Anglican Approaches to Scripture: From the Reformation to the Present

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Anglican Approaches to Scripture: From the Reformation to the Present. By Rowan Greer. New York: Crossroad Publishing Company, 2006. 288 pp. $29.95 (paper).

It is a particular pleasure to review this book, since I was among some Episcopal ordinands at Berkeley Divinity School at Yale who were struggling to understand what it meant to he an Anglican. We asked Professor Rowan Greer for an extended reading course on the subject in the fall of 1978. He turned his expertise in Scripture and patristics to hear on this question, and this book is the fruit of almost thirty years of work. It is written in an easy style that belies his enormous erudition in the field. This is really a hook about Anglican identity and authority, though his transposing of those questions into the key of Scriptural interpretation makes those seemingly overtilled fields fruitful once again. In a time when Anglican identity is very much in play, and when the number who actually know the more detailed plotline and actors is few, this book is particularly welcome. While Greer is clear that his intention is to write a primarily descriptive work, the issues are live, the normative implications unavoidable.

The issue at the heart of Greer's treatment is the relation between church and Scripture. He finds this in the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century differences between "conversion" (protestant) and "ecclesiastical" (catholic) (p. 27) understandings of the Christian faith. For example, he finds in Richard Hooker's treatment of justification and sanctification, of baptism and Eucharist, a careful balancing act between the two approaches. Greer goes on to trace the same issue in the great nineteenth century figures of John Henry Newman and F. D. Maurice. And in between he treats generally forgotten figures like Joseph Hall, John Pearson, and William Chillingworth with a masterful touch. Intruding on this first tension is of course a second, the tsunami called modernity, which he traces from the Cambridge Platonists through the latitudinarians and on to the modernists of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. He shows with care and detail how. for example, the meaning of a word like "reason" changed tellingly over time. He also notes how the acids of criticism came to attack the very core of the faith in a way that a scholar like Charles Core thought could be avoided. For Anglicanism, as with other Western traditions, the categories of experience and history lacked the bulwarks to withstand this process. Greeer does seem to put more emphasis on the positive effect, the overcoming of a simple inerrantism, than on the negative effects of criticism as it was used in the last century. …