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:
- the authoritative nature of Holy Scripture (i.e., an authority greater than church tradition);
- the fallibility of the pope;
- the perpiscuity of Scripture (i.e., the clarity of the gospel message in particular);
- 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;
- the necessity of denouncing corruption found within the church;
- 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;
- 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;
- 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).
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.