Welcome to my blog http://www.yournameislikehoney.com. Over the coming year I am serialising some adapted instalments from my DThM dissertation to try and hone it, make sense of it and share it with you – that is anyone who is interested. In this week’s instalment (Part One) I start to explain what I am exploring and why I am interested in it… If terms like ‘espoused’, ‘operant’ and ‘normative’ don’t make sense just yet then look out for Part Three/Four where they will explained more.

The whole thesis is the result of a seven year study of the HTB network. It has been exciting, invigorating and very very long! I’ve learnt a lot looking in on my own part of the church as a charismatic and evangelical Christian. I’ve also found it fascinating to compare what we say, do and think we believe to some of the early revivalists at the start of the evangelical era, George Whitefield and John Wesley who were themselves great innovators in sharing their message. I wonder what you will make of these findings…

Next section out each Monday.

What am I exploring in this thesis?

In a nutshell: this research considers whether the HTB network has been successful at what Sandy Millar has called ‘changing the model not the message’ as they have sought to proclaim the gospel afresh in a complex religious market to a new generation.[1]

To do this I’m firstly having a look at the discipleship goals in the network. This has been done through observation and participation, as well as a whole series of interviews. Then I am considering if there is any gap between ‘what we say’ (‘espoused theology’) and ‘what we do’ (‘operant theology) compared with the discipleship goals of theological voices that might be expected to be normal to us (‘normative theology’) as a charismatic network that owes much to the likes of John Wimber but also has a deeper source in evangelical Anglicanism.

To put it simply: Is what we say and what we do the same as what we believe?

Or to tease out a possible implication: if what we say and do is not quite all that we believe, how long will it be before what we say and what we do becomes the totality of what we (or those we have discipled) find we actually do believe?

What is driving what? The model or the message?

Theobiography: why the research matters to me

1) It’s good to think…

In 1994 Mark Noll wrote about the Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (the scandal being that there was not much of an evangelical mind!). I’m not much of a thinker, but I do like to think(!). One of my first encounters in the HTB network was being singled out by a visiting prophetic person who told me in a room full of leaders at Ashburnham that God would use my mind ‘to greatly bless the network.’ That remains to be seen, but it’s good to think!

It’s possible that us charismatics may at times be even worse than the average. In 2006 Martyn Percy claimed that despite the ‘millions involved in contemporary Charismatic Christianity, there is very little that could be classed as ‘Charismatic Theology.’[2] His argument was that no theologian of national significance had emerged within the movement and that it has distanced itself from systematic theology. Percy acknowledges ‘exceptions to this rule’,[3] although they are ‘slight in number’ but that this must be balanced by the ‘obvious lack of theology in mainstream Charismatic tradition… [meaning] there is unlikely to be a developed Christology, soteriology, doctrine of the church and the like.’[4] In his thesis, ‘Card-carrying Charismatics’ were unlikely to be ‘bogged down’ by tradition and ‘eschew a depth of participation in theological, ecclesiological, historical or sociological processes.’ This meant that where ‘formal’ (academic) theologies emerged regarding charismatic praxis they often had an ‘outsider’ ‘sociological’ perspective.[5] Indeed, even those writing with some sympathy, such as James Steven, can be clearly identified as ‘writing polemically’ in their analysis despite ‘eirenic intent’.[6]

Percy’s argument is arguably overstated as theologically minded practitioners in the early years of renewal were more focused on ‘operant’ and ‘espoused’ theology than ‘formal’ theology.[7] Yet in recent years as Renewal has matured, there has been an increasing interest in formal theology among charismatics. In the UK, Mark Cartledge, Andrew Walker and Tom Greggs have been among those who have helped insider voices to be heard more clearly at an academic level.[8] In the HTB Network a significant level of academic engagement is now emerging. Nick Drake’s 2018 doctoral work attempts to formulate a theology for Pentecostal and Charismatic worship based on Calvin’s notion of ‘Union with Christ’.[9] Keir Shreeves’ 2019 PhD is on ‘Bonhoeffer’s homiletics: the Spirit-impelled word of the church for the world.’[10]  As I write, I am aware of about ten clergy in the HTB network who are engaging in doctorate level research. So there are plenty of thinkers out there, and some prepared to do it academically too.

2) Gratitude for HTB and the Network

When my research began in 2014 the HTB network had become a place of support and help for my own ministry. Network members, including those interviewed for this thesis, increasingly viewed me as an insider. Our church hosted HTB network prayer gatherings and I led a seminar, which feeds into this research, at one of the large HTB network gatherings for church leadership teams.  Although I have never been on staff or even a member of HTB, the church, network and Alpha course have all impacted me greatly and I am a church leader within the charismatic Anglican tradition that HTB represents.

Aged 17, I joined an Alpha away day at my local Baptist church and had a deep and enduring sense of being ‘filled with the Spirit’, marked by speaking in tongues in response to the Alpha Course founder Nicky Gumbel’s video message. Aged 20, I visited HTB at a moment of vocational crisis and was nurse-maided into the Church of England by the kindness and contacts of the then vicar, Sandy Millar. I led Alpha courses in numerous settings – from a church hall in Cambridge with a youth group, to a homeless hostel for young people in Walsall to Starbucks with students in Wolverhampton and in church settings including an Anglo-Catholic parish in Wolstanton as well as the parishes I have served since ordination. When I moved to London aged 33, I became friends with many of the HTB network ministers and was invited to be part of the network by the convener Ric Thorpe as we looked to do a joint church plant with HTB from our Chiswick base. Various of our staff and congregation have had deep connections with the HTB network. In a sabbatical year from my studies Sandy Millar enabled me to spend considerable time with his predecessor John Collins and begin to record some of his ministerial story.

At present I am (just finishing as) a Regional Director within the parallel New Wine Network which has been similarly impacted by John Wimber. I am also National Director designate for SOMA UK, an international mission agency for Anglicans in charismatic renewal which many HTB leaders have been a part of. Ric Thorpe, now Bishop of Islington, remains a mentor and together with his successor as network leader Archie Coates, has been a key gatekeeper for the interview part of my research.

For all this, and much more besides I am so grateful…

Coming Up next week: Part Two: Why HTB is so significant.

[1] Furlong, 2000, 274.

[2] Percy, M, Clergy: Origin of Species, 2006, 139

[3] Ibid. 140 Including Walter Hollenweger (1972), Hocken (1986), Simon Tugwell (1976), David Watson (1965).

[4] Ibid. 140

[5] Including Percy’s own work on Wimber, which owed much to his reaction against excesses of Charismatic Christianity he experienced as a teenager at Christ Church Chorleywood. Percy, M Words, Wonders and Power 1996

[6] Andrew Walker in his introduction to Stevens, 2002.

[7] See later for definitions of ‘formal’, ‘normative’, ‘operant’ and ‘espoused’ theology

[8] See Mark Cartledge’s Charismatic Glossolalia: an empirical-theological study, Ashgate, 2001 for his original contribution, Tom Greggs 2007 thesis dealt with ‘Restoring particularity: The economic dynamics of Spirit and Son, with special reference to the theologies of Origen and Karl Barth’

[9] Drake, N, Constructing a Theology for Pentecostal-Charismatic Worship using Calvin’s ‘Union with Christ’ (2018) Birmingham https://etheses.bham.ac.uk/id/eprint/8516/

[10] Shreeves argues that for Bonhoeffer preaching is a pneumatological speech event, whereby the Spirit ‘actualises Christ from Scripture, establishing and sustaining the church, bringing a supremely relevant Word into the world and for the world.’ Shreeves, K Bonhoeffer’s homiletics : the Spirit-impelled word of the church for the world (2019) Aberdeenhttps://ethos.bl.uk/OrderDetails.do?uin=uk.bl.ethos.794130