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Conservative Evangelicalism, Gender, and the Episcopate: by the Revd Liam Beadle

I am writing in the week of a general election. Without wishing to predict the future, it is likely that the following week will be taken up with conversations between possible coalition partners. It is helpful to think of evangelical Anglicanism as a coalition. Bishop Graham Kings has identified three ‘parties’: conservative, open, and charismatic. While there is some overlap between them, as in a coalition government, relationships between the three are not always easy, and this is one of the reasons for the appointment of Rod Thomas as Bishop of Maidstone. Our prayer is that a conservative evangelical voice on the bench will enable the evangelical coalition to flourish.

But what is a conservative evangelical anyway? Any outline is bound to be personal and impressionistic, but to get our bearings there are a number of historical influences, contemporary concerns, and external markers. It is these which distinguish conservative evangelicalism from the evangelicalism of Holy Trinity Brompton and the Alpha course which nurtured the Archbishop of Canterbury and from the evangelicalism of senior figures such as Bishop Graham Kings, associated with the Fulcrum movement. An obvious historical influence is John Calvin, the misrepresented second-generation reformer. Calvin’s sharp legal mind and knowledge of the Scriptures and the Fathers make him a sublime theologian, whose Institutes of the Christian Religion is one of the great books of the world. While many of Calvin’s followers have been regarded as dour, his theology emphasises joyful confidence in the sovereignty of God, giving rise to a deep assurance of salvation in those who read the Scriptures through the lenses he provides.

Another obvious historical influence, this time from within the Church of England, is J. C. Ryle, the first Bishop of Liverpool. Ryle’s writing is pithy and accessible, while giving a beautifully clear defence of the Reformed nature of true Anglicanism. A primary contemporary concern of conservative evangelicals is expository preaching. The ministry of Dick Lucas at St Helen’s Bishopsgate and the establishment of the Proclamation Trust have done much to make conservative evangelical Anglican preaching one of the secret glories of the Church of England. The conservative evangelical conviction is that the preached word is the voice of God. There is an excitement about conservative evangelical gatherings not because of high-octane music or perpetual innovation, but because of the expectation that God will address his people through his word.

As far as external markers are concerned, historically the position of the officiant at the Lord’s Supper at the north-side of the holy table was the obvious one, and grants to parishes from evangelical trusts were often contingent on it. It can still be found, but a more reliable external mark is that while open and charismatic evangelicals are happy to adapt Common Worship Order One, conservative evangelicals prefer to use Order Two, most often in contemporary language. In a conservative evangelical parish church you are unlikely to find candles, but you will always find Bibles in the pews – very often the English Standard Version. It is a very distinct group of Anglicans.I am enormously grateful to them: I came to a living faith through their ministry, and they taught me to preach.

I am not convinced by the current conservative evangelical opposition to the consecration of women bishops, but I do claim to understand it, and hope to represent it fairly. It should be obvious that for conservative evangelicals the supreme authority is not the wisdom of the world or even the tradition of the Church, but the Bible. They have Article XX on their side: ‘…it is not lawful for the Church to ordain any thing that is contrary to God’s Word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another.’ Conservative evangelicals believe that for women to exercise a ministry of headship in the church (that is, as an incumbent or bishop) would be contrary to Scripture. The classic texts have been discussed elsewhere, but for reference I Timothy ii.11 ff. is read alongside I Corinthians xiv.34 and an appeal to the order of creation and the nature of the marital relationship, giving especial weight to Ephesians v.22-24 and 32. Conservative evangelicals are adamant that women are equal to men and that this understanding of Scripture honours women, enabling them to play a vital part in the life of the local Church.

It is the local Church which is primary for conservative evangelicals. Again, they will appeal to the Articles, specifically to Article XIX: ‘The visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men, in the which the pure Word of God is preached, and the sacraments be duly ministered according to Christ’s ordinance in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same.’ But if this is the case, why do bishops matter at all?First, and most importantly, conservative evangelical Anglicans believe that the seeds of episcopal ministry are to be found in Scripture. The New Testament refers both to elders and overseers, that is, to presbyters and bishops. While in the first century it seems these rôles were combined, in time they were separated. The Book of Common Prayer refers to ‘the Ordering of Priests’ but to ‘the Consecration of Bishops’: that is, presbyters are consecrated (or ‘set apart’) for ministry as a Bishop. Bishops thus have a distinctive purpose within (not apart from) the presbyterate.

Secondly, conservative evangelical Anglicans believe that episcopal ministry benefits the Church. To them, the accusation of congregationalism is not particularly offensive, but nor is it entirely accurate. While to be apostolic is to submit to the apostles’ teaching in Scripture, there is an ‘apostolicity’ about episcopal ministry. St Paul did not set apart committees for ministry and mission. He set apart men. That is why it is important for conservative evangelicals to have bishops to whom they can relate with confidence. While personally wary of an ecclesiology in which congregations may choose their bishop for a particular doctrinal stance, clearly conservative evangelicals have specific needs which arise from a specific hermeneutical understanding of gender and ministry.

It is to be hoped that an honoured place for conservative evangelicals in the Church’s ministry will enable all evangelicals to unite in mission, that the people of England may hear the gospel of Jesus Christ and come to a living faith in him.

liam phot webLiam Beadle is the Vicar of Honley in the Diocese of West Yorkshire and the Dales. He grew up in Newcastle and read Theology at Oxford before training for ordained ministry at Cranmer Hall, Durham.

He likes second-hand bookshops and gin.

His chief desire is to preach God’s word to the end that God’s chosen people will worship God in the name of Jesus Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit.


I am extremely grateful to the Revd Liam Beadle for agreeing without knowing much about me or the website to write this piece for us in an attempt to explain the viewpoint of Conservative Evangelicals. Until now, I have had some difficulty in grasping why, for example, they insist on male headship but I now understand much better how and why it is so central in their ecclesiology.

Evangelicals, Bible and Gender


Once again, I am indebted to a guest author for this very welcome piece about the various strands of Evangelicalism in the Church of England. The Revd Jody Stowell untwists the strands for us:



I found myself reading Fr Andrew Cain’s guest post on this same blog with increasing resonance and gratitude for his clear and generous articulation of his tradition and also of those within his tradition with whom he does not agree.  I can only hope that I am able to do the same for my own tradition.

However, I am only too aware that there are some differences in how Evangelicalism experiences its own spectrum, compared with Anglo-Catholicism.  This sometimes means that for someone like me, who is very much from within an Open Evangelicalism, I often see more ‘family resemblance’ with those who identify as Liberal Catholics, than I might with those who are Conservative Evangelicals.

Whilst we all find ourselves ‘born’ into a particular tradition, I believe that the particular ‘hue’ of that tradition which we will gravitate towards is much more to do with our personality type, our upbringing, our culture, than perhaps our outworked theology.  Our theology can come tripping along behind us and give vocabulary to how we are experiencing God and faith and Church within the tradition that we have, often accidentally, found ourselves in.  I happen to have found faith in a place that was ‘middle of the road’ Evangelical Anglican, a place which became very Conservative Evangelical and thus formed my own world in a way that I now describe myself as Open Evangelical.  However, had I found myself in a more Catholic Anglican tradition, I have no doubt that my journey would have taken me to a Liberal Catholic expression.

I say all this to give a little background to the person writing this post – inevitably coloured and biased by my experiences – and also to be utterly clear that, although I am an Evangelical, it is not a label that I hold defensively.  I am an Evangelical and there are some things I am grateful for, but the type of Evangelicalism that I hold has, as part of its DNA, a recognition of the value of ‘that which is not like me’.  Thus my flavour of Evangelicalism will inevitably always have me flittering about around the edges of my own tradition.

What’s an Evangelical anyway?

Thus is can be somewhat nebulous to write something on what ‘Evangelicals’ think…on anything! However, I will attempt to draw a map for you.  Over the years there have been many attempts to define what it means to be Evangelical, the most lingering of these being David Bebbington’s marks of Evangelicalism: Crucicentrism, Biblicism, Conversionism and Activism.  I think that probably, for most Evangelicals of all hues, the reality is that Biblicism is the primary marker to which all the others defer.  Our view of Biblical authority gives us our ethical and doctrinal understanding of the Cross, personal relationship with Jesus and Social Action.  If there is anything that joins the differing streams of Evangelicalism together it is our agreement on the love of Scripture.  This is not to say that other traditions do not hold Scripture highly, as I know they do, but to say that this is a mark which will be found amongst all who call themselves Evangelical.

Therefore, it is our view of and therefore treatment of Scripture which would be the primary paradigm in which Evangelicals will make decisions about the compatibility, or otherwise, with the Christian faith, of particular modes of human community.

Whilst we agree on the importance of Scripture, however, our treatment of it does vary.  And this is where we may tread murky waters.  The three streams of Evangelicalism discussed in this article by Graham Kings, continue to disagree exactly what their own markers are.  However I do think that Graham gives some helpful brush strokes for us to work with.  The three streams described in the article are Conservative, Charismatic and Open.  Our understanding of the interaction of Scripture with Tradition and Culture leads to the particular distinctiveness apparent in our Evangelicalism.  These distinctives will express themselves in particular when in conversation with what it means to say that the Bible is ‘The Word of God’.

Evangelicals and the Word of God

Broadly speaking, Conservative Evangelicals (CEs) will have a, more or less, literal or ‘plain-speaking’ understanding of Scripture.  The Bible is literally ‘God’s Word to us’.  Its main emphasis is transcendent.  Scripture is to be untouched, uncontaminated by mere human vagaries.  CEs approach Scripture as something which has been given to us by God and which God, in God’s power, can make plain in the translation to each generation and culture.  Contrary to some caricatures, CEs can and do make use of contemporary methods of hermeneutics and understand Biblical Scholarship as significant for the good ‘handling’ of Scripture.  However, their understanding of the Bible as The Word of God in a literal and strict sense, means that often the plain-speaking of Scripture is seen to outweigh any other ‘voices’ that might speak to its meaning.  CEs who are not also Charismatic Evangelicals (there is of course not a strict boundary between the streams), are often also Cessationists.  This is consistent with their view of the Bible as the only source of God’s interaction with us.  The reason that the Sacraments have the significance that they do, is because they are documented in Scripture, for example.  It is their presence in Scripture that gives them weight, rather than their Dominical foundation per se.  For CEs it is very important that Scripture is untouched by the cultural mores of the day.  Only in Scripture’s unchanging nature, given once, with one meaning, is the power and proof that it is given from God.

Charismatic Evangelicals (ChEs), in comparison, tend to understand Scripture as the Word of God to God’s people immanently.  Scripture as God’s Word means that it is living, because God is living.  The living nature of Scripture means it is primarily to be understood, and made relevant to humanity, in the present context.  The point of Biblical Scholarship for ChEs is to be able most faithfully to interpret Scripture for our contemporary society.  God’s Kingdom is here on Earth now, God is present now and God’s Word is for now.  This means that the conversation Scripture is to have with Tradition and Culture is of the utmost importance.  For ChEs, Tradition has sadly often been demonised as being irrelevant and solely about keeping things the same.  Whilst ChEs have a high view of Scripture, and often their theology remains the same as more Conservative Evangelicals, their view of the Bible as the living Word of God means that their ethics may appear more ‘liberal’.  Often ChEs appeal to ‘Grace over Law’ and if they see a dissonance between what might be a ‘Biblical’ precedent and what seems right in the Holy Spirit for today’s Church, they would be likely to see that precedent as culturally bound and thus not necessarily an ethic for all time and all places.  Where a ChE draws the line between Scripture and culture will determine whether they are an Open ChE or a Conservative ChE.  However, because Charismatic Evanglicalism has grown out of a more Conservative Evangelicalism, ChEs are still often Conservative in theology and there appears to be much more cross-over between Conservative and Charismatic expressions of Evangelicalism than between Conservative and Open, and even between Open and Charismatic.

Open Evangelicals (OEs) are often formed by their story of encounter with more Conservative Evangelicalism.  We are close to those who have left Evangelicalism completely, such as the Post-Evangelicals described by Dave Tomlinson.  However, Open Evangelicals recognise that their story is inextricably formed by Evangelicalism and that their identity rests in and from that tribe.  Nevertheless we have found that our position on certain issues of faith and doctrine have been formed in the crucible of defining what we are ‘not’.  Hence often OEs will feel uncomfortable about calling the Bible ‘The Word of God’.  Although there are ways of interpreting this concept in a way that is not Bibliolatrous, we associate the term with a divinisation of the Bible that is both unbiblical and damaging pastorally.  OEs will be quick to tell you that it is Jesus who is the Word of God.  This is not to say that other Evangelicals do not believe this, but that for OEs our primary engagement with Scripture is as inspired, reliable, authoritative story.  The narrative of God, the bigger picture and the whole story of God with humanity, are ways that OEs will read Scripture.  In common with ChEs, we will see Scripture as a living organic story which ‘comes to life’ when read in partnership with the Holy Spirit.  We will also defend our biblical credentials quite ferociously.  We tend towards Biblical Scholarship which deals with the canon as a whole and recognises it as One Book, and whilst understanding issues of genre and biblical world, is more interested in the continuous narrative that runs through the whole.

On Women

Having given you a brief explanation of different ways that the Evangelical spectrum engage with Scripture, this inevitably leads to reasons why our different tribes come to slightly different views on Women and their place in God.

All of our views will come from what we understand Scripture to say.

For CEs there will be particular texts which, in a ‘plain-speaking’ view of Scripture, are difficult to overcome.  Such texts as 1 Cor 14:34-35, 1 Tim 2:11-12.  These texts speak of the place of women in Church order.  Women should not speak in Church and should defer to their husbands.  These texts come with some translation issues. However, taking this into account, for CEs they speak plainly enough and should be obeyed.  Often, if pressed, they will link these texts together with Genesis and Ephesians 5 and thus link both with the ‘obvious’ creation order, in which men are placed in authority over women.  This connection with an obvious creation order, means that for CEs the order must remain in place over all times and cultures.  For CEs any attempt to explain away these passages results in ‘hermeneutical gymnastics’ which is unfaithful to their belief in Scripture as the literal Word of God.

As ChEs have an orientation towards the present relevance of Scripture, they have understood these texts in the context of the time.  Whilst their instinct is still towards the ‘problem passages’ mentioned above, and having to ‘deal’ with these in order to permit women to teach, they will see them as time- and culturally- bound.  ChEs will tend to think that, whilst the texts probably do put a prohibition on women at that time, this is a restriction which is lifted in the contemporary context.  1 Tim 2 will be understood as a response by Paul to a context where Diana worship was rife and women were dominating men because of this.  In that context it was in order to create a healthy balance that Paul instituted this boundary.  We are no longer in that situation and so the restriction is no longer relevant.  Whilst the 1 Cor text is more problematic, it is often read alongside 1 Cor 11, where women are clearly speaking in Church and so recognised that a ‘plain-speaking’ understanding of the text leads to a contradiction within the same Pauline letter.  It is assumed that ‘it cannot mean what it plainly says’.  For ChEs the presence in God’s Church of women who are clearly gifted in teaching, leading and preaching, is also a significant hermeneutic through which they will interpret Scripture.  It is important for ChEs that the reality of contemporary context is taken into account when reading the Bible.

As is consistent with OEs primary view of Scripture as one narrative, we do not have quite the same emphasis on individual texts, although we would deal with these problematic texts because this is the conversation that other Evangelicals are having.  Our approach to these particular texts are within the story as a whole and are seen as rather minimal in that context.  For OEs the story of God and Women begins in Genesis and the equal place of women alongside men as the Image of God.  This relationship breaks in Genesis 3 and any domination then present is seen as a result of disobedience and not as part of the eternal creative order.  Our reading of further Biblical evidence tends to be with these lenses and we will read the stories of women in the OT seeing God at work to re-establish the place of women as equals.  For instance the story of God rescuing Sarai from Egypt when Abram sells her to Pharoah in Genesis, is a significant message from God that she was as much part of the promise of blessing that Abram was given.  We see the presence of Deborah as judge in response to the statement that ‘Israel cried out to God’, as telling us that God has a place for women alongside men in the leadership of God’s people.  As the story continues in the NT, we see women highly valued and specially treated by Jesus as equal – Mary’s better choice to be educated being endorsed by Jesus, the woman caught in adultery being liberated to choose a different life, the Samaritan woman being the first missionary to the Gentiles, Jesus’ choice of Mary as the first Apostle and so on.

The story through the Old Testament and on into the New Testament is,  for Open Evangelicals, so generously weighted towards equality of gender that the focus on 4 or 5 proof texts that seem to contradict the majority of the Biblical story, sometimes bemuses us.

This is a brief explanation of why different Evangelicals come to different views on women.

Hopefully it will explain the reasons why the seemingly same love of Scripture can have some very different outworkings.

Welcome to my world!








The main illustration is by George Muresan via Shutterstock. The picture of the author is taken from her parish website.

The hyperlinks of bible extracts take you to the New Revised Standard Version on the Oremus website.

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