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John Richard Orens: Stewart Headlam's Radical Anglicanism: The mass, the masses and the music hall. University of Illinois Press, 2003.
Reviewed by Kenneth Leech in the Church Times, 2 January 2004
THERE are many myths surrounding the Oxford Movement and its successor, Anglo-Catholicism. One is the myth that the Oxford Movement was radical from the start, and that we can speak in unambiguous terms of the 'social implications' of that movement. From time to time, there are calls to return to the original radicalism of ;the movement'.
John Griffin's small book on the Oxford Movement claimed that it was 'radical in its politics and its sociology'. But the evidence does not bear this out. Most Anglican Catholics remained socially conventional, and were no threat to the status quo. Many, from an early stage, were precious and even dainty. None of this is new.
However, in the 1870s, there was a fusion of early Oxford theology, Ritualism, and the Christian socialism of F. D. Maurice. The key figure in the fusion was Stewart Duckworth Headlam, the prophetic leader of the Guild of St Matthew, founded at St Matthew's, Bethnal Green, in June 1877.
I have a vivid memory of our centenary gathering there in 1977, addressed by John Orens, author of the present work and undoubtedly the world authority on Headlam, and Michael Ramsey; and of Ramsey's chatting, in the Carpenters Arms, with the aunt of the Kray twins, and Orens's giving a brilliant lecture on Headlam's significance for Bethnal Green. It is wonderful that this book, based on his doctoral work at Columbia in the 1970s, has finally been published.
This book is of immense importance. Since the biography by Bettany in 1926, there has been no serious assessment of Headlam, whom Ramsey, in 1977, rightly described as 'the most controversial clergyman of the late Victorian age'. As Orens says at the outset, there were few controversies in the Victorian period in which Headlam was not involved.
He campaigned for the common ownership of land, defended the ballet and the music hall (for which his licence was removed), stood bail for Oscar Wilde, and helped to develop education in London through his membership of the London School Board. On the golden jubilee of Queen Victoria, he proclaimed that 'the Queen's Jubilee is good, but the People's Jubilee is better.'
Orens, in this thorough, theologically astute, and entertaining study, brings out the importance of Headlam to our present debates. Headlam represented a particular strand within the 'Catholic movement' which was distinct from, and in conflict with, the mainstream.
To the horror of Canon Liddon, who believed that the sacramental world enabled us to ascend from the carnal world to the world of the 'supersensuous', Headlam proclaimed that there was a Real Presence of Christ in the sacrament, but also in the ballet, the music hall, and the pub.
Against the Oxford fathers' stress on 'reserve in communicating religious knowledge', Headlam stressed the importance of doubt, questioning and dispute. 'Question everything, take nothing for granted, prove, sift, test every opinion, however venerable, however cherished.'
He horrified the Ritualists by insisting that 'those who assist at Holy Communion are bound to be Holy Communists', and baffled the Bishop of London by using the Athanasian Creed to defend the ballet. When the Bishop asked him if he thought St Paul would attend a music hall, Headlam said he could not be sure, but he was sure that our Lord would do so, and would take his Blessed Mother with him.
Yet behind the eccentricity and outrageous desire to shock, there was a theological dynamic and focus that shaped the thought and the lives of many Christians less daring than Headlam himself. He pioneered a liberationist tradition within Catholic Anglicanism, a rebellious spirit within a conformist Church, and Orens's study shows that his story is highly relevant to our current crises.
This work ought to be widely read as the first serious intellectual biography of one who can rightly be seen as the father of 'sacramental socialism'.
The Revd Dr Kenneth Leech is Community Theologian at St Botolph's, Aldgate, in east London.
David Sheppard, Steps Along Hope Street: my life in cricket, the church and the inner city. Hodder and Stoughton 2002, ISBN 0 340 86116 9 £17.99
I read this book immediately after re-reading Stanley Evans's The Church in the Back Streets, published in 1962. Both Evans and Sheppard were appointed by Mervyn Stockwood to important positions in the Diocese of Southwark, yet there is a gulf between them in theology, politics and understanding. Evans, writing in 1962, says of Anglican clergy in the inner city areas: 'They can hardly be blamed that they became the executive officers of the Church Condescending'. His words summarise my reaction to this book.
The dreadful subtitle perhaps reveals more than chronology, though Sheppard's concerns did occur in that historical order. Yet there is a sense throughout the book that cricket does continue to have a powerful hold at quite a deep level, and that perhaps here lie both the strengths and the fatal weaknesses of his approach. The 'leadership' skills which he says he learned in part from cricket - the English tradition of 'fair play' and 'playing the game' and the public school focus on sport - are maybe more central to his attitudes than he realises.
The 22 chapters trace many of the important moments in the life of David Sheppard from his childhood and education at Sherborne School to his retirement. The author emerges as a kind, pastoral and deeply concerned person, an essentially good man, genuine, anxious to be fair to all. Of all this there can be little doubt. He is charming and essentially likeable.
And there is not only kindness but genuine love and affection. His deep love for his wife comes through on almost every page. There is a remarkably affectionate assessment of Mervyn Stockwood who appointed him Bishop of Woolwich, though, in their personal histories, theology and temperament, they were very different. His concern for 'the needs of those left behind both by the church and by comfortable Britain' is well known.
Yet this book is seriously unsatisfactory. There is, for example, the naivety and lack of self-perception which one has come to expect from those born into privilege. He was surprised to be asked to play for England. It was an 'unexpected shock' to be asked to be a bishop, and his life peerage was 'wholly unexpected'. Yet these were entirely predictable for a son of the establishment, albeit a critical one, but no threat to it.
Sheppard is not a writer, nor a reflective person, and the book abounds with cliches. Cambridge was 'a watershed', Canning Town (which he insists is in the East End, a view which no East Ender or Canning Town resident would accept), was 'the steepest of learning curves', the year 1968 had 'several steep learning curves', and Southwark -wait for it- was 'a steep learning curve'. Yet I wonder how much he has actually learned.
He wants to be kind to most people, especially those who are, like him, part of the establishment. So Michael Heseltine, Patrick Jenkin and even Margaret Thatcher (whose handwritten letter to him gets reproduced though it is devoid of content) are treated more kindly than Derek Hatton and Arthur Scargill. Could class have anything to do with this? Of course not, for Sheppard tells us that he understands the working class.
But how much does he understand? John Stott is quoted as saying that Sheppard is not much interested in theology, more in love. Well, yes, and love is theological. But there is a serious absence of both theological and political reflection in the book. He even admits to not understanding Harvey Cox, one of the simplest writers in current theology.
There is no political awareness. Several pages on the Militant Tendency tell us nothing about it. Neither Militant, Marxism, or Trotskyism appear in the index, only Derek Hatton. Sheppard simply does not understand the politics of the period. The omissions are staggering. The closure of the Birds' Eye plant in Kirkby, the role of John Moores (briefly mentioned) in creating the infrastructure of dissent within the voluntary sector in Liverpool, Eric Heffer (also mentioned in a few lines) and so many people who are mentioned but whose messages are ignored - and many who are not mentioned at all (like Norma Nelson who helped to write one of his books). (Incidentally the index is a mess, confusing Chris Smith, the government minister, with Canon Chris Smith of Sheffield Cathedral, but also being taken up with names of people, not with ideas -as the book is.)
Nor is there any self-criticism or self-scrutiny. There were devastating attacks on him from the right (The Kindness That Kills, a badly researched book, was carefully timed to coincide with his Dimbleby Lecture in 1984), while, earlier, Alistair Kee had made a serious critique of his book Built As A City. Neither appear in the book.
This book reflects the life of a kind, compassionate and conventional Christian, a child of the establishment, a fine example of the Anglican reformist tradition. Sheppard represents the best of that tradition. Fortunately the book also reveals its severe limitations and its final inadequacy.
What is central to the book is a total lack of understanding of class and of the author's own class position, There is a priceless quote on page 144 from that perceptive East London figure John Rowe about the centrality of class in English society. Sheppard has heard it, noted it, and quoted it, but he has not understood it. And that is the clue to the whole book.
REVIEWS OF SOME RECENT PUBLICATIONS -- March 2002
Richard Roberts, Religion, Theology and the Human Sciences,
Richard Roberts is one of the most passionate and most stimulating theologians in Britain, and it is good that he has brought together these collected lectures and papers, some of them going back a number of years, and much of the material owing its origin to the International Conference on Religion and the Resurgence of Capitalism at Lancaster in 1993 which Roberts organised. They suffer, as do all such collections, from the problem of repetition, but that is actually an advantage for it helps to clarify and reinforce the strength of the main argument. Roberts's key concern is with the 'postmodern condition', otherwise known as late capitalism, and its implications for religion.
The book begins with the important, but highly questionable, thesis of Francis Fukuyama, who argued for an 'end of history' a, period in which liberal capitalism became the end point of human evolution. (Roberts believes that there was a 'first postmodernity' in the shape of the Weimar Republic, and the figure of Oswald Spengler, author of The Decline of the West, an early day version of Fukuyama, haunts some of the pages.) Roberts fundamentally rejects the Fukuyama thesis. and is aware of its widespread effects, not least among those who have never heard his name. The 'end of history' thesis is in fact taken for granted in much of current western politics, and has led to widespread despondency and captivity.
Coming closer to home, Roberts argues that the 'true inheritance of Thatcherism' is the dominance, in secular, and what is left of 'church', society, of 'managerial neo-Fordist measures'. The core of the book in fact is an attack on managerialism, that relic of Thatcherism which has so seriously damaged and corrupted our society, including the churches, and English Anglicanism in particular. Roberts refers to it as 'the largely silent managerialist bureaucratisation of society' and 'the rapid and largely uncritical managerialisation of mainline established Christianity'.
He sees, particularly within the Church of England, the triumph of a managerial performance culture, concerned with religious product delivery. 'With characteristically Erastian impulse the Church of England would appear to have followed contemporary trends and to be involved in the process of managerialising its mission and identity.' The era of Archbishop Carey is rightly seen as one in which aspects of Thatcherism were implemented within the church 'precisely at the historic juncture when Thatcherism as a political creed faltered and lost its overall hegemony.' Perhaps that was the political point -a fact which needs to, but probably will not, be kept in mind in the appointment of the next state appointee.
Roberts, however, goes further. Mainstream religion has colluded with, and become, 'a religious market place in which instrumental spiritualities and religiosities compete to provide spiritual services for a de-traditionalised and insecure population.' He believes, and I am sure he is right, that most churches are, on the whole, quite unaware of the degree to which they have colluded with, and been taken over by, the ideology of secular postmodernity. But that too is well within the understanding of ideology in classical Marxism.
There is so much more in the book. It contains a brilliant, and deeply troubling, attack on recent government policies on higher education. One chapter, dedicated to Donald Mackinnon, will cause alarm to anyone left who is concerned with the future of the university. Roberts is very aware of the 'migration' of the sacred, and of the damaging influence of migratory spiritualities. He is sensitive to, but highly critical of, the new age influence which has become important in the corporate sector.
Members of the Jubilee Group and others will be pleased that his Jubilee Christ the King Lecture of 2001 appears here as Chapter Six, a critique of 'the care of souls in a managerial church'. Needless to say, he believes -as I do- that the current managerialism seriously threatens, and could destroy, that tradition of radical and courageous pastoral care which has been characteristic of historic Anglicanism at its best.
I finished this book with a sense of anguish and near despair. The critique is so much on target. and the managerial executive-led church which has emerged from the residue of Thatcherism will be so oblivious of its penetrating perception. Yet Roberts is a hopeful critic. The book is in fact, as the author describes it, 'a critique balanced with a sense of hope'. My worry is that the Church of England, in the state it is now in, will not have the faintest idea what he is talking about.
-- This review appeared in the Church Times on 15th March 2002
Raymond Plant, Politics, Theology, and History.
It is wide ranging and the author has read widely, but at times the result of this is a confused narrative, overloaded with material and losing its sense of direction. Early on he discusses Hebrew prophecy and what he takes to be the prophets' appeal to a universal natural law. He sees that a central problem is that of the link between the universal and the particular, and devotes some space to the idea of a 'theology of history', referring to (but not devoting too much attention to) the work of Wolfhart Pannenberg and John Cobb. There is extensive discussion of Augustine, Calvin and Hegel. while later chapters reflect on social justice, freedom, the common good, human rights, human dignity and 'responsibility'. He is critical of the neo-liberal neglect of the moral dimension of markets. There is some engagement with the critique of liberalism in the thinking of the late V A Demant and in the current work of Stanley Hauerwas.
At the end of the discussion he concludes that the idea of a theology of history is a difficult one to sustain in today's world, indeed that the whole idea is 'deeply problematical'. Equally he sees political theology as a difficult concept, and believes that there can be no wholly definitive or authoritative political theology or praxis. Yet he is, like most liberal Christians, an 'implicationist', and the term 'implications' appears several times on the first page of the preface. The lack of a clear political theology, he assures us later, 'does not mean that Christianity lacks any kind of social and political implications'.
Plant is keen to find a form of liberalism which incorporates ideas of community on the lines discussed by Will Kymlicka on whose work he draws. His style is very hesitant, but he becomes more hopeful on the final pages where he expresses the hope that 'a common moral word' can be built up from different narratives . We should not give up on this, he argues, and it would create space for common projects. It involves dialogue and involvement, but depends on willingness to cross boundaries. 'A common world of value can only be achieved, if indeed it can at all, by dialogue and deliberation'. As the book ends, he speaks of 'a common world of meaning and dialogue' and claims that the possibility of such a dialogue is not hopeless, and indeed is 'a central human imperative'.
There are some weaknesses. Apart from a reference to the Eucharist there is little about the politics of the church itself. He presents an oversimplified view of the biblical idea of prophecy, His treatment of 'natural law' also needs some examination, while his contrast between Walzer, MacIntyre and Hauerwas, on the one hand, and Wogaman and the Roman Catholic bishops, on the other, is probably too sharp. He recommends, in supposed contrast to Hauerwas, an approach to politics 'which could also involve non- Christians', a contrast which would amaze Hauerwas. It is certainly true that the critics of liberalism and those who seek to develop Christian social and political thought within the framework of liberalism (as Plant himself does) offer 'quite different approaches to the nature of political theology'. There has been an immense diversity in the understanding of political theology since the term was first used by Carl Schmitt (who helped prepare the way for the Nazi state) -a figure who, interestingly, does not appear in Plant's discussion. But to suggest that those who follow the anti-liberal stance are therefore led into a sectarian and inward-looking polis from which alliances with non-Christians are excluded is not correct.
I was intrigued by the cover which is a painting of St Ambrose banning the Emperor Theodosius from Milan Cathedral. Both Emperor and Saint appear once in the index but on different pages and in a different context. But the Constantinian tradition which Theodosius helped to develop is over, and no bishop today could act as Ambrose did. Is Plant trying to tell us something through the cover which is not quite stated in the book?
-- This review has appeared in the Church Times, 15th March 2002
John Atherton, Public Theology for Changing Times,
Theology in the present and the future, he argues, must be transnational. So he calls for 'large theologies', 'public theologies of global proportions' (p viii.) So much for postmodernist ideas of the collapse of grand narratives. Yet his approach has no similarity to writers such as John Milbank who would make a similar claim. Throughout there is an attack on utopianism and nostalgia. He urges 'a significant change of direction for Christian social thought' (p 124), but what this amounts to seems to be an acceptance of the 'social market', an idea whose precise hour has not so obviously come as he seems to think. He claims that the churches are too hostile to markets and to capitalism. I must say I hadn't noticed it, but, if it were correct, it is at least possible that they might have a case. In fact, isn't the social market ideology more or less where the churches already are? Atherton's pragmatism may be too limited, too unimaginative, and too Eurocentric. Theologically, it is also lacking in vision. Thus he tells us that 'in the end, the Church, as it is, is all we have' (p 22, my italics). 'As it is'? What a depressing conclusion! There are some other weaknesses. Chapter Two, for example, is better on social and economic issues than on cultural shifts, migration, or philosophical issues. In the discussion of globalization, there is no attention to migration, migrant workers or asylum seekers. Immigration and race are not even in the index, and the references to black Christians and other faiths are brief.
There are some sweeping claims . He divides Christian social thought into phases, dominated by atonement, incarnation and reconciliation, in a way which historians will find simplistic. They will also wonder if the claim that the New Testament story most used by 'incarnationalists' is that of the Good Samaritan (p 82). But Atherton himself is an 'incarnationalist'. He sees 'the principle of incarnation' as more important than any other theological belief (p 13). Well, both William Temple and Michael Ramsey also stressed the principle of incarnation, but they also saw the weakness of incarnation without redemption. Atherton, after an account of incarnational theology, culminating in William Temple, tells us: 'And there you have it, the age of incarnation and state' (p 82). There is no hint of guild socialism, anarchism, the distributist critique of the strong state, or the Christendom Group's persistent attack on statism. The complex saga described in David Nicholls's Deity and Domination is not taken into account, nor are Temple and Ramsey's warnings of the problems in the Anglican incarnational tradition.
Atherton is in fact very Anglican indeed, even to the point of resurrecting the Caroline term 'practical divinity'. He claims to have moved beyond his earlier position, one which he terms 'social Christianity' and 'mainstream liberal' (p 13), yet he cites as an example of his earlier position a work published in 1994. So his position seems to have changed, not since the 1960s, as he suggests at one point, but simply over the past six years. This seems odd.
It is not clear how he thinks that the church, as a minority, can in fact act in a public way. What can discipleship mean when it is preceded by words like 'national' and 'international'? To say that 'the politics of discipleship are restored to their God-given place in the divine and human order' (p 123) sounds wonderful, but what does it mean in practical terms? Who are these disciples? Are they always conscious of this role?
Perhaps the clue to my unease lies in one word: 'about'. Throughout the book there is a recurring use of the phrase 'it is about...' It is the word 'about' which symbolises the vagueness in this, still immensely valuable, book. It ends by claiming that the Christian and human task is 'about being truly global in our thinking...about partnership and reconciliation; it is about a public theology; it is about a practical divinity...about changing theology and society' (p 156, my italics). We could do with more precision and more detail as to how the 'aboutness' is made concrete.
Finally, there are some factual errors and oddities. Thus Boyd Hilton gets a hyphen (p 73), and it is strange to find Charles Murray listed in a paragraph on Christian social thinkers alongside John Bennett and J P Wogaman (p 79).
-- This review has appeared in Crucible.
Victor Stock, Taking Stock: confessions of a city priest,
I felt much the same as I did many years ago when I read a book by my former colleague John Hester entitled Soho Is My Parish: - that it should have been called 'Famous People I Have Met'. There is so much name dropping, so much of the high and mighty -the Queen Mother, Edward Heath, John Mortimer, ad nauseam. It does get sickening. And eventually the triviality and superficiality takes over. So, on one of the few occasions when theology crops up, on page 334, we find that he went to dinner -a frequent occurrence in the City apparently- but on this occasion he was at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, where he met a 'pretty don' called 'Catherine Pixstone'. She was, he says, 'a Radical Theologian, the latest thing much favoured by the Bishop of London.' One might have hoped that he would have got her name right -Catherine Pickstock- and the name of the stream of thought she reflects right -Radical Orthodoxy - but no. Then he says, as if he is proud of it, 'I don't even know what it means yet.' Milbank, Pickstock and Radical Orthodoxy have had considerable publicity in recent years, including in the secular press, even Time magazine, and numerous articles and books about it have appeared. Perhaps, if he had gone to fewer city dinners and read a bit more theology, he would have known what it was.
-- KENNETH LEECH
Humanitas is a new twice yearly journal of the George Bell Institute, £15 pa, payable to George Bell Institute, Dr Andrew Chandler, Queen's College, Somerset Road, Birmingham B15 2QH The journal is described as one of 'new thought, scholarship and creative writing from around the world.'
Mission on the MarginsMary Beasley; foreword by Kenneth Leech. The Lutterworth Press, P.O. Box 60, Cambridge CH1 2NT,
Run-down inner city areas are not usually seen as places for spiritual renewal and encounters with God; rather they are viewed as places where people are to be found whom the rest of society might wish to avoid. Yet in symbolism and mythology, places of marginal habitation such as the desert and the jungle contrast with settled human habitations and are places of mystery and encounter with the supernatural. Could the same be true of the 'urban jungle'?
This book confronts the whole question of marginality and brings a new understanding to the concept. It examines the affinity between those who are alienated from the mainstream of society, and those who seek to follow Christ's example of solidarity with those whom society has rejected.
Moving outside the structures of society and offering a critique of the mores of this world is seen as fundamental to the vitality of the church. As the ancient desert was the place for stripping away false realities in order to meet God so the urban jungle can be a place where Christians can rediscover the vitality of the early church. -- from the publisher's notes.
Reconstructing Christian Ethics; Selected WritingsF. D. Maurice. Edited by Ellen K. Wondra. Louisville, Kentucky, Westminster John Knox Press.
One of the major British theologians and ethicists of the nineteenth century, F. D. Maurice was a forerunner of the contemporary ecumenical movement. His writings and work were an articulation of his theology, which emphasizes the inclusiveness of Christianity despite ideological divisions within the Christian community. Maurice proposed a primary unifying principle, based on the dynamic love of God for humankind in all its diversity, that would bring the various Christian traditions into a catholic whole. This volume brings to readers a selection of Maurice's moral writings based on his theological worldview. It is the only anthology of his ethical writings currently available. -- from the publisher's notes.
RECENT WRITING ON THEOLOGY AND POLITICS
There has been a good deal of new writing on this area. One of the least interesting and least helpful books is David Rogers, Politics, Prayer and Parliament, Continuum 2000. ISBN 0 8264 5156 X, a book which shows the narrowness of the concept of the political which is still a problem for many people. Described on the blurb on the back cover as written in 'a lively and personal style', the book is depressingly trivial. Rogers was apparently a political advisor to William Whitelaw and John Major, and the book is commended by Major and the TV presenter Pam Rhodes. Its approach is naive and clich-driven. We are told that 'all political parties...are united in their aim to achieve what they consider to be the common good' (p 20). On the church we are told that 'the church has to win hearts and minds, but it doesn't have to win elections' (p 20). And so it goes on. The style is superficial and there is an excessive use of exclamation marks and of quotations.It is surprsing, but perhaps typical of the age, that it had some good reviews.
Far more thoughtful, if somewhat turgid and heavy, is Raymond Plant, Politics, Theology, and History. Cambridge University Press 2001, £15 95. Plant, now a Labour peer, is an astute political thinker and has played a role in church debates on social policy. His book is an attempt to work out a framework of Christian socio-political praxis within the parameters of a commitment to liberalism. He sees political theology as a difficult concept, and believes that there is no wholly definitive or authoritative political theology or praxis. Yet 'this does not mean that Christianity lacks any kind of social and political implications' (p 299). Plant is keen to find a form of liberalism which incorporates ideas of community on the lines discussed by Will Kymlicka on whose work he draws. His style is very hesitant, but he becomes more hopeful on the final pages where he expresses the hope that 'a common moral word' can be built up from different narratives (p 358). We should not give up on this, he argues, and it would create space for common projects. It involves dialogue and involvement, but depends on willingness to cross boundaries. 'A common world of value can only be achieved, if indeed it can at all, by dialogue and deliberation' (p 358). As the book ends, he speaks of 'a common world of meaning and dialogue' and claims that the possibility of such a dialogue is not hopeless, and indeed is 'a central human imperative' (p 359). .
Diversity and the Church
How can churches minister to people in cities where there is great diversity of cultures, lifestyles and beliefs? What does this suggest about the mission of the Church? Two practical contributions to the discussion, both by Anglican priests in South London, though different in focus and style, are reviewed below.
The Church of Many Colours, Ivor Smith-Cameron, All Saints Church, London, 1998 (available from author on 020 7622 3809)
This collection of sermons and talks looks at some of the concrete ways in which Christians can live out their faith and proclaim the Kingdom in urban areas. The rich potential of a multiracial and multi-faith society, and challenge of injustice and alienation, are vividly conveyed. A model of urban mission is proposed which takes people's own experiences - including sexuality - seriously, and suggestions made on how church members can be supported in living out their faith in secular settings. The style is lively and readable, though some ideas and themes are repeated.
Unheard Voices, Jeffrey Heskins, Darton, Longman and Todd, London, 2001
The blessing of same-sex couples is one of the most hotly debated issues in the Anglican Communion worldwide. This is a study of a parish where such blessings have been taking place for over twenty years. A cross-section of the congregation were interviewed, including those who had worshipped at the church for different lengths of time, minority ethnic and younger members, as well as some of the couples who had been blessed. People's understandings of the meaning of partnership and the nature of the Church are examined. It is argued that Christian communities can stay in fellowship despite differences of opinion, and play a part in healing a deeply divided world.
Both books are a timely reminder that churches do not have to choose between being closed circles of pious and like-minded people and marketing slick, simplistic versions of Christianity which downplay the presence and work of God in the world. They could be useful to local Christian communities in prompting them to reflect, and build, on their experiences and ideas, and share these with their neighbours and the wider Church.
An Introduction to Christian Ministry: following your vocation in the Church of England, by Gordon Kuhrt, Church House Publishing 2000, pp 128, £6.95.
This is a most inadequate book, written from a narrow and insular evangelical / managerial perspective, one which seems particularly dominant at present within English Anglicanism. It seems to be addressed to potential ordinands -- those who, in the author's curious phrase -- perhaps derived from ministry in farming communities? -- will be 'set aside and recognised in some special way' (p 47, my italics). As an invitation to ministry in the Church of England -- not to mention the Anglican communion (which is hardly mentioned) or even the Catholic world of which Anglicanism claims to be part -- it is deeply disappointing.
That would not matter too much -- the western Christian world abounds in superficial publications -- but for the fact that the book has been given a semi-official status, with a launch at Church House Bookshop. It looks as if the relevant bureaucracy in Church House see it as a definitive work on ordination in the Church of England for the coming years. For this reason, though for no other, it is important to take it seriously. I will therefore comment on its style, its theology, and its omissions.
The style is that of another age, perhaps the 1950s. As a piece of writing, it is dull and uninspiring. Its tone is simplistic, patronising and lacking in any kind of self-criticism, or any attempt to grapple with the major theological, political, social or cultural issues which confront us in ministry in the contemporary world. While there are frequent scriptural references, there is no serious exegesis, rather quotation, repetition and paraphrase. The work is pedestrian, lacking in excitement, energy and vision.
Critical intelligence too is entirely absent. The author simply proclaims, assures and reassures. This is the confident -- and unconvincing -- schoolmaster talking down to the slightly dim pupils. Chapter Six, for example, is on women's ministry. Here the author seems to adopt a bureaucratic liberal line. The reader is not engaged as an agent or participant in the debate: s/he simply receives from the one who knows. So he tells us that the scandal of the First Century was that of 'women abusing their freedom, throwing their weight about' (p 76). However, that is not a problem now, the male guru assures us. The longest quotation in the book is the Declaration of Assent (p 87). The book is littered with silly and superficial 'jokes', stories, and rather childish 'asides' such as the comment on clergy selection that the selectors have 'only the laity to choose from' (p 14).
The theology is very weak. Take, for example, the attitude to 'the laity'. We are told (p 7) that, in looking at the word laity 'we can be plunged into confusion'. Indeed we can, and are. There is no attempt to deal with the extent of the confusion, indeed no apparent awareness of the seriousness of the problem. On p 79 we are told that 'the Church needs to mobilise lay people'. Some of us were sufficiently old-fashioned (and orthodox!) to think that the Church was lay people. But this book is very much a clerical one. We are told that 'it is widely agreed today that baptism is the 'ordination of the laity' (p 15) Agreed by whom, except some clerics with a weak sacramental theology? It would be more correct to say that baptism is the primal sacrament without which ordination makes no sense.
Or take the formidable issues around theological education. We are told that there is 'widespread discontent' with the title 'non-stipendiary ministry', and that questions are 'still raised about non-residential training' (p 60). But there is no hint that there might have been discontent for years about such matters as the appointment of bishops, the class structure of the clergy, or of the church itself, the theological colleges, or the ideology of ministerial selection (with which the author is apparently involved).
But the omissions are the most serious aspect. The nature of the people of God, the diaconal ministry, priesthood, sacraments -- almost all the things that matter in ministry -- receive little or no attention. Nor is there any attention to prayer -- so central in Michael Ramsey's book The Christian Priest Today, to which the author refers, and which has, mercifully, been recently reprinted. Ramsey's book, for many years the best-known and most valued 'introduction to Christian ministry' within Anglicanism, is so deeper, so theologically and spiritually richer, and so much more exciting than the present work, that even to compare the two is an insult to Ramsey's memory. Ramsey's whole understanding of priesthood was steeped in prayer. 'Prayer' does not even appear in the index of Kuhrt's book, and is dealt with briefly on p 97 in a section about 'dangers'. The whole area of sacramental theology is missing from the book. The statement 'Baptism is a ceremony' is as close as we get. (Infant baptism, with all its problems, is dealt with in five lines on p 19.) The Eucharist, that sacrament which is at the very heart of priestly identity, gets little attention, while recent thought about the sacraments of reconciliation or anointing receives no attention whatever. It is striking that in the cover pictures of ministerial hands in various positions, the conspicuous absentee is any picture of hands holding bread and wine. And, at a time when the diaconate is a major pastoral issue in the west, it is sad that there is no treatment of the vocational diaconate (p 10).
Equally serious is the fact that there is no sense that ministry occurs in a context. The world is totally missing. The book could have been written in the last century, and in any place, even on the moon. Apart from the statement that 'the multi-cultural dimensions of society seem to grow ever more complex' (p 47) -- added as a phrase with no logical context -- the whole areas of race, culture, and ethnicity, are ignored. So is sexuality, except as an area of 'grave dangers'! (p 101). The document Issues in Human Sexuality is mentioned but only in order to reassure us that all is well (p 31).
To say that this is not good enough for the Church of England in the 21st Century is itself not good enough. It is disgraceful that, at the dawn of a new century, the Church should produce such a poor piece of work as an invitation to ministry.
-- Kenneth Leech
This review was commissioned by, and written for, the excellent journal Crucible, published by the General Synod Board for Social Responsibility. However, after reading it, the Editorial Board decided that, in view of the current climate in Church House, they were not able to publish it. It would be interesting if people could write to Philip Mawer, Secretary General of the General Synod, Church House, Great Smith Street, London SW1P 3NZ -- or phone him on 020 7898 1360 -- and ask him if he has any idea why this may have happened. The Jubilee Group would be happy to publish and circulate the replies. Please feel free to copy, circulate and redistribute this review widely and indiscriminately, and reprint it in any journals with which you are involved.