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Jew, Greek, and Englishman

27 May 2016

Edward Dowler on an early-20th-century Anglican theologian


Oliver Quick and the Quest for a Christian Metaphysic
Alexander J. Hughes
Ashgate £60
Church Times Bookshop £54

IN THIS scholarly, lucid, and well-written book, Alexander Hughes, who is Archdeacon of Cambridge, presents us with a study of the British theologian and sometime canon professor of Durham and Oxford, Oliver Chase Quick (1885-1944). It would amply repay the attention of anyone interested in Christian doctrine, apologetics, or Anglican identity.

Central to Quick’s theology was the sharp distinction that he and others drew between Hellenic and Hebraic modes of thought. Hebraic thought emphasises the living God of history, whereas, in the Hellenic view, God is the ultimate, changeless reality who lies behind the flux and change of material things and historical events.

In the Hebraic scheme, God exercises his personal will in bringing salvation to the world, whereas for Hellenists salvation is about our progress out of the world of becoming towards the world of being. As Hughes acknowledges, the extent to which actual people in history, whether real live Jews or Greeks, have ever fully subscribed to these sharply polarised views is uncertain.

Quick himself believed that the Hebraic view was essentially the orthodox one, but he was not as firm in this as contemporaries such as Karl Barth. Although God’s revelation in Jesus Christ comes freshly and gratuitously into the world, men and women respond to it because it echoes with deeply held perceptions that they already possess: we can recognise the gospel to be good because it accords with our deepest moral sense, and we can recognise it to be true because it chimes in with our pre-existent standards of rationality. Philosophical and metaphysical reflection on the nature of the true, the good and the beautiful thus have an abiding importance, and are not simply obliterated by the word of God and the work of Christ.

It is, perhaps, unlikely that Quick will be rescued from relative theological obscurity — and it is, indeed, a little uncertain whether Hughes believes that he should be. Nevertheless, the author ably illustrates the fact that Quick faced many questions that the contemporary Church also faces: our problems may not be quite as new as we think they are.

For example, recent studies have reflected on the extent to which Christians talk to others about Jesus and how effective this is. Quick and Hughes remind us that, while the revelation of God in Jesus Christ stands at the centre of our faith, nevertheless just talking about Jesus is not adequate in every situation. It will often need to be set in context by philosophical reflection on the value of the sayings, qualities, and actions of Jesus which we are seeking to commend.

Without such wider reflection, Jesus-talk, however sincere and well-intentioned, may come across as pietistic and simplistic, and turn people off the Lord rather than leading them towards him.


The Revd Dr Edward Dowler is Vicar of St John and St Luke, Clay Hill, in the diocese of London.

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