The English Reformed Tradition: Holloway

The English Reformed Tradition

Its distinctives & worth

David Holloway

Latimer Trust, 2022 (ISBN: 9781906327767, 43pp, £4)

The author of this short but valuable booklet is one of the longest-serving incumbents in England, having taken the reigns at Newcastle’s Clayton Memorial Church in 1973. As this was prior to the advent of the odious Ecclesiastical Offices (Age Limit) Measure 1975, Holloway has been able to retain the living into what will shortly be his Golden Jubilee year. Jesmond Parish Church, as it is commonly known, has flourished in this period, a beacon of gospel life in a challenging context. 

Although the booklet is published by Latimer, it is offered ‘in partnership with’ ReNew. This body, substantially the successor to Reform (whose covenant is somewhat anachronistically appended), is at a potentially volatile point of its development, as the ecclesiastical landscape shifts. English evangelicalism has always, quite reasonably, considered itself in harmony with the foundational texts of the Church of England and it is salutary for this harmony to be expounded for a major section of the party by so tried a hand.

The style of writing is accessible, even conversational, reflecting the genesis of the document in a Zoom presentation. Holloway’s two sections give, first, a taxonomy of reformations, and second a review of certain distinctive aspects of the English tradition. The earlier of these is drawn, somewhat inexplicably, from the writing of the C17th Norwich physician Sir Thomas Browne. Religio Medici was a popular spiritual reflection in its time but makes for an eccentric authority on the classification of reformed churches. The ‘Dutch tradition at Dort’ is, for example, presented in distinction to the Elizabethan Settlement, yet churchmen of that very settlement happily sat in council at Dort alongside representatives of the best reformed churches on the continent. Likewise, the Lutheran tradition, though undoubtedly further from England than the Dutch, played an important role in the development thereof, via the influence of Augsburg, Cranmer’s 1538 conference with Lutheran leaders, and Queen Elizabeth’s own theological sympathies. 

The second part of the book is however the more important and the more convincingly argued. Holloway lucidly presents the Vestarian Controversy as the touchstone of England’s principles of worship. The normative approach having been established under Ridley, Parker, and Hooker, that of the Westminster Standard is by contrast described as an alien innovation. Again, the interrelations are significantly more nuanced than is allowed, but as a rough sketch it suffices. A number of ‘fundamental issues’ which England ‘got right’ are considered: the Papacy, anthropology, the balance of piety and theology, and its resistance to what Holloway very neatly describes as ‘the severe logic of [double] predestination’. The main uncertainty of this section is its assertion of the congregationalist or ‘Sydney’ approach to Article XIX. This contrasts with the historic reformed perspective, whose modern proponents, awkwardly, include the main co-sponsor of ReNew (see A. Cinnamond in Foundations of Faith (2018)).

This booklet is an excellent introduction to some distinctives of English religion. If we must use the tiresome and much-misunderstood word ‘Anglicanism’ (as the volume does, repeatedly), then at least readers will see something of how its soul was formed not in the reductionist formulas of Chicago-Lambeth but more fully and richly in its reformation roots.

Edward Keene, Little Shelford