Carl Laferton, senior editor at the Good Book Company has written a piece for the Gospel Coalition on the newly announced Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby. In it he uses the metaphor of a rusty car, warning his readership that any denomination might fall to the rust which has slowed the Anglican Church to what it has become. The C of E is an institution and Welby, rather than leading a vibrant church will be bogged down in leading an institution. There is lots of truth in his article, but it is appropriate to question some assertion he makes without defending them or sourcing his opinion.
What has caused the rust? The easy answer: the church lost the gospel. Waves of pragmatism, liberalism, and “Anglo-Catholicism” (a blend of Roman Catholicism and Anglicanism) have swept through the church, leaving wreckage in their wake.
But the actual cause is slightly more subtle. Anglicans still talk about the gospel, a lot. And mission. And even about being evangelical—the new archbishop self-identifies as an evangelical, though he certainly wouldn’t recognize the definition of the term Don Carson and Tim Keller give in TGC’s Gospel-Centered Ministry booklet.
What stunned me is that he says the new Archbishop self identifies as Evangelical but actually really isn’t evangelical if we are to use a trusted-yard stick. But how does he know this? Has he talked to Welby? Even if he has, or knows people who have, to what extent is it appropriate to put the assertion in an article without really going into detail?
In the following paragraphs he does not justify why Welby particularly would not recognise how Keller and Carson define evangelical. Rather he focuses on the fact that there are disparate understandings of what “the gospel” means in the Church of England.
Once the biblical gospel is no longer a church’s raison d’etre, it looks for another one. And almost always the reason becomes the church itself. Sadly, it is unlikely that Archbishop Welby’s time will be spent renewing the vision of the church, or plotting the evangelization of a nation. It will be spent managing an institution in (probably terminal) decline.
The irony here is that any leader of any organisation will at some level have to deal with the dual problems of evangelism ir church vision and also running an institution.
Laferton rightly says that the problems of the Church of England could happen to other denominations. In arguing for holding to the truth rather than seeking unity, he uplifts the Gospel Coalition as an example where the Gospel, rather than the Coalition is the guiding principle. And he is right, again to the extent that he appreciates that there are primary and secondary issues that define what “the gospel” and what staying in the Church of England might mean. It might be the old chestnut of women’s ordination, but as others have pointed out (and I am sorry I cannot remember who and where) the Gospel Coalition seems not to worry too much about issues that in the past caused great strife between denominations, such as infant baptism, which does not seem to divide the folk behind the Gospel Coalition. So far I have not heard why that issue isn’t a primary one, and why, lets say women’s ordination (what ever the form may take) is.
In conclusion Laferton could have written his piece without engaging in possible gossip, in relation to Welby and the piece would have been strong. He could have stopped short of using the analogy between the C of E and the Gospel Coalition, and focused on what is pertinent in his piece, namely how other denominations can steer away from watering down truth. As it currently stands, his article fears from the truth in at least these two areas. And editor for the good book company should perhaps know better.
Sole Deo Gloria.