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B. H. Streeter and the Oxford Group

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 June 2010

School of History, University of Kent, Rutherford College, Canterbury CT2 7NX; e-mail:


This article examines the involvement of the prominent New Testament scholar, B. H. Streeter (1874–1937), in the Oxford Group, the movement founded by the American religious leader Frank Buchman. Streeter's mind was shaped by a liberal and modernist Anglicanism, while Buchman's ideas originated in a more Evangelical milieu; however, a common desire to do something about the international crisis of the 1930s brought them together. Streeter committed himself to Buchman's work in July 1934. In the next three years, influenced by Group teachings on the guidance of God, he concluded that his previous religious outlook had been too humanistic, and his faith became more experiential

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2010

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1 Typscript of speech, pp. 1–2, B. H. Streeter file (6.1072), Oxford Group UK Archives, Dial House, Whitbourne, Worcs. For a description of some of those who were at the meeting see Oxford international house party July 1934 file (4.3.1), ibid.

2 John Court, ‘Burnett Hillman Streeter’, Expository Times cxviii/1 (2006), 20. L. W. Grensted made the same point in ‘Streeter, Burnett Hillman (1874–1937)’, Oxford dictionary of national biography, 1931–1940, Oxford 1949, 837.

3 Anders Jarlert, The Oxford Group, group revivalism, and the Churches in northern Europe, 1930–1945, with special reference to Scandinavia and Germany, Lund 1995, 65.

4 On the OG's modernism see David Bebbington, Evangelicalism in modern Britain, London 1989, 235–6.

5 Details taken from Court, ‘Streeter’, 19. Streeter succeeded E. M. Walker as provost. On appointment, he was praised for his academic reputation and knowledge of the college, and for being a ‘man of business’: The Queen's College Record ii/1 (Nov. 1933), 9–10.

6 See The Queen's College Record xi/5 (Nov. 1937), 5–6; Alan Thornhill, One fight more, London 1943, 32.

7 Stephen Neill and Tom Wright, The interpretation of the New Testament, 1861–1986, Oxford 1988, 131–5; B. H. Streeter, essays in W. Sanday (ed.), Oxford studies in the synoptic problem, Oxford 1911, in particular ‘On the original order of Q’, at pp. 141–64; ‘St Mark's knowledge and use of Q’, at pp. 166–83; ‘The original extent of Q’, at pp. 185–208; and ‘The literary evolution of the Gospels’, at pp. 210–27, and The four Gospels: a study of origins, London 1924.

8 See B. H. Streeter ‘The historic Christ’, in B. H. Streeter, R. Brook, W. H. Moberley, R. G. Parsons, A. E. J. Rawlinson, N. S. Talbot and W. Temple, Foundations: a statement of Christian belief in terms of modern thought: by seven Oxford men, London 1912, 132–3.

9 Idem, Restatement and reunion: a study in first principles, London 1914, 79.

10 Details taken from Court, ‘Streeter’, 19.

11 This was the view of Michael Ramsay, as described ibid. 21. See also Grensted, ‘Streeter’, 838.

12 A. M. G. Stephenson, The rise and decline of English Modernism, London 1984, 109, 212, 214, 218, 219.

13 B. H. Streeter (ed.), Concerning prayer: its nature, its difficulties and its value, London 1916; B. H. Streeter, A. Clutton Brock, C. W. Emmett, J. A. Hadfield and the author of Pro Christi et Ecclesia, Immortality: an essay in discovery co-ordinating scientific, psychical and biblical research, London 1917; B. H. Streeter (ed.), The spirit: God and his relation to man considered from the standpoint of philosophy, psychology and art, London 1919. These works were the fruit of a circle organised by Lily Dougall that met outside Oxford: B. H. Streeter, ‘Biographical note’, in Lily Dougall, God's way with man, London 1924, 14, 16. See also B. H. Streeter (ed.), God and the struggle for existence, London 1919.

14 B. H. Streeter, Reality: a new correlation of science and religion, London 1926, 32.

15 Grensted, ‘Streeter ’, 837. Grensted was Nolloth Professor of the Philosophy of Christian Religion at Oxford from 1930 to 1950. See also n. 34 below.

16 The Times, 1 June 1931.

17 B. H. Streeter and A. J. Appasamy, The sadhu: a study in mysticism and practical religion, London 1922; B. H. Streeter, The Buddha and the Christ, London 1932.

18 The bishop of Birmingham [E. W. Barnes], Manchester Guardian, 15 Sept. 1937.

19 Church Times, 1 Apr. 1915; The Times, 1 Apr. 1915. For the reply of the bishop of Hereford [John Percival] see The Times, 7 Apr. 1915. Streeter was a canon at Hereford Cathedral from 1915 to 1934; it led to his writing The chained library, London 1931.

20 Farrer, Austin, ‘A return to New Testament Christological categories’, Theology xxvi (1933), 305–6Google Scholar. Farrer was referring to Streeter's argument in Reality that the passion and resurrection were best understood as a picture in human terms of the spirit of reality.

21 Streeter, Reality, pp. vii–viii.

22 Nicholas Davenport, Memoirs of a city radical, London 1974, 4.

23 Lean, Frank Buchman, 30, 35–6. On the OG's links with Keswick spirituality see Ian Randall, Evangelical experiences, Carlisle 1999, 240–1.

24 Harold Begbie, Life changers, London 1923; A. J. Russell, For sinners only, London 1932.

25 See ‘Layman with a notebook’, What is the Oxford Group?, Oxford 1933.

26 Randall, Ian, ‘“We all need constant change”: the Oxford Group and mission in Europe in the 1930s’, European Journal of Theology ix/2 (2000), 179Google Scholar; Theophil Spoerri, Dynamic out of silence, London 1976, 108.

27 Jarlert, The Oxford Group, 41.

28 Philip Boobbyer, ‘Moral re-armament in Africa in the era of decolonisation’, in B. Stanley (ed.), Missions, nationalism and the end of empire, Grand Rapids, Mi 2003, 217.

29 Spoerri, Dynamic out of silence, 181.

30 Quoted in Thornhill, One fight more, 17.

31 B. H. Streeter, ‘The new revivalism’, New Statesman and Nation, 10 Dec. 1932, 724.

32 Roland Wilson to Frank Buchman, 27 Jan. 1934, Streeter file (3.2154).

33 Streeter, speech, 23 Sept. 1935, ibid. (6.1072).

34 See L. W. Grensted, 'The Oxford Group: plans for the winter', The Times, 15 Sept. 1933; ‘Guidance from God’, The Listener (Mar. 1934), 396–9, and his conclusion to R. H. S. Crossman (ed.), Oxford and the Groups, Oxford 1934, 192–208. Grensted's involvement started to decline in the mid-1930s: Jarlert, The Oxford Group, 66–8; obituary, The Times, 19 Mar. 1964. Julian Thornton-Duesbery, chaplain and Fellow of Corpus Christi College, 1928–33, became headmaster of St George's School, Jerusalem, in 1933, returning as Principal of St Peter's Hall in 1940: obituary in The Times (8 Apr. 1985). See his The open secret of MRA, London 1964.

35 Thornhill, One fight more, 5–10. For details of the visit to the US see B. H. Streeter, ‘Modern criticism and the synoptic gospels’, Modern Churchman xxiv (Aug., Sept., Oct 1934), 451. See also Alan Thornhill, Best of friends, Basingstoke 1986, chs vii, ix.

36 Thornhill, One fight more, 6.

37 B. H. Streeter, The Church and modern psychology, Evanston, Ill 1934, 14.

38 Thornhill, One fight more, 26–7.

39 B. H. Streeter, speech, 23 Sept. 1935, Streeter file (6.1072).

40 Streeter to Buchman, 30 June 1937, ibid. (3.2154).

41 Streeter's speech came before that of a London telegraph boy: Thornhill, One fight more, 26–8; Revd Sam Shoemaker, in The New Witness (Montreal), 12 Oct. 1937.

42 Lean, Frank Buchman, 154. For a recent study see Suck, Daniel, ‘Men want something real: Frank Buchman and Anglo-American college religion in the 1920s’, JTS xxviii (2004), 260–75Google Scholar.

43 Crossman, Oxford and the Groups, appeared in January 1934: The Times, 26 Jan. 1934. Its contributors, all associated with the University of Oxford, included G. F. Allen (chaplain, Lincoln College), W. H. Auden, Grensted, B. E. Gwyer (Principal, St Hugh's), L. P. Jones (former Principal, Manchester) and Martin D'Arcy (Master, Campion Hall). Contributors to F. A. M. Spencer (ed.), The meaning of the Groups (London 1934) included William Brown (Wilde Professor of Mental Health at Oxford), H. D. A Major (modernist theologian: see n. 110 below), Ronald Knox, Charles Raven (Regius Professor of Divinity at Cambridge: see n. 140 below) and Evelyn Underhill.

44 Lean, Frank Buchman, 179. On later Anglican criticism of MRA see pp. 436–41.

45 See David Bebbington, ‘The Oxford Group movement between the wars’, in W. J. Sheils and Diana Wood (eds), Voluntary religion (Studies in Church History xxiii, 1986), 500 ff.

46 B. H. Streeter, speech, 23 Sept. 1935, Streeter file (6.1072).

47 Streeter to Buchman, 6 Apr. 1936, cited in Lean, Frank Buchman, 256.

48 The New Witness (Montreal), 12 Oct. 1937.

49 Herbert Hensley Henson, Retrospect of an unimportant life, ii, London 1946, 328. For Henson's account of the OG see The Group movement, Oxford 1933.

50 Hereford Cathedral preacher's book, 15 July 1934, Hereford Cathedral archives. Streeter returned in August with a team of speakers: Hereford Diocesan Messenger xxxvii/5 (Nov 1934), 916.

51 Henson, Unimportant life, ii. 349. Henson's tenure as bishop of Hereford (1917–20) overlapped with Streeter's years as an honorary canon at the cathedral.

52 Owen Chadwick, Hensley Henson, Oxford 1983, 214.

53 Hereford Diocesan Messenger xxxvii/6 (Jan. 1935), 935–7.

54 Stephenson, English Modernism, 219.

55 Thornhill, One fight more, 31.

56 Alan Thornhill to Buchman, handwritten letter, n.d., Alan Thornhill file (3.2214), Oxford Group UK archives.

57 See, for example, Roland Wilson to Buchman, 19 Nov. 1935, and 21 Jan. 1936, Roland Wilson 1934–36 file (3.2304), ibid.

58 Thornhill, One fight more, 34.

59 Buchman to Streeter, 19 Sept. 1935, Streeter file (3.2154).

60 B. H. Streeter, War, this war and the sermon on the mount, Oxford 1915, 12.

61 John Jevons to Brian Harrison, 1 Apr. 1989 (material gathered by Harrison containing recollections of Oxford college life before 1950), The Queen's College archives. Jevons thought that the sin in question was masturbation, although he later wondered whether it was homosexuality.

62 V. J. Wrigley, ‘Queen's in mid 1930s’, pt ii, ibid.

63 Idem, ‘A quiet time with the provost: in 1935’, The Queen's College Record vii/5 (Dec. 1999), 31.

64 Thornhill to Buchman, 30 May 1935, Thornhill file (3.2214); Thornhill, One fight more, 33.

65 See Kenaston Twitchell to Buchman, 4 Feb. 1935, Kenaston Twitchell file (3.2263), Oxford Group UK archives.

66 Irene Streeter to Buchman, 11 May 1935, Streeter file (3.2154).

67 Irene Streeter statement at houseparty, 7 July 1937, ibid.

68 For details of the Norway visit see Lean, Frank Buchman, 215ff.

69 Jarlert, Oxford Group, 225–6.

70 ‘The Oxford Group in Denmark’, 12 May 1935, in ‘Denmark/Press material, 1935–59’, Moral Re-Armament papers, Library of Congress, box 300. See also Jarlert, Oxford Group, 226.

71 Berlingske Tidende, 2 Apr. 1935.

72 Ronald Allen, in Manchester Guardian, 21 Sept. 1937. See also the tribute by the bishop (Dr H. Fuglsang-Damgaard) and dean (Paul Broderson) of Copenhagen: The Times, 30 Sept. 1937.

73 B. H. Streeter, text of sermon, 14 Apr. 1935, pp. 1–8 (p. 6 missing), Streeter file (6.1072).

74 For details of the campaign in Denmark see Lean, Frank Buchman, 225–32; Streeter to Buchman, 30 June 1937, Streeter file (3.2154).

75 B. H. Streeter, ‘Moral aspects of world crisis’, The Times, 10 May 1935; draft letter, 25 Apr. 1935, Streeter file (6.1072).

76 Oxford Group Weekly supplement, Montreal Witness and Canadian Homestead, 7 Aug. 1935.

77 Thornhill, One fight more, 37.

78 The campaign did not materialise: Jarlert, Oxford Group, 303–4.

79 Twitchell to Buchman, 16 May 1935, Twitchell file (3.2263), p. 3.

80 B. H. Streeter, ‘Luther, Erasmus and the Oxford Group’, Spectator, 6 Sept. 1935, 348–9. See also Buchman to Bishop Dr Fuglsang-Damgaard, 3 Oct. 1935, Bishop Dr Fuglsang-Damgaard file (3.1757), Oxford Group UK archives, and B. H. Streeter, Luther, Erasmus und die Oxford-Gruppe, Gotha 1935.

81 Loudon Hamilton to Buchman, 29 Apr. 1935, Loudon Hamilton file (3.0924), Oxford Group UK archives.

82 Irene Streeter to Buchman, 25 Apr. 1935, Streeter file (3.2154).

83 See Jarlert, Oxford Group, 227.

84 This was probably the bishop of Copenhagen, Hans Fuglsang-Damgaard.

85 Buchman to Streeter, 6 Apr. 1935, Streeter file (3.2154).

86 Streeter to Buchman, Copenhagen, 15 Apr. 1936, ibid; Lean, Frank Buchman, 255.

87 Buchman to Streeter, 20 Apr. 1936, Streeter file (3.2154).

88 Kenaston Twitchell, ‘Oxford’, in Oxford 1928–61, UK file (4.3.1.), Oxford Group UK archives, 8–9.

89 Streeter to Twitchell, 25 May 1935, Streeter file (3.2154).

90 Twitchell to Ray Purdy, 17 May 1935, ‘T, 1932–35’, file, Moral Re-Armament papers, Library of Congress, box 221.

91 Spoerri, Dynamic out of silence, 89.

92 Sisley Huddleston, In my time, London 1938, 397.

93 B. H. Streeter, ‘God's plan for men’, address in Geneva Cathedral, Streeter file (6.1072).

94 Idem, ‘Some principles of the Oxford Group’, 11 pp, ibid.

95 Eberhard Busch, Karl Barth, London 1976, 276.

96 Karl Barth, ‘Church or Group movement?’, London Quarterly and Holborn Review (Jan. 1937), 1, 9, 4.

97 B. H. Streeter, ‘Professor Barth v. The Oxford Group’, ibid. (Apr. 1937), 145, 146–7. Brunner considered writing a reply to Barth's article, but had ‘clear guidance’ not to, and passed on some ideas to Streeter instead: Emil Brunner to Buchman, 10 Feb. 1937, Emil Brunner file (3.0282), Oxford Group UK archives. For more on the views of Barth and Brunner on the OG see Karl Barth, Karl Barth-Emil Brunner: Briefswechsel: 1916–1966, Zurich 2000, and Emil Brunner, The Church and the Oxford Group, London 1937.

98 Nothing seems to have come of this idea: Streeter to Buchman, 13 Aug. 1936, Streeter file (3.2154). See also John Roots to Roland Wilson, 12 Sept. 1935, Wilson 1934–6 file (3.2304); Jarlert, Oxford Group, 406–7; Lean, Frank Buchman, 236–7.

99 See Lean, Frank Buchman, 248.

100 Detail derived from research notes compiled by Morris Martin and cited in Jarlert, Oxford Group, 42.

101 Bebbington, Evangelicalism, 235.

102 K. D. Belden, The hour of the helicopter, Yeovil 1992, 41.

103 Lean, Frank Buchman, 214, 147, 238–40.

104 Streeter, ‘Education’, in Kenneth Kirk (ed.), Personal ethics, Oxford 1934, 12, 6. See also speech in Oxford, 22 Jan. 1935, Streeter file (6.1072).

105 University sermon, 21 June 1936, Streeter file, ibid. 7.

106 Streeter to Buchman, 4 Aug. ibid. (3.2154).

107 B. H. Streeter, ‘The Church and the woman movement’, in B. H. Streeter and E. P. Picton-Turbervill, Woman and the Church, London 1917, 5.

108 J. C. Culshaw, ‘Queen's 1929–33’, typescript (Harrison material), 10.

109 B. H. Streeter, The primitive Church, London 1929, 262.

110 H. D. A. Major, ‘The Group movement’, in Spencer, The meaning of the Groups, 124–6.

111 See, for example, Lean, Frank Buchman, 367, 388.

112 Bebbington, Evangelicalism, 237.

113 Grensted and the Methodist Leslie Weatherhead, both of whom could be called modernists, were amongst other admirers of the OG who were interested in the psychology of the religion: ibid. 237. On the OG and psychotherapy see also Falby, Alison, ‘The modern confessional: Anglo-American religious groups and the emergence of lay psychotherapy’, Journal of History of the Behavioral Sciences xxxix/3 (2003), 256–9Google ScholarPubMed.

114 See Lean, Frank Buchman, 31, 111, 239, 266, and Boobbyer, ‘Moral re-armament in Africa’, 216.

115 Streeter, ‘The defeat of pain’, in God and the struggle for existence, 174, 182–3, 195.

116 Idem, ‘Psychological aspects of the Oxford Group’, n.d., Streeter file, Moral Re-Armament records, Library of Congress, box 345, 9–10.

117 Idem, ‘Some principles of the Oxford Group’, 6–7.

118 Idem, ‘Need of moral guidance’, The Times, 19 Oct. 1927.

119 Idem, ‘Moral adventure’, in B. H. Streeter (ed.), Moral adventure: the faith of science and the science of faith, London 1927, 120, 76, 126.

120 Idem, ‘Education’, in Kirk, Personal ethics, 19–20, 24. See also The Church and modern psychology, 28–31.

121 Idem, 22 Jan. 1935, Streeter file (6.1072).

122 Idem, ‘Some principles of the Oxford Group’, 1.

123 Idem, ‘The historic Christ’, 123.

124 Idem, ‘Biographical note’, 21.

125 The sect is not named: idem, ‘Poems of Jesus’, Hibbert Journal (Oct. 1933), 14.

126 Idem, Berlingske Tidende (15 Apr. 1935); English transcript in Streeter file (3.2154).

127 Idem, ‘The rise of Christianity’, in S. A. Cook, F. E. Adcock and M. P. Charlesworth (eds), The Cambridge ancient history, IX: The imperial peace, AD 70 –192, Cambridge 1936, 266–7.

128 Idem, The indwelling of God in man (1924), London 1935, 15.2 Cor. xi. 23–33 refers to the difficulties Paul faced on some of his journeys.

129 The Times, 27 Nov. 1933.

130 J. C. M. Fairlie, writing in Church of England Newspaper, 17 Sept. 1937.

131 These were probably lecture 5, ‘Lord and giver of life’, and lecture 6, ‘To the rescue of reason’, in B. H. Streeter, The God who speaks, London 1936, 149–78, 179–92. Lecture 1, ‘God's plan’, reproduces parts of a speech that Streeter gave in Geneva in September 1935: ‘God's plan for men’, Streeter file (6.1072).

132 Streeter to Buchman, 8 Nov. 1935, Streeter file (3.2154). The book also contained (pp. 195–216) a supplementary lecture on ‘Christianity and other religions’. See also The Times, 23 Jan. 1934.

133 Lean, Frank Buchman, 171.

134 Streeter, The God who speaks, 10, 21, 67, 3–4, 57–60, 159, 164. In a positive review of the book, Henry van Dusen, later head of Union Theological Seminary, wrote that the link between guidance and conscience should be elaborated further: Journal of Religion xvii/2 (1937), 224.

135 On this see Randall, Evangelical experiences, 256–7.

136 Streeter, The God who speaks, 165, 169. Elsewhere, Streeter mentioned the value of having ‘quiet times’ with other people in the fellowship: ‘Some principles’, 3.

137 Idem, Restatement and reunion, 80.

138 Idem, The sadhu, 184.

139 Idem, The God who speaks, 180–1, 186–91.

140 See, for example, Charles Raven, ‘Paul planted, Apollos watered’, in Spencer, The meaning of the Groups, 28–31. Raven accused Grensted of abandoning the task of wrestling intellectually with issues in his book, The person of Christ (London 1933), which was written under OG influence.

141 Streeter, ‘Psychological aspects’, 2.

142 Idem, The God who speaks, 2.

143 Thornhill, One fight more, 36.

144 B. H. Streeter, Haslev, 22 Apr. 1935, Streeter file (3.2154).

145 Idem, ‘Luther, Erasmus and the Oxford Group’, 348–9.

146 Idem, Restatement and reunion, 111. See also Mathew Arnold, Culture and anarchy, ed. and intro. J. Dover Wilson, Cambridge 1932, ch. iv.

147 Streeter, ‘Education’, 5.

148 Idem, Berlingske Tidende, 2 Apr. 1935, quoted in Supplement to the British Weekly, 25 Apr. 1935.

149 The holiday took place in the Alpine village of Lauenen.

150 Addison went on to work full-time with the OG and MRA; Morrison taught at the Society of Oxford Home Students which became St Anne's College in 1952.

151 Irene Streeter to Buchman, 18 June 1937, Streeter file (3.2154).

152 Irene Streeter to Buchman, 15 Aug. 1937, ibid.

153 H. S. A. [Harry Addison], 19 May 1941, ‘Suggestions for section on B. H. and Irene’, ibid. (6.1072).

154 C. L. Morrison to Buchman, 12 Sept. 1937, C. L. Morrison file (3.1508), Oxford Group UK archives.

155 Ibid.

156 H. S. A., ‘Suggestions’.

157 Irene Streeter to Buchman, 15 Aug. 1937, Streeter file (3.2154).

158 Thornhill, One fight more, 23.

159 On this theme see F. M. Turner, ‘Religion’, in Brian Harrison (ed.), The history of the University of Oxford, VIII: The twentieth century, Oxford 1994, 309. For Streeter on the intellectual merits of the Oxford Theology School see Oxford Magazine, 12 June 1930, 850–4.

160 H. S. A., ‘Suggestions’.

161 Harry Addison, ‘An appreciation of B. H. Streeter’, Streeter file (6.1072).

162 C. L. M. [Christine Latto Morrison], ‘Dr and Mrs Streeter’, Manchester Guardian, 16 Sept. 1937.

163 Addison, ‘Appreciation’, 2.

164 Frank Buchman, Remaking the world, London 1961, 3.

165 Streeter to Buchman, 30 June 1937.

166 B. H. Streeter, ‘What of Peking?’, published posthumously in The Times, 30 Sept. 1937. Streeter visited China and Japan in 1929 and 1931: Bishop Logan Roots, ‘Burnett Hillman Streeter’, Streeter file (3.2154).

167 C. L. M., ‘Dr and Mrs Streeter’; Thornhill, One fight more, 58; H. S. A. ‘Suggestions’.

168 Memo book, 8 Sept. 1937, Streeter papers, The Queen's College archives.

169 See, for example, The Times, 13 Sept. 1937; Manchester Guardian, 15 Sept. 1937.

170 Revd Sam Shoemaker, 19 Sept. 1937, quoted in The New Witness (Montreal), 12 Oct. 1937.

171 Thornhill, One fight more, 40.

172 Idem, Bump supper night, n.d., Alan Thornhill papers (SC-100), Wheaton College archives, Wheaton College, Illinois.

173 Streeter, The God who speaks, abridged Roger Hicks, London 1971.

174 Idem, ‘Psychological aspects’, 5.

175 Idem, ‘Luther, Erasmus and the Oxford Group’, 348.

176 Idem, Restatement and Reunion, 118.

177 See Randall, Evangelical experiences, 258–60, and Bebbington, Evangelicalism, 240–2.

178 Peter Hinchliff, God and history: aspects of British theology, 1875–1914, Oxford 1992, 224.

179 On the OG's ‘relational’ spirituality see Randall, Evangelical experiences, 245–8. Paul Tournier, the Swiss ‘personalist’ psychiatrist, was another academic whose marriage was positively affected by the OG: A listening ear, Caux 1998, 107.

180 Jarlert, Oxford Group, 65.

181 Randall, Ian, ‘Life-changing: the Oxford Group as a movement of spiritual renewal’, Christianity and History Newsletter, no 16 (1996), 37Google Scholar.