Review by the Very Reverend Greg Goebel, Canon of the Anglican Diocese of the South, Editor of AnglicanPastor.com
The Anglican Way by Thomas McKenzie is an overview of Anglican spirituality, worship, devotion, theology, and practice. Fr Thomas is the first pastor of Church of the Redeemer, Nashville.
In the name of full disclosure, Thomas writes for this website, and is a friend. He asked me to read the original manuscript version, and we had several conversations about this project as it was in progress. So this will be a friendly review, but I’ve left nothing out that I think about the book, and all that I express is true to my perspective on the book. He hasn’t paid me anything for this review, but he did try to bribe me with a signed original vinyl 1547 edition of Thomas Cranmer’s Greatest Hits. I turned him down because I already had the 8-track tape.
The Anglican Way is well titled. This book is about a way. It invites people to an experiential journey with the Anglicans. It is also truly a “guidebook.” You can skip around in it like you would a Travel book. But its also easy to read through cover to cover. It will work best for someone who is actually visiting or regularly attending an Anglican church, although others would profit as well. As a pastor, I think this is very important, because our faith is shared in community. Thomas avoids the temptation to turn Anglicanism into a subject to merely be dissected, instead choosing to be a guide along the way as someone is seeking to be formed as a Christian, and as an Anglican.
Its so very difficult to summarize Anglican experience. There are the various streams, parties, and perspectives–not to mention liturgical approaches. This book does it though. It is non-partisan, but still confident and clear. I think it would be useful to every “stream” as a basic introduction. The main reason it succeeds in this is that it spends more time on what we affirm, than on what we deny — and almost completely avoids our speculative theologies.
Fr Thomas starts with the Compass Rose as a memorable tool for holding together an understanding of how Anglicanism can be both diverse and yet centered at the same time. Working through the kinds of things that most evangelicals think are binary opposites (such as Catholic-Charismatic or Liberal-Conservative), he systematically shows how, within the central circle of the compass (Christ/Creeds), these things can not only hold together, but also temper and correct one another. He tells personal stories from pastoral ministry, an approach which I think is the best part of this book. This is flowing from his care for his people, and his desire to share the Anglican Way with them.
He then works though the devotional and worship life of the Anglican church, including the seasons and Sunday worship. This is followed by a succinct discussion of various contemporary issues, in which he shows his ability to say enough without saying too much. Most of these sections call for further study, but few of them miss any important points.
This book is also a great tool for Christian Formation and group study. With confirmation class, you could start at the beginning and work your way toward the Church Year. Ideally, you might time it so that class walks through Holy Week with the book. With a newcomer’s class, I would recommend starting with the Sunday worship section, then moving backwards to the Church Year, and then finally the Compass Rose. Newcomers and new Anglicans will naturally focus on what the first experience, which is usually the Sunday worship service.
I can also see using this book for retreats. The Compass Rose section could be used to help people think individually about their own gifts, perspectives, and experience. Then it would guide them in learning about the experiences of others. This would go a long way in helping Anglicans to appreciate our differences, even as we affirm our center on Christ and the creeds. I think this Compass Rose model would be useful to any Christian church as well (with the caveat later in this review in mind).
The sections on Sunday worship, the sacraments, and the church year are of most interest to me personally. These sections will guide people into a basic, mostly descriptive, understanding of these areas. Very few of us know how to explain worship and sacraments without unintentionally removing the sense of mystery, or accidentally becoming overly theoretical. Thomas shows his pastoral side here, but undergirding it is a broad knowledge of the tradition and of basic Christian sacramental theology. Many new Anglicans reading this will want to do further study, and some will feel that they’ve received enough explanation–but all will be inspired to actually receive the sacraments reverently as a mystery and to focus on God and his presence in worship.
Some readers will wonder why Thomas doesn’t spend a lot of time on inter-Anglican wars and controversies. He doesn’t have three chapters devoted to the Instruments of Communion or various views on women’s ordination (although they are discussed briefly). Instead, he chooses to focus on what’s really important: our faith in Christ, our worship of God, and our life together. Some will wish he had more material on these arguments, but I think he made the right choice. Its time for us to move forward, not as an opposition group, but as a Christian communion. Thomas doesn’t ignore the reality of a fractured Communion, but he doesn’t unnecessarily focus us on it.
What are my gripes?
First, Anglicanism is not “a protestant denomination” except as a comparative descriptor. Use a sharpie to cross out that phrase on the two pages where it exists. Then write in “a Christian communion” instead. But don’t burn the book over this. We’ll create an online petition to change it for the second edition.
Second, I have to admit that I want the Sunday worship service at the front. This is because experientially that is what visitors and newcomers interface with the most. I also think it might move us even more away from thinking of Anglicanism as a “thought system” and to more of a “worshipping community” if the worship sections were first. But as a guidebook type book, it would be easy to start there, and then move back and forth from there.
Third, the Compass Rose device is very helpful as a didactic tool. But we have to be careful not to think of the points as actual linear polarities. I would want to make sure that folks understood that it is a useful tool, but that there is also an overlapping circles aspect - with various overlapping permutations. Not to overcomplicate a metaphor, but the circle representing where a person or a church is on each line (rather than just the polarities created by imagining each line independently) would be helpful in making sure we aren’t thinking in too “binary” a way. This is not so much a criticism of the use of the compass rose, but a caution, to make sure folks don’t overly literalize it, and that they take it one step further and see all of the points of their experience as creating an overlapping circle with other Anglicans.
For many years people have asked for the “one book” that overviews Anglicanism. I’ve always ended up recommending three and a half books, with various chapters crossed off in each one, and a few charts and handouts, with copied chapters. Some books are irrelevant due to Anglican re-alignment. Others are trying to be vague about orthodox faith. Still others are too partisan, trying to recruit new Anglicans to one of the various parties, rather than simply overviewing our communion. Most are not devotional at all, and the few that are devotional tend to play down Anglican distinctives altogether. In other words, I haven’t been able to offer them a book.
But now I can hand them this book. It explains the Anglican Way. It is Christ-centered. It is devotional. It is basic, but covers all important areas. And its full of personal illustrations and stories, making it fun to read. Sure, some folks will want to follow up on this or that area. But after having read this book, they will indeed have a solid, basic overview of our tradition. So for my part, this is the book I plan to hand people or use in group settings as the “one” book.