I was very concerned to read the Reverend Angela Tilby’s contribution in the Church Times earlier today, espousing her disapproval of the Thy Kingdom Come initiative instigated by the Archbishop of Canterbury.
The summary of her article concludes that the Church of England is being taken over by Evangelicalism, and that Evangelicalism is characterised by “[a]… mixture of innocence and gullibility which characterises its appeal.”. For Tilby, those in distress are “…patronised by the saved and the certain”, referring to Evangelicals and that Evangelicalism itself is interested in creating disciples who are “infantilised by a faux inclusivity that has them playing with tea lights and cutting out little paper flames, while they are jollied along to find Jesus over (excellent) coffee.”
What an odious and uncharitable definition of Evangelicalism she purports.
It is true that there are caricatures of this type of churchmanship present within the Church, but on the whole, I don’t know with what authority the Canon Emeritus speaks, considering that a good proportion of church growth coming from the Evangelical fold is evidently seen within the Church of England. One only has to look not just at the number of HTB plants and re-plants into old congregations, but also at the number of people finding their calling to ordained ministry through the HTB network. That’s just one of many examples, and it would indicate to me that it isn’t infantilising at all. In fact, infantilisation is not dependent on churchmanship whatsoever; I have written extensively about this.
But another problem with Tilby’s criticism is that she hints at the idea that Christianity can be something else other than finding relationship with Jesus Christ. There is no Christianity without this relationship – it is dead religion. Many may find it helpful to have “…privacy and the slow nurturing of the person through unconsciously memorised texts and gentle counsel”, but without that knowledge, love and following of the Truth that will indeed set one free, God as revealed in Jesus Christ, then, quite frankly, what’s the point? I can find such rituals in the self-help section at Waterstones.
For too long, Anglicanism has been hindered and arrested by the lie that faith is a quiet, private entity that we don’t talk about. That is certainly not the gospel – no matter which faction you belong to within the Church. This is not about churchmanship; this is about the core tenets of faith being abandoned and undermined. Indeed, one of the lectionary readings this weekend coming is the retelling of the conversion of the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts 8:26-40. “Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. ” The Ethiopian comes to faith and is baptised as a result of being taught the scriptures (and I dare say it was a long discussion based on what he was reading). But note the “evangelical” language. This is the language of scripture.
The reason Thy Kingdom Come is gaining so much momentum is not because of clever marketing. It’s because people with conviction of faith can get behind the principle of praying for a broken world to be restored in the love of Jesus Christ.
It seems to me that we return, once again, to the situation whereby those who have presided over church decline find themselves disgruntled that something new, outspoken and explicit is making a positive change in the Church. We can’t have hundreds of thousands coming together to worship and pray for our nation to be changed by the person of Christ, can we?