M. W. Brierley and G. A. Byrne, eds., Life after Tragedy: Essays on Faith
and the First World War Evoked by Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy. Eugene,
OR: Cascade Books, 2017; Cambridge: Lutterworth Press, 2018. Pp. xxiv,
254. Pb. $31. ISBN 978-1-5326-0226-9.
As is so commonly the case, it is the subtitle rather than the title which
informs the reader of the contents of this volume. In this case, the
description of the essays as being â€˜evokedâ€™ by Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy
defines the focus of a collection which also addresses matters of history
and theology beyond the life and work of that particular First World War
chaplain. The editors are both canons of Worcester Cathedral, a short
distance from the then â€˜slum parishâ€™ in which Studdert Kennedy served
before volunteering as a temporary chaplain â€“ and briefly afterwards.
â€˜Woodbine Willieâ€™, as he came to be known because of his practice of
distributing Woodbine cigarettes to the troops, together with copies
of the New Testament, is buried in Worcester, a memorial to him being
located in the cathedral. This sense of â€˜placeâ€™, with most of the other
contributors having a connection to the cathedral, is foundational to the
book, without constraining its scope.
At the heart of the volume is Michael Brierleyâ€™s chapter on Studdert
Kennedyâ€™s theology. This is not the first attempt to discuss Studdert
Kennedyâ€™s advocacy of a God who is not beyond suffering, and it will
probably not be the last. However, in its comprehensive and nuanced
approach, across the whole range of Studdert Kennedyâ€™s poetry and
prose, and founded on Brierleyâ€™s own work of more than fifteen years, it
surpasses previous attempts, including my own. Brierleyâ€™s identification
of his subject as a â€˜sensualâ€™ theologian (p. 88) is important as a key to
understanding Studdert Kennedyâ€™s work, and Brierley is surely right to
identify the origin of Studdert Kennedyâ€™s advocacy of divine passibility in
the poverty of Leeds, Rugby and Worcester, rather than â€“ as many have
assumed â€“ the trenches of the Western Front.
Modern Believing 59.4 2018