Evangelicalism in the Church of England in the
Twentieth Century: Reform, resistance and renewal
Andrew Atherstone and John Maiden,
The Boydell Press £60
Church Times Bookshop £54
THIS excellent collaborative volume, edited by two leading
younger scholars, and including contributions from eight other
prominent researchers, does much to redress previous neglect of
20th-century Anglican Evangelicalism by historians.
G. R. Balleine's History of the Evangelical Party in the
Church of England (1908) terminated at the beginning of the
century, and, in any case, only acquired definitive status because
of the absence of serious competitors. Much more recently, studies
by Randle Manwaring (1985), Kenneth Hylson-Smith (1989), and Roger
Steer (1998) have sought to establish a narrative.
These books, however, lacked grounding in sufficiently
systematic research, and have hence perpetuated misleading
impressions. In particular, they portrayed Evangelicals as marginal
to the Church of England throughout the first half of the 20th
century, from the death of J. C. Ryle in 1900 to the appointment of
John Stott as Rector of All Souls', Langham Place, in 1950.
This new book demonstrates that early-20th-century Anglican
Evangelicalism was much more vigorous than has hitherto been
recognised. It does so by moving away from the "great man" approach
implicit in an over-emphasis on the careers of Ryle, Stott, and
other leading figures to focus attention rather on grass-roots
parish life, and regular events such as the Islington, Cheltenham,
and Oxford conferences, and the Keswick and Cromer Conventions,
which showed considerable vitality in the interwar period.
Vigour of a different kind was apparent in confrontations with
Anglo-Catholics, culminating in the defeat of the 1928 Prayer Book.
Only in Wales, where the bishops of the disestablished Church
sought to achieve unity through imposing liberal Anglo-Catholicism,
were Evangelicals truly marginalised.
Atherstone, Maiden, and their colleagues also do much to enhance
understanding of the place of Evangelicals in the Church in the
three decades after 1945. While there was indeed resurgence during
this period, it had deeper roots in the past than has hitherto been
Some older attitudes were slow to disappear, notably the mutual
suspicion of Evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics, and an imperialistic
attitude to the wider world. Nevertheless, the 1960s were something
of a watershed. Archbishop Ramsey is shown as surprisingly
sympathetic to Evangelicals: and, in general, relations with
Anglo-Catholics improved substantially. Evangelicals began to
secure a firm foothold in the Church in Wales.
The cautious attitudes to American and African influences
apparent in the 1950s gave way to a greater awareness of
Evangelicalism as an international and interdenominational
movement. There were also endeavours to engage more purposefully
with moral and social challenges at home, although an assessment of
the activities of Festival of Light in the 1970s also points up the
limitations to their influence.
This book is rigorously academic in approach, thereby
convincingly supporting its arguments against earlier more
superficial accounts. Consequently, it will not be readily
accessible to a general readership. The editors' substantial
introduction, however, provides a valuable overall analysis of
Anglican Evangelicalism in the period, which is essential reading
for anyone with a serious interest in the subject.
It is to be hoped that the research in this book will in due
course be developed into new synthesis that will make contemporary
Evangelicals and others more aware of their historic roots.
In the mean time, there are still significant gaps in our
knowledge of Anglican Evangelical history. In particular, there
needs to be more research on the changing place of women in the
Church, on ministry for children and young people, and on
developments since the early 1980s. Moreover, well-informed
re-evaluation of the Evangelical wing should prompt some rethinking
of our understanding of the development of the Church of England as
a whole. Now that the 20th century is "history", but its legacy is
still very much with us, this important book is a great stimulus to
the continuing endeavour to understand it better.
John Wolffe is Professor of Religious History at the Open
University, and co-author of A Short History of Global
Evangelicalism (Cambridge, 2012).