The Accidental Anglican
The Surprising Appeal of the Liturgical Church
By Todd D. Hunter. InterVarsity. Pp. 138. $15.
Review by Douglas LeBlanc
Many evangelism-minded Anglicans heard joyous tidings when Todd D. Hunter joined forces with the Anglican Mission in the Americas to focus on vigorous church-planting. Even those of us who felt no spiritual nudge to join the Anglican Mission (as it is now known) could recognize the appeal of this teamwork. If it seemed hasty for the Anglican Mission to appoint Hunter as a bishop — well, such are the quirks of trailblazing movements.
Now that most of the Anglican Mission’s bishops, including Hunter, have cut their ties to the bishops of the Anglican Church of Rwanda, The Accidental Anglican (published in November 2010) takes on a deeper significance. It is part apologetic and part self-effacing memoir about a low-church charismatic and evangelical Christian learning to love the Book of Common Prayer, incense, and comprehensiveness. Between the lines are hints at an ecclesiology that made the Anglican Mission’s recent separation from Rwanda’s bishops more likely.
Hunter is a novice on much of Anglicanism’s language and jargon, but he is no stranger to important Anglican clergy, including J.I. Packer (who wrote the foreword), Nicholas (Nicky) Gumbel (powerhouse of the Alpha Course), Bishop John A.K. (Sandy) Millar (former vicar of Holy Trinity Brompton), John Stott, and N.T. Wright. He writes warm tributes to these leaders, and applies much of what they teach in his budding ministry as a bishop.
The nagging problem of The Accidental Anglican is in Hunter’s too-simple description of Anglicanism. He refers to the worldwide Anglican Communion only twice, instead favoring “the Anglican Church.” Likewise, he refers to the archbishop of Canterbury only twice — once to quote William Temple’s chestnut about the Church’s existing for the benefit of others and once to acknowledge that many people will think of the archbishop’s office upon hearing the word Anglican.
Otherwise, Hunter offers no hint of the archbishop’s name, the importance of his office in Anglican history, or his continuing relevance to Anglican identity. Here, the future of Anglicanism seems tied less to the archbishop of Canterbury than to Bishop Charles H. Murphy III, chairman of the Anglican Mission.
One passage is striking, for its odd notion that the universal Church and the kingdom of God somehow compete with each other. Asserting that “the kingdom of God creates the church,” Hunter adds:
Thus the church is derivative and secondary. … I needed assurance that the Anglican world would keep the record straight. Knowing Wimber’s colleagues — [David] Watson, [David] Pytches and Millar, most notably — assured me that in the Anglican Church I could be in alignment with the following agenda: the kingdom first, the catholic (universal) church second, and the various brands of church third.
Granted, the Church consists of sinners and her councils err. But are the kingdom of God and the universal Church on separate tracks? If so, where and what, exactly, is the kingdom, and by what criteria — or authority — does Hunter identify it? Does universal communion (however impaired at times) not guard against eccentricity or heresy?
Hunter’s ecclesiology raises practical questions for Anglicans. Is Anglican identity merely a game of six degrees of separation? When the archbishop of Canterbury determines that a bishop’s consecration is “valid but irregular,” what does that mean for the long term?
In 2008 it meant no Anglican Mission bishops being invited to the Lambeth Conference, which cynics regularly dismiss with a Frenchman’s wave as “having tea with the Queen.” It has further meant, until recently, that the Anglican Mission’s only connection to the Anglican Communion is being under the care of the Church of Rwanda. Now even that is gone, and the Anglican Mission’s Anglican connection is whittled down to oversight from three retired archbishops (and heroes of evangelism and mission): the Most Revs. Emmanuel Kolini, Moses Tay, and Datuk Yong Ping Chung.
Yet in The Accidental Anglican the Anglican Mission is the Sun and the Anglican Communion is somewhere out in deep space. Hunter repeatedly stresses the importance of remaining in patient conversation with a non-Christian and postmodern culture. What has destroyed the Anglican Mission’s ability to remain in patient conversation with its brother bishops in Rwanda? How is an 11-year transatlantic ecclesial relationship so readily discarded?
Depending on how many of the Anglican Mission’s congregations sever their ties with Rwandan Anglicans, Hunter’s skills as a church-planter could best serve the movement’s self-preservation. His attraction to Anglican thought may yet bear fruit within Anglicanism. His influence on Anglicanism would be richer, however, if the Anglican Mission were moving toward true and full fellowship with the Anglican Communion, rather than stepping toward more independence.