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The Future of Orthodox Anglicanism, edited by Gerald R. McDermott

The Future of Orthodox Anglicanism, edited by Gerald R. McDermott
Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2020. 280 pages. $4.99 (kindle)

Reviewed by David W. Virtue, DD
January 26, 2022

If you are a true Anglican believer, this volume of 11 essays will convince you that you made the right choice. If you are an evangelical sitting on the fence, then this book will help you jump off it, hungry for connection with the Early Church and its attention to mystery, sacraments and liturgy framed in a clear understanding where the gospel of Jesus Christ is front and center. A case in point is the recent absconding of Beth Moore, a Southern Baptist preacher with nearly a million followers into the arms of a Texas parish in the Anglican Church in North America. She is not the only one. Other spiritual lights have also joined dioceses in the ACNA. There are thousands of ex-Catholics, Episcopalians, Methodists and independent Baptists who have joined the Canterbury Trail at intervals along the way.

Anglicanism is the third-largest Christian communion in the world. At 85-million worshippers it is growing as fast or faster than the two largest communions, Roman Catholicism and eastern Orthodoxy.

But let us be clear, it does not include most of Western Anglicanism, which is fast slipping away from the 'faith once for all delivered to the saints.' The new center of gravity is in the Global South which is predominantly orthodox in faith and morals, unlike its liberal parents in Canterbury and New York.

Evangelicalism is growing around the world, and at 620 million self-identifying adherents, it is a significant sector of worldwide Christianity. A country in point is Brazil, once 90% Catholic, it is now 54% Catholic with 21% identifying as evangelical with four percent Pentecostal. Many who have left Catholicism and find, in time, that evangelicalism is 'light', will perhaps see in Anglicanism a way forward, combining two traditions.

Gerald McDermott, a first order Anglican scholar, outlines for us what sets today's Anglicanism apart from its own history as well as that of other Christian denominations. He points out that Anglicanism did not begin in the sixteenth century. "There was a distinctive English way of living in fellowship with the triune God for at least a millennium before that."

The eleven essays by prominent Anglican scholars and leaders represent diverse perspectives from East Africa, North Africa, and North America. They explore the rich legacy of the Anglican Church--grounding readers in the past in preparation for the future.

One African Anglican prelate said Anglicanism is both catholic and protestant in form and appeals to Africans because of its holistic approach to faith and life and because of its vision for world mission. Bishop Mouneer Anis of Egypt says we don't have to be English to be Anglican. He notes that the founders of English Anglicanism turned to North African theologians like Augustine and Cyprian. Journalist and theologian Barbara Gauthier writes that Anglicanism is both reformed and catholic while being neither Roman nor (solely) Reformed. It appeals to the ancient fathers and the practices of the undivided church of the first five centuries

Historian Gerald Bray identifies three defining characteristics of Anglicanism: its concentration on the fundamentals of Christianity while leaving disputed points aside, the centrality of the Bible, and its insistence on teaching Christianity to its own members and communities. Birmingham Episcopal Cathedral Church of the Advent Dean Andrew Pearson proclaims that Anglicanism is the English witness to the biblical convictions of the Reformation.

McDermott's own chapter on "Ancient-Future Anglicanism" is, to my mind, one of the best in the volume. McDermott identifies where and how Anglicanism may offer help in dealing with the unique struggles of our modern world--a place where being merely evangelical is not enough. The only path forward for Anglicanism's relevance is by doubling down on our distinctives and offering an alternative to the evangelicalism that has defined the mainstream American religious experience. McDermott offers an alternative that takes English reformer Richard Hooker to heart when he reminds us that Christianity isn't a do-it-yourself project, but rather that "if we have the custom of the people of God or a decree from our forefathers, this is a law that must be kept."

McDermott warns about what will happen if Anglicanism undervalues its distinctives. "Anglicanism without the beauty and power of its liturgy and sacraments will become just another Evangelical alternative," he writes. "It might continue to use the 'Anglican' moniker, but it will be indistinguishable from many nondenominational networks that are denominations by another name."

One might be confused if one entered an Episcopal parish versus an Anglican parish and notice little difference in form and worship. True, but it is the sermon that is the dead giveaway. What you hear from the pulpit, is why Western Anglicanism is declining and Anglicanism in the Global South is growing.

Concluding his own chapter, McDermott notes that "reformed catholic" Anglicanism that retrieves the best of Catholic worship with the best of the Protestant preaching tradition will be attractive to Romans who are now looking elsewhere.

In The Future of Orthodox Anglicanism, Gerald McDermott has collected a series of essays from Anglican leaders around the globe. It is a measure of Anglicanism's success that evangelist Billy Graham said that if he were starting all over again, he would be "an evangelical Anglican." Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback, one of the largest churches in America and author of The Purpose Driven Life, has acknowledged his indebtedness to the late John Stott for his own ministry. Michael Cromartie of the Ethics and Public Policy Center once observed that if evangelicals could elect a pope, Stott, an Anglican, is the person they would likely choose.

If you are tempted by Anglicanism, then this book is must reading. If you want to know what to expect of the future of the orthodox Anglican future, you will discover it is mostly nonwhite, led by the Global South and devoted to Scripture. The growth of GAFCON and ACNA will ensure that it resists the call to overturn the marriage of one man and one woman. It will aggressively evangelize and missionize, even under persecution. This is most obvious in the Anglican Church in Nigeria, the largest Anglican province experiencing the greatest persecution. More will attend to catholic substance, finding in ancient liturgy and sacraments the beauty of holiness and power of the Gospel.


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