I’ve been reading two books recently (well, I’ve been reading more than that, but these two stand out) and I wanted to recommend them.

Several days ago a friend called me to see if I could recommend any resources on Richard Hooker and his view of scripture, tradition and reason. When I heard his concerns about the way someone was using Hooker’s thought as a rational for disregarding scripture’s authority, I was as bothered as he was. Several days later, there was a discussion on an email list that I read where a reasserter* and a reappriaser* were going at each other over what the defining characteristics of Anglicanism are. The reasserter was pushing for recognition of the Articles of Religion and the 1662 Prayer Book, ordinal etc… while the reappraiser was pointing toward Richard Hooker with his well-worn scripture-tradition-reason three-legged-stool metaphor. Of course, the problem was that each of them were rejecting things they didn’t really understand, and painting far too broad a brush in order to enlist the dead in their argument. For example, the reappraiser dismissed the Articles as “calvinist” (and therefore bad) while the reasserter dismissed Hooker as little more than an early example of a post-hippie priest looking for the next social movement. The fact is that the Articles of Religion are much more important to the history of Anglicanism than the reappraiser was willing to admit, while Richard Hooker was and is solidly orthodox. All that is to say, Nigel Atkinson’s Richard Hooker and the authority of scripture, tradition and reason is a very informative and accessible solution to at least one side of that misunderstanding. As I explained to my friend regarding Hooker’s views:

The “three-legged stool” idea (better explained as a tricycle with scripture being the large front wheel) comes from a lengthy explanation from Hooker about the uses of scripture, tradition and reason, but this is the most succinct:

“what Scripture doth plainly deliver, to that the first place both of credit and obedience is due; the next whereunto is whatsoever any man can necessarily conclude by force of reason; after these the voice of the Church succeedeth.” —V.8.1 (Book 5, section 8.1)

As far as Hooker’s understanding of reason, I’ve attached a PDF from one of my books that gives probably the best summary I’ve seen, placing Hooker in context with Luther and Calvin etc… the most applicable bit to what we discussed on the phone is at the end, where the author summarizes the scholarly consensus on Hooker’s view of reason:

“Hillerdal writes that for Hooker reason is supposed to clarify revelation and yet, in order to do so, it first needs God’s grace to enable it to understand revelation. What Hillerdal has failed to grasp is ‘the exact distinguishing’ of which Hooker speaks. Because reason is unable to teach the things we must do to attain life everlasting, mankind needs the grace of God to open their eyes to see the truths of revelation. Reason is free to operate in the other spheres in which mankind is ‘civilly’ and not ‘spiritually associated’. But in the area of spiritual life mankind need God’s grace and revelation and so it is in this area that their faith needs to be quickened. This is a far cry from fideism, a position that insists on positive scriptural warrant for every belief.” (Atkinson, page 32)

Basically Hooker taught a form og Luther’s two Kingdom’s theology in which human reason can only get one so far (a sort of naturalism/basic theism) but revelation is needed for more. Even Adam had to have revelation, he could not tell from natural revelation that he shouldn’t eat from the tree of the knowledge of Good and evil, but needed God to reveal that to him. The situation is even worse after the fall, when our reason is clouded by sin and needs God’s grace to understand anything spiritual. How this might apply to the Peanut Butter lady’s letter is this: we may not be founded on “sola scriptura” as some other protestant churches are, but we are certainly founded on “Sola fide” and “sola gratia” and Anglicanism has always taught that scripture is the paramount guide to things spiritual, i.e. contains all things necessary to salvation. That was Hooker’s whole point: the Bible may not tell you how to pave the road, but it tells you how to approach God and how to live your life in his service.

The other book I’ve been enjoying over the past day or two is entitled Being Salt by the Rev. Dr. George Sumner and was a thank you gift to my wife and I. Like Atkinson’s book on Hooker, it is fairly brief (Richard Hooker is 134 pages or so while Being Salt comes in right at 100.) but it packs a big punch. I very much appreciated Dr. Sumner’s approach in this book–looking at the indelible character of ordination from an evangelical perspective. This is one of the most distinctive characteristics of Anglican theology in comparison to other reformation churches, and has been brought into stark relief by “Called to Common Mission,” our ecumenical agreement with the Evangelical Lutheran Church.

Being Salt is well written and easy to understand, and I particularly appreciate Dr. Sumner’s ability to relate the role of the Priest to the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. Here’s a sample from his discussion of Cranmer’s eucharistic prayer in a section entitled “The Cranmerian Non-sacrifice:”

The priest who stands at the table and reads the communion prayer, in the service of this surprising Priest and King [i.e. Jesus], in spite of all appearing, reinforces that he or she is neither, all in the service of pointing to Him. And by so doing he or she is proven a fitting symbol of priestly offering (of one’s self, one’s life, etc.) He or she is, then, a kind of counter-symbol that preserves the form of the signified (i,e, priesthood), even as it works to undercut his or her own claim. And all this is done to the service of the One who is the real and only Priest, who redefines, fulfills, and ends all priesthood in himself. The minister at the table is a counter-sign that works by its own displacement, by becoming a great finger stretched away from oneself and toward the dying Jesus at the center of the Church’s life (as the great triptych by Gruenewald depicts). (Sumner, page 25)