Better a Calvinist than a Unitarian: Horsley and the 'Prayer Book Evangelical' tradition

Reading through recent editions of the Church Times, I came across Alister McGrath's respectful and insightful obituary for the elder statesman of contemporary evangelical Anglicanism, Jim Packer.  What originally caught my eye, however, was the title given to the obituary on the front page of the 31st July edition: "Anglican Puritan".

Now, yes, Packer did do his doctoral research on Richard Baxter and encouraged study of writers usually described as 'Puritan'.  A rather significant qualification, however, is required.  Packer was a thorough Conformist.  Consider his commitment to episcopacy: "Part of the significance of the historic episcopate in Anglicanism is as a sign of the intention to maintain the whole of the apostolic faith".  He described the Articles of Religion as securing for Anglicanism "the truest, wisest and potentially richest heritage in all Christendom".  And his love of and praise for the BCP was not quite what was true of many 'Puritans'.  Contrast how many Puritans omitted parts of the authorised liturgy, with Packer's advice: 

We ought to use the whole of the BCP as opposed to selections from it. Cranmer's architecture of services is masterly, and best not tampered with.

In other words, Packer's commitment to the 1662 settlement sets him apart from those Puritans who, on St Bartholomew's Day 1662, left Anglicanism for Dissent, unwilling to assent to Prayer Book, Ordinal, and Articles (no matter how much sympathy Packer had for their plight).  Puritan, then, does not really work as a description of the Reformed tradition within Anglicanism which Packer embodied.

As Stephen Hampton has shown in Anti-Arminians: The Anglican Reformed Tradition from Charles II to George I, a robust Reformed tradition was very much present and active in the post-1662 Church of England.  This tradition was, obviously, Conformist, committed to the Formularies, while also expounding them in a 'Calvinist' sense (as Hampton notes, this 'Calvinism' was usually qualified precisely because of the Puritan use of Calvin to justify non-Conformity).  The persistence of this tradition throughout the 18th century is worthy of further study: the 'evangelical revival' was not restoring a long lost tradition but a renewed confidence within an existing tradition.

Which brings us to a Charge given by Samuel Horsley to the clergy of St Asaph in 1806.  Addressing what he termed "the Calvinistic controversy", and expressing his desire that its debates over predestination and the reading of Article 17 "should be suffered to go to sleep", Horsley declared that the Articles allowed for both Calvinist and Arminian subscription.

The Calvinists indeed hold some opinions relative to the same points which the Church of England has not gone the length of asserting in her Articles; but neither has she gone the length of explicitly contradicting those opinions; insomuch, that there is nothing to hinder the Arminian and the highest Supralapsarian Calvinist from walking together in the Church of England and Ireland as friends and brothers, if they both approve the discipline of the Church , and both are willing to submit to it. Her discipline has been approved - it has been submitted to - it has been in former times most ably and zealously defended - by the highest Supralapsarian Calvinists. Such was the great Usher; such was Whitgift; such were many more, - burning and shining lights of our Church in her early days (when first she shook off the Papal tyranny).

Of significance here is Horsley's account of what we might term a non-Puritan Reformed tradition within Anglicanism: Calvinist and Conformist.  Indeed, he goes on to explicitly state that this tradition is "sound" in a way that cannot be said of various heretical teachings associated with those who campaigned against subscription to the Articles:

Any one may hold all the theological opinions of Calvin, hard and extravagant as some of them may seem, and yet be a sound member of the Church of England and Ireland, - certainly a much sounder member than one who, loudly declaiming against those opinions (which, if they be erroneous, are not errors that affect the essence of our common faith), runs into all the nonsense, the impiety, the abominations, of the Arian, the Unitarian, and the Pelagian heresies; denying in effect “the Lord who bought him.”

Perhaps three points might be considered in light of the High Church Horsley's praise for this Calvinist and Conformist tradition within Anglicanism.  The first is the challenge it poses for contemporary evangelical Anglicanism, a challenge also seen in Packer himself.  Horsley was describing a doctrinally Reformed tradition which was yet thoroughly Conformist in its commitment to Prayer Book and Articles.  Much contemporary evangelical Anglicanism, however, is following rather different paths - either a pronounced charismatic tendency (doctrinally light, having little time for the Formularies) or a neo-Puritanism (revivfying old Puritan objections to liturgy and episcopacy).  As McGrath notes at the end of the obituary:

Packer's [death] may well mark the end of an important era in Evangelical Anglicanism.  It remains to be seen where it goes next.

The Reformed tradition - Calvinist and Conformist, 'Prayer Book Evangelical' - outlined by Horsley and embodied by Packer, offers a much more substantive alternative, rooted in Anglican norms, to both the charismatics and the neo-Puritans. 

Secondly, the theological health of Anglicanism is partly dependent on this tradition, particularly regarding Trinitarian and Christological orthodoxy, the fostering of sustained ecclesial attention to the Scriptures, and a serious approach to the Formularies. Where this tradition is weak within Anglicanism (and TEC is the obvious example), it is often the case that creedal norms are challenged, and - to use the words of Horsley - "all the nonsense" is evident.  Renewing Anglicanism's commitment to creedal orthodoxy may well be related to recovering Horsley's conviction that "one may hold all the theological opinions of Calvin" and be robustly Anglican.  

Thirdly, if Anglicanism is to authentically embody its historic vocation as a communion at once Catholic and Reformed, then it is essential that a classical and influential expression of the Reformed tradition - Calvinism - finds a place within Anglican life and witness.  Without out, Anglicanism is not fully breathing with its two lungs.


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