3.3.12

Towards the conversion of England



I have just finished Richardson's 'A Strategy that changes the Denomination.' I was not too sure what to expect. A few years ago, I might not have even engaged such a book, suspecting it to be reactionary and overly-lamenting in its attitude towards the Church of England. I might have expected difficult read. However, what I was pleased to find was writing that was measured and encouraging. There is a call for evangelicals to unite around aims set out in a paper back in 1945 called 'Towards the conversion of England.'

"To evangelize is so to present Christ Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit, that men shall come to put their trust in God through Him, to accept Him as their Saviour, and serve Him as their King in the fellowship of His Church."

As Richardson points out however, this was an aim in a culture where 'Christian belief was also part of the public discourse. On the radio and in print, C S Lewis in particular, but others as well, ensured the continuation of a lively dialogue about faith. And in 1954 the first visit of the American evangelist Billy Graham ...brought thousands into the churches ...

We certainly live in different times with a new Atheism, secularism and humanism shaping public policy and British life in greater and greater degrees. However, there is still hope expressed: 'And yet — the Church of England is still viable. It still has thousands of minister and hundreds of thousands of members. Its parishes cover the entire nation...'

Richardson explores how in the 1990s evangelicalism itself became more fragmentary due to groups within its shared vision, identifying themselves again in terms of other common attitudes. REFORM sets itself up, as does FULCRUM, in the early part of the millennium, and we have Open evangelicals self-identifying:

'...the term ‘Open Evangelical’ began to be used by those who wanted to distinguish themselves from the older, traditionalist, approach...‘open’ in this sense means being attentive to “the questions and the insights of” the world, recognizing “God’s work in other Christian traditions” and other countries, playing a “full part” within the Church of England and listening for God to say “new things through the Bible and His Spirit”.'

What I began to wonder as I continued to read was what Richardson's attitude would be to this breed with whom I most closely identify. He didn't share personal satisfaction or dis-satisfaction but reported instead the situation that we find ourselves in, always with recourse to questions like - here's the situation - what are we going to do about it? He doesn't call for denial or attack but for a pulling together again around the original aims for the conversion of England and the transformation of the Anglican Church. 'Today, if you call yourself an Evangelical, people in the know will immediately ask, “What sort of Evangelical are you?”' he says but his is a calling to an acknowledgement of the differences with a plea that the rally cry should be a corporate, evangelical one for the proclamation of the gospel both to those inside and outside the church. 

Richardson's is a call for the Conservative evangelicals to be less hostile to the structures that they find themselves operating in and the Open evangelicals to be less naive about the challenges. On balance, I think this rather concise personal reflection of his is worth a read. 

2 comments:

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

The problem is, what about all the others in the Church of England? One aspect might be evangelicals divided, but the target of the reform of the Church of England is presumably all of the Church of England. What would the others do?

And then, what about the fallout over both the ordination of female bishops - how it goes through and if it does not - and the Covenant that at present looks like it could fail in the dioceses. The latter has been a liberal-led movement, but whereas Fulcrum has shown full bureaucratic spirit in favour, other evangelicals have been either lukewarm or would rather have parallel institutions. There will be 'relational consequences' if the Covenant fails.

The thing is, you can't have it both ways. Either you have a sect that disciplines you with a nice tight corset but has aspects you don't like (as in rejecting female headship) or in a body that is considerably looser than you might want.

Perhaps Unitarians should set up an Anglican Ordinariate for liberals, but even if a Covenant was imposed few would give up under the new ice cold regime. Liberals tend to stay put, so you will always have frustration should you remain evangelical, as the ways to being otherwise Anglican remain quite slippery.

Neil said...

You can find the whole report at

https://sites.google.com/site/biogneilcullen2011/Welcome/towards-the-conversion-of-england-1945

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A little background reading on the two theological integrities in the Church of England regarding women in ministry.