IS THERE A CONTENDER FOR ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY?

Charles Raven in his brilliant review of Mike Higton’s Grove booklet on Rowan Williams’s moral theology co-incidentally answers the question posed this week by Daily Mail columnist Stephen Glover: Will the Church ever have a strong enough leader?

Mr Glover, a political commentator who writes very incisively on the Church of England, calls for a spiritual leader able to take on the secular establishment of the BBC, which he argues is hugger-mugger with atheist propagandists such as Richard Dawkins:

All of which brings me to the question of what sort of cleric should replace Rowan Williams, if he is indeed standing down. I have criticised the Archbishop of Canterbury from time to time, and now is not the moment to take up the cudgels again. Suffice to say that, brilliant and holy man though he undoubtedly is, he has not offered very firm leadership to the Church of England or great inspiration to the nation.

Mr Raven gets to the heart of the leadership problem. It is not Dr Williams’s giftedness that is at issue – he is an extremely gifted and civilised man – it is the uncertainty towards the authority of God’s Word written, inherent in his theological methodology, that has made his job such a sad strain upon him:

Mike Higton has done us a real service in providing a reminder that Christian moral decision making must be robustly theological, coming from what is effectively the shared enterprise of developing a ‘Christian mind’ committed to working out God’s grace in every area of life. But experience shows that unless that Christian mind is informed by an equally robust theology of biblical revelation, it will rapidly be colonised by the ambient culture. One of the keys to making sense of recent history of the Anglican Communion is to recognise the deep determination of Western liberals to overcome the set-back they received at the 1998 Lambeth Conference and it is a serious weakness that this booklet does not take account of the ways, practically and theologically, that Rowan Williams has served that agenda – not least by justifying the avoidance of decisions.

In a nutshell, the Church of England needs a spiritual leader whose Christian mind is submitted to the authority of God’s Word written and is therefore well defended from invasion by the forces of the ‘ambient culture’.

A leader like that could make a huge difference. But he would have a very tough job on his hands.

Mr Raven writes from the perspective of a pastor who is no longer in the institutional Church of England. He leads an independent Anglican Evangelical congregation in Kidderminster having taken a brave stand on biblical orthodoxy.

But an orthodox Archbishop of Canterbury would be leader of an ecclesiastical institution whose theological incoherence is deeply entrenched. The strains of such incoherence are reaching breaking point and have certainly told on the soul of Dr Williams, albeit he has divested himself of the spiritual and intellectual defences to deal with them.

A Bible-believing Archbishop would face the challenge of having to collaborate with colleagues in the House of Bishops with a very different theological outlook, some of whom he might have to regard as false teachers. The spiritual, psychological and emotional burden of this would be enormous on even the most gifted, godly and robust of Christian leaders.

Frankly, leading the Church of England is one of the last jobs on earth Cranmer’s Curate would want even if he were up to it, which he is not. Despite his height phobia, cc would rather clean windows at the top of skyscrapers than be Archbishop of Canterbury.

Nevertheless, a man by God’s grace prepared to contend for the Gospel of Christ within and without the institutional Church would be the sort of spiritual leader Mr Glover is calling for.

The big bright purple question though is whether there is such there a contender in reach of Canterbury.

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