Faculty Publication Spotlight: Anglican Theology through a Wisdom Lens

By Dr. Scott MacDougall

Numerous books offer a historical account of Anglican theology or detail the lives and work of particular Anglican theologians. Books that focus on the nature and character of Anglican theology itself, however, are hard to find.  

My new publication fills that gap. In The Shape of Anglican Theology, I elaborate on the themes of my longtime CDSP course, “Contemporary Anglican Theologians.”  

In short, the book examines what makes Anglican theology Anglican. Beginning with how Anglican theology does and does not differ from other types of Christian theology, I describe the theological features that mark the general boundaries of the tradition. I then develop a set of eight interconnected characteristics of Anglican theology.  

Ultimately, I argue Anglican theology is a wisdom theology. Where Anselm famously said theology is “fides quaerens intellectum,” faith seeking understanding, I contend that Anglican theology is best understood as “fides quaerens sapientiam,” faith seeking wisdom. This wisdom is chiefly concerned with discerning faithful ways of being Christian in circumstances where clear answers to complicated questions can be difficult to find. 

The Shape of Anglican Theology is laid out in three unequal parts, each of which explores a different facet of the fundamental shape of Anglican theology. 

Parts 1 and 2 look at the general shape of Anglican theology as faith seeking wisdom. They demonstrate how the origins and development of the Church of England laid the groundwork for Anglican theology to take this overall posture and how subsequent generations have carried it forward.  

These sections circle the perimeter, as it were, of Anglican theology, stopping along the way to ask questions about commonly held conceptions: Is it simply a method? What are its authoritative sources? What are the roles of the storied “three-legged stool” and the tradition’s theme of “comprehensiveness”? To what extent does Anglican theology represent a via media or “middle way”? Is Anglican theology marked by core doctrines or essential beliefs?  

Part 3 surveys the interior. There, I try to show that, in general, the specific characteristics of Anglican theology are not unique to it. At the same time, not every Anglican theology exhibits them all. They are tendencies, common features of Anglican theological work that reflect the overall goal of instilling and developing theological and practical wisdom in Anglican people. 

I argue for eight basic features of most Anglican theology, which are its use of scripture, engagement with the early church, avoidance of confessionalism (the practice of codifying an “official” statement of beliefs), critical spirit, emphasis on the pastoral and practical, rooting in prayer and worship, emphasis on the incarnation, and typically occasion-based rather than systematic mode of developing ideas.

Editor’s note: The Shape of Anglican Theology was published by Brill on May 19 and is available as a paperback and e-book.