Anglican Social Theology: Renewing the vision
Edited by Malcolm Brown, with Jonathan Chaplin, John
Hughes, Anna Rowlands, and Alan Suggate
Church House Publishing £19.99 (978-0-7151-4440-4)
Church Times Bookshop £18 (Use code CT263
SINCE the banking crisis of 2008 and the austerity measures that
followed, Britain has been through a significant shift in social
In five years, we have seen the bailouts that protected the
banks, cuts in benefit levels and local-government services, the
growth of academies funded by central government, the tripling of
undergraduate tuition fees, the "bedroom tax", reductions in NHS
staffing levels, reductions in numbers of police and prison
officers, and reductions in legal aid; and there is more to come.
Same-sex marriage has arrived; the "Big Society" has come and gone.
Inequality of income has increased, and foodbanks have multiplied.
Britain is now officially out of recession.
This book comes from the questioning of the Bishops about what
kind of society are we now building, and whether the Church of
England, both locally and nationally, has the makings of a coherent
The contributors argue that, undergirding the many ways in which
the Church engages with local communities and national
policy-makers, there lies a coherent tradition of Anglican social
theology (AST). Malcolm Brown, Director of Mission and Public
Affairs for the Archbishops' Council - the bishops' chief adviser
on social policy - surveys the Church's social theology as it has
developed over the past three decades, since Faith in the
City and the foundation of the Church Urban Fund.
Alan Suggate focuses on the now problematic [William] "Temple
Tradition" as an "ethic of collective action" in the service of the
nation. John Hughes, who was, sadly, killed in a recent car
accident, surveys the scene "After Temple", identifying "The Recent
Revival in AST" with the new approaches of Rowan Williams, John
Milbank, and Oliver O'Donovan. Jonathan Chaplin identifies
biblically based Evangelical contributions to the future of AST.
Anna Rowlands compares AST and (Roman) Catholic social teaching as
"fraternal traditions" with much to learn from each other.
Malcolm Brown asks about the health of "AST tomorrow". He argues
that, despite current conflicts, "commitment to the common good and
a focus on the life of the Church as intrinsic to that commitment"
remain at the heart of AST.
These excellent essays have a sharp but limited focus. They
contain little reference to social theology before Temple, or to
Lambeth Conferences. "Anglican" is used interchangeably with
"Church of England". Nevertheless, they show clearly why Temple
cared about Christianity and social order and helped to fashion the
welfare state. They show why Robert Runcie commissioned Faith
in the City (a report addressed to nation as well as Church),
and why Justin Welby declared "War on Wonga" (with the aim, Brown
says, of "defenestrating the payday lenders and loan sharks").
They show not a tradition of magisterial teaching, but a
tradition of committed social action and impassioned debate, based
on robust theological convictions about the mission of the Church,
human dignity, and social flourishing. If the House of Bishops
could capture these presuppositions and priorities in an
ecumenically alert teaching document on social theology, whata gift
in troubled times that would be.
The Revd Dr Nicholas Sagovsky is the Whitelands Professorial
Fellow at Roehampton University.