Equipping the church to proclaim the Word of life.
Updated: Sep 10, 2020
A review of Peter Adam, Thomas Cranmer. Using the Bible to Evangelize the Nation. (LS89) Written by Rev Dr Justyn Terry.
In, ‘Thomas Cranmer: Using the Bible to Evangelize the Nation,’ Peter Adam has done the Church a great service in showing how the Archbishop’s vision for converting England has vital lessons for Christians everywhere as we seek to bring the gospel to the nations. He provides a succinct summary of the history of mission in England, and explains Cranmer’s evangelistic strategy in an engaging way, complete with well-chosen quotations. He then shows how these insights can be applied today for contemporary mission and ministry. The book delivers what it promises on the cover.
Dr Adam has clearly done his research, and draws on several notable scholars to make his argument about the centrality of the Bible for Cranmer’s plan to re-evangelise England. He demonstrates a deep appreciation for the Book of Common Prayer as the vehicle by which Cranmer delivered the reading and preaching of the Bible in English to every parish in the country. The reader can feel Adam’s joy as he explains how every service included a gospel message, an exhortation to confess sin, an opportunity to make that confession, and an assurance of sins forgiven. ‘This meant that there was a gospel appeal in every service!’ (p 25).
There is an appropriate emphasis on the centrality of Scripture in the Archbishop’s missionary strategy. However, it is helpful that Adam also makes space for Cranmer’s concern to have well-trained clergy to deliver this biblical message, and to be sure they were ready to suffer for the gospel, as he was willing to do himself. The prayer book and books of homilies were so saturated with biblical texts that even the least educated minister could do effective gospel work. However, it was clear to him that every effort should be made to ensure all the parishes of England had knowledgeable and godly clergy. Adam notes how successful that policy was, quoting Joseph Hall who claimed in 1624 that the English clergy were, ‘the wonder of the world… so many learned divines, so many eloquent preachers.’ (p 33)
Dr Adam helpfully draws out the way Cranmer’s liturgical prayers apply the word of God to the human heart. Scripture is woven into every paragraph of the Book of Common Prayer so that its message is pressed home repeatedly, sometimes by using biblical phrases, but always using biblical truth. He notes that Cranmer recognised Scripture as ‘God’s effective means of grace’ (p 11), which has the power to save. This does, however, beg the question of what role baptism and Holy Communion had for administering grace in Cranmer’s theology, something that Adam does not discuss. That might be the topic for a sequel, since here too Cranmer has much to offer the Church in its mission.
This short book packs a punch. A powerful case is made for making Bible reading, preaching and teaching central to all of our evangelism. It is delivered with many delightful phrases (the Reformation message was, ‘good news, not good works’, p 7), and with telling insights into the contemporary missionary challenge. It also whets the appetite for greater use of the Book of Common Prayer.
In an age dominated by popular opinion, fascinated with celebrity, and enthralled by (neo-) paganism, it is easy for Christians to feel dizzy with the scale of the challenge. Peter Adam offers a way forward. Focus on the reading, preaching and teaching of the Bible; thoroughly equip ministers to proclaim the word of life; and encourage one another to stand faithfully to the end accepting suffering on the path to glory as Cranmer did.