A healthy tonic for Evangelism
Updated: Nov 30, 2020
A review of Peter Adam's book 'Thomas Cranmer. Using the Bible to Evangelize the Nation, written by Revd Canon Ashley Null
Due to a lack of an overt emphasis on foreign missions during the English Reformation, many commentators have concluded that the newly Protestant church under Edward VI lacked any sense of mission at all. In fact, such was not the case, for mission, either foreign or domestic. Cranmer’s Collect for Good Friday prayed for the conversion of ‘all Jews, Turks’ and ‘Infidels’, demonstrating a clear concern for the eternal fate of those living outside of the British Isles. Moreover, Peter Adam’s latest work, Thomas Cranmer: Using the Bible to Evangelize the Nation, helpfully reminds us that the aim of Cranmer’s formularies was to use the Bible to inculcate saving faith in the English people.
In this brief account, Adam notes that ‘Evangelism is a continuing task and a constant responsibility. The next generation needs the Gospel’ (p. 7). Hence, he begins by describing the various pre-Reformation efforts to bring the Christian faith to those in Britain: the first attempts amongst the Britons; the missions to the Anglo-Saxons, initially by Celtic missionaries through the establishment of monasteries, and then later by those sent from Rome who instituted the parish system; during the medieval period through monasticism, itinerant preaching of the mendicant orders as well as the covert bible circles of the Lollards; and finally through the university movement to read biblical passages in their scriptural context and in their original languages which was active in England in Cranmer’s day.
As the first Protestant Archbishop of Canterbury, what then was Cranmer’s own mission strategy? As concisely outlined by Adam, to restore the authority of God’s Word as the ultimate source of saving truth, superseding ‘tradition, Pope, intellect or imagination’ (p.10); to introduce a new lectionary so that the Bible was read through regularly during worship services in the language of the people; to require ministers in private to study the Bible diligently and in public to preach its gospel message faithfully; to compose the collects of his new Prayer Book by stitching together pertinent biblical passages; and to rely on the supernatural power of Scripture be at work during daily prayer and Holy Communion to turn English hearts and minds to God and to tither them there. In sum, Cranmer used every conceivable means to have the English people constantly encounter God’s Word, because he ‘knew that the Bible was God’s power to change and transform, people’s minds, hearts, lips and lives’ (p. 23).
Importantly, Adam adds that the success of Cranmer’s strategy relied on godly ministers thoroughly trained in Scripture, as called for by the Ordinal, and their willingness, like Cranmer himself, to suffer for the sake of the Gospel. For the persecuted look only to God in prayer to prosper their efforts, and the power of prayer, rather than on any particular method, is the only hope for evangelistic success.
Adam admits the significant differences between Cranmer’s day and ours. His was a government-mandated movement. The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries have bequeathed to us evangelism done at the grassroots level through local churches, inter-denominational co-operation, and parachurch ministries. His English audience was ethnically homogeneous. Today we are keenly aware of the need to be cross-cultural in our approach, because we live in a global, multi-cultural society. Yet Adam concludes Cranmer’s answer for his day remains the same for ours. ‘We will use the Bible for our evangelism’, for it ‘is God’s powerful and effective means of self-revelation’ (p. 43).
In an era which is all too prone to replace evangelism with church growth, to rely on the latest insights from organization management rather than the Holy Spirit, to focus on incorporating people into the church as a loving human community rather than introducing them to the good news of Jesus as their transcendent Saviour and Lord, Adam’s analysis of Cranmer’s approach is a healthy tonic. Reminding us of our heritage and giving us hope for the future, Adam’s much needed little book calls us back to first principles, that the proper focus of evangelism is looking to God to reveal himself to humanity through his appointed means, the timeless message of his Scriptures.