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Professor Dennis Nineham

10 June 2016

Canon Philip Collins writes:
FURTHER to your obituary of Professor Dennis Nineham (Gazette, 27 May), mentioning his gracious hospitality and warm friendship: when he was professor at Bristol, he and Ruth lived at Clifton, and, as rural dean, I had the pleasure of calling on them. They were unfailingly kind and welcoming, and Dennis always expressed encouragement to us in the parishes.

He once told me that he was ordained before his 23rd birthday, and so had had to apply for a faculty. When it arrived, he found that Archbishop William Temple had paid the appropriate fee for him; it was 6s.8d.

Canon Anthony Phillips adds: I was a pupil of Dennis Nineham at King’s College, London, in the early 1960s. It is not easy to describe the sheer excitement of his teaching. After a torrid year of lectures from R. V. G. Tasker, Nineham introduced us to a refreshingly critical approach to the New Testament.

But his seminar on early Christian doctrine proved a life-enriching experience. There I learnt that it was neither facts nor theories that mattered, but the ability to think theologically, and in doing so found a freedom for my faith that hitherto I had never known. In discussion, no quarter was given. With his probing questions and persistent challenges, he pushed us to the limit, but in doing so he transformed our ability both to question and to reason.

Shortly before Dennis and Ruth left their home, they invited my wife and me to tea, and I was able to thank him for all he had done for me. He was obviously pleased, though I later learnt that he had no idea who I was. None the less, I was very glad that I said what I said. Teachers of his stature are very rare indeed.

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