Confirm Yourself in Anglicanism

I am currently attending Confirmation Classes at my Episcopal parish.  If there is one thing you’ll discover when talking to Anglicans is that defining the term “Anglican” is really quite difficult to do.  Sometimes the “Via Media” seems more like the “Via anything-goes.”

As an academically minded youth I have found a treasure trove of books on Anglianism which have been helping me learn what it means to think and believe like a Prayer Book person.  I would venture to say this.  Anglicanism, before all other branches of Protestantism, is truly a body which takes the phrase “Reformed and Always Reforming” pretty literally.  Heck, they were even Prebyterians for a few years.  I am hedging my bets that they can keep it going, and hopefully with thinkers like Wright, Williams, Thiselton, Milton, Jenkins, McGrath, Polkinghorne, and Radner at the helm, we might end up looking more like Christ than we did yesterday.

Of course, first you will need a Book of Common Prayer.  The official Episcopal Church one is the 1979 BCP.  I have heard many complaints about this book  in conservative circles but I have found the book to be superior in most regards to the 1662, especially in the celebrations of The Great Litany, the Daily Office, Liturgy’s for Special Occasions (such as Ash Wed. etc…) and the Service for Holy Eucharist.  In fact it takes much of the 1662 BCP and updates it with the theories advanced by the famous Liturgist Gregory Dix which in the end have made the book a bit more Catholic than it’s predecessor.  Although there is, as there should be, a pentitential rite, the 79′ moves away from some of the near-groveling of the 1662 and in turn makes the whole service more of a thanksgiving and celebration.  So show some love for the ’79.  But, that is not to say that the 1662 (the sort of “gold standard” book – ie- the one the British colonized the world with) isn’t powerful, especially for the services for ordination, which I feel are almost purposely a bit weaker in the 79′.  So get one of those too.  To fill in the blanks, this MASSIVE tome on the worldwide BCP’s lays to rest the conservative argument that the 1662 is the “authoritative” book in the Communion.

{I have self-corrected an awful disparity on my part here}[Do not forget the Hymnal! Not only does it set out metrical melodies for singing the Psalter, but most of the hymns are second to none.  In fact you can get a combination BCP + Hymnal for easy worshiping!  My apologies TEC for overlooking this deep part of our theological life-blood]

There are of course many many books which purport to tell us all what Anglicanism really “is” but these days one needs two perspectives, I think, to really get a feel for it.  One needs a book from the perspective of “Classical Anglicanism,” which is inevitably Anglo-focused.  But the truth is that the formative years were all very, well, British.  I can think of no more thorough book than “The Study of Anglicanism” edited by Stephan Sykes, John Booty and Jonathan Knight.  In its revised edition it spans a substantial 517 pages with a brief “History” of Anglicanism at the start, from which it moves on to well researched essays on everything from Canon law to our Eucharistic theology.  Highly recommended.

But of course on also needs a book which paints Anglicanism as it actually is now, which is a non-Western church.  More people attend an Anglican church in Nigeria on a single Sunday morning than all the Anglicans in Britain, America, Canada, Scotland and Ireland combined.  We are now a World Communion (or are trying to be) and “An Introduction to World Anglicanism” from Cambridge helps us to get our heads around what Anglicanism is and where it might “be going.”

A very short yet greatly commendable book is by none other than Rowan Williams.  His little book “Anglican Identities” gives us some academic articles on Tyndale, two on Hooker, as well as Ramsey, Westcott, the poet Herbert, J. A. T. Robinson and an intriguing essay “Anglican Approaches to St. John’s Gospel.”  A must.

As Anglicans have tried to avoid Confessionalism, much of their identity comes from thier divines.  Another huge book which is a collection of pieces by no fewer than 100 thinkers and poets (not that poets aren’t thinkers!) “Love’s Redeeming Work – The Anglican Quest for Holiness” This book is a gem.

There are of course many other books which could be very helpful, perhaps this one on Anglican Ecclesiology, or this “Very Short Introduction” or “Anglican Approaches to Scripture“; but I only have so much time!



  1. Certainly, if you want to wade through some really “olde aynglish.” This is more like a crash course than an entire Syllabus, which would of course include Hooker, Wycliffe, Cranmer etc…


  2. Indeed, but he was English and was the first to translate the Bible into English, which in some big ways influenced the Bibles down to the KJV (I don’t have to tell you how influential the Bible). Besides that he and his followers the “Lollards” were reformers before the “R”eformers.

    His protests helped clear ground for later English Reformers.


  3. I’ve heard of it, but not read it. I have a pretty dim view of Henry VIII’s take on the church too, but from what I know of it, Hooker’s truly is spectacular.

    As a tit for tat I would ask First Things if they have read John Jewel’s Apology for the Church of England.
    Or Bede’s account of the Church in England pre-roman 🙂


  4. Oh, just to be onery, let me recommend my Visible and Apostolic: The constitution of the Church in High Church Anglicanism (University of Delaware Press, 1993). And sense you’re doing confirmation — check out my article of some years back on confirmation that appeared in Church History. But onlly if you’re reallly interested in 18th century kinds of stuff!


  5. I think I’ll have to wikipedia what an Anglican is in the first place…

    …so I may comment after the internet makes me an expert on the subject.



  6. Congratulations on your confirmation in advance. I was confirmed into the Anglican church last year [on penetcost] at age 40, and it was the most special day of my life.

    Remember the old joke “i’m not involved with organised religion, I’m an Anglican”. 🙂


  7. Bob, I am very interested in all that, thanks!

    Julia, make sure to get back to me on Wikipedia

    StanmoreRob, that’s great, I am looking forward to “unorganized” mon-episcopacy! 🙂


  8. Well, I’m not being confirmed in the Church of England so I guess I’m alright with it. I would say that Evangelicalism is more Erastian than the C of E.; trying to utilize the State to enforce religious idiosyncracies (not that there aren’t equally problematic “leftist” political tendencies over here)

    I’m of a more “Radical Orthodox” persuasion which sees the theological and revealed as the only Christian ground for moral critique.


  9. Tony:

    Umm, now I’m confused.

    You’re seeking Anglican confirmation, but you’re not being confirmed in the Church of England. Is there an Anglican church that’s not Church of England?

    That question is not snarky, by the way. I really thought Anglican as opposed to Episcopal churches were in communion with Canterbury. I guess I really don’t understand Anglican polity.

    Just read this and it sort of clears things up:

    As for evangelical Erastians, if you think being anti-abortion and pro-traditional marriage are “religious idiosyncracies,” then you’re you may be on to something. Other than that, I don’t see your point at all.

    Are “the theological and revealed” “the only Christian ground for moral critique”? Of course. Then again, God reveals himself in nature as well as Scripture, which is why traditionally Christianity has taken a natural-law approach to politics.

    Have you been accepted into grad school yet?



  10. George,

    I will be confirmed in The Episcopal Church, which is part of the Anglican Communion. By “in communion” with Canterbury, it is generally meant “those who are invited to Lambeth.”

    Since the Archbishop is in an Erastian church, you could say that we are also indirectly Erastian, but TEC is an autonomous body and are not under the control of the King/Queen of England.

    As with all things Anglican, the details of this arrangement are currently being negotiated. Many feel that the disestablishment of the C of E is neccessary. It is afteral a bit strange that the symbolic Head of the Communion is appointed by the Queen and not by the Bishops- but the last 100 years of ABC’s have been pretty cool, so I’m not complaining.

    The so called “Covenant Process” is trying to work out what our actual connections are and what they should be. So I could tell you all about the various in’s and out’s of this process but that is a rather lengthy thing to do, and one that I don’t think I could do comprehensively. (though I have read up quite a bit)

    I regret continuing to use the phrase “religious idiosyncracies.” I should say that the whole of our vision of the world should be a religious idiosyncracy. So while God does indeed reveal himself through nature, it takes Revelation to properly interpret Nature and the insight of the Believing Body inhabited by the Spirit of God. There is no “neutral” secular and/or reasonable sphere from which to jointly interpret law and ethics via nature.

    Though we can condemn the immoral judgment of the “state” ultimately we have no common ground. Either the Lord is Jesus or it is the autonomous cogito whose mode of operation is the assertion of “rights” (from where they get them God only knows 😉 )


    p.s.- I am still finishing my undergrad. I am late to school because of two years of Master’s Commission, a semester off for the baby, time at North Central, and a slow pace of 12-15 credit semesters so that I can work.


  11. Thanks for the lesson in polity!

    How can we “condemn” the “immoral judgment” of the “state” if we have no “common ground” with it? Would you allow a baseball umpire to preside over a football game using baseball rules? Would that even make sense? And given that Logos is God’s Agent of creation (John 1:1-3), doesn’t that mean Christians have ipso facto common ground with all God’s creatures? And surely there are, ahem, viae media between Jesus’ Lordship and the “autonomous cogito”! It’s not like the Bible and Descartes are our only options, after all.



  12. To quote Luke: “While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. So he reasoned [Gr., dielegeto in the synagogue with both Jews and God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there” (Acts 17:16-17).


  13. George,

    You are right that Christians have an ipso facto common ground as creatures of God. But the, ahem, via media between Jesus Lordship and ourselves is only Jesus himself and not a common ground of neutral discourse.

    And don’t try to proof text me, two can play at that game. “The Gospel is foolishness to Greeks and their “wisdom”!”


  14. I want to check in with you concerning the use of the word erastian. In this conversation erastian seems to equal state-church. Now erastianism does presuppose a state church, but the question is what is it’s nature? Erastianism assumes that the church is an extension of the state. You can have a state-sponsored church without it being an extension of the state. My sense is that by and large today’s Church of England functions pretty autonomously. I don’t know that Rowan Williams would see himself as political functionary — that is, an extension of the ruling party.


  15. Tony:

    I didn’t suggest that there are other mediators than Christ. I suggested that there are other “middle ways” between the politics of Radical Orthodoxy (summarized as “Jesus Lordship”) and that of some strains of the Enlightenment (“the autnomous cogito”). My “ahem” was simply to remind you that as a soon-to-be-confirmed Anglican, which is a self-identified “middle way,” you should already be primed for that kind of thinking.

    As for your proof text, at least now I’ve got you quoting Scripture rather than Barth!


    Yes, the C of E functions pretty autonomously. But Williams would not be Cantaur without the Prime Minister’s nomination and Queen’s approval. Call it an attenuated Erastianism, if you will.



  16. Tony,

    We’re going to be confirmation buddies. I too am in confirmation class. Congratulations. To me, the communion is a beautiful (and messy) paradox. On the one hand it is a church rooted in Apostolic succession where, to a certain degree, what your bishop says, goes; on the other there is a freedom of dialogue, disagreement and difference that is unique in all of Christendom (with the possible exception of the Disciples of Christ). This ambiguity really freaks some people out, but it’s one of the things I love the most about the Anglican Communion. The current “Covenant” talks and sexual ethics controversies are testing the integrity of that freedom, but I am convinced that it will remain intact, so convinced that my wife and I have decided to join the EC.

    Anyway, great reading suggestions. I have read parts of Archbishop Rowans’ Anglican Identities, and am eager to get my hands on a copy of World Anglicanism.


  17. Bob,

    As far as I am aware there is a sort of “Elizabethan” relationship which sits loose on the state/church connection. Yet I also think that the clergy still swear allegience to the King/Queen and the ABC is still appointed by the Royal authority itself.

    Plus several of the Bishops are in the House of Lords and have a say in the policy’s of the Country; seems pretty Erastian to me. But you would likely know much more than me!


    I didn’t mean to get soteriological on you. I just don’t believe in a place where the State and the Church have a neutral discourse. The way to interpret “Nature” is by the “Word” and not a secular Reason.

    I got the “ahem” by the way 😉

    Also, have you read John Milbank’s “Theology and Social Theory?” Not that I understand it all (or most!), but I am beginning to be influenced by that text.



  18. Yeah, Confirmation buddies!

    Yeah, I have hope for the Communion as well, so much so that I am considering ordination in it.


  19. Tony:

    I’m not exactly sure what you mean by “neutral discourse,” but if you mean what I think you mean, I don’t believe the State and Church can have a “neutral discourse” either.

    My question is why you would think natural law necessarily entails “neutral discourse” rather than, say, “common grace.”

    “The way to interpret ‘Nature’ is by the ‘Word’ and not a secular Reason.” Yes, but.

    Yes, Scripture is the “norming norm” while reason is a “normed norm.”

    But doesn’t interpreting Scripture correctly require “secular Reason” of one sort or another? Scripture doesn’t come with its own grammar, lexicon, or hermeneutical rulebook, after all. Is there any place in Scripture that, for example, teaches us how to interpret passages by means of genre analysis?

    To push the matter a bit farther, mustn’t we use “secular Reason” of one sort or another to figure out how to apply Scripture to contemporary cases that Scripture explicitly address nor foresee? Guided by the Word, how should Christians think about genetically modified foods or stem cell research or universal health care? Reason is implicated in all of these issues and must be used to answer of each of these questions.

    Of course, by “secular” you mean “the autonomous cogito” of Descartes and his epigone. Fine. I agree with you that for the Christian, such a form of reason, with its supposed neutrality and thoroughgoing secularity, is a non-starter. We cannot be neutral before God, and the world he created is not secular in the sense of being atheistic. Call this the Christian’s external critique of “secular reason” because he’s critiquing it as an outsider, as one who does not subscribe to its fundamental tenets.

    But isn’t there also an internal critique of such a reason? Can’t it be shown that “the autonomous cogito” is, among other things, self-referentially absurd and/or unable to explain important facets of the world? Can’t we say that such secular reason is inadequate on its own terms? I think we can. Or at least I think non-Christian philosophers have been arguing precisely that point for some time. You don’t have to be a Christian to reject Cartesian modernity, in other words.

    Which brings me around to an alternate understanding of “secular reason.” Secular means, “of this age.” From a Christian point of view, can’t we think and reason in ways that are appropriate to “this age” in which we live? Don’t we, in fact, have to? We are, after all, “aliens,” “foreigners,” and “pilgrims” in the City of Man, looking forward to the homecoming of the City of God. Just as the Jews “sought the peace of the city” while in captivity in Babylon, can’t we think through strategies of living as God’s people in an anti-God land?

    That, it seems to me, would be at least one desideratum of natural-law thinking.



  20. I would respond but I think that we have come around to a great deal of agreement. I’m not sure I entirely get the idea of “of this age,” but we agree that if there is “common ground” between state and church then it is a “graced ground” ergo it is a Theistic, indeed, Christian ground.

    ALL Towers of Babel will fall, be they left or right.


  21. Richard John Neuhaus has a new book called American Babylon that addresses some of the issues we have dialogued about, e.g., natural law, whether Christians can influence secular politics, etc. What’s interesting to me about this book is that Neuhaus argues that America is Babylon–i.e., a place of exile for Christians–but he doesn’t draw out the implications of this fact in ways that Hauerwas, for example, does. Plus, his chapter on Richard Rorty is absolutely devastating. Anyway, if you’ve got time and money, get the book and let me know what you think of it.


  22. as an aspirant for Holy Orders within The Episcopal Church, i’m wholeheartedly impressed by your commentary on TEC, especially on the BCP. beautiful. 🙂


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