The Faith We Confess: An Exposition of the Thirty-Nine Articles Paperback – 20 Nov 2009
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About the Author
Gerald L. Bray (Ph.D., La Sorbonne) is a professor at Beeson Divinity School of Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama, and director of research at Latimer Trust. He has written and edited a number of books on different theological subjects. A priest of the Church of England, Bray has also edited the post-Reformation Anglican canons.
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Top Customer Reviews
The author is clearly a master of the subject; he's also clearly someone who loves Christ and loves the church. That love - for Christ, for his Church, and for sound doctrine - is infectious.
The form of the book is simple: an initial overview of how the Articles came to be written and why they are so significant; followed by a short commentary on each one of them in turn.
An excellent read for anyone who wants a better knowledge of the Church of England, the Reformation period, or, indeed, systematic theology generally.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Bray begins with some introductory material that is very helpful for the beginning student: a discussion of formularies and doctrine, the origin of the Articles, the revision of the Articles, and the structure of the Articles. All of this material is a great way to begin the book since it will help the student of Anglicanism begin his study with a historical and theological framework before launching into the Articles themselves.
"The Faith We Confess" proceeds with a discussion of each Article in turn. Bray's discussion of each article lasts several pages (some are definitely longer than others because there is a lot more to say about certain Articles compared to others). In his exposition of the Articles, Bray presents a very simple and clear understanding of each Article and often brings in useful theological or historical discussions. While Bray's discussion is good in general, I feel he's a little weak on the Sacraments. At other times, his discussion seems too brief to do justice to certain topics. Having said this, Bray does manage to give the readers some meat, despite the relative brevity of the book. Bray also includes with 2 appendices, a few questions for discussion at the end of each chapter, and an index of Scripture references.
"The Faith We Confess" is thus a good introduction to the 39 Articles. It's an introductory level exposition of the Articles, since the book is only a little more than 212 pages and Bray therefore leaves much unsaid. But by being so concise, "The Faith We Confess" may also make a deeper discussion of the Articles accessible to a larger audience. I find that it's too brief to be used as a seminary level text but think it would serve well in adult education classes in churches or for individual study by interested laymen.
Two other excellent commentaries on the Articles (both more in-depth than Bray's) are those by Harold Browne and W.H. Griffith Thomas.
Unfortunately, this book was a huge disappointment for me and the group participants. In fact, the book inspired quite intense ire and frustration. The writing itself lacks fluidity and wavers between settling on the historical subjects versus addressing the contemporary and practical aspects of the articles. For example, on Article 5 “Of the Holy Ghost” focuses only the historical controversies surrounding the Filoque clause and says nothing about the presence of the Spirit in our daily lives. Other articles offer more insight into the present situation. His writing on Article 9 “Of Original Sin” is especially good and strongly written.
My main disappointment stems from the authors emphatic biases on the areas of Calvinistic theology, anti-Catholic sentiments and anti-women’s ordination. None of these topics are offensive in themselves and the subjects are debated and disagreed upon by faithful Christians; however, Bray’s writing is bullyish and dismissive of any dissent.
He subscribes wholeheartedly to the doctrines of “limited atonement” and “irresistible grace.” He allows no room for honest Christian disagreement; nor does he acknowledge legitimate Scriptural bases for a Wesleyan or more Arminian approach to matters of predestination and individual responsibility. Bray’s approach is a strong double-determinism that would lead to robotic subjects of God’s kingdom. He assigns reasons for disagreement with him that are presumptuous and condescending and simply untrue. My basis for disagreement stems from particular Scripture and theological understanding that I could quickly cite and articulate in response. While he makes such sarcastic defenses of himself, “If Christ really died for everybody, how is it that not everyone is saved? Have they got the power to resist the command of God?” He then assumes such a glib questions have no logical or Scriptural response. I beg to differ. He seems to have such a high esteem of his view that he cannot fathom a true, learned believer could think otherwise. This tone pervades his writing and causes him to insert such assertions where they are not even relevant to the subject of the article.
When it comes to the anti-Catholic nature of the articles, Bray seems to exacerbate hostility toward Roman Catholic Traditions referring to them as “non-sensical” and not allowing room for respectful discussion of issues of Transubstantiation. The participants in our groups picked up on an apparent disdain for Roman Catholic doctrines in general, and it led to an off-putting reaction to the book. For the most part, Bray promotes a very low view of the Sacraments, one that I suggest is much lower than Cranmer’s.
He seems spiteful toward Women’s Ordination, even writing the following, “It is possible thanks to the ordination of women, for a clergyman to undergo a sex change operation and carry on in his/her ministry as if nothing had happened.” Seriously, all thanks to women being ordained??!! This tone toward women’s ordination rears its head a few times in the book. The Anglican Communion has opposing views on women’s ordination, and those views are not split down conservative and liberal lines. Bray, however, assigns women’s ordination to the “liberal” side of Anglicanism and those who oppose it are labeled as “conservatives” by Bray by which he means faithful and orthodox. In other words, he implies that women’s ordination is on par with same-sex marriage – liberal and heterodox. Since our Anglican Church exists based on orthodox beliefs and has a female Associate Priest, this slander was not appreciated. Again, Bray has no generous grace for opposing views.
I would not recommend this book as a resource for catechism or group discussion (although I must say it sparked quite a bit of discussion.) It has some very good writing on various subjects; however, the overall reaction by this review and the other two dozen group participants was significant disappointment and frustration.