Temple's position was not greatly criticized in his lifetime, as he led a virtual consensus. Stephen Spencer (1990) has shown that the early Temple's historicist tendencies include the idea that history carries its own meaning without reference to an eternal world, that the state brings social fulfillment by coercing us into freedom, and that moral duty consists in following the conventions of society and the state. These reflected British Hegelianism. Spencer argues that Temple checked this drift, largely by introducing ideas of different provenance, so that in a piecemeal fashion his historicism declined. The Hegelian influence was indeed powerful and did decline, but from the start there were other strands at work, including Plato and the Christian socialist tradition. Crucial for Temple was his Christian faith, especially the Incarnation. He used Hegelian and other ideas as ways of exploring its meaning.

Temple responded well to the challenges from Donald MacKinnon and Reinhold Niebuhr. MacKinnon pressed Temple further away from smooth syntheses towards a theology of the cross. It is fashionable now to denigrate Niebuhr as a dogmatic pessimist who capitulated to American liberalism. This is not true of him at the height of his powers around 1940, and Temple rightly came to adopt virtually a Niebuhrian position on love and justice. Temple is superior to Niebuhr in his social principles and method of mediation (ideal utilitarianism), his attitudes to natural order, and his sense of the church and sacraments in working out a position on church, society, and state. Two contemporaries of Temple did not commend themselves. His arch-critic Hensley Henson rightly carried little weight because of his own excessive individualism. As for Karl Barth, Temple agreed with the impassable distinction between Creator and creature, and with the necessity of revelation as altogether other than rational inference from experience. But for Temple revelation had to vindicate its claim at the bar of reason and conscience. Quite how he would have further addressed the tension between revelation and reason in the light of sin is impossible to say, but he would not have sided with Barth.

No tradition worthy of the name stands still, and this Anglican tradition has been deployed and developed in the work of the Church of England Board for Social Responsibility and by theologians such as Ronald H. Preston, who has drawn on many sources, particularly Temple and Niebuhr, in elaborating his social theology. This tradition has striking affinities with post-Vatican II Roman Catholic social ethics in northern Europe and North America.

In recent years there have been many challenges to it. Liberative theologies, including black and feminist theologies, rightly press the perspective of the oppressed and marginalized, and take a more critical view of the political and economic status quo than Temple. They warn against a danger with the Temple approach, particularly in the framing of middle axioms: a comfortable accommodation of Christianity to the powers that be, through the supposition that Christian leaders or experts can easily speak with secular authorities in the interests of all. Ronald Preston is well aware of this danger and has argued that the method is quite consistent with concern for the marginalized. Some criticize Temple's method for being too abstract and deductive, pleading for more flexibility and attention to people's stories. In fact Temple recommended a dialectical movement between one's understanding of the faith and one's experience of living in the world. Principles are guides to action, but are themselves tested, clarified, and, if necessary, revised in the light of experience of living. Liberative theologies, however, have difficulties of their own. There is a tendency to demonize globalization, to despair of the political and economic task nationally and internationally, and to put one's faith in the local. Some, such as the Korean Minjung theologian Kim Yong-Bock, look to a kairotic inbreaking of the kingdom of God in favor of "the people". But it is very doubtful whether "the people" can be so easily identified, what relation they have to faith, and whether one should write off any attempt to ameliorate the current situation. The Temple tradition certainly needs to attend more closely to liberative theologies, and has been learning to be less trustful of state power, but it is better equipped to deal more constructively with the inescapable global complexities confronting us in the interim.

Other theological and philosophical challenges to the tradition represented by Temple have come from Alasdair MacIntyre and Stanley Hauerwas. MacIntyre's account of the collapse of the Enlightenment project into interminable debates between rival and incommensurable ethical positions, and Hauerwas' accent on the church as a community of character which is itself a social ethic, have both inspired versions of ethics which stress Christian distinctiveness. Thus within the Anglican Church itself we find the ethics of Michael Banner (Barthian), Oliver O'Donovan (evangelical, recovering a political theology and ethics from the resources of the Bible and earlier Christian tradition) and John Milbank (catholic, pressing a grand Christian narrative against ideology).

Temple had much to say, particularly in his later years, about the vital importance of the church. Those who stand in that tradition can readily agree on the distinctiveness of the Christian story and the importance of Christian communities of character. However, in Britain at least, church and society have been interwoven for centuries, for better or worse. There are no pure ecclesial communities of character. The church remains ever under judgment and problematical, as does talk of a grand Christian narrative. Nor does a strong ecclesiology render otiose or objectionable dialogue with others concerning our common humanity. Maclntyre himself holds that dialogue, though more difficult, is still possible, and Jeffrey Stout and others have pointed to many areas of collaboration in a pluralistic postmodernist world. Indeed, given today's huge tensions it is all the more necessary to pursue dialogue. The Temple tradition has rightly adhered to the possibility of some form of natural morality, centered on the understanding of persons in society. In the order of being, the natural is not a sphere wholly distinct from Christianity; it is graced. In the order of knowledge, human beings of whatever religious or other persuasion do have the capacity to reflect on their fundamental humanity and find some common ground. Christians, like everyone else, inhabit many communities, and concern with Christian character cannot displace questions about action in the world. In determining that action we shall still need to use mediation, grappling with the complexities and sifting through the deliverances of the social sciences. Accommodation to secular ideologies is a constant danger, but not inevitable. While remaining critical and seeking possible alternatives, it is vital to secure a purchase on social and global movements, and to explore the potential of existing institutions for furthering human well-being. There are good theological grounds for exercising reason in this way in the interim before the final coming of the kingdom.

Select Bibliography

Temple's main writings on social and political theology


Citizen and Churchman. London:


Essays in Christian Politics and

Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1941.

Kindred Subjects. London:


Christian Democracy. London:

Longmans Green, 1927.

SCM Press, 193 7.


The Hope of a New World, London:


Christ in His Church. London:

SCM Press, 1940.

Macmillan, 1925.


The Kingdom of God. London:


Church and Nation. London:

Macmillan, 1912.

Macmillan, 1915.


Religious Experience and other


Christianity and the State. London:

Essays and Addresses, ed. A. E.

Macmillan, 1928.

Baker. London: James Clarke,


Christianity and Social Order,


Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1942.


Some Lambeth Letters,


Christianity and War. London:

1942-1944, ed. F. S. Temple.

Oxford University Press, 1914.

London: Oxford University Press,


Chairman's Introduction. In


Doctrine in the Church of England,


Thoughts in War-Time. London:

London, SPCK, 1-18, 1938.

Macmillan, 1940.

Temple's main philosophical works

Mens Creatrix. London: Macmillan, 1917. Christus Veritas. London: Macmillan, 1924. Nature, Man and God. London: Macmillan, 1934.

Works related to Temple

Bayer, Oswald and Suggate, Alan M., eds. (1996). Worship and Ethics: Lutherans and Anglicans in Dialogue. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter. (Suggate's two essays: "The Anglican Tradition of Moral Theology," 2-25; "In Search of a Eucharistic Social Ethic," 164-86.) Craig, Robert (1963). Social Concern in the Thought of William Temple. London: Gollancz. Fletcher, Joseph (1963). William Temple, Twentieth-Century Christian. New York: Seabury. Hastings, Adrian (1991). A History of English Christianity 1920-1990. London: Collins. Iremonger, F. A. (1948). William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury: His Life and Letters.

London: Oxford University Press. Kent, John (1992). William Temple: Church, State and Society in Britain 1880-1950. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Lowry, Charles W. (1982). William Temple: An Archbishop for All Seasons. Washington:

University Press of America. MacKinnon, D. M. (1941). "Revelation and Social Justice." In Malvern 1941, 81-116.

London: Longmans, Green. Matthews, W. R. et al. (1946). William Temple: An Estimate and an Appreciation. London: James Clarke.

Norman, E. R. (1976). Church and Society in England 1770-1970. Oxford: Clarendon. Oliver, John (1968). The Church and Social Order: Social Thought in the Church of England,

1918-1939. London: Mowbray. Padgett, Jack F. (1974). The Christian Philosophy of William Temple. The Hague: Nijhoff. Preston, Ronald H. (1981). "William Temple as a Social Theologian." Theology 84 (Sept. 1981), 334-41.

Ramsey, A. M. (1960). From Gore to Temple: The Development of Anglican Theology between

Lux Mundi and the Second World War, 1889-1939. London: Longman. Spencer, Stephen C. (1990). "The Decline of Historicism in William Temple's Social

Thought." D.Phil. thesis, Oxford University Suggate, Alan M. (1987). William Temple and Christian Social Ethics Today. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark.

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