Mark Chapman may very well be the most promising historian of Anglicanism alive today. The author of numerous studies, he has now penned an excellent introduction to Anglicanism. This work is both historically grounded - brilliantly so, I might add - and global in scope. Chapman covers Evangelicalism, Anglo-Catholicism and the growth of Anglicanism as a global church with precision and authority, rooting his narrative in both primary sources and in the finest and most up-to-date secondary literature.
This short book begins with a world that is very much unlike our own - especially for those of us who live in the United States of America. Chapman begins his work by noting the ways in which King Henry VIII not only reformed the Church of England and set it on a course that was somewhat different than that which it had been on in the medieval period, but also by noting how the early Protestant Church of England had as its fundamental aim a political project which not only created a national church, but which put the king of the England at its head. Thus, the Church of England reformed according to political doctrine first, and according to a mixture of medieval and Protestant theology, second. Chapman notes the importance of this political reform by not letting it get too far from the center throughout the rest of the narrative.
One of the nice things about this book is that Chapman is unwilling to simply repeat the theses of others. It is quite common here in the United States to be told that Anglicanism has *always* consisted of three fundamentally distinct groups: Evangelicals, Liberals and Anglo-Catholics. In Chapman's narrative, however, this thesis never even sees the light of day. Rather, he devotew a chapter to Evangelicalism, which he locates as beginning in the mid-late 18th century, a chapter to Anglo-Catholicism, which begins in the early-mid 19th century, and a chapter on Global Anglicanism which develops shortly thereafter. This does not mean that liberals are excised from the history of Anglicanism, but Chapman recognizes that the attempt to create a liberal "tradition" is simply impossible: what calls itself "liberalism" today only owes its existence to the mid-late 20th century. In fact, it is only the Anglo-Catholics that actually are presented as having anything close to a "tradition" in the Church - that is, they alone have self-consciously cultivated, from generation to generation, a distinct identity and set of theological priorities. Evangelicals have not done this, but have simply existed at the margins of Anglicanism, with little more than a rejection of Anglican norms (pertaining to the sacraments and liturgy, primarily) as their guiding light. They have only come to the fore, like liberals, in the last few decades. Chapman's tracing of these threads not only does much to clear away the awful historiography that has come to be seen as a type of gospel in some circles, but opens up a space for exploring a far greater level of theological coherence in the church than this other historiography has allowed for!
The chapter on the beginnings of the Anglican Communion in the 19th century is especially good, as it brings pretty much everything to a head, and shows that the problem with the Church today is basically that whereas the Church of England had a "supreme governor" in the person of the monarch, the Anglican Communion does not have such a thing but, instead, relies upon good will, charity and an anti-papal conciliar mode of working together. There is no one to enforce anything in the Church - no monarch and no pope - just bishops to agree or disagree as various issues come up. It is most recently that this system has largely ceased to function as well as it often had - but not always, as Chapman shows - in the past. What will happen in the future remains anybody's - and, perhaps, everybody's - guess.
My only complaint with the book is that Chapman does not always cite his primary sources. I imagine that this has something to do with the nature of this series - it's not for specialists, but for thoughtful laypersons. However, he gives a fine bibliography that will prove to be an excellent guide for anyone interested in studying Anglicanism further. Chapman's words that end the book are all too pertinent today in our world - a world shaped by global terrorism and by American imperialism - and are the advice that everyone in the Anglican Communion absolutely must take to heart: "The desire to listen and to enter into conversation requires voluntary restraint and self-denial among the different factions. The problem is that in a world which seeks clear decisions and absolute certainties such Christian humility might not any longer be considered a virtue" (144).
[This books perfectly complements Michael Ramsey's Anglican Spirit.]