Jul 172017


Lead, Kindly Light, amidst the encircling gloom…”

                                                                                                                                John Henry Newman (1833)      


The past week has left me exhausted, and with more than a slight sense of alienation.  Eugene Peterson’s initial statements in an interview seemingly endorsing same-sex marriage, the fierce and vehement reaction from conservative evangelicals, and the subsequent clarification of Peterson’s views reaffirming a traditional view, have filled the internet and allowed for an unleashing of vitriol by progressives and conservatives alike.  I have been left saddened, rather than exultant.  I am saddened not owing to the issue itself and/or its resolution, but rather by the so many unguarded, uncharitable and, at times, personally abusive comments made by both sides.  One commentator made the observation that no matter what else took place, Peterson’s legacy has been undeniably tarnished in the eyes of many.  

Legacies are often difficult to evaluate, especially when they are attached a man.  It is, however, even more so the case when we try to evaluate the legacy of an historical movement that has influenced most the Christian Church for over a century, but has now increasingly faded into obscurity.  Here I am speaking of the Anglican phenomena of the Oxford Movement, for it was a movement that has influenced almost every part of the Christian Church, even down to our own day and time, whether we know it or not.

The Oxford Movement had a concern for the renewal of worship and a return to the theological values of the ancient Church, which, its leaders believed, had become undermined by a politicizing of the ecclesiastical practices and structures of its day.

Central questions included:

“How much should contemporary culture influence the Church?” 

“What is central and essential to Christian worship?”

“What is the role of the State in the life of the Church?”

“How is a Christian to view Church History?”

These are questions that continue with us to this day.  For that reason alone, there might be value in reassessing the lessons and legacy of the Oxford Movement.

John Henry Newman considered a sermon preached in the University church in Oxford, England, on July 14, 1833, by John Keble, Professor of Poetry, to be the real beginning of the Oxford Movement. His subject was ‘National Apostasy’, and the congregation included representatives of the university, judges and magistrates of the region who had gathered for the Annual Assize sermon. Keble claimed that both church and state were ‘drifting’ or ‘slipping away’ from the calling which God had given to each for the fulfillment of His purposes. Keble’s remedy was for the Church to return to its central role as an instrument of salvation which had been brought into being by God through the work of Christ and the continuing witness of the apostles. Therefore, the Church did not receive its mandate from contemporary society or the requirements of the government of the day, but from God alone who had given the Church its ultimate authority. Few could have seen the full implications of this single sermon.

The initial result was the publication of a series of ‘Tracts for the Times’ by the leaders of the new movement who took as their chief aim the defense of the Church as a divine institution, a concern for apostolic succession in ministry and the use of worship as contained in The Book of Common Prayer as a rule of faith. Keble, Newman, and E. B. Pusey were soon joined by influential supporters in R.H. Froude, R.W. Church and R.I. Wilberforce, who added their intellectual vigor and literary skills. The ‘Tracts’, in time, became lengthy and detailed theological treatises which called into question the status quo and were attacked by the liberal party within the university and the Church alike. Not unlike blog posts of today, however, they enjoyed a wide readership and began to shift the nature of national and, indeed, international ecclesial debates.  Some of the leaders, however, became increasingly disenchanted with the continuing debate.  After many, including most notably, John Henry Newman, made their way to the “safe harbor” of the Roman Catholic Church, it seemed that the movement was dead.

Three factors, however, ensured its continuing vitality. These three factors, I believe, are still worthy of imitation in our own time and circumstances.

Firstly, the intellectual foundation established by the early leaders in their scholarly and literary activities, notably the Library of the Fathers, made a major contribution to the study of Church History and spirituality. Many of the Church Fathers had never even been available in translation.  The study of the Fathers, once a key element in Reformation theology, had largely been abandoned by Protestants.  Among Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox, the Fathers were the domain of the few, not the many. Now, the situation changed. Critical texts, once nowhere to be found, were prepared. The new movement honored learning and scholarship and provided opportunities for the same all the way from the smallest local parish to the oldest universities in the land. 

Secondly, their emphasis upon a renewal of the Church’s liturgical life made worship central and re-established the Holy Eucharist as normative Christian worship – a consequence of their reading of the early Fathers – something that has influenced the renewal of the Church’s liturgical and sacramental life to this day. Liturgical texts were revised, hymns were written, ancient prayers were translated, and people were instructed as to the meaning of what was said and done in church. Moreover, liturgy – literally “the work of the people” – allowed for the active participation of the laity in worship.  

Thirdly, the Oxford Movement went beyond the academic and upper class environment in which it had been born. In practical terms this was a result of sympathetic clergy being given the worst possible parish assignments by their church superiors, usually in the slums of city centers, which it was thought would kill the movement. It had the opposite effect as clergy made the Incarnation, the love of worship, and social concern central to their lives, and filled their churches with those who lived on the fringes of society. The beauty of Jesus in worship was a light in the darkest industrial centers of America and England as almost abandoned churches were painted, restored, renewed and filled with those who had never before entered a place of worship.

Yet, with all of this, the Oxford Movement eventually failed, becoming a small subset of the Anglican world.  They failed, firstly, because they succeeded.  The Eucharist became normative in the Anglican communion and far beyond – Methodists, Lutherans, and Reformed to name a few. Liturgy and the study of the Church Fathers also gained adherents across the ecclesiastical world. They won the argument. In becoming a small subset of Anglicanism, they failed when they became more interested in the style of their chasuble, the length of their surplice and the arrangement of their altars, more than in the lost at their door or the theological enablement of their people. They eventually became a theological echo chamber counting externals as more important than the care of their people, outreach to the poor or the reaffirmation of their theological underpinnings.

These are lessons for us. 

Denominational Christianity, as it has been known, is failing.  Most denominations may well be beyond the point of recovery. The larger evangelical churches thrive, for the moment, in the suburbs, not in the slums.  Many Christians, especially evangelicals, look to the State to uphold faith values.  Meanwhile, other Christians, often progressives, call on the State to enforce their particular view. Scholarship is decried by some or embraced by others, but it has failed to take a central place in informing our actions or faith decisions unless one “party” or another can harness it to their particular point of view.  American and Western European Christianity has become eclipsed as the faith increases at a staggering rate in Africa and Asia, often as they face real, not supposed, persecution.  

So, we return to legacy.

I wonder as I look around us today in 2017, what will our legacy be and how will future generations evaluate our contributions to the faith, to scholarship, to theology and worship? Will they consider them to be substantial or mere vanities? Will they consider them to be significant or trivial? Or, as has been done in the case of Eugene Peterson, will they parse out the legacy, accepting what they want and rejecting the rest.  Perhaps…

We cannot answer such questions with absolute certainty, yet in our day of suburban church planting seminars, worship choruses with life spans measured in months, and publications aimed primarily for sales rather than insight, these questions must be asked. In looking for historical models for renewal, we might do well to look to the legacy of the Oxford Movement. We might also wish to learn the lessons of what happens when we lose the vision that first impelled us.

Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD

The Project

  34 Responses to “Legacy and Lessons: Dr. Duane W. H. Arnold PhD”

  1. an interesting post to think on this morning…
    first take away for me seems to be that the Church does function within history rather than beside it… yet, somehow, the true Church doesn’t get sucked in and swallowed by history… does it function effectively (God’s standard of) in direct proportion to its focus? man or society or God, Himself?

    (prayer for Michael’s welfare continues this a.m. – and for all on the prayer site)

  2. This blog is no different. I’m no different, you’re no different.

    Yet, most everyone thinks they are the good guy preaching to the bad guy who needs to clean up his act.

  3. Duane,

    Are the “Tracts” still in print?

  4. Michael

    In terms of “print” you’d have to do some searching! In terms of reading them, they can all be found here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tracts_for_the_Times

    They are rather “dry” for modern tastes, but fascinating nonetheless…

  5. ah, Alex….. you may be right in some respects, yet this blog is different from most other blogs if you think on it…
    although, i admit that i have no patience with one sided pontifications and rants and so skip reading most other sites after one time – even the good ones that turn up here in the links…
    my first visit here was by accident (i was googling some forgotten item in AZ.) i called Michael out on something he’d declared that i thought was misleading (via email) and he came back at me with both guns blazing… so i stuck around to see what this angry man was made of… it was refreshing to find that most of his anger was over things that were distorting the Faith and destroying the spirit of his fellow Believers… this site is different when you think on it… there is life here… strange, but true IMNSHO … again 🙂

  6. Sweet Em, I love this blog, my comment wasn’t intended as a slight on the blog, just a reflection on the real underlying human dynamic we all struggle with. We’re all the Prodigal, we’re all Judas, we’re all the devil inside, yet we all do good, we all love our neighbor, we all love God and all those in Christ are all redeemed. It’s quite a paradox. The Holy Spirit just reminds me often that I am no better than anyone else….and no one else is better than me. Helps keep me in check and keeps me from making Idols of men and Leaders.

  7. One of the many strengths of this blog is that, as another commenter noted recently, it is not an echo-chamber and the host is flawed but knows it and allows other flawed folks to pontificate in their flawedness.

  8. Alex @ # 2,

    It’s called “ego” and it is very powerful once you easily latch on to it. It’s counterpart is humility which has even more power, but it is difficult to obtain it. The power of ego is almost immediately observed while the power of humility is nearly unnoticed. Christ has the ultimate possession of power and He obviously is humble.I personally think that Christ did not pick humbleness in order to obtain power, Humbleness is the result of His power.

  9. I’ll try to write this while I’m still semi coherent today.

    So much of the conflict we see in the church today is over boundary markers that we demand be recognized as just that.

    To make matters more difficult we’ve conflated political and doctrinal boundary markers together as fences that must be defended.

    Peterson violated one of the biggest by being ambiguous on same sex relationships.

    My first thought when I read his quote was that I wanted to sit down with him and hear him out…not that I wanted to burn him at the stake.

    When I was in the process of becoming officially Anglican, I thought I already had Anglican doctrine down.

    It was simply liturgical Calvinism with a prayer book.

    Then along came Duane…who showed me an entirely different take on Anglican history.

    I’ve read doctrinal views I’ve never been exposed to before…but I had to take down a bunch of fences first.

    Perhaps if we put some gates in to visit with one another we can start to notice the pastures are empty…

  10. Alex and Paul, those are wise words IMHO…
    it may be wrong that one man is no better than the next, but only God knows who’s who… it’s for sure we don’t… what we can do is see behaviors acted out and take pains to not repeat them in our own lives – learn from our parents mistakes, don’t repeat them, but be assured we’ll make plenty of our own, err something like that…

    my daughter showed me a video taken surreptitiously inside a pig slaughterhouse of a major brand… it flumoxed me as well as angered me – how could humans treat animals that way and joke about it? yet, there are the videos of another part of the world skinning dogs and cats alive because it makes the meat taste better… i don’t want to think that i am capable of that, but there is that proverb: teach a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it…

    what i am pondering from Pastor Duane’s post today, tho is, do we want a legacy? should we want one? right now i’m leaning toward yes… but …?…

  11. #9 Michael

    Fences with gates is an apt metaphor. Some here, have expressed surprise that I have a wide circle of friends and acquaintances from varied traditions – Anglicans, Lutherans, Baptists, Roman Catholics, Orthodox, Copts, and many more. There is a simple reason… I want to learn from them. I’m secure enough in my own theology that I don’t have to rant and rave or try to convince the other person that I’m right and they’re wrong. I use those gates to visit, learn and reflect on what I’ve been told. It diminishes no one to be gracious and open to growth…

  12. perhaps we need fences… not to keep others out, but to confine us to a set of workable (hopefully acceptable to God) boundaries… our two horses are kept in by a fence with gates which we go in and out, but the mindless deer go right thru the fences, do their damage and keep on going…
    gates are a good thing… maybe we need to be careful in breaking down fences? dunno… thinking on the posts today

  13. Em,

    Fences are valuable.

    The problem is that we all set them in different places.
    As I’m learning about a whole new (to me) set of doctrinal formulations, I have consciously decided that the creeds of the early church are sufficient fencing to keep me in God’s pasture.

    I think a return to creedal Christianity might be a good place to start rebuilding some broken fencing and creating new gates…

  14. “Good fences make good neighbors” – Robert Frost

    Fences give us a boundary to keep your stuff – your stuff – and your neighbors stuff… his stuff.

    As good as your neighbors stuff looks to you… he’s the one who waters it. Every. Single. Day. I don’t want his water bill.

    “All I want is a place for my stuff” by George Carlin.

  15. #13 Michael

    “I think a return to creedal Christianity might be a good place to start rebuilding some broken fencing and creating new gates…”


  16. Let me expand on this a bit.

    The creeds contain the non negotiables of the faith.
    If you don’t agree with the creeds, you’re not a Christian.

    Now…if you and I agree on the creeds, we can affirm each other as brethren and discuss our differences as family, not enemies.

    The affirmation of family must come first…

  17. Which Creed should we start with? 325 Nicea or 381?

    Watch out for Filioque!

  18. #17 Papias

    Ah, if it were only the Filioque that divides us from the East…

  19. Papias,

    I think we have consensus on Nicene, The Apostles Creed, and for most, the Athanasian Creed.

    I truly wonder how many evangelicals today are familiar with any of them…

  20. #17 Papias

    The Creed of 381 is the most widely accepted of all the ecumenical creeds…

  21. I don’t feel separated from the East…because I have such affection and respect for Xenia that it would be a shameful thing in my eyes.

    She and I don’t agree on everything, but I believe Jesus agrees on both of us. 🙂

  22. #21 Michael


  23. Duane,

    I understand that it has been only within the last 30-40 years that much of Luther and his associates and proteges’ works have been translated into English. Moreover, there is a movement within the LCMS to make the historic liturgy and practice even more normative across the Synod. I feel like there is something of an Oxford Movement taking place within the LCMS. Perhaps you and Michael would like to join in? 🙂

  24. Jean

    If the Apology of the Augsburg Confession (XXIV:1) were practiced… it could be attractive to some!

  25. Jean,

    As each day passes I find that I’m just discovering what I’ve always been…what I was born to be.
    I’m Anglican.
    Having said that I will share a meal with Lutheran brethren like yourself any time and rejoice in what you bring to the kingdom of God.

    I could never leave my prayer book… 🙂

  26. @ Duane. Sharing this has left me anything but saddened. Here is what I saw in chronological order.
    *Eugene Peterson, was a two word clump of data floating in my memory. Tied to another clump called The Mesage, one of the lamest translations of all time as I see things.
    *EP goes on record and shows no hostility towards gays. If the guy wanted to light off a bigger bomb, it would be hard. Being a obsessive bomb thrower, I’m shouting, throw the bomb!
    *SP caves the following day as an angry Big Eva comes to life. Yes, I’m disappointed. But also feeling EP has more class then I do. In addition to not hating gays, he is not trying to be a bomb thrower.
    After two days, Petersons suddenly looking like a real human, not data. The Mesage, I would call a fail. But I can identify with fail. I am a life fail.
    I doubt the morning of the interview, EP woke up and said I’m starting a fight. I imagine him just wanting to put his pants on one leg a time, and take a piss, like every guy.
    The Mesage, still sucks. Peterson, maybe I was wrong all along. Since im a man, I will keep looking on the outside. But, I’m walking away reminded God looks on the heart.

  27. “Lead kindly light…”
    if memory serves me… it goes on to say: “I dare not take a single step apart from Thee. Where Thou dost walk or tarry, there let me be”… this is a very hard thing to do …
    i picture John Henry standing, frozen – waiting for a sign… perhaps we all reach this point at some time and nothing makes a stronger case for developing the mind of Christ over time… i have no quarrel with a concern for sound doctrines at all, but we can grow in Christ – we all can grow if we try…
    speaking as one of those naturally double minded ones that God has a very difficult time blessing …
    to paraphrase an old silly song… it is hard not to function “with one eye on the pot (as in cooking) and the other up the chimney” looking for God and grace… and that is double minded or at least one version of same… if i were a teacher, i guess it would mean that i’m watching for approval from the flock while i try to focus on my Lord…?…

  28. rabbit trailing a bit, but this has me wondering about something now…
    i’ve been a teacher of sorts – Sunday School and then later some rather technical stuff
    when i was teaching Sunday School teen girls and then pre-pubescent boys (why i got that assignment is a mystery) i was very concerned with reaching and keeping the attention of the class … BUT later on in life teaching technical stuff, my focus was soley on the material presenting it as clearly as i could and the attention of the class – adults now – was completely their problem IMV … oddly, they told me that i was the best teacher that they’d had… so? so i’m wondering if those who now are tasked with bringing us along in the Lord, not the pastoring, but the teaching … are too concerned with pastoring when they should be teaching… dunno, if i’m clearly saying what i’m thinking…
    but i am convinced that pastoring and teaching should be two separate vocations – but i may be wrong as that’s not the way it is done, is it? 🙂
    when God makes me Queen, it will be tho LOL

  29. Em,

    The seminal verse for your last question is:

    “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers,”

    I may be at odds with the LCMS, which interprets “shepherds and teachers” as one vocation. I would love to hear the exegetical opinions of the readers here, including Steve Wright. (By the way, one of the things about being in the LCMS is that it doesn’t really matter if I’m at odds with something, what matters is that I submit to the doctrine of the church. This at times constricts, but at other times frees. So, for me it works.)

    My observation from experience is that the skill set/gift of the shepherd and teacher are not a 1 to 1 match. In other words, there are some outstanding pastors who are not very good teachers, and visa vera. But there are some pastors who are also excellent teachers.

    Thank you, Em, for raising the issue.

  30. #29 Jean

    I know a teacher (LCMS) who is the best on the planet, bar none. As a pastor, clueless… just saying…

  31. Well, two separate vocations, pastor and teacher sure seems logical to me… encouraging to hear some of the academics who post here may be thinking similarly
    I’ve puzzled over your Scripture reference, Jean – it seemed so clear, but… ?…. May simply be a case of lack of manpower (generic)

  32. For anyone interested in the Oxford Movement, I would highly recommend “The Vision Glorious: Themes and Personalities of the Catholic Revival in Anglicanism” by Geoffrey Rowell. It is well worth a read…

  33. Duane,
    I was traveling the past 3 days so I may have missed some of the nuance here.

    Where were you going when you suggested “If the Apology of the Augsburg Confession (XXIV:1) were practiced… it could be attractive to some!”

  34. “To begin with, we must repeat the prefatory statement that we do not abolish the Mass but religiously keep and defend it. In our churches Mass is celebrated every Sunday and on other festivals… we keep traditional liturgical forms such as the order of the lessons, prayers, vestments, etc.”

    Apology XXIV:1

    Such a “high church” expression would be attractive to some…

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