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The Anglican Vision

| 7.4.04
The Anglican Vision, by James E. Griffiss

What is the Anglican vision anyway? What makes Anglicanism different from other Christian traditions? What does the Anglican tradition offer that can't be found elsewhere? Griffiss wrestles with these difficult questions across 130 densely written pages, looking through the lenses of Anglican history, sacramentalism, and the incarnation of God in Christ to see a vision of Anglicanism that is grounded in continuity and conversation with tradition, while being open to ongoing direction from the Holy Spirit as mediated through the entire creation.

The first half of the book is devoted to a capsule history of the Anglican churches as a study in conflict management. From the 16th century beginnings of the Church of England there was internal dissent between the Protestant reformers and Roman Catholics. Yet with the Elizabethan Settlement both parties stayed within one church. Later as England's colonies declared independence in the United States and elsewhere, there was more tension as each national church struggled to find its own unique identity. There have always been parties within Anglicanism that were more evangelical, more catholic, or more modern in their theological outlook. In the end, this produced a church centered more on common worship than codified doctrines, containing more theological diversity and ambiguity than more confessionally based churches, and finding authority not in an inerrant Bible or an inerrant Pope, but in an understanding of tradition, scripture, and reason that was shaped and negotiated by disagreeing Christians joined together in one common body.

Griffiss sees the sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist (Holy Communion) as illustrative of the Anglican vision. According to the Book of Common Prayer, a sacrament is "a visible and outward sign of an inward and spiritual grace." Sacraments are bi-modal in that they contain both a physical and spiritual component. They are fragile (water can get stagnant, wine sour, and bread stale). Sacraments depend on God for their power, but also require human co-operation for their delivery. They are inherently mysterious and hard to understand. Griffiss sees sacramental understandings as having played a critical role in allowing Anglicans to live with greater levels of ambiguity and tension than is the case with most other Christian denominations.

Most importantly for Griffiss, the doctrine of Christ's incarnation is what saves humankind, and saves the Anglican church. Unlike substitutionary atonement, where Christ is the blood sacrifice that blots out sin (analogous to animal sacrifice in temple Judaism) incarnation theology states that the chasm between God and humanity is bridged through Christ as the Word made flesh. Fully God and fully human, Jesus occupies both spaces simultaneously, redeeming humanity and breathing the Spirit into the entire creation. Griffiss believes this helps explain Anglicanism's predisposition to view scientific progress, historical research, contributions from the humanities, and even the views of secular philosophical systems as new lenses through which to view both the Bible and the Christian tradition.

Combining a sacramental view of reality with a redeemed creation and high tolerance for conflict, the Anglican vision is one of openness to the on-going revelation of the Holy Spirit, an acknowledgment of the ambiguity and mysteriousness associated with trying to discern God and God's will for humanity, and a willingness to live in tension with others while working out one's faith with fear and trembling.

PUBLISHER: Cowley Publications, Copyright 1997. ISBN: 1-56101-143-6.

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