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4.0 out of 5 stars know your roots, 14 Jun 2013
This review is from: Anglican Identities (Paperback)
Anglo-Catholics and evangelicals tend not to know what Anglicanism is. They both have rose-tinted views. For Anglo-Catholics, history seems to jump from Henry VIII to the Oxford Movement. For evangelicals, only the protestant swings in history are taken into account. Little wonder that a former colleague of mine is employed by an evangelical theological college to teach `Anglican Formation.

This book is a series of lectures on William Tyndale, Richard Hooker, George Herbert, B. F. Westcott, Michael Ramsey and John A. T. Robinson. The author, speaking from personal experience, states that the "question of what if anything holds together the Anglican Communion has recently become a painfully immediate one....... Anglicans have always been cautious about laying too much stress on formulae over and above the classical creeds; and that has proved both a strength and a weakness. A strength because it has at best focused attention on the fundamentals of Christian orthodoxy in a way that allows people to 'inhabit' this tradition without too much defensive anxiety about contemporary battles; a weakness because this makes rather a lot depend on the capacity of individual theologians and teachers to orchestrate the central themes of the tradition in a satisfactory way at times when the lack of external norms and boundaries has become a serious worry."

Many wanted Rowan to sort out all the Anglican Communion's problems with some sort of quick fix. They need to know that: The writers discussed here in their different ways are apologists for a theologically informed and spiritually sustained patience. They do not expect human words to solve their problems rapidly, they do not expect the Bible to yield up its treasures overnight, they do not look for the triumphant march of an ecclesiastical institution. They know that as Christians they live among immensities of meaning, live in the wake of a divine action which defies summary explaČnation. They take it for granted that the believer is always learning,

It's a surprise to see William Tyndale anticipating the Marxist belief that `all property is theft': his Obedience treatise contains a sharp attack on enclosures and the inflation of rents by landlords... (they cannot say that) this is simply mine and I enjoy sole right to it. In Tyndale's social universe, there are no such atomised claims; everyone's property is 'on its way' somewhere, away from its present holder or else it is theft. But before we conclude that Tyndale is in this particular an anarchist in doublet and hose, we should note" that he addressed people in a class society with duties towards one another, upwards and downwards.

Tyndale: He does not write for rootless individuals but for persons with flesh and history. The Bible is no record of God's will for abstract fraternity but the story of peoples and families working justice in their concrete situations and finding universal vision only through the specifics of local and particular callings. And therefore it needs in translation a language that can be spoken confidently aloud by actual persons who live by the rhythms of the breath and the temperature and who address one another familiarly. One of the reasons we are so bad these days at the language of scriptural translation and the language of liturgy is, I suspect, the terrible and false universalism of global culture and atomised humanitarianism, our peculiarities smoothed out by the promises of a universal distributive justice and (what in fact sits very awkwardly with the former) a universal set of consumerist goals, homogenised objects of desire the world over. Our speech betrayeth us. Not the least of Tyndale's gifts is to remind us what angular and particular persons sound like when they are praying, arguing or wooing. Christian society needs a Christian language. Those concerned for Tyndale's language do well to remember what it serves; and those inspired by Tyndale's social vision need to learn how to speak with vigour and honesty about it, in a world of easy and glib speeches."

Both liberals and catholics claim Richard Hooker as their own. Yet: it is extremely important for Hooker to deny the Lutheran notion that the humanity of Christ in its glorified condition becomes omnipresent (a theory which is developed to make sense of Lutheran eucharistic doctrine): having taken an actual human body, the second person of the Trinity is for ever united to a specific material thing which has endured a specific history (he notes the 'scars and marks of former mortality' in the risen body as described in John's Gospel. As Hooker elaborates this, he repeats the point he has already made about the union that takes place in the incarnation: there is no merging of natures, but there is an absolute continuity and inseparability of action and effect, since one personal agent only (the second person of the Trinity) is acting. We as united with Christ are not 'activated' by the divine person in the same way, but through our union with him in his mystical body, the Church, we can still say that he acts with and in us in such a way that the `effect' of God follows from what we do. Body as well as soul, we are worked upon by the Holy Spirit in such a way that new effects appear, in many 'degrees and differences'.... the bread and wine are the vehicles of Christ's action to make us partakers of his life, and any further analysis of how this might be supposed to happen is at best irrelevant and at worse impious Papist error about the Eucharist is less in the doctrine of transubstantiation as such than in the insistence on this as the only legitimate account of how Christ acts. It is, incidentally, worth comparing Hooker here with Herbert's poem on the Holy Communion in the Williams manuscript (a long unpublished manuscript of Herbert's poems), which makes much the same point; the purpose of the Eucharist is the transformation of us, not the bread. Hooker can say, boldly, that 'there ensueth a kind of transubstantiation in us'.

About George Herbert, who is also claimed by different parties: Within the controversial topography of the English Church of his day, he is neither Puritan nor Arminian -- which explains how he could be read so enthusiastically by both Charles I and Richard Baxter, and by many others on opposite sides of the Civil War and the ecclesiastical controversies.

Liberalism is a slippery word. About Westcott: I want to pose some questions to an ecclesial left that can collude with the conservative caricature by assuming that there is indeed a self-evident emancipatory agenda, in which all issues can be decided by appeal to a particular definition of rights. An approach informed by Westcott might say that this too easily allows doctrine to be shaped by apologetics of a certain kind and avoids the labour of working through why a new perspective on some questions remains part of one continuing conversation, part of a common work with the writers of the Bible or the creeds.

John Robinson's `Honest to God' helped me and many others yet Rowan reckons it doesn't speak to Twenty-first Century readers (though he was writing this before the recent 50th anniversary of its publication when it went to the top of the religious best-sellers list again). Its appeal was to a particular post-war generation - Rowan and I were both born in the 1950s: Several things were stirring by 1976 that would change the landscape further. The enormous new interest in the history of Christian spirituality, the popularity of writers like Thomas Merton, and the beginnings of a new interest in the Christian East made the 1960s' models of 'worldly holiness' look a little thin. In a way ' wholly typical of his intellectual generosity and spiritual sensitivity, Robinson himself, in his Exploration into God, had already begun to think through some of these issues...The work of Jurgen Moltmann was being translated by 1970 and had immense impact. By the late 1970s, more theologians were turning back to Barth for inspiration. In the whole of this process, the issues of Christian anthropology and the doctrine of God as Trinity were coming more and more into the centre of intellectual concern. By the early 198os, Honest to God seemed a museum piece.....The wonderful question put into the mouth of a 1960s' cartoon character (Charlie Brown in Peanuts), 'How can I be wrong if I'm so sincere?' sums `up an entire cultural moment in a way that can't easily be improved on. But the work's significance cannot be dismissed so swiftly and patronisingly. The very unclarity about the doctrine of God that some reviewers (not least Thomists like Mascall and Herbert McCabe) deplored is actually deeply instructive. Robinson was emphatically right to observe that, whatever theologians might say, a huge amount of both popular and sermonic talk about God did indeed treat God as a member of the class of things that there are in the universe; and some of the enthusiastic retrieval by theologians in the 198os and 199os of versions of the dogmatic tradition is far less sensitive than Robinson to this problem (look, for example, at some of the really remarkable assertions about gendered language for God sometimes advanced by would-be traditionalists)..... to quote Herbert McCabe, 'the book suffers a good deal from the author's lack of acquaintance with the history of Theology.... There is another curious and rather paradoxical aspect of the book. It was the last religious book in the United Kingdom to have anything that could remotely be called a mass readership. In that sense, just as Luther is the last of the Rhineland mystics, so Robinson is the last of the mass religious authors. Honest to God is in that sense part of the very phenomenon whose decline or decadence prompted its writing. Its popularity reflects a cultural situation in which the affairs of the Church of England in particular could still attract media attention that was not simply anecdotal or prurient and in which a measure of literacy about the Bible and about religious issues in general might be expected in the educated reading public.
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