The Struggle at Wycliffe

Principal Dr Richard Turnbull
speaking at the Reform Conference
in October 2006

Well thank you very much for that warm welcome and it's a pleasure to be here and to be able to come and join you at least for this evening and tomorrow. I'm sorry I wasn't able to be here for the whole of the conference but I'll try and get it into the diary for next year.
I want to, if I may, just to make two or three very general points as they relate to the world of theological education and then to say a word or two more about the particulars of some of those.
Firstly, it seems to me that in a gathering like this we need to be very clear about the importance of our identity as evangelicals. It seems to me that this will be a challenge that we face within the life of the Church of England for many years to come. The identity of evangelicalism of course has broadened rather enormously in recent years and it has become rather convenient - even popular in some ways - to claim the name of evangelical. And because of that (I understand why that is the case), but because of that it seems to me to be particularly important that we are very clear about our evangelical identity. And if you are just wondering - and you may or may not be of course - what I mean by that let me explain it in a minute or two.
What I understand by our identity as evangelicals is this. That we believe in the supreme authority of scripture in all matters of life and faith (interestingly, as a principal of a theological college, it is rather important when you believe that that the scriptures are actually opened and consulted [laughter in audience] and studied, but it seems to me that one of our key marks is that mark of authority of scripture). The second key mark I would identify is a doctrinal mark. An awful lot of people appeal to generalities. 'Well evangelicals are the sort of people who do this, or the sort of people who join CMS (or used to join CMS),' and things like that. It ever seems to me that evangelicalism has ever marked out not by the generalities but by the specifics. And when it comes to doctrine it seems to me that our understanding of the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ is at the heart of a defining mark of what it means to be an evangelical. Thirdly (there's only four). Thirdly, the whole understanding of our relationship with Jesus Christ as a personal relationship with a personal God, and it is to that that we are converted. And fourthly, and finally, our commitment to evangelism. Evangelism is another one of those words that has been broadened to - well, or submerged maybe more than broadened - under this overall title of "mission" and you wonder what it really means when that is debated. We are committed, are we not, to bringing the gospel message of Jesus Christ to those who do not know Jesus. And in this land that is 95% of the people, and 95% of the people in this country facing hell unless the message of the gospel is brought to bear. So those are my four points about evangelical identity: the priority of scripture, substitutionary atonement at the heart of our doctrinal beliefs, the need for personal relationship with Jesus and our commitment to evangelism.
Two comments on the end of that if I may, which in some places would certainly not make me popular. I do think, you know, that this means we must be very wary about embracing a Catholic understanding of the Church. There is enormous temptation for evangelicals to embace an Anglo-Catholic understanding of the Church, its nature and its ministry. And I think we need to be very careful indeed that we do not betray - you have been debating the historical nature of Anglicanism, my book on the subject comes out in March, by the way [audience laughter]; and we need to be very careful indeed that we do not betray our evangelical identity by embracing an understanding of the Church that is not historic Anglicanism. When Robert Runcie said, "Evangelicals don't have an ecclesiology," what he meant was, 'I don't like the ecclesiology that evangelicals have.' [Murmers of agreement from audience.] We do not need to apologise for our understanding of the Church: we are simply to faithfully expound it. So that's my point on evangelical identity. The second point and more briefly. Can I just draw attention to - you'd expect me to say this, I'm sure - to the strategic nature of our theological colleges. I am sometimes asked why I took the post of Principal of Wycliffe where I have been for only just over a year. Well there are all sorts of answers one could give to that but one of the answers is that I view the post as strategic because it will allow influence to be brought to bear upon generations of the ministry. Now, you put yourself in the shoes of the liberals and you capture the theological colleges and you have captured the influence that is brought to bear upon generations of future ministers. And so I simply want to draw your attention to the strategic nature of theological colleges. And thirdly, I want to note the challenge that liberalism brings to us. We are all aware - in this room you don't need me to say or to explain to you the challenge that liberalism brings to the Church at large. I need [?]also want to warn against the nature of liberalism within our own midst. What I mean by that is this whole idea of what it means to be evangelical being broadened so that it encompasses everybody and everything. If the liberals seek to capture the theological colleges in order to exercise strategic influence, the first step will be to encourage liberal evangelicals to capture the evangelical colleges. And I just want to draw that challenge to your attention and not overlook it and not to think all is well.
Let me just make four very brief comments about theological education in really only a couple of sentences on each. Firstly, the issues we face: firstly funding. Were you not surprised to hear that? The financial systems of the Church of England, about which I could pontificate for longer than I am permitted here, are creaking audibly. That's because they were invented in the 1960s by a bunch of people formed and shaped by the theology and the politics of the 1960s and still think it applies today: in other words a highly centralised and a highly corporatist understanding of economics and of finance. And so the main financial flows for the theological colleges come from this central pot of the Church of England and the central authorities of the Church of England decide how many students we are allowed to admit. I think that's a restrictive trade practice, in my own humble opinion. And so the funding of the theological colleges will have to change. We at Wycliffe, and I know at Oak Hill was also very strong, as one or two others were, not for all [?]. We at Wycliffe increased the number of students by 15%, we actually broke the limit (as I know Oak Hill did) that you are allowed, because when people want to come and they want the education, they want the teaching, the training, what are you to do? And our fees were cut by 5%. And so what you find is that the financial system is being used as a manipulative tool within the institution in order to exercise control over the theological colleges' funding. Secondly, ethos. It is really important that we understand from the theological colleges that are evangelical - having perhaps been tested against the identity of evangelicalism that I have just set out - that their ethos is understood and set forth. Well I'm not here to do a sales pitch for Wycliffe. I'll simply tell you in a sentence what our ethos is: a passion for the teaching of scriptures, a commitment to evangelism and church planting and apologetics, and a passion for the ministry and leadership of the local church. I actually of all the, of the two plus four of the evangelical theological colleges in the Church of England, I am actually the only principal who has gone to that job from parish ministry. And I simply want to say to you that I think that makes a difference. I simply think that makes a difference. So ethos. Thirdly, and support. Can I just ask you to support your colleges? You will have links with all sorts of colleges, whether it is Oak Hill or whether it is Wycliffe, or whatever. Do please pray for those of us who ae working in these places and actually, you know, the time is going to come when if you wish these colleges to survive then the financial support will have to come as well. And if you really want my opinion I think every one of you here should go back to you churches and you should give either 10% of your parish share or an amount from your mission budget to the theological college of your choice in order to encourage the ministry in that place. We are probably within ten years of the colleges collapsing unless that happens. And that would be true for Oak Hill and would be true for Wycliffe. So the support needs to be prayerful and it needs to be real.
And finally just a brief comment on the state of theological education more generally in the Church of England. I don't know whether to be encouraged by the fact that 70% of the ordinands attend these two plus four evangelical theological colleges. I don't know whether to be encouraged by the number of young people coming into Oak Hill and Wycliffe. The reason I don't know is I am unsure whether to celebrate having a higher percentage of a smaller pool. If you look at ministry across the Church of England the trend is for people to train on part time courses. The trend is for pressure to be exerted on people not to attend the Oak Hills and Wycliffes of this world. The trend is to try to force people to train in an inadequate way. And any of you in pastoral ministry will know the difference on the ground is strikingly obvious. And so we do have subtle pressures going on within the system to exert pressure financially and exert pressure by trying to force people to train on these part time courses. It seems to me that the amount of time we give to in-depth theological training and biblical education and parish preparation is woefully inadequate, and it seems to me that two to three years full time work is the minimum that we should be seeking to provide for those who are charged with the leadership of the people of God in the next generation.
Well I've probably already said too much. I hope that just gives you a flavour really of the state of play in the world which I have come to inhabit. I told my students the other week that it was they who got me out of bed in the morning and the day I lost my love for the leadership of the local church will be the day I will resign as Principal - but not before. But the day and I lose my love for the preaching of the gospel in the local church that's the day when my particular college needs a new leader because that is the task to which we are called.
Can I finally just do a plug for a book - not one I have written: Guarding the Gospel is the book that summarises the talks, the sermons, the papers, of NEAC - and it has only been published in the last couple of months. And it's an excellent book with a wide range of material in that, from sermons through to the detailed talks. I will put some out on the bookstall probably tomorrow morning (they're in the boot of my car at the moment). They are £7.50. Currently, if you are paying by cheque pay it to Wycliffe Hall because that is where the cost has been paid for for the moment. So I will put some of these out on the table for either cash or cheque and it's a fantastic opportunity to get hold of this book and so do please take me up on that. I'm looking forward to enjoying the rest of the conference. Thank you Ted [?].


Turnbull, R. (2006), Lecture to Reform Conference 2006, [Online], Available World Wide Web, URL: [Accessed: Thursday May 24 2007, 14:10]


Summaries and Extracts from
Sunday, BBC Radio 4, May 27 2007

 Reporting on Dr Richard Turnbull 
 and the Wycliffe Hall Controversy 

Reporter Mike Ford of BBC: Canon Dr Chris Sugden is Executive Secretary of a group calling itself Anglican Mainstream. He says many of the staff at Wycliffe lack experience of leading parishes and Dr Turnbull wants to train a new generation of ministers to build churches.
Chris Sugden: Richard Turnbull comes from parish ministry and wanted to change the culture of what had been really a sort of free-spirited academic collective in common with all Oxford colleges. I think it is a culture-change situation in the institution led by the Council, which the Chief Executive is being asked to take through. The culture of Oxford academics is very conservative and it's a culture change in the college that is obviously providing some degree of discomfort. That is the struggle.
Later in the report...
Reporter Mike Ford of BBC: ...Chris Sugden of Anglican Mainstream suggests that there is already a much more serious fragmentation in the Church as a whole.
Chris Sugden: The Major division is between those who believe that the Gospel enables people to be transformed through the power of Christ, through his work and the presence of the Holy Spirit, and those who, in the end of the day, don't believe that happens and that what we have is a sort of religiosity of the English people and life that has to be managed and its worst excesses curbed. People have said there are two religions currently in the Church of England and that's not very far from the truth.


Rev Professor David Peterson, outgoing Principal of Oak Hill, claims that Oak Hill's reputation as a reactionary college is based on the past (from Mike Ford commentary). He states in the interview that he has raised the academic standards at Oak Hill, to better relate people to ministry in the contemporary Church of England, to be well prepared pastorally, and has tried to articulate biblical theology regarding all the issues wrestled with today. It is "certainly" an open intellectual approach, he answers, with lots of intense debates among people, and debates with other people in other contexts, and so it is a misrepresentation to say it is a closed institution.
David Peterson states that they are very much committed to try and encourage women into ministry as much as is possible, but they have always wrestled with 1 Timothy 2 about a woman not being in a position of leadership.


Christina Rees, Chair of Women in the Church (WATCH) is uneasy about the appointment of Vice Principal Simon Vibert, who believes (in a paper co-authored with David Peterson) that women should not lead or teach men about faith or lead a congregation, spoke that in the last three years the Church has selected 50% of women to train in theological colleges and courses and that such a Vice Principal appointment is "deeply worrying" (though another senior staff appointee does approve of women in leadership).


Rev Dr Graham Kings, Vicar of St Mary's Islington and Theological Secretary of Fulcrum (Open Evangelical group; reporter Mike Ford says "an organisation aiming to represent the centre ground of evangelicalism"), is interviewed and points out that there are three main kinds of evangelical - the Conservative Evangelical, the Open Evangelical and the Charismatic Evangelical. The Conservative Evangelicals stress the inerrancy of scripture, the Open Evangelicals stress the "fully trustworthiness" of scripture, involvement in the Church, and holistic mission, and Charismatics stress the gifts of the Spirit, signs and wonders and the Spirit through Scripture. He advocated the three branches meeting and debating together "with rigour but without rancour".


Pete Broadbent, Bishop of Willesden: The Conservative strand as we now see it is becoming more difficult...
Reporter Mike Ford of BBC: Pete Broadbent is Bishop of Willesden in north London. He thinks that Conservative Evangelicals are becoming increasingly sectarian, not only clouding the reputation of evangelicalism but also creating more internal strife for the Church of England.
Pete Broadbent: The capacity of evangelicals to engage with the Church of England and to be 'Good News' is being lost. 'Evangelical' has become a kind of 'boo' word: it's become synonymous with homophobia and all kinds of things. It's not good in the popular imagination. I want to rescue it and say actually it's a very important tradition in the Church of England. It means we are committed to scripture, we're committed to sharing the Good News about Jesus Christ, to activism in the Church and to the core doctrines in the faith. But we do that in generosity as a part of the Church of England and not a separate part away from it.


Dr Richard Turnbull was not available to be interviewed. Presenter Roger Bolton at the end of the programme invited him to make contact and even send an email like listeners can.


BBC Radio 4 (2007), Report on Wycliffe Hall by Mike Ford, Sunday; 27 May 2007; BBC, [Online], Available World Wide Web, URL:, 34 mins 20 seconds from origin. [Accessed: Sunday May 27 2007, 14:14]

Some debating responses:


Letter on Wednesday 13 June 2007

Shaw G., France, D., McGrath, A. (authorised but unsigned) (2007), Letter to Rt. Rev. James Jones, Bishop of Liverpool, Chair of Wycliffe Hall Council, published as 'Wycliffe Hall: Three Former Principals Write' in Thinking Anglicans; 13 June 2007; Thinking Anglicans, [Online], Available World Wide Web, URL: [Accessed: Thursday June 14 2007, 01:46]
Dear James,

The three most recent former Principals of Wycliffe, Geoffrey Shaw, Dick France and Alister McGrath, met today in view of the publicity given to the crisis in the Hall. Were it simply a matter of media speculation and sensationalism we would not have written to you. Our enquiries from a variety of sources have convinced us of the seriousness of the situation and filled us with deep foreboding.

The resignation of so many competent and dedicated teaching and admin staff all together in such a small community cannot be written off simply as a new broom sweeping away out of date and out of touch lumber. Nor as a supporter of Richard Turnbull has written “a few ruffled feathers reacting with sourness and extreme bad grace’! These are men and women who have given outstanding service to the Hall and its students and it is due to them that Wycliffe has gained a worldwide recognition for its excellence in biblical scholarship, study, exposition, personal devotion and praxis. Yet they have been made to feel stumbling blocks to a new regime by a man who despite the qualities many attribute to him has had no experience of academic and spiritual formation leadership in a college context.

The repercussions of all this are deeply disturbing. Already voices are being raised in the University as to the suitability of Wycliffe as a PPH. Bishops and DDOs may decide to give the Hall a wide berth. Staff with suitable qualifications may not apply for vacancies. Students from the broad range of evangelicalism which has traditionally characterised the Hall are unlikely to apply and the resultant limited focus on one strand of evangelicalism is unlikely to commend the Hall to the wider church. The Hall is running on borrowed capital and we fear for its future. If this sounds melodramatic it is realistic and is prompted by our love and concern for the Hall.

With very great sadness we must in all seriousness ask you to recognise before it is too late that there is a widespread lack of confidence in the present Principal, both in his managerial style and his myopic vision. We find it hard to envisage the Hall maintaining its erstwhile acknowledged reputation under its present leadership.
Not personally signed but authorised by

Geoffrey Shaw Principal 1979 – 1988
Dick France Principal 1989 – 1995
Alister McGrath Principal 1995 – 2004

My follow-on posting:

The letter writers are correct. It is the substance of the issue that matters.

When there are realignments going on in general, there are always specific issues involved and then a location that becomes a crucible of the issue.

Those of us who have done qualitative research and get down into a small scale narrative of a situation, who have built a "thick description" of that, know that often the minutiae represents a bigger situation.

This is what Wycliffe Hall is all about. It has become the crux of the issue for Open Evangelicalism.

Here is a personality who has come into the scene, and made some "strategic" mistakes of his own, ie showing his strategic hand, and this has given the way in for those self-identified as being on the receiving end of all the disturbance in the institution. They have been given a means to strike back. It is not just a turf war. It is the substance of the particular representing the general: it involves the substance of actual institutions: Oxford University itself, theological training as academic as well as pastoral, theologians with expertise, and Open Evangelicalism as its own 'institution'.

Richard Turnbull made it clear that in order to take on the "Liberals", the Conservative Evangelicals have first of all to remove the "Liberal Evangelicals". To do it he needs to put the institution under his and his friends' ideological control with huge consequences in the change from an institutional academic base. Chris Sugden so summarised it as well in his BBC interview.

Everyone knows the consequences of a specific result in one location going one way or the other: it has huge implications for the general outcome. The Open Evangelicals need the "two plus four" to be premature and restored to "the five plus the other one".

Eeva John and Clare McInnes

In September 2007 Andrew and Lis Goddard and Elaine Storkey were dismissed from Wycliffe Hall, and Eeva John resigned. Eeva John was interviewed on BBC Radio Ulster on 30 September 2007 by William Crawley. She states no confidence in the Principal Dr Richard Turnbull and no confidence in the Bishop of Liverpool, James Jones, Chair of the Hall Council. As the .RAM file is temporary, linked via BBC Radio Ulster Sunday Sequence for the week, the transcript is produced - the content is an example of an institution in turmoil. Prior to this, and also after her resignation, Eeva John was a co-author along with some other former staff members Revd Geoff Maughan and Revd Dr David Wenham of a critical letter after the removal of the Goddards and Elaine Storkey contrasting the health of the Hall under Alister McGrath with its condition under Richard Turnbull and his heavy handed approach without due regard for the views of colleagues. The wider Church had to hear the voices so far silent.
Also Clare McInnes, a member of the Council resigned with a letter sent 1 October 2007 to Bishop James Jones (reported by Religious Intelligence and the Church Times. He replied but it remains private. She wrote that the Council did not reespond to allegations of bullying, intimidation of COuncil members and lack of decision making transparency; she was "deeply unhappy" with how the Council had handled staff restructuring, dismissals, ending employment and resignations, and the Council failed to appraise properly a decision to pay the Principal well above the national pay scale for his post. The three academics (the Goddards and Storkey) were not dismissed by the Council unanimously, as she for one did not agree. The minutes of the Council are misleading, and she has no confidence in the Chair, the Principal or the Council itself in addressing governance, employment practice or even simple human relationships.

Elaine Storkey

In January 2008 Elaine Storkey, always quiet regarding her situation, won her case of unfair dismissal from her part time job with a pending settlement of 20,000. However, this is to go on to June 2008, for the Employment Tribanal to look at her claim of religious discrimination. This means pursuing the Chair of the theological college, Bishop James Jones of Liverpool.
She claims to be the wrong sort of evangelical, for the direction of the college, which is Conservative Evangelical. So if this were to be proven, it would uniquely show discrimination within a religion as if they are different religions. Now James Jones is not a Conservative Evangelical, but presumably he only has to sit by and tacitly approve the college policy if it indeed was discriminating by religion. Elaine Storkey presumabnly would have to show a pattern of dismissals of Open Evangelicals and a pattern of replacement hiring of Conservative Evangelicals. She presumably could link this to some of Richard Turnbull's "strategic" words above. The tribunal will have a reading day, but it still remains awkward for such a tribunal to pronounce on a theological difference. Still, if there is an offence of religious discrimination then a tribunal had better be capable of hearing such a basis of alleged discrimination. Still she would have to show some sort of evidence of systematic discrimination on this basis.


The Lucas Report

The University of Oxford in September produced the Lucas Report in which Wycliffe Hall was covered among others. It was declared unsuitable for giving school leavers (only admitted for BA Theology there into a theological institution) the "Oxford experience"; also the report expresses anxiety about the delivery of BTh and MTh, some diplomas and certificates taught wholly or mainly within the hall with concerns over the monitoring of standards. Academic staff seem to be paid less that collegiate staff (compare with the payment for the Principal, referred to by Clare McInnes above). It noted that tensions between academics inside the Hall may derive from the range of theological opinions held (the context being the dismissals). The panel reopened its consideration of issues concerning the Hall due to the public spillover of internal tensions, particularly converning governance and appointing academic staff. It concludes that it shows that small institutions in general are vulnerable to strong internal differences of opinion and the need for transparent and adequate formal methods of both representation and conflict resolution.



Once in 2005 there was a decision of the Council of Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, to ban meetings of the local student branch of Reform until a policy about it was formulated. Now its Principal is a sympathiser with all Reform stands for.
Reform stresses:

  • Sin
  • Biblical Christianity (inerrancy)
  • Conversion
Issue whether Reform is:

  • Misogynist
    • Restricting women's ministry
  • Uses moneyed larger evangelical parishes to build its own fortress to exclude all others
    • Including Open Evangelicals, Anglo-Catholics, Liberals
  • A Church within the Church
    • Wants a flying bishop or extra-territorial diocese

In addition to Reform and its theology, there is also the biblical selective literalism of the Global South and its organisation of an alternative oversight for some who were or are in The Episcopal Church. This document from 2004 is an early suggestion for a draft plan for interventions that are now happening from Rwanda, Nigeria and Uganda involving some of these named persons. Developments in 2007 - with Rwanda as the first to announce it is boycotting the Lambeth Conference in 2008 - suggest a new Global South geographical centre for Anglicanism which could attract the biblical selective literalists from around the world as part of a schism in Anglicanism.


Adrian Worsfold

Pluralist - Liberal and Thoughtful