Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Open Evangelicalism

I've found several people asking what they think the terminology of Open Evangelical means. Here's an attempt at definition that I wrote some time ago...

Towards a definition of "Open Evangelical"

"Open evangelical" is a term that has emerged in the context of evangelical Anglicanism in the UK. Broadly speaking it is those who see themselves as heirs of the Keele Congress of 1967, when evangelical Anglicans committed themselves to work in the mainstream of the Church of England, who would want to wear that label. "Open evangelical" is usually defined over against "conservative evangelical", although open evangelicals would claim to be conservative on scripture and radical on everything else.

What are open evangelicals in the Church of England open to ?

1.         Biblical scholarship
(Believing scripture to be inspired, but not wishing to wear the inerrantist label, and content to accept that theology is a positive gift to the church, and that hermeneutics are essential to the task of understanding an inspired scripture).

2.         Cultural change
An unchanging gospel must be proclaimed in a variety of cultural contexts, and to be open is to be culturally aware and adaptable.

3.         Other theological traditions
Open evangelicals would accept that others not owning the evangelical label are also Christians, and would want to learn from them.

4.         Holistic mission
Most open evangelicals are convinced that evangelism and social action go hand in hand, and that the motivation for social and political engagement is God's activity and calling to people and churches, and not merely a means of pre-evangelism.

5.         The Church of England
A majority of evangelical Anglicans would want to wear the label that way round, with "evangelical" as the adjective that defines "Anglican". This entails a commitment to the structures and ecclesiology of the Church of England.

6.         The full ministry of women in the church
Open evangelicals supported the ordination of women to the priesthood (the conservatives didn't), and would argue from scripture that women can be both priests and bishops, and take their full part in the Church of England's ministry.

7.         Evangelism
To be an open evangelical is to believe that every structure in the church must pass the acid test "does this further the mission of God?" There is no point in the church being there for its own sake. It is only there as sign of the Kingdom.

8.         The World
Open evangelicals are basically world affirming. They believe that the role of the Church of England is to be the church for the whole country, and that to be committed to that view entails working with the grain of society rather than against it.

9.         New patterns of worship, prayer, and liturgy
Experiment in the area of worship is a hallmark of open evangelical Anglicanism. They have been in the forefront of devising new liturgy, writing new songs, and encouraging new patterns of worship.

10.        God
It is probably the case that open evangelicals have a view of God that sees him more as an agent of change than as a defender of the status quo...


  1. This is interesting to an ageing Anglo-Catholic like me, because I see so few differences between this list and one I would write of my 'crew'. As such this is helpful to one who feels a little like a relic of a former age, so thanks. This said, I recognise myself as a charismatic catholic, whatever list that may demand!

  2. Refreshing insight 'encouraging' Sparked my faith lmagination.

  3. david, that's something that i really like about being an open evangelical - the closer i get to the middle of my tradition the closer i get to those from the catholic tradition.

    i remember saying to someone - a catholic who had preached a really 'evangelical' easter sermon - that i was a catholic evangelical, to which he replied, 'ah well, i'm an evangelical catholic'

    an we were both happily anglican together - fabulous! :)

  4. Can I sign up even if I'm not an Anglican? (I just happen to go to an Anglican church but have never called myself anything other than Christian.)

  5. Thanks for this Pete, a clear and encouraging statement of the open evangelical Anglican position that helps us other non-Anglican open evangelicals locate ourselves and you!

  6. Great to have an explanation as I had possibly lumped all evangelicals into the same camp.

    Interesting that Father David hears the echoes of it in his Catholic ministry. I actually think that we have much more in common than we readily acknowledge.

    Here's to being Anglican, of any flavour.

  7. Thank you Pete,

    I have never told you this, but as well as being a huge influence on me back in the days of Newsnet, your strong defence of a gentle orthodoxy on the Ship of Fools helped me through a post-ordination crisis of faith. Perhaps I will be able to tell you about it some day!

    I fully agree with all 10 of these points, but for various reasons found the culture of Evangelicalism too stifling in my mid twenties. The wrong kind of Evangelicalism I suppose.

    The question I have is what makes Open Evangelicals - Evangelical. I attended a meeting at St.Mary's Islington some time back where Conservative, Charismatic & Open Evangelicals aimed to dialogue. Christina Baxter argued strongly for the centrality of the cross as a defining mark of Evangelicalism.

    I can see this today, but historically Evangelicalism has a remarkable diversity of thinking over the atonement.

    (The Conservative argued for 'the CofE is really Reformed but doesn't know it', the Charismatic for 'the CofE is the best boat to fish from' - the parallels with Anglo-Catholic thinking are remarkable!)

    My own thoughts on the 'Liberal' label are found here:

  8. As a Presbyterian I would affirm all points except No. 6. But how, especially with the inclusion of 6 can these be said to bring you closer to Anglocatholics? I wonder if your definition is rather disingenuous and the hallmark of post-Keele open evangelicalism is the disavowal of any claim to be the historic Reformed C of E and the affirmation of being instead the mere evangelical wing of the broad Anglican communion.

  9. I think the claim would be that the CofE is Reformed Catholic, and not, as the Oxford Movement would claim, just a differentiated branch of Catholicism.

  10. Having spent most of my life as an evangelical Anglican (I call myself "conservative", but I'm not sure the ultra-conservatives of today would agree!), and now being an evangelical in the Methodist Church, your definition is fascinating and encouraging.

    One small point I would make is about number 9 ("New patterns of worship, prayer, and liturgy"): I'm very much in favour of all that you say, but don't lose sight of the insuperable heritage you have in the BCP. Not only is it one of the key means by which evangelicalism survived in the CofE, it sets the standard of scriptural worship against which all new patterns of worship can be measured. One of the things I am deeply concerned about in contemporary evangelicalism is the unconscious drift away from a clear, reformed understanding of worship, which in turn affects understandings of discipleship and mission. I'm not advocating a wholesale return to the BCP (although I don't think its use should be allowed to die out altogether), merely an understanding of how its scriptural principles are used in contemporary evangelical worship and discipleship.

  11. I don't know if this is a helpful comment or not, but the beauty of the internet is you can ignore it!

    I feel there is a difference between a Definition of Open Evangelicals and a Description of Open Evangelicals. One's purpose is define who is in the group and who isn't and the other being describing what people in the group are like.

    I kind of feel like the points, and even the tag like "Open evangelicals are open to..." are more in line with a description of a group of people which interests me cause I'd like to know who this group of people are. (Is it a social movement of people who just know each other? Is it an academic movement? Does it fit into a conservative vs liberal story that loads of other fields of human thought have).

    Anyways I say this because to me the point 6 feels slightly out of place. It feels like its more of a description of people who are open evangelicals tend to think rather then a definition. There must be something behind point 6 that causes open evangelicals to come to similar conclusions that fit with this description.

    I find it personally interesting because of thinking where I would personally fit into all this. I have been part of an "fully behind" a variety of churches. One church said "no women bishops", my current church I think is "no women in leadership", another church was very much in favour of women in leadership but wasn't anglican so had nothing to do with bishops. Meanwhile My ex-girlfriend's mum was vicar and most of my christian friends tend to favour women in leadership.

    My opinion however is an aggressive active apathy! I think its very important that I don't have an opinion on this and I would be really happy if I went through life never needing to make a descision (basically I don't want to be a bishop going about ordaining people, not am I a women wanting to lead). I think the question is important to the church but not for me to have an actual opinion on it.

    I also think it would be bad for me to select my churches based on this more "description-ey" point. However the stuff of definitions behind them are quite important. I'm also ok using people attitudes to women leadership as an alarm bell for something else.

    Anyways, I get a feeling that the "definition" of open evangelicals as you describe it is probably a social collection of people for a number of things you've said.

    I apologise if this seems a bit too pedantic!

  12. No mention here by + Pete or anyone else of the ' I ' word.
    Where do open evangelicals stand on Inclusivity?

  13. What do the words "inerrantist" and "hermaneutics" in 1 mean?

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  15. Hi I did not know about open evangelism, thanks for sharing it helped me a lot to understand a little better I will research more!

  16. I did not know the subject I will study more about this thank you very much for having shared with us.