Thinking Anglicans

Wycliffe Hall: three former principals write

Stephen Bates in the Guardian has Theological college’s head is undermining it, say predecessors. And Jonathan Petre in the Daily Telegraph has Oxford college row escalates. The Guardian begins:

The principal of Wycliffe Hall, the Oxford University Anglican evangelical theological college, was under renewed pressure last night after his three immediate predecessors claimed he was undermining its reputation and threatening its survival as an academic institution.

The unprecedented intervention, in the form of a joint letter leaked among members of the evangelical community, represented the latest twist in the crisis that has gripped the 130-year-old permanent private hall, which trains theological students and candidates for ordination in the Church of England, and its conservative evangelical principal, Richard Turnbull, following revelations about his conduct of the college…

The full text of the letter to Bishop James Jones described in the articles is as follows:

Dear James,

The three most recent former Principals of Wycliffe, Geoffrey Shaw, Dick France and Alister McGrath, met today in view of the publicity given to the crisis in the Hall. Were it simply a matter of media speculation and sensationalism we would not have written to you. Our enquiries from a variety of sources have convinced us of the seriousness of the situation and filled us with deep foreboding.

The resignation of so many competent and dedicated teaching and admin staff all together in such a small community cannot be written off simply as a new broom sweeping away out of date and out of touch lumber. Nor as a supporter of Richard Turnbull has written “a few ruffled feathers reacting with sourness and extreme bad grace”! These are men and women who have given outstanding service to the Hall and its students and it is due to them that Wycliffe has gained a worldwide recognition for its excellence in biblical scholarship, study, exposition, personal devotion and praxis. Yet they have been made to feel stumbling blocks to a new regime by a man who despite the qualities many attribute to him has had no experience of academic and spiritual formation leadership in a college context.

The repercussions of all this are deeply disturbing. Already voices are being raised in the University as to the suitability of Wycliffe as a PPH. Bishops and DDOs may decide to give the Hall a wide berth. Staff with suitable qualifications may not apply for vacancies. Students from the broad range of evangelicalism which has traditionally characterised the Hall are unlikely to apply and the resultant limited focus on one strand of evangelicalism is unlikely to commend the Hall to the wider church. The Hall is running on borrowed capital and we fear for its future. If this sounds melodramatic it is realistic and is prompted by our love and concern for the Hall.

With very great sadness we must in all seriousness ask you to recognise before it is too late that there is a widespread lack of confidence in the present Principal, both in his managerial style and his myopic vision. We find it hard to envisage the Hall maintaining its erstwhile acknowledged reputation under its present leadership.

Not personally signed but authorised by
Geoffrey Shaw Principal 1979 – 1988
Dick France Principal 1989 – 1995
Alister McGrath Principal 1995 – 2004

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Pluralist
Guest

The letter writers are correct. It is the substance of the issue that matters. When there are realignments going on in general, there are always specific issues involved and then a location that becomes a crucible of the issue. Those of us who have done qualitative research and get down into a small scale narrative of a situation, who have built a “thick description” of that, know that often the minutiae represents a bigger situation. This is what Wycliffe Hall is all about. It has become the crux of the issue for Open Evangelicalism. Here is a personality who has… Read more »

Fr Joseph O'Leary
Guest

Usually people think that Anglicanism represents an enlightened, liberal, gay-friendly Christianity, while Roman Catholicism represents the opposite. But look at these essays by two Catholics: http://commonwealmagazine.org/article.php3?id_article=1957

In the present Anglican climate of panic and scapegoating, perhaps the Roman Church will steal a march on you, and arrive more quickly at ways of living and inter-relating that correctly express the love of Christ. One reason what this may happen is that we are not so browbeaten by the bully-tactics of biblical fundamentalism.

NP
Guest
NP

anonymous leak……lack of courage and honour (let alone Christian principles) as some seek to attack the new Principal at WH

Frozenchristian
Guest
Frozenchristian

NP:
that’s rubbish. If people complain openly then they may be threatened with losing their jobs or never getting another one in the Church. This has happened before and in recent history. Staff are left with only being able to leak things to the press.

Simon Sarmiento
Guest

NP
I am trying terribly hard to understand what is anonymous, never mind lacking in courage and honour, about the letter described in this article. I’m failing. Please help me.

NP
Guest
NP

Simon – the letter is fine in itself – the great men who write it are entitled to their views and I respect them massively ….but they wrote privately – sadly, the letter leaked by someone with clear intent.

Merseymike
Guest
Merseymike

Stick to the contents, NP, and stop trying to defend the indefensible.

This shows so very clearly why there needs to be a split and that we should approach conservative evangelicals a bit like the Militant tendency in the Labour party – the same outcome would also be preferable.

Mynsterpreost (=David Rowett)
Guest
Mynsterpreost (=David Rowett)

I wonder whether there are two forms of ‘leaking’. One is to stir up trouble- ‘malicious leaking’ if you will. But there is another, where deeply concerned individuals find that there is a ‘stopper in the bottle’ – in this case apparently the Bishop of Liverpool – and the justification for leaking is parallel to the ‘whistle blower’ clause on confidentiality. Strikes me that this (now very real) crisis, light years removed from NP’s new-broom-it’s-a-storm-in-a-teacup posting from a few weeks ago has moved on significantly. If, against a backdrop of previously reported concerns from staff and students, three impeccably evangelical… Read more »

Mynsterpreost (=David Rowett)
Guest
Mynsterpreost (=David Rowett)

NP: “the letter is fine in itself – the great men who write it are entitled to their views and I respect them massively”

Am I right in inferring that you disagree with those views?

Stephen Walton
Guest
Stephen Walton

In recent years, George Carey has said and done things which have been interpreted as critical of Rowan Williams. Liberals have been harshly critical of him for this, and implied that he should keep quiet and not “interfere” or criticize his successor. Presumably those same liberals will now be equally critical of Shaw, France, and McGrath for interfering and criticizing their successor.

Pluralist
Guest

Authorised but unsigned is not the same as anonymous. How is it a leak?

NP
Guest
NP

Merseymike – what do you mean stick to the “contents”? Don’t think I was off point at all……and what is indefensible? I bet you know very little about the situation except what The Guardian writes so maybe you should not be so sure of your position….and I still think (for your own good) that since you are not even an Anglican, you would be better off getting a life rather than bizarrely worrying about Anglican matters.

bertie.g
Guest
bertie.g

There has to be something else going on for an evangelical Bishop to ignore all the pressure from both inside and outside the college to discipline or sack this man? Pride perhaps – can’t back down? I would be interested in who else is on the Council and what kind of reputation they have to lose. Who actually put this man there and why?

SB
Guest
SB

NP: I’m wondering in whose interest it was that the report of Judge Bursell’s initial investigation into the alleged drunkenness of +Southwark leaked to the press…my experience of conservative evangelicals is that they are just a guilty of leaking when it suits. In fact, one of them recently boasted of his press contacts to me. Given that the CE’s pride themselves on their faithfulness to scripture, I think you’re in danger of looking at the mote in someone else’s eye and ignoring the beam that sticks out of the eye of those who claim biblical allegiance but who regularly ignore… Read more »

Lapinbizarre
Guest
Lapinbizarre

Does NP’s approach to the critical assessment of events remind anyone else of the fellow travellers of the 1930s, who twisted themselves into pretzels to justify and believe any and everything thing that “Uncle Joe” Stalin did?

drdanfee
Guest
drdanfee

From afar I surmise that maybe this suggests to us that before CoE can be successfully realigned, the Open Evangelicals must go the way of the other believers who are not sufficiently conformed. This highlights, if it applies, the key shift urged by the realignment campaign – other believers’ differences are an affront to closed realignment conscience, indefensible and indeed oxymoron according to closed realignment hermeneutics and presuppositions, and target fodder for the emerging realingment canons of power. Alas. Welcome to the realignment campaign. What made you think, even for a moment, that you were safe from the realignment conservative… Read more »

Prior Aelred
Guest

Lapinbizarre @ Thursday, 14 June 2007 at 2:49pm BST —
It had not occurred to me before, but now that you mention it, yes.

Fr O’Leary —
Luke Timothy Johnson got a lot of flak when he criticized J2P2’s theology of the body in a “Commonweal” article — I have no doubt that this article will result in an even nastier reaction. If you liked the article, I highly recommend that you drop him a line saying so!

Chris
Guest
Chris

Lapinbizarre said, “Does NP’s approach to the critical assessment of events remind anyone else of the fellow travellers of the 1930s, who twisted themselves into pretzels to justify and believe any and everything thing that “Uncle Joe” Stalin did?” Tongue-in-cheek, are you trying to develop a corollary to Goodwin’s law? Seriously, this letter should raise questions in anyone’s mind about what is happening at Wycliffe. The original, anonymous letter alone was suspect, but this should remove doubt that Turnbull should be asked to explain his actions. The “leak” of this letter is a non-issue as these letters are meant to… Read more »

NP
Guest
NP

SB – you would have a point if I had ever leaked anything, that is….or if I had defended any other leaks. Lapin – maybe you know a lot more about the situation?? If all you know is what is in the papers, you really do not have much to go on – and I do not have much to defend…..+Liverpool probably knows the situation and the college better than you? Bertie – maybe +Liverpool just knows facts that The Guardian does not? Mynster – I am hoping that the three old principals are mistaken….but the letter is obviously an… Read more »

Tony
Guest
Tony

It is interesting for source critics among us. “The college head thinks 95% of us are going to burn in hell” said the Guardian piece, but what Richard Turnbull actually said was “95% of people facing hell unless the message of the Gospel is not brought to them”. That’s quite a leap, especially as “facing” suggests possibility, albeit perhaps (by Richard Turnbull’s lights) a strong possibility, but not certainty, and “hell” is not spelt out anywhere else in the article; the “burning” is a suggestion of the Guardian writer. At least with the leaked letter we have all the details,… Read more »

Merseymike
Guest
Merseymike

No, +Liverpool is just covering his own back – if Turnbull falls, so does he. If there is one thing that +Liverpool is canny about its media management.

Lapinbizarre
Guest
Lapinbizarre

No connection to Goodwin’s Law, Chris. Just an observation based on the endless use of the “four legs good, two legs bad” rule as a prism through which to view and judge the rights and wrongs of church affairs.

Neil
Guest
Neil

I’d be grateful for people to treat NPs contributions with the seriousness they deserve. He constantly seems to throw heat rather than light on situations – and taunting you ‘wishful thinking anglicans’ seems so easy! His loyalty to his cause is a matter for him, but should be understood in a similar fashion to people’s loyalties and attachments to football clubs. He is a ‘fan’ of his clan rather than a serious thinker.

Stephen Roberts
Guest
Stephen Roberts

NP – presuming your post of 1:54BST to MerseyMike isn’t ad hominem, you might show your *evidence* for the assertion he isn’t “even an Anglican”.

As for “hoping that the three old principals are mistaken”, I’d abandon hope now. The last three principals have 25 years of combined experience of leading Wycliffe and undoubtedly retain links to the college – Richard Turnbull has scarcely 25 *months* as principal of the college and look at the mockery he’s making of the evangelical cause, the college and the Anglican communion since his appointment.

Matthew Firth
Guest
Matthew Firth

As a current ministerial student at Wycliffe, I find strings of posts like this very sad. Apart from being saddened that the vast majority of things which have been written in the media over recent weeks bear little resemblance to the Wycliffe that I know from the inside, I am saddened that the response of many Christians has either been to derive an element of glee about what is happening, or to rush into the media frenzy with hot heads. There is also the sadness that people seem to want to turn this into a battle between ‘open evangelicals’ and… Read more »

NP
Guest
NP

Stephen – Merseymike has said many times on TA that he does not belong to any Anglican group and does not believe much or any of the foundational statements of Anglicanism…..so, in answer to your question, he is not an Anglican by his own repeated admission.

Stephen Roberts
Guest
Stephen Roberts

NP – Thank you for your clarification, the confusion arose from advising Merseymike to “get a life” (which does look very ad hominem to a first time poster). Matthew Firth – Your post has to be the most sensible I’ve read on any site regarding this whole sorry mess. There are a great many difficult issues facing the Anglican communion at the moment and the continued back-biting through the comment pages of the Times, Telegraph and Guardian only adds weight to the view of the chattering classes that Christianity is irrelevant and destructive. With that in mind, I apologise for… Read more »

badman
Guest
badman

I respectfully disagree Matthew Firth. Mismanagement of Wycliffe Hall, if there be such, or worse, is a matter of public concern. Wycliffe Hall is training ordinands for the Church of England and is a PPH which partly trades on its affiliation to the University of Oxford. Trying to keep it all secret (it is a matter of public record that insiders were told not to speak to the press) and then complaining that the full story has not been told is simply absurd. Secrecy is also not a correct response to allegations of misconduct. Of course we all wish well… Read more »

Merseymike
Guest
Merseymike

I am still a member of the Church of England, but until the split occurs, I can no longer actively support an organisation which is institutionally homophobic. If I lived in the USA I would be quite happy with TEC!

Cheryl Clough
Guest

It would be interesting to talk to some Muslim historians. After the World Trade Centre, there was a lot of discussion about how their religion became dominated by one main form a few hundred years ago. I am sure they are bemused to see the parallels being played out in the Anglican Communion today. It also stands as a firm warning that “there but for the grace of God could go this communion too”. We face a genuine risk of ending up in a world where only the bullies control theologies and we all cow in terror wondering which war… Read more »

Pluralist
Guest

_There is also the sadness that people seem to want to turn this into a battle between ‘open evangelicals’ and ‘conservative evangelicals’, even though this issue plays no part in the difficulties at Wycliffe._ Matthew Firth

What it looks like from the inside is one thing, as indeed the result of a snowstorm from within looks uniformly white, but either listen to or read the text of the Principal to Reform and how he understands his strategic role (or the dynamics of the snowstorm) regarding students like yourself.

Christopher Shell
Guest
Christopher Shell

Hi Cheryl- Regarding the warlords of the future, who knows whether you are right. I hope you’re not. But the greatest threats from the near past came from an atheist regime and an egomaniac – neither of them setting much store by any supernatural worldview. The biggest growth in recent Christianity has come through the cell system. No doubt someone will draw the link with ‘terrorist cells’. These armed pentecostal militias – they are everywhere. Re Wycliffe: It is amazing how those with no inside knowledge ‘know’ what is going on, despite being contradicted by those with inside knowledge. How… Read more »

Hugh of Lincoln
Guest
Hugh of Lincoln

“I am hoping that the three old principals are mistaken….

The McGrath Delusion?

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold)
Guest

http://www.anglican-mainstream.net/?p=1789

Has a letter from those supporting Wycliffe College and its new Principal.

People here will know of signatories and churches better than me, but I recognise Christ Church Fulwood, Sheffield all right because it is the Reform church down the road from the Unitarian one (always doing quite nicely in its small old building those leafy parts).

David Banting (St Peters Harold Wood)
Richard Bewes (Former Rector of All Souls Langham Place)
Mark Ashton (St Andrews the Great, Cambridge)
Clive Hawkins (St Marys Basingstoke)
Paul Williams (Christ Church Fulwood, Sheffield)
Andrew Wingfield Digby (St Andrews North Oxford)
Michael Lawson (Archdeacon of Hampstead, former Vicar of Christ Church, Bromley)

mynsterpreost (=David Rowett)
Guest
mynsterpreost (=David Rowett)

Pluralist noted those supporting Wycliffe College and its new Principal

Looking at the names and doing a spot of day off googling, of the seven four have very strong Reform connections, Wingfield Digby was at the anti-Jeffrey John rally in Oxford, To have such a line-up rather increases the feel of a radical takeover, does it not?

Matthew Firth
Guest
Matthew Firth

In response to Stephen Roberts: Thank-you for your post. It’s very encouraging to hear that you are praying for us at Wycliffe as we work through this tricky time. In repsonse to Christopher Shell: I couldn’t agree more! In response to badman: I agree with you that if there is mismanagement at Wycliffe then it is indeed a matter of public concern, for the reasons you cited. And that is why the two bishops who sit on the Hall council, and the Hall council itself, are dealing with the issues at Wycliffe as representatives of the wider church. This is… Read more »

Charlotte
Guest
Charlotte

Christopher Shell writes: “The biggest growth in recent Christianity has come through the cell system. No doubt someone will draw the link with ‘terrorist cells’. These armed pentecostal militias – they are everywhere.”

Heavens, Christopher Shell! Have you never heard of Latter Rain, Joel’s Army, the Laughing Church and the Toronto Blessing? Ask Sandy Millar — he’s quite familiar with these Pentecostal offshoots. And, yes, Joel’s Army could quite reasonably be described as an “armed Pentecostal militia” in the making, who believe it their duty to cleanse the earth through violence.

Pluralist
Guest

I’m very happy to discuss Jesus, and do so very often. Indeed I have just read a conversational sermon about him at the old Fulwood church… http://www.fulwood-old-chapel.org.uk/jesus.htm But this is the point, isn’t it: I don’t accept the version that Richard Turnbull and friends proclaims, nor do I accept that we should all believe it along such lines. Even then I would be less concerned had Richard Turnbull simply laid out his vision and his beliefs. But rather like the rest of us, he spent a considerable section of his Reform speech talking about libeal evangelicals to be opposed on… Read more »

mynsterpreost (=David Rowett)
Guest
mynsterpreost (=David Rowett)

Matthew Firth said You suggest that I should read/listen to Dr Turnbull’s speech to Reform so that I can find out how he understands his strategic role regarding students like myself. But why should I do that? I can ask him about that over breakfast at Wycliffe! Matthew, Matthew, remember you’re training as an Anglican priest. If Wycliffe is teaching you to believe that the hierarchy is completely open and guileless when it comes to sharing information and strategies with the foot soldiery, then I suggest that is evidence enough that the college is not Anglican! Do you REALLY think… Read more »

Martin Reynolds
Guest

I am generally not comfortable with this type of story. Like Stephen Bates – my first reaction is to leave such things alone – they have a horrible tendency to become a witch hunt. I also experienced a change of college leadership when I was a theological student and remember how difficult and divisive that became. While the world has lately been exposed to the bitter wrangling of the disparate factions within the Anglican Communion, few are aware of the even more poisonous and vindictive world of academe – and where these two combine, as they do here, the mixture… Read more »

Christopher Shell
Guest
Christopher Shell

Hi Charlotte-
Well, in a work of 8 billion (?) people, I suppose you can find anything if you look hard enough. I myself have rarely passed a pentecostal church without seeing a few offensive weapons poking out of side pockets. They’re coming, I tell you. One of the key features of the Toronto Blessing was the street riots generated. Ask any riot-shield-wielding policeman.

Charlotte
Guest
Charlotte

Well, Christopher Shell, it may just be that we in the USA have more experience than you do with the dangers of some of the more extreme Pentecostal offshoots. Oral Roberts — he of the “university” that forbade “race-mixing” among its students — was a product of the Latter Rain movement. John Ashcroft, the former US Attorney General who was the architect of Guantanamo’s detention camps and the unrestricted domestic surveillange provisions of the Patriot Act, is a Pentecostal. Alberto Gonzales, the present US Attorney General now embroiled in political scandals, is a parishioner of the Pentecostal-inflected Falls Church (CANA).… Read more »

Cheryl Clough
Guest

Christopher You are right about the cell theory and its parallels. It was also useful in Latin America and Vietnam, the Nazis found it worked too, and it has kept Judaism intact for several thousand years. I am also sure that it is working very well in Gaza and Iraq today. There is a lesson there that the cell method of organisation growth is a very effective organisational model. There is another lesson there that fast growth does not necessarily mean healthy growth. One of the lessons that my children often hear is that “there is a difference between can… Read more »

Christopher Shell
Guest
Christopher Shell

Hi Charlotte and Cheryl-
Best thing to do is list all the wars currently being fought by pentecostal armies.

The conclusion will be: 100% of them are spiritual, not physical. This is in accord with the NT injunction to spiritual warfare and with Jesus’s role as Prince of Peace.

The scandal is, rather, those who tamely defect to the prevailing culture (ie – in some cases – the enemy) and will not fight.

Christopher Shell
Guest
Christopher Shell

Charlotte-
In the name of love, surely you don’t regard it as more important that coffee cups are smashed than that babies’ limbs are smashed? The former is merely a parable to bring home the awfulness of (among other abuses of government) the latter.

Charlotte
Guest
Charlotte

Christopher Shell: On the contrary, there are a number of physical, shooting wars currently being fought by Pentecostal child soldier armies — in Uganda and Congo, particularly. European history also bears witness to the atrocities that cult-like charismatic sects can inflict on those deemed “enemies” by their leaders. The “Kingdom of God at Munster” is among the best-known of these, however much it has been sentimentalized by modern Left historians. Certain incidents in the English Civil War might be added to the list. The “Kids on Fire” summer program featured in “Jesus Camp” was a ministry of Pastor Ted Haggard’s… Read more »

Chris
Guest
Chris

Charlotte said,
“Pentecostal-inflected Falls Church (CANA)”

Not to interrupt your rant, but The Falls Church is not inflected (sic) with Pentecostals. There are Charismatics at TFC. Many would include Charismatics as a branch of Anglicanism along with Anglo-Catholics, Evangelicals and Liberals.

Pentecostals are a completely separate denomination with very different views on ecclesiology and a generally have very low view of the Sacraments.

Additionally, your allusion to child soldier armies in Uganda and Congo is more about tribal warfare and modern day slavery than people who worship by speaking in tongues.

Charlotte
Guest
Charlotte

Chris, “Dinner with a Warlord,” Nicholas Kristof’s column in the New York Times this morning (6/18/07) describes his meeting with the Congolese General Laurent Nkunda:

“He described himself as a devout Pentecostal and said that most of his troops had converted as well; he showed us a church where he said they pray daily, and he showed photos of baptisms of the soldiers. Then again, the government has issued an international arrest warrant against him for war crimes, and human rights monitors like Refugees International say that his troops have killed and raped civilians and pillaged their villages.”

Denial doesn’t help, Chris.

Chris
Guest
Chris

Charlotte,

Thanks for the book reference. The man may call himself a Christian and Pentecostal and get it totally wrong. That doesn’t mean all Pentecostals are evil.

Christopher Shell
Guest
Christopher Shell

Hi Charlotte- Are there budding VCs at Wycliffe then? Spiritual warfare – against principalities and powers, wrong structures, wrong ruling ideas etc – is both biblical and right. Whereas watrfare against people is wrong. How can a child call himself or herself a pentecostal? So did the Iolanthe nightwatchman/soldier wonder ‘how every little boy or girl that’s born into the world alive is either a little liberal or else a little conservative’. Joking apart, I was not aware of the horrific African instance you cite. Not that it is in any way typical – let’s get some balance here. Alas,… Read more »