Nearly thirty years ago when I ventured to publish a small book discussing the Thirty-Nine Articles, having found the existing literature, as I was so brash as to say, “disagreeable,” it was considered a rather self-destructive thing to do. Slowly the Articles had become decentred from the life of the Church of England, which of all the Anglican churches was most likely to have a stake in them, and even clerical subscription could be done on terms that hardly required the subscriber to read them. It seemed to have become established that this document attracted no more than an occasional feisty pamphlet from the disenchanted fringes, beyond which it was left to the historians to get excited about. Now we see appearing, more or less simultaneously, two treatments of this key 16th-century doctrinal document by former theological educators who have held responsibility for articulating the faith within their churches. They are very different from each other in many respects, but both pretty long. One is of U.S. provenance; the author, the Rt. Rev. John H. Rodgers, is a retired bishop of the Anglican Mission in North America. The other is English and by Martin Davie, a layman who has served for the past decade as theological secretary to the Church of England’s Council for Christian Unity and Faith and Order Commission.
In the new climate of contested Anglican identity the status of the Articles has evidently changed. Figuring importantly both in the Anglican Communion Covenant and the Jerusalem Declaration from GAFCON 2008, they have ceased to be a mildly divisive archaeological irritant and have become an element in the core legacy of Anglicanism that for many reasons it has become urgent to revisit. At the same time new developments in the scholarship of the English Reformation have made them seem rather less musty.