Volume 38 - Issue 2

Anglican Theology

by Mark D. Chapman

Mark Chapman (author of Anglicanism: A Very Short Introduction [Oxford, 2006]) offers a fuller portrait of Anglican theology focused mainly on the Church of England. Special attention is given to the sixteenth-century English Reformation and the nineteenth-century Victorian-era movements as indicative of varying streams of Anglican thought (though one also encounters much history in between). Chapman doubts that there is anything specifically “Anglican” about Anglican theology since the church’s Protestant doctrine, worked out in the sixteenth century and expressed in the 39 Articles, was very similar to the Continental Lutheran and Reformed doctrinal expressions. At the same time, Chapman does not think it is possible to articulate a systematic theology for Anglicanism in the same way that one might for the Lutheran or Reformed traditions. Therefore, his book is a work of historical theology rather than systematic theology. One will learn a lot about the history of Anglicanism—such as key people, ideas, and conflicts—but one will not necessarily come away from this book with a good sense of what Anglicans believe. In fact, Chapman regards it as a type “neo-Puritanism” that seeks to find and define a minimum theological commitment for the worldwide Anglican Communion. For Chapman, the history and theology of Anglicanism is so complex and highly contested it is difficult to make solid statements about what Anglicanism really is. I think this is overstated and that one can certainly identify common features in Anglicanism that gives it a distinct identity as a unique church of the Reformation.

This complex history is revealed in the unique way that England joined the Reforming movement (King Henry VIII) and in how the Church of England began to adapt to a changing world in the nineteenth century. This latter period saw the entrance of both Roman Catholics and Non-conformists into public office. This would naturally impact a state-sponsored national Church of England. Therefore, as Chapman argues, different contingencies within the church began to re-narrate the history and theology of the church. Anglicanism’s identity would be reshaped once again, much like in the sixteenth century, with divergent voices seeking normative authority.

This seems to be the typical “Anglican way”: many voices searching for authority and many things contested from within. The book provides a very honest account of this history. At certain points a reader might need greater familiarity with British history to understand the points being made. An introductory knowledge of Anglican polity will also serve the reader well. Chapman takes some of these things for granted. He does, however, provide an insightful and scholarly analysis of the material, with repeated reference to the critical primary sources. This contributes to the overall value of the book as an important resource for studying the Anglican tradition.

Some of the important figures and movements that Chapman takes account of include King Henry VIII, King Edward VI, Queen Elizabeth I, the English Reformers (such as Thomas Cranmer), John Jewel, The Parker Society, Peter Martyr, John Whitgift, Richard Hooker, King James I, William Laud, Richard Montagu, the Interregnum and Restoration, John Henry Newman, and the Oxford Movement. The amount of historical information in this book can be overwhelming and difficult to keep clear, as profitable as it is.

“Anglicanism” as a denomination among others, even if remaining the established Church in England, became an emerging reality during the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries. The church’s identity as a worldwide Anglican Communion was also affected by British imperial expansion and later independence movements. Chapman states, “It was the 1888 Lambeth Conference that was to shape the identity of the Anglican Community decisively.” And “Anglicanism had ceased to be explicitly English by 1888” (p. 185). The global identity was diverse, aiming at comprehensiveness and, as so often before, focused more on “decency and good order and social stability” (p. 186) than the particulars of doctrine. It was at this Lambeth Conference that the Chicago Quadrilateral of 1886 was accepted and began to function as an article “constitutive of Anglicanism” (p. 193). The Chicago statement was based upon the four recommendations in William Reed Huntington’s work, The Church Idea, which he wrote in hopes of uniting an American national church. A modified statement, accepted at Chicago, and adapted at Lambeth came to define the distinguishing marks of Anglicanism. Four statements call for affirmation (p. 192):

  1. The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the revealed Word of God.
  2. The Nicene Creed as the sufficient statement of the Christian Faith.
  3. The two Sacraments—Baptism and the Supper of the Lord—ministered with the unfailing use of Christ’s words of institution and of the elements ordained by Him.
  4. The Historic Episcopate, locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the unity of His Church.

Chapman comments, “This meant for the first time an international definition of what constituted Anglicanism was given, but with the perhaps surprising absence of anything distinctively English including the Prayer Book or any doctrinal formulary” (p. 193). This emerging consensus for the global Anglican Communion is notable in part because it “is quite different from the competing models of Anglican theology developed in the Church of England” (p. 191). This would seem to be correct except that it aims at a comprehensiveness and unity that are apparent in some of the earlier English models. The Quadrilateral does, however, leave out any call to affirm the 39 Articles or the Prayer Book, which at other times were imposed, and which many even today regard as the very heart of Anglican theology.

Chapman concludes his work with some explanation of current events and issues. He summarizes recent controversies surrounding homosexuality and the movement toward an Anglican Covenant that would more clearly define the nature of Anglicanism and provide a process for conflict resolution.

This learned overview of Anglican history, theology, and polity is an important work for understanding what Anglicanism is and is not. It is also helpful reading for the Anglican movement that one can see in the United States where an increase in Anglican interest can be seen in the formation of new Anglican churches—such as the Anglican Church in North America. I highly recommend the work for those who desire a trustworthy account of the Anglican tradition.

Jonathan Huggins

Jonathan Huggins
Stellenbosch University
Stellenbosch, South Africa

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