Following Jesus: The Anglican Tradition

At first blush, it might seem like Anglicanism and Pietism would have little in common. “But in ways expected and not,” I wrote yesterday, “Randall Balmer’s essay resonated more strongly with me than any other preceding it” in the Following Jesus conversation. It’s not just that we’re both historians and Anglophiles with a fondness for the Book of Common Prayer. This Pietist found some significant common ground with Balmer’s presentation of Anglicanism — including our two traditions’ commitment to finding common ground as Christians.

December’s Tradition: “Following Jesus along the Canterbury Trail

“The focus of Anglican identity is worship and sacraments and liturgy, especially as encoded in the Book of Common Prayer. That is what holds us together as followers of Jesus. Anglicans and Episcopalians can—and do—disagree on many things, but we find common ground in the Prayer Book. The Episcopal Church is by no means perfect; all institutions are human constructs, and they are remarkably poor vessels for piety. But this is my venue for following Jesus.

“This deemphasis of theology exposes us to the charge of latitudinarianism, a criticism that is not entirely unfounded. But a focus on liturgy and the mysteries of the sacraments also shields us from what I will call the cult of Enlightenment Rationalism, especially the logic choppers who slice and dice and reduce the faith into tidy theological categories. The obsession with doctrinal precisionism, such as what I encountered at my evangelical seminary, is one of the factors that pointed me beyond evangelicalism and, eventually, to the Episcopal Church. My seminary professors had it all figured out, with fancy apologetic schemes and answers to every theological contingency. But where is the mystery of faith?”

– Randall Balmer

My Response: “Finding Common Ground

“…whatever the differences in the form of worship, it’s the emphasis on Christian practice and experience over Christian doctrine that most connects the Anglican way of following Jesus with my own. What Randall calls the ‘obsession with doctrinal precisionism’ hasn’t quite led me out of evangelicalism, but it has made me drink more deeply from the Pietist springs that sourced evangelical revivals in which Protestants transcended differing beliefs to live out a common commitment to evangelism and social reform. ‘This deemphasis of theology exposes us to the charge of latitudinarianism,’ acknowledges Randall of Anglicanism, ‘a criticism that is not entirely unfounded.’ And the same has been said of Pietism (here too, not always unfairly). But it doesn’t change my conviction that it’s far more important to seek together after Jesus Christ as people of faith and doubt: inhabitants of what Randall aptly calls an ‘enchanted universe,’ whose mysteries a primarily intellectual faith ‘cannot begin to understand, much less explain.'”

Additional Responses

“Balmer is more comfortable than I was with some of the uncertainty that is just a part of being Anglican.  While I surely appreciate the mystery of faith, the degree of diversity around what a priest or a member of the church might believe on a given topic felt too roomy…. The Catechism of the Catholic Church is a behemoth, to be sure, but met a longing I had to see the faith laid down in clear articulations.”

– Christina Wassell, “On History, St. Peter, and Deals with the Devil” (Traditional Catholic Tradition)

“…Episcopalianism must be a wonderful refuge. But I have often wondered whether there is enough shared substance for the discipleship journey. Certainly it has become apparent that the Episcopal sensibility has not been enough to spare this tradition the same left/right divisions, not to mention actual church splits, that many of the rest of us have suffered…. I have also been struck by the lack of a very well-developed Anglican or Episcopal tradition in my field, Christian Ethics. I can only think of a few ethicists who have highlighted their Anglican/Episcopal identity or sought to write within it.”

– David Gushee, “Engaging the Episcopalians” (Baptist Tradition)

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