The Rusty Anglican Auto: A Lesson for Every Denomination

You’re driving along one day, when you overtake a car in the same model and make as yours. But it’s moving slowly. The engine is coughing. Black smoke is pouring out of the muffler, and it’s covered in rust. What do you do?

You might feel grateful that your car can still accelerate. You may wonder how that other car was allowed to get into such a state.

But when you get home, you check your own wheel arches for the smallest sign of rust.

A rusty car is a pretty negative analogy to use for a church denomination that numbers more than a million worshipers. But when it comes to the Church of England, it’s perhaps a fair one. Declining numbers, massive money problems, increasingly marginalized, and tearing itself apart over the issues of homosexuality and women bishops.

Today marks the appointment of a new archbishop of Canterbury, who will lead both the Church of England, and also the 80-million-member worldwide Anglican communion (including The Episcopal Church in the United States).

And so today seems a good day to ask: What will Archbishop Justin Welby’s church be like? And, for those of us who aren’t Anglicans, what can our own churches learn from his?

Rusty Car

There’s no doubt that the Church of England is, well, rusty. But it still moves. Many godly, Bible-teaching pastors and congregations sit in this car. But for years, centuries in fact, they’ve been passengers, not drivers. Evangelicals have struggled to grasp the reins of power, or to at least significantly influence the decision-making processes of the denomination. It’s come a long way from the 16th century, when Archbishop Thomas Cranmer’s prayer book established the Church of England as a Protestant church with a gospel heart and a missional outlook.

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.

The denomination never lost the words. But it lost the biblical content. In order to keep unity among people who differ over essentials, Anglicanism has increasingly emptied key concepts of their content. So you can sit in a room with 10 Anglican ministers and talk for half an hour about “the gospel” without ever defining the term and always knowing there are probably ten (or eleven!) different views.

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 key concern is financial. The Church of England owns more than 12,000 buildings—many of them dating back over 500 years. Each has the capacity to seat hundreds, but now have congregations of a dozen, who can sustain neither the building nor a pastor. It is facing huge pension liabilities for retired clergy. It has an enormous, top-heavy bureaucracy. So the new archbishop’s experience in business—he was in the oil trade for more than a decade—will serve him well. He will be the manager of an institution, keeping the rusty car chugging along the road.

How’s Your Car?

Anglican evangelicals will go on doing what they’ve done for years. They’ll preach the gospel, hold fast to Scripture, and do their best to ignore the hierarchy. Some will leave. Many more will stay. We should pray for them. The Anglican Church is, historically, their church. They are seeking to witness not just to a lost world, but to an increasingly lost denomination. That requires God-given wisdom, patience, and love.

Non-Anglican evangelicals in the UK and the United States might respond a little differently. We might look at our own wheel-arches to check for rust, and ask how we can prevent our own denominations from corroding and sliding slowly to a halt like this one. What lessons can the Anglican experience teach the rest of us? Here are three suggestions:

1. Don’t assume the gospel, and don’t stop showing that it’s the biblical gospel.

It’s easy to think, among evangelical brothers, that we all know the gospel. Even when we talk about not assuming it, we often assume that we all know what it is we shouldn’t assume! Or we talk about it, describe it, explain and love it, but though there’s a Bible in our hand, it isn’t open. Though there are Bibles on people’s laps, they’re not being pointed to look at it.

Assuming the gospel leads to losing the gospel. One generation loves the gospel; the next assumes it; the third doesn’t know it, but thinks it does; the fourth leaves the church.

2. Don’t prize unity over truth. 

It’s easy to be overly divisive, to split off from a denomination because we disagree over secondary matters (or because we disagree over what the secondary matters are). Presumably, the apostle Paul would have been horrified by our casual attitude to the existence of multiple Bible-believing denominations.

But there’s an equal and opposite error, too, that Anglicanism teaches us. Unity has been prized above truth. Keeping the car on the road has been all that’s mattered. The biblical gospel gets thrown out in order to keep the church together. But real unity, as the regular crises within Anglicanism show, can only ever be in the truth. Put another way, what matters in The Gospel Coalition is the Gospel, not the Coalition. If ever the Gospel is downplayed to preserve Coalition, the show is over.

3. Remember that times change, and churches must change with them. 

Many aspects of the Anglican church have been wonderful motors for real mission. Which denomination wouldn’t love to have a church in every single town and village where people look for guidance and consolation in times of trouble? That’s what the Church of England’s parish system has provided. But it’s stopped being a benefit, and become an albatross. Evangelical church plants have been opposed . . . because they cross parish boundaries. Empty churches cannot be closed . . . because it’s the parish church.

Cranmer gave the English the Book of Common Prayer—biblical, relevant worship in their own language. That was 500 years ago, but many Anglican churches still use it, dotting around the pages at dizzying speed and reciting antiquated language most people no longer understand, let alone use. Healthy churches don’t hold fast to what used to work; to how we used to be; but instead hold a Bible in one hand, a newspaper in the other, and work out how to show and communicate the eternal gospel in this particular time and space.

New Cars

If your denomination can still accelerate, can change direction as necessary, and has godly leaders who are passionate about the biblical gospel in the driving seat, give great thanks to God for his mercy. And pray to God for your brothers and sisters who sit in rustier cars. After all, God can restore rusty panels, and build new cars out of old ones.

And just for a moment, why not check your own wheel arches. Are you in danger of assuming the gospel? Or of preaching the gospel but not clearly from the Scriptures? Are you beginning to prize institutional unity over truth? Looking back over your shoulder to a distant decade instead of out at the harvest field the Lord has given you?

It’s worth remembering: if ignored, rust spreads fast.

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  • Josiah

    A couple questions:
    1. You imply that Bishop Welby’s self-identification of an evangelical is in some way false, or at least he is not an evangelical the way that most of the readers of this site would define themselves as evangelicals. Could you please flesh that out a little bit? What specific evidence is there that he is not an evangelical the way that Keller and Carson define it?
    2. You say that Anglicanism lost the Gospel. It seems to me that to lose the Gospel is to commit apostasy. Are you really prepared to say that about Anglicanism as a whole? Of course, Anglicanism is divided and troubled. There are bishops and ministers, even, who shamefully deny the Gospel. But the denomination as a whole?

    • Alan Wilson

      Just want to reiterate part 1 of Josiah’s question: can you clarify the evidence that the new ABC would not recognise the evangelicalism defined by TGC?

  • Stephen

    There is an incredible amount of generalizing that’s going on in the above article. Not only have you unfairly glossed over the centuries old Evangelical and Anglo-Catholic movements, but you fail to define your terms in relation to the Gospel and just how, exactly, Justin Welby’s definition may differ. Moreover, you are completely incorrect in stating that the Evangelical movement in the Anglican Church has failed to secure “significant influence.” All one would have to do is to look back over the 18th and 19th centuries to see the influence of John Wesley, John Venn, founder of The Clapham Sect, William Wilberforce, and Charles Simeon to see that these men and organizations significantly influenced the Church as well as public society!

    I suppose that what frustrates me more than anything is that this article has fallen prey to those “us / them” or “righteous / unrighteous” categories that so oftentimes typify non-Traditional evangelicals. We forget Jesus’ words to the disciples in Mark 9:38-41 – “For he who is not against us is for us.” In this passage, the disciples are referring to people in “rusty cars” that are casting out demons. The Gospel Coalition cries out to Jesus pointing their fingers at those poorly running cars… What does the Saviour say?

    • Sean

      I can see where you are going with this… and it can be said of many other denominations as well. If the above comments would just do a little looking around, they would see that much of what is said in the article is correct… maybe general, but correct.
      There is one Anglican Bishop from the 19th century I have greatly benefited from as a Baptist pastor… JC Ryle!

      • Alan Wilson

        Sorry – but I stand by my point (as one of “the above comments): I don’t know Justin Welby, he claims to be an evangelical: why should I have to go looking around to prove whether or not he is what he claims to be. Burden of proof is on the writer of the article. (From a former fellow Baptist pastor).

  • carl laferton

    Hello, Thanks for the comments, and for helping me to be sharper. I accept there are several generalizations in the article -I was trying to keep it fairly concise. But I am grateful for the gentle prod about not defining the gospel (particularly in an article which pointed out the importance of not assuming the gospel). So here’s my nutshell definition: the gospel is the announcement that Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God, lived perfectly as a man, died for sins on the cross, rose to defeat death, and will return to judge, and rule His people eternally. I am not for a moment suggesting Archbishop Welby doesn’t believe the gospel. I would never presume to. I am suggesting that he may have a broader view of what an evangelical is than TGC, on whose blog I was writing. For example –he fully supports women bishops, and he said today that he needs to prayerfully reconsider his views on homosexuality. Since those are the two areas British Anglican (and American Episcopalian) evangelicals have been facing challenge and even at times rejection and hostility from fellow clergy, I would tentatively conclude that he isn’t an evangelical as TGC define it. I hope I am proved to be totally wrong. My article was not intended to be an attack on Archbishop Welby. It was a comment on the state of the Anglican Church. In the main, I think the Anglican church in England has forgotten the gospel –though, because of the way it is constituted, individual Anglican churches (and even dioceses) are still able to preach the gospel clearly and without compromise. We should (and I do) pray for them –many of “them” are friends and relatives of mine, and I am not saying that they are mistaken to stay in the denomination. I’m really not sure that the evangelical Anglicans people have mentioned had a huge influence on the whole Anglican church. John Wesley was kicked out, finding Anglican pulpits locked against him, and reluctantly ending up founding what was essentially (and turned out to be) a new denomination. Charles Simeon likewise faced ostracism and derision. John Venn and William Wilberforce influenced politics more than pulpits (though I know that’s a generalization, too!) And Anglo-Catholicism was, I think, not a good thing for the gospel mission of the Church of England (but that’s for another article). I do not forget Jesus’ words in Mark 9:38-41. I do try to hold them in balance with His words in Luke 11:23: “He who is not with me is against me”. It is not easy wisely to live both these truths out, and I don’t pretend to always get it right.

    • Alan Wilson

      Thanks for adding some detail. The new ABC is pretty clearly in favour of women bishops; one wonders whether his concessionary statement re marriage reported today (“rethink”) might be more conciliatory rather than a commitment to a radical rethink.

    • Josiah

      Mr. Laferton,

      Thank you very much for your reply, and for fleshing out what you meant.

  • Perry Robinson

    This seems off. It was the Evangelicals that sided with the Liberals both in the CofE and in TEC to push through women’s orindation (thru both houses) over against the Anglo-Catholics.

  • Curt

    Josiah, Alan, Stephen, I couldn’t agree more. There’s a tone of “he’s / they’re not evangelical enough for us TRUE evangelicals” in the article. Actually, it’s not a tone. It’s quite blatant. Friends, this kind of attitude is not going to win anyone over or win anyone back to the simple good news message of Christ and him crucified and risen for us sinners. That is the gospel we’re talking about here, right?

    As an evangelical Anglican pastor (Am I evangelical enough for the Gospel Coalition? I’m not so sure anymore!), I actually enjoy the ” big tent” of my denomination. I’ve learned quite a bit about the beauty of liturgy, that 500 year old dinosaur the author disparages, from my Anglo-Catholic friends. I’ve learned a great deal about the work of the Holy Spirit from my charismatic Anglican friends. And to be honest, I’ve learned quite a lot about how to show people love and respect from my left-of-center Anglican friends. And I’d like to think the’ve learned at least a little something from me about the importance of expository preaching, the beauty of reformational theology, and the mission of boldly-yet-graciously proclaiming Jesus Christ, crucified and risen.

    • Curt

      Sorry … apparently I was writing the above comment while Mr. Laferton was posting his follow-up. SO, thanks for the gracious follow-up Mr. Laferton.

  • Justin

    Carl – thanks for your follow-up remarks, but if I’m understanding you correctly, what you’re really calling into question is not Justin Welby’s credentials as an evangelical, but rather his eligibility for membership in the Gospel Coalition (as you say: ‘he isn’t an evangelical as TGC define it’). No argument there – but surely you’re not suggesting that the confessional statement of the Gospel Coalition is coterminous with the definition of evangelicalism, right?

  • Tom

    The article is problematic and Mr. Laferton’s clarification is problematic. And I would like to point out perhaps the most glaring problem: that the Gospel Coalition is being used as the criterion of the Gospel. In the clarifying remarks Mr. Laferton writes, “I would tentatively conclude that he isn’t an evangelical as TGC define it.” Shortly after this we are told that this is “a comment on the state of the Anglican Church.” If the TGC is allowed to become the bearers of the Gospel for world-wide evangelicalism, then we can jettison our credal ancestry. This is not even to comment on the force of Laferton’s argument. It is only to say that the framework is in need of correction. The article requires much more sophistication if it is going to do anything other than excite some TGC adherents. Unless rhetoric was the only point of the piece.

    • Collin Hansen

      Nothing and no one speaks for The Gospel Coalition except the foundation documents. And TGC has never contended, even pretended, to say our confession covers the entire evangelical spectrum. In any event, here’s what our confessional statement says about the gospel:

      We believe that the gospel is the good news of Jesus Christ—God’s very wisdom. Utter folly to the world, even though it is the power of God to those who are being saved, this good news is christological, centering on the cross and resurrection: the gospel is not proclaimed if Christ is not proclaimed, and the authentic Christ has not been proclaimed if his death and resurrection are not central (the message is: “Christ died for our sins . . . [and] was raised”). This good news is biblical (his death and resurrection are according to the Scriptures), theological and salvific (Christ died for our sins, to reconcile us to God), historical (if the saving events did not happen, our faith is worthless, we are still in our sins, and we are to be pitied more than all others), apostolic (the message was entrusted to and transmitted by the apostles, who were witnesses of these saving events), and intensely personal (where it is received, believed, and held firmly, individual persons are saved).

      That, I believe, is essentially the message John Wesley, Charles Simeon, and John Stott preached as our evangelical forebears. And all evangelicals, I trust, pray it’s the message the new archbishop of Canterbury preaches, too.

      • Justin

        Hi Collin – yeah, I can pray that stuff along with you. And it’s good to hear that TGC considers (at least some) non-TGC folk to be evangelicals. And yet, if that’s the case, then I gather Carl and TGC are not on the same page, since it seems as if he’s going a bit further. His claim appears to be: Justin Welby’s support of women bishops and/or his openness to ‘examine [his] own thinking prayerfully and carefully’ about homosexuality excludes him from the circle TGC draws for itself, ergo Justin Welby is not an evangelical. Or, following the citation to the Carson/Keller book, the claim is: Justin Welby is not an evangelical b/c he defines evangelicalism in sociological or experiential terms rather than doctrinal terms. The first argument certainly can’t be right (unless you want to play the ‘every single issue comes back to the gospel’ card – which is sort of a conversation stopper), and the second hasn’t been proven at all. Why not just take Welby at his word and show a little more enthusiasm that a fellow conservative has just been appointed to a major ecclesial position? Or does the fact that he’s not being ‘ostracised’ or ‘persecuted’ automatically make him suspect?

        • Collin Hansen

          I don’t really know much about Welby, Justin. Sounds like you do, so I’ll take your word for it and be encouraged by his appointment. I do hope he doesn’t “evolve” on homosexuality, as that would indicate an underlying interpretive method evangelicals still shun, right?

          • Justin

            Well, that depends if an evolution of his views corresponds with fidelity to the Bible – which I would hope corresponds perfectly with an evangelical hermeneutic (as Don Carson says, all ‘non-negotiables’ are only so ‘functionally,’ and therefore must always be open to critique according to Scripture).

            • Collin Hansen

              All right, you got me confused, Justin. But from what I can tell from you, Welby sounds like a rock-solid evangelical. Thanks for the encouragement, and I’m excited to see more evangelical renewal in the Church of England as he opens this body’s non-negotiables to critique according to the Scriptures.

            • Justin

              I’m a theologian, it’s my job is to make Christianity confusing…

              Anyway – yeah, we’ll see what Welby can do. People I know that know him tell me he’s quality, so I’m banking on that for now. But to throw a bone to Carl – I’ll just say: if his thesis had been simply ‘the structures of the Church of England are mind-numbingly annoying and frustrating,’ I would have been the first one to jump in with the yay and amen!

  • Chuck

    Unfortunately, the article does not reference Anglicanism outside of the liberal western provinces. It is hard to speak about ‘Anglicanism’ when only referring to the white liberal west. The reality is that the majority of Anglicans are orthodox evangelicals and are also not white. For a sample of their evangelical orthodoxy, read the 2008 Jerusalem Declaration.

    May their tribe and gospel increase, even if western Christians overlook them.

    • Alex

      I wholeheartedly agree, Chuck. An article on Anglicanism that somehow misses GAFCON and the FCA falls decisively short of the mark.

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  • John S

    Laferton hits the nail on the head when he correctly identifies that the Anglican church prizes unity over orthodoxy, almost to its detriment.

    But at the same time, Laferton assumes the Anglican churches of England and America to be the world-wide Anglican church and paints them all with the same brush. What do we say of the Anglican churches of Africa, Australia and Asia (conservative, evangelical, and according to the TGC’s definition of the evangelical- reformed complementarian, e.g.: Sydney Anglicans) which makes up 2/3rds of the Anglican body world-wide? What do we say about ANIC, the breakaway Canadian evangelical Anglican group guided and mentored by fellow Anglican J I Packer? This itself shows that evangelicalism within Anglicanism is not as much a rusty car as Laferton assumes it to be.

    But even if this was the case, we should say the same about the Baptists in America because they have the same issues as Laferton outlines in his article.

    Also, is being a reformed complementarian the definition of being conservative evangelical? If so, what do we do with reformed egalitarians such as Roger Nicole, professor emeritus of RTS before his passing, and one who had incredible influence over Keller by his own admission during Keller’s life as a student at Gordon Conwell, and who this website incredibly respects (

  • Hannah

    I agree, it seems that what is being said here is that egalitarian means non evangelical. That is unfortunate. John Stott believed in ordaining women as priests; does that make him not evangelical?

    • Andrew

      Hannah, I think you will find that the answer to that is yes. Stott had some caveats when talking about women in leadership but they would not be strong enough for many in the Gospel coalition – although someone might put me right on that? I agree it is unfortunate. John Stott’s views on hell would I suspect also mark him out as not sound enough for the Gospel Coalition either – which again is unfortunate, if true.

      Justin Welby is someone who loves Jesus Christ and wants to share him with the world. He is very clear about that.
      The blog refers to Justin in his new role being a “manager of an institution, keeping the rusty car chugging along the road.” I’m sure Justin would disagree with that.
      Surely his appointment is one that should encourage us and that we should be encouraged to pray for him – whether he is a Gospel Coalition card carrier or not. Instead the impression is given that although he says he is an evangelical that he is really not “one of us.” That is not the intention of the blog but it is how it comes across.

      Are there any Anglicans in the Gospel Coalition who could write a blog on the topic rather than someone who had come out of the Anglican church? This might have give a different and more encouraging perspective on the church.

  • Stephen S

    Following up on Chuck’s and John S’s comments: I was very disturbed that the article switched from talking about “the Church of England” (fine) to “Anglicans” in general (what!?). The majority of Anglican Churches in the world are very different from the Church of England.

    Even the statement that the new ABC “will lead both the Church of England, and also the 80-million-member worldwide Anglican communion” is only partly true, and is being further downplayed by recent moves within the worldwide Anglican communion, specifically in recent days in statements responding to Archbishop Welby’s appointment (by the Chairman of the FCA, for example).

    For non-Anglicans, please understand: The Anglican church is not like the Catholic church (heaven forbid!), and the ABC is not our Pope. We are a fellowship of dioceses, united (more or less) by different things, depending on whom you ask. But for a great many dioceses, bishops, pastors and churches, our Anglican identity and unity is in the historic gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, which is clearly expressed in the historic Anglican confessions and liturgy. And GAFCON/FCA surely came into existence, in part, because we do not prize unity over truth (disagree with you there, John S). Yes, we prize unity, but unity in “the faith we confess”.

    I’m sure Carl would agree a lot of this, and I understand he was trying to simplify things for non-Anglicans. Unfortunately, that type of simplification, for those (especially from the UK and the US) who are looking on bemusedly at us Anglicans, ends up tarring the rest of us with the same brush and confirming the idea that the Anglican church is some kind of halfway house between “Catholic” and “Protestant”.

    • John

      Hi Stephen, thanks for affirming my thoughts. I agree with you that we do not prize unity over truth. I may have misspoken. I meant we crave ecumenism (and I wonder if that is a British thing more than a world-wide thing) which can be misinterpreted as valuing unity over truth. My apologies.

  • Darren

    Carl, you make it sound like TGC has decided to suspend Anglicanism’s Jesus franchise license. A member of the free church speaking about highly disputed issues and asserting that the Anglican communion has lost “the Gospel” — and then judging that by the somewhat vague standard of a 5-year-old, populist, Reformed-leaning, non-ecclesial fellowship of a handful of conservative American Evangelicals who are good at HTML and PowerPoint?

    Like all church bodies the Church of England has some serious issues to reckon with, and it should continue to have internal discussions about its identity and the relationship of its witness to its understanding of “the Gospel”. But this is simply absurd.

    Is the CofE a “rusty old auto,” or do TGC and its adherents simply have too small a tent and too narrow an understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

    • Levi

      Darren, you took the words right out of my mouth and made them better. Well-said, sir.

  • Peter Sanlon

    Among the many reasons the CofE cannot be helpfully compared to the Gospel Coalition is that the former is a denomination and national state church (in England) — the latter is a para-church association (in America). The CofE has a complex history stretching back hundreds of years, and is irreducibly entwined with the history of England itself. The Gospel Coalition is a very, very young thing, birthed in modern American culture. The socio-historic and theological implications of these differences are so vast as to make the comparisons drawn in this article about on a par with drawing lessons for modern Italian episcopacy from 19th century Englsh Brethren gatherings.

  • John Dickson

    Dear all,
    Before we get too depressed about the Anglican/Episcopalian descent, just remember there’s an entire, thriving diocese in Sydney that is conservative, Reformed and evangelical: from Archbishop, to bishops to the lowly ministers in the 300+ churches of our city. We’re having a lot of fun for the gospel down here.
    Cheer up, and cheers,
    John Dickson

    • Leon

      Pernicious, soul-destroying forms of liberalism are rife within our communion (including other parts of Australia) and we’re supposed to “cheer up” based on _one diocese_ having a thoroughly Reformed-evangelical culture?

  • carl laferton

    Hello everyone, Sorry not to have got back to comments till now –I spent most of my day at a second-hand baby -stuff sale (I like to live on the wild side!) And thank you for pushing me to clarify/explain some things, I find it very helpful for my own thinking (and humility!) So first off, two admissions. First, I should have made much, much clearer that I was talking about the Anglican Church in England and Wales (whose members are Anglicans), but not the global Anglican church. The theological position of, for instance, the archdiocese of Sydney is very different to that of most dioceses in England, and English evangelicals (CofE and otherwise) have huge reason to be grateful for the ministry of Sydney-ites such as Peter and Philip Jensen, Tony Payne at Matthias Media, and so on. So to those of you who have felt affronted by what I seemed to be saying about other provinces of the Anglican church, I apologise for my lack of precision. Second, I am wishing that I hadn’t commented on the new ABC’s evangelicalism, or lack thereof. It really wasn’t where I wanted the weight of the article to be. My point about the ABC is that, whether he likes it or not (and I am sure he’d disagree), much of his job will be taken up with keeping the Church of England together, and with managing the looming financial issues within that church (a task for which he does seem wonderfully well-qualified). My main point is simply that there are lessons to be learned from the Church of England for people in other denominations (which is the majority of TGC blog readership). So when a comment points to Baptists in America and say this article should apply to them too, well perhaps… I don’t know, since I don’t have much experience of Baptist churches in the US. I was hoping the article would actually be of help to everyone, leading them to pray for evangelicals in the Church of England, to pray for their own denominational leaders, and to pray and watch out for the three issues I raised at the end of the article. Please can I also underline that the article does not say that Anglican evangelicalism is a rusty car, but that it travels in one (to stretch the analogy quite possibly beyond breaking point!) Most churches in the Church of England don’t preach the gospel from the Scriptures. A 2002 survey of Church of England clergy found that half don’t think Jesus is the only way to be saved; half don’t believe in the Virgin birth; a third don’t believe in Jesus’ physical resurrection ( news/uknews/ 1403106/One-third-of-clergy-do-not-believe-in-the-Resurrection.html). Yes, I think this is a denomination which has lost the gospel. So I think GAFCON and FCA (Global Anglican future Conference and Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, if you’re not up on your Anglican acronyms!) are wonderful –but the fact that these groups needed to be formed, in the teeth of opposition from many in the Church of England and TEC hierarchies, is surely proof that the denomination as a whole is not very healthy. Imagine a church of 100 where the gospel was not taught, but in which 10 members decided to set up their own Bible-study group, without the blessing of the main pastor, because the sermons were so poor. You’d take this as evidence of problems with the church as a whole, not of its strength, wouldn’t you? Lastly, I want to make very clear that I’m not speaking for TGC. I am extremely saddened that in disagreeing with me (fair enough), some have also criticised TGC (not fair enough). I think one of the wonderful things about the TGC blog is that I can read some views I agree with, some Iat I can read some views I agree with, some I don’t, and many that make me really think. For instance, a few days ago there were two articles on Thomist theology, which disagreed with each other –clearly they weren’t both “the official TGC position”! And I think the article makes fairly clear that I’m not encouraging a comparison of the Church of England with TGC. I’m encouraging a discerning “learning from” the CofE and an application of fairly broad “lessons” to other denominations, or individual churches, to which readers belong. Whatever our view of the Church of England, however optimistic or otherwise we are for its future as a gospel-preaching force for evangelism and discipleship in England and Wales, I hope we can agree that those three issues I raised at the end are crucial things to ask ourselves of our own churches. PS. Just for the record, I am rubbish at HTML, and pretty ropey on powerpoint!

    • John S

      Thanks Laferton for clarifying your statements. I agree with you that the Anglican church of England is not at a great place. But that doesn’t mean that the Anglican church in and of itself is losing its evangelical edge. Just because there is difference of opinion within the Anglican church doesn’t mean that the Anglican church is losing its evangelical edge. Take for example a straw poll of Presbyterians or Baptists in NA. You will find that not all Baptists and Presbyterians are Reformed because there are also Northern Baptists who in my experience are fairly liberal and Presbyterians too. But if you were to only poll the PCA and Southern Baptists, it would tell a very different story of what “Presbyterians” and “Baptists” believe.

      Similarly, polling Anglicans living in England tells a very different story of what Anglicans worldwide believe.

      And to respond to your comment,

      “Yes, I think this is a denomination which has lost the gospel. So I think GAFCON and FCA (Global Anglican future Conference and Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, if you’re not up on your Anglican acronyms!) are wonderful –but the fact that these groups needed to be formed, in the teeth of opposition from many in the Church of England and TEC hierarchies, is surely proof that the denomination as a whole is not very healthy. ”

      If we were to take the same line of reasoning towards TGC, could we then not make the same argument about TGC? That it exists to “stand for” and “protect” the Gospel in a a nation that opposes it? But nobody would say that, because there is not a direct connection between the health of the churches in America and the need for a Coalition of the Gospel.

      So, with what assumptions can you say that the existence of GAFCON and FCA is evidence that the Anglican church is evangelically weak if those same assumptions don’t apply to why TGC exists?

  • carl laferton

    pps. Apologies for the lack of paragraphs in my comment. My computer has crashed, so I’m using my slightly antiquated smart phone. Typing takes ages

  • Peter Turnbull

    It is true that conservative evangelicals have not assumed positions of power in the church. That is mainly a question of ecclesiology, it seems to me. Most conservative evangelicals see the local church as the heart of the church (rather than it’s structures, hierarchies and the considerable accompanying bureaucracy) and have therefore given themselves into local parish ministry and the work of pastoring, evangelism and so on.

    The other thing in Carl’s article which particularly resonates here ‘on the ground’ is the totally baffling diversity of doctrinal positions being held together within the church. The figures from the telegraph which Carl quotes about the divergence of belief on basic gospel subjects (the virgin birth, bodily resurrection and the exclusivity of Jesus claims) bears this out well.

  • Erick

    I attend a conservative traditional Anglican parish and we do not believe in woman ordination nor do we believe homosexuality is allowed in the pulpit.

    Actually if we are to speak of orthodoxy, evangelicals would be much farther from this than anglo-catholics. Consider the early church fathers and what they believed about a number if issues. Evangelicals I would say are not orthodox.

  • Justin

    The more I think about this article, the more it seems like it just boils down to an argument for free church polity. The thesis is basically: all institutions are dispensable against the bar of this idea we call the gospel, hence, if ‘we’ (=’I’ – because free church methodology by definition aims to blunt the power of the ‘we’) see a Christian communion out of step with this criterion, we ought to scrap it and start over (= establish a church that is ‘free’ from the constraints of the majority communion). In other words, eventually, we ought to stop attempting to repair our rusty car and just go get a new one.

    So, I don’t really wanna argue for or against this kind of ecclesiology here. Nevertheless, I will raise one objection in the form of a question: why should Anglicans, who hold to a different sort of polity than free church folk, find the prescription for their ills in rejecting their own ecclesiology? Surely there is a way to be evangelical AND Anglican, right? And if there is, the answer has to be something different than simply ‘staying in is only justifiable to the extent one can be a force for good’ – since embedded in that approach is a free-church mentality.

    Anyways, I suppose I’m nervous that buried somewhere within the definition of evangelicalism which rumbles around this website is a very particular definition of the church – one which, if accepted, would exclude a massive amount of evangelicals (as defined by the TGC quote Collin gives above) from evangelicalism.

    • Collin Hansen

      Here’s your chance, Justin. You can read TGC’s confessional statement here and browse the full list of council members here. Your thesis should be easy to falsify or verify, as you can see everything TGC believes about the church. You’ll also see the various church bodies represented among the leadership. Let us know what you think.

      • Justin

        Okay, yeah, obviously people that are Anglican are in the TGC. I suppose the question is really: can one hold with consistency both an ecclesiology which exists more on the ‘visibility’ side of the spectrum and be a member of that thing called ‘evangelicalism’? OR – are ‘evangelical Anglicans’ just Puritans who are just choosing to loiter?

      • Justin

        (by the way, I’ll give some serious thought to #11 of that statement – but I should be clear that I’m not putting TGC on trial here; I’m noting a potential tension between the beliefs of some evangelicals concerning the church – here: Carl Laferton – and their claim to be ‘big tent’ with respect to certain denominations).

        • carl laferton

          Hi Justin, I’m afraid that you have completely misread my intentions and the subject of the original article (and of my subsequent comments). This was not subliminal church-polity-proslytising (my thinking and writing is nowhere near sophisticated enough for that!) It was not a criticism of the leadership, membership, disciplinary etc structures of Anglicanism AT ALL. Nor was it an argument for free church polity being in any way better. If I had wanted to suggest that the Anglican polity is in some way deficient, I would have suggested that the Church of England in large part losing the gospel had stemmed from, or was exacerbated by, some aspect of polity. I didn’t. I would have argued that the lessons to be learned from the Church of Englandare that churches should have a different attitude to bishops/overseers, or to membership, or to establishment, and so on. I didn’t. And I would have said that evangelicals within the Church of England should leave and join other denominations, or a new one. I didn’t. What I did say is that we should pray for evangelicals in a Church of England which has in large part lost the gospel; and that we should learn general lessons from this denomination which apply to all denominations, including a free church, since free churches can just as easily assume the gospel, prize unity over truth, and/ or do things because that’s how they’ve always been done. None of those lessons is to do with polity. Of course it is possible to be an Anglican and an evangelical -I was for 10 years (and didn’t leave for theological reasons). That doesn’t meant that CofE evangelicals, or evangelicals of any other stripe, cannot wish the CofE were other than it is.

          • Justin

            Hi Carl – first of all, kudos for hanging out down here in the comments – seeing that you did so was what encouraged me to jump into this conversation in the first place, so I think you’re setting a really good tone for these hallowed TGC halls (and Collin too).

            Right – so, I didn’t mean to imply that you were launching an all out critique of the Church of England qua Church of England. And I don’t think the fact that you are a free church-er who left the CofE disqualifies you from commenting on it. What I was trying to do was excavate the theological substructure which would have to be there in order to make your account of things stick – and it seems like this would have to include a particular way of construing what the church is. In general, for your rusty car image to have any ethical import (which it sounds like you’d want if we’re to look at the CofE as a cautionary tale), I gather you’d have to define church something along the lines of ‘a gospel steward’ – which is a very free-churchy notion (b/c it functions as the justification for leaving churches or just ‘traveling light’) – versus more classical notions that circle around things like sacraments and historical succession (in reality I think both elements are present in free churches and episcopal churches alike, just in different proportions). It seems to me that this is a relevant question for an organisation like TGC, which seems to be about finding a doctrinal core around which lots of different Christians can gather (and insofar as evangelicals share that goal – as Carson/Keller prescribe they should – for evangelicalism too). I guess I just want to think through whether ‘gospel-centredness’ might exclude certain ecclesiologies – and your essay helpfully gave me the occasion to ask that question.

  • Levi Nunnink

    Colin, I think one of the more troubling aspects of this article is your criticism of the Book of Common Prayer. You would think Anglicans used a latin liturgy or had never updated the BCP to be more accessible to modern language.

    I actually left a Gospel Coalition-style evangelical Church and joined an Anglican parish, partly because of the Book of Common Prayer. The off-the-cuff, random, standup comedian style liturgy in evangelical churches can’t compete with the theological, poetical beauty present in the Book of Common Prayer. Quite frankly, the liturgy is awesome and way more compelling than anything I found in non-denominational evangelical circles.

  • Thomas Y.

    Also, the modern day evangelical church has no root to piece it’s branch to in history. It literally just looks at the scriptures and tries the best to make church out of it.

  • Peter Sanlon

    I think there may be an element of truth to the complaints that this article suffers from what you describe as ‘subliminal church-polity-proslytising’ – in the sense that your critique of the CofE is steeped in an ahistorical, acultural prioritisation of independent polity. Your vantage point appears to give you clear sight of the state of the CofE, but your sun glasses seem to filter out much of what actually makes the Anglican church, and leadership of it, what it is.
    That you can refer, in your comment, to independent churches as a ‘denomination’ shows you have little grasp of what a denomination is. This calls into question ones ability to critique or learn lessons from one’s current evaluation of one. On the day Rowan Williams resigned I was phoned by the BBC and asked to evaluate his impact on the nation. I said, ‘The man only announced his resignation a few hours ago. It is far too early to tell – give it a couple of hundred years and we will know.’ Denominations operate over spans of centuries — you need that kind of perspective to evaluate them.

  • Peter Sanlon

    Justin – agreed re your appeal for empathy about the ecclesiology of the CofE. In addition, To develop your point further, there is a politico-historical setting which is unique & complex. We are talking about the church OF ENGLAND – a national state church (as state churches go it is a loose but still legal nature). The implications of establishment are vast. A
    Provocative take on that can be gleaned from Roger Scruton’s book on the Church of England, out a few weeks back.
    Many of our unique challenges, problems and opportunities flow from the giveness of our historic establishment within the state of England. To critique the CofE without due awareness of these factors is, as Justin seems to be saying, to work from an assumed architecture of independency. That is guaranteed to obscure at least as much as it enlightens.

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  • Jack

    It’s very telling that whilst this article suggests we should pray for evangelical Anglicans, it does not encourage us to pray for Justin Welby (heaven knows, he needs it) or for the Church of England(ditto).

    It is precisely this attitude that ensures evangelicals will not reach the seats of influence. Why on earth should we, if we’re so jolly negative about anyone who doesn’t subscribe to conservative evangelicalism, whilst patting one another on the back for ‘ignoring the hierarchy’.

  • David Lin

    I’m a little disappointed to find this article on The Gospel Coalition. True the Anglican Church has massive theological issues in it’s “first world” iterations (United States, Canada, Australia, Eastern Europe), but you’re COMPLETELY ignoring the more significant work of Christ through Anglicanism in the Third World (Rwanda, Nigeria, Uganda, etc.). Third World Anglicanism has now supported and helped establish a pretty vibrant evangelical and orthodox Anglicanism in North America, first under the Anglican Mission in America and now in the Anglican Church of North America. Consider also an extremely concerted effort to plant churches in North America (Anglican 1000) and I’d say the Anglican Communion is hardly rusty. Maybe needing to replace the transmission or something…but the overgeneralization that the entire vehicle is sitting on cinder blocks in a field somewhere is pretty unwarranted.

    I appreciate many of your points about not losing sight of the Gospel, not focusing on unity over truth and adapting to the culture…all really helpful lessons for us all…but I think you could’ve commented more on how the Anglican Church is doing those things.

    • newbie Anglican

      Just wanted to share my perspective: For two years I’ve been attending an Anglican church where I live (East Coast) and Jesus is changing my life there. This church has been a much-needed source of love, safety, encouragement, community and growth. I cannot describe how grateful I am that God shows up each week to meet me there. I will never be the same.

  • Stephen S

    Hi Carl,

    Just wanted to say thank you for your gracious and helpful responses in these comments.

  • Nigel

    For those wishing to follow up Carl’s reference to the article in the Daily Telegraph stating one third of Anglican clergy do not believe in the Resurrection the following gives I believe the complete link:

  • Jon


    I ended your article miffed at the generalization you have made in regard to the Anglican church. I raise three points and then I digress.

    1) You might well be right. The path of many Anglicans is disturbing.


    2) If you (admittedly) should have clarified the locale of the Anglican church you meant (see comments above), then you need to be more careful in your postings on such a widely read website. furthermore, I see a direct contradiction to your point in the African communion of the Anglican church. It might be true of your national churches, but your article smacks of global condemnation.

    3) It’s telling that TGC would allow such a generalized article with undocumented rhetoric. Though you linked Telegraph survey findings, I don’t find that to be sure, hard evidence to your point. After all—how do they say it—75% percent of all surveys are fake (get the pun?).

    Though I see points of agreement, I feel that your overall article was heedless.

  • Robert Sturdy

    What more can be said than has been said already?

    TGC’s wades into Anglicanism are rare. I would say because they are rare, some effort should be made to ensure that the articles are written by someone who understands the Communion. I would say that the author either doesn’t understand Anglicanism, or didn’t make a sincere effort to be precise in his communication (Who was he talking about? CofE or the Global Communion?). In addition to this, the language and even the lesson were insulting. Anglicanism as a “rusty car,” and used at the expense of a morality tale was less than encouraging to brothers laboring away in what can be a vibrant, Reformed, missional church.

    More importantly however, is the disturbing trend evidenced in this article of appealing to the latest and greatest (in this instance Keller and Carson) to define important theological terms. It is strange to see Protestants consolidate such an enormous amount of power to define doctrine in the hands of so few. Furthermore, to see this then used to exclude some (poor Justin Welby!) and include others seems arbitrary. I’m not saying this to defend Welby, I’m just saying I don’t need to appeal to the latest evangelical pop stars to figure out what an “evangelical” is. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan and appreciate these men but we have confessions that are meant to act in this role. One of the reasons we use confessions is to prevent men from consolidating so much power that they can define doctrine for the rest of us. Surely I’m not the only one that finds it ironic for an Anglican clergyman to make such points.

  • Rob

    Having met both the Archbishop of York and the new Archbishop of Canterbury, to be honest, I’m encouraged by the leadership of my denomination.

    What can I say about the Anglican communion that may be useful here…? It is a big, complex organisation with churches on 6 continents. Ranging from Anglo-catholics to charismatic african congregations to more conservative english evangelicals. The ABC is not considered a leader like a president but to be the first amongst equals. He cannot order anyone to do anything, as someone recently expressed “he is not our Pope.”

    On the issue of homosexual bishops, the US and Canadian dioceses associated with the communion both proceeded without discussion with the rest of the Anglican communion. It was not sanctioned by anyone else, probably a rather rash decision by any standards. I feel that most of the CofE do not like the idea nor are happy that such a thing proceeded in North America. This is a much milder line than most of the rest of the Anglican communion took looking at things like the Jerusalem Declaration etc.

    The CofE are in a challenging position in the middle. If you look at the way homosexuals are treated in many of the countries which most vehemently oppose the appointments it is, to be frank, abhorrent. Homosexuals are still persecuted in many parts of the world, beatings, murders, rapine of lesbians to try to convert them, etc. often for religious reasons (both Christian and Muslim) To be seen to be blessing the mentality present in some of these places would not be the greatest of ideas. Places where the idea of loving a homosexual as a fellow sinner before God is an alien concept. However, neither can we just let the appointments pass as I feel we would like to speak out in some way to indicate that we do actually think that it is a sin. Maybe, this is why the ABC wishes to prayerfully reconsider his position, the position of the Bishop of Durham is formulated in line with God’s work in Durham, whereas the position of the ABC is formulated in a much bigger arena, he now has to account for whole other countries and cultures. I think the most recent fudge was something called a flying bishop. A non homosexual bishop who has authority over any parishes within the homosexual bishops’ dioceses who wish not to be under the authority of a homosexual bishop… However, I think thy are still discussing some more permanent resolution…

    I don’t have time to look at female bishops, the survey results, the liturgy, etc. However, hopefully, I’ve given you a taste of the complexity of just one issue.

    One thing I will say is that this kind of permanent complexity has developed some of the best conflict resolution around, look at Canon Andrew White in Baghdad, Coventry Cathedrals conflict resolution work, John Sentamu in Africa, Justin Welby himself in Nigeria recently. If any people are equipped to deal with these challenges, it is the leadership of the church of england.

    Finally, may I suggest it may be mildly unwise to poke at challenging sore spots in any churches without deep thinking and careful analysis beforehand, a careful diplomacy and precision in language and heavy helping of prayer and God’s grace so that useful things may come from the challenge. People will often bridle at any criticism, even that of the most careful and grace filled kind…

  • Daniel Broaddus

    I believe that there is a bit of irony in the accusations that this article too broadly generalizes. Isn’t the purpose of TGC to major in the majors and minor in the minors? This requires a generalization of some sort as to what we call the “majors.” This proves yet another irony of TGC in that it holds a rather strong opinion regarding complimentarianism and egalitarianism (it is decidedly complimentarian) yet does not find it necessary to hold any position on baptism (in their eyes it is a minor for a “gospel coalition”). For these very reasons the greatest irony yet is obvious!

    A truly confessional Anglican or Lutheran would be completely out of place in such an environment because the Sacraments are in fact majors for such bodies. A strongly confessional and articulate Anglican Archbishop or Lutheran President would not be welcome in a gathering of those who choose to be less dogmatic about their confession and less articulate in the “minors.” If they were to participate in such a forum they would have to generalize as much as possible in order to encompass all the different tribes included in the gospel coalition.

    That being said, I think the author is simply expressing his desire that the Anglican Communion not lose sight of the Gospel, Truth, and missions. Generalizations that should be relatively acceptable to anyone who read the article.

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  • Lauri Moyle

    I have not read all the comments here but I will, time permitting. However I have written a responce to the article here:

    It points out some flaws in the Laferton Article which should be clarified as soon as possible, given that one or two statements might be misunderstood as gossip.

    • Lauri Moyle

      Having now read the comments and indeed the very gracious responses by Carl (Thanks!) I wonder whether the article could not be edited to clarify some pionts?

  • Tim Swan

    As I was staring out my window at a shiny new red car, a thought struck me that suddenly brought me back to this post (a little late, I know): there is a great difference between a car that’s rusty on the outside, and one with rust deep into the chassis. The reason I’m staying with the Anglican church (of Chile, as it happens), is that the chassis of the 39 articles is completely rust free. In contrast, there are some denominations and churches that are shiny on the outside, but have a chassis of banana palm. They may be racy to jump into now, but do they have the structural strength to run the long distance race that is set before us, and endure through the road-bumps of the decades? Sure the old Anglican car might be a bit bumped around (especially so on the deceptive streets of the “developed world”), but the motor of the gospel is still as powerful as ever, the firm base of the chassis is unshakeable, and the promise of our Lord is everlasting: “I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it”. So having chosen a car for the long haul, I’m looking past the rust under the wheel arches, and I’m enjoying a ride that is solid, safe and steady. And not surprisingly, here in Chile, more and more people are thumbing a ride with us. And hey, if you’re sitting in a rust bucket, I invite you to jump in too – this frame is sure strong enough to take your weight!

    • Neill

      Our Lord’s promise to build a church that the gates of hell would not stand against was addressed to Peter. The 39 articles, or any other confession, is a rather poor substitute.