Book Thoughts #6: „The Future of Orthodox Anglicanism”

Although I am not an Anglican myself, this ecclesiastical tradition is a source of continual inspiration for me. I admire theological vitality of Anglicanism and its ability to produce evangelical leaders such as John Stott or J.I. Packer. I am a fan of Lewis’ literary genius. And last but by no means least, I love the beauty of the Book of Common Prayer. Therefore The Future of Orthodox Anglicanism published recently by Crossway has quickly drawn my attention. Now, when my MPhil thesis is finally submitted, I had time to delve into it. 

Summary of Content

The Future of Orthodox Anglicanism was born out of a conference hosted at Beeson Divinity School in 2018. It consists of eleven essays by various authors grouped into three parts. In the first part entitled Regional Perspectives on Anglicanism, we are presented with essays by four writers from four countries. Two of them represent the Global South: archbishop Eliud Wabukala from Kenya and bishop Mouneer Hanna Anis from Egypt; two of them come from North America: dr Ephraim Radner from Canada and archbishop Foley Beach from the States. This group of essays is briefly concluded by dr Stephen Noll. The second part deals with Vocational Perspectives on Anglicanism. Contributors to this part are rector and scholar dr John Yates III, journalist and theologian Barbara Gauthier, and historian and theologian dr Gerald Bray. This section is concluded by bishop Chandler Holder Jones. The last part presents us with the Ecclesiastical Perspectives on Anglicanism. Two essays are written by Anglicans: Andrew Pearson Jr and dr Gerald McDermott. Remaining two essays come from the Baptist theologian dr Timothy George and Roman Catholic dr R. R. Reno. To these essays responds bishop Ray Sutton. The whole collection was edited and concluded by dr Gerald McDermott. 

Thoughts on the Book

What strikes me about this book is that there is hardly one understanding of what constitutes Anglicanism that would be shared by all authors. Ephraim Radner in his essay argues that there is no single church, shared confession or set of attitudes that would unite all who claim the name Anglican. He instead sees Anglicanism as a shared historical process and one that is destined to end at some point and give birth to some new ecclesiastical reality. Stephen Noll emphasises in his response to the first four essays that from the perspective of the archbishop of Canterbury and other ‘instruments of unity’ archbishop Folley Beach from ACNA is not an Anglican at all even though he is recognised by the majority of the Anglican world and is a chairman of GAFCON. Another striking tension is that some authors emphasise more Reformational roots of Anglicanism (especially John Yates III and Gerald Bray) whereas others stress its Reformed Catholicism and being a via media (e.g. Barbara Gauthier, R.R. Reno, Gerald McDermott). It is telling that Chandler Jones devotes a substantial part of his response to countering Bray’s negative assessment of the Oxford Movement. Bray, also, notes in his essay that until the 19th century Anglicanism was not even understood as a system of theology in the same way as Lutheranism, Reformed churches or Roman Catholicism. 

But there are also several characteristics of Anglicanism that often surface in this collection of essays. Several writers mark its roots in the Reformation and positive articulation of the primacy of Scripture and justification by faith alone. Many of these essays point out that Anglican theology and practice was always rooted in the patristic tradition. Several authors also notice the importance of Anglican liturgy though there are also in this collection voices warning against excessive attachment to external forms. It is also suggested more than once that Anglican tradition is marked by certain conservatism and moderation in introducing changes. A reader comes out with an impression that there is some common denominator to the term Anglicanism after all. Perhaps not the one that could easily account for everyone that would call him or herself Anglican but, nevertheless, one that can be discerned at least among those Anglicans who, like the contributors to this book, are attached to the traditional Christian faith.  

Another striking feature of the book is that contributors have radically different expectations concerning the matter presented in the title. Archbishop Beach bitterly evaluates the Northern/Western Anglicanism as Neo-Pagan. Ephraim Radner expects some new work of God but his hopes seem to be directed toward some future ecclesiastical reality that will no longer be Anglican. Some authors, on the other hand, are optimistic and hopeful. Among them should be included both writers from the Global South as well as some American contributors like Gerald McDermott. 

After reading this book I still do not know, of course, what will be the future of the orthodox Anglicanism. Perhaps McDermott’s conclusion that the future Anglicanism will be ‘mostly nonwhite, led by the Global South, and devoted to Scripture’ and also one that ‘aggressively evangelise and missionise, even under persecution’ is right. He also expresses hope that ‘more will attend to the catholic substance, finding in ancient liturgy and sacraments the beauty of holiness and the power of the gospel.’ I certainly wish this for my Anglican brothers and sisters. 

Gerald R. McDermott, ed. The Future of Orthodox Anglicanism. Wheaton, Il.: Crossway, 2020.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.