Reaching the Nation
A review of Peter Adam's book, 'Thomas Cranmer. Using the Bible to Evangelize the Nation', 08/2020. By Daniel Kirk.
Many, like Bishop David Pytches, have seen the Church of England parish system as inimical to church planting and missional growth. That may often be true but Peter Adam begins his look at Thomas Cranmer’s strategy to evangelise the nation by giving us an overview of evangelism in the UK before the reformation. He shows how the parish system far from inhibiting church growth was originally developed as a system of ‘geographical missionary areas’ so that there would be clergy strategically placed across the country to be able to preach the gospel.
This was one of the evangelistic methods ‘from above’ (monasteries, bishops & popes) as compared with those ‘from below’ (ordinary ministers and lay people). Both occurred as Britain was converted and reconverted after the Viking invasions. But Adam claims that by the Norman conquest in the eleventh century the European parish system was beginning to fail. In part, because of the lack of training of parish ministers and also because of their lack of evangelism. The preaching orders sprang up to correct this developing ‘a new model of itinerant evangelists’.
Adam then explains why Britain needed a new preaching of the gospel. Essentially they needed to know that ‘it was good news, not good works. It was focused on Christ and his one sufficient atoning sacrifice on the cross, it was based on the God-inspired Bible. And it contradicted much current piety and practice’. He quotes Archbishop Ramsey explaining that there is a constant need for the Anglican Church to relearn the gospel and test itself by the standards of the Reformation.
Then we have the heart of the book, where Thomas Cranmer’s strategy of evangelising England is explored. There is much practical wisdom here and it is also inspiring to see how amidst the great challenges faced in evangelising our country, albeit with large set backs, how a godly, biblical archbishop can mightily impact a nation under God.
Cranmer wanted the word of God to speak to people in various ways. ‘He wanted it to be read aloud in English in services, and available to be read in churches; he wanted it to be studied and preached; he wanted the Bible to be prayed; he wanted people to know the gospel from the Bible, and he included a Bible-based gospel appeal in every daily and weekly service.’ Adam then unpacks each of these in turn before looking at the particular context of Cranmer’s time and then our context today, to see how how the Bible can still powerfully touch people inside and outside the church with the gospel.
This all reminded me of an article by Carl Truman who once sat next to a young Muslim lady wearing a hijab in King’s College Cambridge for an evensong Service. What surprised him as a Presbyterian minister, was how bible centred the whole formal liturgy by Cranmer was, even though the minister was not evangelical. ‘She heard more of the Bible read, said, sung and prayed than in any Protestant evangelical church of which I am aware - than any church, in other words, which actually claims to take the word of God seriously and place it at the centre of its life’. The Cranmer written liturgy still enables those from non-Christian backgrounds to hear the gospel through it’s judicious use of the bible.
Of course Adam is not just expounding the need to use the BCP today. He looks at the methodology behind and applies it today, concluding with eleven very practical points of how we can ‘use the Bible in our evangelism, and ensure that any evangelism, by whatever means, engages people in serious interaction with the Bible’.
I do have a couple of minor quibbles with this booklet, neither of which is a reflection on its content. Firstly, the title (which is repeated four times) uses the American spelling ‘evangelize’ whereas the rest of the text uses the British ‘evangelise’. Consistency would be good. Secondly, there is no contents page although the text itself is very well structured with clear headings and subheadings. Even though it is a short booklet a good contents page would help find the great quote within, more easily at a later stage.
So I warmly commend this book to all who would seek to see the gospel preached in our generation and witness God enabling new life to be birthed, so that His name can be glorified in and beyond our churches.
Revd. Daniel Kirk is vicar of St Michaels and all angels, Gidea Park