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‘Unabashedly Episcopalian – Proclaiming the Good News of the Episcopal Church’, by Andrew Doyle: Wendy Dackson



C. Andrew Doyle is the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Texas.  In this short book, he takes the reader through the Baptismal Covenant found in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer  in use in most Episcopal congregations in the United States.  The book’s intended audience appears to be those seeking baptism (for themselves or for a child) or confirmation in this denomination, and one of the endorsements on the back jacket of the book claims it is a ‘love letter to a church that could use one right this minute!” And yes, Doyle does hold up the beauty of Episcopal liturgy and practice as attractive reasons to enter into a life journey of Christian faith within this particular expression of Christianity.  It may also help those who have been long time members to “see our church again for the first time” (ix), as he says in the acknowledgements which start the book.


The book is a good introduction to the Episcopal Church for those who have never been part of a Christian community.  It tells clearly, accurately, and passionately about the life of  Christian faith in the contemporary world.  Mostly, it avoids what I consider to be a too-heavy and wrongheaded emphasis on ‘salvation’ as individualistic and about getting to heaven after death.  Indeed, one of the things Bishop Doyle emphasizes early on is that the point of faith is this worldly:


“We do believe in the kingdom of heaven, but we believe that we participate in bringing it to life today.  We do not spend a lot of time concerned with life after death; we spend most of our time working to make haven real in this world.” (p.11)


This has been the direction my own spiritual journey has taken in the last few years, and I was happy to see it as part of what a bishop promotes as appropriate instruction for new Christians in the Episcopal tradition. He also emphasized that in the Episcopal Church, our life is lived in connection with the gospel sacraments of baptism and eucharist, with the understanding that they are to strengthen and equip us for mission in the world.  That mission includes care of and responsibility for others (although I found that in his discussion of this toward the end of the book, it was a little more individualistic, one-to-one care than might really be transformative of the unjust social structures we are meant to transform). He is clear throughout that the baptismal covenant is not only about belief, but about “the kind of people we wish to become, and the type of world we wish to live in” (p.12)


All of this is encouraging, especially as people of all ages (not only the young on whom so much energy is lavished) seek to connect what they believe with how they live, and at a time when one of the biggest reasons for leaving church is that people fail to find that connection.  About midway through the book (pp.48-51), there is an excellent reflection on the meaning of each clause of the Lord’s Prayer.  This is one of the high points of the book, and worth reading the whole for these three pages alone.


What troubles me (and I am admittedly not the target readership for this book) is that Doyle makes many claims for what is uniquely Episcopalian, and I often found myself asking questions such as “What deonmination does not hold the Lord’s prayer as central to their common life of worship?” Or “What denomination does not believe that it was their responsibility to walk with God in faith in the world?” And “What Christian church does not proclaim the stories of scripture?”  Claims such as these are not, in my view, not only wrong (these things are shared by a variety of Christian denominations, and the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral recognizes more commonality than Doyle does in this book), but they are indeed contrary to the ecumenical leadership that the Episcopal Church and the wider Anglican Communion have provided in the search for greater Christian unity.  Interestingly, he cites only one theologian from the Anglican tradition (N.T. Wright), and holds up examples of Episcopal missionaries, but makes no mention of American Episcopalians who have contributed to the life and belief of the church through their ideas.


I am a firm believer that Christianity is best practiced within the framework of particular communities, and my chosen one is the Episcopal Church (and has also been the Church of England).  I think that people should be very aware of their denomination’s commitments and emphases, and for the neophyte Episcopalian, Doyle’s book is a start.  But there is something of an inappropriately triumphalist tone in statements such as the following:

“Our world is hungry and starving for the Word of God proclaimed by our kind of church—the Episcopal Church’: (p. 104).  This is especially jarring as, in several places within the text, Doyle claims that we are a hospitable church, and it is not our mission to make people be or believe “like us”.


I think Unabashedly Episcopalian is an excellent book for those inquiring about membership in this denomination, and there is much that I agree with theologically.  But for the ecumenically minded Episcopalian, or one who has studied other works on the history of Anglicanism, it does not have much to offer.




Unabashedly Episcopalian: Proclaiming the Good News of the Episcopal Church, by Andrew Doyle.  Harrisburg, PA:  Morehouse, 2012. Paperback, 114 pp.

The image of Bishop Doyle is via the Episcopal News Service.

3 comments on this post:

tgflux said...

Good review!

It’s always a balancing act: appropriately proclaiming the charisms (unique or not) of your particular tradition, while still keeping an emphasis on what is shared w/ other traditions/denominations. I find myself, within my own faith journey, swinging back&forth: more ecumenical at some times/more “WooHoo, TEC is Grrrrreat! cough *the BEST* cough” at others.

19 July 2013 06:29
Wendy Dackson said...

There are some wrong but strong claims made for the Episcopal Church’s uniqueness that many people I know would find extremely offensive. It is unfortunate that they appear so early on in the book, and only taper off after about that mid-point reflection on the Lord’s Prayer, which is perhaps the best part of the book.

Although at the end of the book there was an interesting explanation of what it means to be ‘Episcopal’ (epi-from above, and skope–a view with an intent to act or observe, and that all in our tradition, not just bishops, have this), the ‘from above’ bit bothered me. What makes our view of the world ‘above’ that of others? Although I often find that my trust of bishops has been worn quite thin over the years, it is indeed the bishops that have that sight or view from above, but *only* over the people in this particular ecclesial expression. NOT over the whole world (as Doyle implies).

The book is a good cheerleading manual for new Episcopalians (in TEC), but fails to connect in important ways to Anglicans more globally, and definitely undermines ecumenism in ways I personally found disturbing.

19 July 2013 11:25
Wendy Dackson said...

I *might* be able to say that Episcopalians have that ‘episkope’ in the sense of that we understand that, along with other Christians, we have been *given* from above a divine lens through which to view the world and by that view, guide our actions and attitudes. But we certainly do not ourselves look ‘from above’.

Having spent 5 years doing a doctorate at a Jesuit university, alongside Christians from a wide range of denominations from very conservative Wisconsin Synod Lutherans and Assemblies of God, to liberal United Methodists, and Roman Catholics representing the whole spectrum of interpretation, I don’t think Doyle makes a single sustainable claim for the uniqueness of the Episcopal Church.

19 July 2013 12:19

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