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Reformation Anglicanism: A Vision for Today's Global Communion

Reformation Anglicanism: A Vision for Today's Global Communion
A Manifesto for Reformation Anglicanism

By Ashley Null & John W. Yates III
Contributors include: Michael Nazir-Ali, Michael Jensen, Ben Kwashi
220 pp $35.00

Reviewed by David W. Virtue, DD
April 23, 2017

For those of us who have been engaged in battle on the frontline of Anglicanism and watched with both horror and hope the spiritual warfare that has raged across the globe, you may now find some comfort, consolation indeed inspiration from this new volume on the history of Anglicanism.

It could not be more timely. Anglicanism, as it has been practiced in recent years, has been fraught with 'heresies distressed' and the doctrinal and moral wars fought has left the battlefield littered with corpses. The wounded still walk amongst us.

The Anglican ship of state continues to roil but it also continues to move steadily forward, at times listing, but then righting itself and growing as new Anglican beacons are lit to show us the way and reveal to us that all is not lost.

This slim volume by five scholars, two of whom are practicing pastors, is a lighthouse with its beam piercing the darkness, offering hope in what many had come to believe to be a hopelessly divided situation.

Along with Anglicanism's early history, its later grapple with medieval Catholicism and more recently with post modernism, the book lays out the glory of the four Solas as guideposts for the Church's faith.

Nobody traces this history more brilliantly than the scholarly former bishop of Rochester, the Rev. Dr. Michael Nazir-Ali. He traces the early history of Christianity as it came ashore on the British Isles in the second century. No, Anglicanism was not borne out of the marriages of Henry the Eighth and his break with Rome. The history of Anglicanism is longer than that and Anglicans need to know the rich history that has allowed itself to be steered between the Scylla of Rome and the Charybdis of Geneva, all the while retaining its historical relationship with the Reformation.

At the heart of Anglicanism, as this book makes clear, is the authority of Scripture. But Anglicans are not fundamentalists. They don't worship the Bible. For Anglicans, the Bible is 'Gods word written' and Hooker's three-legged stool, now much revisioned by liberals and pansexualists who try to put scripture history and reason on a level playing field, will quickly see that argument demolished. Scripture is always and has ever been the church's primary source of revelation.

As Ashley Null observes; "The relation of scripture, reason and tradition is more accurately described not as a three-legged stool, but to see Scripture as a garden bed in which reason and tradition are tools used to tend the soil, unlock its nutrients and bring forth the beauty within it." The whole thrust of Anglican liturgy was to teach people the scriptures. The Church of England would only succeed, Cranmer held, if the English people regularly sat under the transforming power of Scripture and its message expressed in Morning and Evening Prayer and the Holy Communion." The chief responsibility of Bishops is to "proclaim and defend the apostolic faith as taught by the Scriptures" since Christian fellowship can only be based on a common understanding of saving faith. They show their authentic apostolic succession by what they teach and what they reject.

This book focuses on the continuing contribution that the biblical insights of the English Reformation have made to contemporary Anglicanism. Of course, Anglicanism has developed different strains through the centuries, and certain elements near and dear to the heart of Anglo-Catholics were rejected by Cranmer and Hooker, for example, the role of the bishop in apostolic succession as essential for Anglican ecclesiology.

Anglo-Catholics will not be entirely comfortable with this history, seeing themselves perhaps marginalized and placed on the fringe of Anglicanism but they should not despair. This book condemns only those who have torn the fabric of the communion. Anglo-Catholics and evangelicals have worked well together in the North America following the split in The Episcopal Church. Only one TEC bishop has fled to Rome via the Ordinariate; the rest have joined the ACNA resisting the siren call of Rome and the Ordinariate.

This book advocates, instead, the centrality of the faithful proclamation of the Gospel of grace and gratitude through word and sacrament. Consequently, the editors argue that the office of bishop is the most helpful way to ensure the well-being of the church through promoting and protecting the true Gospel. Cranmer and Hooker would have agreed.

Nevertheless, the book makes clear that the authors are not claiming to represent the way to be a faithful Anglican in the twenty-first century. Rather, they wish to promote Reformation Anglicanism as a faithful way to be Anglican today, especially because its biblical insights into human nature speak so clearly to the current cultural idolatry of self-made identity and fulfillment. It is this winsome, missional tone, first set by Bishop Nazir-Ali introductory essay, that will make it attractive and useful, even to those parts of orthodox Anglicanism which will find its ecclesiology somewhat lacking.

For those who might argue that the book's failure to recognize its own white imperialism and patriarchal origins should think twice. Two of the authors are non-European -- one is from Pakistan and the other from Nigeria. They are not remotely interested in promoting a 'white gospel' or feminist theology to satisfy post-modern Anglicans.

Nigerian Archbishop Ben Kwashi expounds the transforming power of the gospel as we seek the kingdom of God, rather than our own power and status. He argues that we do not rely on our own natural power, but on God working through us by His Spirit. His theology is therefore trans cultural and transnational.

Western Anglicans (as opposed to Global South Anglicans) argue for change because they put the cart of works before the horse of faith. They find that people cannot follow a biblical way of life with attendant fear and shame, and so they reject certain parts of the Bible and ask the church to settle instead for what people think they can do. (p 192)

Much current preaching is 'nagging' congregations either to try harder to protect the environment, fight racism, and work towards economic equality, or to be godly, draw closer to God and serve their neighbors. Both in effect put the cart of pleasing God before the horse of what God has promised to do for us. "Telling people what to do does not empower them to do it. That was Cranmer's fundamental Reformation insight. Only love can overcome the power of sin, and such love comes from knowing the unconditional love of God revealed in Jesus's death and resurrection for us....Only the assurance that God will love us through good times and bad...has the power to change who we are and how we live." (p 191f)


The last chapter of the book is perhaps the real reason why this book was written and is so necessary. It climaxes the book's history with true intent and purpose. It offers a much-needed reformation in the face of so much that has gone wrong.

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the Anglican Communion has been greatly shaken by a combination of both secularism in society and the lack of transformation in Christian lives. Led by the Episcopal Church in the U.S., some provinces of the Anglican Communion now openly embrace nonbiblical ways of living, precisely because they argue that people cannot change deep-seated desires. The result has been to tear the fabric of our global fellowship as its deepest level. How should members of the Anglican Communion respond?

Some provinces have departed from biblical truth as it has been understood in all places and at all times. Christ's divinity, salvation in his name alone, the authority of the Scriptures, and biblical standards of morality have all been questioned by some in the Anglican Communion. That's why we need a fresh movement of Reformation Anglicanism today, say the writers. Only an Anglican Communion rooted in the timeless divine wisdom of catholic apostolic Christianity can effectively counter the false hope offered by the deceitful devices and desires of the postmodern heart.

Justification was the result of trusting Christ's work on the cross, the Reformers taught that it was sola fide, by faith alone... a free gift solely because of God's love for humanity, not a meritorious reward for human effect. The more believers are in the presence of Christ through justification, the more Christ's love "rubs off on them," making them more like him. That is why we need Reformation Anglicanism today.

To rail on about protecting the environment, fighting racism, and working toward economic equality are important themes, however conservative preachers will want their congregations to work harder at being godly, including taking practical steps to draw closer to God and serving their neighbors. Yet we must not put the cart before the horse. They emphasize what we should do to please God, not what God has promised to be pleased to do for us first. Telling people what to do does not empower them to do it. Only encountering the gospel of God's unconditional love at work in us can allure us to the doing of his will. That was Cranmer's fundamental and original insight.

The writers go on to say that Reformation Anglicanism is mission-focused, is Episcopal, liturgical, and transformative. Above all Reformation Anglicanism is relevant.

For those in the twenty-first century searching for meaning and purpose in life, Reformation Anglicanism's commitment to the timeless wisdom of apostolic teaching provides a solid rock on which to stand. For those searching for a sense of historical continuity, Reformation Anglicanism affords a community with close ties to the ancient church as expressed in its faithfulness to Scripture, the creeds, and the first four counsels for those looking for assurance that God's love will not let them go, Reformation Anglicanism's proclamation of salvation by faith only through grace alone offers biblical hope. Reformation Anglicanism's insight into the renewal of human affections provides the most authentic means to experience human flourishing.

Reformation Anglicanism is a timely, readable, manageable volume that captures the history and heart of Anglicanism in both scholarly yet readable language that engages both the mind and heart, drawing together the early history of Anglicanism and how it developed over time. It also offers a way forward.

We believe this book should be in the hands of every ACNA bishop, priest and concerned lay persons as well as those Episcopalians who still believe the confessional formularies still matter because they have characterized the Anglican Communion since the sixteenth-century. This book has the power to put the Anglican Communion back on course and so move it evangelistically into the twenty-first century.

You can purchase the book here:

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