Monday, December 14, 2009

The Protestant Face of Anglicanism

[The Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society] 14 Dec 2009--The author of this book is the dean of the Cathedral Church of the Advent (Episcopal) in Birmingham, Alabama. He argues convincingly that Anglicanism rests historically within the Protestant and Reformed tradition of Christianity, admitting that it has often appeared more Apostolic and Catholic. This two-sided face of the church stems from the period of Queen Elizabeth I and remains still today. The main issue the author wishes to resolve is whether Anglicanism presents an antithesis between these two views or a synthesis, a via media or "third way." He believes the third way approach sells short the Anglican church, despite the fact that it is the prevailing view of many defining it today.

The English Reformation (like the European) was a change in religious conviction based on the affirmation that justification is by grace through faith. Like Luther, the early English reformers held that the believer was able to love God freely because one was declared righteous and forgiven by God's decree. The English Reformation was more than a change of form from papal to monarchical; it was one also of substance, lasting one hundred seventy years (1520-1690). It resulted in a Protestant Reformed church and nation.

Why then is Anglicanism today not squarely identified with Protestantism but instead as a church of the via media? The author provides six reasons: (1) the difficulty of distinguishing Puritan dissent from Protestant Anglican self understanding; (2) the fear of being labeled a Calvinist despite the Calvinistic tone of many of the Thirty-nine Articles; (3) the charge that Protestantism is inflexible, intolerable, too systematic, self-righteous, and moralizing; (4) a popular belief that Anglicanism should be accommodating, unwilling to confront contradiction, and always seeking a "golden mean"; (5) a Catholicizing preference that emphasizes the incarnation over the atonement; and (6) the charge that Protestantism secularizes while Catholicism provides "real" religion. All of these objections leave the Anglican church more with praxis than principle. In addition, the Prayer Book has undergone so many revisions that one cannot turn to it today to settle the issues.


John Haney said...

Earlier in this decade, after my wife and I had rejected both ECUSA and the Continuum, we knew clearly why we had done so. In retrospect we had undergone a personal 'protesting' against what we saw/heard, and had definite convictions as to how those churches needed 'reform'. Ironically neither one of us had ever had any exposure to Reformational, Protestant Anglicanism in our sixty plus years. This book was a lighthouse in that stormy time telling us we had arrived at a safe harbor we believed must exist somewhere. I still remember the sweet experience of first reading it. It is a small pearl of worthy price.

Tony Seel said...

Robin, since his time in Birmingham Paul Zahl has been president of Trinity School for Ministry and now I believe that he is rector of a pecusa parish in Maryland.

D. Straw said...

I read this book many years ago and it's on my "books to re-read list." It is a good book and well worth studying again.