God, Britain, and Hitler in World War II: The View of the British Clergy, 1939-1945

By Watson, Giles C. | Anglican and Episcopal History, March 2001 | Go to article overview

God, Britain, and Hitler in World War II: The View of the British Clergy, 1939-1945


Watson, Giles C., Anglican and Episcopal History


A. J. HOOVER. God, Britain, and Hitler in World War 11: The View of the British Clergy, 1939-1945. Westport, Connecticut: Praeger, 1999. Pp. xiv + 148, select bibliography, index. $55.00.

A glance at the notes and bibliography of A. J. Hoover's new book on the British clergy in the Second World War is enough to reveal that he has done a considerable amount of original research on a topic that was crying out for discussion. He has painstakingly compiled the utterances of a wide range of (primarily English) theological commentators, and this will undoubtedly make the book a useful resource for students of the period. Unfortunately, however, the author's own theological perspective is so heavily imposed upon the documentary evidence that his analysis can scarcely be described as historical; this is, rather, a conservative Christian dogmatic manifesto, and an essay in praise of the resilience of the English people and clergy in time of war.

The subtitle of this book betrays its essential flaw. The notion that it is possible to speak in sweeping terms of "the view of the British clergy" is peculiarly idealistic under any conditions; applied to a period so fraught with agonizing ambivalence as that of the second World War, it is still more unrealistic. There is no hint in Hoover's account of the denominational divisions in British Christianity; still less of the distinctions within the Anglican Church between liberals, evangelicals, anglo-catholics and new-orthodox Barthians and Niebuhrians. Indeed, in his attempt to synthesize a monolithic stance for the British clergy on such subjects as divine providence in wartime, pacifism, the nature of Nazism, "Christian civilization" and post-war reconstruction, Hoover picks and chooses his quotations from clergymen of widely divergent traditions, subsuming them into a theological argument which, while it may possibly make rational sense, is certainly unhistorical. For example, quotations form the neo-orthodox Congregationalist Nathaniel Micklem, the canon of St. Paul's, F. A. Cockin, the Welsh evangelical Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and the arch-liberal woolly thinker, James Parkes ("John Hadham") are woven into an apparently seamless theological discourse on divine providence.

More disturbing still is the sell-confessedly one-sided chapter on "Dealing with Pacifism," in which Hoover selects a series of supposedly typical pacifist arguments, and shoots them down in flames with a barrage of quotations from "activist" clergymen. Amid this welter of dogmatism, there is not a single substantial quotation form an actual pacifist, and the most lucid and consistent of the British pacifist clergy, the Anglican Canon Charles Raven, does not even rate a mention.

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