Zahl, Paul. The Protestant Face of Anglicanism. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 1998; paperback; 112 pages; approx. £2.3 to £6 as a used book via amazon.com; ISBN 0802845975. https://www.amazon.com/Protestant-Face-Anglic…/…/ref=sr_1_1…
Is there any merit in this nearly 20-year old, brief paperback by Dr. Paul Zahl? Are there any drawbacks? What’s its value in 2017?
First, what are the merits? Dr. Zahl does five commendable things. First, he defines the English Reformation as a “defining moment” for Anglicanism, rather than a detour. We understand the Laudian, Tractarian, ritualist and liberals’ efforts to define it as a detour. Dr. Zahl wants to go back to the English Reformers. He successfully convinces us of his intent. Secondly, he gives sober reasons for why the “Protestant and Reformed” face was defaced. Thirdly, he gives a fair and solid presentation of how the “Protestant and Reformed” face appears in the Church of England and the American Episcopal Church. Fifth, as expected, he offered a working list of sixty-seven volumes or so for the “Selected Reading.” So, yes, there helpful merits from these directions, especially for beginner-inquirers on Anglicanism.
Second, are there any drawbacks? Yes, there are two serious drawbacks. First, after capably postulating the issues noted above, he offers entirely tepid and inadequate answers for “The Face Restored.” That is, he advocates for four 10%-medicines: Protestant-Anglican Christology, Grace, Concept of Intellectual Freedom, and Ecclesiology. His target-audience is not evident, but this is wholly inadequate in terms of direction and depth. After making a great take-off (above), the deck-landing is not very good. Second, Appendix B has an oddballish sermon. Dr. Zahl preached the sermon, entitled “The Risky Question,” at Canterbury Cathedral on 24 August 1997. He tries to mix in some classical statements about justification by faith alone (where he shows some understanding) but then tells the readers that this “question of justification is the root cause of what we today call ‘stress.’” Classical statements are mixed in with a few goofy ones like that. It sounds like a high-browed effort to avoid difficult issues: God’s character and holiness, law, condemnation, Paul’s Romans and more. In short, the sermon is a “nice try,” but is a sermonic failure for such a momentous context. He crashes the jet on the runway like a practicing pilot. It is a bit embarrassing. Hence, insufficient doctrinal answers to restore the marred face of Anglicanism and this bizarre sermon offset the earlier, serviceable and helpful chapters.
Third, what’s its value in 2017? First, the descriptions of the history of the marring of the Protestant and Reformed face are good reading for those reviewing Anglican history. He makes his case serviceably. He clearly wants to restore the Reformed and Protestant face with which we agree, but his answers are not profound. One will do far better with serious Reformed systematic theologies, especially for the young collegians or seminarians.
As such, we do not recommend getting this volume unless one is doing research for a paper on Anglicanism or one is beginner. 20 years later, the Protestant and Reformed Face has not been restored. With his 10%-prescriptions, it won't be restored either. The first half of the book works and the last part fails. To be charitable, C minus.