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December 28, 2012


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. [4] 



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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15 comments

I’m starting to belong to the poop or get off the pot theory of Anglicanism.  If you want to be Catholic, become Roman Catholic.  Anglicanism thinks itself to be catholic in the same way all Protestants do.  They stopped any pretense to near-Catholic doctrine when they dropped the 1549 BCP and went Calvinist starting with the 1552 BCP and cemented itself through the 1662 version.

Wanting to graft on apostolic succession/priesthood to otherwise Calvinist theology creates a new type of sect to be sure, but no more so than the “apostolic” Lutherans in Finland.  Be pleased with who you are.  You’re wasting breath trying to convince Rome how close you are to them when the gulf is far more than just that of a distinctive “style” of Catholic.

[1] Posted by Bill2 on 12-29-2012 at 01:28 AM · [top]

So what are we saying?  Anglicanism does not accept the apostolic succession, the sacraments and the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit?  Are we saying that support for the above is not found in scripture?  Are we sure that in having this discussion we are all using the same definitions of the words we are using (I say this as a caution to make sure that we do not talk past each other).

[2] Posted by Br. Michael on 12-29-2012 at 07:07 AM · [top]

“Surely a better way to understand Anglican identity and its peculiar genius would be to study its foundational documents” Wouldn’t the Creeds also be included in the foundational documents of Anglicanism?

[3] Posted by Fr. Dale on 12-29-2012 at 08:14 AM · [top]

Earlier this year, Matt pointed out Gillis Harp’s excellent article about the inaccuracy of the “three streams” metaphor - Link not working!

[4] Posted by john_roddam on 12-29-2012 at 01:37 PM · [top]

I appreciate Dr. Harp’s good critiques of the three streams, which is an idea lacking in history, logic, and common sense. It encourages a focus on the peripheral, instead of on the core held in common. Its tendency (not always fulfilled of course) is to hollow out that core by emphasizing subgroup distinctives. Instead of emphasizing those centrifugal distinctives, we should emphasize the central features of Anglicanism, such as the prayer book. And we should never let those central features and common beliefs be identified only with one “party” in the church (thus avoiding any identification of caring about the gospel with evangelicals, or caring about the sacraments with Anglo-Catholics, or caring about the Holy Spirit with charismatics). Three streams is shoddy thinking and we can do a lot better.

[5] Posted by Hitchhiker's Guide on 12-29-2012 at 02:49 PM · [top]

It is logically impossible for the Protestant and the Roman views of justification to be reconciled - the Reformers proclaimed that, when we place our faith in Christ, we are graciously forgiven of our sin and acclaimed righteous by God on the basis of our representative, Jesus Christ: he has borne our sin, and we are (because through faith we are now IN him) regarded as having his righteousness, so that we are perfect before God.  In the Roman view, as we receive grace (largely through the sacraments), we grow and do more and more the things that Christ would do, until, at the end, we have become acceptable to God through our own righteousness - a process that usually takes not only this lifetime but also some time in Purgatory.
It is entirely possible for a person to use elaborate ceremonial based on Roman practices to hold to a Protestant view of justification, and for a person who claims to be a Protestant to hold a view of justification that is of “imparted righteousness” (Roman) rather than of “imputed righteousness (Protestant) - but that is a personal inconsistency, not a convergence.
As a Protestant, I am convinced that the Reformation view is much more biblical than that of the Roman Catholics.

[6] Posted by AnglicanXn on 12-30-2012 at 12:02 AM · [top]

The idea is that the three streams merge to form a river. There are three witnesses - the water, the blood and the Spirit and all agree. Of course if you think the first stream is the Roman Catholic Church and not found in Anglicanism, there this concept has to be rejected. You will not see the three streams by studying the Reformation but rather by studying the 20th century. More people today owe their spiritual roots to the Azusa Street Revival than to the entire Protestant Reformation. Check it out. And also check Anglicanism in the Global South. I submit what is theologically impossible is where the growth is.

[7] Posted by Pb on 12-30-2012 at 06:23 AM · [top]

RE: “More people today owe their spiritual roots to the Azusa Street Revival than to the entire Protestant Reformation.”

Of course, no quantitative study has been performed on this assertion, and I disagree.  I assert quite the opposite, in fact.

[8] Posted by Sarah on 12-30-2012 at 07:44 AM · [top]

“More people today owe their spiritual roots to the Azusa Street Revival than to the entire Protestant Reformation.”
While taking a comparative head count would not be possible (and comparing great movements taking place in two different eras on two different continents is sort of like accurately comparing the talents of baseball players in the deadball era to the moderns - i.e., ultimately, it can’t be done), I must say that something resonated within me when I read this comment.

As someone who worships AOG, it’s no secret just how rapidly this denomination is spreading and growing worldwide. The Assemblies trace their roots back to the Azusa Street revival - and they are certainly not the lone claimants to this lineage, nor the lone recipients of its far reaching influence.

While I know that links to articles are rarely read, I’ll just present this article for your perusal http://enrichmentjournal.ag.org/200602/200602_142_Legacies.cfm.  It’s fairly comprehensive yet succinct, and presents an interesting point I hadn’t really considered before - namely, how the pentecostal/charismatic movement eventually spilled over into established denominations.

Food for thought, anyway.

[9] Posted by GSP98 on 12-30-2012 at 10:05 PM · [top]

I take GSP98’s point that the assertion by Pb that “more people today owe their spiritual roots to the Azusa Street Revival than to the entire Protestant Reformation” is not even a valid comparison. If we actually tried to do the headcounting, though, it would still be wrong (agreed with Sarah). But there are two more problems with this line of inquiry.

First, it’s completely irrelevant what is bigger. It has never been the case that you could point to the biggest thing going on and therefore find what God was doing—if we’re really going to talk about “the days of Elijah” he was outnumbered by the false priests, and John the Baptist was in the wilderness and not in king’s palaces. That doesn’t mean big equals false; it just means big doesn’t tell you anything about whether something is good or bad.

Second, whether something is big or small in Christianity doesn’t tell you anything about whether it is useful in or distinctive about Anglicanism. I can be perfectly happy that there are a lot of Christians who find some kind of blessing in x (fill in whatever you like, from sawdust floor tent meetings to Corpus Christi festivals) without thinking it somehow needs to be a constituent part of Anglican identity or has anything to do with being an Anglican.

And Pb’s point that “You will not see the three streams by studying the Reformation but rather by studying the 20th century” is a telling one. Some groups of Christians find their identity in the present, not in their preservation of a deposit of faith and a tradition. There are lots of non-denominational churches like that, and lots of Baptists like that. I’m not here to bash that. But if you can only find something by looking to the 20th century, it’s not very Anglican. To invoke Jane Austen:

“I should like balls infinitely better,’ she replied, ‘if they were carried on in a different manner; but there is something insufferably tedious in the usual process of such a meeting. It would surely be much more rational if conversation instead of dancing were made the order of they day.’

‘Much more rational, my dear Caroline, I dare say, but it would not be near so much like a ball.”

[10] Posted by Hitchhiker's Guide on 12-31-2012 at 01:06 AM · [top]

The Azusa Street revival occurred in a Protestant church, so this is a moot point.

[11] Posted by Joel on 12-31-2012 at 08:38 AM · [top]

I did not expect much acclaim for my post but wanted to be fair and balanced. You can write off what the Holy Spirit has done in the 20th century as not being
Anglican and I would agree. For any who are interested in documentation, I would recommend The Century of the Holy Spirit by Vinson Synan.  Synan is the dean of the seminary at Regent University and a well known historian in this area.  We talk all the time about the number of Anglicans worldwide. No one questions the method of computation. Recent Popes have encouraged the Charismatic movement in the Roman Catholic Church without branding it Protestant. I do not see why we could not be as flexible.

[12] Posted by Pb on 12-31-2012 at 10:06 AM · [top]

Hi, been gone for awhile.
Just for the record, I wanted to respond to post 10, which said:“I take GSP98’s point that the assertion by Pb that “more people today owe their spiritual roots to the Azusa Street Revival than to the entire Protestant Reformation” is not even a valid comparison.”

I thought that my baseball analogy, i.e., comparing stars from two different eras of the sport - dead ball vs. modern, was apt. What I meant was that as there were tremendous baseball talents in both eras despite the many differences between eras in many aspects, and that exact comparisons which would settle the argument of which group was better have eluded the general consensus of baseball aficionados to this day. 

My thrust was that BOTH movements were vitally important to the spread and growth of Christianity. They took place on different continents, had a different emphasis, and occurred in different eras. I was basically trying to convey that 1) we could argue head counts until the cows come home [I’ll leave that to those who do the counting], and 2) it would be unwise to discount the wide ranging impact that the Azusa Street revival has had on 20th and 21st century Christianity.

[13] Posted by GSP98 on 1-4-2013 at 09:23 PM · [top]

This post at the Hackney Hub about the Three Streams ideology is illuminating. It argues that the Three Streams downplays the protestantism of Anglicanism, by making it one stream among three.

[14] Posted by Hitchhiker's Guide on 1-14-2013 at 10:00 PM · [top]

A similar point could be made about how the Three Streams ideology plays down the catholicism of Anglicanism, in the sense in which the core of Anglicanism is a reformed catholicism (a la Hooker). It really guts the center of Anglican identity, defining everything in terms of difference and diversity, offering a future in which we all “live into the tension” of three poorly defined streams.

[15] Posted by Hitchhiker's Guide on 1-14-2013 at 10:04 PM · [top]

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