Well, I must say that I didn't expect my post to find the audience it did, for which I am certainly grateful. RealClearReligion, TitusOneNine, First Things's First Thoughts, and Cranach all linked to it. Gene Veith, writer of the last named, in the context of his post, mentioned the Mockingbird blog, which reminded me of one name I had intended but failed to discuss: Paul F. M. Zahl.
Zahl is a retired rector of The Episcopal Church and the author of such winsome books as Grace in Practice, Five Women of the Reformation, The Protestant Face of Anglicanism, and A Short Systematic Theology. He was also dean of Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, Pennsylvania, probably the premier seminary for evangelical Anglicans in America. He is also the father of David Zahl, the editor in chief of the Mockingbird blog.
Paul Zahl's full-throated advocacy for the simul justus et peculator construal of the Christian's status before God, and relentless and unapologetic apology for unbounded grace in both our life before God and with our neighbor has elicited accusations of virtual antinomianism—a charge often hurled at Lutherans.
I must say I have been quite taken over the years by Zahl's vigorous assault on all manner of magical thinking in the Christian life—objectifications of the divine that promise more than they can deliver. And while he can certainly sound Lutheran in his strict separation of law and gospel, his beliefs about the church and the sacraments can only leave a confessional Lutheran (even a not-so-confessional Lutheran) flabbergasted. While Anglicans certainly have their low-church wing, if Zahl were any lower, he'd be preaching in China.
Before you can do justice to Zahl's "no ecclesiology is an ecclesiology," however, you have to understand how important the practical, the everyday, theology as lived, is to him.
From Grace in Practice:
Needless to say, in Zahl's deconstruction enterprise, sacraments cannot be part of the "saving work of Christ," vehicles of grace, and church discipline is only the church, once again, stifling grace. Whatever Jesus meant by "my church" in Matthew 16:18, Zahl has reduced to a merely human institution with every human flaw.
Because the church as Christ's body cannot mean for Zahl what it has meant for many Christians throughout history (an understanding he calls a misunderstanding, à la Emil Brunner), Zahl also construes Christ's real presence as a real absence. Christ, like Joltin' Joe, has left and gone away. He is not present in the Eucharist. He is not present in the keys to bind and loose given to the church. He is not present in the preached Word. So where is he?
"The presence of Christ's absence is found within the works of love."
Al Kimel, a former Episcopalian, a former RomanCatholic, presently Eastern Orthodox, wrote about Zahl's theology several years ago. Kimel admitted to something of a Lutheran phase, as well as Zahl's influence on his thinking, at least for a while. In 2005, Kimel, then a Catholic, revisited Zahl's Short Systematic Theology and approached it as a Lutheran might.
I'm sure Zahl has an answer, although how consonant it is with confessional Protestant thought, whether of the Canterbury, Geneva, or Wittenberg variety, is another thing. Keep in mind also that one of the influences on his Short Systematic was Ernst Käsemann, a signal force in the "Second Quest" search for the "historical Jesus," a bankrupt enterprise that has succeeded in uncovering precious little about Jesus but a lot about how bored scholars manage to organize so many conferences.
In short, Zahl's body of work is certainly no bridge between Wittenberg and Canterbury (and, it should be stated, never claimed to be), offering mostly a long laundry list of what the historic church has gotten wrong. Such an approach doesn't provide much of a foundation for a unified, orthodox "classical" Anglican—it's simply too eccentric. It's Zahlism more than Anglicanism.
Nevertheless, Zahl is a sharp writer who offers much ammunition against contemporary theologies of glory and continues to shed light on the culture's self-justifying and self-righteous pathologies—no small things.
Takeaway from Grace in Practice:
Now that'll preach. Even among Lutherans.