This exercise comes out of a conversation with a parishioner who has doctoral level interest in theology and has read the Fathers, the great theologians of the middle ages, and even much contemporary theology, but has never read much Anglican theology. I told him I’d make him a “Top Ten” list of theological books by Anglicans that he should consider. For the sake of clarity, I’ve included only post-Reformational Anglican works, but a good case could be made for including something like Cur Deus Homo? on this list as well.
What would be in your Anglican top ten?
Here are mine (in no particular order):
1) The Gospel and the Catholic Church by Michael Ramsey
An excellent and informative book that changed the way I think about what it means to be a Christian. This book makes clear the ways in which a properly ordered Anglicanism can be a gift to the whole Christian Church.
2) Lancelot Andrewes and His Private Devotions
Andrewes is, in many ways, the quintessential example of what a principled, thoroughly Reformational High Churchmanship can look like. While there is much to be gained from reading his essays and sermons, his private devotions are the most telling of his works, particularly because he wrote them for his own use without believing they’d ever be published. What they reveal is a humble and spirit filled piety worthy of not just adulation but imitation.
3) Holy Living and Holy Dying by Jeremy Taylor
A great resource on how to live out the Christian faith, still very applicable and accessible today almost four hundred years after it was written. While Taylor’s tone can sometimes be overly moralistic, his approach is nevertheless commendable for the serious way it engages prayer, fasting, and sacraments as means of tangibly receiving God’s grace, not by our own doing but by God’s good design.
4) Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity by Richard Hooker
One can hardly underestimate the impact that the thought of Richard Hooker has had upon Anglicanism. His synthesis of scripture with reason and tradition remains the hallmark of the Anglican approach to theology. The books are quite long, however, and not everything therein is applicable outside of its time and place. For anyone but the doctoral candidate, I recommend finding a good summary of Hooker’s writing, many of which have been published in recent decades. But if you really want to chew on it, John Keble’s nineteenth century edition of the Laws is available for free here.
5) Tracts for the Times
The revival of many aspects of the Catholic faith and practice within Anglicanism is owed to the writing of these Oxford Fathers. It is my opinion that modern Anglicanism will make little sense to the person who does not bother to read through these tracts, not just to see the ways in which the Catholic faith is defended, but also to see the ways in which classical Anglicanism is still maintained. Unlike what would happen in later generations, the Tracts offer a view of Anglican catholicity that is not simply trying to mimic the Church of Rome but to offer a full throated appeal to the early Church. All of the tracts can be found online for free here.
6) The Apology of the Church of England by John Jewel
Written in the wake of the Elizabethan Settlement, Jewel’s apology provides a somewhat crude but nevertheless helpful look at the emerging theology of post-Reformation Anglicanism. Particularly of note is the second section in which Jewel states positive affirmations on what the Church teaches, based on both scripture and the witness of the Fathers. The apology is available for free here.
7) Christian and Catholic by Charles C. Grafton
It is simply remarkable how well this holds up after more than a hundred years. Grafton’s harmonizing of Anglicanism and Orthodoxy is at times a bit overstated. Nevertheless, this remains a classic interpretation of the development of Anglican-Catholicism to be a robust and thorough theological tradition.
8) The Journals of John Wesley
Lest the reader think that I only find value in Anglicanism’s Catholic tradition, there is much to be learned by studying the Evangelical tradition as well. Wesley is the great voice of that movement, and his description of his own inner conversion–long after he’d entered the priesthood–is essential reading to understand the necessity of personal conversion and deep relationship with Jesus. While Wesley’s followers eventually left the established church (with a great deal of ingratitude from many bishops), Wesley himself lived and died as an Anglican and continues to be recognized in the sanctoral calendar of many Anglican churches.
9) A Practical View of the Prevailing Religious System of Professed Christians, in the Middle and Higher Classes in this Country, Contrasted with Real Christianity by William Wilberforce
While we’re on the Evangelical train, we should not forget Wilberforce, whose ongoing gift to Anglicanism is a strong sentiment that grace is not the property of any one class or race of people, but rather a free gift given to all those who trust in Jesus Christ. In some ways, a biography of Wilberforce might be more apt than this rather preachy volume. But either way, Wilberforce is a necessary figure to study, and his contributions not just to Anglicanism but to society as a whole can hardly be talked about too much.
10) The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis
Really, almost any Lewis book could go here, but I first read this book in seminary and it knocked my socks off, totally transforming the way I understood heaven and hell. Honestly, there are some things that just make more sense when communicated through fiction or poetry.
BONUS: The 1662 Book of Common Prayer, while not a theology, is nevertheless the most important theological book for anyone serious about Anglicanism to study and understand. The liturgy therein remains the bedrock not just for the Church of England but for Anglican liturgy around the world. Many of the other works listed above will make much more sense in light of a serious examination of this classic text.