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1 of 5 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Flawed by bias and party politics, 7 July 2014
This review is from: Archbishop Justin Welby: Risk-taker and Reconciler (Hardcover)
I am basing this review on the review I submitted (and which was subsequently published by Amazon) of Atherstone's previous biography of Welby 'The Road to Canterbury', with some additions, where necessary. The reason I am doing this is because, a. this book is an expansion of 'Road' and b. because it suffers the same faults as that previous book. I will therefore published extracts of my previous review in 'inverted commas' to distinguish what is new from what is not.

Sadly like its predecessor, this book 'provides no analysis whatsoever of Archbishop Justin's life, work or legacy: it is merely a descriptive work. (When set against Rupert Shortt's two biographies of Rowan, one an expanded version of the other, you will see just how lacking Atherstone's book is.) It is also written from a conservative Evangelical perspective (Atherstone is an excellent academic and a joy to read, but his political bias is never far from the surface). Thus the evangelical side of Archbishop Justin is played up (esp. his involvement with Holy Trinity Brompton and his attendance at 'Bash' Camps whilst at University*). He also plays up instances of Archbishop Justin's doctrinal conservatism, e.g. his defence of the theory of Penal Substitutional Atonement, following the Church of England's Doctrine Commission report on Salvation which favoured anihilism.'

This new book also suffers the same religio-politico biases that 'Road' did. In my previous review I questioned whether Atherstone was trying (unsuccessfully it would seem) to put Welby into his own mould of Conservative Evangelical. As I wrote previously: 'I do wonder, however, whether Archbishop Justin is the type of Evangelical Atherstone wants him to be - I severely doubt that he is. One gets the sense that he is far more open and liberal than Atherstone presents his background to be.. [...]' This continues in the new book where Atherstone tries to fit Welby in with a number of controversial figures with Anglicanism, e.g. Paul Perkin, based at St. Mark's, Battersea Rise, by dropping their names in (somewhat needlessly) in order to make a tenuous link between Welby and a particular form of Evangelicalism that Atherstone wants to be formational in Welby's thinking as a Christian and as an Archbishop. Similarly the inclusion of Welby's somewhat tenuous involvement with the so called 'Bash Camps' run by Scripture Union and Eric Nash* add little to the mix, though it seems an obvious ploy to try and put Welby within the same theological trajectory as say John Stott and David Watson, both evangelical luminaries of the 1970/80s.. (Interestingly Welby missed by a couple of years Nash's involvement in the camps, having retired, leaving the work to others.)

It remains difficult to see how this book can be recommended to the general reader, esp. one who is either uninterested or unaware of the politics that underpins this book and it is this that undermines it. Shortt's biography of Rowan, as with Chadwick's biography of Ramsey both managed to cover their subjects well, mainly avoiding political or religious controversy, but rather presenting their subjects not as party men, but as well rounded human beings. Sadly Atherstone makes this mistake, trying to present Welby in a mould that suits his needs (as a party man), rather than presenting an unbiased view of Welby, something that would have much better met the needs of both the market at the Church. As such I am not sure I could recommend this book to anyone.

* ''Bash' (Rev. Eric Nash) was a conservative Evangelical Priest who ran youth camps pre/post-war, which were aimed at evangelising top-percentile Public Schools - he saw his Charism as being to evangelise future leaders. Various Evangelical Anglican leaders, conservative and otherwise came under his sphere of influence, e.g. John Stott. An interesting study would be that of Nash's influence on mid-late 20th (conservative) Evangelical leadership. However, I would also scurrilously point out that it was a Roman Catholic Priest, Ronald Knox, who had far greater influence on top-level post-War politics, though his influence on Macmillan, than Nash ever did, other than in the evangelical wing of the Church of England.'
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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 3 Sep 2014 16:49:15 BDT
I. B. Paul says:
I am not sure this is a fair analysis. I think Atherstone draws out the issues in a balanced way, and allows Welby to be the person that he is.
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