Talking of the future and Archbishop Justin’s potential legacy

I often wonder what Archbishop Justin’s legacy will be, what will be the ‘mark’ of his archepiscopacy? I suspect he stands on the edge of becoming a truly reforming Archbishop.  Whether the Church of England is truly renewed and reformed under ++Justin’s governorship depends on his ability, and the willingness of the Church, to make significant progress in (at least) three, as I see it, priority areas.

Let’s start with the big institutional challenges: sex, gender and our ability to respond with integrity to the findings of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse. A lot has been said, and written, about these mega-meta issues, and I don’t propose to say anything here other than a failure to confront these issues and to shine light into our areas of supreme darkness will, in my view, damage the church irreparably.

The second priority area is mission and evangelism which the Church of England is seeking to address through its Renewal and Reform initiative. I was recently talking to a friend of mine (an Archdeacon) who said he was 80% behind R&R, I remember commenting that I was 65% in favour. I hope these figures render us both critical friends. It is surely massively important that the Church of England seeks to make a positive impact in every community in the country and that we seek to become a ‘growing church for all peoples and all places?’ 

If research showing (Voas, for instance) that the norm is for people have come to an essentially fixed view on matters of faith by their early twenties is accurate then it is surely also correct that evangelism to the young should be a priority? However mission and evangelism on the periphery and fringes should also be a priority. My own view is that the Church of England should be investing to a far greater extent in various forms of chaplaincy. Mission and Evangelism also needs to take place at the fringes or the ‘end of the earth’ the sort of places where mission priests and chaplains have tended to operate.

The third priority is public theology. Public theology can be thought of as the way the church engages with the civic society, and its institutions, and in so doing presents a Christian position that can be publicly understood. Through its public engagement the church (and her spokespersons) opens herself to and even invites public critique.

Public theology is necessarily underpinned by an understanding of what it means to be human and a commitment to the embodiment of various Christian ethics in public policy. Public theology is serious stuff because, as already suggested, through its exercise it invites an external critique of the very character of the church and her agents.

Public theology, as a missional exercise, can only ever achieve credibility if the church is seen to be an exemplar of what we might think of as ‘standards in public life.’ I hope this doesn’t sound pompous but it (public theology)  needs to be exercised from the moral high ground. I would argue that ++Justin’s ability to make a real and lasting impact in the field of public theology is largely contingent on his willingness and ability to get to grips with the big institutional challenges highlighted at the start of this article. The church can only speak with credibility if it operates from a place of credibility.

++Justin has taken a lot of flak this week from those who don’t, or won’t, understand that seeking to ‘transform unjust structures of society’ and the ‘pursuit of peace and reconciliation,’ are marks of Anglican Mission. His critics are those who seem to view the church solely as an agent for the privatization of salvation. In my view his critics offer a poor and reductive theology. They ignore, for instance, St. Paul’s insistence that ‘through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places,’ (Ephesians 3, 10).

Making known, proclaiming, the wisdom of God, and the values of the kingdom, beyond the walls of the church is central to the church’s calling. Archbishop Justin understands this. Those who would prefer him to stop speaking about what they regard as solely worldly matters (there is no such thing) don’t.

My suspicion is that Archbishop Justin’s high-profile interventions in world of public theology are deeply missional and evangelistic. They speak to a younger audience for who notions of social and economic justice, fairness, and the dignity of each and every person are highly cherished values. ++ Justin’s biggest leadership challenge maybe in ensuring a high degree of alignment between the issues he speaks about with passion and integrity in the public square and the internal characteristics of the institution he exercises governance over. If those we are seeking to reach, and to invite through our doors, experience a discrepancy between our public theology and their direct and personal experience of church their judgment is likely to be harsh indeed. A public commitment to justice, fairness and the dignity of each and every person must be verifiable through an ecclesiology which also, demonstrably and unequivocally, prizes and (ritually) reinforces these self-same virtues. The proof really is in the pudding.

If ++Justin can sort out the Church of England’s mega-meta challenges and continue to make a significant contribution in the public square my suspicion is that he will stand firmly alongside those great reforming Archbishops Temple and Ramsey and, he might just assist the church in reaching out to the younger generation by speaking about the issues that concern them.

His legacy could be to become the Archbishop who gave back to the church her very credibility, but in the meantime there’s an awful lot of work to do.










4 thoughts on “Talking of the future and Archbishop Justin’s potential legacy

  1. I wonder if you are correct – the definitions I have seen refer to “meta” as being outside the thing being referred to, e.g. the meta-narrative of the gospel? Anyway, I liked you post – again with the Archbishop there are those who say that the church should keep out of politics but that was not the way of Jesus. So much so was he involved in “politics” that the powers that be crucified him – and no doubt they would do the same to Justin!

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