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Archbishop William Temple and Public Theology in a Post-Christian Context

  • Wendy Dackson (a1)


Sixty years after William Temple's death, little in the way of constructive theology has been done with the body of writings he left. Part of this is due to the way in which his legacy has been (mis)appropriated by some of the scholars and church leaders who are seen as his heirs and admirers. An over-emphasis on the ‘middle axioms’ approach exemplified in Christianity and Social Order, and later promoted heavily by Ronald Preston, explains much of this lack. Although the ‘middle axioms’ approach is still applicable, the principles set out in Temple's most famous work need to be re-examined and perhaps expanded in the light of a post-Christian plural society. The purpose of this essay is to examine a broader range of Temple's work than is commonly done. By doing so, I will propose that the virtues of intellectual excellence, graciousness, and the welfare of the wider (non-church) society are guiding principles for ecclesial being, speech and action that are fully present in Temple's writings.



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1. Preston, Ronald, ‘William Temple: The Man and his Impact on Church and Society’, in Preston, Ronald, Brown, Malcom, Jenkins, Rachel and Addy, Tony (eds.), Archbishop William Temple: Issues in Church and Society 50 Years On (Manchester: The William Temple Foundation, 1994), pp. 416 (4).

2. Suggate, Alan, ‘Preface’, in Dackson, Wendy, The Ecclesiology of Archbishop William Temple (1881–1944) (Lewiston: Edwin Mellen Press, 2004), pp. iiii (i).

3. Atherton, John, Public Theology for Changing Times (London: SPCK, 2000), p. 79.

4. Preston, , ‘William Temple’, p. 4. I do not think Preston is entirely off-base in his appropriation of Temple. His continuation of Temple's ethical and ecumenical concerns is very much in line with Temple's. I do, however, hold that he has not adequately assessed Temple's deeper theological foundations, and thus does not create an adequate ecclesiology from which to address those concerns. See Dackson, , ‘But Was it Meant to Be a Joke Legacy? Ronald Preston as Heir to William Temple’, Studies in Christian Ethics 17.2 (2004), pp. 148–61, in which I explain further how Ronald Preston both was, and was not, Temple's theological successor.

5. Suggate, , ‘Preface’, p. i.

6. Norman, Edward, Secularisation (London: Continuum, 2000), pp. viiiix.

7. See Hampson, Daphne, After Christianity (London: SCM Press, 1996).

8. Norman, , Secularisation, p. ix.

9. Atherton, John, Marginalization (London: SCM Press, 2003), p. 31. Atherton gives an excellent description of the declining influence of the church in contemporary British society (although the concepts are apt in other contexts, such as North America), and ways in which the church might work with both secular groups and other faiths to retain a corporate vitality. Space does not permit detailing his arguments here, but I highly recommend his book.

10. Atherton, , Marginalization, p. 33. I would venture that my own generation, born in the ‘baby boom’ years, is the first generation for whom it was socially acceptable not to profess at least nominal religious affiliation, and for whom it was common to be raised without some minimal level of religious activity.

11. Atherton, , Marginalization, p. 1.

12. Forrester, Duncan, ‘The Scope of Public Theology’, Studies in Christian Ethics 17.2 (08 2004), pp. 519.

13. Forrester, , ‘Scope of Public Theology’; and Atherton, John, ‘Marginalisation, Manchester, and the Scope of Public Theology’, Studies in Christian Ethics 17.2 (08 2004), pp. 2030.

14. Forrester, , ‘Scope of Public Theology’, p. 18.

15. Forrester, , ‘Scope of Public Theology’, p. 19.

16. Iremonger, F.A., William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury: His Life and Letters (London: Oxford University Press, 1948), pp. 108–11.

17. William Temple was the first son of an Archbishop of Canterbury to become Archbishop of Canterbury.

18. Iremonger, , William Temple, p. 105.

19. Iremonger, , William Temple, pp. 98102.

20. Iremonger, , William Temple, p. 474.

21. Preston, , ‘William Temple’, p. 4.

22. Preston, , ‘William Temple’, p. 5.

23. Suggate, Alan M., William Temple and Christian Social Ethics Today (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1987), p. 149.

24. Storrar, William F., ‘Scottish Civil Society and Devolution: The New Case for Ronald Preston's Defence of Middle Axioms’, Studies in Christian Ethics 17.2 (08 2004), pp. 3746.

25. Storrar, , ‘Scottish Civil Society’.

26. Temple, William, Christianity and Social Order (London: SCM Press, 1942), pp. 6266.

27. Temple, , Christianity and Social Order, pp. 6777.

28. See Dackson, , Ecclesiology of Archbishop William Temple. Also Dackson, , ‘But Was it Meant to Be a Joke Legacy?’

29. Charles Gore is most likely the influence on Temple's primary ecclesiological metaphor. See his The Holy Spirit and the Church (London: John Murray, 1924), pp. 26, 111, 147.

30. Dackson, , Ecclesiology of Archbishop William Temple, pp. 7475.

31. Suggate, , ‘Preface’, p. ii.

32. Temple, William, Christus Veritas (London: Macmillan, repr., 1954 [1924]), p. 250.

33. Temple, , Christus Veritas, p. 237.

34. Dackson, , Ecclesiology of Archbishop William Temple, p. 115.

35. Dackson, , Ecclesiology of Archbishop William Temple, p. 120.

36. Temple, William, Readings in St. John's Gospel (London: Macmillan, 1952 [1939–40]), p. 100.

37. Temple, William, The Church and its Teaching Today (New York: Macmillan, 1936), pp. 23.

38. Iremonger, , William Temple, p. 172.

39. Temple, William, Studies in the Spirit and Truth of Christianity (London: Macmillan, 1914), pp. 150–61.

40. Temple, , Studies in the Spirit and Truth, p. 150.

41. Temple, , Studies in the Spirit and Truth, p. 157.

42. Temple, , Studies in the Spirit and Truth, p. 161.

43. Preston, , ‘William Temple’, p. 8.

44. Temple, William, Nature, Man and God (London: Macmillan, repr., 1949 [1934]).

45. Temple, , Studies in the Spirit and Truth, pp. 3940.

46. Temple, , Church and its Teaching, p. 48.

47. Temple, William, Church and Nation (New York: Macmillan, 1915), p. 115.

48. Temple, William, The Church Looks Forward (London: Macmillan, 1944), p. 30.

49. Temple, , The Church Looks Forward, p. 30.

50. Temple, , Church and its Teaching, p. 34.

51. Temple, , Readings in St. John's Gospel.

52. Temple, , Studies in the Spirit and Truth, p. 55.

53. Temple, , Church and its Teaching, p. 32.

54. Doctrine in the Church of England: The Report of the Commission on Christian Doctrine Appointed by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York in 1922 (Chairman's Introduction by Temple, W.; London: SPCK, 1950 [1938]), p. 1.

55. Temple, , Church and its Teaching, pp. 1516.

56. Temple, , Readings in St. John's Gospel, p. 14.

57. Temple, , Church and Nation, p. 30.

58. Temple, William, Issues of Faith (London: Macmillan, 1917), pp. 2122.

59. Preston, , ‘William Temple’, p. 14.

60. Preston, , ‘William Temple’, p. 9. However, Temple's use of the term ‘Christendom’ is quite different from that of most of his critics. It was ‘precisely the world no longer alien’ (Mens Creatrix [London: Macmillan, 1961 (1917)], p. 326), and thus something which had not yet been achieved.

61. Brown, Malcolm, ‘Work and Unemployment: The Church in the Moral Minefield’, in Preston, et al. , Archbishop William Temple, pp. 1730.

62. Temple, , Church and Nation, pp. 2930.

63. Forrester, , ‘Scope of Public Theology’, p. 19.



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