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Topical Tuesday: Evangelicals in two minds

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Posted by Lee Gatiss, 9 Sep 2014

At last week’s Junior Anglican Evangelical Conference I delivered the keynote 'strategy' address (given in previous years by the late John Richardson). The theme of the conference was 'The Effective Anglican: Seizing the opportunities of ministry in the Church of England.'

On this, I said: ‘My contention is that evangelicals as a constituency are double-minded with regards to their commitment to the Church of England. Only by resolving this, can we begin to make headway and be effective Anglicans.’

I looked at the competing narratives swirling around in English evangelical circles at present: that we are about to win (if we can just hold on until liberalism dies out); and that we are about to lose (or be kicked out of the Church). I then analysed some of the effects that this rather bipolar attitude to the Church of England is having on us.

In my response to the situation, I drew analogies with David Cameron’s approach to Scotland and the European Union, and took soundings from classical thinking on strategy (from Homer, Sun Tzu, Plutarch, Montgomery and Cortes – I did special papers on military strategic planning as an undergraduate many years ago, and have always loved it!) These help by suggesting that, ‘It wouldn’t be such a wise strategy to expend our own resources too quickly on building lifeboats with which to sail away into a more isolated spot.’

We need to deploy our resources to win, not plan for defeat. Yes, there is a role for contingency planning, which may be needed in some places. But that should not be the focus of our energies and enthusiasms.

Rather: ‘If we are to avoid the slow death of a softening evangelicalism or the catastrophe of having to start again from scratch, the brightest course ahead for those who want to see a renewed Church of England, is to stick with it and keep contending – not just on the “big issues” of the day, but on the gospel issues. There is no point winning all the battles on human sexuality, if we lose the war for human salvation.’

Finally, I explored some of the issues we face in implementing such a strategy. It’s not time for evangelical organisations to start inward-looking merger negotiations. They should work together (like the European Union, or NATO, a mutual defence alliance), but not insist on uniformity and conformity to a single approach (like the Eurozone, using a single currency). It is also not a time for us to think about our comfort. Ministry is not a profession, but a calling, and we are called to be self-sacrificial missionaries to England. It may get rocky. We need grit and determination.

‘So let’s re-commit ourselves at this conference to the evangelisation of our nation through the established church, and to doing all we can to make the church an instrument fit for that purpose, for the glory of God and the good of England.’

The talk is 40 minutes long, with 10 minutes of Q & A at the end.

Dr Lee Gatiss is the Director of Church Society and editor of Confident and Equipped: Facing Today’s Challenges in the Church of England.

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