The Heart of Faith

THE HEART OF FAITH: FOLLOWING CHRIST IN THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND edited by A. Atherstone

Cambridge: Lutterworth Press, 2008       178pp                £15  pb                 ISBN: 978-0-7188-3072-4

The main purpose of this excellent book edited by Andrew Atherstone is to show that within the Church of England there has always been a strong thread of classic, orthodox, ‘mere Christianity,’ and that this has provided the Church with some of her brightest and best.  While there may have been diversity of experience and doctrine on secondary issues, there was a common core of Protestant and we might say Evangelical theology amongst them.  It is not a collection of mini-biographies, but looks at “the heart of faith” of each individual on issues such as the atonement, scripture, the Spirit, and mission to get a sense of where their hearts lay on these key issues.

The book begins, perhaps surprisingly, with a look at this theology in England prior to the Reformation, and Gerald Bray does a great job of tracing the roots of the kind of generously-defined Christian orthodoxy followed in the rest of the book.  Roger Beckwith on Cranmer and Nigel Atkinson on Hooker give us the fruit of their researches, and it is a pleasure to read Baptist Mark Dever writing warmly and positively about Anglican puritan Richard Sibbes (on whom he also wrote his doctoral dissertation).

Atherstone has helpfully selected other individuals for attention alongside these perhaps more predictable paths.  There is a fascinating chapter on Robert Boyle, the seventeenth century scientist, and illuminating looks at Wilberforce and Shaftesbury to demonstrate the biblically-motivated and politically-engaged activism of this tradition within the English church.  Two women – Frances Ridley Havergal and Susanna Wesley – are vividly brought to life, the former by Atherstone himself in a typically well-documented and clear study.  The big names of “mere evangelicalism” are also included: Charles Simeon (Alan Munden), J.C. Ryle (David Bebbington), John Stott (David Wells), and David Watson (Graham Cray), as well as a solid chapter on C.S. Lewis. Lewis, we must not forget, was not an Evangelical. That being said, he was very clearly part of this central stream of orthodox churchmanship, which is well brought out in a chapter by Michael Ward.

Although the book consists of separate chapters by this impressive array of scholars, it has been very well edited and sewn together both in terms of its narrative continuity and its overall message.  It would make a great gift to any potential or current ordinand, to give them both an introduction to these men and women graciously used by God in the past, and a strong sense of solidarity with this grand orthodox coalition within Anglicanism. It demonstrates very effectively, to both liberal and Anglo-catholic revisionists, that the Anglican mainstream has always been located somewhere other than in their camps, and so takes the battle over Anglican identity to them.

To have all this demonstrated by historical experts from home and abroad, from Anglican, Congregationalist, Baptist, and Methodist backgrounds, is a great coup for the cause. In the eyes of many observers it is the very people who have formed the heart of Anglican faith over the centuries (like those highlighted in this book) who are under threat of marginalisation or even effective expulsion at present, as the radical liberal agenda continues to dominate nationally and internationally. This volume could be extremely useful in an attempt to sway those who disagree with classic orthodoxy, over homosexuality or women’s consecration perhaps, but are repulsed by the intolerance it currently faces from liberal extremists.  If people such as those featured here were unable to “follow Christ in the Church of England” and vitality and vigour such as theirs was to be excluded in future, the loss to the established church as a whole would be incalculable.

This review first appeared in Churchman 126/1 (2012).

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