Welcome to the Episcopal: An Introduction to Its History, Faith, and Worship
Christopher L. Webber
Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Publishing, 1999
Rating: 4 out of 10
Quick Summary: Christopher L. Webber is a prolific author and Episcopal priest. He has earned two advanced degrees from General Theological Seminary. This work is an introduction to the Episcopal Church. Admittedly, after having read Urban Holmes book, What Is Anglicanism (The Anglican Studies Series), this book was quite disappointing. While I found myself disagreeing at times with Holmes, I still found myself saying, “he still makes a theologically informed, lucid point.” I cannot say this with Webber’s book.
Regardless, I did find some interesting elements to his work. Chapter 1 begins by tracing the history of the Episcopal Church. Webber concedes that if not for the disagreement between Henry VIII, then the Anglican Church may not even exist. After the American Revolution, the first American bishop was consecrated by the Scottish Church because the English Church was prohibited from doing it. He mentions that Anglican unity is based on the Bible, two sacraments, creeds, and apostolic ministry, and then, he proceeds to address the controversy over women’s ordination (1976) and the new Prayer Book (1979). How was the controversy over women’s ordination solved? He says, “…the bishops who dissented were gradually replaced.” At the time of his writing, he comments that the decline in the Episcopal Church has ceased in the mid-80s. In the present time, my guess is that this is no longer accurate.
Chapter 2 continues by discussing worship. Episcopalians have traditionally found their unity in worship, not theology. He continues by making several comparisons between Anglican and Lutheran understandings worship and communion, which according to Orthodox Lutheran sources are incorrect (see Lutheranism 101). Chapter 3 speaks about the Bible and claims that Anglicans required no beliefs except what is in it. Yet for Webber, the Bible is a record of others' experiences of God, rather than an inspired revelation given to us by God. Chapter 4 talks about the Anglican’s both/and instead of either/or understanding of theology based in Scripture, tradition, and reason, and the difficulty of maintaining it. Chapter 5 addresses the intuitive nature and various spiritual practices of Anglican spirituality. He concludes with the church’s ministry and organization (6) and mission (7).
Evangelical Assessment: Where do I begin? I will only focus on Scripture. While Webber gives a nod to Scripture, he ultimately makes it subjective to the point of irrelevance. Actually, in his view, the only relevance that it has is to me personally, subjectively, and symbolically. Anglicans may only require beliefs that are founded in Scripture, but he does an adequate job dismissing what Scripture objectively teaches on the basis of culture. And that is the issue.
In his view, the Scriptures are a record of the authors' subjective experience of God, not an inspired revelation given to us by God. Evangelicals would generally affirm that God speaks subjectively to us through Scripture. But Webber believes that Scripture is subjective without an objective basis. While he does not come out and say this, and many other things, my guess is that he holds a Neo-Orthodox view of Scripture. While evangelicals seek to recognize those teachings that are culture bound, there are many universal teachings that apply to all time, all places, and all people. It is not a matter of what I can make Scripture say, but what does it really say. Inasmuch as this book represents the Episcopal Church, and I would assume that it does, it is not difficult to understand what's currently going on in it.
Who might this book interest? This book may be of interest to evangelicals, who have an interest in the broader American religious experience.