Comments: from the papers on Saturday

Does the adjective "former" only apply to Joanna as a student at Wycliffe, or does it also describe her role as a visiting tutor?

Posted by Martin Reynolds at Saturday, 2 June 2007 at 11:57am BST

When the SDP broke from the Labour Party, there was a level of vitriolic speech from Labour to SDP that went far beyond Labour to Conservative. So Joanna McGrath is right, but, also, just as the SDP spent a great deal of time criticising Labour and pointing out why they were no longer there, so Open Evangelicals spend more time (as with this article) discussing their otherwise near neighbours and why they are not them. Basically, the split point is taking effect.

Posted by Pluralist at Saturday, 2 June 2007 at 8:18pm BST

She doesn't appear as an 'associate lecturer' on the Wycliffe website.

It's a pretty damning article: do I recall someone posting a denial on TA that there was a split within Anglican evangelicalism, and that all the suggestions that there was one were just liberal wishful thinking?

Is the former principal's live in partner in a meaningful relationship just axe grinding, or a faithless liberal, or is there increasing evidence that Stephen Bates' original article was pretty much on target?

Posted by Mynsterpreost (=David Rowett) at Saturday, 2 June 2007 at 9:51pm BST

Sociological considerations are indeed helpful but they do not suggest that Stephen Bates was right. Some have taken issue with the thumbnail sketch of evangelical identity which Richard Turnbull gave to the Reform conference for its lack of academic precision – as if his was an academic paper – and have overlooked the purpose of the speech. Richard Turnbull reassured the conference participants that his concept of "evangelical identity" is fairly traditional. It is worth reminding ourselves that there was not a single reference to the ordination of women or homosexuality here or elsewhere in the speech - the theological issues Stephen Bates highlighted.

I have no reason to think that any of the staff members who will be leaving Wycliffe or have resigned posts would take issue with any of the four points Richard Turnbull made in his speech about evangelical identity.

The comments that followed these four points are more controversial, as Richard Turnbull acknowledged ("which in some places would certainly not make me popular"). The first is about ecclesiology and is the most worthwhile contender for identifying a serious (fractious) theological disagreement among Wycliffe staff but so far little attention has been paid to this. I won't start a debate because (a) I have little knowledge of the ecclesiology of various staff members at Wycliffe and (b) I have not even read Richard Turnbull's book.

The second is about the strategic nature of theological colleges which – ironically – is actually if anything an anti-"conservative evangelical" [subculture] comment. I understand why people to whom the speech was not addressed interpreted these comments rather differently but I am confident the original addressees of the speech would have recognised its thrust. If interested, see John Richardson at for details.

Posted by Thomas Renz at Sunday, 3 June 2007 at 1:42pm BST (including comments) is interesting on attempts to distinguish "open" from "conservative" evangelicals and demonstrates the concern with boundary maintenance. I wonder whether in fact sociology or theology will go further to explain the difference.

Steve Doughty and Beth Hale, writing in the Daily Mail, seem to think that "Open evangelicals broadly believe in the importance of Biblical teaching and the spread of the Gospel while rejecting conservative views of traditional morality." (1 June, reporting on the resignation of Rev Dr Emma Loveridge). I doubt it.

Posted by Thomas Renz at Sunday, 3 June 2007 at 2:59pm BST

Dr Collicutt McGrath told me that she was a student at Wycliffe Hall until, I think, 2001 and was a visiting tutor there until last term.

Posted by stephen bates at Sunday, 3 June 2007 at 3:37pm BST

What is interesting to me (apart from the quasi-insider position of Dr. C Mcgrath) is that the sociological analysis she suggests implies a necessary hardening of theological boundaries within the movement.

Those of us part of Anglo-catholicism in the 70's and 80's will remember an analogous situation when the ordination of women came on the horizon, with 'proper' catholics spurning the rest of us, and the formation of 'pure' groups like FiF. The sociology and theology seem to go hand in glove.

Posted by Mynsterpreost (=David Rowett) at Sunday, 3 June 2007 at 4:22pm BST

I was entertained by Thomas' gloss on this piece and helped by the deeper insight his contribution offered. I guess he had a twinkle in his eye as he typed!

Thanks to Stephen Bates for telling us Dr Collicutt McGrath has already departed Wycliffe - I thought his piece opining what we see happening at Wycliffe is a microcosm of Communion life was good. He is to be congratulated on changing his mind and opening this internal matter to wider reflection.

Posted by Martin Reynolds at Sunday, 3 June 2007 at 5:03pm BST

Mynsterpreost makes a fair point when he observes that (often) "sociology and theology seem to go hand in glove" and maybe again one's view on the ministry of women (church leadership in this case rather than ordination per se) is the crunch point again (I realise that Mynsterpreost does not claim this) because one's view on the ministry of women in the church seems to be one of the few substantial points to function as a shibboleth in some circles.

But if this were the dividing point between "open" and "conservative" evangelicals, it would be hard to claim that Wycliffe is undergoing a change from one to the other with Richard Turnbull just having appointed faculty members of either integrity (to use this over-simplification). And of course Oak Hill has faculty members of either integrity. I am not convinced that these are the two only Anglican colleges with faculty members on either side of the debate but I confess ignorance on this matter.

Posted by Thomas Renz at Sunday, 3 June 2007 at 5:37pm BST

The sociology of this is Parsonian, essentially, about institutions adapting themselves to their environments, and then whether the environment is viewed as hostile or friendly, and how the system adjusts. It is essentially a situation that Christianity as an institution does not agree on a strategy regarding its environmental setting. It also relates to management-institution theory.

Its environment is secular and pluralist; the churches are marginal.

Some Christians are very positive regarding the secular and pluralist, and import it. Experts are distributed within the organisation (theologians in the Church), many of whom write radically and use contemporary methods and insights. Heterodox liberals of systemic authority. They divide up the Trinity and also have a nihilist branch (nonitarian)

Some Christians want to retain a general Christian identity and negotiate boundaries with the environment. They can ditch doctrinal details but, via discussive theologies, keep big identifiers like incarnation-resurrection. They are orthodox liberals and, once being managerial, have bureaucratic authority (leadership).

Some Christians want to protect Christian identity from a hostile world, and become defensive with their many traditionalisms using traditional authority.

Some Christians want to attack that hostile world, to convert it to itself. They will use modern culture to attract, but to subvert it. They are conversionists with charismatic authority. These have fundamentalists (roughly), charismatics and evangelicals.

What is happening is that the centre point is shifting. Many traditionalisms have gone. So there is a shift to the last group, and a lumping of the two liberals together. In so doing, however, the evangelicals sub-group are seen as letting the side down.

If Militant had become significant in the Labour Party, a similar shift process would have happened. The 'attack, defend, negotiate, import' sociological model following Weberian and business models of authority can be applied to many ideological institutions.

Posted by Pluralist at Monday, 4 June 2007 at 1:08am BST

Lovely piece on Prince Frederick Duleep Singh. Fascinating that he should have been a pioneer of the church preservation movement.

Posted by lapinbizarre at Tuesday, 5 June 2007 at 4:09pm BST

Thank you, Martin. I may well have had a twinkle in my eye - I often do. But the Wycliffe story also leaves me with tears in my eyes. People I know and value are hurting and I mean what I said on another thread: I suspect that they have been let down by people on all sides playing power games.

Posted by Thomas Renz at Tuesday, 5 June 2007 at 10:27pm BST
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