With an admirable diversity of contributors, this book is a bracingly informative look at the challenges involved, even within “orthodox Anglicanism,” in defining what it means to be an Anglican Christian.


What is Anglicanism? Good Question!

In September 2018, Beeson Divinity School held its first annual Anglican Theology Conference, entitled “What is Anglicanism?” Speakers included:

  • Mouneer Hanna Anis, bishop of the Diocese of Egypt with North Africa and the Horn of Africa
  • Foley Beach, archbishop of the Anglican Church in North America
  • Gerald Bray, Church of England clergyman, research professor of divinity at Beeson Divinity School
  • Barbara Gauthier, Anglican journalist and teacher
  • Timothy George, research professor at Beeson Divinity School (also was Beeson’s founding dean), a Southern Baptist
  • Chandler Holder Jones, bishop coadjutor of the Diocese of the Eastern United States of the Anglican Province of America
  • Gerald R. McDermott, Anglican chair of divinity at Beeson Divinity School, now teaching pastor at Christ the King Anglican Church in Hoover, AL
  • Stephen F. Noll, professor emeritus at Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, PA
  • Andrew C. Pearson Jr., dean and rector of the Cathedral Church of the Advent in Birmingham, AL (in the Episcopal Diocese of Alabama)
  • Ephraim Radner, professor of historical theology, Wycliffe College, University of Toronto
  • R.R. Reno, editor of First Things and general editor of the Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible (was an Episcopalian until he became a Roman Catholic in 2004)
  • Ray R. Sutton, presiding bishop of the Reformed Episcopal Church
  • Eliud Wabukala, archbishop emeritus of the Anglican Church of Kenya
  • John W. Yates III, rector of Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Raleigh, NC

Quite the lineup! Unfortunately, I was unable to attend in person. Thankfully, however, Gerald McDermott has edited the expanded versions of the conference talks into The Future of Orthodox Anglicanism (Crossway, 2020).

As McDermott states in his introduction, “each essay addresses two questions: (1) What is the deep character of Anglicanism that distinguishes it from other Christian traditions? (2) Where should the [Anglican] Communion go in the future?” (p. 14). Although the contributors diverge when it comes to, among other things, churchmanship, vocation, and geographical location, they are all “committed to biblical orthodoxy, particularly on the presenting issues of our day—marriage and sexuality” (p. 15).

Given Anglicanism’s rapid growth in the Global South, it was fitting to begin with largely hopeful contributions from Archbishop Wabukala and Bishop Anis. Speaking from an East African and a Middle Eastern perspective, respectively, Wabukala and Anis call the Anglican Communion to biblical orthodoxy and a conciliar form of government that does not rest upon Canterbury—but also to, among other things, resist consumerism, embrace humility, and demonstrate intercultural sensitivity.

When it comes to the future of Anglicanism, the contributions from Radner and Bray emerge as the most pessimistic of the volume (although Archbishop Foley Beach pulls no punches in his indictment of “Neo-pagan Anglicanism”). Nevertheless, although I join (1) Stephen Noll in wishing that Radner had said more about the GAFCON (Global Anglican Future Conference) movement and (2) Bishop Chandler Holder Jones in wishing that Bray had said rather less about Anglo-Catholics, I think that both Radner and Bray have important cautions to offer about the theological and historical complexities involved in defining Anglicanism.

Frankly, although there is much to be learned from this book and I highly recommend it, it did leave me wondering what, if anything, unites us “orthodox Anglicans”—other than (1) some kind of historical connection to the Church of England, (2) commitment to basic Christian teachings that are held in common with other Christians beyond the Anglican fold, and (3) an opposition to “Neo-pagan Anglicanism.”

Now, let me just say that those three things are not nothing! Perhaps the diversity within this volume is precisely the kind of healthy diversity that’s necessary for orthodox Anglicanism to thrive as a global movement in the 21st century.

But, given the intense differences of opinion that exist within the ACNA (for an example, just read any of the comments sections whenever we publish something on women’s ordination at Anglican Compass), various things in this book gave me pause. Some were tiny things that are, in my opinion, nevertheless revealing, such as Stephen Noll taking umbrage that Ephraim Radner approves of the work of Paul Avis, who, in Noll’s opinion, is “a prime apologist for the Canterbury Establishment” (p. 104, fn. 1).

Other things were much more significant. Consider John W. Yates III’s chapter, in which he turns to the English Reformation to discuss the “Anglican essentials” of living under the word of God, proclaiming the gospel, revitalizing worship, and serving the nation (pp. 111–29). Bishop Chandler Holder Jones summarizes these essentials as “justification, the Prayer Book, and service to the nation.” Jones then responds to this by saying that “I regard those as minima rather than what makes Anglicanism distinctive—the fullness of liturgy and sacrament of the first millennium” (p. 174).

Bishop Jones agrees with Barbara Gauthier’s emphasis on Anglicanism’s patristic heritage and via media (which she frames in terms of “reformed catholicity”), but he thinks it’s a different kind of middle way.

“I see Anglo-Catholicism as the via media between Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, not between Rome and Geneva. It is not a compromise between Catholicism and Protestantism but the central mainstream tradition of the undivided church shared by the churches of the East and West. It is what all first-millennium Christians believed and lived, and what Rome and Constantinople still possess in common today—the consensus fidelium of apostolic tradition” (p. 177).

I don’t know what other response I was expecting from an Anglo-Catholic bishop responding to Bray’s somewhat savage critiques of Anglo-Catholicism (see pp. 159–66)! I will say that I do agree with Bishop Jones in his closing assessment that Anglicanism is bitterly divided:

“One could say that there are three Anglicanisms today. One is that of the first millennium consensus, or Anglo-Catholicism, now mostly found in what are called ‘continuing churches.’ Second, there is liberal Anglicanism, now found in the Lambeth Canterbury Communion. And third, there is evangelical Anglicanism, mostly found in those bodies adhering to GAFCON. The Elizabethan Settlement—in other words, a unified church comprehending diverse believers who worship with common prayer—has for all practical purposes collapses and ceased to exist” (p. 177).

Among other things, this quote left me wondering if all Anglo-Catholics would be so hesitant to associate themselves with the “evangelical” GAFCON movement.

Intra-orthodox divisions like these ones over the proper role of the English Reformation and its formularies when it comes to defining Anglicanism (not to mention divides over women’s ordination, which don’t really get addressed in this book) at least chasten my personal optimism when it comes to the future of orthodox Anglicanism. Nevertheless, the fact that this book frankly displays intra-orthodox disagreement is its greatest strength. I prefer this honest look at our disagreements over a fabricated unanimity.

In focusing on the disagreements between authors in this book, I do not want to overlook the fact that the volume contains a good deal of wise pastoral advice. When it comes to advice for North American Anglicans in particular, I found the chapters by Yates and Pearson to be particularly resonant with the “interested in Anglicanism for the sake of the Church” ethos here at Anglican Compass.

Overall, I thought McDermott’s chapter on an “Ancient-Future Anglicanism” was the strongest of the volume in its argument for a distinctively Anglican “reformed catholicism.” In my opinion, McDermott manages to avoid both Anglo-Catholic hubris and reformational reductionism. In his recommendations for Anglicanism’s future vis-a-vis the shortfalls of North American evangelicalism, McDermott also describes what I’ve elsewhere called Anglicanism’s “subversive cultural resonance,” a resonance which I believe could draw many to the church in the 21st century.

Bottom line: If you’re interested in the “orthodox Anglican” movement, you should read this book.

It is an excellent introduction to different ways of defining Anglicanism—different ways that exist within orthodox Anglicanism and not just between orthodox and “Neo-pagan” Anglicans. A volume like this one will not solve the disagreements that remain between orthodox Anglicans, but, by displaying those disagreements, it will hopefully help us Anglicans learn from one another—and from our other brothers and sisters in Christ—as we help the Church fulfill its Great Commission.