Gillis Harp Revisits “The Three Streams”
Earlier this year, Matt pointed out Gillis Harp’s excellent article about the inaccuracy of the three streams metaphor that a number of Anglicans have used with escalating frequency. I see that Dr. Harp has written further on the problems with the metaphor in a helpful article at the Prayer Book Society. Check out the entire piece, from which the below is excerpted:
Similarly, advocates sometimes will sometimes speak of the Three Streams as part of a larger movement of “convergence” that understands itself as seamlessly reconciling Protestantism and Roman Catholicism. Yet the sort of convergence one actually witnesses on the ground in Three Streams parishes looks decidedly untheological. Few have attempted the sort of historical and theological investigation required to, say, understand the opposed positions staked out in the 39 Thirty Nine Articles and the Decrees of the Council of Trent. Certainly progress has been made in ecumenical discussions since World War II, but few Three Streams treatments work through the assorted ARCIC reports (given their tendentious character this may be understandable) or the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification agreed to by a committee of Lutherans and Roman Catholics in 1999. Instead, there is a lot of emoting about the importance of personal relationships and the supra-rational power of symbols. One often witnesses believers from fundamentalist backgrounds blithely adopting Roman Catholic vestments and ritual. But what if the revived medieval ceremonial teaches doctrines that the Anglican Articles explicitly repudiate? Those who press such questions are usually greeted with quizzical stares.
Finally, the Three Streams approach tends to either denigrate or neglect both the Anglican Reformers and the Anglican Formularies. Because Cranmer ‘s role within Anglicanism was different from that of Luther within Lutheranism, some argue that Anglicans need not defer to Cranmer’s theological views. Following the dated and partisan work of Benedictine Dom Gregory Dix, they characterize the chief author of the Book of Common Prayer and the Articles as a gifted liturgist but not a deep or sophisticated theologian. His gift to Anglicanism was a sort of studied ambiguity that his successors were then free to develop in their distinctive directions. Yet recent historical scholarship on Cranmer by academics (and not Anglican partisans) clearly contradicts this portrait. Cranmer’s knowledge of the Patristic literature was surpassed by no one during his lifetime and his mature doctrinal positions came only after years of intense and wide-ranging study. 
Surely a better way to understand Anglican identity and its peculiar genius would be to study its foundational documents – the Book of Common Prayer (especially in its definitive 1662 edition), the Articles of Religion, the 1662 Ordinal, and the First and Second Books of Homilies. The writings of later Anglican thinkers (including – but not limited to – those of Jewel, Hooker, and the Caroline Divines) can certainly help interpret that bedrock foundation, but where later thinkers wander from the Formularies, they are less able to claim to be authentically Anglican in any historic sense.
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