Whither Anglican Evangelicalism?

As opening sentences go, 'Some of my best friends are Anglicans' has that portentously worrying ring about it which one also finds in 'I'm not a racist but...'   Yet it seems appropriate when commenting briefly on a small volume which was thrust into my hands by Colin the Book in Dublin last week: Reformed Foundations, Reforming Future: A Vision for 21st Century Anglicanism.   This slim volume consists of two addresses, one by Lee Gatiss, the other by Peter Adam, along with a foreword by Bishop Wallace Benn.  Lee is the author of a number of books, an Anglican vicar, and Director of the Church Society.  Peter Adam is a former Principal of Ridley College, Melbourne, and author of one of my favourite books on the theology of preaching, Speaking God's Words.

The two addresses give outsiders good insights into the attitude of Reformed churchmen within the Anglican fold.  Lee focuses on arguing that the C of E is Reformed, on the basis ofgatiss.jpg the 39 Articles and the Homilies.   At one point, I feared we were boarding the last bus to Bonkersville as he launched into a paean to the Coronation Oath and the constitutional commitment to Protestantism, though this section was mercifully short.  Further, it is a bit of a stretch to include Carey and Spurgeon as representatives of this constitutional Reformed religion: non-conformists (Baptists, Presbyterians, Congregationalists etc.) were, like Roman Catholics, subject to oppressive laws of social exclusion and to miserable treatment at the hands of the Anglican political and cultural establishment until the middle of the nineteenth century.  Nevertheless, the basic point is well-taken: the Anglican Church, on paper at least, was -- is -- broadly Reformed in doctrine.

Peter Adam's address is perhaps more practical in orientation.  He rightly highlights the fact that no church is perfect and, in so doing, seems to be trying to relativise the Anglican communion's specific difficulties.   He also offers a series of practical suggestions, helpfully rooted in the New Testament, as to how reformation might be brought about in the church.  This is marvelously concise, encouraging and thoughtful. 

At the end of the volume, however, I was left with my usual feelings when I read a book by Anglicans justifying remaining in the Anglican church.  Yes, some of my best friends are Anglicans, but....  I wonder what it means to say that the Articles remain the standards of the church's belief if they cannot be enforced in practice on all clergy?   Paper orthodoxy needs to be backed up not just with a few faithful vicars and vibrant congregations.  It needs to be backed up by judicial action to ensure that what is taught in all Anglican pulpits is consistent with what is stated on paper.

We now know that the strategy of 'Stay in as long as they let you preach the gospel in your own pulpit' is a catastrophic failure.   Witness the collapse of the conservative cause in the Church of Scotland.  It salves consciences and it excuses flight from the battlefield in the wider church.   Unless the orthodox in mixed denominations are actively working to exert influence at those points where denominational power is concentrated and exerted - the committees, the synods/assemblies, the seminaries etc. - their influence will not rise beyond the local church and whatever informal networks they develop within the broader church.  I am not persuaded by Peter Adam's 'reformation from below' argument, especially his use of the Oxford Movement as an example.  Newman, Pusey, and Keble were not only very clever men, they also operated very strategically within the context of Oxford University, exerting influence via their proactive proselytizing of powerful and influential people.

We might also say that the New Testament does not seem to think that such liberty to preach in one's own congregation is all that is required of churchmen.  Paul seems to expect church officers to silence heretics and teachers of error in an active and purposeful way.   In this context,  I could only sigh (once again) when I saw (once again) a citation of John Frame's article on Machen's 'warrior children,' as if the fractious nature of confessional Presbyterianism was to be more feared than bishops who deny the essentials of the faith.  Plus, it is arguable that the fractious nature of confessional Presbyterianism is itself overstated by its critics: most confessional Presbyterians in the USA belong to a pretty small handful of denominations which generally enjoy friendlier inter-church relations than the intra-church relations of the different Anglican factions.

Still, this is an excellent booklet and well worth reading, both for insights into how evangelical Anglicans perceive their cause in the twenty-first century and for the usual wisdom and helpful pastoral/churchly insights we expect from Gatiss and Adam.  But if evangelical Anglicans are to stay in the church ad reform it, they need a coherent strategy, not just an orthodox confession and a prayerful piety.

And yes, some of my best friends are still Anglicans.