Modern Believing

Book Reviews

Modern Believing (2018), 59, (4), 353–417.


BOOK REVIEWS 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 ‘evoked’ 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 ‘slum parish’ in which Studdert Kennedy served before volunteering as a temporary chaplain – and briefly afterwards. ‘Woodbine Willie’, 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 ‘place’, 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 Brierley’s chapter on Studdert Kennedy’s theology. This is not the first attempt to discuss Studdert Kennedy’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 Kennedy’s poetry and prose, and founded on Brierley’s own work of more than fifteen years, it surpasses previous attempts, including my own. Brierley’s identification of his subject as a ‘sensual’ theologian (p. 88) is important as a key to understanding Studdert Kennedy’s work, and Brierley is surely right to identify the origin of Studdert Kennedy’s advocacy of divine passibility in the poverty of Leeds, Rugby and Worcester, rather than – as many have assumed – the trenches of the Western Front. Modern Believing 59.4 2018

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