Valid apologetics or another case of Anglican syncretism?

Sometimes it seems that the Church of England just can’t catch a break.

Now, trust me, I know that some very strange things have gone on in recent decades in the hazy spiritual territory between Anglicanism and hip, alternative forms of spirituality. Trust me on that.

However, The Telegraph recently published a story that — if you know any of the basics about the players and the teams inside the modern Church of England — just didn’t make any sense.

The context, of course, is that Anglicanism — in the West, as opposed to the Global South — is in a state of demographic collapse. So all kinds of people are doing all kinds of strange, or even logical, things in the name of apologetics and evangelism. On the liberal side of the doctrinal fence, this can sometimes lead straight to the door called syncretism — with the lines between major world religions getting blurred in ways that can warp the creedal basics of the faith.

That appears to be what is going on in this Telegraph report:

The church is training ministers to create “a pagan church where Christianity [is] very much in the centre” to attract spiritual believers.

Ministers are being trained to create new forms of Anglicanism suitable for people of alternative beliefs as part of a Church of England drive to retain congregation numbers.

Reverend Steve Hollinghurst, a researcher and adviser in new religious movements told the BBC: “I would be looking to formulate an exploration of the Christian faith that would be at home in their culture.” He said it would be “almost to create a pagan church where Christianity was very much in the centre.”

Now here is the crucial question: Is this an attempt to create an Anglican approach that fuses or blends elements of Christianity and streams of pagan or neopagan belief, or is the goal to ask Anglican ministers and parishes to address some of the specific concerns and questions of people who are seeking answers by turning to other religions?

The key, in this case, emerges quickly enough. The question is whether the Telegraph team knew the identities of some of the key players.

Pay close attention.

The Church Mission Society, which is training ministers to “break new ground”, hopes to see a number of spiritual people align themselves with Christianity.

Andrea Campenale, of the Church Mission Society, said: “Nowadays people, they want to feel something; they want to have some sense of experience. “We live in reflective England where there’s much more of a focus on ourselves. I think that is something we can bring in dialogue with the Christian society.”

The Church Mission Society’s webpage advertising their pioneer training scheme states: “Wherever in the world the mission of Jesus goes on, the church needs pioneer mission leaders to break new ground.”

Now, if you know the various parachurch groups inside of the Church of England, you know that the Church Mission Society is a prominent network on the EVANGELICAL side of the faith. Our own Father George Conger is a member of said society. These are the last Anglicans in the world who would be dabbling in syncretism. In fact, these are traditional Anglicans on the low-church side of the church who would be highly critical of that approach.

Now, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a valid news story here.

What, for example, are the positive elements of these alternative religions that CMS leaders are trying to address? Where is the common ground that can be, well, invaded without doctrinal compromise? I mean, my patron saint in Orthodoxy is St. Brendan and my daughter’s is St. Brigid of Kildare. The Celtic saints had lots to say about issues linked to the natural world and to Christian mysticism.

So what is going on in this story? Do the members of the Telegraph team actually know?

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • wlinden

    There seems to be no real connection between the first paragraphs of the story and the later ones about druids and Stonehenge. Most likely the writer was just free-associating in order to concoct the most salacious header possible.

    ” The Morning Star is read by people who think the country ought to be run by *another* country. The Daily Telegraph is read by the people who think it is.” — JIm Hacker

  • Sarah Morrigan

    Needless to say, “historic” Christianity is already a syncretic mish-mash of European paganism, Greco-Roman philosophy, and Hebrew monotheism.

  • erikcampano

    Another unusual strain in Anglican thinking nowadays is the ever more frequent interest in atheism, sometimes coherent, other times just silly wordplay. Already a few Episcopal churches in New York have been hosting talks and other events on atheism — not necessarily endorsing it, but sort of trying to come to understand the “New Atheist” movement (not nuts about that term) — and not necessarily from a critical point of view.

    Northern, progressive, particularly American Anglicans tend to follow socioeconomic trends in all kinds of ways — they’re right on board with gay rights, they started ordaining women when they were making a major wave of entry into the workforce in the 70s — and now that there’s this cultural movement toward atheism (or paganism, or whatever), perhaps they’re buying into it.

    I use the word “buy” specifically because Anglicans (not in the Global South) tend to be a rich bunch, and a lot of the choices that they have made keep them endeared to wealthy progressives in places like London and New York, their northern strongholds. As Europe moves into what some people call a “post-Christian” period, perhaps the Anglican Church wants to ride that bandwagon. Whatever is driving these changes may very well have nothing to do with Christ, but rather with trying to mirror whatever interest in alternative spirituality — or non-spirituality — seems to be developing independently in society (although the church also influences that spirituality; it’s not like it’s just purely following on the coattails of culture).

  • Howard

    Here’s a story about Druids and Anglicans, but no mention of Rowan Williams? I know he’s retired, but he sounds like the kind who would be right in the middle of this, or at the very least provide a point of reference for people trying to make sense of what is being described.