The Oxford History of Anglicanism, Volume V, edited by William L. Sachs

by
12 October 2018

Michael Doe considers global Anglicanism in the 20th century

THIS is a valuable collection of essays describing various Anglican Churches around the world during the last century, but it falls short of explaining how their development has led to the problems that the Anglican Communion now faces, especially as the 2020 Lambeth Conference draws near.

Many regions and countries are expertly covered: Oceania, West Africa, China, Kenya, Southern Africa, Sudan, and the Indian sub-continent. Elsewhere, the selection appears more niche. While it is good to have a chapter on the Horn of Africa (including the pioneering work of the Rt Revd Andrew Proud, now Bishop of Reading), Central Africa, including Zimbabwe and Zambia, gets no mention. While the involvement of the US Episcopal Church in Central America deserves recognition, that chapter on Latin Anglicanism says little about Brazil and ignores Peru altogether.

Other chapters are more thematic, covering the East African Revival, relations with Muslims, liturgical developments, and social ministries in East Asia. There is also one on Anglican schools, where some have provided education for the poorest communities and others have followed the C of E public-school tradition and catered for the richer elites. The other inheritance from the missionary era, medical work, gets less attention.

An interesting essay on “The Dialectics of Empire, Race and Diocese” by Jeffrey Cox shows how the strategies of CMS and SPG related to the Anglican concept of the diocese, with one bishop responsible for all the people living in its area. It may also have been a significant reason that, especially in South Africa, it was impossible for Anglicans to imagine a Church divided on racial lines.

The book has an underlying theme of decolonisation, in a century when these Churches became reliant on their own leadership instead of imported English bishops, and also of inculturation, but without much detail or clarity about the conflicting pressures of loyalty to what the missionaries brought, the need to address traditional beliefs and belongings, and, towards the end of the century, the attraction of a globalised (usually American) style of evangelisation. The latter raises the question whether the editor is right in his introduction to say that it has been a century when Churches have defined themselves contextually rather than externally.

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So, there is much here of which English Anglicans need to be better informed, but there are also deficits.

To get my own bias out of the way first, the contribution of SPG and UMCA is seriously under-reported.

Second, as in other recent publications in this area, the few contributors who are not American or British are all now based in Western academia. Are there really no Anglican scholars working elsewhere in the Communion?

Third, readers may be surprised that this book says hardly anything about how many of the Churches described now see themselves moving away from established Anglican frameworks. One reason is that this is a second volume covering the 20th century. The first (Books, 4 August 2017) was sub-titled Global Western Anglicanism, and it covered not just Britain, America, and Australasia, but also the Anglican Communion itself. This unfortunate separation might reinforce the belief in parts of the Majority World that the Communion still belongs to the West.

The fact is that the final quarter of the 20th century brought a radical change in Anglican loyalties and in the definition of Anglicanism itself. GAFCON now represents the majority of Anglicans around the world, or at least their leaders.

You may accept its claim that they have stayed faithful to the Anglican tradition, and that their global gathering is now the true inheritor of what Archbishop Longley envisaged when he convened the first Lambeth Conference. Or you may believe (with this reviewer) that their stance on the authority and interpretation of the Bible, and their homophobia, are a distortion of what Anglicanism is meant to represent. But you cannot pretend that the change has not happened, as a “History of Anglicanism” like this should reflect, and as the attendance at the 2020 Lambeth Conference may, sadly, show.

The Rt Revd Michael Doe is a former General Secretary of USPG and author of Saving Power: The mission of God and the Anglican Communion (SPCK, 2011).

The Oxford History of Anglicanism, Volume V: Global Anglicanism, c.1910-2000
William L. Sachs, editor
OUP £95
(978-0-19-964301-1)
Church Times Bookshop £85.50

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