Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Anglican Evangelicals on Personal and Social Ethics

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Anglican Evangelicals on Personal and Social Ethics

Article excerpt

Anglican evangelicals over the past three hundred years have given significant attention to addressing moral, social, and political concerns. Scholars have often overlooked the contributions made by evangelicals in presenting a biblically-oriented, Christcentered, and publicly-engaged vision of the moral life. This essay analyzes the approaches taken by leading voices in this strand of Anglicanism by exploring the work of Henry Venn, William Waberforce, J. C. Ryle, David Gitari, and N. T. Wright. By looking for persistent patterns in their moral thought, this essay offers an introduction to the contributions made by evangelicals to personal and social ethics. It concludes by calling for Anglicanisms conservative moral voices to contribute to contemporary ethical debates with "convicted civility."

The least recognized and least studied strand of Anglicanism is the evangelical tradition.1 Yet since the early eighteenth century evangelicals have been a notable presence within the Anglican Communion, and today they are an influential and sometimes controversial force. Even so, they sometimes perceive themselves to be marginalized or underappreciated, a sensitivity that undergirds Alister McGrath s insistence that "evangelicalism is, historically and theologically, a legitimate and respectable option within Anglicanism."2

There have been few focused studies of Anglican evangelicals' understandings of personal and social ethics. No comprehensive monograph on this topic has been published. General accounts of Anglican ethics hardly mention Anglican evangelicals. For instance, Paul Elmen s widely cited essay on Anglican morality in The Study of Anglicanism devotes just one (helpful) paragraph to evangelicals of any era.3 His essay gives the impression that apart from noting the impressive social vision of the Clapham Sect associated with William Wilberforce, there is not much to say. A notable exception to this general neglect is an essay in The Anglican Moral Choice by Peter Toon, which offers a detailed discussion of the contributions of early evangelicals, focusing on William Wilberforce, Thomas Scott, and Thomas Gisborne,4 More sustained scholarly attention to the evangelical moral vision is overdue, not least to enable the worldwide Anglican Communion to understand more about its own conservative theological tradition.

As we begin, clarity about terminology is needed. Some leading voices within Anglican evangelicalism affirm the importance of using the term "Anglican evangelicals" rather than "evangelical Anglicans" to describe this group- For instance, J. I. Packer grounds this preference in a fundamental theological principle: "Consistency prompts them to call themselves Anglican evangelicals rather than evangelical Anglicans, to show that it is the gospel as such, rather than the Anglican heritage as such, which determines their Christian identity and directs their practice of Christian fellowship."5 Similarly, Richard Turnbull explains his own choice for making "evangelical" the noun and "Anglican" the adjective by saying that evangelicalism is a "way of understanding the faith" that has "prior claim to any denominational allegiance, however closely related they may be."6 Turnbull speaks for many evangelicals by emphasizing that the two terms rightfully belong together since the two traditions are theologically compatible and complementary.

This essay will examine key features of Anglican evangelicalism's engagement with personal and social ethics by discussing some major representatives of this strand of Anglicanism. After describing the contours of a movement with very consistent theological emphases, this essay examines contributions made by five major figures: Henry Venn (1725-1797), William Wilberforce (1759-1833), J. C. Ryie (1816-1900), David Gitari (b. 1937), and N. T Wright (b. 1948). We will analyze their theological frameworks, patterns of moral thought, and distinctive approaches to personal and social ethics in order to discover some persistent patterns in Anglican evangelicalism. …

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