Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Unpacking the Gift: Anglican Resources for Theological Reflection on "The Gift of Authority."

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Unpacking the Gift: Anglican Resources for Theological Reflection on "The Gift of Authority."

Article excerpt

Unpacking the Gift;: Anglican Resources for Theological Reflection on "The Gift of Authority. " Edited by Peter Fisher. London: Church House Publishing, 2002. vi + 122 pp. £8.95 (paper).

This set of essays has two goals in mind, one very specific and the other wide ranging. On the one hand, it is part of the process of reception of the 1999 document on authority produced by the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC). Though it is not an official response, the Church of England's Faith and Order Advisoiy Croup produced the collection, and its authors are all past or present members of the group, writing to "stimulate discussion" (p. ii). Even so, their reflections touch on matters of broader interest, and amount to a study in the method of ecumenical theology-which is the larger purpose acknowledged in the editor's postscript.

As a contribution to the public reception of a particular document, the book is poorly targeted. It has none of the apparatus of a study volume, and its conceptual vocabulary belongs to the sphere of ecumenists and ecclesiologists, not to a general audience. Only one paper, authored by the church's local unity officer, situates the discussion in the parish context: it is by far the briefest and reads as an afterthought.

There is irony here, since one of the strongest themes emerging from the other essays is a desire to address authority in the church from an empirical standpoint, in contrast to the idealism perceived in The Gift of Authority. Each author points in some way to the paradox involved in trying to speak of authority apart from the church's historical experience, and several of them question whether ARCIC's standard approach (which involves looking past historical conflicts) can deal effectively with this subject.

In places this critique becomes pointed, as when one author makes the case that ARCIC's language and method fail to make contact with evangelical Anglicanism (p. 35) and another proposes the "gift of uncertainty" as an Anglican counterpart to Rome's gift of authority (p. 83). Even two largely positive evaluations of Gift include some strong questions: Mary Tanner asks whether the document takes seriously enough its own acknowledgement of the corruptibility of structures (p. …

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