The consultation process for finding Rowan Williams’s successor as the Archbishop of Canterbury will begin in May 2012 and end sometime during the summer.

The Anglican Communion will have a new spiritual leader by the end of this year.

So, who might be in the running?

Below are profiles of three possible candidates: the Archbishop of York, the current Bishop of Durham and a past Bishop of Durham.

John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York

The Most Revd and Rt Hon Dr John Sentamu is the bookmaker’s favourite to become the next Archbishop of Canterbury.

Dr Sentamu is also the only Church of England bishop to be stopped under the ‘sus’ laws (‘reasonable grounds to suspect’).

Sentamu was born in 1949 in Uganda, one of 13 children. He then went on to read Law and practice as an advocate of the High Court of Uganda. In 1974, Sentamu had been married for just three weeks when Idi Amin threw him in prison for 90 days. Afterward, Sentamu fled to the UK. In 2007, he gave a speech describing the torture he underwent in Uganda, saying:

 the temptation to give up hope of release was always present.

Wikipedia tells us more:

He read theology at Selwyn College, Cambridge (BA 1976, MA 1979, PhD 1984). He was baptized at Eden Baptist Church, Cambridge. He trained for the priesthood at Ridley Hall, Cambridge, being ordained a priest in 1979. His doctoral thesis is entitled Some aspects of soteriology, with particular reference to the thought of J.K. Mozley, from an African perspective.[4] He worked as assistant chaplain at Selwyn College, as chaplain at a remand centre and as curate and vicar in a series of parish appointments before his consecration, in 1996, as Bishop of Stepney (a suffragan see in the Diocese of London). It was during this time that he served as advisor to the Stephen Lawrence Judicial Enquiry. In 2002 he chaired the Damilola Taylor review. That same year he was appointed Bishop of Birmingham where his ministry, according to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, was praised by “Christians of all backgrounds”. Sentamu became President of Youth for Christ in 2004 and President of the YMCA in April 2005.[5]

On 17 June 2005 the prime minister’s office announced his translation to York as the 97th archbishop.[6] He was formally elected by the chapter of York Minster on 21 July,[7] legally confirmed as archbishop in London on 5 October, and enthroned at York Minster on 30 November 2005 (the feast of Saint Andrew), at a ceremony with African singing and dancing and contemporary music, with Sentamu himself playing African drums during the service.[8][9] As Archbishop of York, Sentamu sits in the House of Lords[10] and was admitted, as a matter of course, to the Privy Council of the United Kingdom.[11]

Sentamu has also held university chancellorships and has been awarded a number of honorary degrees.

In 2006, television executives invited him to be part of the reality show Celebrity Big Brother. Sentamu declined:

saying “Celebrity can be malign in that it becomes a form of idolatry, and people live their lives vicariously through the rich and famous rather than attending to their own lives.”[30]

He has similarly traditional views on marriage and in vitro fertilisation (IVF); he supports St George’s Day and Christians working in the public sector who have been persecuted for their faith.

He also has not been afraid to take political stances against kidnapping in Palestine and Robert Mugabe’s regime in Zimbabwe, among other causes.

Last year, he played things a bit safe by donating bird boxes to parishes in the Archdiocese of York and minimising premarital sex.

Sentamu is married with two children.

He would be a good choice for the Southern Cone (Asia, Africa and South America) as well as for the Church of England.  He would provide good structure and firm yet understanding leadership.

Justin Welby, the Bishop of Durham

The Rt Revd Justin Welby was appointed Bishop of Durham in 2011, succeeding N T (‘Tom’) Wright, more about whom below. Prior to that Welby had been the Dean of Liverpool for four years.

He is married with five children. A sixth, sadly, died.

Welby, born in 1956, is the grand-nephew of former Conservative Deputy Prime Minister Rab Butler, later Baron Butler of Saffron Walden.  Welby was educated at Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge. There he read History and Law.

He then spent 11 years in the oil industry and was Group Treasurer of Enterprise Oil. At the end of the 1980s, his life took a different tack:

From 1989 to 1992, Welby studied Theology and trained for the priesthood at Cranmer Hall and St John’s College Durham before becoming a Curate at Chilvers Coton with Astley (Nuneaton) from 1992 to 1995. He then became Rector at St James’ Church, Southam and Vicar of Ufton from 1995 until 2002.

In 2002, he was appointed a Canon Residentiary at Coventry Cathedral and Co-Director for International Ministry at the International Centre for Reconciliation. In 2005, he left the latter post when he was appointed Sub-Dean and Canon for Reconciliation Ministry.

Welby was appointed Dean of Liverpool in December 2007 and was installed in a service at Liverpool Cathedral on 8 December 2007.[4]

On being appointed Bishop of Durham in 2011, Welby told the BBC:

I was astonished to be offered the role. It is a passionate desire to see a church that is vigorously full of spiritual life, serving Jesus Christ and serving those around it.

Welby has written widely about business as well as a book about the Church which would not be out of place in a church growth reading list: Managing the Church?: Order and Organization in a Secular Age.

He is also a leading member of Coventry Cathedral’s Cross of Nails community, which travels to war zones around the world with this smaller version of the cathedral’s distinctive postwar cross. Last year, Welby explained:

In that sense, the cross within Christian thinking marks the end of disruption of a relationship, and of a new future. And we see, in the work we do now in the Community of the Cross of Nails and in our reconciliation world-wide, that the cross is a powerful way of demonstrating hope. Because it speaks of the possibility of new harmonious and peaceful relationships. First with God and then with others.

Harmonious and peaceful relationships are important to him. He would like Christians to understand and make peace with Muslims — a collective rapprochement (emphases mine):

… the Church has both the understanding and the means to face this great issue with tools and opportunities that can offer a genuine solution.

The understanding comes first. Christians understand the importance of the spiritual life, and thus should be able to relate to Islam in a way that the secular may find more difficult. In Nigeria I was challenged as to my own belief in the incarnation and deity of Christ, by a Muslim. … There was the capacity for dialogue based on mutual respect.

If you believe that can be applied universally, I would suggest that you read this catalogue of one month’s Muslim persecution of Christians around the world.

It is for that reason that I would be very wary of what sort of Archbishop of Canterbury Welby would make. One imagines that he would make more pronouncements as his predecessor did about integrating Sharia law into English law.

N T (‘Tom’) Wright

Some American readers might be surprised to see Wright’s name here: ‘Isn’t he an Evangelical?’

Yes and no. Not an Evangelical but an evangelical Anglican.

I was interested to read the first three comments to this post on the Anglican site Stand Firm:

Red Hat Rob: Could NT Wright be persuaded to return from academia?

Matt Kennedy: I hope not.

David Ould: Indeed, that’s the last thing we need. Please no.

Kennedy and Ould are clergymen, by the way.

Nicholas Thomas ‘Tom’ Wright was born in 1948, so is one year older than John Sentamu (see above). He attended Sedburgh where he focussed on Classics, then went up to Exeter College, Oxford, where he read Theology.

He was ordained in 1975 and held chaplaincies as well as academic positions at Oxford, Cambridge and McGill (the ‘Canadian Harvard’, in Montreal).

In the early 1990s:

He moved from Oxford to be Dean of Lichfield Cathedral (1994–99) and then returned briefly to Oxford as Visiting Fellow of Merton College, before taking up his appointment as Canon Theologian of Westminster Abbey in 2000.

In 2003, he became the Bishop of Durham.

On 4 August 2006 he was appointed to the Court of Ecclesiastical Causes Reserved for a period of five years.[11]

On 27 April 2010 it was announced that he would retire from the See of Durham on 31 August 2010 to take up a new appointment as Research Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at St Mary’s College, University of St Andrews in Scotland, which will enable him to concentrate on his academic and broadcasting work.[12][13]

Wright is married with four children.

N.B.: What follows in the rest of the post will have highlighted good and erroneous theology. Please read with care and discernment.

Wright is a prolific author, espousing the ‘open evangelical’ perspective.  I’m not familiar with it, but it is a conservative stance which is ‘inclusive’, as it attempts to meet with ‘culture’. What that means in practice is unclear.

One of its manifestations is a site called Fulcrum, which has a selection of articles about Anglican issues as well as a discussion forum. Its home page features a quote from Wright:

I see the launch of Fulcrum as a call to evangelical Anglicans of whatever background to work together, to play a full part in the Church of England and the wider Anglican Communion, to make the running, instead of always reacting, to be in the front row of innovative Gospel-work.

‘Gospel-work’. Hmm.

Wright has ‘an appreciation’ of Rowan Williams on Fulcrum, which reads in part:

His mind has been, above all, for unity, always central to a bishop’s vocation. Not a shoulder-shrugging, lowest-common-denominator unity, but the hard-won, costly unity that makes demands on charity and patience rather than on conscience

Despite routine pessimism, the Church of England isn’t finished. In a sense, it’s just getting going. We need someone with vision and energy to pick up from where Rowan’s charismatic style has led us and to develop and deepen things from there …

I wouldn’t bet on the Crown Nominations Commission proposing someone with the right combination of spirituality, wisdom and strategic thinking, plus boundless, multi-tasking energy. But that’s what I shall be praying for.

So, we are to seek church unity over discernment and our conscience? Hmm.

On the discussion page for this article, there is a curious comment from reader David W (Monday 26 March 2012 – 09:41 a.m.):

The NT asks believers to serve our leaders, so that their job is not a burden. They take on great responsibility and will be judged by God more strictly.

On this basis believers should thank Rowan Williams for what he has done.

Really? I spent some time searching for such a verse, remembering that the Apostles always introduced themselves to their local ‘churches’ as ‘your servant’. Furthermore, the notion of blind obedience no matter what came to mind — the toxic churches I wrote about during Lent.

To refute David W’s comment — partly rooted in truth and partly in error — I would point to a considered essay by Steve Atkerson of the New Testament Reformation Fellowship, which favours congregations of under 100 people and a return to church leaders who are influencers not rulers. In ‘The Ministry of Elders’, he points out all the verses from St Paul which support the idea of the pastor, deacon or elder as an ‘overseer’, but adds a number of New Testament qualifications:

Much may be gleaned from the way that New Testament writers made appeals directly to entire churches.  They went to great lengths to influence ordinary rank and file believers …  Their primary authority lay in their ability to influence with the truth.  The respect they were given was honestly earnedIt was the opposite of military authority wherein soldiers respect the rank but not necessarily the man.

Hebrews 13:7 reflects the fact that the leadership style employed by church leaders is primarily one of direction by example: “Remember your leaders . . . Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.”  Along this same line, 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 reveals that leaders are to be respected, not because of automatically inferred authority of rank, but because of the value of their service — “Hold them in highest regard in love because of their work.”  Jesus said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.  Not so with you.  Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave (Mt 20:25-28) …

Lest this lose its impact, you should stop to reflect that “the youngest and the slaves are precisely those without authority in our normal sense of the word.  Yet this is what leadership among Jesus’ people is like”.1

So, if so-called ‘open evangelicalism’ is about a military, cult-like automatic respect and service on demand for hierarchy just because of their title, especially for someone who might be destroying Christ’s Church, then count me out.

More on Wright specifically, though, and this is where his theology starts to get quite dodgy.

In the 1960s and 1970s, a few theologians began reinterpreting St Paul’s epistles. I’ll go more into this tomorrow, but by 1982, this revisionism was called New Perspective on Paul (NPP). Essentially, these theologians have reinterpreted these epistles to be more in tune with first-century Judaism. They say that Luther and Calvin misunderstood Paul’s letters.

N T ‘Tom’ Wright is today’s principal champion of NPP, which, depending on the interpretation of some of his fellow supporters, has the tendency to become a semi-Pelagian works-based error.

These are the major tenets of NPP, from Wikipedia:

Works of the Law:

Paul’s letters contain a substantial amount of criticism of “works of the law”. The radical difference in these two interpretations of what Paul meant by “works of the law” is the most consistent distinguishing feature between the two perspectives. The old perspective interprets this phrase as referring to human effort to do good works in order to meet God’s standards (Works Righteousness). In this view, Paul is arguing against the idea that humans can merit salvation from God by their good works (note the New Perspective agrees that we cannot merit salvation- the issue is what exactly Paul is addressing).

By contrast, new-perspective scholars see Paul as talking about “badges of covenant membership” …[6]

Human effort and good works:

Due to their interpretation of the phrase “works of the law”, old-perspective theologians see Paul’s rhetoric as being against human effort to earn righteousness. This is often cited by Lutheran and Reformed theologians as a central feature of the Christian religion, and the concepts of grace alone and faith alone are of great importance within the creeds of these denominations …

Wright however does not hold the view that good works contribute to one’s salvation but rather that the final judgement is something we can look forward to as a future vindication of God’s present declaration of our righteousness. In other words our works are a result of our salvation and the future judgement will show that.[9] Others tend to place a higher value on the importance of good works than the old perspective does, taking the view that they causally contribute to the salvation of the individual.

This can be easily misinterpreted. If Wright does not think that our good works — not necessarily grace-based but ticklist deeds — contribute to salvation, then why an NPP? Again, more on this tomorrow.

Grace or favour:

Old-perspective writers have generally translated the Greek word charis as “grace” and understood it to refer to the idea that there is a lack of human effort in salvation because God is the controlling factor. However those who study ancient Greek culture have pointed out that “favor” is a better translation, as the word refers normally to ‘doing a favor’. In ancient societies there was the expectation that such favors be repaid, and this semi-formal system of favors acted like loans.[17] Therefore, it is argued that when Paul speaks of how God did us a ‘favor’ by sending Jesus, he is saying that God took the initiative, but is not implying a lack of human effort in salvation, and is in fact implying that Christians have an obligation to repay the favor God has done for them. Some argue that this view then undermines the initial ‘favor’ — of sending Jesus — by saying that, despite his incarnation, life and death, Christians still have, as before, to earn their way to heaven. However, others note this is the horns of a false dilemma (all grace versus all works). Many new-perspective proponents that see “charis” as “favor” do not teach that Christians earn their way to heaven outside of the death of Christ. Forgiveness of sins through the blood of Christ is still necessary to salvation. But, that forgiveness demands effort on the part of the individual (cf. Paul in Phil. 3:12-16). [18]

The Atonement:

For old-perspective writers the atonement theory of Penal Substitution and the belief in the “finished work” of Christ have been central. New-perspective writers have regularly questioned whether this view is really of such central importance in Paul’s writings. Generally new-perspective writers have argued that other theories of the atonement are more central to Paul’s thinking, but there has been minimal agreement among them as to what Paul’s real view of the atonement might be.

N. T. Wright has argued that Paul sees Israel as representative of humanity and taking onto itself the sinfulness of humanity through history. Jesus, in turn, as Messiah is representative of Israel and so focuses the sins of Israel on himself on the cross. Wright’s view is thus a “historicized” form of Penal Substitution.[19]

This is at odds with Luther and Calvin and, indeed, a number of Reformed (Calvinist) theologians have critiqued and criticised NPP. However, NPP has delighted Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox observers:

The increased importance new-perspective writers have given to good works in salvation has created strong common ground with the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. Historic Protestantism has never denied that there is a place for good and faithful works, but has always excluded them from justification and salvation, which Protestants argue is through faith alone, and in which good deeds are of no account, either within or without God’s grace. This has, since the Reformation, been a line of distinction between Protestantism (both Reformed and Lutheran) and other Christian communions.

The worst part of NPP — outside of the lack of agreement among its proponents — is the hyper-conservative cult-like offshoot movement called Federal Vision (FV). FV is highly patriarchal and legalistic where pastors and elders favour an ‘intuitive’ — not doctrinal — interpretation of the Bible. Salvation, they believe, is partly dependent on ‘covenental’ church membership — and all that membership might entail. Although it is not a denomination, a growing number of Reformed churches in the United States have been influenced by it.

Indeed, Federal Vision advocates have praised N T Wright’s thoughts on NPP:

Most of the Federal Vision proponents have publicly said they appreciate much of what N. T. Wright has written. Both Mark Horne[50] and Rich Lusk[51] have defended Wright against his Reformed critics. Horne has said that the NPP “is not a rejection of the Reformed doctrine.”[52] Lusk has said virtually the same thing, saying that Wright “is a true sola scriptura Protestant.”[53]

Peter Leithart, Steve Wilkins and Steve Schlissel share similarities theologically with the NPP, though they have not publicly said they have consciously shaped their theology after Wright’s. Leithart, however, has said that Federal Vision theology “is stimulated by Anglican New Testament scholar N. T. Wright . . .”[56]

It would be a shame if this line of thought were to overtake the Church of England and the Anglican Communion because it would appear to violate Articles XI through XIV of the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion (p. 3):

XI. Of the Justification of Man.

WE are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by faith, and not for our own works or deservings. Wherefore that we are justified by faith only is a most wholesome doctrine, and very full of comfort; as more largely is expressed in the Homily of Justification.

XII. Of Good Works.

ALBEIT that good works, which are the fruits of faith and follow after justification, cannot put away our sins and endure the severity of God’s judgement, yet are they pleasing and acceptable to God in Christ, and do spring out necessarily of a true and lively faith, insomuch that by them a lively faith may be as evidently known as a tree discerned by the fruit.

XIII. Of Works before Justification.

WORKS done before the grace of Christ and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, are not pleasant to God, forasmuch as they spring not of faith in Jesus Christ, neither do they make men meet to receive grace, or (as the School authors say) deserve grace of congruity: yea, rather for that they are not done as God hath willed and commanded them to be done, we doubt not but they have the nature of sin.

XIV. Of Works of Supererogation.

VOLUNTARY works besides, over and above, God’s commandments which they call Works of Supererogation, cannot be taught without arrogancy and impiety. For by them men do declare that they do not only render unto God as much as they are bound to do, but that they do more for His sake than of bounden duty is required: Whereas Christ saith plainly, When ye have done all that are commanded to do, say, We be unprofitable servants.

But, then, of course, the Reformers had it all wrong. Didn’t they?

Whilst I admire Wright’s belief, which is much more specific that Rowan Williams’s, because of NPP, I am unsure as to whether Wright would make a suitable Archbishop of Canterbury. He would do a wonderful job of bringing the Anglican Communion together, however, with what theology?

My apologies for the length of this post. If you have read this far, my thanks.

Tomorrow: N T Wright on the Resurrection

Monday: A British Evangelical’s criticism of NPP