03 March 2010

Reformed Anglicanism

On the second Sunday in Lent, during the Dean's Hour at St. Luke's Cathedral, Richard Turnbull (author of Anglican and Evangelical? and Shaftesbury: the Great Reformer) delivered a lecture on the reformation of the English church. He did so by focusing on two major players in its reformation: John Wycliffe and Nicholas Ridley.

But this was no detached presentation of a few tidbits of history; ulterior motives lay just beneath the surface. Turnbull clued us in on them during his very first sentence of the lecture: "I commend St. Luke's Cathedral as living examples of Reformed Anglicanism." Indeed, he went on, it couples the best of historic, orthodox worship with "Reformed theology."

Now, it may be wrong of me to read too much into this, but, as a student of Reformed theology (broadly conceived) and Reformation history, I wondered what he was thinking when he used the phrases "Reformed Anglicanism" and "Reformed theology." There's a lot of one-sided discussions on theoblogs about this precise point: What does it mean to be "Reformed"?

But most, if not all, of this buzz comes from a particular corner of the Reformed world—American Reformed folks, the Truly Reformed™. For them, and rightly so, "predestination is not enough" (to borrow the title of Clark's epilogue). It is argued that Reformed theology just is covenant theology—as understood by the Reformed confessions of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

This argument often comes in response to the common assumption that to be "Reformed" is to hold simply to the so-called five points of Calvinism. No doubt, an argument is needed against this misconstrual of what it means to be "Reformed." But then throw into the mix a polarizing evangelical figure in the Church of England like Richard Turnbull who flings around the moniker "Reformed" (and, indeed, "Reformed Anglicanism"), and the waters start getting muddy again. Surely, Turnbull didn't have the "five points" in mind when he opened his lecture; and just as certainly, he didn't have the system of doctrine encapsulated in the Reformed confessions of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (he is Anglican after all).

On second thought, however, when I look at that which the remainder of his lecture focused—the high points of Wycliffe's and Ridley's reforms—we see a pattern of "Reformed theology" begin to emerge, and, it ought to be noted, that pattern doesn't contradict any portion of the Reformed confessions (except maybe for those bits about the "regulative principle of worship").

In brief, Turnbull chose to highlight the following reforms of the two reformers:
  1. the authoritative nature of Holy Scripture (i.e., an authority greater than church tradition);
  2. the fallibility of the pope;
  3. the perpiscuity of Scripture (i.e., the clarity of the gospel message in particular);
  4. the necessity (therefore) of Scripture being translated in the vernacular, so all people—ploughboys and priests—could have access to the clear message of salvation, and are thus equal readers and hearers coram Deo;
  5. the necessity of denouncing corruption found within the church;
  6. the necessity of academic theology being used to serve the church, along with its underlying impetus—that the Spirit-filled laity, and the mobilizaton thereof, lies at the heart of the church's common life;
  7. the reformation of the doctrine of the Eucharist away from transubstantiation, which, it was argued, has more to do with philosophical sophistry than biblical theology;
  8. liturgical reformation (the meticulous retaining of the best of the church's traditions, while tweaking the doctrinal content to reflect a theology that, of course, the reformers thought was little more than a recapitulation of the apostles and the early Church Fathers).
So, then, we begin to see a picture of what "Reformed theology" looks like, at least according to Wycliffe and Ridley, and thus, presumably, Turnbull. All this doesn't quite fit into the other lists of what it means to be "Reformed" that have floated around these parts. It seems the word Reformed could have a broader meaning than some may be willing to entertain, and historical inquiry, at the very least, bolsters that point.

But make no mistake: Turnbull was challenging his listeners to follow this trajectory, to embody this list of reforms, not least as witnesses—who metaphorically must "be of good comfort and play the man" (said Latimer to Ridley while they both were burning at the stake)—in a denomination like the ECUSA.


Jody+ said...

I think people often read too much particularity into the word "Reformed." Many American's certainly do, and as a result attempt to declare an anachronistic/unhistorical ownership of the term. To be Reformed is not necessarily to be Calvinist--five point or not--indeed, Arminians/Remonstrants are technically Reformed, and the Church of England which long considered itself Reformed specifically condemns double predestination in the Articles of Religion, following the Council of Orange. Rowan Williams gives a good definition of Anglicanism in his book "Anglican Identities", making use of the "Reformed" label:

The word "Anglican" begs a question at once. I have simply taken it as referring to the sort of Reformed Christian thinking that was done by those (in Britain at first, then far more widely) who were content to settle with a church order grounded in the historic ministry of bishops, priest and deacons, and with the classical early Christian formularies of doctrine about God and Jesus Christ--the Nicene Creed and the Definition of Chalcedon. It is certainly Reformed thinking, and we should not let the deep and pervasive echoes of the Middle Ages mislead us: it assumes the governing authority of the Bible, made available in the vernacular, and repudiates the necessity of a central executive authority in the Church's hierarchy. It is committed to a radical criticism of any theology that sanctions the hope that human activity can contribute to the winning of God's favour, and so is suspicious of organized asceticism (as opposed to the free expression of devotion to god which may indeed be profoundly ascetic in its form) and of a theology of the sacraments which appears to bind God too closely to material transactions (as opposed to seeing the free activity of God sustaining and transforming certain human actions done in Christ's name).(p2)

Chris Donato said...

Jody, thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment (enjoying your site, btw).

As I'm sure to recognize, I agree with your (and Rowan's) thoughts in this matter: "Reformed" is best understood, on the basis of historical inquiry, as a broad designation of those who, in a nutshell, are not Catholic (unless you're Hans Küng or something). No doubt the typical Lutheran would take umbrage here—if you're not Lutheran or Catholic, then you're "Reformed."

Of course, many of my friends and colleagues would say hold on a minute, because they want to protect the word Reformed in the more narrow sense of "that system doctrine encapsulated in the confessions of 16th and 17th centuries." There is a tension here, admittedly, because the word has developed historically into that. Still, from the vantage point of the 21st century, the narrow usage doesn't have as much warrant.

Finally, I'd like to suggest a minor emendation to what you've written above regarding double predestination: Calvinism doesn't necessarily entail the kind of supralapsarian double predestination declared anathema at the Council of Orange. It states: "We not only do not believe that any are foreordained to evil by the power of God, but even state with utter abhorrence that if there are those who want to believe so evil a thing, they are anathema."

Historically, Calvnists (of the Westminsterian sort), while admittedly not single predestinarians, did exercise caution on this point (and thus were and are largely infralapsarian). Like Augustine, they articulate that God, in his free grace, has chosen people out of the massa perditionis and has restored them unto eternal life. It is not a symmetrical thing, either in Calvin, or in the majority of subsequent Calvinists. That is, God is said to actively choose some for his redemptive purposes, while he passively withholds or passes over the rest. Somewhat ironically, Luther sums up the concept well:

"God does not work evil in us (for hardening is working evil) by creating fresh evil in us. …When men hear us say that God works both good and evil in us, and that we are subject to God's working by mere passive necessity, they seem to imagine a man who is in himself good, and not evil, having an evil work wrought in him by God; for they do not sufficiently bear in mind how incessantly active God is in all His creatures, allowing none of them to keep holiday. He who would understand these matters, however, should think thus: God works evil in us (that is, by means of us) not through God's own fault, but by reason of our own defect. We being evil by nature, and God being good, when He impels us to act by His own acting upon us according to the nature of His omnipotence, good though He is in Himself, He cannot but do evil by our evil instrumentality; although, according to His wisdom, He makes good use of this evil for His own glory and for our salvation" (Bondage of the Will).

John Schaefer said...

Thinking politically, doesn't it make sense for an Anglican to triangulate in this age of the attractiveness of papal conservatism? Remind Anglicans what they have in common with the "right kind" of Protestants (i.e., expressly those not in favor of gay marriage)?

Chris Donato said...

Hi, John.

No doubt there's something to that. My experience with many Anglicans, however, is that they know exactly where they stand—at least with respect to the Catholic Church and gay marriage. Still, "reminding" is very much a part of what's going on here.

Also, to be fair to those who conisder themselves "the right kind" Protestants, the issue isn't about the blessings of gay marraiges, unions, or the ordination of practicing homosexuals; the issue is whether or not Scripture is authoritative. The honest ones of those who are in favor of the above (like the Archbishop of Canterbury) note that the burden lies on the shoulders who are proposing serious changes in the church—changes that obviously do not follow the trajectory of the church's book, so to speak.

So, it might be better to say that for many, the "right kind" of Anglican is he or she who "expressly favors the authority of Scripture as the guide for faith and practice in the church."

John Schaefer said...

Well, what is obvious to some is less obvious to others. That's why I always encourage would-be scholars to avoid words like that. If it really is obvious, why state that it is? If it's not obvious, then you risk alienating your reader: "It's not obvious to me?! That means either I'm dense, or you're wrong!"

For example, what the church leaders are asserting is that *their* interpretation of scripture is authoritative. To speak of the authority of scripture is a bit of a waffle from a certain perspective, when the real authority lies with the agent who can exercise power--either actual, in the case of economic or political consequences (firing an editor or removing a bishop), or virtual in the case of persuasive effects (convincing readers that your interpretation is right).

An interesting book that I'm teaching right now is Talal Asad's Genealogies of Religion. http://www.amazon.com/Genealogies-Religion-Discipline-Reasons-Christianity/dp/0801846323/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1268731928&sr=8-1

Chris Donato said...


The "obviously" was from the archbishop! A guy who finds himself on the other side of the fence from the so-called "conservatives." Of course, I agree that such words ought to be avoided in academic discourse.

This not being such, the history of interpretation of the scriptures in the church has obviously not included the affirmation of gay marriage (by the state is beside the point; we're speaking within the church here), and so it behooves those who would seek to shift the paradigm to shoulder the burden of doing so (the archbishop's words, not mine). It should further be stated that these non-affirmations have been produced by both the powerful and the weak, the oppressors (often the Western church) and the oppressed (often the Eastern church).

Regarding the Geneologies of Religion, it looks fascinating. Maybe you'll post a note or two about it? At least discuss essay #1 (if it sheds any new light on the subject)?

Design by Free WordPress Themes | Bloggerized by Lasantha