I wasn’t planning on doing a post like this, except that people on both sides of the Atlantic asked if I would write up some of my thoughts after traveling and speaking in England for two weeks. I hesitate to do so, because what do I really know about a country from two weeks of preaching, eating, and meeting dear Christian brothers and sisters? What nudged me to write down a few reflections is my own sense that I would love to hear what a like-minded visitor to the U.S. thought about our church scene. Even if he got a few things wrong, I would still be very interested in learning from his outside perspective. So here goes.

Random Observations

First, some lighter reflections, some of which I tweeted along the way.

1. Americans have very sweet breakfasts; Brits are looking for protein in all its forms. You are more likely to find a massive pile of baked beans at a British breakfast than Fruity Pebbles, icing, or syrup.

2. When Americans say “brilliant” it usually comes with an eye roll. The English really mean it.

3. I hate to say it, but the English sound smarter when they talk. Maybe it’s the accent. Maybe it’s a more interesting vocabulary. Maybe it’s the fact that I didn’t hear “like” like in every other sentence.

4. I think on the whole, Americans are more patriotic, at least openly so.

5. As similar as our two countries are, the fact that England has a monarch (even a titular one) and an establishment religion makes for a very different cultural ethos and tradition.

6. Here’s what I’ve noticed about praying in the States: Baptists have to end every prayer in a time of group prayer with “Amen.” Presbyterian and Reformed folks are more likely to let the prayer dissolve into silence and wait for the next person to pick things up. In England, after corporate prayer ended with “Amen,” followed by everyone present adding another hearty “Amen” (pronounced with “Ahmen,” never with a long “A”).

7. No one had heard of Root Beer or Jello, but they all had Marmite. What a world, what a world!

8. The English call their yards “gardens,” which are roughly the size of an American garden. I have to imagine that no one, on the whole, has such big homes, such big yards, and eats such big meals as Americans.

9. Pay toilets! Shocking. And I didn’t see what I was paying for.

10. A really old building in the States might be from the 19th century. That’s like new construction in England. One man asked when our church was built. I said sometime in the 60’s. He said, “When in the 1600’s?” No, 1960!

11. Sweaters, lots of sweaters.  Except they call them jumpers, which is a sweater, not a denim dress or a pajama onesie. In any event, you need some layers because the old buildings are cold enough to keep lettuce chilled.

12. There’s England and then there’s Yorkshire, which everyone from Yorkshire and not from Yorkshire seem happy to acknowledge.

Many Thanks

And what about the church situation in England? I’m sure my vantage point was quite limited, but in traveling to half a dozen cities, preaching for four different gospel partnerships, and in meeting hundreds of conservative evangelicals (in free churches and in the Church of England), I saw many encouraging signs of spiritual vitality and gospel health.

1. I was rubbing shoulders with people who are clear on the gospel and want to be clear on the mission of the church. Most of the folks I talked to were concerned that the church not lose its focus on proclamation and disciple making (though this is certainly a reflection and product of having asked me to speak).

2. There was a strong focus on sticking to the text, preaching the text, and handling the text. People were hungry for good, simple, verse-by-verse exposition. No frills, just tell us what the Bible says.

3. Americans have a lot to learn from English evangelicals when it comes to evangelism and training. Probably because the UK is much more of a post-Christian nation, I saw a consistent intentionality about evangelism. I also saw an impressive array of training options for laypeople and those preparing for ministry. We don’t have comparable programs in the U.S.

4. There were dynamic, faithful, word-centered outreaches to college students, business people, and immigrant populations. I left with a number of ideas rattling in my brain about we might more intentionally engage our community.

5. The worship services I attended were warm, simple, straightforward, approachable, and centered on the word.

What Else?

So, any negatives? That’s harder to say. I can more easily see the negatives in my own context and feel more comfortable pointing them out. But perhaps I can make a few comments along the lines of “challenges” the English church may need to wrestle with in the years ahead.

1. Drawing boundaries – I sensed there was continued confusion about who was on the same team. The MLJ-Stott rift took a generation to heal and seems mostly a thing of the past, but there are still questions about how broadly or how narrowly the lines of evangelicalism should be drawn. Some want to make the tent bigger and bigger (probably not a good idea), while others may harbor regional, class, or denominational suspicions (probably not a good idea). And then you have the charismatic churches which operate in a different orbit altogether. What does it mean in England to be together for the gospel?

2. Theological depth – Our biggest strengths tend to be some of our nagging weaknesses. While the training programs are impressively robust, my sensibilities as a Presbyterian/Reformed pastor make me wish more full-time church workers and pastors could benefit from a seminary education. I sensed that young men and women in England were Bible people (which is most important), but less in tune with old books and any particular theological tradition. In particular, we could all stand to pay more attention to issues of ecclesiology and polity, especially given what a royal mess Anglican governance appears to be (pun intended).

3. Don’t swing the pendulum too far – After attending Evensong at St. Paul’s I understood why the churches I was with were so decidedly low church in feel and in order. While many young American Christians–having grown up in seeker-friendly, tradition-less, megaplexes yearn for creeds, hymns, and liturgy–the reaction in Britain is still against such things. Which is fine, just be careful for the whole baby and bathwater thing. Similarly, I hope the church in England will continue to sound the trumpet for global missions, even as they see the huge need for evangelism in their own backyard.

One Final Thought: Celebrity Pastors

I think I understand Carl Trueman’s critiques of American evangelical celebrity culture after touring (to use a celebrity word!) England for a fortnight (to use a British word!). No one asked to take a picture with me–not once. Actually, the one selfie I took was with two Americans (friends of a friend), and we were razzed by the Brits for doing so. Every introduction I received was in the form of a brief interview. People did not queue up after a talk for me to sign their Bible or get a photo for social media. In fact, several church leaders told me that when they really like someone they make fun of them! The culture struck me as one that would rather chop the head off all the tall poppies than point to the one others are pointing at.

I didn’t have a problem with any of this. I like sarcasm and friendly scorn. I’d rather not get my picture taken. I don’t long to sign things. But at the same time, it felt to me like these were cultural values I was experiencing more than strictly biblical ones. Although the lack of pizzazz was refreshing, there were also times no one came up to me to say anything. During break times, I could wander around looking for the loo without fear of someone interrupting my wandering! I didn’t mind. Everyone was exceedingly kind. I’m simply commenting that the same culture that was wonderfully free of celebritification might seem to others unfriendly or unwelcoming (again, that’s not how I took any of it). I don’t think people from America should assume the British are rude, just like I don’t think they should assume people from the Midwest are too nice, people from the South are fake, people from the Northwest are weird, or people at Christian conferences in the States worship the speakers. As we learn from each other, part of what we will learn is that we do things in different ways and skew toward different dangers.

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Comments:


43 thoughts on “Reflections on My Trip to England”

  1. Sean says:

    Also having Presbyterian sensibilities I hear you on ecclesiology and polity in England- Presbyterianism is such a small drop in the bucket of English evangelicalism. I don’t know why these seem to have dropped in importance in England, I have a feeling that it could be down to a backlash to Anglican governance – I have a number of friends who started off Anglican who have become staunch advocates for independent free churches with a negative view towards denominations in general. I don’t want to come off as negative towards independent churches as much fruit is being born thru them and I am a member of one (and passionateley so) – I guess it’s the baby and the bathwater thing that I’m thinking of – theological precision should be encouraged (and examined and tested)in the church, which I think can get neglected outside the context of being within a deonomination.

    I’ve heard of Root Beer and Jello! And I’m proud to be from Yorkshire!

  2. Mark says:

    Kevin,
    I’m wondering if you could share any of the lessons learned from their “dynamic, faithful, word-centered outreaches …”? Thanks.

  3. Richard Agnew says:

    ‘There’s England and then there’s Yorkshire, which everyone from Yorkshire and not from Yorkshire seem happy to acknowledge.’ – I laughed out loud! And I’m an Ulsterman. :)

  4. ChrisM says:

    This was a joy to read; several LOL moments (‘chopping off the poppies’, pay toilets you can’t see!)– you make good observations and portray them humorously very well.

    I was interested in your comment about the MLJ-Stott rift being healed– how and when did that happen?

    I’m not from the UK, just the ‘weird’ Northwest of the USA!

  5. Phillip says:

    Thanks be to the Brits, so capable of producing the best mysteries available. It is becoming difficult to express “God save the King,” considering the one in the foreshadows.
    Christ the King awaiting His return.
    Forget not your “sunnies” on the bright days.

  6. Kevin DeYoung says:

    Mark, I was impressed with the intentionality in evangelism. I suppose there is a danger of programming to a fault, but I thought it was great to see the unified enthusiasm for Passion for Life (a nationwide outreach campaign) and some good materials they’ve prepared to use with non-Christians.

    ChrisM, I suppose it may be too much to think the rift has been healed. But several leaders told me that they were glad to see conservative Anglicans and free church evangelicals work together again.

  7. I was keen (notice how I am picking up on British lingo) to read about your experience as David and I are headed to the UK in May to host a retreat in East Sussex for couples who have faced the death of a child. For our UK friends reading this, if you know of a couple who has faced this difficult experience, we hope you might point them to: http://www.stmarkschurch.org.uk/respite.htm

    And we won’t forget to our jumpers.

  8. Sam Allberry says:

    Yes, Kevin, but did you LIKE the Marmite? You seemed oddly silent on that point.

  9. Matt says:

    Andrew Wilson @AJWTheology would be the perfect guy to come to the US and then write the reversal of this.

  10. David Woollin says:

    There are three kinds of people in this world.
    i. Those who are born in Yorkshire.
    ii. Those who wish they were born in Yorkshire.
    iii. and those with no ambition at all.

    From a Yorkshireman trapped in a Michigan seminary.

  11. Sean says:

    I feel for you David – I’m a Yorkshire man in Lancashire – go figure!

    For me Marmite is just wrong!

  12. Betsy Childs says:

    Yes, the British may not say “like,” but I think they use “sort of” in the same way (as an all-purpose modifier).

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  14. Jason Ward says:

    For Kevin- I was at one of those conferences, and deeply appreciated the brilliant things you said. No eyes rolling, genuinely it was great.
    Re: Celebrity Pastors, no we really do have them. You’d be one of them. But we aren’t sure how to handle them, whether to build them up or knock them down- because we also have inferiority complexes, self-deprecation, stand-offishness, aloofness, introversion, pomposity and poppy-chopping. We actually have lessons at school about how to work out where one might fit in any given social setting, how to balance our mixed emotions in such a setting, and then how to keep those emotions to ourselves. OK, that one was a lie, but you get the gist. Brits are pretty messed up.

    From the safety of the internet, may I tell you how honoured I felt to have you here, and how helpful you were in saying the things you said in front of my elders- you saved me a big job. Please come back, and I will try to be a bit more American in demonstrating my honest appreciation.

  15. Leonard Wilkinson says:

    As a former Brit, I recognized many of the comments as valid. I was encouraged by the knowledge that evangelism is alive and well, since I have many relatives for whom I have prayed throughout over 50 years, who need to know Christ. Thank you for the report which was both entertaining and interesting.

  16. Make sure you visit Wales next time you are in the United Kingdom.

  17. I agree with Emmanuel

  18. taco says:

    I was under the impression the MLJ was the catalyst of charismaticism in the UK. Is this part of the MLJ-Stott rift?

  19. Sammy says:

    Really interesting to hear these observations. I would say though that from reading this blog it looks like you’ve experienced a very specific culture in the UK which I have only become familiar with since attending a reformed, largely evangelical bible college in London. I’m a Brit born and raised and have grown up in in a less middle class culture who wouldn’t hesitate to help someone looking lost trying to find the toilet!

    I work in a poor part of London which is largely unreached by the Gospel and lacks solid Bible teaching in a lot of cases. Although the culture you described was a bit of a shock to me at first, I have learnt so much from it. I would love to see us as church in the UK learning from various people groups from different backgrounds/cultures/contexts and seeing good reformed theology extending further than the middle class evangelical circles. More than this it would be awesome to see the evangelical culture become more detached from middle class culture as it is currently associated. This isn’t because middle class people don’t need the Gospel (praise God for the solid evangelical churches who do an amazing job at reaching them), it’s because those outside of this demographic do too.

    If you come to the UK again in ten years, it would be amazing if one of your observations was that you met so many different types of people in the body of Christ in the UK. People from all walks of life united for the sake of Christ who’s lives have been affected by the wonderful truth of the Gospel. I pray that God would graciously help us to affect change in this matter.

  20. Sally says:

    I agree with Emmanuel too..
    Really enjoyed reading your observations.
    Thank you..

  21. Joe says:

    “There were dynamic, faithful, word-centered outreaches to college students, business people, and immigrant populations.”

    So true – and the white working class has been abandoned.

  22. Derek says:

    People regularly ask you to sign their Bibles???

  23. A grat overview & so balanced. I agree that all cultures will scew doctrine towards their bias. Good to have awareness on both sides of the pond. Thank you.

  24. Visiting John Wesley’s Church and John Knox’s study this past summer while in the UK were highlights for us. We pray that revival will come to the UK in our day!

  25. Ciarán Kelleher says:

    I had read and seen mentions of the celebrity pastor culture in the US but in reformed circles, do people really ask for autographs and selfies?

    Kevin, TGC posted a link to an article by Andrew Wilson about the centre of British Evangelicalism. Whilst I wouldn’t personally agree with him that it’s a really good thing, I do think it paints an accurate picture, though the Scottish landscape might not be as influenced by HTB by the South.

  26. Grace says:

    What Kevin says here about the attitude of the conservative evangelical church towards missions, their respect for the Bible etc. can equally be said of much of the Anglican church in England from my experience. We hear a lot about what dire straits the Church of England is in, but most of the Church of England churches I have come into contact with have been faithful and clearly love Jesus.

  27. I am wondering whether the lack of celebrity treatment is because I’m not the only British Christian who’s barely if at all heard of Kevin de Young and certainly don’t know who he is?

    Not that from here in the far north of Scotland I particularly recognise the picture of British evangelicalism painted either.

  28. James Bunyan says:

    Thanks Kevin!
    You were brilliant!
    It was jolly nice having you.

    We were thrilled to have you with us and grateful for your faithful preaching to us, as well as your long-term faithfulness over the pond. Keep on, brother!
    Thanks for this helpful article- great to see such unity in action!
    Yours
    A Brit.

  29. Nate Phipps says:

    Thanks Kevin! I missed hearing you speak at the Resolute Conference at Southern Seminary this past weekend. But as I am going to England this summer through my church, I’m glad to read an article such as this.

  30. John Mayhew says:

    Fascinating read. I think you may have got only a partial picture from only visiting English cities. In England, many cities have vibrant evangelical churches (in big university towns you are often spoiled for choice when looking for a bible-believing, Christ-exalting church) but the situation in rural areas and small towns is often dire. There are large parts of England with no gospel witness to speak of for miles, or perhaps only a small chapel where the average age of the congregation is well north of sixty. And as has been said above, evangelical congregations in cities are much better at reaching the middle classes – students, graduates, professionals. I think in my church of 200-odd people there is only one family which is long-term unemployed and another where the father has a typical working-class job. Everyone else is in a white-collar office job or a teacher, lawyer, or medical professional. We desperately need ways of reaching rural/semi-rural areas and we desperately need ways of reaching the abandoned (by churches and by government) white working-classes and the so-called “underclass”.

  31. eric says:

    Your comment about no one coming up to you during breaks reminds me of Latvia. I have lived in Latvia for 14 years. People usually “ignore” the speakers. Not sure why. Maybe because they don’t feel “worthy”. It is a very introvert culture and then there’s the 50 years of Soviet Occupation….still not sure:)

  32. Ben Shaw says:

    I’m english, and I love Root Beer! Sadly, you just can’t really get it here…

  33. Kate Lanier says:

    Thanks for posting. As a Christian American living in England, I found your article funny and true. I am inspired to write about a typical British daily menu: baked beans for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

  34. Mike says:

    Like one or two others above, I was interested in the lack of reference to the fact that England is (currently) part of the UK, and the North bit is largely Presbyterian, with a quite different culture. Next time you come over the pond, it would be great to have you in Scotland. Have you heard of the Crieff Fellowship?

  35. Joe says:

    I thought this article was brilliant! ;) I’m a brit and i thought you nailed some of these points. I only wish that people would take head of the point about theological depth. My church has a beautiful heart and pursue jesus passionately and honestly, but i do cringe at some of the things they come out with.
    Thanks for the article!

  36. Dev sarker says:

    Hello Kevin

    I am very interested in your comment # 4 that Americans are more patriotic that the Brits.

    I am neither and but have had the opportunity of having visited both countries regularly and have close friends from both.

    My own observation is that Brits in general are more modest, self deprecating and critical/reflective of themselves, their country and their government. As for patriotism WWII reassures anyone who has doubts (which even Angela Merkel affirmed recently in her UK Parliament speech) about their patriotic fervour.

    As for Americans and Christians in particular, I find many tend to lose their Christian discernment when talking about the US, especially the US government, foreign policy, political idealogy.

    I was taken aback to read John MaCarthurs book ‘God….terrorism’ which seem to make the point that the 9/11 attack was an attack on Christianity. It was not. It was the vengful behavior of radicalised group ie the Taliban, which actually had been nurtured by US groups to counter the Soviets in Afghanistan (this can be easily verified, if anyone wants to).

    Therefore, I would be interested to know your thoughts on :

    1. Whether you believe the US government deliberately misled the US and the world by claiming that WMD existed in Iraq and then used that as a pretext to attack Iraq. (Saddam may have been a bad dictator but he received considerable from the US in his war with in Iran in the 80’s, and further there are many current brutal dictators that the US continues to support rather than remove eg Saudi Arabia).

    Tragically, many old Christian families who for generation had lived in Iraq and were living peacefully under Saddam, had their properties, wives and daughters ravaged by Islamic/barbaric hordes who no longer were fearful of the rule of law.

    2. Whether you think your government is morally justified in wanting retribution to Assad of Syria for supposedly (remember the WMD claims) using chemical weapons on his own people when NOT a single American has been called to account for dropping chemical weapons in Vietnam, Cambodia and even Greece (the last after WWII…to keep the commies out).

    Please be assured I have great respect for you (have read many of your books), John Mac (and his books too) and other Americans who have and continue to make a significant contribution to Kingdom and God bless you all.

    My doubt is about how easily discernment of US Christan leaders get lost in a swamp of patriotic fervor. I gave you the example of John Mac but others (usually in and around the Texas/the Bible belt) seem to hold similar positions.

    t seems to me that we risk compromising the credibility and integrity of the gospel when we use it to endorse/legitimise US Government actions/foreign policy, albeit at times, inadvertently. I am not saying you may have done this, but since you come across as a discerning speaker and did refer to your patriotic beliefs, that I thought I would enquire further.

    I also accept that your blog primarily consists of American readers, but now that it is followed by a more international audience (I live in Australia), it does receive a more divergent scrutiny.

    I would much appreciate your thoughts.

    Kind regards
    Dev ( I had the privilege of hearing you speak in Dubai a few years ago)

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (RCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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