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

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 January 2009

Wendy Dackson


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.

Research Article
Copyright © SAGE Publications (Los Angeles, London, New Delhi and Singapore) and The Journal of Anglican Studies Trust 2006

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

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

4. Preston, , ‘William Temple’, p. 4Google Scholar. 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. 148–61CrossRefGoogle Scholar, in which I explain further how Ronald Preston both was, and was not, Temple's theological successor.

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10. Atherton, , Marginalization, p. 33Google Scholar. 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.

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