Carson Clark – Why I Don’t Defend My Church Tradition from Criticism

Those who visit this blog from time to time may be aware that I agree to a large extent with my virtual friend Carson Clark, who is, like me, an Evangelical turned Anglican.

In his latest post he formulates four arguments against the general tendency (that one of his commentators calls ‘churchmanship’ – horribile dictu) of Christians of defending at any cost their own church tradition, often by attacking and diminishing other such traditions.

I paste below Carson’s arguments (you may find HERE the entire text), because they explain very well why I feel at home in Anglicanism, in spite of all odds.

  1. Experience tells me that other doctrinally – or historically-inclined Christians have a much stronger sense of loyalty than do I and, therefore, feel the need to defend their traditions from criticism. This has always seemed odd to me as I feel no such impulse. I invite critical feedback so long as it’s valid. I don’t do well with ignorance. How else is one to learn and grow? Few things are worse than being surrounded by like-minded Yes Men who pat themselves on their backs in honor of their own brilliance. Yuck.22.Such ecclesiastical inbreeding fosters the worst self-assured arrogance evident throughout church history. No thank you.
  2. Anglicanism for me is an adjective rather than a noun, a description rather than a source of identity. I’m a Christian, a follower of Jesus. That’s my source of identity. Everything else is merely a descriptor of what sort of Christian I am. That reason in tandem with my commitment to the rigorous pursuit of truth and recognition of our postmodern cultural context (where people value transparent admission of error) results in my consistently being the first to criticize my tradition.
  3. I disagree with people’s tendency to want to distinguish a church tradition in the present from its origins in order to somehow convince themselves of its purity.Some might want to chalk this up to mere differences of perspective that are all equally valid. While I tend to be an advocate of perspectivism, I’m gonna go ahead and challenge it this time. Rarely do I say this, but that’s not a biblical way of thinking. Not only are we as Christians people who should excel in grace, forgiveness, and reconciliation, but for us history is a seamless redemptive narrative. Anglicanism’s tragic origins–and even its current troubles, for that matter–in no way disinclined me from committing to it. I anticipate finding no unblemished expression of the Church till the Lord returns to set all to rights.
  4. Honestly, I don’t even see the need to defend my tradition’s theology. And clearly don’t say that as one who’s theologically apathetic or belligerent. I’ll happy discuss Anglican beliefs with anyone offering criticism. If they’ve got a good point, they’ve got a good point. It won’t ruin my day, let alone my life, if the tradition has been or is wrong about something. Of course, one of the things I love most about the Anglican tradition is its doctrinal elasticity within borders. Unlike, say, a Baptist who comes to accept paedobaptism as a valid practice or a Presbyterian who can no longer affirm Reformed Theology, my views can evolve without having to chuck the whole thing. Admittedly, this is  a luxury not shared by many Christians.

Author: DanutM

Anglican theologian. Former Director for Faith and Development Middle East and Eastern Europe Region of World Vision International

One thought on “Carson Clark – Why I Don’t Defend My Church Tradition from Criticism”

  1. Yes, Anglicanism is a “big boat to fish from.” (Yay!)

    Is that a good thing? You’re not strong in your convictions but don’t have to switch often. (Is it that difficult to switch?) Why not take the time and energy to clarify your beliefs?

    So rather than being in an archery club (which you really enjoy), you’d rather be in an archery-macrame-astronomy-checkers-orienteering-noodling club because you might change preferences. Sounds silly to me.

    You can be welcomed into an Anglican Church despite your Reformed soteriology, your low-church liturgical leanings, and your traditional family values. Of course, the local parish that accepts you may be an Anglo-Catholic one with the highest of high church rituals. So there you are, gagging on incense and on every word that issues forth from the lips of their lesbian rector. You have absolutely nothing in common with a single person there, but–oh, joy–nobody kicks you to the curb! You can remain in your pew. You can become a “member” without compromising your beliefs. You won’t have to lie about anything.

    I’ve tried Anglicanism. Got married in an Anglican church. Been there. Done that. Anglicanism–even the most conservative branches thereof–has warts on top of warts. At few parishes have more wheat than tares, but that might be the best that can be said. (I attended St. Stephen Shaughnessy for a short while–J. I. Packer’s church–and I must admit it was a very good church.)

    By the way, you can’t really be Anglican and a credobaptist or an adherent of Presbyterian polity. So at least a few distinctives may well require you to switch.


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