That Book Again


(see That Was the Book that Was below)

Andrew Brown’s* and Linda Woodhead’s** book That Was the Church That Was has finally seen the light of day. It is a racy read. The style is Andrew’s – a tongue-in-cheek amalgam of the orotund and the tersely demotic. The analysis, one suspects, is more Linda’s. The book covers roughly thirty years in the life of the Church of England.

This is a narrative peopled with caricatures. David Jenkins and John Habgood are dons in an ivory tower, with no conception of events in the real world. George Carey is a buffoon with an exaggerated opinion of his own abilities. Rowan Williams is a tragic wannabe saint lacking the courage of his own convictions. In the case of Jeffrey John he laid down his friend for his life and was fatally compromised thereafter. Justin Welby is an HTB clone with all the disabilities which that entails.

The book is a curious blend of sociological analysis, personal reminiscence and salacious gossip. Does it offer a coherent explanation of ‘how the Church of England lost the English people’? Hardly. The sociology is vitiated by its own presuppositions, which, not surprisingly, are those of the current liberal consensus.

Most of the last thirty years, it seems, were fruitlessly spent debating women’s ordination and gay relationships – matters which had been settled in the secular world with a minimum of fuss and controversy. They were hardly worth the attention a clerically dominated institution was prepared to give them.  Nowhere in the book is there the slightest indication that these might have been issues of vital theological importance.  The question on the campus tee-shirts – What would Jesus do? –  is for these authors a matter of sublime indifference.

In Brown and Woodhead’s view, the CofE would have done better to concentrate on what it does best: baptising the status quo. Then it could get back to being a proper national church – like the Norwegians and the Danes.

*’a leading journalist’
**’one of the best sociologists of religion in the world today’

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