Friday, July 31, 2015

What does 'Anglican theology' mean?

Tonight I begin teaching a new Anglican Studies course for Christchurch, Introduction to Anglican Theology.

On the face of it, the theology of the Anglican church is Anglican theology so we should have a course on it.

But digging a bit deeper - yes, I have done a bit of prep for the course - things are not quite that simple. A lot of theology within our church is 'just theology'. We are as happy with reading Barth as with reading Benedict. We draw on Augustine and Aquinas. We even read the same Bible as other Christians! There is not distinct Anglican way of understanding the Trinity or the Incarnation.

Nor can we claim a distinctive Anglican contribution to the history of theology. That lots of superb Anglicans have been superb theologians and made superb contributions to that history doesn't make for 'Anglican theology.' When Rowan Williams wrote his masterpiece on Arian it was accidental to what he wrote that he was an Anglican.

We can claim, however, that some Anglican theologians have contributed mightily to specific Anglican debates over the sense and sensibility of the Anglican church. Par excellent here is Richard Hooker. At a crossroads for the newish Church of England in the late 16th century, Richard Hooker took on Puritan opponents who wished for a different character to the church they were presently dissatisfied with. In batting away their bowling attack, Hooker both set out theologies of sacraments, orders and such, sharpened up the lines and contours of Anglican emphases such as we find in the Thirty Nine Articles.

All to the good, but is this as good as 'Anglican theology' gets?

I'll let you know, and you can let me know, if you discover more going on than meets the eye!

9 comments:

camostar said...

I've been reading Moltmann this year and he points out a particularly Anglican understanding of divine passibility grounded in the eucharistic sacrifice (see Trinity and the Kingdom, Fortress ed., pp.30-36). His main focus is C. E. Rolt's "The World's Redemption."

Peter Carrell said...

That's worth pursuing, Camo.
Is it typical of Anglican theology that it is so modest that a takes a German to point such things out to us???

Father Ron Smith said...

Well, Peter, as you have already stated, the discipline of basic Christian theology is shared among the manifold Christian Churches - proceeding from the Early Church Fathers and Mothers; whose wisdom and philosophy have brought us the Good News of the Gospel for the last 2 millennia. However, what is distinctive about Anglican theology, is that - in common with that of other Reformed Churches - it is always open to new revelation not available to those who laboured for the Truth of the Gospel in previous times.

In common with Good Pope John in his statements at Vatican 2, we are the privileged bearers of the Good News of Jesus Christ, which has as fresh relevance to each era of the existence of the Church Militant, here on Earth.

Unfortunately, for the Roman Catholics, that openness to the Holy Spirit (Who is constantly informing the Church as to its mission in the modern era: "Behold I am doing a new thing!") the subsequent power-brokers at the Vatican have resiled from Pope John's eirenic call for the renewal of the Church, and have inhibited any further growth in outlook - other than that which the new Pope (Francis) is presently urging upon them.

We Anglicans - in various parts around the world - mostly in the West - have been open to the Holy Spirit's call for the 'widening of the tent', by including the marginialised of society to be participants in the work of the Gospel; mindful of the reminder of Jesus that he had come, not to call the Righteous, but Sinners to repentance. The Church, for Anglicans, has now been recognised, not as a mausoleum for Saints, but rather, a hospital for Sinners - and that's everyone, ALL whom the Lord our god may call.

We ought all to be mindful of the old Prayer Book Mass which reminds us that "If anyone says he has not sinned, he is a liar and the truth is not in him" It is on this basis, not that of the presumption of self-righteousness, that ought inform and motivate Anglicans to the propagation of the Gospel of Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. We are all Sinners, showing other sinners where to find Bread!

James Manley said...

I suggest that there is no "Anglican Theology," but there is an Anglican method in which we neither accept sola scriptura nor sola ecclesia but instead proceed in the ranked order of scripture, reason, and tradition as sources of doctrine.

Father Ron Smith said...

Right on the button, James!

Unfortunately, this doesn't help Peter in his attempt to teach 'Anglican' Theology.

Bryden Black said...

FYI Peter - Oliver Quick and the Quest for a Christian Metaphysic by Alexander J. Hughes (Ashgate, 2015).

Blurb: Oliver Chase Quick (1885-1944) was one of the foremost and most widely read British theologians of his day. Oliver Quick and the Quest for a Christian Metaphysic presents the first major study of his work. Exploring Quick's understanding of the task of theology, his Christology, sacramental theology and doctrine of God, Hughes explains Quick's attempt to restructure the idea of divine transcendence. Expanding the narrative of twentieth-century historical theology, this book draws conclusions about shifts in English theology in the last century, particularly the persistence and vitality of a philosophically oriented Anglican theology. Offering fresh insights into twentieth-century English theology and its leading figures, this book will also appeal to those with an interest in philosophical theology, systematic theology and Christian doctrine.

Contents: Introduction. Part I: The task of theology; The chaos of thought; The ground of faith. Part II: The dogma of the incarnation; Theological prolegomena to Christology; Theological options for modern Christology. Part III: The sacramental world; It takes time to fulfil eternity. Conclusion; Bibliography; Index.

About the Author: Alexander J. Hughes studied theology at the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge. He has written on diverse topics including Anglican theology in the early twentieth century, liturgy, dialogue with Islam, and the Religious Life. Ordained into the Church of England in 2000, he is now the Archdeacon of Cambridge.

Reviews: “Oliver Quick was one of the seminal minds of twentieth-century Anglicanism. In a readable and insightful study, Alexander Hughes does a brilliant job of opening up Quick's theology once again to the modern reader.” Jeremy Morris, Trinity Hall, Cambridge, UK

“In this excellent and comprehensive introduction to the work of a much neglected figure in twentieth-century English theology, Alexander Hughes offers a beautifully clear and elegant account of an original form of philosophical theology that is not without relevance for the issues facing the church as it faces the question of making the Gospel relevant in the contemporary world. Quick's critical orthodoxy, rooted as it is in the traditional Anglican balance between Scripture, Tradition and Reason, remains an attractive solution to the tensions of modern theology.” Mark D. Chapman, University of Oxford, UK

“Oliver Quick's critical orthodoxy, which has gathered dust in recent decades as various other theological tides have flowed and ebbed, re-emerges in this book as a vital resource for contemporary theology. His fresh and direct style, and the vigour of his thought, are brought beautifully to light by Alexander Hughes, whose clarity and energy serve his subject well.” Ben Quash, King's College London, UK

Jean said...

Robin Williams list has a lot going for it:

10. No snake handling.
9. You can believe in dinosaurs.
8. Male and female God created them; male and female we ordain them.
7. You don't have to check your brains at the door.
6. Pew aerobics.
5. Church year is color-coded.
4. Free wine on Sunday.
3. All of the pageantry -- none of the guilt.
2. You don't have to know how to swim to get baptized.
And the Number One reason to be an Episcopalian:
1. No matter what you believe, there's bound to be at least one other Episcopalian who agrees with you.

Chris H. said...

James, don't you mean Reason, Science, Tradition, Scripture(Science and Reason should perhaps be reversed)? Who actually uses the BCP or Scripture to argue anything anymore? There are lots of Episcopalian/Anglican priests and bishops ready to say that Scripture and/or Christ were wrong about this or that. Can anyone name anything that every Episcopalian believes?

Bryden Black said...

Mmmm ... James and Ron: not sure about this alleged “method” business, and certainly not at all sure about the ranking either.

To be sure; the best, most recent, single summary of this alleged chief characteristic of Anglicanism is Richard Bauckham & Benjamin Drewery, eds, Scripture, Tradition and Reason: A Study in the Criteria of Christian Doctrine. Essays in Honour of RPC Hanson (T&T Clark, 1998). Yet this conclusion too should give us serious pause for thought: “My suggestion will be that the idea [of the “Triple Cord” aka “three legged stool”] is less helpful than it appears and that it proves impossible to argue that Hooker’s view really illustrates it or that the Caroline divines after Hooker follow his views”. So Rowan Greer, Anglican Approaches to Scripture: From the Reformation to the Present (Crossroad, 2006), p.14.

Two major considerations are paramount. Firstly, if we were to extol Reason. In the classical Christian Tradition, Reason resembles far more its use ala Aquinas or the magisterial Reformers; certainly Hooker and Aquinas at this point are on the same page. While, ever since the Enlightenment, reason has taken on a mind of its own - literally! And as for the postmodern context: bricolage reigns ...

So that secondly, when we consider Tradition itself, we have in mind that vast, meandering accumulation of traditions as presently defined by the Faith and Order Commission of the WCC: Montreal 1963, Bangalore 1978. Here collective Church exegesis and commentary upon Scripture are to the fore - and certainly not any new revelation per se!

The difficulty with both “Anglicanism” and “Anglican method” is quite simply they are far too eclectic in scope and nature. This is both blessing and curse. So; good luck Peter! May fortune smile on both the foolish and the brave! I’ll go with RW’s list of 10: RIP Robin!