“THE Anglican position is that anyone can believe anything they like,” an uncharitable relation of mine said recently. Well, we don’t employ thought police. More positively, my late wife Denise often observed how greatly she appreciated what she referred to as “the spaciousness of Anglicanism”.
Within that space, Anglicanism does have a very clear approach to things, and the author of this book sets out to provide “a textbook on Anglicanism that would cover essentials in a way that readers would find accessible, practical, informative and engaging”.
Articulating what is distinctive about Anglicanism in a way that is clear and accessible is not easy. The author points out that people new to Anglicanism find that Anglican jargon can be “not only unfamiliar, it can feel alienating, archaic and even a bit wacky!” Anyone who has tried explaining the difference between a priest, deacon, curate, vicar, and rector will resonate with that.
The job is rendered more difficult since it needs to take into account the fact that “Anglicanism” must be taken to include at the least the 39 autonomous Provinces of the Anglican Communion. The fact that the author has first-hand experience of ministering outside the Church of England helps, and he makes use of his knowledge wisely.
I was, I have to say, a little disappointed that the last chapter in the book is entitled “So, how does the Anglican Communion work?” and concludes by telling us that “with tensions intensifying over issues like human sexuality, the threads are straining, and in places the Anglican web needs mending.” That may be true, but I should have preferred the book to conclude differently: our vision of the end times is more positive than that, and there is so much about Anglicanism in the here-and-now which is both attractive and compelling.
I should also like to have seen more engagement with what is characteristic about Anglican theology and, in particular, about “the three-legged stool” of Anglicanism, described dynamically in terms of our approach being based on scripture, interpreted through the living tradition of the Church, through the use of reason and engagement with experience.
Enough quibbles: the author does a good job in the task that he sets himself. He tries very hard to be fair in addressing difference and engaging with what he terms “elephants in the room”, by which, I think, he really means sexuality. I found the book helpful — not least in learning that a good analogy for bishops is as grand masters in martial arts such as karate and kung fu. If you want to know why, read the book: no spoilers here.
Dr John Inge is the Bishop of Worcester.
All Things Anglican: Who we are and what we believe
Canterbury Press £12.99
Church Times Bookshop £11.70