THE fourth volume of The Oxford History of Anglicanism is a valuable addition to this series that provides an ecclesiastical and theological overview.
The strengths and, to a degree, the weaknesses of Volume 4: Global Western Anglicanism, c.1910 - present lie in the ten themed chapters, which include theological development, social justice, women, human sexuality, ecumenical relations, mission and decolonisation, war and peace, liturgical revision, sociological analysis, and the relationship of Church, State, and nationalism. Additional sections tackle institutional development, including the Communion-wide structures, as well as changing ideas of Anglican identity.
As with other volumes in the series, the contributions reflect what its editor, Rowan Strong, observes — that Anglicanism itself is both a “least worst appellation” and “always a contested identity”. Given the range and diversity of subjects, and the choice of contributors, it is inevitable that the essays reflect differing levels of consistency, detail, and breadth.
The World Missionary Conference of 1910 in Edinburgh marks the starting-point of this series of missional reflections. The conference’s motto — “The evangelisation of the world in this generation” — carried the mood and ambition of Western Christianity for the succeeding century. The ensuing realities of two World Wars, economic and social change, and a decline in organised religion in the West, together with a loss of national and international influence, led to a reshaping of missional priorities. This reshaping was accompanied not only by new sociological and political realities, but by developments in theology, ecclesiology and liturgy, and the emergence of the Anglican Communion.
In his contribution, “The Evolution of Anglican Theology 1910-2000”, Mark Chapman reflects on changes in theological emphasis which led to the present wide influence of “crisis theology”. This, he argues, has a “tendency to be more exclusive and synthetic”. “Gender Perspectives” and “Sexuality and Anglicanism” are among the most conflictual areas of debate, revealing the challenges of accommodating different perspectives across the Communion. Study of Sarah Stockwell’s essay, “Anglicanism in the Era of Decolonization”, provides useful insight into the background of those challenges.
The ongoing debate over the influence of the national Church in relation to “The State, Nationalism, and Anglican Identities”, reflected upon by Matthew Grimley, and issues of “Class, Ethnicity and Education”, in Martyn Percy’s contribution, expose some of the realities and complexities that face Anglicanism as a missionary force and pastoral presence today.
Divisions within the Communion over theology, the ministry of women, and issues of sexuality overshadow to a degree Anglicanism’s role and significance in “Anglicanism and Christian Unity in the Twentieth Century”. Paul Avis argues that growing unity has been much “more than a succession of meetings resulting in reports”. At the same time, actual reunions have been limited, and not self-evidently missional. Avis says that local ecumenism “is often the engine of Christian unity” and most successful missionally.
“War and Peace” remains something of a toxic topic in Anglicanism. The 1930 Lambeth Conference declared that “War as a method of settling international disputes is incompatible with the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Successive debates and synodical motions through the century have left Anglicans ambivalent on this matter. This was particularly evident during debates in the 1980s on nuclear weapons in the post-war period. A small point of neglect, however, is the failure to note the opposition of the House of Bishops to the Second Gulf War in 2003.
Malcolm Brown’s study of “Global Poverty and Justice” reveals that, despite the priority given by Jesus in his Nazareth Manifesto of “good news” to the poor, oppressed, imprisoned, and discriminated against; the 1984 adoption of the Five Marks of Mission; and Jubilee 2000, these issues, together with those of war and peace, remain scandalously under-addressed aspects in the overall life of the Church.
The final section, offering a “Regional Survey of Anglicanism in Australia and New Zealand, North American Anglicanism” and “Anglicanism in Britain and Ireland”, reveals the ongoing tensions, pulls and pushes, of Western Anglicanism. It is a series of thoughtful and sensitive surveys which speaks of “loss and reluctant re-adjustment” as well as “successful adaptation”.
In Jeremy Morris’s study on Britain and Ireland, there is a conviction that Anglicans have found ways “to protect their built heritage, despite falling numbers”, and weathering war, industrial and social conflict, and “changes in taste and popular values”, as well as re-shaping of theology and liturgy, and political and social influence.
Personal preference for particular themes — not to say bias — makes the task of summing up this wide-ranging series of contributions somewhat subjective. The breadth of study is immense, and editors do not claim this to be the “last word”.
This is a book that deserves a wide readership. It has much to teach and debate. It is both informative and challenging, and yet, at times, restrained and complacent. That said, it is a significant contribution to understanding the part played by Global Western Anglicanism in a turbulent and innovative century.
The Rt Revd Peter Price is a former Bishop of Bath & Wells.
The Oxford History of Anglicanism, Volume IV: Global Western Anglicanism, c.1910-present
Jeremy Morris, editor
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