Anglican Identities

Tony Sig

So often in much contemporary Anglican disagreement, one hears that one or another position or action is “not Anglican;” as if there is a predetermined and widely understood notion of what is Anglican and what is not.  More often than not these Anglican ‘identities’ are warmed over secondary reflection on how Anglicanism is ‘inclusive – “We don’t have a confession” – or ‘Protestant’ – “remember the Articles of Religion?” or whatever.  Rarely have I found such cheap appeals convincing, and drawing from historical wells for invective has always produced less-than-complete pictures of our Christian past.

In his helpful little book, The Anglican Spirit, Michael Ramsey explains that there has seemed to be a general inability for Anglicanism to maintain anything like a coherent identity since WWII.  He points to several different reasons, among them the rise of optimistic ecumenism and the ‘Biblical Theology’ movement.  We see that this has carried on and accelerated up to the present debates surrounding authority, autonomy and theological revision.

On the one hand, it can become quite (for lack of a better word) ‘idolatrous’ to put an abstract ‘Anglican’ identity before the Gospel, yet so long as an appropriate perspective is kept, just as it makes perfect sense to talk about ‘Ignation spirituality’ within the Catholic Church as a distinctive vein,  it makes sense to speak of Anglicanism as a worthy part of the larger Tradition and as something valuable enough to retain.

But ‘identity’ is always something being constructed from memory, reflection and imagination.  It arises organically from going over the sources that feed us.  To figure out what such an identity might look like, it is better to go back and read the Tractarians, Hooker, Herbert rather than latch on to something like ‘comprehensiveness’ and try to fill it with meaning.

‘Identity making’ is in the end worthless since as the Church we receive our identity always from God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and not from the efforts of our own devising.  Nevertheless God has so made it that our lives are mediated by the stuff of this world, and so distinctive ‘cultures’ are not perversions of a transcendent universal standing over and above our existence, as if transfiguration had nothing to do with the ‘stuff’ of the world, but parts of a whole.

So we are going to offer a meager addition to this reflection.  Each of us is going to compose a short post about an Anglican thinker who has affected us significantly in hopes of renewing interest in our primary sources.  And soon we are going to add a new page, open to constant expansion, where we hope to list contemporary Anglican thinkers; where they teach and maybe some of what they’ve written; all in hopes that in attention to the particular we might understand more of the universal, and might get a better feel for how God is working among us today.


  1. This sounds like a great project. I recall at a conference presentation when I was discussing Anglican ecclesiological matters in a pretty communion-oriented vein, and someone (it may have been Gerard Mannion) asked about the centrality of this sort of ecclesiology to Anglicanism. I hastened to clarify that while I found certain views (not always even Anglican!) valuable and important for current questions within Anglicanism, there is far from any one “Anglican” way of speaking about the Church or any other topic, despite the fact that lots of people try to assert as much.

    Your forthcoming posts/lists also sound useful because you don’t shy away from asserting these identities- it’s important to establish them and speak up for them- you simply aren’t insisting on a hegemony from any one tradition.


    1. Evan,

      Exactly. We’re taking the sort of approach that Rowan Williams takes in his little “Anglican Identities.”


      I don’t think any of us are doing Stringfellow, though he is a worthy fellow to write about. I’ve not read him yet, but of course I intend to as I wrote to you earlier.

      Mike and Joey,

      I’m glad you’re looking forward to these simple little posts. It’s always great to hear it.


  2. One should definitely do a piece about William S. Stringfellow. Stringfellow’s position on the spiritual gifts is profound and coherent with a radical pentecostal social ethic. Stringfellow believed that Glossolalia and other ecstatic-‘pentecostal’ utterances were key in the formation of an apocalyptic politics of resistance to American imperial theology. His reflections on these matters along with the parallel thoughts of the anabaptist Eberhard Arnold are the site where I hope to one day construct a “politics of pentecostal peoplehood’ or a pentecostal political theology. All of this on top of the fact that he was way ahead of Milbank and Rodney Clapp on the vision of the ekklesia as an ‘alternative polis’ or ‘holy nation’- the faddish approach of many of today’s constructive-ecumenical theologians. Here is what Hauerwas thinks about Stringfellow’s vision of the spiritual gifts:

    We…should not be surprised that Stringfellow located the most determinative form of the church’s resistance to the powers in the charismatic gifts of the Spirit. The charismatic gifts themselves are powers…and only such powers are sufficient to confront the principalities. “These gifts dispel idolatry and free human beings to celebrate Creation, which is, biblically speaking, integral to the worship of God…The excercise of these gifts constitues the essential tactics of resistance to the power of death.” So the charismatic gift of glossalia, a gift of eschatological speech, is necessary if the church is to speak truthfully to this world. At Pentecost the ecstatic utterances of the Spirit-filled followers of Christ broke through the bonds of nation, culture, race, language, ethinicity. Such ecstatic worship is neededd by the church today if the scandal of national vanity is to be challenged. For it is the ecstatic utterance that witnesses to the vitality of the word of God aganist the blasphemies of this world. (Dispatches from the Front, p. 114)


  3. Very rich topic for post and discussion.

    They say everyone’s a bit Irish (on St. Patrick’s day), and I think theres a profound need for everyone whose native tongue is English to be a bit of an Anglican – any day. A great intellectual and theological tradition during the whole modern age – and long previous to that, of course.


  4. This sounds like a great project! I hope someone will discuss the via media and other Anglican ‘characteristics’ (as opposed to identity).


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