Hand-Me-Down Truth

In 1912, a group of Oxford fellows began meeting to work out a minimalist common creed that would be acceptable to all Christians. William Temple, future archbishop of Canterbury, was the guiding spirit of the group, which argued its way down to an inoffensive consensus entitled Foundations. The Oxford Seven ended up setting aside miracles, the Resurrection of the body, and other difficult articles of faith on the same grounds that American Presbyterians were to do in the 20's: Such notions might be useful or even true, but they could not be required of Christians living in a scientific age.

The explicit point was to fit the doctrines to the temper of the times. Ronald Knox, then still an Anglo-Catholic, was supposed to have been the eighth Oxford man, but he bowed out; and when Foundations was issued, he responded with a Drydenesque verse satire, "Absolute and Abitofhell," in which he ridiculed the substitution of marketing for theology: "When suave politeness, tempr'ing bigot Zeal / Corrected I believe to One does feel."

Knox was never much interested in feeling. It would not entirely do him an injustice to say that he viewed the discipline of religion as a gradual perfection of the will. However, the problem with Archbishop Temple and with other liberal Christians is not that they feel too much but that they think too little or too weakly. Credulous in their acceptance...

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