Thirty Nine Articles. My wife thinks this is probably the most boring book in the whole world. She points out that even the cover and page design is boring. Maybe she has a point, who would want to read a book about the Thirty Night Articles? And I think that is the one of the points of this book. It seems to answer (among other issues) how relevant or important are the Thirty Nine Articles today, and in particular in Australia?
This book was written by Michael Jensen (blog) who is a doctrine teacher at Moore College (Sydney) and Tom Frame who is the director of St Marks (Canberra). Both these institutions are training schools for Anglican priests so you would think these guys might know something about the Articles and their relevance today. Maybe you might think they are overly biased about them, considering they are from within the institution, but if this book (or common knowledge) has taught me anything, it is that Anglicans have quite a diverse opinion on pretty much every issue, including (or especially) the Thirty Nine Articles.
The book gives a good overview of the history of the 39 Articles and how they came to be. Some Articles were drafted with specific issues of their day in mind and before their official acceptance Cranmer put forward 43 articles, but they were cut back. The second chapter, the bulk of the book, went through each article explaining what it means and any issues they were responding to. For some of the Articles I would have liked them to say more than five or six paragraphs, but that would have blown out the book even more.
The rest of the book went through how people within the Church of England took to the Articles. It seemed that just like students who are given rules by a teacher, the Anglican clergy (never the laity who didn't have to submit to the Articles) almost immediately questioned them and looked for loop holes. The rise in thinking arguing for individual liberty from Mills and Locke had the clergy arguing against organisational enforcement.
The book looked at three of the main streams within the Anglican church: Anglo-catholic, liberal and evangelical and how they each responded to the articles back then and what they think of them today. It seems that each group try to make the Articles say what they want them to do, or they push them aside as a document rooted in history with no relevance today. It is hard to decided what the original framers had in mind, as there is no preamble to them in stating how they are to be interpreted.
I was surprised to learn that in the 1968 Lambeth Conference they moved to remove subscription to the Articles for ordinals, which came into effect in 1975. Each country could do with them as they please. In Australia, ordinal do not have to publicly state their subscription to the Articles, but they do sign a bit of paper stating that they do, as long as they agree with the word of God (which gives a bit of wiggle room).
The book also touched on then on what made the church Anglican, if the Article (which was never a full statement of belief, or creed) could be dropped. What I struggled with, if the the Prayer Book was the thing that made the church Anglican, then I don't know what to call most evangelical Anglican churches I have attended, as their services no longer use the Prayer Book.
At the end of the book they suggest revising the articles by removing six (due to irrelevance today), combing 11 into to other articles, adjusting the text in 8 (heavily reducing 4) and leaving 10 as they stand (with minor English changes). They brought the current articles down to 22 leaving them room for 17 more articles to deal with contemporary issue. The authors suggest quite a good range of ides for new articles, such as including some on creation, the Holy Spirit, perhaps one on marriage, faith and reason, obedience to local state laws etc...
What I would have liked to have seen was an actual draft of the new articles with the revisions of the old ones looked like, rather than mealy suggesting topics or ideas about new ones. Although, I think the intention was to get people thinking about what are the issues of the Church today and what is lacking in the Articles. In the historical overview of the Articles I would have also liked to of know how the Westminster Confession of Faith came about in relation to doctrinal issues England faced, (as after all it was drafted in Westminster by Anglicans) and if the Articles helped or hindered their rejection of it as a Confession for the English church. If the Anglican church back then, 100 years after the time of great reform could not agree on adopting the Westminster Confession of Faith, I do wonder if any group of Anglicans today would agree on removing or adding any articles.
Even if this does seem like a dry, historical topic, I at least found the book quite interesting and even would have liked it to be longer. But I think I might be in the minority...
Another book by Tom Frame that I have read
Losing My Religion
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