Theological Radicalism and Tradition: 'The Limits of Radicalism' with Appendices, 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

Theological Radicalism and Tradition

'The Limits of Radicalism' with Appendices, 1st Edition

By Howard E. Root

Edited by Christopher R. Brewer


166 pages | 3 B/W Illus.

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‘The limits of radicalism are those which end not in chaos but in the breaking of fresh ground.’

Howard E. Root

Previously unpublished––and only recently rediscovered by Dr Christopher R. Brewer in an uncatalogued box in the archives of Lambeth Palace Library––Canon Howard E. Root’s 1972 Bampton Lectures, ‘The Limits of Radicalism’, have to do with nothing less than ‘what theology is’, a topic no less relevant today than it was in 1972. Against the radical reductionism of his time, Root defended the integrity of theology and ‘theological truth’. Advocating a ‘backward-looking’ radicalism, he thought that tradition should display ‘recognisable continuity’, and yet at the same time––against reductionistic tendencies––that it might be enriched and enlarged via a wide variety of ‘additive imagery’ including, though not limited to, poetry and pop art, music and even television. We must ‘begin where we are’, said Root, for we cannot, in the manner of Leonard Hodgson, ‘think ourselves into the minds and feelings of men 2000 years ago.’

In this volume, which begins with a substantial, mostly biographical introduction, Dr Brewer argues that Root––a backward-looking radical who defended metaphysics and natural theology, and insisted that theologians look to the arts as theological resources––anticipates the work of David Brown and others concerned with tradition and imagination, relevance and truth. A fascinating glimpse into the recent history of British Christianity, Root’s lectures, as well as the related appendices, are essential reading for theologians interested in the dynamics of a developing tradition and the theme of openness, as well as those with a particular interest in 1960s Cambridge radicalism and the British reception of the Second Vatican Council.


‘This volume is a remarkable achievement on the part of its editor, Christopher R. Brewer. Not only has he unearthed various unpublished works of Howard E. Root, a now largely forgotten theologian of a previous generation, he has also assiduously edited and introduced them in a way that establishes their continued relevance for our own age. In focusing on legitimate change in theological expression and understanding, Root argued that the contrast commonly made between appeal to tradition and radicalism represents a profound error. On the contrary, radical thinking can sometimes be the best way of preserving tradition, not least if careful attention is given to how the imaginative resources of artists and others model how the past can be redeployed in fresh ways. Root and Brewer can thus be seen to constitute jointly a formidable challenge to contemporary theological assumptions.’ –David Brown, Wardlaw Professor Emeritus of Theology, Aesthetics and Culture, St Mary's College, University of St Andrews, UK

‘The Anglican theologian Howard E. Root was American by birth and early education but British by naturalisation, eventually becoming Professor of Theology at Southampton University and then Director of the Anglican Centre in Rome. He was a first-hand and sympathetic observer of two radical theological movements in the 1960s, the Honest to God debate and Vatican II, but published very little. Until now even his pellucid Bampton Lectures on theological radicalism remained unpublished and largely unreferenced. Brewer has done us a real service by completing this task and introducing Root’s work to a new generation. The theological links that Root sought to make with the arts (and especially with the poets W.H. Auden and T.S. Eliot) can now be read with pleasure and edification.’ – Robin Gill, Professor Emeritus of Applied Theology, University of Kent, UK

‘This volume recovers the remarkable contribution of Howard E. Root, an ecumenically minded Anglican. With a philosophical formation through education in California, and the priceless gift of an introduction to ‘comparative religion’ from a distinguished German emigré, Root’s intellectual generosity and personal odyssey took him via Cairo, Oxford and Cambridge to places as diverse as Southampton, Tantur and Rome. The privilege of becoming an ‘observer’ of the Second Vatican Council prompted many years of ecumenical work, always attending to many new voices and the complexities of an unpredictable world. In re-presenting Root’s work, Brewer has shed light on the work of someone exemplary in his wide sympathies, and, in doing so, has most commendably revealed his own.’ – Ann Loades CBE, Professor Emerita of Divinity, University of Durham, UK and Honorary Professor, St Mary's College, University of St Andrews, UK

‘This volume is of both historical and contemporary significance: historical, in that it finally brings to light a hitherto lost set of important Bampton Lectures and related material, and contemporary in that Root's arguments and Brewer's analysis of them seem as fresh and relevant today as when the lectures were first delivered at Oxford in 1972. This means, of course, that Root's insights regarding the nature of theology and its sources were extraordinarily prescient. In particular what comes through is his immense confidence in the integrity of theological language and concepts, combined with a refreshing realism and humility regarding the enterprise itself as an intellectual discipline.’ – Robert MacSwain, Associate Professor of Theology, The University of the South, Sewanee, Tennessee, USA

‘Those of us who associate the name Root with a theologian rather than the current England cricket captain will warmly welcome this very belated publication of Howard Root's 1972 Bampton Lectures… by making these and others of Root's writings available in this way, Christopher Brewer has put us in his debt’ – The Rt Revd Dr John Saxbee, Church Times

'This edition of Root’s hitherto unpublished Bampton Lectures for 1972 should go a long way to recovering the range and intentions of Root’s thought. It will be read with interest both by theologians and by historians of theology and of the religious climate of the sixties and seventies; no serious library for theology or religious history should be without it.' – Peter Webster

‘Brewer's introduction gives a helpful and substantial introduction to Root's life and work, which successfully situates these selected writings in their biographical context.’ – Sam Brewitt-Taylor, Modern Believing

Table of Contents

Editor’s Introduction, Christopher R. Brewer

The Limits of Radicalism

1 Radicalism and Theological Integrity

2 Radicals and Radicalism

3 Tradition and Traditions

4 Theology and "The Given"

5 Resources and Reconstructions

6 Theological Responsibility

7 The Supernatural

8 Towards Theological Method


Appendix 1: Christian Claims and Religious Comparisons, Wilde Lectureship Application, 1957

Appendix 2: A Lecture on Graham Greene’s A Burnt Out Case, c. 1961–66

Appendix 3: What is the Gospel?, 1963

Appendix 4: The Glory of Society, 1966

Appendix 5: The Question of Theology, 1967

Appendix 6: Hamilton and the Death of God, 1967

Appendix 7: Letters from the Oxford University Archives, 1970–75

Appendix 8: Images

About the Author/Editor

Canon Howard E. Root (1926–2007) was a significant voice in post-war, British Christianity. Chaplain (1954–56) and then Dean (1956–66) of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, he was later appointed the first and last Professor of Theology at the University of Southampton (1966–81). The youngest official Anglican observer at the Second Vatican Council, Root was a member of the Joint Preparatory Commission, as well as the first phase of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission, and during this same time chaired the Archbishop’s Commission on the Christian Doctrine of Marriage (1968–71). A member of the academic council at the Tantur Ecumenical Institute in Jerusalem, he was appointed Pope Hadrian VI Professor at the University of Louvain in 1979, and served as the Director of the Anglican Centre in Rome (from 1981), as well as Visiting Professor at the Gregorian University in Rome (from 1984) until his retirement in 1991.

Christopher R. Brewer (PhD, St And) is a Program Officer of the Templeton Religion Trust in Nassau, The Bahamas. He has edited or co-edited six volumes including Christian Theology and the Transformation of Natural Religion: From Incarnation to Sacramentality––Essays in Honour of David Brown.

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
RELIGION / General
RELIGION / Christianity / Anglican
RELIGION / Christian Theology / General
RELIGION / Christian Theology / Ecclesiology
RELIGION / Christian Theology / History
RELIGION / Christianity / General
RELIGION / Theology
RELIGION / Christian Church / General
RELIGION / Christian Church / History