What is Anglicanism? (J.I. Packer Speaks)

What is Anglicanism? (J.I. Packer Speaks) March 23, 2015

Recently Michael Jensen, at TGC’s site, had a post about the nature of Anglicanism that focused quite rigorously on a conservative version of Reformed soteriology, and you can read his emphases at the link. I countered a bit by suggesting it was creedal to the core. But now another heavyweight, J.I. Packer, has weighed in on the nature of Anglicanism. And their perspectives, while they might agree on lots and lots theologically, reveal that Anglicanism can be approached from a number of angles. I have put in bold the operative emphases of Packer.

J.I. Packer:

I identify myself as a heritage Anglican, or a main stream Anglican, on the basis of that view of things. I adapt to state my Anglican identity, words from the great Pastor Duncan of the Free Church of Scotland, who something like 150 years ago, said in answer to a question about his identity as a minister of the church, “I’m first a Christian, second a Protestant, third a Calvinist, fourth a Paedo-baptist, and fifth a Presbyterian”. Well, I go with the first four; and then “fifth I’m an Anglican”. And if I’m asked to explain further what is the Anglicanism that I stand for, I reel off eight defining characteristics of my Anglicanism like this.

Anglicanism is first biblical and protestant in its stance, and second, evangelical and reformed in its doctrine. That’s a particular nuance within the Protestant constituency to which the Anglican church is committed – the 39 Articles show that. Ten, thirdly, Anglicanism is liturgical and traditional in its worship.

I go on to say, fourthly, Anglicanism is a form of Christianity that is pastoral and evangelistic in its style. I quote the ordinal for that and I point out that ever since the ordinal and the prayer book required the clergy to catechize the children, Anglicanism has been evangelistic, though the form of the evangelism has not been that of the travelling big tent – the form of the evangelism has been rather institutional and settled; the evangelism was part of the regular work of the parish clergyman and the community around him. But let nobody say that institutional parochial Anglicanism is not evangelistic and, today, I know the wisest folk here in England are recovering parochial evangelism in a significant way. Thank God they are.

And then I say, fifthly, that Anglicanism is a form of Christianity that is episcopal and parochial in its organization and, sixthly, it is rational and reflective in its temper. I make a point of that. I say that, in Anglican circles, any question can be asked and the Anglican ethic is to take the question seriously and discuss it responsibly. There are, of course, Protestant churches which, I think you have to say, are always running scared and as soon as a question of this kind – a real puzzle of our Christian truth, of the ways of God – is raised in their circles, they bring out the big stick. “Now you mustn’t talk like that, you shouldn’t be concerning yourself about that. Just stay with the ABC of the Gospel and Bible truth”. Theological reflection is discouraged rather than helped on its way. That makes, I believe, for real immaturity. So I celebrate the fact that Anglicanism, characteristically is rational and reflective and believes in the discipline of debate and sustained discussion, believing, you see, that like panning for gold, the gold of truth will be distilled out through the discussion and the dross of error will be panned away.

Seventhly, I tell people that Anglicanism as a form of Christianity is ecumenical and humble in spirit. Unlike some denominations, we do not claim that Anglicanism is self-sufficient. What we say, rather, is that the Anglican way is the way of a person with an unlimited charge card going through a large department store and being free to say of every valuable thing you see and would like to make your own: “That’s for me. Put it on charge”. Anglicans have always rejoiced to receive wisdom from outside their own circles. They have a vision of Christendom as a fragmented reality with flashes of truth and wisdom scattered all across the board. Our business as Anglicans, seeking the glory of God, is to pick up as much truth and wisdom (get as much help, I mean, from these scattered shards of truth and wisdom) as we possibly can. I am comfortable with that. I would be uncomfortable with anything else.

Then, eighthly, I tell people that Anglicanism characteristically is national and transformist in its outlook. By `national’ I mean that the Anglican way is to accept concern for the spiritual condition of the national group within which the gospel is being preached. By `transformist’ I mean that Anglicans seek, under Christ, to see the culture changed into a Christian mould as far as maybe. So Anglicans have always been concerned about education and educational institutions, and about a Christian voice being raised in Government and things of that kind. Please God, it will always be that way wherever Anglicans go.

All this sounds, I suppose, very triumphalist; but I do believe that Anglicanism embodies the richest, truest, wisest heritage in all Christendom. When people say “Those are fine words but everywhere in the west Anglicanism is sinking”, I have to admit – in Canada, yes, and in Britain, yes, and in the States, yes, and in Australasia, sure. It is true; but still, I think, we may stay our hearts by reminding ourselves what is going on under Anglican auspices in black Africa. There the church grows and the gospel advances by leaps and bounds.

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  • Todd Allen Bellemey

    Amen Brother!

  • Todd Allen Bellemey

    Thats is Scot my brother and teacher.

  • Some good stuff here. And I think Anglicans give as much as they receive from the rest of the church. Too much and too many to name here.

    I do wonder about the western decline. In sure there are many theories, but I’d love to see them moving in the opposite direction.

  • Jeff Y

    I often see the pronouncement that Anglicanism is “Reformed.” But, in what sense is it “Reformed?” (Of course, even the idea of “Reformed” is also quite complex – as many equate it with Calvinism; but, then there’s Roger Olson. 😉 ).

    It seems to me Packer’s latter point, “ecumenical and humble in spirit,” and his elaboration of that point – would seem to open the door to countering any rigid definition of Anglicanism as being “Reformed.” Can one be Anglican and lean more toward Luther’s concepts? It would seem so. It is always a danger to invoke the name N.T. Wright with reference to his beliefs (who can define those adequately?), but he appears much more open to human free will than many who would define “Reformed” over against any free will choices.

    Perhaps it would be interesting to have a series (perhaps there has been one and I missed it), purely on the idea of “Reformed” and how that then relates to Anglicanism.

  • Mark Sandberg

    “Anglicanism . . . is . . . humble in spirit.” “Anglicanism embodies the richest, truest, wisest heritage in all Christendom.” Interesting.

  • Andrew Dowling

    Exactly. Anglicanism’s rather tumultuous early history ensures that strong Calvinists and those who are much more theologically congruent with the RCC can both state they are firmly Anglican.

  • Phil Miller

    My wife and I have been going to an Anglican church for about two years now after a long time of being somewhat spiritually homeless after moving to a new city. Everything that’s said here resonates with me. I think the thing that I’ve appreciated is that there is an openness to different opinions that I haven’t found elsewhere. I also appreciate that the intellectual side of of the faith is encourage rather than discouraged.

    The congregation we’re part of still has an evangelical flavor in many ways. I think it’s simply because so many of the people there, a majority maybe, are evangelicals who were burnt out from the evangelical machine. I think going to a place where not everything is a fight is refreshing. I know it is for me.

  • He’s obviously speaking of his own preference and opinion in the latter part. Indeed, part of his reason for (personally) thinking so highly of Anglicanism is its humility. This is like adopted son speaking of the virtues of the family of which he is now a part–he’s speaking of others even though he’s technically part of the group.

  • mlivingston

    I’m newer to Anglicanism, but I too would like to see what they mean by “reformed.” I’ve yet to get a really good explanation. Not Calvinism, but holding to the SOLAS is what I was told.

    I know too many Anglicans who are definitely not Calvinists (myself included) and too many Calvinists who wouldn’t view Anglicanism as Calvinist enough. Did that may sense? 🙂

  • Phil Miller

    If you read the 39 Articles, it’s pretty easy to see why Anglicanism is considered Reformed. They do take a stance of predestination (they’re for it, more or less), but it’s one of those areas where I think in practice many Anglicans don’t necessarily agree. I also think that from a broader perspective, the idea that God has a specific plan for history is a very Anglican way of thinking. It is kind of like predestination on a large scale. But as far as predestination and personal salvation, it isn’t something Anglicans have historically spent a lot of time debating.

  • Dean

    Most Calvinists think other Calvinists aren’t “calvinist” enough. 😉

  • scotmcknight

    Last paragraph gets to one of the virtues of Anglicanism.

  • michael jensen

    Just to be clear, I wouldn’t dispute much of JIP’s list – if anything at all. And, if I am a heavyweight, then the word doesn’t mean what I thought it did! 🙂

  • michael jensen

    By the way: ‘Reformed’ is often the sticking point here as a term. Diarmaid McCullogh uses the term to describe the Anglicanism that emerged from the 16th Century in a quite general way. That is: it looked at the Protestant options, and chose for the South German/ Swiss version, not the Lutheran one. It was influenced by Bucer, especially, in that. But that DOES mean a belief in election and predestination, and a reformed soteriology, are characteristic of Reformation Anglicanism.

  • scotmcknight

    Good one.

  • scotmcknight

    Michael, you may have read my previous post… when Anglicanism becomes all about Reformed soteriology, and I said in a more rigorous conservative fashion, then it tends to ignore its catholicity and creedal core. The more recent resurgent Calvinism is the former without the latter.

    Further, the 39 Articles aren’t at the same level as, say, the Westminster Confession, and it is out of Anglicanism that Methodism and some forms of Arminianism arose. Fair?

  • michael jensen

    I think you err.
    Firstly, the resurgent Calvinism – bugbear of so many here – is chiefly not an Anglican phenomenon. So your analysis is a bit askew there. Secondly, the great missionary co-operations of the 19th Cent were initiated and funded and prayed for by reformed evangelical Anglicans such as Charles Simeon. In fact if anything, reformed soteriology made for radical interdenominational missions – even with Arminians!!

  • scotmcknight

    I agree it is not Anglicanism, never said it was, but isn’t your post at TGC designed to assure said folks Anglicanism is compatible?

  • scotmcknight

    Not sure what the missionary efforts in England have to do with it… plenty of the same efforts in the USA.

  • michael jensen

    Evidence of reformed soteriology driving catholic spirit, not quashing it.

  • scotmcknight

    Now back up to the previous: “it” (in “it tends to ignore”) was not Anglicanism but resurgent Calvinism in the USA. Yes, and I agree, great missionary efforts by many in the Reformed circles, as well as Arminian circles, and in the USA from a great cooperative, cross-denominational missionary societies.

  • michael jensen

    Fer sure. It was also in response to a (very poor in my view) take on Anglicanism that was posted on TGC which was the more normal ‘oh Anglicanism is theological blancmange’ reading of it.

  • wyclif

    Reformed and Calvinist are not synonymous.

  • wyclif

    I think you’re right that many Anglo-Catholics would push back on that, but they’d be wrong.

  • wyclif

    Actually, no. Anglicanism is Protestant. It breaks decisively with Rome on most points of importance. It is, in essence, the Reformed Church of England. Anglicanism adopts the theology of the patristic authors and that of the English Reformation over that of the Counter-Reformation.

  • wyclif

    The problem with that statement is that Anglicanism does not represent the “more recent resurgent Calvinism” but rather the older pan-Protestantism of Luther, Calvin, Bucer, et al. Think the early Reformers, not TGC 😉