I've been hearing a lot recently about the "Evangelical Wing of the Church".
What with discussions about women as bishops in the C of E, sexuality, the Alpha Course and what have you; everyone's talking about the Evangelical Wing, of course. They're the ones who handle snakes, or make women wear berets. They're the ones who not only believe in Adam as a real historic person but claim to have Methuselah's mobile number. The men wear chinos and smug expressions, and the women look after their seven kids each and are terrifying in their devotion to being submissive. They keep people out of Church posts by the power of their monetary contributions, and teach Creationism in schools.
But is that the way it is? Are they really organised like the Brompton Taliban, ready to take over the world - or Surrey, at any rate - with their Alpha Courses and sweaters?
The problem with talking about an "Evangelical Wing" is it presupposes that they are an organised, coherent group. Whereas the English evangelicals, scattered as they are across a dozen denominations and a myriad of independent and federated churches as they are, couldn't organise a good night out in a brewery. Not least as they wouldn't be able to agree whether a brewery was really the right place for any kind of function.
Michael Saward in his book "Evangelicals on the Move" summarised the traits that identify Evangelicals as:
1) A belief in a conversion ("born again") experience
3) The centrality of the Cross in salvation
4) Something about the Bible
(I haven't actually got the book to to hand, to be honest. But it's roughly right).
And none of these, when all is said and done, directly translate into "believe in a 6-day Creation", or "oppress anybody who is not like us."
Evangelicals are, after all, a broad church - or a broad part of the Church. And Evangelicals have done good stuff. Evangelicals campaigned to end the slave trade.Evangelical ministers are unlikely, on the whole, to be careerist in Church matters - being more concerned for the care of their flocks and their local communities. John Stott was an Evangelical. Evangelicals write great hymns. They produce the best preachers. They take the Bible seriously. They stand for something more than accommodation with the prevailing culture. They believe God can act. They are, on the whole, a good thing.
I like Evangelicals.
Just thought I'd say it.