Originally published on 29 March 2012 in Theology. By Nigel Biggar
Theo Hobson’s argument that there are cogent theological objections to the establishment of the Church of England is not persuasive. He concedes that the current form of establishment is liberal, but implies that this renders the Church harmless in the sense of being deferential and ineffectual. However, this does not square either with the fact of recent archiepiscopal criticism of governments or with the Church’s faithful presence in the poorest communities in the land. He then implies that establishment compromises the Church by associating it with state coercion, and yet he has already agreed that establishment is no longer coercive. He prefers the US Constitution’s formal separation of church and state, maybe because it seems to foster a level of religious vitality that is lacking in Europe. Upon critical scrutiny, however, ‘religious vitality’ is not all that it is cracked up to be. Finally, he implies that establishment is against the Spirit of Inexorable Historical Development. But surely Christians should keep their nerve and discern the spirits, and not merely defer to modern fashion.