I wrote to the Church Times over the weekend because of a shocking sentence in a book review by the Revd Dr Edward Dowler of Anthony Thiselton’s new book Systematic Theology (London: SPCK, 2015). Here it is:
Although Thiselton comes from the Evangelical end of the Anglican spectrum, he is, on the whole, balanced, and his range of reference is wide. [my italics]
I was shocked and dismayed at the patronising implication that Thiselton is an exception to the norm, since he is an evangelical who reads widely, and writes in a balanced way—the implication of Dr Dowler’s ‘Although’ is that this is not to be expected of evangelicals.
Paul Handley, the editor of the Church Times responded to my letter by declining to publish it. I reproduce the correspondence below, and would welcome comments. He clearly does not think there is anything amiss in displaying such prejudice.
I was shocked and disappointed to read the Revd Edward Dowler’s patronising comment on Professor Anthony Thiselton’s new book Systematic Theology in this week’s edition of the Church Times. Mr Dowler writes, ‘Although Thiselton comes from the Evangelical end of the Anglican spectrum, he is, on the whole, balanced, and his range of reference is wide’ (my italics). I had—evidently mistakenly—thought we had got beyond the days when people (and priests in particular) in the Church of England categorised whole groups of people as biassed, unlearned enough not to read widely, and to be criticised simply because of the group to which they belong. Most surprising of all, this is one of the most eminent Anglican scholars of his generation whom Mr Dowler patronises in this way: Professor Thiselton is one of the very few scholars who could have held a professorial chair in three disciplines—New Testament, Systematic Theology, and Philosophy of Religion—and has published a string of important books in all three areas. He served with distinction on the Church of England’s Doctrine Commission, and was a much-valued member of the General Synod.
Perhaps most shocking of all, your editorial pen allowed this patronising comment to get into the published version of the review. I would really have hoped that your editorial hand would have thought that the days of such comments were long gone, given that you aspire to be an Anglican newspaper for the whole Church of England, and would thus have invited Mr Dowler to rephrase his review. I think you and Mr Dowler owe Professor Thiselton an unreserved apology.
Dear Professor Walton
Thank you for your note. I think that this is the first time we have been criticised for allowing someone to be called ‘balanced’.
The truth of the matter is that we receive many theological books for review from different wings of the Church, and it is by no means a foregone conclusion that authors take in the whole sweep of opinion. For those who know Professor Thistelton’s work, Edward Dowler’s might seem an unnecessary statement; but the general readership of the Church Times benefits from having these things spelled out.
I conclude, therefore, that this is an unfair criticism, and shall not be publishing your letter.
With best wishes
Paul Handley, editor
To my eye, Mr Handley has missed my point entirely—and this may be because of poor and unclear communication on my part (my letter may not have been explicit enough). We emailed back and forth a couple more times, and I was unable to persuade Mr Handley that this key sentence was insulting and displayed prejudice, and thus should lead to an apology. So consider the following sentences:
Although she is a woman, she writes quite well and displays wide reading and balanced judgement.
Although he is black, he engages with a wide range of scholarship and writes in a balanced way.
These would (rightly) be considered insulting and prejudiced and could not be printed today. So why is it acceptable to insult evangelicals in this manner—or any other group in the Church of England, for that matter?