Monday, June 23, 2008

Anglicanism: Thegreat thing about it is...

So Tom Wright made an appearance on The Colbert Report here in the States. He handled himself very well. You can view the video HERE. (H/T Justin Taylor) He is on the show to promote his new book, Surprised by Hope.

(As as aside, I went to hear the Bishop in NYC 2 months ago. I asked him in Q and A if there was anyone in the evangelical world arguing with him on this one. Surprised by Hope is far less controversial that many of his other writings. I asked him if there were any scholars defending the Platonic version of 'going to heaven when you die'. He was kind and said it was a good question. And his answer was basically, 'No, not that he knew of'. Interesting.)

Anyways, here is what I thought was interesting in the Colbert interview. Colbert is a Roman Catholic. And this exchange took place (at 4 minutes):
Colbert: And is this your reading, or is this Anglican theology?
Wright: The great thing about Anglicans is that we have no theology of our own, and so if something is true, the Anglicans believe it. That’s the theory anyway. It would be nice it is did work.
Colbert: That’s what I say. That's what I say.
Wright: No. You chaps [Catholics] have stuff that you look up in these big books all the time. Anyway, the point is this…

Some Questions to get you going.
  • What do you think he means by Anglicans 'have no theology of our own'?
  • Is he right?
  • If he is right, is it a virtue or a vice of Anglicanism?
Related reading: Dr Paul Barnett's Ten Elements of Historic Anglicanism.



Gav Perkins said...

I'm pretty sure I remember something about 39 Articles.
I presume Bishop Wrong assented to them at some point as a binding statement of faith.

Emma said...

Isn't the Anglican way the "via media" or "the middle of the road"? Aren't we technically not meant to be hovering out on the extremes but kind of walking safely down the middle of controversy on either side of us? Maybe that's what he means when he says "we have no theology of our own"...

Justin said...

Hey Emma,

I think that what he means is that there isn't a big 'rule book' on what it means to be Anglican, like the Roman Catholics do.

Certainly, as Gav points out, the Anglicans have the 39 articles, but it isn't a laborious read. And in any case, Article 6 makes it clear that we are bound primarily to the truth as it is found in Scripture (Wright's point) --

" Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.

Its worth saying that good men like Gav, while certainly upholding the 39 Articles, will not do so at the expense of Scripture.

Our other 'book' is a book of devotional prayers! (The Book of Common Prayer.) It is rich is good theology, but the astounding thing is that it still a book of prayers.

Besides that, we have the truth to defend!

I think thats his point.

Anyone else have any thoughts?

Steve Carlisle said...

dont forget the homilies!

they are sensational reads, and I really mean that!!

they are fairly meaty in what they affirm, but in essense, yes, i agree, there is a lack of concrete doctrine becasue of our ecclesiastical structure, ie the lack of an authoritative head means the lack of an authoritative word, and, when you dont have the scriptures as that authoritative word, and you dont have someone telling you what you must believe, then you are left in an authority vaccuum.

Steve Carlisle said...

btw i am not saying we should have an authoritative head in the same way as the catholic church!!

just contrasting us with them

Cameron & Alex Grey Jones said...

There is a world of difference in the Anglican church between what is written and committed to in orders such as confirmation and ordination, and what is practiced.

This is not a recent phenomenon as Mark Thompson's lecture on historic Anglicanism ( and the article by Rob Doyle to which he refers (R. C. Doyle, ‘No Golden Age’, The Briefing 22 (April 1989), pp. 1–6) have pointed out.

The Book of Common Prayer is an interesting read, however, particularly the introductions/prefaces. On some fronts it is polemical in the context of dissenters and Roman influences, and the basis of argument is at all stages stated as scriptural.

I found a comment about (Anglican) liturgy that I like in a book by Cocksworth and Brown Being a Priest Today* "good liturgy is scripture turned to prayer".

It seems to me that recent responses of the Church of England find their focus in the authority of the organisation, perhaps in the absence of a conviction about the authority of scripture.

A case in point: comments from those in authority in the CofE about the recent 'gay marriage' in London have not opposed the action on theological/scriptural grounds but on the basis of disobeying the authority of the church structure.

"The point at issue is not Civil Partnerships themselves or the relation of biblical teaching to homosexual practice... the real issue is whether you wilfully defied the discipline of the Church and broke your oath of canonical obedience to your Bishop." (

* I don't like the title very much, and they don't defend using the word 'priest' like this very convincingly IMHO...

Stan said...

Not that I really know who Wright is but isn't (one of) the heart(s) of the Reformation the rejection of authority outside of, in broad, large, far too general strokes, "what is right"

John said...

I think the comment about having "no theology of our own" is a reflection of what Justin said about there not being a big rule book on "How to be Anglican".

Interesting thought expirment, comapre "being a good Anglican" with "being a good Catholic". I think that reveals the Bishop's point. That isn't too try to argue for one tradition over the other, but it does emphasize a difference in praxis.

byron smith said...

There might not be any serious scholars arguing for "heaven when you die", but it still wins hands-down in the popularity stakes amongst pewsitters. A little like cutting taxes on petrol - loved by everybody except those with any familiarity with any of the issues. ;-)

byron smith said...

I take it that the quip about having "no theology of our own" is to simply make the polemical (Protestant) point that he doesn't believe things because they are part of "Anglicanism", but simply because they are true - and that this is the Anglican position.