The great Christian philosopher and theologian, Dallas Willard, once wrote that every compelling and coherent worldview must address four questions:
- What is reality?
- What is the good life?
- What is a good person?
- How does one become a good person?
Christianity, including the Anglican way of following Jesus, has answers to these questions. Reality is the unshakeable Kingdom of God (Hebrews 12:18-29). The good life is not about consumption, but rather righteousness, peace, and joy in the
Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17). The one who is blessed by Jesus (in every counter-intuitive and counter-cultural way he names in Matthew 5:1-12) is the good person. And one becomes such a person, a “disciple” according to Jesus, by denying oneself, taking up one’s cross, and following Jesus Christ (Matthew 16:24).
Sadly, you will find no answers to these questions in What do Anglicans Believe: A Study Guide to Christian Doctrine from Anglican and Ecumenical Statements, published by the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) last week. You may recall that the ACC is one of the four “instruments” or authorities of the Anglican Communion that meets periodically and is supposed to speak on behalf of the whole Anglican Communion. This academic study with selective citations of ecumenical and Anglican sources does not, however, speak for the vast majority of Anglican disciples of Jesus Christ in the Global South and elsewhere who find answers to the four questions above from our primary authority, the Bible.
There is a reason for this. Throughout the 48 pages of this study, you will find an “approach to learning… which moves from the learner’s context to the [biblical] text in question and then to a practical response, to be repeated again and again” (p. 6). It is a simple but profound reversal of the way we approach the Bible, reinforcing the doctrinal drift in the Anglican Communion that has occurred over the last 50 years. Using their approach, “the context of the learner” is as authoritative as the text of God’s revealed word, the Bible. When we begin with our own context, we begin by listening to ourselves rather than to God. Instead of looking at our context through the lens of Scripture with Jesus always in the center, we look at the Bible through the lens of our own context and experience. In the end, this approach does not rescue us from our own ruined hearts full of self-centeredness but may actually reinforce them.
This leads to the second misstep, exalting process over substance. “The aim will not be to provide a final answer,” write the authors, “but to ask some relevant questions and to see whether this doctrine has a meaningful part to play in the lived reality of the church community” (pp. 19, 21). Here you find no answers to the questions worth asking, just dialogue and “respectful disagreement.” In this sense, it is a logical handmaid to the current strategy of the established leadership of the Anglican Communion instruments. It merely keeps people talking, but it is not even “mere Christianity.” It is mere theological gruel for a church and world desperately in need of answers to the questions worth asking. As the Cairo Covenant (2011) of the Global South declares in Section 1: Doctrinal Foundation – Fundamental Declarations,
“The authority of the Scripture is its Spirit-bestowed capacity to quicken the Church to truthful speech and righteous action. We reject therefore the hermeneutical skepticism that commits the Church to a near-infinite deferral of decisions on matters of faith and morals” (Para. 1.5).
If you want to find out what orthodox Anglicans really believe, read the GAFCON Jerusalem Statement and Declaration (2008) [www.gafcon.org/jerusalem-2018/key-documents/jerusalem-declaration]. Read Section 1, the Doctrinal Foundation – Fundamental Declarations in The Cairo Covenant (2011) [www.globalsouthanglican.org/images/uploads/GSA_Covenantal_Structure_(adopted_on_11_Oct_2019).pdf]. If you are an Anglican in North America and want to understand the marks of following Jesus in the Anglican way, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest Article 1- the Fundamental Declarations of the Anglican Church in North America [crossroadsanglican.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/Fundamental-Declarations-1.pdf]. All of these contain the sources of Anglican doctrine going back to the Bible, the Creeds, the Ecumenical Councils of the Church, the Thirty-Nine Articles, and the Book of Common Prayer 1662. Unlike the thin gruel of the ACC’s What Do Anglicans Believe, you will find a treasure trove of answers to the questions worth asking in these affirmations of what most Anglicans today really believe.
May the Lord continue to strengthen the faith and witness of those Anglicans who remain biblically faithful and Spirit-filled until the coming of our Lord.