Friday, October 21, 2016

Our greatest Anglican theologian?

Yeah, yeah, I know.

Ask the question in the title of this post and there are many contenders and no obvious Barth/Luther/Calvin/Augustine/Aquinas standout.

The contenders include: Hooker, Jewel, Ryle, Maurice, ++Ramsey, Sykes, Macquarrie, ++Williams. [Some might cheekily pop John Wesley or Cardinal Newman on the list :)].

The last name on my list would probably get the nod in a popular vote because very, very well known around Anglicanland as greatest ever theological ABC, etc.

But there is another name to consider, the late John Webster, and some reasons why are given in this obituary written by Kevin J. Vanhoozer (H/T Bryden Black).

Here is a sample paragraph, deliberately chosen because it mentions a "hot topic" here at ADU ...

"Like John, I too was searching for a way out of the desert of criticism–a way out of the methodological morass of modernity and into the Promised Land of dogmatics and doxology, where I could use language to speak well of, and praise, God. In particular, I came across John’s essay on “The Dogmatic Location of the Canon” (reprinted in Word and Church), in which he re-established the canon, and sola scriptura, in its magisterial place over the church, in contrast to postliberals who were in danger of collapsing Scripture into the tradition of its ecclesial use. I admired the boldness of the essay, its clear argumentation, and its thoroughly theological approach."

See also this excerpt from an article by Ivor Davidson (whole article behind paywall).

16 comments:

Shawn Herles said...

I have to admit I had never heard of hum until now, though I am familiar with Kevin J. Vanhoozer. He certainly sounds worth reading.

"he re-established the canon, and sola scriptura, in its magisterial place over the church"

Yes!

Shawn Herles said...

On an entirely irrelevant and personal note, so apologies, Megan and I have confirmation of a new flat to move to, thus packing and moving will now take up much of my time, on top of the rest of daily life. That and I find it spiritually healthy to take a break from blog debates now and then, so I'm signing our for a bit, until we are moved and settled.

God bless all.

Peter Carrell said...

Go well Shawn and Megan
P

Father Ron said...

I would have thought the term "Sola Scriptua' to be more appropriate to Bible Baptists than typical Anglicanism. But then, I suppose : it takes all sorts...
I have never thought of anyone other than someone with a basically 'catholic' understanding of the complementarity of Word, Church Order and Sacraments to have been accounted 'Great' among Anglican Divines. However, I do appreciate the humility of the person here nominated - if only because of his rejection of the sort of adulation most present-day Biblical scholars seem to expect.

Bryden Black said...

I suppose I should also add this link to this thread:

IJST (International Journal of Systematic Theology)—to which I have subscribed since its inception, and of which John Webster was a founding editor—vol. 18/4, October 2016, has a delightful article In Memoriam: John Webster (1955-2016), pp.360-375, by Ivor Davidson, sometime of Otago Uni, and until recently a colleague at St Andrews of the late Webster. It too is unfortunately “behind the pay wall”, but good libraries should also subscribe.

Bryden Black said...

Well Ron; I'd only say this ... Tolle lege! - never too late to be surprised. And read notably, the essay reprinted and already referred to in Word and Church, "The Dogmatic Location of the Canon", pp.9-46; so not too long then! Thereafter and more fully Holy Scripture, which is only 137 pages of text. I'd imagine there are good enough libraries in town ...

Glen Young said...


The true greatness of a man of a man lies not in what the world in general thought of him,but in how he influenced those who sought his his input. One of his doctoral students said of him:"He taught me that as theologians,we are as responsible for the questions we pose as the answers we give. Some of our questions are symptoms of unrestrained or disordered appetites."
Another said:"He taught me about studiousness and about unlearning the vice of
curiosity- seeking the knowledge that belongs to God and God alone."
It would appear to me that if some of Bishops and G.S.members took cognizance of his advise, the ACANZP would not be in it's present predicament.

Brian Kelly said...

Webster cut his theological teeth on Eberhard Juengel, then on Barth. You can find his lectures at Acadia University on youtube, where he sets out the task of the dogmatic theologian. His recent death came as a shock as he was scarcely 60.

Poignantly, his book on Scripture is dedicated to Colin Gunton, who also died rather prematurely some years ago. I was glad to meet Gunton, if only briefly, not long before his death.

As for 'Sola Scriptura', the phrase properly understood does describe historic Anglicanism from the Reformation (see Article XIX). What it means is it excludes from the content of what must be believed 'de fide' what cannot be established from Scripture (i.e., much Marianism, much sacramentalism and the doctrine of purgatory). I say this as an evangelical who loves the Mother of Christ, loves the Lord's Supper and feels the presence of his own sins keenly. And one with great regard for Thomas Aquinas and his intellectual achievements.

Glen Young said...


Brian,
Thank you for your thoughts on Sola Scriptura; so different from the disparaging comments contained in other bloggs on this site.
It seems to me that all the great theologians, includingWebster,Lewis,Williams and Chesterton;built their theologies on the foundation of the "authority of Scripture".From there they were able to discern a proper attitude to both the Creator and His Creation; " we should offer created things neither CONTEMPT nor WORSHIP,we should worship the Creator and hold our contempt fir him that leads us away from the Creator.

Andrew Reid said...

Just a question I always ask when I see a list like this: Why not include people like John Stott or Jim Packer on that list? I recognise they weren't academic theologians and their skills were more in refining and distilling the thoughts of others rather than in new avenues of enquiry. But in terms of theological impact in people's lives wouldn't they be up there with the likes of Rowan Williams?

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Andrew
I freely admit I was thinking more in terms of "academic theologians" rather than general theologians. On a list of the latter, Stott and Packer would be included. (And Packer is certainly an academic theologian as well as a general theologian, but his most widely read and cited books are his general theological works).

Bryden Black said...

A good point you raise Andrew. Of course, what it really raises is the question of criteria. If one were to canvas what these might be over the centuries, I’d have to say two key words come to mind: theologia and eusebeia.

The former stresses in particular the identity of the Triune God and consequently the economy of salvation. The latter stresses the entire gambit of spirituality and godliness. Based on these two, John Webster gets a very high ranking indeed.

Certainly, while both Jim Packer and John Stott were/are godly people, I’m not sure that either of them really grapple with the Trinitarian economy of salvation that much. [An incident re this actually comes to mind from the Manila Lausanne Conference I attended back in 1989.] Their focus was/is elsewhere. In fact, I’d say Packer’s involvement with the Puritans comes under censure, given the questions they put to Trinitarian issues fall foul precisely of Jason Vickers’ thesis in Invocation and Assent (2008). Though to be sure, some of that deficit is perhaps made good by their own form of eusebeia.

But of course such erudite matters are seldom in the forefront of our own contemporary set of criteria...! More’s the pity! For in the end, I’ve come to the conclusion that what we truly need is eusebeia sufficiently undergirded by theologia and theologia authentically expressed in eusebeia. And I’m far from convinced this dialectic constitutes the present fabric of most of our seminarian institutions of Christian formation and subsequent ministerial development ... There; I think I’ve been provocative enough to stimulate debate ...!

Brian Kelly said...

Horses for courses. Perhaps we could characterise this question by observing that the 'English' Reformed Anglican theological tradition (I say 'English' deliberately because Tom Torrance was a Scot and his work is entirely different - Presbyterians do systematics!) has always been more historical and expository than systematic and philosophical in focus. Stott wasn't an academic but an academically-informed biblical preacher and expositor in that tradition. Of course, his impact has been vastly greater than any number of professional academics whose (sometimes opaque and turgid) books are read only by members of 'the guild'.
Packer, on the other hand, is an academic theologian although he never produced a seminal 'Systematic Theology' that theologians are supposed to churn out as their life opus. And his work has concentrated on repristinating Puritan doctrine of the Atonement and Protestant Orthodoxy (Turretin etc) on Scripture - even if he falls foul of Jason Vickers! (Who he?)
But Packer is *everywhere* addressing the Trinitarian question in the broader question of the doctrine of God - and if you want to hear him teaching on this subject for free (or the cost of your broadband connection) all you have to do is google 'Packer Attributes of God mp3' and you will get 20 one-hour lectures given in Regent's College ranging as far and wide as the Canadian prairie with observations on Schleiermacher (not a fan) and Barth (actually quite positive). If I find a link I will post it. Packer's careful ruminations accompanied me during many hours of rebuilding my garden.

Brian Kelly said...

Here's the link to the Packer mp3's:

https://www.monergism.com/legacy/mt/mp3/attributes-god-j-i-packer

Bryden Black said...

Tremendous; many thanks Brian! Just the sort of thing I was hoping to provoke out of the woodwork.

To be sure; I have heard John Stott personally many times, and benefitted greatly from a good number of his writings. Jim Packer however less so. Knowing God is a classic; his work on Scripture I agree is also helpful, notably his final Beyond the Battle for the Bible (1980), which seeks to address actually delivering and hearing the powerful message of the Bible amongst Church people—the Gospel of Jesus who redeems humanity. As for the Puritans: Among God’s Giants is a beautiful assemblage. I’ll let you know how I go with those lectures—probably listened to whilst driving: our own garden is just fine thanks!

Glen Young said...


So who is our Greatest Anglican Theologian? There is only one contender for that title;Our Lord and Christ;upon whose Words,the Doctrine of the ACANZP is founded,(Fundamental Clause 1,Constitution 1857).He revealed,THE FATHER,to us perfectly.Many men,C.S. Lewis,Williams,Chesterton,Webster,Packer and Stott have been inspired by the Holy Spirit to share their God given insights with us.But I am certain, that none of them, would have any desire to be seen as the "GREATEST".I am sure that they would all refer you back to Matt.20:20/28.

As the world waits with anxiety,to see whether the American people choose religious freedom under Trump or capitulation of their sovereignty and religious freedom to the One World Government of the UN., under Clinton.

I am equally sure,that all the theologians mentioned above,would say in unison; that their life's work had been achieved,if the Church has the moral fiber to stand against the 'father of lies'(the god of the UN.).