The Protestant Face of Anglicanism

Published September 1, 1998

PERHAPS THE MOST arresting aspect of this book, at least initially, is its title. It conjures up the revisiting of ancient theological controversies, the re-enactment of centuries-old ecclesiastical battles, and the recalling of religious struggles better left undisturbed in these days of tolerance.

But Paul Zahl, the present dean of the Cathedral Church of the Advent in Birmingham, Alabama, has little interest in merely stoking the embers of past religious conflagrations that once burned in Europe, Britain, and around the world wherever Eurocentric churches had been transplanted.

Instead he invites his readers to reacquaint themselves with their own story, one that comprises both the theological developments of 16th-century Europe as theologies of the Reformation took root and spread to the churches of England, and the complex interplay of church and state, each struggling with, and often reshaping the other.

Without minimizing the political intrigues that provided the context for the reemergence of Protestant Christianity, Mr. Zahl nevertheless presents the new beginnings of the Church of England as primarily the consequence of theological renewal and rediscovered biblical foundations.

What are these foundations? Mr. Zahl expresses them in a threefold sequence. The first is the question of our knowledge of God; whatever we may discern about God through the created order, we know God most fully in the incarnate Son, Jesus of Nazareth. Second, the ground of our restoration to God’s favour lies in the atoning death of Jesus on the cross. Third, the means whereby we appropriate this new, liberated, forgiven status is faith in God’s grace, not our own efforts, merits, or innate goodness.

None of this should be new or surprising to any Anglican, but Mr. Zahl illustrates how fragile our grasp of the Gospel really is, and how quickly we substitute attractive yet impotent alternatives.

But this is not simply a dry theological treatise. Paul Zahl sketches honestly and compellingly the story of Protestant Anglicanism in England and the United States, and concludes with a heartfelt plea for our church to rediscover a portion of our identity that still offers meaning and hope for an uncertain and broken world.

Peter Mason, bishop of the Diocese of Ontario since 1992, is a former principal of Wycliffe College, and from 1992 to 1995 was a member of the General Synod Committee on Doctrine and Worship.


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