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Saturation in Scripture was Cranmer's primary goal for the people of England, and I don't think you can get more evangelical than that!

What about some of the problems that evangelicals have had with the BCP over the years? For instance, you show in your book how some evangelicals have viewed the prayer book as a kind of rote formalism that quenches revival and the free movement of the Spirit.

The evangelical suspicions of the prayer book have been varied over the years. Some of them are linguistic: Why do you call that table an "altar"? Why do you call that minister a "priest"? Some involve gestures and objects, even those that are not prescribed by the BCP but are not forbidden by it: Why do you light all those candles? Why do you ask people to kneel to receive Communion? The general suspicion seems to be that if it looks like Papistry and sounds like Papistry and smells like Papistry (e.g., incense), then it must be Papistry.

But many of these people could be satisfied by relatively minor changes in wording in the BCP, some of which were made in various revisions. The more intractable protestors have always been those who prefer "free" (unscripted) worship, who disdain all set forms. One of the more hard-core in this group was the great poet John Milton, who not only rejected all liturgy but did not even believe that Christians were permitted to say the Lord's Prayer (he saw it merely as a template which we should adapt for the needs of our own hearts). For people like Milton, the very existence of any kind of prayer book is offensive.

To take up another issue that people have had, you begin the first chapter of your book by writing that the "Book of Common Prayer came into being as an instrument of social and political control," and you show that it stayed that way for a long time. Is that all it was, or was there more to it?

Well, certainly Cranmer would have said that there's more to it, and (being an Anglican myself) I would agree. But it's easy to understand that those people who were compelled against their will and conscience to worship according to the words and rubrics of the BCP wouldn't have been inclined to take so generous a view of the matter.

What would you say are the strengths of the historic prayer book tradition? More specifically, speaking as an evangelical Anglican yourself, what do you think evangelicals can learn from it?

In making his prayer book, Thomas Cranmer wanted to make sure that the people of England were constantly exposed to Holy Scripture in a language they understood, working through the whole of the Bible regularly and the Psalms every month, while following a calendar that rehearsed in every church year the whole story of salvation starting with the Fall and culminating in Christ's unique sacrifice of himself on the Cross and his glorious resurrection, the benefits of which we are not worthy to receive on any merits of ours—"we are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs from under Thy table"—but only through the purest grace extended on the basis of Christ's unique status as Lord and Savior.

How can you get any more evangelical than that?

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The Book of Common Prayer Is Still a Big Deal