John Richardson CEEC
Time was when I was in regular contact with Andrew Brown, pictured, the religious commentator and correspondent for The Guardian. I always admired Andrew’s insight and intelligence, whilst regretting his acerbic tongue. He is not the only person whose livelihood depends on expressing his view on a belief system with which he has little sympathy. Nevertheless, he is generally worth listening to, even if not often agreeing with.
So it was with some interest I tuned in to his recent Radio 4 ‘analysis’ asking whether the Church of England is dangerously out of step with the nation.
Not surprisingly, given the programme’s focus on disputes concerning women bishops and sexuality, and Andrew’s aversion to evangelical views (heartily shared, it would seem, by the Bishop of Buckingham), the answer, summed up in the programme’s title ‘Last Rites for the Church of England’, was ‘probably’.
However the programme is still well worth a hearing, and it also brought out an important detail to the current picture, which is the mismatch between official Anglican ‘ doctrine’ and the ‘ doctrinal beliefs’ of the typical Anglican. Once again, this will probably not come as a surprise, especially since the research ‘sample’ on which some of the programme’s conclusions were based included ‘nonchurchgoing Anglicans’ (or ‘unbelievers’ as some of us would call them).
But the observation highlights a serious point — that teaching doctrine is not something we really do, even in evangelical churches.
Oddly enough, this may partly be because of the change in preaching habits and practices advocated and promoted by the Proclamation Trust. In my own view, Anglican preaching is vastly superior to what was on offer even 20 years ago. The text is now, quite rightly, the controlling factor in expository preaching. But one often repeated refrain is that we should ‘preach the text, not the framework’.
Behind this is a proper suspicion of the days when (it is held) evangelical preaching was largely topical and the text was often a springboard to speak about some presumed feature of evangelical theology. That may be so (I never attended those sorts of evangelical churches — or indeed any sort — in my formative years, so it is hard to comment), but it would seem to me the result has been a suspicion of ‘doctrinal’ preaching in the average PT type congregation.
And this, it seems to me, has a number of negative effects. For a start, it is very hard to put together doctrine yourself from the raw material of textual preaching. Secondly, we do not get to consider the merits or otherwise of doctrines