Gary Steward’s Review of THE HERITAGE OF ANGLICAN THEOLOGY, by J. I. Packer

Published on August 15, 2022 by Eugene Ho

Crossway, 2021 | 384 pages

A Book Review from Books At a Glance

by Gary Steward


J. I. Packer’s writings are a treasure, as they often bring historical and theological material to bear on the contemporary church in ways that are edifying and spiritually encouraging. This volume is no different. It originated as a series of introductory lectures on the theology of Anglicanism that Packer gave at Regent College in 1996 and again in 2010. The composition of this book is unique, as the text of the book started out as an edited composite of the transcriptions of these orally-presented lectures. Final edits were made by Packer himself, making this perhaps the last book he worked out.

Packer had a deep attachment to the Church of England, as well as a unique perspective on Anglicanism. In the opening chapter of this work, he attempts to give definition to Anglican theology as he understands it. He describes Anglican theology as “a jungle of lush growths of all sorts with a number of tangled cross-purposes,” recognizing that there are three different ideas within Anglicanism as to “what constitutes the mainstream of pure truth” (18). Packer, an evangelical, holds that the mainstream of Anglican theology flows from Protestant and Reformed evangelical thought, with the biblical gospel as its main reference point. There are others within Anglican thought, both historically and at present, who hold to an Anglo-Catholic perspective, centering on the institutional church, and to a Broad Church perspective, which centers on the adaptation of the Christian faith to fit with changing cultural situations.

Packer celebrates the presence of these “theological crosscurrents,” all the while affirming wholeheartedly the evangelical perspective. Packer believes that the situation of these three positions within Anglicanism is “inescapable,” all the while affirming the Reformation principle that Anglicanism “always needs to be reformed” (semper reformanda) (20-21). Indeed, one senses that Packer’s own position contains “crosscurrents” that are not easily harmonized, which Packer himself would have probably affirmed. Packer then elaborates on his understanding of key aspects of what constitutes mainstream, authentic Anglicanism, namely, its biblical, liturgical, evangelical, pastoral, episcopal, national, and ecumenical nature (29-39). Packer concludes his opening chapter with an argument for Scriptural authority in ecclesiastical matters, over against the Broad Church (or liberal) perspective.

The remaining eleven chapters survey the history, personalities, and theological developments that took place within the Church of England. Starting with the English Reformation, Packer gives a high-level, introductory assessment of the key theological developments that took place under the Reformers, Puritans, Richard Hooker, Carolinian divines, rationalists, revivalists, Tractarians, Broad Churchman, modernists, and early twentieth-century contributors. One hears in these pages of the contributions of John Jewell, William Laud, John Henry Newman, J. C. Ryle, and a host of others. With the focus on theological developments within the Church of England, biographical and historical details are kept at a minimum, and yet off-hand comments abound that are rich with historical interest. The scope, breadth, and focus feel, at least to this reviewer, somewhat equivalent to what John Macleod did with Scottish theology with his 1939 Scottish Theology in Relation to Church History, only on a more popular and introductory level. Packer’s style is conversational, and he makes many off-hand comments as he goes, drawing in figures like Walter Scott, Charles Spurgeon, Martyn-Lloyd Jones, and Billy Graham into his comments.

Those who have appreciated Packer’s works in the past will appreciate this one as well. This book is not a scholarly or academic work, but is intended to introduce readers to the historical development of Anglican thought, as understood by the late Dr. Packer.


Gary Steward

Colorado Christian University

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Crossway, 2021 | 384 pages

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