This is part four in my weekly blogs based on my draft doctorate dissertation on the HTB network…

When I started the DThM programme at Durham University people told me that thesis writing would be hard and no-one would ever read your work (except maybe those marking it!) But I’ve stumbled across a really interesting topic, at a key time for the church, and interviewed some amazing people whose insights and stories I’d love to share.

So each Monday this year I’m going to share an instalment from my doctorate research in the HTB network churches. The doctorate is in final draft form and I’m hoping that blogging will help me revise anything that needs revision, so please do get involved and if you’ve got things to tell me you can contact me for this on or via this blog/social media.

The topic is fascinating! Since 2014 I’ve been exploring Discipleship Goals in the Holy Trinity Brompton [HTB] Network of Churches. The blog post below is from the first part of Chapter One, which explores the evangelical heritage of Holy Trinity Brompton.

Chapter One: Evangelical Heritage

“Listen to me you who pursue righteousness and who seek the LORD:

Look to the rock from which you were cut, the quarry from which you were hewn;

Look to Abraham your father, and Sarah, who gave you birth” Isaiah 51:1-2 (NIVUK)

Evangelical Heritage at HTB

What is an evangelical?

If you're reading this and are not clear on the term evangelical (or know it more from the negative press surrounding right-wing religion in the USA), then one helpful definition comes from David Bebbington, who said that evangelicals since the time of Wesley and Whitefield have been marked by four things: 1) their belief in the trustworthiness and sufficiency of the Bible, 2) they put the cross of the Christ at the centre of their preaching and teaching, 3) they seek to convert people to obedience to Jesus Christ, 4) they are active in proclaiming their faith and making a difference in the world.

In the 1970s St Paul’s Onslow Square and Holy Trinity Brompton were joined together to form one parish. St Paul’s had a long heritage as an evangelical preaching house, and had been known as the ‘Evangelical Cathedral of London’ under the 43 year ministry of Hanmer William Webb-Peploe (1837-1923),[5] whereas Holy Trinity Brompton was a ‘society church’ whose best known vicar Bryan Green (1901-93) was a traditional ‘liberal’ evangelical, although it had experienced some ‘Holy Spirit rumblings’ since 1969 when the curate in charge of an interregnum held ‘secret monthly meeting with speakers such as Colin Urquhart and Jean Darnell.[6] The work of bringing the two churches together came first to Raymond Hilton Turvey (1916-95), a well-known conservative evangelical who, while vicar of St George’s Leeds, had been instrumental in planning the Keele Congress (NEAC 1967). Turvey was vicar from 1975-80, a solid evangelical but with enough charismatic sympathies to appoint ex-barrister Sandy Millar as curate and accomplice in 1977.[7]

Financial insolvency coupled with the need for roof repairs was a surprising reason for the merger of two very different churches in the Kensington area of London in the late 1970s. St Paul’s Onslow Square was one of only three large evangelical ‘preaching’ churches in London at the time (along with All Souls Langham Place and St Helens Bishopsgate), and while it had a thriving congregation, it also had substantive roof issues. Holy Trinity Brompton, despite having a professional choir and being an established place for Etonian weddings was in dire financial straits. The Bishop of London instigated a merger between the two led by Raymond Turvey, the vicar of St Paul’s Onslow Square, and the rest was anything but simple history.

Charlie Colchester, churchwarden from 1977 to 1994, describes how the pressure of bringing together such different churches and strong characters broke, or nearly broke, both of the first two incumbents.[8] The professional choir proved intransigent. There were full-blown shouting matches between outgoing wardens and extreme pressure from the PCC. There was much pain in change management.

Raymond Turvey (1916-1995) was, in Colchester’s analysis, ‘an outstanding man of God, a strong solid evangelical.’ His peers clearly trusted him, as he held the position of secretary of NEAC for many years under the chairmanship of John Stott. [9] However Sandy Millar describes how Turvey had charismatic leaning and was delighted to give space to allow his curate Sandy Millar to begin to develop a radical house group comprising ‘fiery’ young charismatics like Nicky Lee, Ken Costa, and Nicky Gumbel (many of whom had recently been converted in a Cambridge University Student mission led by David MacInnes).[10] But Turvey himself was not just hamstrung by the personal cost of managing the merger between HTB and St Paul’s, but also by his position as an established and trusted member of NEAC. To be outwardly charismatic would be to go against the strongest characters within the evangelical hierarchy. He later confided in Millar that he had appointed him to do what he could see needed to happen but couldn’t do himself.[11] Ultimately, Colchester argues, while the role broke him terribly, Turvey is in many ways the unsung hero of HTB.

After a five year ministry his successor in 1980 was John Collins (1925 –  ) who also had a deep heritage within Anglican Evangelicalism. He was a former Cambridge Inter-Collegiate Christian Union president, who had led England Cricketer and future Bishop David Shepherd, to faith in his college rooms while at University.[12]  He was a contemporary of Timothy Dudley Smith and Dick Lucas at Ridley Hall. John Stott appointed him from 1951-57 as his ‘senior’ curate, and Collins deputised for Stott during the rapid growth years of All Souls Langham Place, running All Souls for up to four months at a time while Stott wrote and travelled.[13] EM Nash of Iwerne Camps where Collins had been converted likewise trusted him with the development of prized curates such as David Watson and David MacInnes.[14] Henry Chadwick, the church historian was his Iwerne mentor. Although, as will be seen in Chapter 3, Collins’ charismatic experiences and corresponding interpretation of Romans 6 ‘being dead to sin’ left him ostracised and isolated by former evangelical mentors and peers from 1963 onwards, he remained a committed evangelical dependent on and loyal to Stott.[15]

Whereas under Turvey (1975-80) and Collins (1980-85) HTB retained a clear evangelical identity, their successor and curate to them both, Sandy Millar (1939-), vicar at HTB from 1985-2005, had been converted almost directly into a charismatic encounter that left him with far less allegiance to Anglican Evangelicalism as defined by Iwerne or even Stott.[16] This may have contributed to his early adoption of John Wimber and his ‘normative’ Kingdom Theology as discussed in Chapter Two.  However, Nicky Gumbel by contrast, following his conversion at a Cambridge University Christian Union mission led by John Collin’s former curate David MacInnes, was intensely discipled in the Iwerne system for several years by (the now disgraced) Jonathan Fletcher.[17]

This helps explain why David Fletcher, brother to Jonathan Fletcher and EM Nash’s successor running Iwerne Camps, described Alpha proprietorially as ‘basically the Iwerne camp talk scheme with charismatic stuff added on.’[18] Rob Warner concurs that Alpha, which Gumbel inherited and adapted from Charles Marnham, John Irvine and Nicky Lee, is a ‘paradoxical hybrid’ of Iwerne camp ‘rationalistic conservatism’ and John Wimber’s ‘charismatic expressivism’.[19]

In 1980 as a society church in Knightsbridge with an increasingly strong evangelical identity partly inherited from St Pauls Onslow Square, HTB easily drew in laity and clergy from Iwerne backgrounds who had been schooled in ‘camp theology’ like Collins, and especially if they had some openness to the charismatic Renewal ministry.  The socio-economic make up of HTB in the 1980s meant that it had a substantive evangelical heritage within the upper-middle class Iwerne Camp system. And despite the increasing charismatic tendencies at HTB there was also remained a natural link to John Stott, who had trained Collins in ministry, and dominated the Evangelical Anglican scene through various roles, including as Founder Director of the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity and as a prolific author.

So the rest of this chapter sets out the history and influence on HTB of Iwerne and Stott in order to assess the degree to which either or both could provide normative theological voices by which to assess HTB. We need to understand where HTB has come from in order to plot the path of how it has developed since the 1980s and where that development may take it in the future. What is clear is that HTB has been a flagship evangelical Anglican church grounded in a tradition dating back through Stott, Iwerne etc to Wesley and Whitefield. A key question for this thesis that will keep emerging in the background is: Is HTB (still) evangelical as Bebbington defined it? In other words does it (still) rely on Scripture, put the cross at the centre, seek to convert people to obedience to Christ, and is it activist in doing so? This thesis will suggest that there may be a range of answers to that, but that the roots are clear and despite some of the messiness of this legacy, (as explored next week), there is a lot to hang on to there that may not want to be (unwittingly) lost.

Next Week: The impact of the Iwerne Camp system on HTB.

[1] Cameron, 54

[2] In TAR the nature of the practitioner group helps determine what the normative theology voice is (see Cameron, 54). If the group demands conformity in both doctrine and practice both doctrine and practice become part of the normative theology. Being ‘sound’ in a Iwerne camp setting would hence be a shorthand for having both correct thinking and correct lifestyle. See Atherstone, Andrew and John Maiden, eds. Evangelicalism and the Church of England in the Twentieth Century: Reform, Resistance and Renewal. Woodbridge, Suffolk, UK; Rochester, NY, USA: Boydell & Brewer, 2014. Accessed May 7, 2021.

[3] Cameron, 55

[4] For the 1730s marking a beginning of the evangelical era see: David Bebbington, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to 1980s; Hylson-Smith, K Evangelicals in the Church of England 1734-1984 and Noll, M The Rise of Evangelicalism: The Age of Edwards, Whitefield and the Edwards. Bebbington’s definition of Evangelicalism as ‘activist, conversionist, biblicist, crucicentric’ has won support for being succinct and clear even if perhaps understating revivalism (which may be seen in activism), sinfulness (which is implied in converstionist), and the sovereignty of God. Nevertheless, even scholars less comfortable with Bebbington’s definition have ‘tended to defer to it.’ Hutchinson, Mark., Wolffe, John. A Short History of Global Evangelicalism. United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 2012.17, see also Nathan A Finn in Themelios , 33.3 (2008), and Timothy Larsen, The Reception given Evangelicalism in Modern Britain since its publication in 1989, in Michael AG Haykin and Kenneth J Stweart, eds The Emergence of Evangelicalism: Exploring Historical Continuities, Nottingham,: IVP, 2008, 21-36.

[5] ‘Appeal for St Paul’s, Onslow Square’, Times, 25th January 1952, p. 6. Cited in Andrew Atherstone and John Maiden (eds.), Evangelicalism and the Church of  England in the Twentieth Century: Reform, Resistance and Renewal, Woodbridge, Boydell, 2014, p. 1.

[6] Heard, James. Inside Alpha: Explorations in Evangelism. United States: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2010. 7

[7] Manwaring, From Controversy to Co-Existence: Evangelicals in the Church of England 1914-1980, 1985, 176-180. Millar Interview

[8] Pers comm 31/8/19

[9] National Evangelical Anglican Congress. See Kenneth Hyslon-Smith Evangelicals, 1988, 290-2; 323-5 for its significance.

[10] Pers comm

[11] Turvey to Millar: ‘You get on and pray for everybody (to be filled with the Spirit) and I’ll explain what you meant.’

[12] Shepherd (1969) 48-50; Shepherd (2002) 214-217

[13] See Cameron, Julia. John Stott’s Right Hand: The Untold Story of Frances Whitehead. United States: Cascade Books, 2018, p.98, 121. Stott could be away for four months at a time during Collins’ ministry. They holidayed together, discovering Stott’s writing retreat the Hookses while on vacation in 1952.

[14] See Watson, 1983, 53-57. Collins’ personal papers however reveal that Nash was aggrieved with him as neither Watson nor MacInnes took on public school chaplaincies after their curacy with him.  See also Saunders, T and Sanson H, 47

[15] See Anderson, Allan. An Introduction to Pentecostalism: Global Charismatic Christianity. United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 2004, 153 for Stott distancing himself from the Charismatic movement that impacted several of his current and former curates, including Collins and Michael Harper who founded The Fountain Trust.

[16] Millar’s story is expanded on in Chapter Two.

[17] See more below

[18] Baker, David. “Doing the impossible”. Evangelicals Now. Archived from the original on 27 September 2011. Retrieved 23 July 2011.

[19] Rob Warner Reinventing English Evangelicalism 1966-2001 (Milton Keynes: Paternoster, 2007) 122. Chapter Two will argue contra this that content of the Holy Spirit teaching on Alpha largely predates Wimber’s influence, and energy behind the expansion of Alpha owes at least as much to the Toronto Blessing as Wimber, but the thesis that Alpha is a paradoxical hybrid still holds some merit.