There’s an old saying: ‘Just because you are paranoid, it doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you.’ (Think about it…) Evangelical Anglicans are often accused of being a little paranoid about their place in the Church of England—but do they have any grounds for being so? I sent this letter to the Church Times last week, though it was not published—perhaps because it sounded a little too paranoid?
How fascinating to read of the report of the Festival of Preaching organised by Canterbury Press and the Church Times. If the Church is going to experience both renewal and reform, this must surely come as much from preaching as from organising and strategising, and this means that preaching itself must be both renewed and reformed. The range of insights into crafting and delivery, handling texts and handling self-as-preacher, looked both engaging and transformative, and sharpened my regret at not being able to attend.How surprising, then, to find two traditions which prize preaching so highly—the conservative evangelical and the charismatic—to appear to be almost totally absent from the otherwise impressive array of speakers. All the more surprising when the promotion for the event two weeks previously was juxtaposed with Bishop Philip North’s inter-traditional (and almost ecumenical) appreciation of summer festivals, in which he visited Keswick and New Wine as well as his ‘home territory’ of Walsingham. At Keswick he found that ‘The preaching is enormously impressive in its intellectual rigour and, while it may not be to everyone’s taste, the purpose of the conference — to sit beneath and be converted by the Word — is never diluted.’ At New Wine he observed a different focus, one of ‘a strong desire for a proclamation that is relevant to the immediate needs and aspirations of the culture.’ I would be surprised if the Festival of Preaching could not have been enriched by these two important perspectives.Many evangelicals are unapologetic Anglicans. They love the Prayer Book, are convinced of the Articles, and are able to say the Declaration of Assent without crossing their fingers either metaphorically or metaphysically. But many do wonder what they have to do simply to take their place alongside others, being treated as honest Anglicans—being included in such events as this Festival without a second thought. I am sure that much that went on was ‘evangelical’ in the sense of being focussed on the Scriptures and their exposition, and even ‘charismatic’ in an expectation of the presence of the Spirit of God to be at work as the word is preached. But this makes it all the more odd for these two theological traditions within the Church of England not to be more obviously represented.Evangelicals are often thought of as being a little paranoid; if we do have this tendency, the cast of events like this only give us an excuse to continue in it.
There is a point of substance at stake in this particular example. From the reports in the Church Times, it sounded as though the focus of the event was on preaching as performance—questions of delivery, technique and self-management were to the fore. If there had been a greater evangelical presence, then I wonder whether issues of theology and hermeneutics might have been more prominent (I am sure they were not entirely absent).
But there is also a point of process. When I asked this question on a Facebook forum, the reaction was astonishing—I was reducing people to labels, of course there was an ‘evangelical’ perspective, and so on. But the point remained: there was a striking contrast between the appreciation by Philip North the week before, and the range of speakers at the Preaching Festival.
Most Anglican evangelicals I know are fully involved and engaged with the Church of England. It is true that they are not greatly fond of committees or honorary titles, and don’t take much to dressing up—but are these essential qualities of Anglicans? There are some shrill voices from the margins who appear determined to separate themselves—but this is not true of the vast majority.
So why do we still get given these signals?
Or am I being paranoid…?