This post is part of “Ecclesia Anglicana,” a series devoted to all topics pertaining to Anglicanism. Stay tuned for more!

            I did not grow up in the Anglican church. My teenage years were split between a Messianic Jewish synagogue and a Grace Brethren congregation. So, at a distance, the sacrament of confirmation looked like a cool rite of passage for my Episcopalian friends. But on February 11th, 2018, I received the laying on of my Bishop’s hands with this blessing: 

“Defend, O Lord, this your servant, Hunter, with your heavenly grace, that he may continue yours for ever, and daily increase in your Holy Spirit more and more until he comes into the fullness of your everlasting kingdom.”

            This same confirmation prayer occurs in every iteration of the Book of Common Prayer, always emphasizing mature perseverance as an intended fruit. I received this sacrament as an adult who, at that point, had served as a youth minister for six years, yet I experienced a new vigor in receiving the Eucharist and participating in parish life. Perhaps my own confirmation experience makes me acutely aware of a common disparity between the theology of confirmation and the practice of confirming youth in the Anglican church. It seems to be the case that parish catechesis risks merely preparing youth confirmands for the rite of confirmation while the liturgy and theology of confirmation treats the sacrament as an initiation into life-long, Holy Spirit-filled perseverance. The result of this disparity is a generation of youth fully initiated into a Body they are unprepared to participate in long-term. Thus, the Church risks perpetuating another achievement for youth to attain without life-long practices and perspective. So, the question, “Are you initiated?” may not be as helpful for confirming youth as, “What are you initiated into?”

            Now, there is no ecumenical consensus on the timing of confirmation. Our Eastern Orthodox friends do not separate baptism and chrismation, while Anglicans, like our Roman Catholic friends, withhold confirmation until a child or adult may take reasonable, mature ownership of their faith. However, the question of what youth are initiated into remains for every Christian tradition. In what follows, I will explore the way a strong method and theology of confirmation moves youth beyond the words of a catechism and the works of piety into a persevering desire for the Triune God.

Words, Works, and Desire

            What prepares a young person for confirmation? The numerous catechisms written since the Protestant Reformation seem to answer: systematic content. The Apostles Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, and the Sacraments become jumping off points into a didactic process whereby the catechumen ought to know what these teachings mean and why they occur in the Church’s liturgical life. Now, it may be unfair to diagnose this method as overly cognitive in its scope, yet youth confirmands experience that, in order to be confirmed, you must learn what these words mean. Under this view, catechism concerns the meaning behind the words and works of the Church. William Cavanaugh addresses a similar problematic method at work in the Eucharist. “The problem is that the Eucharist has been reduced to the message, to a piece of information for the mind to grasp. … The key is not what the Eucharist means, but what it makes. And it makes the Church.”[1] Surely the sacrament of confirmation also ought not be reduced to merely confirming what someone knows.

            Since a little ressourcement goes a long way, let us consider a catechetical method from the early church. In De Catechizandis rudibus, St. Augustine responded to Deogratias, a deacon in Carthage, regarding how to deliver a proper catechism. This deacon, celebrated in doctrinal knowledge and eloquence, struggled to deliver the scope of the Christian faith without boring his catechumens. What is Augustine’s advice?

The narration is complete when the candidate has received instruction from that first passage in Scripture, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” all the way up to the present age of the Church. But this does not mean that those of us who have memorized the whole Pentateuch, all the books of Jewish kingdoms and Ezra, the whole Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles, should rehearse them verbatim. … Rather we should offer a brief and general summary, selecting particular passages that occasion wonder and pleasure in the hearer and also form the sinews of the story.[2]

Certainly, Augustine is not implying that parts of the Biblical narrative are unimportant. His narrative method is intentional, knowing that where one starts affects the whole and must fit together with all other pieces.[3] The goal of catechetical instruction is “love proceeding from a pure heart, good conscience, and unfeigned faith.”[4] Much like the hermeneutic instructions in De Doctrina Christiana, Augustine emphasizes the desire for and enjoyment of the Trinity as the ultimate end of all instruction.

            So, how does Augustine’s narrative method answer what catechumens are initiated into? A catechism beginning with a selective biblical narrative (1) shows that the catechumen/confirmand is part of and participates in the public story of God’s redeemed people and (2) assumes this story will inspire wonder and pleasure for a life-long pursuit of God. If I might expand Augustine’s illustration, the sinews of the biblical narrative are sufficient for the catechism because they prepare the confirmand to be a full part of the Body of Christ, rather than an individual initiated solely on their mature knowledge.

            Confirmation gives young people something to long for beyond the moment of initiation: a daily strengthening by the work of the Holy Spirit. The theology of confirmation points to this very reality. In baptism, the Church is united to Christ’s death and resurrection. In the Eucharist, the Body is united to Christ and one another through receiving His body and blood. In confirmation, each believer participates in Pentecost. A narrative catechism emphasizes a young person’s participation in a public story; initiation is participating and receiving that act of God which initiated and constituted the Church.

            Throughout De Catechizandis rudibus,Augustine exhorts the listener to consider what they really rest their hope upon. If you place it upon your personal character, you will not persevere. If you place it upon the character and piety of others, you will not persevere. Augustine’s interest in the chaff among the wheat takes a pastoral turn towards perseverance and the purpose of Christian practice.

This is fulfilled by no one save the man who has received the other gift, the Holy Spirit, who is indeed equal with the Father and the Son, for this same Trinity is God; on this God every hope ought to be placed. On man our hope ought not to be placed, of whatsoever character he may be. For He, by whom we are justified, is one thing; and they, together with whom we are justified, are another.[5]

Here lies the mysterious hope in the sacrament of confirmation: that, by grace, we will persevere in our desire for the God on whom, alone, our hope truly rests. Christian practices form persons who daily put their hope in God, awaiting the fullness of His everlasting kingdom.

A Practitioner’s Perspective

            Discipling teenagers is not an easy task. I studied youth ministry at a Christian college, served in youth ministry a non-denominational church for six years, and now I am a student ministry director at an Anglican parish. I write as a practitioner seeking clarity and conviction for my own students, more like Deogratias than Augustine! Yet I find that the Anglican tradition offers a uniquely helpful perspective and practice for forming youth.

            First, Anglican youth ministry is free to learn from any Christian tradition and practice. Youth ministry, at least in the United States, began from a larger sociological shift when the institution of public education functionally created a distinct people group: teenagers.[6] The Anglican Church can learn from every kind of response to this phenomenon, from movements emphasizing family-driven faith to methods presupposing teenagers are largely unchurched. I have every reason to study the Bible, the Book of Common Prayer, Orange’s “It’s Just A Phase” curriculum, Hillsong Worship, St. Augustine’s understanding of the Imago Dei, and missiologist Leslie Newbigin in order to catechize and disciple students well.

            Second, the Anglican tradition can be locally adapted for a variety of post-Christian contexts. I serve a diverse, urban parish in the heart of a city nicknamed the Holy City for all the church steeples on the skyline. Yet my students attend schools, have jobs, and form friendships in spaces that relegate religious beliefs to private preferences. Thus, the methods of reaching teenagers and equipping parents will look different in a diverse, urban setting compared to a suburban, like-goes-with-like context. The Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Table will form parishioners in a Kingdom reality, but parish catechesis must adapt to the spaces where parishioners will go in peace to love and serve the Lord.

            Third, the Daily Office is an ideal rhythm for worship and discipleship. It is relatively easy for young persons to read Scripture with the multitude of Bible apps and reading plans one download away. Yet the Anglican tradition gives youth ministry a true gem: a pattern for how to hear, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest Scripture as a Body. Our parish now requires all confirmands, youth and adults alike, to learn and practice the Daily Office as a rule of life.

            Finally, Anglican youth ministry benefits from strong sacramental theology and practice. On one morning of a youth service weekend at a nondenominational church, I struggled to teach Christ’s words, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”[7] I realized I could not teach this passage without treating the Eucharist as a true sacrament and not just a memorial ordinance. Christ’s words surely go beyond daily devotions and into the constitutive reality of a Church united to Him in the sacraments. Youth ministry, at least in the United States, risks merely moralizing Christian practices without a historic sacramental theology, a risk still present even in Anglican parishes. The challenge of parish catechesis will always be to pierce beyond the meanings of a catechism into the mysterious initiation into a Body united to Christ, “from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.”[8] May our youth always persevere in their desire for God and participation in the Body.


Hunter Myers is a Student Ministry Director at the Cathedral Church of St. Luke & St. Paul in Charleston, South Carolina. He earned his BA in Youth Ministry & Philosophy at Columbia International University. He is from a small town called Golden, Colorado. 

[1] Cavanaugh, William. “Eucharistic Bodies in an Excarnated World.” Lecture, The Intersection Conference, Atlanta, May 17, 2019.

[2] Personal unpublished translation by Dr. Andrew Alwine, Associate Professor of Classics, College of Charleston.

[3] See Dr. Sarah Coakley’s understanding of systematic theology. Coakley, God, Sexuality, and the Self, 41.

[4] De Catechizandis rudibus, Chapter 2.6.

[5] Augustine, De Catechizandis rudibus, Chapter 27.55

[6] John Berard, Rick Bartlett, James Penner, Consuming Youth: Leading Teens Through Consumer Culture.

[7] John 15:5, ESV.

[8] Colossians 2:19, ESV.

This contribution is part of the new series, “Everyday Ecumenism.” This collaborative project will be a compilation of contributions from women and men seeking to engage theology from an ecumenical perspective for the benefit of the Church.

“Poems, parables, and paradoxes! That’s all the Bible is!” At least that’s how one cynic described it. His crass reductionism aside, he did bump up against something that is worth exploring: there are a lot of poems, parables, and paradoxes in the Bible. There are also many precepts, principles, and promises in there too, but we will leave them for a more convenient season.

God gifted us with poems and pleasant prose so that we might be able to fully express ourselves. He spoke to us by way of parable and paradox because we learned to express ourselves all too well. Parables are God’s way of stupefying those who reject plain speech. Paradoxes are God’s way of mystifying those who are stupefied by plain speech. Poems require eyes to see world around us; parables and paradoxes both require ears to hear the Word before us.

This is never more true than when Jesus speaks to us concerning his kingdom. Either we don’t understand his rather obvious statements, or we just don’t like their implications.

To one group of Jewish followers he makes it plain that the Kingdom is much broader than they think. He takes crumbs from the table of Israel to feed a feeble, Syrophoenician pup. The Kingdom has gone to the dogs! He astonishes yet another group of Hebrew hearers by clearly stating that the Kingdom is much narrower than they think. (Admittedly, even his plain dealing is somewhat paradoxical.) He openly chides those who think that they can identify their spiritual lineage by pointing to their birth certificates. A faithful heathen gains admittance and faithless Hebrews are shut out. Such is the Kingdom of God.

Jesus was saying that the Kingdom was, at once, both inclusive and exclusive; it was to be marked by unity and purity. It’s little wonder that such plain speech was too hard for them to hear. We still haven’t warmed to the idea.

So he opened his mouth in parable and paradox. “The Kingdom of Heaven is like wheat and weeds. The Kingdom of Heaven is like an arboretum, and a woman baking bread, and gold in a garden, and a sailor searching for pearls, and a pile of dead fish.” Perhaps the only thing that is clear from the words of Jesus is that the Kingdom is clearly not what we have thought it was.

If we could be permitted to speak the way that the Bible speaks, we might say that the Church is, at once, a river and a redwood. These seeming opposites are in no way opposed.

A river begins all over the place. A small spring up in the hills; a distant lake, itself fed by streams; a glacier that has seen one too many summers—all of them and hundreds more contribute to the babble and rush of water, the smooth flow here and the swirling rapids there. Gradually other streams, even other whole rivers, pour forth and make their contributions. Out of many there emerges the one.

On the other hand, a tree begins with a solitary seed. An acorn into the soil: tiny, vulnerable, alone. Through the administration of water and light, it sprouts and puts its roots down into the dark earth. Simultaneously it raises a shoot upwards into the sunshine and air. The roots quickly sprawl out and probe all over the place, looking for nourishment and water. The small shoot becomes a large trunk, again a single standing stalk, but this, too, quickly diverges. It will spread far and wide in all directions. Whereas the river flows from many into one; the tree grows from one into many. Such is the Kingdom of God.

The Church is like a rolling river. In the Apocalypse, John the visionary sees a huge throng of people from every nation, kindred, tribe, and tongue coming together in a great chorus of praise. Like a river, they all started in different places, but they have now brought their different streams into a single flow. The image of the river forcibly reminds us that, though the Church consists by definition of people from the widest possible variety of backgrounds, part of the point of it all is that they belong to one another, and are meant to be part of the same powerful flow, going now in the same single direction. Diversity gives way to unity.

But at the same time the Church is like a sprawling redwood. The one seed, Jesus himself, has been sown in the dark earth and has sprang forth in resurrection power. Easter branches have set off in all directions, some pointing almost directly upward, some reaching down to the earth, some heading out over neighboring walls. Looking at the eager, outstretched branches, you’d hardly know they were all from the same stem. But they are. Unity generates diversity.

The plain teaching of the Scriptures is that the Church of the Living God bears the image of the One who formed her: unity and diversity. She must never be forced to choose between the two. Likewise, there is no disparity between unity and purity, or between exclusivity and inclusivity.

C.S. Lewis, following Richard Baxter, admonished the people of God to rally under the banner of “Mere Christianity.” That is, we should prioritize what we are instinctively as Christians who affirm the same creeds above what we may be distinctively as Christians affirming different confessions. To this I add my hearty, “Amen!” But common orthodoxy should lead to a common orthopraxy. Eventually it has to put on boots and do something or this “Mere Christianity” just becomes mere talk, or what the apostle Paul once called, “vain jangling.”

“Mere Christianity” should lead quite naturally to “Mere Catholicity.” This answers the problems of postmodern multiculturalism as well as the lingering racism of modernism. In the Church, fragmented humanity is put back together. So, we must be about the business of putting the Church back together. If Christianity embraces “one Lord, one faith, and one baptism,” then we must learn to embrace one another. And must should happen without jettisoning purity and unity. It can be done. Those wise sages, Loggins and Messina, once mused that “Momma don’t dance and Daddy don’t rock and roll.” Yet, here we are. They were able to cohabitate in spite of such glaring liturgical diversity.

Since there is only one, holy catholic Church we have to act like it. Or else those two words proclaimed at the beginning of our creeds just add up to one big fat lie. How’s that for plain speech?

The present fragmented state of the Bride of Christ would put to a shame even a certain Levite who once shipped bits of his late wife in the mail. At least they were able to come together as one man. Enough of our “holy huddles” and “Me-and-my-son-John-us-four-and-no-more” ecclesiological insanity. The one Church is both holy and catholic—that includes both holiness and wholeness.

Genuine catholicity may require telling some brethren that the Kingdom is broader than they think. If God has welcomed people to His table what right have we to bar them? It may also require that we tell some brethren on the other side of the Tiber that the Kingdom is narrower than they think. What is certain is that we will never tell them if we don’t talk to them. But be careful if you do…you might just learn something.

It isn’t altogether clear how we are to get from scattered and fragmented bodies to a single army, marching lock-step with one another. Lord, Thou knowest. But the least that we can do is prophesy to the wind and speak to the divided and strewn bones. God has breathed on such things before.

We should probably start with the bones in our own backyard. Stop looking at your brethren with sidelong glances. Be more eager to offer the tender hand of fellowship than the tightened fist of controversy. Pray for their ministries…by name…on Sundays. Stop thinking of “them” and start thinking of “us.” After doing such things, I have a sneaking suspicion that soon we would hear the sound of joyful singing coming from the cemetery. “Hip bone connected to the thigh bone, thigh bone connected to the knee bone, knee bone connected to the shin bone. Now hear the Word of the Lord!”

Then we might be ready for poetry once again…

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’

J. Brandon Meeks is an Arkansas native laboring as an aspiring poet, studio musician, and Christian scholar. He received his PhD. from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland. He is also a fan of Alabama football, the blues, and cheese. He is a regular contributor for The North American Anglican and he also blogs regularly at The High Church Puritan.

This post is part of “Ecclesia Anglicana,” a series devoted to all topics pertaining to Anglicanism. Stay tuned for more!

Modern Protestants have always had a troublesome relationship with the Virgin Mary. Seeking not to stumble into the pitfalls of their separated Catholic brothers and sisters, Protestants have put a sort of ‘de-emphasis’ on Mary as to not be associated with anything which could be confused as ‘Catholic.’ However, the Anglican tradition consciously avoids the pitfalls of the nuanced hyperdulia of Catholicism and also the modern de-emphasis on Mary. Rather than seeing Mary as a theological ‘bump in the road’ to the Gospel narrative, Anglicanism emphasizes Mary’s role as the Theotokos: the God-bearer who carries the fullness of God’s grace in her womb and delivers him into the world. Anglicanism also pulls from the rich and beautiful Marian dogma of the Catholic Church, but centers Jesus, rather than Mary, in the place of sole honor.

Anglicanism remains as that branch of the Protestant tradition which holds fast to the rich traditions of the church and can be, both historically and liturgically, tied to the Roman Catholic Church.[1] While other Protestant traditions emulate these characteristics, none do so like the Anglican tradition. That being said, one can see the rich Mariology of Catholicism present within Anglican liturgy. This is where Anglicanism receives its popular slogan: “too Protestant to be Catholic and too Catholic to be Protestant.” Although a blanket statement which may be misleading at times, pertaining to Mariology it does fit well. Truly, Anglican Mariology is far too Catholic for most Protestants to be comfortable with it, but also far too Protestant for Catholics to agree.[2] 

The first reason that Anglicanism holds a high view of the Blessed Virgin, namely her role as the Theotokos, is because throughout the history of the Church, Mary has always been held in high regard. The ecumenical councils of the Church and the creeds which came from them are foundational to the Anglican tradition.[3] These councils and creeds are filled with deep and rich Mariology which supports an orthodox Christology. For example, the Nestorian controversy of the Council of Ephesus led to one of the greatest formations of early Marian dogma. According to Nestorius, Mary did not carry in her womb the Son of God, the second member of the Holy Trinity. Rather, she carried a mere human child; one who would be united to the divinity of God – something apart from the humanness of Jesus. Nestorius argued that the Godhead joined with the human in the same way a man enters a tent or puts on clothes. In short, Nestorius believed he could “hold the natures apart, but unite the worship.”[4] In response to this, Cyril of Alexandria, one of the most fierce, ruthless, and respected Fathers of the Early Church, sought to resolve this heresy. In the crucible of this theological fight for orthodoxy the language of Mary as the Theotokos was affirmed.

Secondly, in the past century there has been an even greater emphasis placed on Mary within the Catholic tradition, and a reactionary de-emphasis from the majority of the Protestant tradition(s). However, Anglicanism continues to look back to the tradition of the Reformation which did not react in opposition to Catholicism, but rather took what was good and beneficial and reformed it through a Protestant lens. 

An example of this is found in Martin Luther’s writings on Mary. Luther brings to light themes of justification and high-Christology without sacrificing genuine belief in Mary as the Theotokos and without losing a high sense of respect and veneration towards Mary, the Mother of God. In his reinterpretation of Gabriel’s declaration in Luke 1, “Hail Mary, full of Grace,” he ‘reforms’ the Catholic interpretation that this is a declaration of Mary’s achievement of this status. In Luther’s understanding of the righteousness of God, he interprets Gabriel’s proclamation to be a gospel proclamation. “Blessed are you Mary, because you are full of the grace of God, which is Jesus Christ! He is within you, and he is coming!”[5] 

A more recent example of this may be found in Protestant versus Catholic interpretations of Mary’s “Yes” to Gabriel’s proclamation.  While the Catholic tradition understands the narrative of Luke 1 to affirm the purity of Mary insomuch as she is then able to bear Christ into the world, Anglicanism follows Luther’s interpretation and emphasizes her declaration of servanthood alongside her unworthiness. In this we model after Mary – we are unworthy to be used by God, yet we daily surrender to him and in our unity with Christ we are given the power to be used by God.[6]

Furthermore, beyond various interpretations of Scripture, Anglicanism also continues this spirit of reforming Catholic dogma spoken ex-cathedra.[7] For example, Catholics believe in the bodily assumption of Mary (declared by Pope Pius XII, 1950).[8] According to Catholic theology, this singular participation in her Son’s resurrection anticipates the resurrection of other Christians. In Anglicanism, the emphasis is placed on Mary only insomuch as she goes before us as all other saints, sharing in the divine glory of the eternal kingdom.[9] 

Another example may be found in the nuanced Catholic doctrine Hyperdulia. Doulia is a Greek term which theologically describes honor paid to Christian saints. Latria, also a Greek term, designates supreme honor and is used to connotate worship given to God, the Trinity. Between this general honor (doulia) and the exclusive worship given to God (latria) is hyperdoulia, which is veneration and honor given distinctly to the Blessed Virgin Mary because of her unique role in the mystery of redemption, her exceptional gifts of grace from God, and her pre-eminence among the saints. While this may remain within the boundaries of orthodoxy, Anglicanism remains true to the Protestant tradition in avoiding such nuanced terminology which often is lost at a local level. Instead, the Anglican tradition understands Mary as the model of humanity redeemed by Christ, and the principal type of the Church (this also is tied deeply into Catholic Mariology). Any adoration or contemplation of Mary and the Saints is beneficial insomuch as it is an expression of the unity of the whole family of God in Heaven and on earth, a unity rooted ultimately in the believer’s unity with Christ.[10]

In short, Anglican Mariology is rooted in a continued ressourcement and reforming of Catholic doctrine. Further, it is an embrace of the unique position the Anglican tradition holds within Protestantism. It continually seeks to avoid the pitfalls of Catholic dogma and of modern Protestantism in order to stand as a bridge between these traditions. Deeply rooted in the traditions and history of the early church, Anglicanism calls believers to look back and remember the saints before, to stand in our moment now and continue to redeem and reform that which is around us, and lastly to look forward to the return of Christ in the fullness of his glory. 

Amar Peterman is Associate Director of Neighborly Faith and currently studies at Princeton Theological Seminary. He completed his BA in Theology at Moody Bible Institute where he was also President of the Student Theological Society and Teaching Assistant to Dr. Ashish Varma. 


[1]  Mark Chapman, Anglicanism: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006).

[2]  For more on the boundaries of communion for the Anglican Church, see The Chicago Lambeth Quadrilateral

[3] Editor’s Note: hence the name of this very series, “Ecclesia Anglicana.” The Church of England was born from the church in England.

[4] For an expanded narrative, see Bryan Litfin, Getting to Know the Church Fathers: An Evangelical Introduction (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2007).

[5] Bridget Heal, The Cult of the Virgin Mary in Early Modern Germany: Protestant and Catholic Piety, 1500–1648 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007).

[6] See the Feast of Saint Mary the Virgin in the Book of Common Prayer (August 15)

[7] Literally translated to: “from the chair.” This is in reference to the chair of Saint Peter which, according to the Catholic Tradition, represents the line of apostolic succession which the Pope is a part of. That which is spoken “from the chair” is a declaration made by the Pope through his apostolic authority.

[8]  For the full declaration, see http://w2.vatican.va/content/pius-xii/en/apost_constitutions/documents/hf_p-xii_apc_19501101_munificentissimus-deus.html

[9]  See The Book of Common Prayer, p. 192, 391.

[10] The Anglican Service Book, http://justus.anglican.org/resources/bcp/Anglican_Service_Book/addl_devotions2.html#angelus

This post represents the inaugural contribution to the new series, “Ecclesia Anglicana.” This series will focus specifically on any category or topic related to Anglicanism. Here you might find posts about liturgy, worship, vestments, theology, ethics, spirituality, Bible, architecture, history, polity, and much more.

Perhaps one of the most overlooked aspects of the contemporary Church’s mission is the development of sound doctrine and practice in the realm of spiritual formation. While there has been renewed interest in Christianity “on the ground” among the general population, this interest has come at a cost. Many ecclesial leaders, in focusing solely on the lived experience of their parishioners, have given up theological reflection as the main source of spiritual formation, with the implicit claim that doctrine has no import for the life of the Christian. We see this in our bookstores, with titles emphasizing self-discovery, self-help, and self-sufficiency, and more people than ever are choosing to leave the Church in favor of pursuing their own visions of religious life.[1]

We face this crisis in the contemporary Church because, to put it somewhat reductively, many have separated Christianity into the spheres of “theological” and “practical.” This false dichotomy harms people, not only because its result is an insufficient understanding of the nature and character of God, but also because it fractures the human person by relegating religious experience to the emotional realm. It divorces the head from the heart. We have forgotten that orthodoxy does not really mean “right thought,” but “right glory.” It is a word concerned primarily with seeing God for who he is and worshiping him in accordance with that vision. Orthopraxy is actually an unnecessary word because, without it, you cannot have orthodoxy.


Anglicanism is a tradition that, at its best, successfully bridges the divides between “thought, word, and deed.” Martin Thornton, a twentieth-century Anglican priest and spiritual director, claimed that the great strength of our tradition is its holistic approach to spiritual formation, an approach that engages our minds, our hearts, our need for community, and our inherent inclination toward worship. In his classic English Spirituality, he presents a concise and profound definition of the Anglican approach to spiritual formation: “Christian doctrine interpreted and applied by a teacher of prayer together with the mental and physical disciplines which nurture and support it.”[2]

So spiritual formation is not only a product of the spiritual disciplines; in fact, the benefits of the spiritual disciplines lie in the fact that they are embodied expressions of Christian theology—that they enable us to live as if what we believe were true. The Anglican approach to spiritual formation may then be summed up as the speculative-affective synthesis. Christian formation happens at that place where doctrine (speculative or theological knowledge) and prayer (affective or devotional knowledge) meet. And for Anglicans, a vital part of this formation has traditionally taken place in the context of spiritual direction, one-to-one relationships in which parishioners are lovingly guided by a person with more theological training and life experience than they possess at that time.

The concept of spiritual direction isn’t completely foreign to Protestant or evangelical circles, where it is more commonly called “mentorship.” However, there is a key difference in the Anglican approach: the spiritual director-directee relationship must be held in tandem with participation in the communal and liturgical life of the Church. The Christian life is not an individual endeavor. Those who are in Christ are members of a covenant community, a family of believers who worship the triune God as one body and work together to advance his kingdom on earth. We are not only formed spiritually by our own practice of the spiritual disciplines or by private Bible reading; rather, the corporate gathering of the Church for the reception of the Word and the sacraments is the primary locus of spiritual formation.

For Anglicans, then, there is much more to spiritual formation than “quiet times” and the occasional fast. Over the next few weeks, we will discuss three principles that are fundamental to the Anglican vision of spiritual formation: (1) spiritual formation is grounded in worship; (2) spiritual formation is communal; and (3) spiritual formation is trinitarian. Doctrine and prayer, minds and bodies, individual meditation and corporate worship, theology and discipline: all of these are necessary and beneficial for the Anglican Christian. All of these are good gifts from God. Thus, spiritual formation is the place where doctrine meets prayer, both in the individual’s participation in the life of the Church and in the spiritual director-directee relationship.

Andrew Russell is an M.Div. candidate at Beeson Divinity School. He is an ordination candidate in the Anglican Diocese of the South and hopes to serve the Church as a parish priest. He lives in Birmingham, Alabama, with his wife, Anna. Follow him on Twitter: @andrew_05.

[1]  One look at the Twitter hashtag “#exvangelical” gives all the evidence one needs to confirm this.

[2]  Martin Thornton, English Spirituality: An Outline of Ascetical Theology According to the English Pastoral Tradition (Cambridge: Cowley Publications, 1986), 24.