Ian Paul has posted on the question "What is an 'inclusive evangelical'?"
When I first looked at the post a few days ago, there were 136 comments. Tonight as I write there are 289.
Behind the question is the now quite complex story of where the Church of England is going, or not going, in respect of blessings (or not blessings, because "only" prayers) for same-sex partnerships, as their bishops (who meet in two differently formulated groups) make a move or three, and their General Synod will, or will not make a decision according to this, or may be that canon, or may be not because the bishops have the power to do ... something which is not completely clear yet. Within that complex story, 600 Inclusive Evangelicals wrote a letter, provoked, it seems, by the Church of England Evangelical Council speaking out ... for evangelicals (some, most, all, not the inclusives ...???).
OK. I am having a bit of fun here but, seriously, it is a complex story and clearly many English Anglicans are frustrated whether because change is not happening fast enough and what change is in the air is insufficient or because any change is being mooted - the matter at hand being an unchangeable doctrine.
With respect to the latter frustration, Lee Gatiss, Church Society, is uncompromising re error, errants being disciplined and ++Justin resigning as he reports on a recent meeting of conservatives with the ABC. (For a contrasting meeting, progressives with the ABC, held on the same day see Colin Coward's report here).
Well, let's not discuss, again, That Topic, but a few thoughts about evangelicalism may be in order. (Please discuss Ian's own thoughts at his site.)
One (I think many evangelicals would agree) is that "evangelical" or "evangelicalism" is tricky to define in a widely agreeable manner. From that perspective an extra adjective such as "inclusive" (or "conservative" or "open" etc) may be useful.
In some Anglican conversations I think we could be forgiven for thinking that "evangelical" means "I don't wish to be identified as anglo-catholic, nor as liberal/progressive on certain issues, though I might be liberal/progressive on how I view adaptations to the agreed liturgies of the church, and the songs I really like are never sung at diocesan occasions because some aspects of their theology are vigorously disputed."
In other conversations, of course, "evangelical" ticks more positive boxes: for the Bible being read, studied and preached; for a personal relationship with Jesus Christ; for the enduring value of the insights of Luther and Calvin, expressed Anglicanly in the 39A and the BCP and represented in modern Anglican liturgies where such liturgies clearly stand with the BCP and not differentiated from it.
One thought (picking up from Ian's post, but expressed in my own words) is that evangelicals' sharpest edge in distinction from other Anglican groupings is a commitment to "the supremacy of Scripture."
I have subscribed to this kind of proposition through much of my life (e.g. as part of the doctrinal basis of the Tertiary Students Christian Fellowship here in NZ). But I think it problematic without some extra words around.
In favour of it is that when many things compete for our attention as Christians - fads and fashions, local traditions and the global Tradition of the Christian faith, theologians and their theologies, interpreters and their interpretations, we must test everything through reading and studying Scripture. Scripture is supreme as the written Word of God before which and by which ideas and thoughts, theories and proposals must be tested. No other book - not a prayer book, not a compendium of Barth/Calvin/Piper/etc, not a catechism - has that supremacy.
But there is a shortfall in the conception of "the supremacy of Scripture": Scripture alone cannot determine which part of Scripture is more important than another part, nor how to understand one part when another part appears to be in contradiction of it, nor what we are to do when Scripture (at least as previously understood) is contradicted by new understandings of the world (the classic example being our understanding of Genesis 1 and 2 in the light of understandings of the creation of the world and of life within it which are not the same as what we thought Genesis 1 and 2 were telling us).
The supremacy of Scripture is a limited supremacy (we might say). Scripture can both settle debates in the church and it can be the catalyst of debates. Luther invoked Scripture as supreme over the errors he detected in medieval Catholicism. But Luther+Scripture couldn't settle debates that a new freedom to engage with Scripture engendered (e.g. debates over the meaning of the eucharist).
One of my questions (from within my experience of evangelicalism) is whether evangelicals have really been honest with ourselves about the limitations of the concept of "the supremacy of Scripture"? Haven't we always found we needed - like Catholics! - a magisterium, a teacher or set of teachers whose interpretations of Scripture settled debates for us? Back in a certain day, many of us (especially evangelical Anglicans/Anglican evangelicals) looked to John Stott; or may be to John Stott, Michael Green, Dick Lucas and various contemporaries of theirs who wrote IVP commentaries and other books published by IVP. Scripture was supreme for us but if a tricky question came up, we looked up an IVP book, starting with those authored by John Stott!
Is it time to find another phrase than "the supremacy of Scripture" as part of accurate description of one evangelical distinctive?