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Anglicanism: A Very Short Introduction Paperback – Jul 15 2006
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From the Publisher
About the Author
Mark Chapman is Vice-Principal of Ripon College, Oxford, and is a historian and historical theologian. He has written extensively on religion and its role in society. He is editor of numerous books and journals, and his publications include iBy what authority? Authority, Ministry and the Catholic Church /i(1997), iLiturgy, Socialism and Life: The Legacy of Conrad Noel/i (2001), and iBuilding Community in South Africa: A Christian Perspective/i (2003).
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Top Customer Reviews
The only shortcoming of the book is its overly historical and political point of view. I would have appreciated a more extensive insight into the Anglican theology. Overall, however, this is a wonderful little book and I highly recommend it.
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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.]
The theme that runs throughout the book is Chapman's claim that the defining characteristic of the Anglican communion is its sometimes fruitful, sometimes stagnant debate over authority. Unlike the Roman church, there is no central magister in contemporary Anglicanism. Primates, councils, and indeed even the titular "head" of the communion, the Archbishop of Canterbury, have little more than moral authority. This is quite unlike the early days of Anglicanism, when real authority was vested in the English monarch-cum-Church leader. And, of course, Anglicanism was itself birthed out of a dispute between London and Rome over authority.
Between then and now, the Anglican communion has wrangled over where authority lies. As Chapman chronicles, evangelical Anglicans, both yesterday's puritans and today's charismatics, put a high premium on individual conscience and scripture. "High" churchmen and Anglo-Catholics see authority residing in tradition, reason, and ecclesial hierarchy.
National churches, in keeping with Reformation ideals, are vested with a great deal of autonomy, and in the US tradition, this autonomy extends in large measure even to dioceses and parishes. Recent controversies regarding ordination of women and gays, as well as same-sex blessings, are generated by this autonomy.
I wish Chapman had reflected a bit on the peculiar tension between autonomy and authority that seems to be characteristic of the Anglican communion. This tension historically veers from one side to the other, but has thus far managed to endure. Perhaps it's a recipe not only for ecclesial authority, but political authority as well.
At any rate, a well-written and readable book, primarily of interest to Anglicans but perhaps also to followers of recent Anglican debates.
The book does not give any sense of why anyone would want to explore Anglicanism nor what it is like to worship and live as an Anglican, whether in England or elsewhere in the world. What Chapman writes is generally accurate and his interpretations are neither novel nor indefensible. It is just that it all seems secondary, as if Mathematics: A Very Short Introduction were about the founding of mathematics faculties and struggles within professional societies rather than about the development and impact of mathematics itself.
We need a good, very short introduction to Anglicanism. Unfortunately, this is not it.
Whilst its beginning coincided with the Reformation, its nature as a state church rendered it rather awkward to be a truly reformed church at the outset (Henry VIII was rather conservative). And what happened if the head of state was a Catholic? Well, you could depose the monarch - witness the "Glorious Revolution". Obviously that did not solve the fundamental issue: identity. How reformed, as opposed to how catholic, it was depended heavily on who the monarch was and who else were in power (Ch. 3).
Chapters 4 and 5 explored the theme of identity further. Very early on (late 17th Century) evangelicalism sprouted within the Church of England. This remains successful. Meanwhile, a significant and influential subset of Anglicans affiliate more closely with the Catholic tradition. The current Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, indeed comes from such a background. By now, it should become clear to the reader that inherently Anglicanism is a rather diverse faith.
With British colonialism, Anglicanism spreaded everywhere (Ch. 6). This rendered the faith even more diverse and less homogeneous. The issue of polygamy within the Nigerian Church is used to illustrate this. The trend of regionalism also becomes more and more obvious and overt - and postcolonialism no doubt facilitated this as well.
In summary: this is essentially a book on the history of church order of the Church of England and Anglicanism. I suspect the readership is not that wide. But if this is a topic that interests you, then it's quite rewarding indeed.