I spent much of Thursday this week on a meeting of the Church of England Evangelical Council.
The train journey down (as my Facebook friends will know) was a delight, travelling in the new Stansted Express rolling stock and getting free WiFi in second class — plus an entire section to myself. It was far better than working from home. They even brought coffee round!
However, the CEEC, which meets at the All Souls Clubhouse, frankly struggles to meet its aims.
As I have said in my book, this is partly because we are expected to express the views of an evangelical community which cannot get on with — or in many cases even bother to meet up — with one another on the ground.
Twice in the past few months I have heard of diocesan evangelical groups which have voluntarily shut down, first in Manchester then in Rochester, and one has to ask how the late, lamented John Stott would have viewed this situation.
Stott did probably more than anyone, in his own lifetime, to hold evangelical Anglicans together and unfortunately, this has long been a necessity. Twice in the last century or so, evangelical Anglicanism has gone through a kind of ‘super-nova’ outburst, whereby internal divisions have been followed by the departure of an ‘outer shell’ into theological liberalism, leaving behind a diminished, though more conservative, core.
This happened once following the ritualist controversy of the nineteenth century and the second time in the era around and shortly after the Second World War. The book to read on the former is James Whisenant, A Fragile Unity: Anti-ritualism and the Division of Anglican Evangelicalism in the Nineteenth Century (Carlisle: Paternoster Press, 2003). The book on the latter is probably Oliver Barclay, Evangelicalism in Britain 1935-1995: A Personal Sketch (Leicester: Inter-Varsity, 1997).
As was reported at the meeting, vacancies on the CEEC are being filled by default, without any contested elections (indeed I myself was re-elected in just this way). In recent years, the CEEC has been accused of being unrepresentative — a ‘rump parliament’ of conservatives — but the sad truth is that people do not step up at the local level to revitalize evangelical fellowships. Indeed a young evangelical of my acquaintance who tried to interest others in one of the now-defunct fellowships was told it wasn’t really worth it.
In recent weeks we have heard a lot about the ‘John Stott legacy’, which by common agreement is that he left evangelicalism generally, and evangelical Anglicanism specifically, much stronger. And regarding the intellectual calibre of some of the movement I am sure that is right. But ‘politically’ I am not convinced. In fact, I believe we are about two-thirds of the way through a third evangelical ‘super-nova’.
The trick is, though, how to avoid history simply repeating itself. This is one of the motivations behind my book: A Strategy that Changes the Denomination. I firmly believe that evangelicals have partly sown the seeds of their own division by consistently failing to have such a strategy and a proper vision for the church. This is a problem today for both ‘conservative’ and ‘open’ evangelicals.
Contrary to what someone told me at the CEEC, I do not believe I have all the answers. But I do believe that better answers are available than the approaches we have used so far. It is not sufficient for evangelicals to accept being either a ghetto (bounded by signs saying “Bishops Keep Out”) or an enclave (where we do our ‘evangelizing’ thing and let the rest of the Church of England get on with their respected tradition of not evangelizing).
I also firmly believe that God’s instrument of evangelism is the church, international, national and local — mission agencies are (as someone once called the cults) the ‘unpaid bills’ of the church. They are the evidence that God’s instrument of witness to the world, the Body of Christ made visible where the pure word is preached and the sacraments duly administered, is currently not up to the job.
And there is a job to do! I just doubt that we are yet getting down to it.Please give a full name and location when posting. Comments without this information may be deleted. Recommend: