NAIVELY, I HOPED the authors of The Challenge of Tradition would offer a solid and serious critique of the Essentials movement (and substantive criticisms are possible), but I was disappointed. I want to speak from within the Anglican tradition of challenge in this critique.
Most of the authors tend to caricature the Essentials movement or simplistically react to the Montreal Declaration. I expected more from people steeped in responsible thought and critical pedagogy.
Gregory Baum’s article tends to misrepresent the complexity of the inclusive-exclusive in Canadian history. It is not that the exclusive was the preferred tradition and the inclusive the minority tradition – both, in their different ways, have been on the front stage. Mr. Baum’s use of the exclusive-inclusive model as an analogy to justify the gay rights agenda is thin and weak – although it does uncritically represent the liberal establishment.
Andrew Taylor’s article on Anglican Social Thought is insightful, but if he had read my article in Anglican Essentials, he would have realized that the Essentials movement cannot be reduced to bourgeois ethics or neo-conservative politics. If he probed a bit further, he might find the Essentials movement much more radical and prophetic than the authors of The Challenge of Tradition.
If Susan Storey had thoroughly read and obsorbed the Pells’ article in the Essentials book of Baptismal Ministry: Partnership, Gender, and Integration, she would have discovered that much of the feminist movement is welcomed in the Essentials movement.
Bishop Terry Brown’s article rightly criticizes the unholy union of evangelism and empire, but most in the Essentials movement would be equally critical of such an Erastian model. Like most of the authors in the book, Bishop Brown seems to be going after a straw person.
Stephen Reynolds’ distinction between “the Word of God” and “God’s written word” is vital to keep in mind, but most in the Essentials movement are not Biblicists; higher and lower criticism have not been exorcised from this tribe. The Bible and tradition via the interpretive faculty of reason/imagination (within the life of the historic church) are the beacons of the word of God for most within the Essentials movement.
Eileen Scully’s article on the dialogical middle way with its notion of the not too numerous centre tends to reflect more a procedural or process liberalism than it does the historic via media of the Anglican way. Dialogue and substantive content must be more tightly knit together; Scully has failed to do this.
John Simons, the overall editor, and Paul Jennings participate in many of the same failings as their peers. The Essentials movement is caricatured and a rather trendy form of establishment social liberalism is dutifully presented. Surely a prophetic church should do more than a mere mouthing of social liberal platitudes.
The Church of England in Canada proposed a conference of all the bishops in the Anglican Communion and the first Lambeth Conference took place in 1867. In 1963, the Anglican Congress in Toronto put forward the document , Mutual Responsibility and Interdependence in the Body of Christ. The Anglican Church of Canada has a history and tradition of uniting and drawing the church together.
I hope that in the future a third book will be written, and in that book the polarization and tribalism that so besets us these days will be overcome. We await the sort of visionary leadership that can move us beyond our present malaise. Ron Dart teaches political science and religious studies at the University College of the Fraser Valley in Abbotsford, B.C., where he is a member of St. Matthew’s parish.