For some reason today I did a search to find out when the Cambridge Inter-collegiate Christian Union (CICCU), one of the most influential Christian bodies of the 20th century, split away from the Student Christian Movement (SCM). The CICCU had founded the SCM, but the latter became compromised with liberalism and had to be cut adrift. The split took place in 1910, I found. The CICCU encountered quite a bit of hostility, and was rather smaller than the SCM; but the latter withered and died between the wars.
But in the process I started to find various interesting books in Google Books.
The 1986 edition of John Stott’s book, The Cross of Christ, on p.13-14 put the issues pretty squarely. After WW1, it seems, the SCM wanted to reconnect to the CICCU. A meeting took place between Daniel Dick, Norman Grubb (president and secretary of the CICCU) and Rollo Pelly (secretary of the SCM). Grubb wrote:
After an hour’s talk, I asked Rollo point-blank, ‘Does the SCM put the atoning blood of Christ central?’ He hesitated, and then said, ‘Well, we acknowledge it, but not necessarily central.’ Dan Dick and I then said that this settled the matter for us in the CICCU. We could never join something that did not maintain the atoning blood of Jesus Christ as its centre; and we parted company.
The context of the enquiry was 1 Corinthians 15:3-4: ‘For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures.’ (RSV)
In A History of the University of Cambridge: 1870-1990, p.133, we find a brief history of the CICCU, with the telling phrase:
In the 1940s and 50s the SCM was much more in tune with the opinions of the leading college deans and chaplains than CICCU….
The same would doubtless have been true in the 80s, although the SCM barely existed by then.
Mark A. Noll’s Between Faith and Criticism: Evangelicals, Scholarship and the Bible in America, makes some sensible observations on how British Christianity never became as polarised as happened in the USA. On p.87-88 there is an interesting passage on the role of the classics:
At least one other aspect of British education differentiated British from American evangelicals, namely the continuing vitality of classical studies in the secondary schools and universities. After the revolution in American education in the 1870s, the classics, which had been the mainstay of the American curriculum, rapidly lost their importance. Harvard, a bastion of conservatism on this question, after 1886 made it possible for students to enter without the traditional preparation in Latin and Greek, a provision which expanded rapidly in the following decades. Soon more modern and more pragmatic subjects had replaced the classics almost entirely in the secondary school curriculum. In Britain, by contrast, study of Greek and Latin remained foundational for at least the elite educational tracks. This had two important consequences. So long as evangelicals did the regular secondary preparation, it kept them conversant with not just the ancient languages, but also classical history and literature. This offered a ready-made group of potential Bible scholars for whom it was second nature to study the ways in which ancient cultures differed as well as resembled the modem. It also offered a career path for evangelicals whose conservative views on Scripture might have kept them from gaining initial appointments in more strictly biblical study. More than one prominent evangelical Bible scholar in Britain during the twentieth century began a professional career as an instructor of classics, only to move over into professional study of Scripture as time went on. The continuing vigor of the classics in Great Britain, in sum, offered a range of possibilities for the study of the Bible, which had become increasingly rare in the United States by the end of the nineteenth century.
Alister Chapman’s Godly Ambition: John Stott and the Evangelical Movement, p.26 contains the following interesting passage:
For the most part, Stott was wary of his lecturers, and he did not develop close relationships with any of them. Yet he still excelled. The hours he spent at his desk in the university library paid off, and the additional hours poring over the Bible helped too. But it is still a little puzzling that Stott the conservative evangelical achieved a first-class degree. Whale’s example surely helped, although it is unlikely that examiners would have rewarded answers that were rigorously conservative. Stott may have adopted a strategy of laying out what the faculty wanted to hear without committing himself either way. Or perhaps Stott began to agree with his teachers. Oliver Barclay, a fellow pacifist and close friend of Stott’s at Cambridge who went on to become the general secretary of the Inter-Varsity Fellowship, recalled that during his theological studies Stott “struggled quite acutely at times”. … Stott spoke at a CICCU conference that October, so he had not been blacklisted. But the evidence leaves open the possibility that people other than Barclay were aware of Stott’s theological struggles, and that they were worried about his doctrinal soundness. This may have been the time when Nash’s letters to Stott were (on his own account) so full of rebuke that he needed to “pray and prepare… for half an hour” before he could open them.” It is certainly possible that Stott temporarily modified some of his beliefs in the face of the acumen of the Cambridge Divinity faculty.
That Stott achieved a first, in the face of such faculty bigotry, is indeed remarkable. The book continues with a somewhat sneery account of the history of the CICCU, and then, on p.40, a more or less accurate description of the “fundamentalism controversy” of the 50s, when the Anglican establishment decided to attack rather than support Billy Graham and Christians generally in the universities. Little of this history is remembered today; probably more should be.
An amusing contrast may be found in Edward Carpenter’s Cantuar: The archbishops in their office. Among the archbishops of the 20th century was a now-forgotten man named Donald Coggan, who had a Christian background and joined the CICCU on coming up to Cambridge. On p.532 we read:
C.I.C.C.U. had long been the power-house of Conservative Evangelicalism, a group of narrow-minded fundamentalists, men only, with puritanical moral standards, considerable zeal and extremely rigid doctrinal criteria for deciding with whom they could cooperate. The Student Christian Movement, at that lime in its most lively and outgoing phase, was not included. Coggan became a Vice-President of C.I.C.C.U. and then a member of the Executive of the Inter-Varsity Fellowship which linked together the Christian Unions in all British universities. He fully shared the rather anti-ecumenical view’s of these bodies, but he was unusual within them in the depth of his knowledge of Scripture, a depth which over the years helped lead him gently away from the constrictions of XXth-century fundamentalism.
In 1937, the year his father became National President of the Federation of Meat Traders, Coggan accepted a teaching post in Canada, in Wycliffe College, Toronto, unquestionably Evangelical but a little less intolerantly so than the theological atmosphere he had known in England. He was in Canada for seven years, returning to England in 1944 to take up the principalship of the London College of Divinity, an institution whose buildings had been bombed and which had almost ceased to exist but which he quickly put back on its feet. It was a strictly Conservative Evangelical college and those responsible for the appointment may not altogether have grasped the quiet but decisive shift going on inside their appointee. Back in England he was invited by the Inter-Varsity Fellowship to be again involved in its work by becoming a Vice-President For this it was required, among other things, that he declare his belief in the Bible as ‘infallible’. This Coggan felt no longer able to do. His non-return to the I.V.F. was symbolic of where he now stood — among a group of scholarly liberal Evangelicals led by Max Warren, General Secretary of the Church Missionary Society. Symptomatic too was his earnest and successful endeavour to cooperate as Principal with Bishop Wand of London, despite Wand’s noted Anglo-Catholicism. In the face of opposition on the part of members of the Council, Wand was appointed on account of Coggan’s quiet insistence as College Visitor.
I am always amused to be called “narrow-minded” and having “puritanical moral standards” by those who see nothing morally wrong with someone becoming Principal of a Christian college on the basis of sharing that ethos, and then coolly attempting to destroy it. One wonders whether it would be safe to drink out of the author’s coffee cup, so vehement is he against those of us with “puritanical” morality.
An interesting but odd book is Randle Mainwaring’s From Controversy to Co-Existence: Evangelicals in the Church of England, 1914-1980, Cambridge, 1985. The back-cover blurb states: “While it highlights the progress of the gospel through evangelism and literary output, the work does not gloss over the small-mindedness and ‘sectarianism’ that has sometimes characterised Evangelicals”; which, since the book was produced by Cambridge University Press, it doubtless had no risk of doing. The book appears to have been written by someone for whom Christians exist mainly to underpin the church. Amusingly, we learn on p.43 that between the wars, “… no strictly conservative evangelical bishop was appointed…”. The same has been true since 1997, which neatly refutes a good number of the kind of claims the author makes on the same page.
A world religions reader by Ian S. Markham &c contains, on p.293 f., a curious exposition by a certain Michael Goulder telling us how he became a Christian through the CICCU, and then abandoned it again because it was difficult to do evangelism, and only then discovered, mirabile dictu, that “I could not stay long in an organisation that defied science, biblical criticism and common sense” (etc). The incredibly unmanly tone is quite curious to read, and gives a convincing (and perhaps unfair) picture of a very shallow man. He earned his living in a series of religion-related posts, and died an atheist.
It is also interesting to read accounts, labelled scholarly by their authors and publishers, of events that I lived through and remember. God in his wisdom has concealed much that He did in the last half of the 20th century from the sort of people who write such books. Looking at the drivel in so many of them, we may thank Him for this mercy.
- Norman P. Grubb, Once caught, no escape, p.56.↩