An Anglican Approach to the New Testament

An Anglican Approach to the New Testament May 26, 2015

By Wes Hill:

Admittedly, though, most of the time, in my own theological reading and writing, I don’t pay much attention to “distinctively Anglican” theology. I confess I’m more apt to read Karl Barth than Richard Hooker, and I’m generally more interested in Augustine and Aquinas than I am in the niceties of intra-Anglican discussions and debates. Historically speaking, I’m partial to the conclusion Oliver O’Donovan draws, in his wonderful book on the Thirty-Nine Articles. It has never been, O’Donovan says, “the genius of the Church of England to grow its own theological nourishment, but only to prepare what was provided from elsewhere and to set it decently upon the table.” How, then, am I supposed to teach the New Testament in an “Anglican way”?

Here, at least, is my current thinking on the matter. If O’Donovan is right, then Anglicanism’s chief glory is to present and embody the faith of the Church catholic — downwind of the Reformation, with a robust understanding of justification by faith in tow — in such a way that Anglicans may be confident that they are adhering to the same apostolic teaching and inhabiting the same ecclesial order as their earliest forebears in the faith did. Anglicanism does not, on this reading, represent some unique “take” on the Christian faith (proponents of a muddled understanding of a via media notwithstanding). Anglicanism is, rather, one reliable way for Western Christians to live out the apostolic, catholic faith. We are distinctive precisely by aiming not to be distinctive. Our theology is the theology of the early church, the era of the Fathers, the best of the medieval world and the Reformation — all set decently on the table in our prayer book and other formularies.

To teach the New Testament in an Anglican way is, then, to teach in order that the New Testament’s coherence is shown to depend on the catholic faith. An Anglican understanding of the New Testament won’t major on reconstructing the historical circumstances “behind” the various New Testament documents. Nor will it put much stock in the passing fashions of the biblical studies guild. An Anglican approach to the New Testament will be far more interested in talking about the way the very existence of the “New Testament” — a formalized collection of books, typically bound in one codex with its counterpart, the Christian “Old Testament” — depends on the nexus of the apostles, their successors, their gospel, its proclamation in word and sacrament, its reception in the following centuries, and its summary in the creeds and councils of the Church catholic….

To read and teach the New Testament as an Anglican — which is, or should be, to read and teach the Bible as a catholic Christian — is to talk about the apostolic, churchly, creedal, eucharistic shape of the New Testament. It is to try to discern the Christian rationale for this particular collection of documents. And it is to read those texts for the ongoing theological and pastoral nourishment of the Christian church today, between whose contemporary existence and whose apostolic beginnings no unbridgeable gulf looms.

OK, I agree wholeheartedly but we are bound to run into just a few wisecrackers who just might bring up that Anglicans don’t mind a little difference amongst themselves. So, NT Wright is quite happy to talk about the historical circumstances behind the NT… we could go on.

An Anglican approach knows its catholic-Reformation core, on that we must agree.

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