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Return of the Oxford Movement

My friend Rod Bennett is wondering if there’s another Oxford Movement afoot — like the first one, starting with Evangelicals.

The Oxford Movement, remember, began when Evangelicals like Newman and Keble, horrified at the rapid liberal collapse happening to the Church of England in the 1830s, looked around for new weapons with which to defend her–and chanced upon the writings of the Church Fathers. (Something very similar was happening to Scotch Presbyterians in America around the same time: the “Restoration Movement” of Barton W. Stone and Alexander Campbell.) Now, thanks to the current “Post-Evangelical” phenom (in which the disgruntled kids of Reaganite moms are struggling to make Evangelicalism safe for abortion and gay marriage) the crisis is becoming acute again–and traditional “Bible-only” safeguards are proving impotent to the task. Thank God the writings of the Church Fathers are still available, with their shining vision of apostolic tradition, of One, Holy, Catholic Church.

Read the rest. If the new movement is anything like the last, we can look forward to masterpieces like The Church of the Fathers. We may hope anyway.

And if you haven’t read Rod’s lovely book on the early Fathers — what are you waiting for?

12 thoughts on “Return of the Oxford Movement

  1. “in which the disgruntled kids of Reaganite moms are struggling to make Evangelicalism safe for abortion and gay marriage”

    If he’s already got me figured out so well, there’s certainly no reason for me to read him…

  2. I grew up in the Stone-Campbell “restoration” movement. I’ve seen the dead end of the movement from one of the most fundamentalist, sectarian, Pelagian splinters out there. So color me sceptical. Too many people twist church “history” to their own ends.

  3. Thank you for the post and link!

  4. Kyle, my good man! I expect a higher degree of tolerance from someone who, like Rod Bennett, tends to blog in rather strong terms. There’s every reason to read Rod, as there’s every reason to read your blog. In any event, Rod writes as a former Evangelical pastor, so he draws from some experience.

    Sarah: I agree with you. History employed selectively and apart from tradition can get really wacky really quickly. And the more postmodern types will pick and choose from the historical smorgasbord till they’ve assembled a Church that suits their fancies. But the literature of conversion (a rich genre in recent generations) again and again proves Newman’s point about being “deep in history.”

    Gretchen: as always, thanks for the kind words. I’m praying for you as you make your way.

  5. Hi, guys. Mike asked me to step in for a moment. Kyle, I admit I generalized about the Post-Evangelicals — but I think generalization is necessary for decent writing. Obviously, there are exceptions to every rule but one needn’t stop and spell them carefully out each and every time one puts pen to paper. In my (relatively wide) experience with Post-Evangelicalism I’ve found the genralization to be valid. This really is an overwhelmingly reactionary happening, a pendulum-swing (very understandable) away from the too-close identification their parents made with the Republican Party. If you don’t fit the mold, Kyle…well, I’m pleased. But most “Post-Evangelicals” do, enough so that the term has a readily transferrable meaning and works as a shorthand. Which is all I was after for my Oxford analogy. And Sarah: surely you saw that I wasn’t endorsing the Stone-Campbell movement as a whole — only noticing its original aspirations (to get back to the early church). In fact, one of my main points was that good aspirations alone and even intense study of the Fathers such as we saw among the Tractarians will not necessarily guarantee a solid result. (I pointed out, remember, that the study of the early Church led several of the Oxford men to abandon their faith altogether!) Anyway, perhaps you guys might like to continue the discussion over on my blog; I got a reply from the editor of CT himself this morning, so things should get interesting!

  6. I pray you are right. My husband is right now trying to figure out what the early church believed and did by reading what its members/leaders wrote.

  7. Point taken. I read Mr. Bennett to discover that he wasn’t really as bad as all that, and offered a small contribution to the discussion. :0)

  8. In fact, he’s a teddy bear.

  9. I hate to point this out, but for clarifications sake, Newman, Keble, and Pusey weren’t Evangelicals. They were Anglo-Catholics who were trying to reverse the errors of both the liberals AND the Evangelicals in the Church of England.

    I think it is a mis-characterization to classify Newman as an Evangelical and I’m sure he would probably take offense to it.

  10. At the time the movement launched, yes, they were all Anglo-Catholics. But Newman (at least) had been a self-described evangelical in his youth. I don’t know about the others; I suspect they followed a similar trajectory from low to high church, driven on by liberalism.

  11. The Oxford Movement *created* Anglo-Catholicism, Danny! It didn’t exist before that (though there was a “High Church” party in the 18th century under Archbishop Laud which did not call itself “Anglo-Catholic” and had already died out by Newman’s day). The term “Evangelical”, on the other hand, *was* in use in the early 19th century and meant (as a party within the CoE) pretty much what it means today. A great many of the Tractarians began in this “low church” wing of Anglicanism — including Newman who uses the word “Evangelical” repeatedly in describing his own early outlook. Have another look at the “Apologia Pro Vita Sua.”

  12. Yes, Rod, his early outlook, but not his Tracterian days. The Tracterian movement was to counter the Evangelicals.

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