The Evangelical Spirituality

| January 19, 2012 | 0 Comments More

The Evangelical Spirituality

In my last blog I looked at the Anglo-Catholic spirituality and some of the ways in which it threatens a clear and coherent Anglican identity. This time, I’ll examine the Evangelical spirituality. Historically (until recent decades), Evangelical Anglicans have also been Prayer Book Anglicans. While some have been more “Low Church” than others, for the most part their spirituality was still rooted in the Prayer Book and was solidly Anglican. Evangelicalism has often added an important degree of passion to Anglicanism, as well as spearheading a concern to reach the world with the gospel and its application to society. They have been guardians of the Reformed heritage of Anglicanism, as well as staunch defenders of the 39 Articles.

A definition of “Evangelical,” or of Evangelical distinctives, has been offered by many. Packer lists six principles of Evangelicalism: enthroning Scripture as the supreme authority; focusing on the work of Christ; acknowledging the lordship of the Holy Spirit; insisting on the necessity of conversion; prioritizing evangelism and church extension; and cultivating Christian fellowship. To these Peter Moore adds accepting the Word of God as a personal message to individuals; the centrality of the Cross; assurance of salvation; and a sense of vocation so that the whole people of God are priests. Peter Jensen also includes an emphasis on the sovereignty of God; the priority of preaching; and the five solas of the Reformation. These distinctives form a reasonably consistent constellation of primary Evangelical concerns, although it should not be imagined that Evangelicals are monolithic in their beliefs and emphases. Notable proponents of the Evangelical spirituality have included men such as John Wesley, George Whitfield, Charles Simeon, William Wilberforce, J.I. Packer, and John Stott. While the distinctives of the Evangelical spirituality had been a part of Anglicanism for some time, the Evangelical spirituality emerged as a distinct spirituality with the Evangelical Revival of the eighteenth century.

It’s important to understand, however, that the Evangelical spirituality that exists today is different in important ways from the traditional Evangelical spirituality that was largely, until about the 1960s, content with Prayer Book spirituality. The contemporary Evangelicalism in both the U.K.and the U.S.traces its roots not only through the English Reformers and the Evangelical Revival of the eighteenth century but also to an Evangelical resurgence that did not begin until the 1960s.  In fact, the Evangelical spirituality was notably weak in the early part of the 20th century, both inEngland and in theU.S.

Packer, one of the most important representatives of the older Evangelicalism, speaks of a useful a division among Evangelicals between “conservationists” and “innovationists.”  He believes that the Charismatic influence among Evangelicals is at least partially responsible for the increased Evangelical emphasis on emotional freedom, spontaneity, charismatic phenomenon, and ad hoc liturgies. It is especially Evangelical Anglicans which might be called “innovationists” who are articulating certain beliefs that undermine a clear and coherent Anglican identity.

One of the most notable innovations by some Evangelical Anglicans is their eagerness to jettison the Prayer Book in favor of more contemporary and home grown liturgies. This is especially a problem in Englandwhere the typical Evangelical parish uses not the Prayer Book but some home-grown liturgy adapted from Common Worship. The Prayer Book, however, is so essential to Anglican identity that without it Evangelical Anglicans seem on their way to cease being identifiably Anglican. When I attended an Evangelical Church of England parish in Lancaster, their liturgy was always an awkward work in progress, with a 45-minute sermon and the Holy Communion tacked on to the end of the service. I also went to an evening service at Stott’s church and discovered that there was not a trace of any Prayer Book service to be found.

One of the most important changes that some Evangelical Anglicans have made is a reversal of the traditional Anglican biblical hermeneutic that the traditions of the church are to be received unless clearly contrary to Scripture.  Such a view is reflected in Article XXXIV of the Thirty-nine Articles, which states that those who openly break the traditions of the church that are not repugnant to the Word of God ought to be rebuked.  However, certain Evangelicals argue and act on the basis of a reversal of this traditional Anglican hermeneutic and employ a more Puritan-like hermeneutic in which only what is positively proved by Scripture is binding. Such a Puritan hermeneutic often employs referring to the 39 Articles but not the Prayer Book, as if they are not part of the same theological worldview and milieu. Some Evangelical Anglicans from a variety of provinces are now arguing, for example, that the church is essentially the local congregation; a congregational, rather than an episcopal, ecclesiology is therefore now common among certain Evangelicals.

Often some Evangelical Anglicans, who now comprise the majority of orthodox Anglicans worldwide, have not valued the historic practices of the church or the church Fathers as authoritative interpreters of the Bible as highly as have Anglicans historically. While at the beginning of the nineteenth century High Churchman and Evangelicals with a high view of the church and sacraments were close in many ways, as a result of the polarizing influence of the Oxford Movement, Evangelicals not only distanced themselves progressively from the Tractarians but also from the Fathers, to whom the Tractarians turned for support of their beliefs. Evangelicals often reacted negatively to this emphasis on the Fathers, reversing the Tractarians’ belief that it should be the ancient church, and not the Reformers, who should be the ultimate expounder of the meaning of the church. As a result of the Tractarians’ emphasis on the Fathers, Evangelicals now identified themselves more closely with the Reformers than with the Fathers.  Eventually, Evangelicals often replaced a reliance upon the Fathers with a reliance upon sola scriptura with private judgment.

One important illustration of the two different attitudes towards tradition in guiding biblical interpretation is the issue of women’s ordination. While many arguments have been made on both sides, conspicuously absent from Evangelical arguments in favor of women’s ordination is an appeal to the consensus of the early church’s interpretation of Scripture on the matter. While a strong defense of male-only ordination can be made from Scripture alone, the Evangelical dismissal of 1900 plus years of church interpretation on the issue is quite telling.

Of course, there’s a lot more to the Evangelical spirituality, but that’s definitely enough for one post.

Next time, I’ll look at the Charismatic spirituality.


Wesley preaching statue – Wikipedia entry on John Wesley.jpg

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