Anglican Theology: Doing Theology

Chapman, Mark (ed)
T&T Clark International (2012)
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If there is an "Anglican way" of doing theology today, then it is largely governed by self-restraint and a certain degree of humility in the face of doubt, good things in their way but often morphing into hypocrisy. Chapman would certainly not admit this, as he’s far too tactful - or should I say "Anglican"? - but the degree of vehement dislike, or even hatred, behind General Synod gentility over women bishops and gay priests has to be experienced to be believed.

But the strange paradox of the encompassing and the polemic is a long-standing feature of the Church of England. Born out of anti-Papal resentment and enshrined in often cynical statute, the national church by law established has, in pursuit of external uniformity of worship, necessarily been forced to shelter deep divisions within its ranks. One would have thought that the less uniformity it insisted upon and the more Christians who worship outside its portals, the less controversy there would be left inside; but that has not proved to be the case. As the Church has become less national and more denominational the level of controversy has remained remarkably high.

Chapman, whose position as a 'Liberal Catholic' is well known, manages to give credit to just about every major antagonist in the Anglican story even if this occasionally means resorting to rather awkward fence sitting but on the whole his account of the struggle between the secular need for uniformity and the ecclesiastical urge for doctrinal purity is well told, with a particularly interesting analysis of the reign of James I where he shows that the Church was all but Puritan. He is less good on the painful birth of the Church which inverted the Medieval 'bottom up' system of "Lex Orandi, Lex credendi" to one of legislative fiat whose revolutionary feature was the near elimination of praying for the dead, a foundational tenet of every major world religion.

Each chapter of the controversial history is, to a greater or lesser extent, introduced by seeing events through a Victorian prism and it ends with the recent controversies over the issue of gay clergy and the origins of the since defunct Covenant but I would have preferred each chapter to be viewed through the prism of contemporary controversy with the 19th entury being given its own separate treatment. I would also have welcomed at least a few paragraphs on theological methodology in a history of theology as there is much more to Anglicanism than Sola Scriptura. Still, these are not very large quibbles over a book which is short enough to be accessible and long enough to be reasonably comprehensive, making good use of original sources without tipping into tedious verification. Chapman is to be trusted, no small tribute in the vituperative world of Anglican theology.