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Stebbing, Great Dunmow, Essex, United Kingdom
The occasional blog of an Anglican priest in rural Essex

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Sometimes it's hard she said ...

This is my response to something that appeared on the Ugley Vicar blog recently. Post title relates to opening greeting ...

Dear John,

My invitation to join CDEA arrived today. If Stand Firm were the committee I don't think they'd let me in!
Nevertheless your thoughts on OE's have set me thinking again, as I prepare to go to All Souls for the NEAC day, about how we define ourselves within Anglicanism and within Evangelicalism.
I fully agree with you about Greenbelt, although we need to acknowledge that if the leaders shifted in theology in the mid 80's then the crowds are taking (or took) a little longer to shift. People were still experiencing conventional evangelical conversions there up to at least '85.
Stuff like Soul Survivor of course provided an alternative for charismatics from the early 90’s, which may have led to a drain of evangelicals going to GB.

But actually, only a very shallow approach to Evangelical identity would be based on "which festival do you go to?" so the whole New Wine/Spring Harvest/Word Alive thing just doesn't cut it for me because the people on the ground are not all making their choice on theological grounds - sometimes it's just when they are free!

Thinking about the atonement, a moment in my training comes to mind when Alister McGrath, lecturing on reformation theology, said that PSA was not a Biblical doctrine. The cat was definitely among the pigeons at college then.

I feel that conservatives frequently attract criticism for insisting that PSA is THE ONLY model that gives us a way to understand the cross, and that other approaches such as Christus Victor or moral example or “Cur Deus Homo” are in some way secondary or not worth including at all. In this I also feel there is not a little arrogance, as the thing about the atonement surely is that it is the most amazing gift that humanity has ever received from God, but our minds are not capable of fully comprehending its mechanics, so theologians down the ages, from Augustine to Anselm to Luther to NTW have written countless pages to help us grasp the enormity of its significance, and we still don’t fully get it.

To the person on the street or in the pew (especially those newly arrived in the pews), surely the most important thing is that there is an atonement – that we can be at one with God because of the passion, death and resurrection of Christ. How it works is (for me as an OE anyway) secondary in importance to the (wonderful) fact that it does work. THIS IS THE GOOD NEWS.

Perhaps I can draw a comparison with the creation/evolution debate. Theologians across the spectrum refer to “theories of the atonement”, in the same way that Darwin formulated a “theory of evolution”. However, when one of these theories is taught as fact, you are bound to get conflict, in the same way that the presentation of Darwinism as fully factual and not just a theory creates conflicts with advocates of other approaches, whether Christian Creationists or advocates of intelligent design.

It is my impression, and I’m sure I’m not alone in this, that CE theology treats PSA in the same way as Dawkins treats Darwinism – the only way to do it. So if that is either rejected or put alongside other theories to help understand the cross, then that is not (Conservative) evangelicalism.

However, OE’s in my experience tend to be eclectic in their theology, looking at different schools or traditions to enrich understanding of doctrine and tradition. That eclecticism for me means that it is OK to interact with any of the mainstream atonement theories.

We should not try to define ourselves either, I feel, on the issue of women’s ordination, because it is impossible to draw a neat line through evangelicalism on this basis. You just can’t consistently predict who will be in favour and who will not. Many of us (who are in favour) made decisions early on and only latterly came to see the Biblical argument; others changed their minds post-Toronto, and still others accept women in orders but not in authority (Richard Turnbull, it would appear, is in that place).

Surely the way forward is to concentrate on what we do agree on; to emphasize the importance of mission to the unchurched, as being primary. The renewal of the church can only be done by co-operating with the Spirit within the church. This is why the institution is important to OE’s; not necessarily that we accept its behaviour unconditionally - you are perhaps accurate in your assertion that OE’s question everything – but (a bit like a wayward teenager) that we love it and want to see it come to its full potential as the vehicle for God’s work in this country and the world.
This has been a long post, so just to finish, when it comes to your comments about OE’s and Rome, yes there are a lot of differences, especially when it comes to gender roles, but there are more than enough things that we can be together on to make me assert that I am only a Protestant because that is the designation of my church. I protest more about the C of E than I do about Rome! Belligerance is a bit of a scary word!

Hope the CRB thing resolves itself for your wife


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