Out Of Pessimism And Apathy

The 1950s in Britain had been a period of pessimism and retreat in much Christian thinking. The older 'social gospel' had given way, with the advent of the welfare state, to an inward-looking Church, concerned with reunion schemes and other ecclesiastical issues, and to a more individualized approach to the Gospel. The preaching of the Gospel itself had gone awry, commented Michael Ramsey in 1955 (Ramsey 1955), while a writer in the previous year referred to 'a crisis of Christian thought' marked by a flight from the idea of the Kingdom of God as an earthly reality, the denial that human society can be redeemed, and the acknowledgement only of an interior kingdom within the individual consciousness (Evans 1954:25-9). Among evangelicals, the older social consciousness associated with such figures as C.G.Finney (17921875) and the movement of Christian perfection which grew up around Oberlin College, for many years 'a laboratory of both spirituality and radical social action' (Smith 1981:125), had deteriorated into the more individualized pietism of Billy Graham who led his first British crusade in 1954.

The return of Trevor Huddleston from South Africa in 1956 alerted British Anglicans to the existence of a tradition within their own Church which combined orthodoxy of faith with passionate resistance to injustice. The South African Church struggle was marked by a combination of traditional faith and radical commitment. John Davies, writing many years later, was even reluctant to use the word 'radical', insisting on the traditional character of the resistance movement.

There has been nothing radical or intellectually daring about this. The South African situation has required Catholicism to be thoroughly conservative and oppose the novel nonsense of upstart racism with a traditional orthodoxy which insists that there must be a visible fellowship of believers and that Christian love must be acted out in visible terms.

(Davies 1983:188)

The return of Huddleston marked a turning point in the history of radical Christianity in Britain. Significantly it had been Huddleston's order, the Community of the Resurrection, which had done much to prepare the ground for the renewal of liturgy which was to transform the consciousness of the Church in the 1960s.

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