Reformation Anglicanism: A Book Review
Crossway has been kind enough to grant Josh Sommer a review copy of Reformation Anglicanism. Below is a review of the first volume of Reformation Anglicanism.
Anglicanism is not the most popular conversation starter within evangelicalism, so when I saw that Crossway had just published a book called Reformation Anglicanism, I had to have it. I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect in a volume like this one. After all, I had no prior knowledge of the Anglican church except that much of it had become liberalized. Some branches of Anglicanism ordain female bishops, officiate homosexual weddings, deny the Protestant doctrine of Scripture, etc. I have thought for a while now that men such as J. C. Ryle, John Stott, J. I. Packer and others were the closing curtain of Anglicanism.
This pessimistic outlook of mine toward the denomination has been gently steered in a more positive direction. Authors such as Michael Jensen, Ben Kwashi, Michael Nazir-Ali, Ashley Null, and John Yates III have done a great job setting forth a concise, yet powerful, clarification of Anglicanism as it ought to be understood.
The book was not without its faults, we will get to those. If you get nothing else from this article, please click here, grab your copy of Reformation Anglicanism, and read it yourself!
A PRESENTATION OF ANGLICAN HISTORY
“What the heart loves, the will chooses, and the mind justifies.”
— Archbishop Thomas Cranmer
It’s hard to take a certain set of beliefs seriously if you have no idea what the history is behind them. For this reason, I believe, Michael Nazir-Ali, the author of the first chapter, begins by plotting a course through the English Reformation. He begins in early church history and takes the reader up through the Medieval Reformation to the Protestant Reformation as it was experienced in England.
He continues through the 17th and 18th centuries, briefly talks about Anglican Ecclesiology, and then discusses the way forward for the Anglican communion. Nazir-Ali writes:
Once again, it is very likely that the renewal of Anglicanism will come about not through the reform of structures (necessary as that is) or through institutional means but through movements, raised up by God… The hope and prayer of this book is that a fresh movement of reformation in Anglicanism will inspire a new generation to give itself to this, God’s mission among us in the twenty-first century (43, 44).
These are indeed encouraging words to hear granted much of the Anglican body has traveled down unfortunate paths. It’s vital for evangelicalism to understand that there are solid men and women who want the Anglican church to succeed in recovering the theology held by men like Thomas Cranmer and Oliver Cromwell.
A SUMMARY OF ANGLICAN THEOLOGY
The remainder of the book traces early Anglican thought as to the doctrines of the Reformation. This volume, which is the first in a series, begins by rightly exalting Christ-centered doctrines such as Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone). This is the basis upon which Reformed Anglicanism must be built. Yates writes, “Here is the bedrock for a renewed emphasis on Reformation Anglicanism in the twenty-first century (104).”
The book continues to plow through Sola Gratia (Grace Alone), Sola Fide (Faith Alone), and Soli Deo Gloria (the Glory of God Alone). Obviously implied throughout is Solus Christus (Christ Alone). Getting back to these “solas” was extremely necessary for the Protestant Reformation, including the Anglican divines, who joined arms with many of the Swiss and German Reformers. So too, in recovering a purer Anglicanism it is just as much needed.
I’m excited to see what distinctly Anglican theology the proceeding volumes may set forth.
I’M NOT AN ANGLICAN, WHY DOES THIS MATTER?
Within our evangelical circles, we always run the risk of turning our schools and churches into echo-chambers. The primary reason these emerging works are important for every Protestant is because they help us understand not just Anglicanism, but Protestantism. It’s almost impossible to understand Protestant roots, in a comprehensive sense, without understanding something of the Anglican church as it came out of the Church of England.
I appreciated Ashley Null’s blunt comment, “The English Reformation was not the product of Henry VIII’s desire to gain a new wife.” But that’s how the Church of England has been so narrowly thought of, hasn’t it? The oversimplifications which take place in our history classrooms often cause one to miss the valuable details, resulting in rippling misunderstandings that overflow into other areas of study.
This new series on Anglicanism will serve as a gift not just to the Anglican church, but to the entire Protestant church as well.
THINGS TO CONSIDER
Such as it is with all human works, there are some issues to consider in Reformation Anglicanism. I completely applaud the very needed effort to set forth an orthodox Anglicanism by way of these clarifying volumes. However, I found this first volume to be rather lacking in substance. The entire work is only 203 pages long. Considering that there could be a book of that length written concerning each of the solas, the amount of information in this initial volume appears to be lacking.
It would be different if this was a work intended for devotional value only, or perhaps as a supplement to an existing body of work by someone like Cranmer. Unfortunately, this book is neither of those things. Anglican and non-Anglican men alike have written volumes on single doctrines from their particular theological perspectives. Men such as J. C. Ryle, or A. W. Pink have glossed God’s Sovereignty and the Sabbath using more pages than the first volume of Reformation Anglicanism.
For this reason, I can only go so far as to say that this book is a earnest start. It is just not the firepower Anglicanism needs at this point. I hope to see the following volumes cover significantly more, and I hope to see other authors answer the call of this book to reform the Anglican church.
One other critique I have for this volume is its unargued insistence that worship in the church is not principally structured by Scripture. In the chapter on Sola Gratia, Ashley Null sets forth what we would call a normative principle of worship which essentially states that those things not explicitly or necessarily forbidden in Scripture are permissible within corporate worship. Cranmer departed from the majority of the Protestant Reformers in that respect.
While I won’t delve into specifics in this review, concerning the debate between the normative and regulative principle adherents, suffice it to say that the author did not successfully support their point, but rather assumed it. Anglican authors must do better than that.
Despite any flaws it may have in it, I would strongly recommend Reformation Anglicanism to anyone wanting to learn about what Anglicanism is supposed to look like. I would also encourage those reading this to keep an eye out for future volumes in the series. This book is a significant contribution to the church in general and to Anglicanism in specific. A project like this has not been undertaken in many years, and the Anglican church desperately needs a band of theological warriors to stand up and, by God’s grace, reform the communion of the English church.
I am beyond excited to see what lies ahead for this once-thriving stronghold of Calvinistic, Christ-centered, theology.