The Revd Dr Andrew Atherstone writes:
THE Revd David Anderson, who died on 30 December, aged 95, was
Principal of Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, in the 1960s. He was a lover of
existential philosophy and theological innovation, but found
himself out of step with the Anglican Evangelical movement, to
which he belonged.
Born at Hebburn on Tyneside, Anderson was educated at Newcastle
Grammar School, before winning a scholarship to Selwyn College,
Cambridge, to study English. His degree was interrupted by the
Second World War. He volunteered to learn Japanese, and was posted
to Burma to translate captured enemy documents.
After the war, he trained for ordination at Wycliffe Hall,
served a curacy in Sunderland, and joined the staff of the
theological college St Aidan's, Birkenhead. In 1956, he was sent by
the Church Missionary Society to Nigeria, as Principal of Melville
Hall in Ibadan, overseeing its merger with a Methodist training
institute to form Immanuel College.
Anderson's appointment as Principal of Wycliffe Hall in 1962
heralded a new style of leadership. His predecessor, F. J. Taylor
(later Bishop of Sheffield), had ruled with an iron rod, but
Anderson brought a more democratic approach, where staff and
students were equals on first-name terms. Instead of reading
Evangelical biography to the ordinands at breakfast, he played them
music (Mahler and Beethoven were particular favourites). He spoke
of the theological potential of art and drama, not a common
sentiment in 1960s Evangelicalism.
Anderson was fascinated by philosophical theology, especially
existentialism. His favourite authors were Søren Kierkegaard,
Nicholas Berdyaev, and Gabriel Marcel, and Nietzsche was a great
influence on his thought. In 1964, Anderson became the first ever
Wycliffe Hall principal to lecture for the Modern Churchmen's
Union. He chose Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus as his
He donated modern novels to Wycliffe's theological library,
weaving their themes into his sermons and lectures. His most
important book, The Tragic Protest (1969), explored images
of humanity in writers such as Golding and Kafka, and is dedicated
to the Wycliffe Hall community, because it "owes a good deal to the
theological and cultural climate of the Hall".
Anderson spoke often of the need for "relevance" and "dialogue"
in Christian theology and education. He wanted a radical overhaul
of ordination training, lamenting the Church of England's tendency
to "plug on along the old by-ways from which the cavalcade of
modern life has long since been diverted". "I want us to be wide
open to every confrontation," Anderson wrote, "every discovery,
every challenge, recognising that only so can our faith develop in
vigour, comprehension, and relevance."
He invited specialists to teach on medicine, psychology, and
sociology, showing how the latest research shed new light on moral
responsibility and "sin". He rejoiced when his ordinands read the
early chapters of Genesis in the light of Desmond Morris's The
Naked Ape (1967), because it involved "a highly stimulating
A keen ecumenist, Anderson hoped to merge Wycliffe Hall with
Mansfield College, linking Anglicans with Congregationalists in a
theological centre at Oxford University. Negotiations were at an
advanced stage by 1969, but the council of Wycliffe Hall got cold
feet at the last minute, and pulled out of the deal, leaving
Queen's College, Birmingham, to be the first ecumenical
(Anglican-Methodist) theological college in Britain.
Unfortunately for Anderson, the theological tone that he
pioneered did not appeal to the wider Anglican Evangelical
movement. As a result, ordinand numbers fell sharply, from 69 in
1958 to just 27 by 1969. It seemed likely that Wycliffe Hall would
close; so the council forced his resignation. Anderson later
recalled: "The rumour that Wycliffe was no longer Evangelical grew
in a crescendo like Basilio's 'slander' aria in The Barber of
Seville. Ordination candidates from Evangelical parishes were
advised to apply elsewhere for training, and there were even
instances of men to whom I had already offered a place being
diverted to other colleges. In the end, the Council had no
alternative but to ask for my resignation, and I had no alternative
but to give it."
After his resignation, Anderson spent a year's sabbatical in
Oxford writing a book for SCM Press on Simone Weil. His final post
was at Wall Hall teacher-training college at Aldenham,
Hertfordshire, as head of religious studies.
He was married in 1953 to Helen Robinson, who died in August
2006. He is survived by their three children, Margaret, Christine,
and Jeremy, and five grandchildren.