Saturday, 10 November 2012

(+)+Welby - post-Protestant evangelical?

By common consent, (+)+Justin Welby's thoughtful, confident performance at yesterday's Lambeth Palace press conference augurs well for the CofE.  Charles Moore at the Daily Telegraph interprets the appointment as a crowning moment for HTB-style evangelicalism.  And Fr. Tony Clavier on the Covenant site has cautiously raised concerns over this very style: "+Justin seems to be a devotee of subjective worship, the idea that worship must make us feel good and be a potent way to evangelize".

Tweeting from the press conference, however, the Times' Ruth Gledhill points us in a slightly different direction:

Clear from presser just now that the new Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby is more AngCath than evo.

It is, perhaps, something of an overstatement - but an overstatement that is more accurate than inaccurate.  Yesterday's statement expressed not merely an openness to other theological traditions but also a recognition of their ongoing formative influence:

Learning from other traditions than the one into which I came as a Christian has led me into the riches of Benedictine and Ignatian spirituality, the treasures of contemplative prayer and adoration, and confronted me with the rich and challenging social teaching of the Roman Catholic Church.

So perhaps not quite "more AngCath than evo", but certainly an evangelical Anglicanism (HTB, Alpha) that generously and willingly embraces the riches of the Great Tradition.  What we might then be seeing is an expression of what John Milbank has termed "the generalization of the Oxford Movement":

Protestantism has undergone a process of re-Catholicization which has come to a higher valuation of the sacramental ... One can this this re-Catholicization in diverse ways in Barth, in Bonhoeffer, in Tillich, in H. Richard Niebuhr, besides more obviously in most twentieth-century Anglican theologians.  One sees it in Scandinavian Lutheranism and one sees it overwhelmingly, and in a manner that goes well beyond Barth, in learned American Protestantism - amongst Lutherans, Baptists, Methodists, Nazarenes, Presbyterians, besides Episcopalians.  It has become normal in Protestant graduate schools to study Maximus the Confessor, (all of) Augustine, Bonaventure, Aquinas, Cusanus, and John of the Cross in a way that fifty years ago would have seemed extraordinary.

This appears to be something qualitatively different here from the theological style which gave us the last evangelical in Canterbury, George Carey.  Perhaps with Justin Welby we are seeing the first post-Protestant evangelical ABC.

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