Nancy and I have been having a delightful time here in the UK, seeing the sights of course, and visiting with some very insightful Christians here. This is our third visit to this lovely place, and it certainly won’t be the last.
Here are some raggety taggety observations on the state of evangelicalism here, along with some exhortations, in no particular order. I offer them on an open palm, knowing that I certainly have enough distance to get some details wrong — but I also think enough distance to grant some perspective that will perhaps be helpful.
1. The more devout and insightful a British Christian is, the more likely he is to be gloomy about prospects for the future. On one level this is understandable — I mean look at the Archbishop of Canterbury — but on another level it neglects key promises of Scripture. The spiritual future of Great Britain is a glorious one. Great Britain has a Christian future because the world has a Christian future. The Muslim inroads here are temporary and short-lived, by the very nature of the case. British Christians need to remember that a chapter can end badly without the book doing so.
2. At the same time, this is a grim chapter. The spirit of liberalism, which is the spirit of unbelief, is by its very nature parasitic. Having gutted large portions of the Church of England, this spirit of unbelief is now trying to make its way into evangelicalism under the banner of “openness.” But this is what liberalism does — in the guise of making the faith more relevant, accessible, and desirable to all, it empties churches. Having done their destructive work in the CoE, they are now trying to do the same to the evangelical movement in the UK.
3. The evangelical movement, to its lasting credit, continues to fight off the lasting irrelevance of relevant liberalism, and has built a thriving and growing movement. That is on the plus side. On the negative side, some of this has been accomplished by being suspicious of anything new whatever. This certainly shuts off the encroachments of liberalism, but it also tends to exclude orthodox growth in the faith as well. It prevents the apostasy of liberalism, but it also prevents the maturation of conservatism. This tends to stifle bright, young students of the Word who are ready to press on, wanting to broaden and deepen their vision for a Christian future in the UK.
4. Bright young students who feel themselves so stifled may be tempted to get exasperated, and they sometimes chafe under the boundaries set by old guard evangelicalism. Back in Moscow, we have constantly urged “reformation, not revolution,” and one godly pastor here put the same need in terms of “evolution, not revolution.” Patience and balance are key.
5. As these two generations of evangelicals talk with each other, there is a basic attitude that should be remembered by all — those who are coming up through the ranks should cultivate a deep spirit of gratitude. Without the previous work of “unreasonable and intractable conservatives,” there would be nothing here to work with. And those older heads who see the newer generation coming up, more filled with beans than wisdom, the sensation should be gratitude as well. The glory of young men is their strength, and the wisdom will come in due course. This is God’s way. Each generation should be grateful to the other, and both to God.
6. And last, as they talk with each other, frequently and thoughtfully, may I suggest a few topics for the agenda? First would be development of a common understanding of what might be meant by the phrase, “the Christian future of Great Britain.” Second, and related to the first, would be the importance of making genuinely Christian education available for the next generation. No reformation can be sustained if the people involved cannot keep their children in the faith. Third, some detailed discussion of liturgy and worship really needs to occur — not in a way that disparages how others want to worship God, but which at the same time expects and looks for a maturation of worship over time. And as I understand it, all of this can be accomplished with charity and patience over time, and without any kind of “us/them” framework developing.
This is because the only hope for Great Britain, the only thing that will pull her back from the brink of continued spiritual disaster, will be the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. And the responsibility to bring that gospel rests with the evangelicals who really believe it and who, for their love of Christ, the gospel, and their nation, do not allow themselves to be distracted by intercine squabbles.