ELIZABETH TEMPLETON, who died, aged 69, in 2015, made a career decision after teaching philosophy of religion for ten years at New College in Edinburgh. She chose to take theology “to ordinary people in their ordinary lives” (Herald Scotland, 23 May 2015). This included establishing a formative theological drop-in centre in Edinburgh, but it also freed her to accept an enormous range of speaking engagements.
As this collection of her unpublished addresses and writings testifies, she brought as much theological acuteness and passion to sermons in local churches as she did to the World Council of Churches Assembly, or the World Student Christian Fellowship, or the Lambeth Conference (twice), or meetings of Action Churches Together in Scotland, or clergy groups, or the Inter-Anglican Theological and Doctrinal Commission.
There is a great challenge for editors of material that might return to certain key themes and motifs, but that is crafted for occasions rather than as part of a larger whole. It is tempting to create artificial continuities and orderly sequences, if only to make the reader’s experience easier.
Peter Matheson, a Reformation historian and lifelong friend, and Alastair Hulbert, a colleague at Scottish Churches House, have negotiated the assignment sensitively and coherently. Under six section-headings, each with a specially commissioned expert introduction, they represent the principal preoccupations in Templeton’s work.
peter williams/wccElizabeth Templeton with Metropolitan George (Khodr) of Mount Lebanon at a World Council of Churches conference in August 1993
“Christ and Culture” emphasises her insistence on rooting theology in the world, and includes tributes, echoed elsewhere, to Templeton’s friendship with the Orthodox theologian John Zizioulas. She was to credit him with reviving her faith by introducing her, as a colleague at New College, to an anthropology and a view of the goodness of the world which neither her academic training nor her Church of Scotland background had given her.
The book takes its title from an address to a conference of student chaplains, included in this section, in which she points out the consequences of believing in “a God-informed existence”. Loving something and knowing it cannot be distinguished: “in your loving is your knowing.”
Further sections on “Making Sense of Theology”, “The Common Life”, “Ecumenism”, “Living, Loving and Dying”, and “On Being the Church” never lose sight of this “love-knowledge”. They also show Templeton developing other strands. A passionate ecumenist, she offered astute and generous advice to the Bishops of the Anglican Communion, encouraging them in 1998 to reflect on the unity that they were seeking, and, in 2008, not to lose a distinctive openness and an ability to hold differences together in an anxious pursuit of doctrinal uniformity.
What she insisted on for ecumenical endeavour holds true for the internal lives of the Churches: it is always necessary to wrestle “with the mystery of the Church as a vehicle for the life of the world”. Her remarks on Christian ethics carried the same life-centred conviction. If the “irreplaceability of the other” is a guiding principle, then loving also means being prepared to die for the other.
Readers will find many more valuable nuggets for themselves. Three provocative questions merit a much longer and wider discussion. The first concerns our ongoing learning as Christians: How will we meet the challenges of the truths that are being revealed to us, but that we cannot bear yet (John 16.12-13)? Related to this, what if the rare word of the Lord is speaking now (1 Samuel 3.1)? And, finally, what if God is hungry, and not prepared to wait for us to sort out our theological differences and disagreements (Mark 11.13)?
Templeton warned the 2008 Lambeth Conference about the infantilising of Christians. Working with “ordinary” people convinced her that they “really can cope with all of it: with the complexity, with the unanswered questions, even with serious conflict. What they cannot, and shouldn’t have to, cope with is furtiveness and fudging.”
Dr Bridget Nichols is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy at the Church of Ireland Theological Institute.
In Your Loving is Your Knowing: Elizabeth Templeton — prophet of our times
Peter Matheson and Alastair Hulbert, editors
Church Times Bookshop £13.50