Food for Thought from Alister McGrath—Global Anglicanism has…a [theological] vacuum

Posted by Kendall Harmon

"So is Lewis to be seen as an Anglican writer? It is impossible to answer this question in the negative. Lewis chose to self-identify as a member of the Church of England, both in his public declarations and his pattern of church attendance. Furthermore, Lewis shows a clear literary and theological resonance with the Anglican writers of the late 1500's and early 1600's. Lewis may not be a 'typical Anglican writer' (a deeply problematic notion, by the way). Yet the historical study of Anglicanism reveals such complex and shifting patterns of Anglican identity that Lewis can easily be accommodated within its broad spectrum.

Yet from about the year 2000, when internal debates over the future directions of Anglicanism as a family of churches began to raise awkward questions about any notion of shared Anglican identity, the question of Lewis's Anglican credentials is increasingly being framed in new ways. Many younger Anglicans, anxious to affirm both theological orthodoxy and their denominational commitment, are coming to regard Lewis as a benchmark of Anglican identity. For them, Lewis embodies -- and, for some, even defines -- what Anglicanism ought to be: a theologically orthodox, culturally literate, imaginatively engaged, and historically rooted vision of the Christian faith.

The recent failure of professional Anglican theologians and church leaders to captivate the imaginations and enlighten the minds of a rising generation within global Anglicanism has created a vacuum -- which Lewis is increasingly coming to fill. Lewis embodies a liturgically and ecclesiologically unfussy Anglicanism that is rooted in the 'Golden Age' of its divinity, rather than being shaped by more recent controversies; that is lay rather than ordained; that speaks in eloquent and imaginatively satisfying ways, rather than in less accessible jargon of academic theology, which so often seems disconnected from personal faith; and which has no desire to dominate or belittle other denominations. Paradoxically, the question that a future generation might ask is not "Is Lewis really Anglican?' but 'Why isn't Anglicanism more like Lewis?'"
--Alister McGrath, The Intellectual World of C. S. Lewis (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013), pp. 158-159 (my emphasis) [Hat tip: JM]

Filed under: * Anglican - EpiscopalAnglican ProvincesChurch of England (CoE)* Christian Life / Church LifeChurch History* Culture-WatchBooksGlobalization* Theology

3 Comments
Posted August 27, 2013 at 8:00 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]



1. New Reformation Advocate wrote:

Well, yes and no.  Some of us would say that there are TOO MANY theologies vying for power at the center of Anglicanism, rather than too few.  And to some extent, that’s always been the case, as the Low Church, High Church, and Broad Church factions within Anglicanism have always competed with each other for dominance.

Let me suggest one way that C. S. Lewis does indeed represent Anglicanism at its best.  To me, he is the best exemplar of our Anglican tendency to appeal to both the right and left brain, to Word and Sacrament.  Lewis was a master apologist, and he excelled at lucid, logical left-brain reasoning of the most impressive sort, as seen is his non-fiction works like Mere Christianity, Miracles, the Problem of Pain, the Abolition of Man, etc.  But I think his sanctified imagination was even greater, and it was his wonderfully fertile right brain that gave us his marvelous fiction: the Narnia books, Screwtape Letters, The Great Divorce, etc.

It’s precisely that powerful combination of an incomparably developed left and right brain that makes Lewis quintessentially Anglican.  Or at least, I think that’s one secret to his enormous appeal to many of us, including my son and his generation (he’s a Millenian, I’m a Boomer).

David Handy+

August 27, 10:22 am | [comment link]
2. Jim the Puritan wrote:

I’ve always thought Lewis’ “Mere Christianity” and Stott’s “Basic Christianity” were somewhat on a par.  When I was still an Episcopalian in high school, we read “Mere Christianity” as our basic Christianity foundation book (along with a couple of books about the Episcopal Church and its governance and expected conduct I frankly can’t remember, although I know their discussions of morals and behavior would be considered woefully old-fashioned by the present TEC—lot of stuff about chastity, temperance, the sacred institution of marriage, required weekly attendance of church and taking of communion and things like that).  Later, when I went through a new members class at my first Presbyterian church, Stott’s book was our basic text.

August 27, 2:16 pm | [comment link]
3. Jeremy Bonner wrote:

Might not Lewis be in some ways a product of his time, when the notion of Anglicanism as the “bridge church” had still not wholly faded and in which the erastian superstructure concealed the theological cleavages to which Fr. Handy alludes?

While he may have been beyond theological parties, I wonder what verdict he might have been tempted to pass on the divided landscape that we now contemplate.

August 28, 4:11 am | [comment link]
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