Sunday, 23 January 2011

Anglicans, this is our day!

Having in recent years made my own pilgrimage into Anglicanism, I awaited my copy of Todd D. Hunter's, The Accidental Anglican: The Surprising Appeal of the Liturgical Church (IVP, 2010) with some anticipation; having read it in two sittings practically, I'm left in two minds.

Hunter has the best American charismatic evangelical pedigree. Having first worked in Calvary Chapel circles, he followed John Wimber as the head of the Vineyard Movement following Wimber's untimely death in 1997, and then headed up ALPHA in the US until 2008. But in a sense that's only the beginning of the story. Having planted churches, seemingly everywhere, he planned on an early retirement, which is where the Anglican story really picks up, as Hunter moved quickly, in little over two years, to joining the Anglican church, being ordained priest and then consecrated a bishop by the Anglican Mission under the oversight of Archbishop Emmanuel Kolini of Rwanda, with special responsibility for church planting in California and the US West Coast. So an accidental Anglican certainly, but also perhaps a whirlwind Anglican too!

The first half of the book is largely biographical, and charts the story outlined above, which if I'm honest I found less satisfying than the second half in which Hunter outlines some of his reasons for his conversion to all things Anglican. Some of this is much more convincing than others. I'll just comment on a couple of the most impressive areas.

Hunter cites the influence of N. T. Wright at some length. Wright, he says has been helping him reassess what it means to be a Christian over the last decade or so - in a good way. Much of evangelicalism is obsessed by the simple gospel, getting to heaven when we die, or Jesus giving my life some purpose or whatever, and little else. Wright's theology gives us a much bigger picture of God's story in the world - the outworking of redemption in history in effect - 'God announcement to the world that he is indeed its wise, loving and just creator; that through Jesus he has defeated the powers that corrupt and enslave it; and that by his Spirit he is at work to heal and renew it (p. 84). Hunter sees the Anglican liturgy and lectionary as playing a key role in creating this big picture of God's plan for humanity, as it takes congregations through the Bible's story line year after year. Anglicanism tells the Bible's story every year in its liturgy, and proclaims it to the world (p. 88). Excellent.

The best bit of the book is the chapter in which he describes the Anglican treasure chest 'of tools for contemporary evangelism and spiritual formation' (p.113). These are: its ancient liturgical rhythms, the Book of Common Prayer, the Lectionary, the common profession of faith in the saying of the Creed, the weekly prayer of confession and absolution, the communal offering of peace to one another, the Eucharist, the stress on an ordained ministry and the Anglican love of comprehensiveness. Most of which are of course merely a desciption of all the key elements of the average Anglican service!

But it is perhaps the spirit of Anglicanism that Hunter ends up commending most. Its 'sweet reasonableness'. This is a characteristic he has witnessed at first hand, in Anglican evangelicals like John Stott and Jim Packer, and more recently by Sandy Millar of Holy Trinity, Brompton. What does he mean by 'sweet reasonableness'? Hunter writes: 'Historically, Anglicanism does not bully but simply sets itself forth. It invites participation, contemplation and conversation. This is a great gift to the post-modern, post-Christendom situation' (p. 109).

So while there are bits of this book that do grate a little, there are a few areas where Hunter has real insight into the heart of Anglicanism and its possible contemporary relevance.

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