The History of Leicester Theological Society: 1958-1990
by James Gray M A (written in 1990)
The establishment of the Leicester Theological Society was due almost
entirely to the vision, enthusiasm and pertinacity of one man. He was
Frank Morton, a Methodist layman.
He began to attend lecture courses on Biblical and theological studies in
the middle 1950s at Vaughan College. He surprised himself by being able
to understand the lectures, and furthermore to enjoy them. He began to
read widely and with great delight.
We used to walk together to the bus after some of these classes, and he
talked with me about his wish to leave money in his will to establish a
lectureship to bring to Leicester each year a leading Biblical scholar
or a renowned theologian. But as time went on his enthusiasm turned to
something more immediate. Why not establish a Theological Society in
Leicester during his lifetime?
So, in 1957 and 1958, he went to see all the leading clergy and ministers
in Leicester, as well as numerous non-clerical church leaders, to share
his vision and to enlist their support in his project. His efforts were
so successful, and the backing he received so widespread and cordial,
that the Theological Society was established.
Its first meeting was held in Vaughan College on October 3rd 1958. The
President for the first session was Dr R R Williams, the Bishop of
Leicester; and the Inaugural Lecture was given by Canon Alan Richardson,
then Professor of Christian Theology at the University of Nottingham.
During the thirty-two years since 1958 the Society has played a considerable
part in the life of the Churches in and around Leicester. It has brought
together leaders of the various Churches, Anglican, Free Church and Roman
Catholic, men and women, clerical and lay, for the serious consideration
of theological issues: biblical, historical, theological, ecumenical,
not overlooking practical issues such as the communication of the faith,
preaching and teaching, and the relation of theology to science and the arts.
No records of attendance have been kept. There have naturally been ups
and downs; but there has always been a strong nucleus of regular members,
with varying numbers of less closely attached attenders: it has never been
a closed society. My impression is that attendances in recent years have
matched those of the enthusiastic first years. Certainly the programmes
of recent years have been as full of profound and vital theological topics,
and of distinguished lecturers, as ever they were.
Much of the success of the Society has been due to the continuity provided
by a nucleus of people who have given energetic leadership and dedicated
service to it.
For the first fourteen years the Society met in Vaughan College, which
ensured its scholarly respectability! From 1972, the Society has enjoyed
the hospitality of Stoneygate Baptist Church for its meetings. Happily the
intellectual fare offered has been of the same consistently high quality
as before; but the warmth of our fellowship has blossomed through the
generous provision of the 'tea and scones' after each meeting, which has
long been a treasured tradition. For this the members of the Society owe
a debt (which we never pay!) to the ladies of the Baptist Church, and to
the gracious and inconspicuous supervision of Don Middleditch. The
finances of the Society have benefited all these years by the generosity
of the Baptist Church in not charging the Society for the use of the lounge.
From the beginning there was a small committee which planned the programmes
and chose the successive Presidents. Its meetings were few, and its control
was lightly exercised; its success was due to the devoted work of the officers.
It is worth recalling the names of some of those who served the Society so
well in its early years, a few of whom are still active survivors.
The first treasurer was Frank Morton himself. He was succeeded in 1960
by Don Middleditch, who served in that capacity for eight years; then in
1969 he became secretary, and he has occupied that office ever since.
None of his colleagues will begrudge his being given special honourable
mention in this brief memoir, for the Society owes more to Don than to any
other single person. His benedictory presence hovers over every meeting;
we have come to expect his welcome, his delight when things are going well,
his paternal concern just before 7.30 p.m. if he fears the attendance is
going to be 'down'! But above all, we have learnt over the years to marvel
at his wide acquaintance with leading Biblical scholars and theologians,
and at his skill in persuading them to come and address our not very august
Others who served on the committee in those early days, who thankfully are still active members, are Dr Arthur Kirkby and James Gray. Other members we remember with gratitude are Reg Cleaves and John Denman (who was treasurer since 1971), now no longer with us; Harold Lockley, and from 1971 onwards, Ray Walters. Arthur G Widdess was secretary from 1959 to 1963.
The General Theological Background: 1958-1990
by Canon F R Walters
The Leicester Theological Society came into existence at the time when scholars
were emerging from the domination of the Barth-Brunner controversy over the nature
of revelation, and were re-discovering 'biblical theology'. This was undertaken
with particular attention to semantics and gave to the writings of such scholars
as William Temple the character of belonging to another generation. A new historicism
associated with the work of W Dilthey, and the voice of an emergent Marxist view of
life replaced the post-Hegelian idealism in spite of RG Collingwood's careful
insistence on its value. The relevance of theological thinking was challenged
by the analytic approach of Gilbert Ryle's Concept of Mind. Anglo-Saxon pragmatism
turned to the concept analysis of AJ Ayer and Anthony Flew's God and Philosophy
challenged the Psalmist's assertion that 'the fool has said in his heart, there is no God'.
Ian Ramsey in his Religious Language played a leading part in the theological response
by adopting the new fashion of phenomenological method and proposed 'mapping' the
terrain of religious experience. Nevertheless it was clear that there was a logical
'leap' into theological discourse which became the basis of Paul Tillich's attempt
to bring the then new philosophy of Existentialism into service. Tillich's
Systematic Theology was the only work of note since Barth's Church Dogmatics
had earned the comment of Eric Mascall that life is too short to follow German
thoroughness to its last page. Helmut Gollwitzer's The Existence of God as
Confessed by Faith attempted a response on the more conservative Barthian lines.
The 'bombshell' of John Robinson's Honest to God popularised the previous
twenty years of academic controversy. The bastion of biblical theology, which
proclaimed the Old Testament as the work book of the New was vigorously assaulted
and interest was focused on the function of myth in the biblical record. John Hick
explored the new meaning that this might give to inter-faith dialogue. Donald Cupitt
offered to re-define the meaning of biblical concepts like salvation in ways which
placed the Christian's personal devotion alongside the Hindu concept of bhakti,
and M D Goulder and others in The Myth of God Incarnate claimed to set aside
the uniqueness of the 'Word made flesh'. C F D Moule's The Origin of Christology
gave a conservative answer to the uniqueness of Christ. Anthony Harvey, James Barr,
John Macquarrie et al, in the symposium God Incarnate; Story and Belief
took the middle course of an exposition of the issues giving indications as to
where Christian responses might be found. Their work indicated the lack of an
accepted metaphysics which alone enables such issues to be discussed. Basil Mitchell,
Richard Swinburne and others have moved towards the necessity of such a theological
facility, but no theologian has addressed this issue directly.
In the sphere of Old Testament studies the Society has seen the days when H H Rowley's
Rediscovery of the Old Testament commanded a wide interest, and The Old
Testament in Modern Study is still a definitive statement of the work of a
generation of a careful historical approach to the Old Testament. Martin Noth's
History of Israel began historical Israel with the Exodus. The Library of
Old Testament Commentaries published by A & C Black is a monument to this work.
Sigmund Mowinckel introduced in The Psalms in Israel's Worship a cultic
dimension into Old Testament studies and Ludwig Kohler's Old Testament Theology
was replaced by Gerhard Von Rad's Old Testament Theology and Wisdom of Israel.
The Qumran texts discovered in 1947 were gradually becoming available and Roland
de Vaux's Ancient Israel showed the growing presence of Roman Catholic
scholarship in this field. The Nag Hammadi library texts have brought the necessity
of a re-evaluation of the inter-testamentary period, providing new evidence for
a more accurate delineation of Gnostic sectarianism.
New Testament studies were well resourced by British scholars such as C H Dodd and
C K Barrett whose writings on the Fourth Gospel and on Pauline topics are still
essential reading. Oscar Cullmann presented Christ as the focal point of time and
history in his Christ and Time, and Kümmel gathered in his Introduction
to the New Testament an indispensable summary of contemporary scholarship.
Foundations were laid for future commentaries by G Lampe's early work on a new
lexicon based on patristic and papyrus sources, the first sections of which appeared
in the 1960s. Subsequently J C Dunne made his mark in Christology in the Making;
a comparison with D M Baillie's God was in Christ shows what a radically
different approach has been achieved. This is further illustrated by E P Sanders'
Jesus and Judaism and the use of sociological methods has brought a new
language into the study of the New Testament. 'Reader-response criticism', 'feminist
interpretation', 'narrative theology' and 'liberation theology' are now ideas which
are explained in R J Coggins and J L Houlden's Dictionary of Biblical Interpretation.
The effect of Vatican II in promoting Biblical and Patristic studies in the Roman
Catholic Church brought a new source of support to the Society and Catholic scholars,
such as Fergus Kerr, are found among speakers giving Christian unity and Ecumenism
a new dimension. The revision of the liturgies of the Christian churches did not
attract great interest, although this was a time when the liturgical study of the
past hundred years was re-shaping the worship of the majority of churches. The
lack of papers on this subject was in part due to the difficulty of securing
authoritative people to present this subject, but Gordon Davies of Birmingham was
here a notable exception.
The seventies and eighties saw a great deal of attention given to ethical,
ecological and inter-faith topics, and scholars from other disciplines were invited
to speak from their expertise on such issues as medical ethics, genetic
experimentation and scientific responsibility for the use of natural resources.
Racial harmony and social responsibility became matters of concern which would
attract significant support of the Society. Stephen Clark and John Polkinghorne
were among those who addressed the Society on these subjects.
There remain, however, areas of theological interest which occupy and will occupy
the Society for years to come. The work of the study of the Qumran and Nag Hammadi
texts and other papyri provide a source for a rich investment in the interpretation
of the biblical documents. The search for a new metaphysics to enable us to speak
of Divine activity in creation, the growing together of the Christian churches in
the dialogue with other faiths, the working out of new forms of responsibility for
our use of the natural advance of technology on our life style and values will give
the Society an agenda as large as the one with which it came into being.
The two articles reproduced above are taken from James Gray. Leicester Theological Society 1958-1990, Leicester, 1990.
The Society has from the outset succeeded in gaining some of the leading scholars
of the day to address its meetings. In 1990 James Gray collated from its records
the names of some of the key contributors listed below. These were in addition to
papers by members, and the annual lecture given by the President for the year.
|1958-1959||Alan Richardson, William Neil, Eric Heaton, C F D Moule|
|1959-1960||H H Farmer, J K S Reid, G B Caird, I D Edwards, G W H Lampe|
|1960-1961||Ian Ramsey, H A Hodges, Alan Gilmore, Robert Leaney|
|1961-1962||Charles Raven, John Huxtable, R P C Hanson|
|1962-1963||Nathaniel Micklem, James Atkinson|
|1963-1964||F G Healey, Gordon Rupp, F W Dillistone, A S Herbert|
|1964-1965||Eric Fenn, C B E Cranfield|
|1965-1966||Ninian Smart, C Kingsley Barrett, E J Tinsley|
|1966-1967||C S Duthie, C F D Moule|
|1969-1970||R A Vidler|
|1970-1971||Ernest A Payne, Michael Taylor|
|1971-1972||HD Lewis, G Henton Davies, Paul Rowntree Clifford|
|1972-1973||John Hick, John Macquarrie|
|1974-1975||George A Appleton, formerly Archbishop in Jerusalem, Robin I Davies|
|1975-1976||Peter Baelz, David M Thompson, Kenneth Graystone, Basil Mitchell|
|1976-1977||Donald Hudson, Henry McKeating, R P C Hanson, Norman Pittenger|
|1977-1978||J Gordon Davies, Maurice Wiles, Michael L Gaudoin-Parker, Rex Ambler|
|1978-1979||H D Lewis, I P Ellis, D Z Phillips|
|1978-1980||Harry Morton, Don Cupitt, Michael Goulder, Fergus Kerr|
|1980-1981||Paul Oestreicher, David Jenkins, Andrew Morton, W H Vanstone|
|1981-1982||John Hick, Michael Taylor, C R Rutt (Bishop of Leicester), John A Habgood|
|1982-1983||Hugh Montefiore (Bishop of Birmingham), Richard Harries (then Dean of Kings College, London), R D Williams|
|1983-1984||John Ferguson, B L Hebblethwaite, Graham Leonard (Bishop of London)|
|1984-1985||John McIntyre, Colin Morris, Philip Morgan|
|1985-1986||Don Cupitt, George Mitchell, Frances Young (the first woman theologian to address the Society)|
|1986-1987||Keith Ward, David L Edwards, A R Peacocke|
|1987-1988||James Barr, J C Polkinghorne, Donald English, Brian Haymes|
|1988-1989||Dewi Phillips, Nicolas Stacey|
|1989-1990||R F Holloway (Bishop of Edinburgh), Richard Bauckham, David A Pailin, David E Cook|
Leicester Theological Society: 1990 to the present day
Since James Gray wrote his reminiscences of the Society in 1990, it has continued to thrive and indeed outgrow the lounge of Stoneygate Baptist Church, moving first to the Congregational Church on London Rd and then to Christchurch in Clarendon Park Rd, where it currently meets. When Don Middleditch's failing health meant he reluctantly had to retire from the post of Secretary, his place was admirably filled by the Revd Alan Williams, a Methodist minister, and on his death the baton was passed to Mary Warrener of the Catholic Church, with the Baptists well represented by Roy Winter as Treasurer. One highlight of recent times was the fortieth anniversary of the Society when the Rt Rev Rowan Williams, then Archbishop of Wales, gave the anniversary lecture. This was the second occasion on which he had addressed the Society, his connection with it growing from his tenure of the post of Canon Theologian at Leicester Cathedral.
The Presidents Of The Society
The following list gives the Presidents of the Society from its foundation in 1958 until the present day.
|1958-1959||Rev Dr R R Williams|
|1959-1960||Rev Dr A H Kirkby|
|1960-1961||Rev David Edwards|
|1962-1963||Rev L F Bowles|
|1963-1964||Rev C Hughes Smith|
|1964-1965||Rev Cuthbert Casson|
|1965-1966||R J Roberts|
|1966-1967||Rev G D S Galilee|
|1968-1969||Rev R P Symonds|
|1970-1971||Rev F R Walters|
|1971-1972||Rev T W Allen|
|1972-1973||Rev D W Gundry|
|1973-1974||Rev R W Cleaves|
|1974-1975||Rev Dr R R Williams|
|1975-1976||Rev T W Allen|
|1976-1977||Rev F R Walters|
|1979-1980||Dr John F Butler|
|1980-1981||John R Baker|
|1981-1982||Rev Arthur W Banks|
|1982-1983||Rev J S Findlay|
|1984-1985||Rev Dr C R Rutt|
|1985-1986||Dr Alan B Theobald|
|1986-1987||Rev J G Alan Williams|
|1987-1988||Rev Michael Drew|
|1988-1989||John M Denman|
|1989-1990||Dr Robert Norman|
|1990-1991||Rev Glynn Richerby|
|1991-1992||Mrs Angela Jagger|
|1992-1993||Ven T Hughie Jones|
|1993-1994||Rev Brian H Brookes|
|1994-1995||Pastor Betty Swarbrick|
|1995-1996||Rev Fr Fabian Radcliffe OP|
|1996-1997||Rev Andrew Lunn|
|1997-1998||Mr Howard Fitall|
|1998-1999||Mrs Mary Warrener|
|1999-2000||Dr Clifford Sharp|
|2000-2001||Mrs Gwyneth Little|
|2001-2002||Rev Martin Mitchell|
|2002-2003||Rev Canon Glynn Richerby|
|2003-2004||Rev Fr Duncan Campbell OP|
|2004-2005||Rev Sheila Stevenson|
|2005-2006||Dr Robert Norman|
|2006-2007||Rev Dr Alan Race|
|2007-2008||Rev Canon Dr Stephen Foster|
|2008-2009||Rev Michael C King|
|2011-2012||Rev Canon F David Jennings|
|2012-2013||Father Fabian Radcliffe OP|
|2015-2016||Dr Angela Jagger|
|2016-2017||Dr Thomas Bartsch|
|2017-2018||Dr William F Myers|