Book Review: ‘The gospel and the Anglican Tradition’

Mar 22, 2018 by

Alan Purser reviews ‘The gospel and the Anglican Tradition’ by Martin Davie (GILEAD Books 2018):

Martin Davie has written a useful and timely contribution to the current debate about the value and theological coherence of the Anglican tradition. Useful, because it gathers together in one place material from a wide range of Anglican texts (including The Homilies, the 39 Articles and the BCP alongside contemporary material from GAFCON and ACNA). Timely, because so much of this rich heritage is unknown to a generation for whom the words of the General Confession or the Prayer of Humble Access do not readily roll off the tongue, and for whom “Read, Mark, Learn” is a phrase supposedly coined by a well known London church for its bible study programme.

Whilst it would have benefited from more careful editing (the frequent repetitions, the number of extraneous words and the signs of it having been written piecemeal are unfortunate) this volume’s comprehensiveness is impressive, as is the author’s evident enthusiasm for his subject. Davie’s agility in citing examples from a such wide range of material exposes the remarkable theological consistency of the Cranmerian reformation, and the depth of its biblical, gospel roots.

In the opening sections the gathering of the local church is constantly in view, and a portrait of people gathered around the scriptures in order to listen and learn, responding with thanksgiving and corporate prayer, whilst Christ and him crucified is proclaimed in word and sacrament emerges with startling clarity. This brings with it a pertinent contemporary challenge: if this rich picture is what church gatherings are intended to be according to the Anglican tradition how can this be maintained today without church becoming formal and “trad”? For example, if the Venite (Psalm 95) is such an important call to listen to God’s word today, why don’t we use it more? or if the Te Deum (Psalm 67) is so effective in holding before our eyes God’s agenda for mission, how can we recover its use? And can we really be content with Sunday services that reduce the congregation to an audience, and where there is too frequently no provision for corporate confession of sin or other meaningful participation? Time and again Davie labours to make it clear that the value of tradition is “the way this points us to the gospel”.

At 500 pages ‘The Gospel and the Anglican Tradition’ is a substantial read, but one that repays perseverance because much of its most valuable material is kept for the final parts of the third section. Here we find a masterful treatment of the origin and value of the threefold order of ministry (Bishops, Presbyters, Deacons) that helpfully draws together Patristic material alongside the writings of Hooker and Lightfoot. Here also, in his treatment of marriage, Davies provides a helpful survey of Anglican teaching, carried through into the Jerusalem Declaration and the ACNA’s 2014 Catechism, “To be a Christian”.

His analysis of the contemporary crisis within the Church of England is set out in the final section, where he identifies two principal challenges to the consistent theology he has shown lies at the heart of the Anglican tradition: “First there is a challenge to the traditional Anglican teaching about marriage and sexuality. Secondly, underlying this there is a more general challenge to the traditional understanding of the entire Christian message, a new view of the very nature of the gospel” (p420). Highlighting the present Archbishop of Canterbury’s advocacy of “good disagreement” Davie concludes, “the concept is not a helpful way forward for either the Church of England or for Anglicanism as a whole”( p441). Instead he maps out an altogether different approach that is at once rooted in scripture, faithful to the Anglican theological tradition and focussed on mission, unapologetically calling his readers to heed Jeremiah’s call to walk in the “ancient paths, where the good way is” – applying this to classical, gospel-centred Anglicanism.

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