“Variant” may not be quite the right word. But in this very engaging episode of “Anglicans Unscripted,” Peter Ould, a CofE priest (and blogger and Twitterer), offers his take on Anglican identity, that shape-shifting wonder of the Christian world.
Even though Henry VIII was just a selfish Roman Catholic, basically, men like Cranmer and Ridley and Latimer were deeply imbibing of the Lutheran theology. … Anglicanism is inherently Lutheran.
Watch the vid. I offer my two cents afterward.
As I’ve written here and over at FIRST THINGS, I have great affection for Anglicanism in general and the CofE in particular, primarily because so many of my heroes were of that tradition. And the via media, quixotic enterprise that it is, leaves thinking Christians room to acknowledge that some things are sufficiently opaque in Scripture, and of ongoing debate within the history of the church, that there can be more than one acceptable, and non-heterodox, opinion: the freedom of the will and genuine moral responsibility relative to God’s sovereignty and foreknowledge; what hell is, and whether it necessarily entails eternal punitive suffering; the state of those who never hear the Gospel—if original sin is enough to condemn, then what role does Christ as Second Adam play in the lives of such people, etc. (Yes, there’s Article XVIII, which doesn’t offer much hope on that account, but how many even orthodox Anglicans would die on that hill? C.S. Lewis, apparently, wasn’t willing to. Can one affirm Christ as the Savior of all who are in fact saved, even those who may be saved by an extraordinary work of the Spirit without an external witness? The immediate objection is that this kills missionary work. But to leave the question open does not dictate that we are no longer under Christ’s mandate to baptize all nations, otherwise the eternal destiny of millions, even billions, is dependent on our initiative and programs and not on the objective work of the Cross. No, the two are obviously not mutually exclusive, but again—shall the Enemy’s victory be greater than Christ’s because the Church is barred from proselytizing in dictatorial non-Christian nations?)
But back to the video: It’s interesting that in the discussion of doctrinal incoherency, no one mentioned the Thirty-Nine Articles, perhaps because they’ve proved so inadequate a doctrinal foundation. Or perhaps the problem is that, as a 16th-century confessional statement, they no longer speak to the issues that are really shaking the Anglican Communion to its core today. (Although Reformed and Lutheran Christians would argue that their confessions are more than adequate in the 21st century, despite new and improved denominations popping up on a regular basis, not to mention disputes over how to interpret the confessions themselves: third use of the law, anyone? How about 2K theology?)
It seems to me that there are a couple of ways out of this mess, which undoubtedly have been tried and failed. But this is Anglicanism, so why let that stop us:
1. I don’t know what is demanded precisely of a prospective clergyman/woman in the CofE in regard to the Three Ecumenical Creeds. I doubt they are required to affirm them on all points in their literal sense, such that there is no hedging on the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection, Ascension, and coming Judgment. “Born of the Virgin Mary”–yes or no? “On the Third Day, He rose again from the dead, He ascended into Heaven”–yes or no?
Here’s one way forward: If the response begins with “It all depends on what you mean by—” deny them ordination. I certainly would expect this to be the case in “continuing” Anglican churches.
2. Begin at the beginning: with Christology. The via media as a middle way between Reformed and Lutheran theology does not work well because those two Reformation traditions differ significantly in this respect. Study how each regards the human and divine nature of Christ–and their interrelation–and you will understand how the Reformed and Lutherans had to part ways on the meaning of the sacraments. (And it is the sacraments—number and meaning—that will also inform your understanding of predestination and election, whether Christ died for all or merely the Elect.)
Now of course the problem is that even if some brave soul did the heavy theological lifting—who has the authority to say that this is binding on all “continuing” or “classical” Anglicans? If you’re looking to the Archbishop of Canterbury, look again. And doesn’t a definitive Christology and theology of the sacraments then force Anglicans to get off the fence and choose: Geneva or Wittenberg? And isn’t that, well, un-Anglican?
I think you’re probably going to have more success with #1, which will leave the low church/High Church distinction intact and for individual prelates and parishes to work out for themselves. And Ould may be correct: different generations may have need to battle on different grounds, and come even to difference conclusions, or at least emphases.
You can hear some exasperated readers now: This sounds like the same thin doctrinal gruel that is starving Anglicans today! You’ll wind up right back where you started from!
And you can hear other critics demanding: What of justification? If Anglicanism is “inherently Lutheran,” you can’t escape coming to some authoritative conclusion regarding this core doctrine. But that will demand a thick sacramental theology: Is justification received in baptism? If so, that is, if you believe in baptismal regeneration, you must also accept the fact that justification can be lost—another Reformed/Lutheran divide.
And what of women’s ordination? A nonstarter for the signers of the Affirmation of St. Louis, but not so for, say, N.T. Wright and these folks. (A similar controversy exists among confessional Lutherans: the LCMS and WELS do not ordain women, but the former does have lay deaconesses; while NALC and those associated with Lutheran CORE do ordain women.)
Many an Anglican is already rolling his or her eyes. For such, it is more than enough to say, along with Audrey fforbes-Hamilton, “The Prayer Book and the King James Bible are our religion,” and leave the rest for the quarterly journals.
Biretta tip to @wyclif