Friday, 6 November 2009

The new Bishop of Peterborough said what?

Yesterday’s news that the Venerable Donald Allister had been appointed the next Bishop of Peterborough initially came as a pleasant surprise in the midst of all the doom and gloom.
Donald is well-known in Conservative Evangelical circles — indeed he used to be chairman of the Council of Church Society.
I therefore found myself somewhat baffled by what Donald is quoted as saying in a press-release on the Diocese of Peterborough website:
“I’m happy to be described as an evangelical if that is understood as someone who prioritises evangelism and the Bible,” he explains. “But liberals and catholics can do evangelism and read the Bible as well!”
Whoah! When he says “liberals and catholics can do evangelism and read the Bible as well”, does he really mean (as implied by the word ‘but’) that the evangelical understanding of evangelism and Bible reading is essentially the same as the catholic and the liberal understanding of evangelism and Bible reading? If ever a statement called for an apostolic, “By no means!” (Rom 6:2), it is that one.
Surely evangelical and liberal Anglicans, in particular, have quite different views of the Bible as God’s word, and they have quite different attitudes to, and understandings of, the human condition and God’s response to it in Christ?
Donald seems to be saying there is nothing special about these evangelical ‘priorities’ — evangelicals ‘do evangelism and read the Bible’, and catholics ‘do evangelism and read the Bible’, and liberals ‘do evangelism and read the Bible’. But surely the point is that they do them differently? Otherwise, we might as well add, “and Jehovah’s witnesses ‘do evangelism and read the Bible’”.

It is all rather puzzling —and worrying.
John Richardson
6 November 2009

But now see here for what else the Bishop has said:

The Bishop of Peterborough Said What Else?
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  1. Fulcrum has recently posted a sermon by Anthony Thiselton on Ordination of Bishops. This lists the following nine qualities of a bishop: 1, a guardian of doctrine and apostolic tradition; 2, an apt teacher; 3, a focus of unity; 4, a spokesman for the church's mission; 5, a capable manager; 6, someone who avoids unnecessary conflict; 7, someone respected by outsiders; 8, not a grasping or over-ambitious person; 9, an approachable or hospitable person.

    The Press Release indicates that Donald Allister fits the criteria. His attitude to the various traditions is required of a focus of unity.

  2. David, the way an Anglican bishop is supposed to be a focus of unity is by safeguarding the doctrine of the church, not by simply agreeing that everyone who calls themselves an Anglican has something to contribute. To call 'liberalism' an 'Anglican tradition' is to reduce Anglicanism to a sociological concept, rather than a theological concept. If Anglicanism is a sociological concept, then, of course, those who hold it together will need 'social' skills. But Anglicanism is a specific understanding of Christianity, and is therefore a theological concept. Bishop Donald will only be able to maintain that kind of unity by means of the Word of God. I wish him well in this, but he will need to be clear about the differences between the liberal and the evangelical understandings of the gospel.