Welcome to Saturday Book Review time! On most of the Saturdays this year we’re looking at a liturgy-related book noting (as applicable) its accessibility, devotional usefulness, and reference value. Or, how easy it is to read, the prayer life it engenders, and how much it can teach you.
Does it feel like there’s been a bit more ‘Anglo-Catholic’ content here lately compared to other resources? Maybe a larger proportion of them write about liturgy than the evangelicals, I don’t know. But our book today is most definitely of an evangelical perspective. As the title suggests, the book is about the biblical (and reformed) basis of the 1662 Prayer Book. More specifically, the title is drawn from a phrase in the Preface to the 1549 Prayer Book:
It is more profitable, because here are left out many things, whereof some be untrue, some uncertain, same vain and superstitious: and is ordained nothing to be read, but the very pure word of God, the Holy Scriptures, or that which is evidently grounded upon the same; and that in such a language and order as is most easy and plain for the understanding, both of the readers and hearers.
as reproduced on page 796 in the 2019 BCP
The primary thrust of this book is a four-fold thesis. Peter Adams argues that the 1662 BCP…
- is intentionally formed by Biblical truth, and focused on the gospel of Christ;
- is a guard and correction against un-Biblical and anti-Biblical doctrines and practices;
- puts forth the Bible as the chief instrument of ministry, to be read and preached intentionally and systematically;
- provides responses to God that express Bible truths and use Bible words.
With these points in mind, the author has two primary audiences in mind: those who use the Prayer Book but downplay its reformed protestant nature, and those who are reformed protestants that downplay the Prayer Book. He, therefore has a few strong words for Anglo-Catholics, Charismatics, and self-professed Anglicans who don’t use the Prayer Book. Whether you’re on the same specifically ‘Reformed’ page as he is or not, though, there are some good challenges and analyses in this little book.
I’ll get my negative feedback out of the way first. There is a section, where he deals with the Sacraments of Baptism and Communion, in which he basically argues for the Regulative Principle of worship, yet acknowledges the Normative Principle for other liturgies of the Church. Personally, I sharply disagree with the notion that the regulative principle has any real place in Anglicanism, and I believe our formularies say the same. (If you’re unfamiliar with the regulative and normative principles debate, I’ve touched on the subject in a commentary on Article of Religion #20.)
On the whole, though, this 70-page booklet (rather more of a pamphlet or a tract, really) is a useful piece of literature. It’s part of the ‘Anglican Foundations’ series put out by the Latimer Trust, a foundation devoted to promulgating conservative Evanglicalism in England. It’s peppered with footnotes, yielding a very large bibliography, which is a useful resource in and of itself for the student of Anglican studies. The book explores the historical context of the Prayer Book tradition (both religious and political), explores the biblical foundation of the Prayer Book, briefly comments on some key parts of the Prayer Book, and is meticulously broken down into clearly-titled sections making it very much like a Q&A catechism. If you have a question about the Prayer Book, you can basically look at the Table of Contents, and find what you’re looking for.
Being 66 pages long, plus bibliography, though, means that it’s just a surface-level exploration. That means that if you’ve got a Anglican seminary degree behind you already, you probably know most of the information in here. This book is really more of a gateway to the subject of Prayer Book history, and primarily functions as an appeal for the reformed protestant faith as expressed in the BCP.
However, lest you get the impression that this is an annoyingly partisan book, and liturgically dogmatic, check out this excerpt:
When you kick around Anglican- or Prayer-Book-related groups on Facebook for a while, you will see these tendencies at play: those who worship as if the BCP never existed, and those who slavishly proclaim the perfection of the 1662 or the 1928 or whichever… even if they themselves don’t actually use those books wholesale! So I appreciate the honesty of the author here, where he’s able to uphold the 1662 BCP as the gold standard, and yet not require slavish adherence to its every letter without taking our contemporary context into account.
The ratings in short:
This booklet is written with lots of short clearly-marked sections, making it very easy to read through or to peruse at will. It’s not written for academics, and it assumes no prior knowledge.
Devotional Usefulness: N/A
This is not a devotional book. Though if it does it’s job, you’ll want to go grab a Prayer Book and worship!
Reference Value: 3/5
The historical information is a handy introduction to Prayer Book history. Some of his analysis, and his theological lens, will be questioned by those with different viewpoints; and because this is just short book there isn’t space devoted to counter-argumentation. Though the bibliography is a great resource for those who want to study more.
All in all, even though I’m not 100% on board with all of his views and assertions, I would still probably loan this book to a parishioner interested in the Prayer Book tradition, especially one coming from a Protestant background who’d most immediately benefit from a protestant-heavy defense of the BCP. If you’re in a parish with an Anglo-Catholic congregation, however, this may ruffle a few feathers. Though it’s not bad to see why evangelical Anglicans (should) love the Prayer Book! It is supposed to be the book that unites the churchmanship parties, after all.