I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately. That’s not necessarily new–I’m a bit of a book worm. But what is new is the number and range of things I’m reading. From books on why men hate going to church, to marital counseling books, Christian sexual ethics, congregational development and a whole host of others. And the thing is–they are all important, all of them have something to say about where we are as a Church or where we need to be. Often they have great practical ideas about congregational life or mission. Some have been extremely helpful to me as I’ve transitioned into this new position at St. Francis and have helped me (hopefully) to not fumble my way around too much.
During all of this change and new reading, and most especially after our congregational meeting on August 5th, it occured to me that there is something very important about the Anglican way of being Christian, something often only slightly grasped, but something that makes Anglicanism unique and special. I think I’ve touched on it in conversations with some of you about how Anglicanism is unique in that it doesn’t have one dominant theological figure–something I think is a strength.
My thoughts finally came together late last night as I skimmed the book The Panther and the Hind: a Theological History of Anglicanism by Aidan Nichols. At one point Nichols notes the disparate ways lovers and critics of Anglicanism have looked at its theological and doctrinal topography:
The Anglican Church is one of the most pluralistic churches in the world, certainly the most pluralistic of the historic churches. It has never had a single theological orthodoxy. Although it has promulgated confessional statements, and above all the Thirty Nine Articles of Religion of 1571, it has never committed itself to a single theological elucidation of those statements. There is no one theologian, in other words, who plays anything like the role of Calvin in the Reformed churches or even Luther in Lutheranism. The theological pluralism of Anglicanism has received very different evaluations. Some regard it positively, calling it ‘comprehensiveness’. […] Others would argue that the different traditions are not complimentary but contradictory and that their representatives have in fact spent as much time in conflict with each other as they have in peaceful coexistence. (p. xvii)
Nichols continues on to mention the fact that many detractors of Anglicanism would prefer it if it shattered and it’s constituent parties went their various ways. One might dialogue with one segment of Anglicanism on its own they say, but doing so together is an impossibility: what do they actually believe for goodness’ sake, someone might ask.
But as I’ve reflected on it, I’ve come to believe that people are less negative about Anglicanism per se, than they are simply made uncomfortable by its existence. For those people inclined to nail down every segment of the faith, even those things that are not central, then Anglicanism must be an incredibly frustrating entity. Not to mention the fact that the dysfunction of Anglicanism as it presently is, and the criticisms that raises.
I suppose one of the main things I’ve learned is that while there may be some justified criticism of a lack of authority and discipline in the Anglican Communion, many of the theological criticisms simply come from people with a different understanding of the nature of theology. They may view Anglicanism as a political rather than theological compromise or comprehension, but there are those of us who believe that “comprehension for the sake of truth,” as the collect for Richard Hooker’s day puts it, is an important and needed stance within the Church.