Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

Evangelical Spirituality, Science, and Mission: A Study of Charles Raven (1885-1964), Regius Professor of Divinity, Cambridge University

Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

Evangelical Spirituality, Science, and Mission: A Study of Charles Raven (1885-1964), Regius Professor of Divinity, Cambridge University

Article excerpt

Charles Raven was an outstanding theologian and preacher of the first half of the twentieth century. He was bom on 4 July 1885 in Paddington, London, to John Raven, a barrister, and his wife, Alice. In 1904 Charles Raven began what was to be a long (though intermittent) association with Cambridge, having gained an open classical scholarship at Gonville and Caius College. As F. W. Dillistone, his biographer, noted, he became editor of Granta, the best known of Cambridge's literary reviews, and already his writing gave attention to what would be his life-long interest in evolution.1 After a year and a half away from Cambridge following graduation, Raven returned in 1910 to academic life, as lecturer in divinity, fellow and dean of Emmanuel College, Cambridge. From 1914 to 1932 his ministries included military chaplaincy during the First World War, parish ministry in Surrey, and eight years at Liverpool Cathedral. In 1932 Raven was elected Regius Professor of Divinity in Cambridge and he remained in that post until retirement in 1950. He was also master of Christ's College from 1939 to 1950. Raven was a prolific writer, particularly known for creative work in the area of science and faith. His convictions about this are summed up in a book he produced in 1936, Evolution and the Christian Concept of God. Speaking of God working in the world, he wrote: "For myself I believe that the scientific movement and its research into the evolutionary process are a contribution of quite priceless value to religion."2 The aim of this study is to show the significance of Raven's life, his spiritual experience, his approach to science and faith, and his understanding of the tasks of the Christian community.

RAVEN'S LIFE: "TO BE OF ANY USE"

Raven's mother was a devout church-goer, but although Charles was confirmed while at Uppingham School, Christianity had little impact on his early life. During his first eighteen months as a student at Cambridge, he later recalled, he was "a pure pagan," but over two terms from January 1906 Raven experienced, as he put it, the unveiling of "the eternal reality, beyond and behind the sense of things," and he felt that divine reality "had enfolded me into union with itself." He connected this with what Wordsworth and the mystics had made familiar.3 In this period he transferred his university studies from classics to divinity, concentrating on the church fathers, modem doctrine, and the history and philosophy of religion. J. F. Bethune-Baker was an influential Modernist theologian in Cambridge at this time, and his thinking about theology and evolution was significant for Raven, but probably the greatest influence on Raven was Henry M. Gwatkin, professor of ecclesiastical history. "His learning, enthusiasm and generosity," Raven wrote later, "were an inspiration."4 After he completed his undergraduate studies in 1908, with a double first, there were suggestions of continued study in Germany, but Raven had a conviction that "if I was ever going to be of any use in the world I must break away from the public school and university tradition and get a wider experience."5

In pursuit of this aspiration, Raven became assistant secretary for secondary education in Liverpool. He began to find Christian fellowship with nonconformists as well as Anglicans, and especially in interdenominational youth groups. He delivered his first religious address in the hall of a Congregational Church.6 Raven's encounter with social inequality in Liverpool fostered what would be a major interest in Christian Socialism. His first significant historical book was Christian Socialism, 1848-1854 (1920).7 Although Raven's vision of the Christian community was broadened in Liverpool, he nevertheless decided to apply for ordination in the Church of England, believing that this was where he could be "of use." He was anticipating a parish, as a curate, but before that could happen he was offered the position of dean of Emmanuel College, Cambridge. …

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