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Friday, 29 July 2016

That Was the Church, That Was


And so, after the rumours and rumours of rumours, the book that didn't get published last time gets published this time.

What to say? It's a light read. Hilarious in places, sobering throughout. It has some scathing comments about the structure of the Church of England, about its leaders, about hypocrisy. It puts its finger accurately on a lot of things. 

But I'm left wondering. In a book this slim there's no room to investigate some of the real complexities of Anglicanism - the distinction, for instance, between theological and  social conservatism. The (socially) liberal angle from which it comes implies that, if only the C of E had adopted women's ministry and been open to gay people and their ministry earlier. it might not be in the state it is today - but, social science being an oxymoron, we simply don't know that. There is no scientific control - no alternative England where things were very different. To use the Scandinavian Lutheran churches as a control begs the question - so how come the US Episcopalians are in such decline? Or is the lesson we should learn that we should introduce a church tax so that people who never actually go to church at least think they belong? (Answer: No.) It may have been the right thing to do (although social conservatives would think it was the wrong thing) but would it have stopped the Church of England losing the English people (the subtitle of the book) - I doubt it.

There was one particularly jarring moment for me where a flippant comment about David Watson's test comes across as very crass and unfair.

But overall? Well worth a read. Excellently written, in a journalistic style, by Linda Woodhead and Andrew Brown. Challenging to the "evangelicalism a success, liberalism a failure" narrative. Challenging to the Church of England structures - where a democratic structure is prevailed over by a self-appointing elite, and where the ghosts of old initiatives still haunt the organisational machinery.  

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