Sunday, 4 September 2011

Has Keele Failed?

This was the title of a book edited by Charles Yeats, to which a number of then-prominent evangelical Anglicans contributed in 1995, arguing that ‘Keele’ had very much succeeded. What they meant was that the commitment made at the first National Evangelical Anglican Congress to remain as part of the Church of England, against pleas to leave, had a good outcome both for evangelicals and for the Church.
I refer to this in my e-book, A Strategy that Changes the Denomination, partly as an example of the historical development of Anglican evangelicalism, partly because I think it shows how past generations of evangelicals have been over-optimistic in their assessment of the last forty-five years.
If we think that the aim of ‘Keele’ was to ensure that evangelicals remained within the Church of England, then obviously it was a success. We have.
But that is surely not a sufficient aim.
If we assess the results of Keele by what subsequently happened, both to evangelicalism and to the Church, the outcome is far less assured, not least because the Church of England itself has changed so much since then.
When I was a young trainee clergyman (just six years on from Keele), the phrase going round was that we were ‘in it to win it’. In other words, our commitment to the Church of England was on the basis that we expected to change it — we expected it to become more evangelical. But more than that, we wanted it to be not just ‘the best boat to fish from’ but a better boat doing more fishing.
So is it?
My own answer would be ‘no’. It is not a worse boat, but it is not a better boat. More importantly, there is no greater commitment to actual fishing now than there was then. Yes, we have ‘Fresh Expressions’ — but doesn’t that say that the old expressions are a bit stale? And we have ‘Back to Church Sunday’, but then we fill our churches at Christmas anyway.
But are we an organization where the norm is seeking conversions? I don’t see that happening, and I don’t see that being encouraged to happen by those in positions of leadership — the bishops and the archbishops, despite the greater presence of supposed ‘evangelizers’ in their ranks.
If we assess the current state of the Church of England by the proposals put forward in the 1945 report, Towards the Conversion of England, we are no nearer addressing that agenda than sixty-six years ago — and Keele is just a ‘blip’, a bit of ‘in house’ business for a little group of enthusiasts.
Next year brings elections to our diocesan synods. I have argued in A Strategy that Changes the Denomination that we evangelicals need to organize ourselves to get good people elected onto our diocesan boards and governing bodies where they can systematically address the agenda so as to encourage the evangelization of the nation.
The problem is in getting organized! Where is the drive for this going to come from? Who is going to encourage it at the grass-roots level? Who is going to endorse it from their pulpits or in their parish magazines or the national church press? What needs shouting from the housetops is currently being whispered in private!
What Keele succeeded in doing, I have argued, is creating an ‘enclave’ for evangelicals, where they could safely get on with doing their thing without threatening, or being threatened by, the institution. But the ‘thing’ of the institution ought to be evangelism, and it isn’t, despite the fact that the evangelicals stayed in 1967. In this respect, Keele failed.
Can we do any better?
John Richardson
4 September 2011
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  1. John,
    Another question which I might ask, generally, is have those who identify as, or claim to be Evangelicals failed? Not merely in the UK but abroad as well.

  2. Before I became a Christian, I was taken to church and was suitably bored. When I became a Christian, I was told that some churches were alive and others dead.Although the dead churches are never named, I assumed they included the ones I had been taken to by my parents. Now I am told that these same churches are our partners in mission. This means unity is bought at the expense of truth and evangelicals become less clear on the gospel. We used to talk of evangelical distinctives as something which set us apart and were the core of out identity. Now they are regarded more as baggage and what is important is being Anglican. At least that is what I am being told from various charismatic and open sources. If the institutional church is
    Hindering out evangelism perhaps it is time to leave. Do we go out the back door one at a time to other churches or none, or do we leave on block to join who else? or form a new denomination? why should we stay John? I have often felt my Christian life would have been a lot happier if Martyn Lloyd Jones reorganisation had taken place and this would have kept in check the ambition of some self styled apostles.

    West Yorkshire

  3. David,
    I think that folks may now be leaving, as you suggest, one at a time perhaps going somewhere else, perhaps not. Hindsight is always 20/20.

  4. Well, after 13 years in the CofE, I am leaving for a non-Anglican church next month.

    Anglican Evangelicals are a supine lot, because, I have come to believe, they are Anglicans first, and Christians second. They remind me of the archetypal polite English couple in a restaurant, who spend the whole meal complaining about the food, but when the waiter enquires "Is everything alright?" they reply "Oh yes,lovely thank you."

    The more-or-less unelected, self-absorbed, pompous and incompetent bishops, most of whom have deserted the 39 Articles, will continue to run the whole outfit into the ground. And the Evangelical Anglicans will do nothing - except continue to fund the useless organisation.

    Very, very, sad.

    David, Gloucestershire

  5. Just discovered your blog today. The name made me laugh! Looking forward to reading more of your thoughts.