This is your hour

Christian intellectuals in Britain and the crisis of Europe, 1937–1949

From the late 1930s to the end of the 1940s a high-profile group of mostly Christian intellectuals met to discuss the related crises of totalitarianism, war and cultural decline in the democratic West. Brought together by the leading missionary and ecumenist Joseph H. Oldham, the group included prominent writers, thinkers, activists and scholars, among them T. S. Eliot, John Middleton Murry, Karl Mannheim, John Baillie, Alec Vidler, H. A. Hodges, Christopher Dawson, Kathleen Bliss and Michael Polanyi. Among its wider circle of correspondents and supporters were the era’s most influential Christian authors and thinkers – such as Reinhold Niebuhr, William Temple, Jacques Maritain, Dorothy L. Sayers and C. S. Lewis. The participants in the Oldham group saw faith as a uniquely powerful resource for cultural and social renewal, and they sought to integrate diverse Christian viewpoints, reconcile faith and secular society, and reshape post-war British society. In an ‘age of extremes’ they pursued a variety of ‘middle ways’ with regard to topics such as the social relevance of faith, the relationship of Christianity to secularity, the legitimacy of capitalism, the role of State planning, the value of patriotism, the meaning of freedom and the value of egalitarianism.

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‘This is a well-written and solidly researched book, drawing on a very wide range of published sources. The author’s grasp of the intricacies of the careers of the Oldham “group” is impressive, and, without doubt, this will become a vital resource for all those seeking to understand the response of Christian theologians and intellectuals in Britain to the mid-20th-century European crisis.
Church Times

‘Contrary to its subtitle, Wood’s book is not a broad survey of British-based Christian intellectuals and their response to Nazism and war, but rather a more narrowly focused examination of what Wood (Johannes Gutenberg Univ., Germany) terms “the Oldham group.” Convened by missionary J. H. Oldham, this often-overlooked collection of influential academics and activists —who counted among their participants such luminaries as John Baillie, T. S. Eliot, and Michael Polanyi—engaged in discussions and wrote works that searched for a faith-based response to the challenges that war and totalitarianism posed to Western civilization. The ideologies of the group were diverse and ranged across the Western Christian spectrum. Wood sees this group as embodying a more general Christian response to contemporary events, particularly in their employment of their faith in an effort to renew liberal democracy. Though stronger in its analysis of the Oldham group’s ideas than in demonstrating their impact, this book is nonetheless a useful study of the underappreciated contribution of mid-20th-century Christian thought to the problems of the period. A valuable resource on modern British intellectual history.
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