As someone who has often found the L’Abri crowd a help to my thinking I was disappointed to read “Reaction and Distraction” in the July edition of EN. This was Ranald Macaulay’s sloppy and one-eyed summary of British Christian History.
As a relative pygmy Macaulay is happy to debunk giants Spurgeon, Moody and Lloyd-Jones as misled pietists.
On the other hand he is happy to boost the reactionary William Wilberforce as an example of the kind of man we need to follow.
I have learnt to mistrust Presbyterian and Anglican church historians because they seem to hanker back to the days when their forebears had real power and so they see those times as some sort of “Golden Age”.
With regard to the abolition of slavery these one-eyed historians always fail to give due credit to the Quaker and non-conformist agitators who really shook up the smug Anglican accommodation to mass slavery and created the environment in which a change of law was acceptable. Some of the agitators were deists and “free-thinkers” who had no christian loyalty at all.
These pietist and sceptical agitators needed a member of the privileged classes to speak for them in parliament because only rich men who were Anglicans could buy their way into parliament.
Propagandists like Macaulay also underplay the effect of various slave rebellions which shook up the establishment and the campaigns of free black men to liberate their brothers.
They also do not report the ineffectual nature of the anti-slave trade bill and Wilberforce’s reluctance to press for real abolition which grew from his class based political conservatism. It was up to more “pietist” Methodists and Baptists to truly overturn slavery in the West Indies with the help of a number of insurrections by courageous slaves.
One unintended consequence of the bill was that merchant ships carrying slaves tended to throw the incriminating “cargo” into the water when a British Warship came near. An unfortunate and deadly “own goal”.
William Wilberforce was himself a somewhat self-focussed pietist and this reinforced his intense conservatism and his refusal to help his own oppressed countrymen. He somehow failed to see how sympathising with far-away slaves might have any connection with easing the sufferings of fellow Britons.
In the end selective histories like Macaulay’s are post-modern constructions which reflect the writer’s tastes rather than attempts to connect the reader with either the past or present.
Living and working in East London I am more grateful for the heritage of Spurgeon (our church was founded in the 1860’s) than all the social activists whose monuments are now mosques, museums or demolished. In the same way, the work of Lloyd Jones lives on whereas places like the Mayflower Centre are defunct.