced third.
How can I, as a hitherto-dedicated Conservative Evangelical, make such a suggestion?
The first reason is that, at the time of the Reformation, the Church of England committed itself to the principle that Scripture is its final authority in matters of faith. The formularies of the Church of England (to which incidentally it is bound by the law of the land), declare that the Scriptures are sufficient for salvation (Article 6), and that whilst the Church itself has “authority in Controversies of Faith” it cannot “ordain any thing that is contrary to God’s Word written”. It is this commitment, above all, which makes me glad to be a member of that body which bears the name ‘the Church of England’.
In his magnum opus, Bishop Stephen Neill wrote that the theological essence of Anglicanism is this:
Show us anything clearly set forth in Holy Scripture that we do not teach and we will teach it. Show us anything in our teaching or practice is clearly contrary to Holy Scripture, and we will abandon it. (Anglicanism, Pelican Books, 1965, p 417)
Yet, as some will point out, this is exactly what Evangelicals would claim for themselves. Why not, then, go on being Evangelicals within Anglicanism?
The answer lies in the fact that evangelicalism no longer has —if it ever had —a unifying theology. The Church of England, however, has at its core precisely that, for it is still (by the grace of God!) tied to the Book of Common Prayer, the Ordinal and the Thirty-nine Articles. It is bound to these by law, and it is rooted in them historically via the Reformation itself.
Contrary to what might be assumed from Neill’s quote above, therefore, the Church of England is not a Church which operates by ‘Scripture alone’ in the sense that it gives people the Bible and nothing else to represent its core beliefs. Rather, there are many points of potential theological controversy where the formularies of the Church of England take a settled view —on infant baptism, for example, or on the nature of bread and wine at Communion.
The Church of England has therefore set itself under the authority of Scripture, but via its formularies it also offers at certain critical points an interpretation of Scripture. And this allows it to be a dynamic, rather than a static body. In particular, it does not require us to be committed to the formularies as if they were infallible and beyond criticism.
We may compare this with the way that most Christians still use the Apostolic and Nicene Creeds. There are indeed those who are willing to question even these, but there are far more who regard them as, in some sense, having settled certain theological disputes, if not beyond question, at least in a way that means questioners must acknowledge they are departing from certain historical ‘norms’.
Those who know their Thirty-nine Articles, however, will know that the (three) Creeds, “ought thoroughly to be received and believed: for they may be proved by most certain warrants of holy Scripture.”
Initially, however, the same was clearly felt to be true of the Articles and the Prayer Book. They were not ‘Scripture’, but they were to be received as being ‘Scriptural’. That being the case, therefore, whilst people may wish to disagree with them, they should only do so on the grounds that a better Scriptural case can be made for an alternative point of view. And in the meantime, it should be acknowledged that what the objector says is in disagreement with where the Church of England officially stands.
Such an approach, then, would not commit anyone to ‘believing in’ the formularies. They remain, like the Creeds, a human effort to express divine truth. But it would be to acknowledge that there are standards from which we should start, and from which we should only depart after careful consideration and consultation, and with clear Scriptural justification.
Within this understanding of the Church of England, I am these days rather more ready to call myself ‘Anglican’ than ‘Evangelical’.
Revd John P Richardson
27 October 2009
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  1. Great post. When you said:
    "Why not, then, go on being Evangelicals within Anglicanism?
    The answer lies in the fact that evangelicalism no longer has — if it ever had —a unifying theology. The Church of England, however, has at its core precisely that, for it is still (by the grace of God!) tied to the Book of Common Prayer, the Ordinal and the Thirty-nine Articles. It is bound to these by law, and it is rooted in them historically via the Reformation itself".

    I agree totally. This is one of the reasons I
    tend to describe myself as:
    1. Christian
    2. Anglican
    3. Reformed

    I tend not to use the term 'Evangelical'. If I did use the term, I had to use a number of descriptors before this word as I think the term means different things to different people (positively or negatively).

  2. As Peter Carrell said, Excellent x excellent! The Prayer Book, and the classical tradition that surrounds it, is so much richer than we think. As to Evangelicalism, the Prayer Book can boast the Wesleys and the Clapham Sect: not a bad pedigree!

    It's also worth saying that in these 'desperate times', the reformed need the catholics, and vice versa. This is something the BCP can help us to do with real integrity. In some ways, this is the most important 'ecumenical' venture of them all.

    Thanks again for such an inspiring post.

  3. I surely agree that the term "evangelical" no longer has teeth. Good quote from JC Ryle. However, by the quoted standard of JC Ryle (for when to abandon the Church of England), I must ask you:

    Have the Articles not been thrown overboard?
    Has the Protestant Reformation not been discarded?
    Has the Church of England not become unglued from the Bible?
    Has the "old flag" not been hauled down?

    While the Articles and the Prayer Book remain official standards of the Church, and even of the State, it does not mean that another Church, if it existed, would be disallowed from appropriating and actually abiding by those same standards. Are the Articles and the Prayer Book under copyright? No.

    Maybe I feel this way because I am not an Englishman, but I think the CoE has already been overthrown. The institution you are trying to grab onto is little more than the flotsam of a sunken ship. Grab onto these things instead, and nothing else:

    1. Christian... the Bible
    2. Book of Common Prayer (1662) including Articles, Catechism, Creeds, etc.
    3. Reformation

  4. As one who fairly recently gradually moved without rancour from a Tractarian to a Quasi-reformed/Melancthonian understanding of churchmanship partly in response to certain Roman developments, I have to say that I found your post quite helpful. While dodgy stuff too frequently occurs amongst us, capitulating to an entity which masks similar pathologies with a gloss of sanctimony and vain pretensions to universal plenary jurisdiction doesn't seem conducive to repealing such dodginess.

    While I sympathise with some positive glosses of Rome's purported internal motivations, the ramifications of this development still strike me as unfortunate.

    --In the face of this [set of dodgy developments], the natural response of traditionalist Evangelicals has been to withdraw both physically and mentally from the Church of England. The more they have done this, however, the worse —oddly enough —the problem has become. The answer advocated by most is increasingly to formalize this distancing from the institution. The answer I am advocating is that we reverse the process entirely.--
    Spot on! Escapist retreats into some supposed pristine inner-sanctum or wild leaps to places which glossy brochures purport have greener grass may potentially forfeit one's extant groundedness.

    Michael Canaris (Sydney)

  5. Helpful essay thanks. I've spent the last few years trying to work out if I can be a liberal evangelical.

  6. "But as a ‘party’ they are defined less by their adherence to traditional Evangelical doctrines than their sitting light to them."
    I do not agree with this, john. If this is what is supposed then i really am more of a conservative, open evangelical than I had anticipated.

    Re ordinands and the 39 articles - huh, hem - I've read them! ;-)

  7. Rachel, you may well be "more of a conservative, open evangelical" than you anticipated. I suppose the question I would now put is, "Are you a conservative Anglican?" For example, having read the Articles, how do you respond to them?

  8. I am interested in how you read the Prayerbook etc. in terms of the nature of Christ's presence in the Eucharist?

    As someone who also identifies as Anglican, and by that Reformed Catholic I see memorialism as one of the great errors of the Reformation, and would rather follow Calvin or Wesley. Yet many of my friends and colleagues in the CofE seem to have a very low view of Holy Communion which seems out of tune with this.

  9. Just read your article again John. I keep coming back to it. It reminded me of the Anglican Church of Australia's Constitution which I think is a great reminder of what it means to be Anglican. It says this:

    1. "The Anglican Church of Australia, being part of the one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church of Christ, holds the Christian Faith as professed by the Church from primitive times and in particular as set forth in the creeds known as the Nicene Creed and the Apostles Creed.”

    2. "This Church receives all the canonical Scriptures of the Old and NewTestaments as being the ultimate rule and standard of faith given by the inspiration of God and containing all things necessary forsalvation".

    3. "This Church will ever obey the commands of Christ, teach His doctrine, administer His sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion, follow His discipline and preserve the three orders of bishops, priests and deacons in the sacred ministry".

    This says that we are historically Christian, part of the great church of Jesus Christ and hold the orthodox Christian faith as was held by the early church with full Trinitarian and Christological focus of the creeds. Anglican identity is focused upon the notion of salvation and what necessarily follows from salvation, which is the standard of faith. Scripture is the supreme authority, and in fact nothing can be ordered as necessary or as the faith not taught by it. Nor can anything be ordered which is against it. And yet Anglicans do not claim that Scripture tells us everything we are to do or believe about the world or even how to practise the Christian life and run our churches. Here there is a place for human thinking and for respect for what Christians have done in the past.

    Thanks to Bishop Robert Forsyth (Bishop from the diocese next door to where I am) who gave a talk Adelaide at a conference on ‘Anglican Identity and Mission’back in August. Here is a link: http://www.sydneyanglicans.net/ministry/critique/why_being_anglican_matters/

    Now about those Reliant Robin's...

  10. Joshua, thanks for your comments. There are just a couple of points I'd like to make. First, without criticizing Rob Forsyth, the Constitutions seems rather more limited than the strictures which apply to the Church of England. Especially I notice there is no reference to the Thirty-nine Articles. (They may, of course, be there in the Constitution.) Part of my point, however, is that the Articles (and the Prayer Book) provide a starting point where some issues of Scriptural interpretation are taken as resolved. So, for example, there is a positive take on predestination and a negative take on the freedom of the will (the latter would no doubt surprise many Anglicans!).

    It is this 'starting point' approach which I think is most valuable for the present time, as it calls even 'evangelicals' to acknowledge a standard of doctrine other than their own interpretation of the Bible.

    Secondly, in England (alone!), we do still have that Royal Supremacy and the establishment of the CofE. And this actually ought to make it easier to insist on certain standards being acknowledged. I don't say they are a good thing necessarily, but they are a 'fact on the ground'.

    Thirdly, the Reliant Robin is a perfectly good car. Well, a vehicle, anyway.

  11. Edward, that's a very good question about Christ's presence as represented in the Prayerbook.

    The 1662 BCP itself contains liturgical developments, some of which contradict and obscure the points Cranmer was making in 1552. In this regard, I cannot recommend too highly Colin Buchanan's What did Cranmer think he was doing?.

    However, it seems to me that the BCP is sometimes clearer on what is not happening in Communion than on what is, which may well be why some of my brethren treat it so lightly. If you ask them why they 'do this', the best you will get is some kind of 'memorialism'.

    What is clear is that the BCP, from 1552 onwards, excludes any notion of a 'corporeal presence' of Christ's material body. As the Black Rubric puts it, "For the Sacramental Bread and Wine remain still in their very natural substances ... and the natural Body and Blood of our Saviour Christ are in Heaven, and not here; it being against the truth of Christ's natural Body to be at one time in more places than one."

    There is also, most significantly, no epiclesis in the Prayer Book Communion Service (whereas it is conspicuously reintroduced in Common Worship, which has the words, "grant that by the power of your Holy Spirit these gifts of bread and wine may be to us his body and his blood").

    What happens, then, in Communion? The BCP answer is that the bread and wine are "received in remembrance of his meritorious Cross and Passion; whereby alone we obtain remission of our sins, and are make partakers of the Kingdom of heaven" and that Christ is "our spiritual food and sustenance in that holy Sacrament," for when "we receive that Holy Sacrament ... then we spiritually eat the flesh of Christ, and drink his blood." The quotes are from the exhortations in the Communion service, which are usually omitted.

    The words of administration say, "Feed on him in your heart by faith with thanksgiving."

    However, I think this may be a bit hard to grasp for some people. I like Luther's explanation, that Sacraments are embodiments of the gospel and that we receive them as we would receive a sermon. In the one, we hear the gospel with faith, in the other, we (as it were) 'eat' the gospel with faith. The effect is the same!

  12. Rev. Richardson:

    My old crowing and sawing again (lol, but true): the return to the old standards and confessions.

    And, I, for one press beyond the younger Articles (XXXIX) and think the Irish Articles of 1615 quite spot-on, biblically, and quite a suitable commentary and interpretation some 54 years later, summarizing the English Reformers--those great lovers of the Bible.

    I yield the floor.

    East Coast, US

  13. Philip, thanks for your comment. Interestingly, this illustrates the difference it makes once one become 'confessional'. Specifically, I'm not sure I could subscribe to the Irish Articles in the way that I do to the XXIX - too much detail for a start.

    That would mean that I'd have to belong to a different denomination. However, it would not mean 'enmity' with those who could subscribe - just disagreement on the points of detail.

    This is not to create fresh divisions - just to acknowledge that if you take a settled view and incorporate it into the 'confessional' documents of a church, you have to take it seriously.

  14. A couple of points:

    Firstly, there are plenty of places that evangelicals in the C of E could go - join with other evangelicals in other denominations; after all, evangelicals aren't restricted to the CofE. Obviously, it would be better if they staryed within the CofE so as to slow or even stop the advance of liberal theology.

    Secondly, there is this mistaken idea that women's ordination and the acceptance of same-sex relationships go hand-in-hand. I find this to be both naive and unrepresentative of Christians (Anglican and others) I know. There are many who support the ordination of women who are, at the same time, vocal opponents of liberal attitudes to same-sex relationships.

    Basing one's argument on this kind of misrepresentation does the overall debate - which is important - no good.

  15. Andy, in reply, first, I am saying that there is a Anglican identity which means that many 'evangelicals' within the Anglican church do not need to go anywhere. However, I think it is more helpful for them, if they stay within the CofE, to identify themselves with that primarily - perhaps as 'Reformed Anglicans', to make the point.

    Secondly, though women's ordination and same-sex relationships are indeed separate (and separable) issues, they do tend to be associated with certain theological 'types'.

    It is an unfortunate fact that many who support the one also support the other (eg amongst Affirming Catholics, Inclusive Church, some 'Evangelical' groupings, etc). However, if there were a greater commitment to the Anglican formularies and their commitment to Scripture and a Reformed theological basis, this problem would tend to take care of itself.

  16. In reply to John Richardson's reply to Joshua Bovis:

    The Australian Church is constitutionally wed to the 1662 Prayer Book, 39 Articles and the Ordinal. Joshua only quoted the first three sections of the Australian Church's constitution but the Articles appear in the very next section. Sections 1-3 which Joshua quoted comprise Chapter I of Part I of the Constitution ("Fundamental Declarations"). Chapter II of Part I the Constitution ("Ruling Principles") comprising sections 4-6, makes reference to the BCP, the 39 Articles and the Ordinal.

    I quote:

    4. This Church, being derived from the Church of England, retains and approves the doctrine and principles of the Church of England embodied in the Book of Common Prayer together with the Form and Manner of Making Ordaining and Consecrating of Bishops, Priests and Deacons and in the Articles of Religion sometimes called the Thirty-nine Articles but has plenary authority at its own discretion to make statements as to the faith ritual ceremonial or discipline of this Church and to order its forms of worship and rules of discipline and to alter or revise such statements, forms and rules, provided that all such statements, forms, rules or alteration or revision thereof are consistent with the Fundamental Declarations contained herein and are made as prescribed by this Constitution. Provided, and it is hereby further declared, that the above-named Book of Common Prayer, together with the Thirty-nine Articles, be regarded as the authorised standard of worship and doctrine in this Church, and no alteration in or permitted variations from the services or Articles therein contained shall contravene any principle of doctrine or worship laid down in such standard

    The entire constitution is available here as a PDF file:

    Your Australian canon lawyer ;-)
    David Tomkins (Oxford, UK via Springwood, NSW)

  17. David T, that's very helpful. I thought it might be the case.

  18. As a post-Evangelical Anglican, I think this is an excellent article. As a Diocesan Officer I was an Anglican and was fed and encouraged by all wings of the Church. I also gave to all those groups through my ministry.

    My understanding of the Bible is that it is "historically specific" (Jim Wallis - a leading US Evangelical) in that it has to be interpretted to meet the age it is being read in, so that it applies to those people and their needs at any given time. (What Bishop Roger Sainsbury calls "This is that theology". However, for some people to say "this that was written 2000 years ago means the same today" is missing the point of being historically specific. We live in a very different world now. Hence the hoo hah by some "conservatives" about the ordination and bishoping of women, when the role of women has changed so much from when Paul wrote.

    Unless we begin to make our faith historically specific, there won't be a CofE in x years time! As a diocesan children's and youth officer, I see how young people regard the Church, both from within and without. They are a microcosm of our wider society. Their questions are reflections of the ones the adults hold too. If it isn't relevant they walk away. (Most have)

    To hold on to the things that unite us, as the blog article suggests, and show where our strength lies and not simply broadcasting to everyone our disagreements and weaknesses must surely be the way to go forwards?

    PS: Who has the right to say what theology is right and which is wrong? I am embarrased by some of the things being said by evangelical anglicans today, who seem to think they have exclusive access, rights and interpretation from God! Why can't we accept that there will be as many interpretations of theology as there are people considering it?

    I think there will be a rude awakening for some evangelicals when they pass through the pearly gates and realise they were so utterly wrong ;0)

  19. As an after thought, maybe the different groups within the CofE would do well to learn by observing their diocesan officers (if there are any left in their diocese!). These Christians work across the whole churchmanship, yet they probably belong to one specific wing personally.

    They cope perfectly well working with women priests, misogynist catholics & evangelicals, charismatics, liberals, gay catholic priests, gay evangelical priests and that amazing group who are just...being Anglicans (whatever that means).

  20. Graham, much as I appreciate you calling this an “excellent article”, I’m afraid you’ve done so for all the wrong reasons. I am emphatically not saying that we can, as you put it, “hold on to the things that unite us” under the banner of being ‘Anglican’, in the manner that usually prevails at the administrative centre of most dioceses.

    You ask, “Why can’t we accept that there will be as many interpretations of theology as there are people considering it?”

    The answer I am proposing is, “Because Anglicanism claims to settle some of those questions of interpretation.”

    To give an extreme example, by its use of the Creeds, Anglicanism excludes Unitarianism. I have no doubt there are numerous people in our churches with wrong understandings of the Trinity. We should not, however, accept a teacher of the Church propagating anti-Trinitarian theology. That interpretation is ‘un-Anglican’.

    To give a more contentious example, Anglicanism goes some way to settling the issue of Arminianism when Article X says, “The condition of Man after the fall of Adam is such, that he cannot turn and prepare himself, by his own natural strength and good works, to faith and calling upon God.” That particular notion of ‘free will’ is also ‘un-Anglican’.

    Above all, it is un-Anglican to reject parts of Scripture (always the bits we don’t like), or to offset them against other parts of Scripture in a way that the one flatly contradicts the other (Article XX).

    In other words, we need to understand Anglicanism not as a ‘big tent’, but as a theological system which is a good deal more precise than many people imagine —which indeed says that some things are right and others wrong.

    Incidentally, I can’t help noticing you ask in your PS “Who has the right to say what theology is right and which is wrong?” but then you say that evangelical theology is wrong: “I am embarrased by some of the things being said by evangelical anglicans today,” adding for good measure that, “there will be a rude awakening for some evangelicals when they pass through the pearly gates and realise they were so utterly wrong”. I admire your very ‘pre-post-modern’ attitude to the truth!

    I would love to hear your comments back on this, if you’re still reading the blog.

  21. John, good as ever but as a young conservative evangelical I was one of the few at my theological college who had anything other than the slightest tolerance of the BCP and complete ignorance of the articles. It might be summarised as

    Open evangelical fulcrum: general appreciation, varied levels of commitment to the articles

    New Wine Charismatic: couldn't care less maybe not even heard of them

    Conservative evangelical: truth be told ignorance not interested except when older evangelicals mentioned them. That seems the problem.

    Most if not all CE's I was at college with saw/see the BCP/39 as the past in the same way they would bang on about the KJV and then reach for their ESV or NASB to actually read and use. Its a good rallying point on the surface, but when I speak to them now as incumbents not one of them has any desire to use the prayer book nor any real interest commitment to share preach use the articles in terms of guiding their churches identity. They and even I ultimately would go Evangelical first and the CE culture is actually very anglican lite. As my principal joked, "Paul the reason we join Reform rather than Church Society is that if it came to a choice Reform would chose the bible and Church Society the Prayerbook and the articles!"

    Keep up the good work
    Paul Cornwall

  22. Paul, this is probably the most important comment on this post I have had so far, as it suggests things are far worse than I thought. I imagined that Conservative Evangelicals would see the value of the Prayer Book and the Articles. Now you're telling me they hardly know they exist!

    I'll spare the blushes of your principal, and I have some sympathy for what he says. There is a 'fuddy duddy' kind of conservatism which is as unthinkingly attached to the Prayer Book and Articles as some are rejecting of them.

    However, the point that I have made here is that unless we imagine we can reinvent the theological wheel in every generation, the Prayer Book and Articles actually represent a very necessary systematic theology.

    I hope you've read my post on the Articles and the Church. You might want to commend it to your friends - or even your former principal.

  23. John,

    the problem is people value them when asked, but like many people pointed out in the Jerusalem Declaration they don't feel them to be a true mark of their church life and culture. the church I attended at said college was classic example, a flagship CE church massively attended and well served by faithful clergy, but in our home group only two were anglican most were IFES affilated. To them anglicanism was bad and many times I would defend why I should join such a diseased bunch with so many false theologies.

    Pointing them to the articles was fine except that the [ and lets be honest] CE mentality says show me the bible passage. Another friend who joined a large CE church from being more OE found that actually people were far less anglican in the CE one, it took him ages to take on board that Good Book Company resources were what everyone read and discussed and knowledge of any type of anglican theology was virtually non existent.

    I suppose my challenge to you is how do we refocus on the articles when that knowledge has largely been lost. Its interesting to take a survey of churches listed on Reform and see how many use the BCP and therefore might stumble on the articles, sadly [al least I believe] they have consigned them to history under words like crucial foundational and most importantly hardly ever used or referred to!

    Sorry to sound so defeatist!
    Paul Cornwall

  24. Paul,

    "--Pointing them to the articles was fine except that the [and lets be honest] CE mentality says show me the bible passage.--
    As it happens, Thomas Rodgers' Catholic Doctrine of the Church of England includes sundry such scriptural proofs for each article successively.

    With compliments,
    Michael Canaris (Sydney)

  25. I do not accept the notion that C of E Evangelicals "have nowhere to go," though I do agree that the Liberals will strive mightily to drive them out of the church once the Anglo-Catholics leave. My quibble about Evangelical alternatives is based on objective C of E history.

    Indeed, historically speaking, the Evangelical party were called Puritans and/or Presbyterians, and they opposed the BCP and 39 Articles as "Popish," as well as most of the other principles of the Elizabethan Settlement of the Church of England, for example, episcopal governance -- those being held by the "Churchmen" or "Orthodox" party. Not until the Glorious Revolution, when the spirit of comprehension was accepted by more and more Churchmen -- i.e., the "Low" Churchmen, as the "High" Churchmen did not accept comprehension -- did the Puritan/Evangelical Party fully come into the C of E , riding a revisionist understanding of the BCP and 39 Articles that accorded with their Reformed views. See e.g., George Every, The High Curch Party (SPCK 1956). The Evangelical revisionism of church principles is similar to Newman's later spun the Articles in a Tridentine manner in his (in)famous Tract 90, which the Anglo-Catholics once relied upon. Of course, the High Churchmen and, later, the moderate Tractarians, have kept witness to the fact that the BCP and Articles actually reject almost everything that Evangelicals have ever stood for. See, e.g., E.J. Bicknell, The Thirty Nine Articles or any work of C. B. Moss.

    In sum, the notion that Evangelicals have no where to go seems incorrect, as their principles accord well with the Westminster Confession. So it will probably be Presbyterianism for most and Methodism for the Arminians.

  26. Thanks for your response to my points John. I was not saying that we should accept people's theology that denies fundamentals such as the Trinity. I was commenting more on how different groups and individuals interpret things. So what one sees as an abomination, (the ordination of women) another has no problem with it. Some will deplore homosexuality (or the practise of it) others will not.

    I'm not judging evangelical anglicans as wrong in their theology, I am more concerned at the naiive black and white interpretation by some of what the Bible says. Life is not black and white and we have to take each instance in life, each issue, problem or challenge and re-evaluate it using the Bible as our starting point.

    Clergy who tell people what they must believe are doing themselves and the Bible a disservice! That is the basis of the extreme right wing churches in the midWest of the US and they are scary.

    As a layman, I cannot match your very trained theological understanding and language, but I think you completely misunderstood what I was trying to say.

  27. Graham, I had no doubt you were not saying that we should accept a theology that denies fundamentals such as the Trinity. Accepting those fundamentals, however, does not make us Anglicans. The Roman Catholic church says the same Creeds as us but takes a very different view of other, key, tenets.

    When you give as an example of 'breadth', however, the acceptance of homosexual practice, I have to take exception and say that it not Anglican. Specifically, it is clearly contrary to Scripture, as has been acknowledged by our own bishops.

    Moreover, from what you said earlier, you were indeed judging evangelical anglicans as wrong in their theology - and that's OK, provided we can show they are wrong because they misinterpret or misapply Scripture. Indeed, this seems to be what you go on to say: "I am more concerned at the naiive black and white interpretation by some of what the Bible says."

    However, it is surely the job of the clergy, and the church, to tell people what they must believe. The Prayer Book has a thing called the Catechism, which teaches people doctrine. The Creeds themselves are doctrinal statements. I am about to start a series of confirmation classes where I will tell people how to understand the Communion service. The list goes on!

    What we don't believe as Anglicans is that only clergy can know what to believe because they are clergy. Anyone can be theologically trained.

    Returning to the main theme, however, I do find at the current institutional heart of Anglicanism a readiness to accept contrary attitudes even to credal statements. I have said, for example, it is much more useful to ask potential candidates for a parish post what they think about the Virgin birth than what they think about the resurrection. Many are surprisingly dodgy on this, despite John Sentamu identifying it, alongside the Trinity and the resurrection, as a 'make or break' issue.

  28. Michael, thanks for the link - and its a free pdf! Some other catechisms and statements of faith provided 'scriptural proofs' - it is helpful to have a document that does it for ours.

  29. Paul, just as an encouragement, I was at Oak Hill yesterday and a couple of students stopped me to say they enjoyed the blog and particularly this discussion.