Over at WSJ was an article about two brothers, both brought up Southern Baptist, but one brother ended becoming a Catholic priest, and the other brother became an Anglican bishop.
Al Mohler seized on this story as reason for making sure that children growing up in Baptist churches have a good theological grounding, less they leave the fold when they have deep and pressing questions, and end up going the route of these two brothers. In the course of his discussion Mohler’s sentiments about Anglican were quite mixed. One the one hand, Mohler said:
[B]ecoming an Anglican doesn’t necessarily mean, in any sense, the denial of the very essentials of the gospel … Thanks be to God, there are a very good many evangelical Anglicans, and we can only hope that this bishop in Atlanta is one of them. The ways described in this article makes me think that it may well be so.
Nothing polemical or terribly affronting there. And as a Baptist leader, one would entirely expect Mohler to disagree Roman Catholic theology and even with Anglican theology of church, ministry, and sacrament without thinking that it was in any way pejorative. However, Mohler also said:
As I read this news article, it comes as judgment; judgment upon all those who missed the opportunity in failed in the responsibility to ground these young boys as they were then in the Christian faith, in the truth, and the beauty of evangelical Christian doctrine. In the theological principles that based upon long biblical consideration and the long argument of the church have met the differences between the Roman Catholic Church and evangelical Christianity. The differences between the understanding of a Scripture-centered Christianity and one that is centered in the sacraments (as is the Roman Catholic system and at least much of Anglicanism). This is a huge question. It’s a haunting question.
As a Protestant, I still have a protest against Roman Catholicism, though I think the nature and shape of that protest is different in a post-Christian context. However, I was a little miffed that Mohler thinks that one can be orthodox in spite of being Anglican, as if being Anglican is primary a hindrance to being orthodox rather than a way of expressing it, or that evangelical Anglicans are the exception rather than the norm. One need only think of Thomas Cranmer and Nicholas Ridley to be confronted with Anglican’s evangelical and orthodox heritage. And then there are modern evangelical leaders like J.I. Packer, John Stott, Alister McGrath, N.T. Wright, and others.
In terms of where Mohler is coming from, I think it is worthwhile to recognize that Anglicanism – with its prayer book and liturgy – can appear like another theological world to some Baptists. Over at Millennial Flux is an article on Young, Restless and Anglican which notes the growing trend of young evangelicals attending Anglican churches if not actually becoming Anglican. The article documents the large number of Wheaton students who attend Anglican churches, but notes how one Baptist student named Luke Goodman, failed to see what the attraction was. Luke Goodman, raised Baptist, wasn’t enamored with the Anglican tradition and raised an eyebrow at the notion of dozens of Wheaton students flooding out of the usual evangelical denominations to pursue a more traditional faith.
“I don’t understand all the traditions,” Goodman said. “It feels to me to be fairly works-based, and that they’re adding things that are not necessary and not laid out in the Bible, like trying to add to the Gospel. I think their hearts are fairly in the right place, and they’re doing it for the right reasons, but it’s dangerous to do things that aren’t laid out in the Bible.”
And that is what is so weird and problematic for some Baptists and why Baptists harbor suspicions about Anglicans.
I think there was some push back to Mohler’s piece from John Yates at the TGC who wrote on Who Are These Anglicans in TGC? mentioning the seminars and workshops to be put on by Anglicans leaders at the 2015 TGC conference in Orlando. It was a kind of implicit protest against Mohler’s casting of aspersions on Anglicans.
Scot McKnight has his own view of why Baptists leave their churches for more liturgical and traditional churches. McKnight says that the problem is not a lack of theological teaching, rather, the problem is the type of theological training that is received. First, the Baptist concept of “soul liberty” or “soul competency” where everyone can interpret the Bible as they like, is a source of the problem, because you end up view whereby truth exists somewhere between Me and my ESV, turning the individual into a private magisterium without regard for the witness of the history of the church. Second, there is a lack of awareness among Baptists that I can attest to when it comes to knowing the great traditions of the church. The solution for Baptists I believe is to get away from the hyper-individualism of soul competency and to shed their ignorance of the great tradition, by ingraining some genuine catholicity in their tradition, i.e., a deliberate and conscious exposure to older traditions and use of them in worship, preaching, and teaching. Something espouseds directly by Steve Harmon in his book Towards Baptist Catholicity which you can read a bit about here. It is for reasons such as these that some of us moved from Baptist to Anglican, folks like Brian Rosner, Scot McKnight, and Amy Peeler to name a few.
I should note that Baptists and Anglicans can be friends, proved by the dialogue that often takes place between the two bodies.