Gerald Bray, The Faith We Confess: An Exposition of the Thirty-Nine Articles (London: The Latimer Press, 2009)

Gerald Bray is a Research Professor at Beeson Divinity School at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama. He is also the author and editor of numerous books on biblical and theological topics, including three volumes of the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. His Creeds, Councils and Christ, originally published by InterVarsity Press and re-released last year, is an especially helpful work, which I have lent or given to students numerous times over the years.

Now he has turned his mind to a much-neglected topic (at least within the Episcopal Church): the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion. The book begins with a section on the origin, revision, and structure of the Articles. This is followed by a study of each of the Articles themselves, including references to the definitive Latin text and an explanation of how each has been modified from the original ten articles of 1536, through the forty-two articles of 1552, to their final form of 1563. (The book is written primarily for an English audience, and so there is no discussion of the American form of the Articles, adopted in 1801.)

Each study contains an exposition, relating it to our present-day theological understanding and the contemporary life of the church. This is followed by a series of questions for discussion, a list of key Bible references, and a brief bibliography. All in all, the book offers a useful format both for individual or group study.

The author makes no bones about the strong Calvinistic perspective that underlies many of the Articles. At first I found myself chafing against this somewhat, until I read a discussion on a blog site recently questioning whether there was any room for Calvinism within Anglicanism. The discussion, it seemed to me, represented a peculiarly blinkered twenty-first century American perspective, paying no attention to our historic roots or to present realities outside the rather narrow and peculiar expression of Anglicanism throughout most of this country.

In part that has to do with the increasing marginalization of the Articles of Religion in the Episcopal Church, relegated for the past forty years to be among the “Historical Documents of the Church” and printed in small type at the back of the Book of Common Prayer. Bray’s book is a much-needed corrective to that, at least where this one particular historical formulary of the church is concerned.

If the book has one weakness from my perspective, it is found in the several negative references to the ordination of women. While very much a live issue for many in the Anglican Communion, I am not convinced that this is a matter that the Articles themselves address. I fear that the result may be that this otherwise valuable book may not enjoy the circulation it deserves.

John Newton Church of the Messiah, St Paul, Minnesota

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