The reasons for this change are deep and historical, and we need to understand why we have got here in order to see where we are going.
Within the evangelical tradition itself, the reasons reach back at least 50 years. At the first National Evangelical Anglican Congress (NEAC) at Keele in 1967, a major question was whether evangelicals, still with a sense of being a beleaguered minority, should stay within the Church of England at all. Martyn Lloyd Jones of Westminster Chapel had said no—they should ‘come out from among her’ and form a pure, uncompromised, evangelical church. John Stott, of All Souls’ Langham Place, urged evangelicals to stay, engage, and effect change from within. Stott won the day—though his position then still does not convince everyone now. Evangelicals are not always good at compromise.
At the second NEAC in Nottingham in 1977, Anthony Thiselton (later Professor at the university there) urged a second kind of engagement by evangelicals—with scholarship, and in particular with the developing discipline of hermeneutics. He was opposed by my then-hero David Watson, who at one point in the Congress openly mocked him—but Thiselton won the argument (and I ended up doing a PhD in exactly this area).
This commitment to engage has borne remarkable fruit. In 2007, Gordon Kuhrt (who had been the first Director of the newly formed Ministry Division of Archbishops’ Council) analysed what was happening to theological traditions in ordination training and found something remarkable. 30 years previously, evangelicals accounted for around 30% of ordinands entering training. By the time of his writing, this had changed to 70%. This wasn’t because the numbers of evangelicals coming forward had increased, but because the numbers of catholics and liberals (to use the three broad categorisations) had dropped off. It is not difficult to understand that, all other things being equal, the tradition of ordinands in one age will become the tradition of the Church’s leadership in the next.
Following Thiselton’s urgings, evangelicals have also been active in engaging with theology. I was in the first cohort experimentally to move straight to doctoral study from ordination training, and many other evangelicals have done the same. As a result, there are evangelicals in every tradition of residential college, and (significantly) teaching on courses as well as in context-based training. Evangelicals no longer stick doggedly to parish ministry—their traditional remit—but are also now area deans and archdeacons and involved in sector ministries. The one area largely untouched is that of cathedral deans. The large number of evangelical bishops is just the episcopal tip of an ecclesiastical iceberg.
Within the Church itself, Mission-Shaped Church (which came to Synod when I was last a member in 2004) marked a watershed. It was now possible, credible and even desirable to talk about mission explicitly as an Anglican, in a way it wasn’t after Towards the Conversion of England(1945) nor even after the Decade of Evangelism. This explains why evangelical episcopal appointments are not the result of a conspiracy; Vacancy in See committees are asking for a credible commitment to mission, and evangelical candidates are giving plausible answers.
Is this situation likely to continue? To answer that, take a look at the youngest diocesans, since they will be around for some time to come, and are the most likely to occupy senior positions in the future. They are (in age order) Leicester, Southwell and Nottingham (both 48), Gloucester (53), Guildford (54), Europe (56), Coventry, Chichester, Chelmsford (all 57), Winchester, Ely, Leeds, Truro, Sheffield, St Albans and Manchester (all 58). Of these 15, 10 look evangelical, and another two ‘traditional’ catholic, and only three more liberal. And the high proportion of evangelical ordinands looks set to continue; a major route is through youth work, and 90% of youth workers are employed by evangelical churches. Any tradition diversifies as it expands, and debates will continue about who are ‘true’ evangelicals. As Andrew Atherstone and John Maiden point out in the excellent Evangelicalism and the Church of England in the Twentieth Century (Boydell Press, 2014) that debate was as lively in the earlier lean years as in these years of plenty.
Martyn Atkins, when General Secretary of the Methodist Conference, reflected on how we could go about Resourcing Renewal (Inspire, 2007). Renewal comes, he argued, when an institution rediscovers its ‘founding charisms’ and, paradoxically, this is what is needed to face an uncertain future. I wonder whether the presence of evangelicals, at every level of ministry, might aid this process for the C of E—that we recover what it means to be a reformed catholic church. This means not being reformedand catholic (and liberal), living in different silos, nor executing an evangelical ‘takeover’—but that our diversity is held together by means of a reflective biblical theology shaped by insights from previous generations (tradition) and informed by responsible intellectual engagement (reason).
Whatever its pros and cons, this new configuration of the Church is likely to be here for some time to come.
If this sounds like the GAFCON conservative evangelical Trumpet Call – from Ian Paul, “Associate Minister, St.Nics (sic) Nottingham, U.K.” – then it probably is. An avid campaigner, against the current trends of liberalism in the Church of England, the Reverend Ian Paul has much to say on his blog @psephizo about what he sees as the declining standards of biblical faithfulness among the Western provinces of the Anglican Communion.
In this way, and from this article about the predominance of conservative evangelicals being appointed to the House of Bishops in the Church of England, Ian Paul discerns a movement back to a traditional evangelical leadership in that Church, which he attributes to the reaction of the young people of the Church – against the tide of liberalism that had seen even the fusty old State Church questioning the culture of homophobia and sexism that had, hithertoo, remained un-challenged.
It would appear, now, that Mr. Paul ( self described ‘Assistant minister’ – rather than the traditional title of ‘Assistant priest’ – an indicator of his evangelical provenance) sees a gathering momentum of evangelical conservative reaction against the inevitable tide of popular acceptance of LGBTQI people in the outside world and in parts of the Anglican Communion – especially in North America.
What has recently happened, according to Ian Paul, has been an emergence of young evangelicals, modelled on the lines of the latest Archbishop of Canterbury’s – Justin Welby’s – theologically-conservative, charismatic church-growth phenomenon that inspired the ABC’s entry (after a career in the oil industry) into the ministry of the Church of England. Mr. Paul compares the latest emergence, under ++Justin’s leadership, of the appointment of more theologically conservative candidates to the espicopate. Here is part of his analysis.
(speaking of the youngest newly-appointed diocesan bishops) :
“They are (in age order) Leicester, Southwell and Nottingham (both 48), Gloucester (53), Guildford (54), Europe (56), Coventry, Chichester, Chelmsford (all 57), Winchester, Ely, Leeds, Truro, Sheffield, St Albans and Manchester (all 58). Of these 15, 10 look evangelical, and another two ‘traditional’ catholic, and only three more liberal. And the high proportion of evangelical ordinands looks set to continue; a major route is through youth work, and 90% of youth workers are employed by evangelical churches. “
Will this conservative evangelical trend continue to dominate in the future Church of England? This is a question that ought concern the more liberal among us in the Anglican Communion. There is no doubt, though, that the preponderance of a more evangelical type of clergy-person will help to reverse the tide of exit of young people from the Church of England. But will that necessarily mean the revival of the Gospel values of justice and peace-making that are at the heart of Jesus Christ’s liberating ministry?
One only has to wonder what the paucity of Anglo-Catholic spirituality, with its emphasis on Eucharist and Sacraments will do to the image of a State Church that seems set to militate against the more liberal outlook of ordinary people in the street, whose lives are more concerned with matters of social and economic justice that public piety. The real question may be: Will people be newly drawn to a God they have come to believe is primarily interested in judgement, rather than mercy and loving attention to the sinners that Jesus Christ came into this world to redeem?
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand