Deep Anglicanism: A Basic Guide

Deep Anglicanism: A Basic Guide April 6, 2018

Several weeks ago a student from England asked me for a basic introduction to Anglicanism.  He had grown up in it but never took it as his own.  Now that he was involved in a non-denominational church here in the States, he felt a hunger for something more.

Most of the only book-length introductions I knew were either dated or breezy.

By “breezy” I mean that they do not go beyond the mere outline of deep issues such as sacraments and liturgy.  (To be fair, breezy introductions are needed for many folks who have zero knowledge of this tradition.) By “dated” I mean older guides that don’t scratch where millennials are itching today.  For example, they don’t address questions of biblical authority, which university classes disparage today in a way that older generations were spared. Or the relation of tradition to experience, which is the central authority for millennial culture today.

One exception to “breezy or dated” is the recent Reformation Anglicanism series edited by Ashley Null and John Yates III.  This is a brilliant introduction to aspects of sixteenth-century Anglicanism that highlight Cranmer’s liturgical genius and the English Reformers’ rescue of the Word from its late medieval captivity to semi-Pelagianism.  This series features its own depth in its exploration of one end of the Anglican tradition.  My posts will try to address a broader range of the tradition, including great lights in the Anglican firmament such as pre-Reformation guides Anselm, Walter Hilton, and Julian of Norwich; the great 16th-century theologian Richard Hooker; the Caroline divines Lancelot Andrewes and Jeremy Taylor; the Oxford theologians John Keble, Edward Pusey and John Henry Newman in his Anglican period; and the 20th-century Anglican minds E.L. Mascall, C.S. Lewis, and Martin Thornton.

Newcomers to Anglicanism have questions that most of the newer guides don’t typically address.  For example, What right does an Anglican priest have to absolve my sins?  How should Anglicans decide among different views of the sacraments, from memorial to Real Presence views?   How does Anglicanism affect marriage, death, suffering, daily life?  Is Anglicanism simply another version of evangelicalism but with pretty liturgy?

This is the first in a series of blogposts that will introduce the reader to the Anglican tradition at a deeper level of the tradition.  By “deep” I mean an approach that transcends the usual demarcations of “high church,” “broad church,” and “low church.”  Those who call themselves “low church” might see their own tradition at a deeper level, or that there was more to Anglicanism than they thought.  “High church” folks might see that there are more biblical roots for their practice than they imagine, and this might connect them better with the “low church” folks that put a premium on biblical validation.  “Broad church” Anglicans might find reason to go beyond acceptance of everything Anglican on offer, and reject efforts to find a least common denominator for the sake of peace.

So “deep” means the root vision of traditional Anglicanism.  It means digging down to see how the greatest Anglican minds and hearts saw the Trinitarian God, and the ways they saw this God come to his people through the church of Jesus Christ.  It means starting in the first centuries of Christianity in the British Isles and not simply the sixteenth century.  It means exploring the wealth of Anglican spirituality in the 14th and 17th centuries.  It means appreciating the liturgical genius of Thomas Cranmer but also the extension and revision of that liturgy by the bishops of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, which is still the only official version in the Anglican Communion. It means figuring out not only what distinguishes Canterbury from Rome and Geneva but also from Wittenberg.  More recently, it means discerning why the orthodox center of Anglicanism has moved to the Global South and away from Canterbury.

In short, it means plumbing the depths of orthodoxy, liturgy, and sacraments, while travelling on the pilgrim road and living a life of adoration in pursuit of the Beatific Vision.

I say it is “basic” because every chapter deals with deep water, and I go only so deep.  There are nearly-infinite fathoms beneath each of my brief discussions.  Also, these posts are not for fellow theologians but for Anglicans and Anglican-interested folks in the pews . . . or even those who are afraid of the pews but are considering them.

It is a “guide,” and at a distance, because it can go only so far.  As a wise priest once told me, you really don’t understand the Anglican way until you have lived its sacramental and liturgical life for five years.

Here is an outline of the posts to follow.

  1. Entering the gates
    1. Anglicanism: the Via Media
    2. Crazy King Henry: Did Anglicanism begin with lust and divorce?
    3. The real beginning of the Anglican Way
  2. Liturgy: A life of prayer
    1. Why do Anglicans pray this way?
    2. What are the basic parts of an Anglican worship service?
    3. How do Anglicans pray during the week?
    4. What is the Book of Common Prayer?
      1. Why so many versions?
      2. What are its most important parts?
    5. What is distinctive about Anglican spirituality?
      1. The fourteenth century
      2. The seventeenth century
    6. Are Anglican weddings distinctive?
    7. What about Anglican funerals?
  3. Sacraments: God loves matter
    1. What are sacraments? How are Anglican sacraments different?
    2. Why is the Eucharist so important for Anglicans?
      1. What do they mean by it? How is it different from Catholic transubstantiation?
    3. Why do Anglicans baptize babies?
      1. Isn’t this unbiblical?
      2. What is different about Anglican baptism?
    4. What are the five other “sacramentals”?
    5. How can an Anglican priest have the audacity to absolve sins?
  4. The Church: why the “Me and Jesus” approach is un-Christian
    1. “one”: the tragedy and glory of the worldwide Church
    2. “holy”: why the Donatists were wrong
    3. “catholic”: why Tradition is not a dirty word
    4. “apostolic”: our connection with the early church
      1. The apostolic testimony in the Church and Scripture
      2. What is the apostolic succession?
    5. Is the three-fold ministry (bishops, priests and deacons) unbiblical?
  1. The Word: What is our final authority?
    1. Scripture and tradition
      1. Tradition I and Tradition II
    2. How Anglicans read the Bible
      1. The Fathers and the Great Tradition
    3. The difference between sola scriptura and solo scriptura on the one hand and prima scriptura on the other hand
    4. Hard sayings in Scripture and tradition: the ministry
    5. Hard sayings in Scripture and tradition: salvation
    6. Hard sayings in Scripture and tradition: marriage
  2. Ways of living in the Triune God: Why Anglican?
    1. Why not the way of Geneva?
    2. Why not Wittenberg?
    3. Why not Rome or Constantinople?


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