A Case for Evangelical Anglicanism

by the Very Rev. Dr. Justyn Terry
Dean/President Emeritus
Emeritus Professor of Systematic Theology

I grew up in one of the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches in Southampton, UK. It was a great church and I loved it. We had 45 minute sermons every Sunday morning and evening and they were the highlights of the week. I remember being astonished to find out that so many of my friends did not go to church and I felt disappointed for them.

When I went to university I discovered evangelical Anglicanism and was fascinated by its biblical liturgy and the seriousness of thought that lay behind it. I also came to respect the Anglo-Catholicism of the college chapel.

Through those experiences, and through my reading and reflection since then, I have become increasingly attracted to evangelical Anglicanism, and want to say why I recommend training for Christian leadership in this tradition, whether we are Conservative or Charismatic Evangelicals, or Anglo-Catholics.

Evangelical AnglicanismThe word “evangelical” is used in many different ways these days, and there is much debate about its meaning. My preference is for J.I. Packer’s six distinctives of evangelicalism, which are endorsed by John Stott and Alister McGrath, all three of whom are prominent evangelical Anglicans.

  1. The supreme authority of Scripture for knowledge of God and as guide to Christian living.
  2. The majesty of Jesus Christ as incarnate God and Lord, and the saviour of sinful humanity.
  3. The lordship of the Holy Spirit.
  4. The need for personal conversion.
  5. The priority of evangelism for both individual Christians and for the Church as a whole.
  6. The importance of Christian community for spiritual nourishment, fellowship and growth.

(See Alister E. McGrath, Evangelicalism and the Future of Christianity, Leicester: IVP, 1995, p. 51.).

Here we see the evangelical commitment to the Bible as not only being the word of human authors but also the word of God; the unique person and work of Jesus Christ by which sinners may be justified before a holy God by putting their faith in him; the encounter with God’s Spirit who inspired the Scriptures and speaks through them; the call to personal (though not individualistic) repentance; the commission to proclaim the Gospel in all the world; and the commitment to the life of the Church. It is a set of short and simple statements but between them they define the movement well.

I understand Packer’s distinctives to mean that these are the Christian doctrines that need to be stressed if we are to keep the Gospel front and center. It is not to belittle any other teachings of the historic creeds, but it is to say that unless these are deliberately underlined, they have a disconcerting way of migrating to the margins of Church life. The Gospel is always unsettling people, and the sinful desire to tame it is ever present. Specifying how that can be avoided is one of evangelicalism’s greatest gifts to the Church.

Evangelical AnglicanismAnglicanism is reformed Catholicism. Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury in the time of King Henry VIII, was able to bring Martin Luther’s rediscovery of justification by faith alone into the heart of the Church of England. It has since spread around the world in Anglican and Episcopal Churches and is now the third largest Christian denomination with about 77 million members.

Anglican doctrine and practice have been traditionally defined by the 1662 Book of Common Prayer and the Thirty-Nine articles, which originate in the work of Thomas Cranmer. Both are deeply rooted in the Scriptures. There is a particular respect for the teaching of the Church Fathers (i.e. the prominent Christian teachers up to about 451) and of the four ecumenical councils of the Church during that time. As Lancelot Andrewes once put it in a sermon, Anglicanism has, “One canon [the Bible], reduced to writing by God himself, two testaments, three creeds, four general councils, five centuries, and the series of fathers in that period – the centuries, that is before Constantine, and two after, [that] determine the boundary of our faith.”

In the early days of the modern ecumenical movement these values were reworked into the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral (1886/1888), which specifies Anglicanism in terms of: the Bible as containing all things necessary to salvation; the Apostles’ and Nicene creeds; the sacraments of baptism and Holy Communion; and the episcopate (bishops) locally adapted. These are seen as the non-negotiables of Anglicanism.

Recently, some Anglicans in the West have been seeking a substantial reworking of traditional positions on doctrine and practice, seeing Cranmer’s prayer book and articles as outdated for modern and post-modern generations. Evangelical Anglicans have resisted this movement, preferring to question the assumptions of modernity and post-modernity, and to reaffirm the teaching of Thomas Cranmer, Richard Hooker and Lancelot Andrewes. These formative Anglican divines, and many others since, uphold all six of the distinctives of evangelicalism. This should not come as a great surprise since they are, I believe, simply affirmations of Biblical Christianity.

What excited me about Anglicanism when I first discovered it, and what I have come to see all the more clearly with the benefit of further study, is that it offers the historical anchoring that many evangelicals seek. It allows us to root our convictions in the riches of the tradition of Christian thought and prayer that faithful followers of Jesus Christ have passed down to us. We can discover an ancestry that goes back hundreds of years, in fact, I would argue, right back to the teaching of Jesus himself, with great theologians, liturgists and saints whose writings can help us to be the disciples that Jesus calls us to be. It also makes us more clearly part of the one, holy, catholic (i.e. universal) and apostolic Church.

The two issues that I had to rethink coming from my essentially Baptist background were infant baptism and the role of bishops. This is not the place to go into the theological debates on these issues, but what was very striking for me as I rethought them was that in both of these discussions the authority on which the arguments were built was Biblical teaching. It was also highly significant for me that one of the theologians about whom I had heard most about from the pulpit growing up, Martin Luther, made a strong case for infant baptism and for bishops.

It is within the evangelical Anglican tradition that I have come to embrace the charismatic movement. The ministry of healing and having time to wait on God fit naturally into the Anglican liturgy. I have also come to find, mainly through the students at Trinity, how much evangelical Anglicanism has to offer to Anglo-Catholics, especially in the tradition of expository preaching and the emphasis on evangelism.

Handing on the Evangelical Anglican traditionA tradition as rich and complex as evangelical Anglicanism is not quickly learnt nor rapidly passed on. Those who are to lead Anglican or Episcopal Churches need a deep formation in this tradition if they are to be able to introduce others to it and to nurture the faithful in it. They need to inhabit this tradition, with its pattern of morning and evening prayer and regular Eucharist using ancient liturgies. They also need to learn from professors who are able to shape their teaching of the Bible, Church History, Systematic and Practical Theology in the light of it. Trinity School for Ministry offers just such a formation where our teaching and our prayers are shaped by this great tradition.

The location of the School in Western Pennsylvania reinforces our commitment to the Anglican practice of holding together head and heart. Ambridge is a recovering steel town, not a collection of cloistered ivory towers. Our students live in a community of real and present needs that are better hidden in more affluent sectors of society. When we come together for prayer, we intercede for this community as well as the needs of the wider world. It helps promote what Cranmer described as a “lively faith.”

These are some of the reasons why I am an evangelical Anglican and seek to promote evangelicalism amongst Anglicans and Anglicanism amongst Evangelicals. This blend of biblical authority and evangelistic fervour makes for a powerful Christian witness and nutritious soil for growing disciples.

These are also some of the reasons why I believe Trinity School for Ministry is a good place to prepare for leadership in God’s mission to the world. I know of nowhere like it, with its commitment to biblical theology and mission, and to living out the evangelical Anglican tradition. Perhaps you could take classes online or in intensives? Why not “Be a seminarian for a day” and see if this is where the Lord is calling you to be?