Review of Jeffrey W. Driver. A Polity of Persuasion: Gift and Grief of Anglicanism

driverpolityofpersuasionJeffrey W. Driver. A Polity of Persuasion: Gift and Grief of Anglicanism. The Lutterworth Press, 2014.

It is hard to believe that it is over a decade since the publication of the Windsor Report sought to address the splits within Anglicanism over same-sex relationships. This book, by the Archbishop of Adelaide, is a reflection on the nature of Anglicanism and its ecclesiology – its concern for historical contextuality, dispersed authority and proceeding through persuasion and reception of new ideas – in the light of these developments and earlier tensions over women’s ordination. It offers both an account and interpretation of recent decades and its own proposals as to how conflicts could be better handled from an Anglican perspective.

The second and third chapters offer a helpful overview of the series of reports from The Grindrod Report on women bishops for Lambeth 1988 through the Eames Commissions and Virginia Report to Windsor and then the development of the covenant. There is much here of value but the account also raises some questions. These relate to gaps in the history (such as the growth of the language of “instruments” and ACC reports on the Communion) and in the secondary literature (e.g. Doe’s major study of the covenant is not referenced) as well as to emphases (too much is made of the draft covenant in an appendix to Windsor and, despite his post-colonial concerns, it is the northern rather than Global South critiques of the covenant drafts that get attention). I remained unpersuaded by his overall argument that Windsor and the final covenant text marked a significant centralisation of authority. This fails to recognise the protection of provincial autonomy internally while setting out agreed processes to oversee the inter-provincial life of the Communion.

The next two chapters set out some of the bases for Bishop Driver’s critique and own proposals: a study of open reception and an informative account of the distinctive structures of his own province’s polity and how it might help the Communion as a whole. He then sets out a way in which the Communion might move from restraining destructive conflict (the focus until now) to enabling appropriate and creative conflict within koinonia. His vision of a “polity of persuasion” with a focus on relationality, giving time and space for discernment, conciliarity and creative conflict has much that appeals although it is surprising that more attention is not given here to the Continuing Indaba Project (perhaps reflecting the fact no Australian diocese was involved in the initial conversations). There remains, however, a need for more clarity about how churches or Instruments should respond when the Communion clearly views a development as an unbiblical error and calls on provinces to pause but is ignored, as happened over same-sex unions but not over women’s ordination. Here his important critique (most fully set out in his final chapter) of the idealism behind appealing to Trinitarian communion as a model for ecclesial communion needs to go beyond the realities of human frailty and brokenness to the need to respond to sin and disobedience.

Questions of faith and order within global Anglicanism, although not as high-profile in recent years, are now beginning to surface again after the recent Primates' gathering in Canterbury.   This book is a valuable contribution which needs to be read by all interested in how we now move forward. Despite its weaknesses, its vision of a “polity of persuasion” as a gift that Anglicans can offer to the wider church and the world is an attractive one which needs to shape the new structures that are going to have to develop if we are in any sense to remain a global Communion.

This book review was originally produced for Anvil Journal. The Journal is currently transitioning to a new partnership with CMS. During this phase, book reviews are being published by Fulcrum.

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