Leslie Weatherhead

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Dr Leslie Weatherhead in 1936

Leslie Dixon Weatherhead (14 October 1893 – 5 January 1976) was an English Christian theologian in the liberal Protestant tradition. Weatherhead was noted for his preaching ministry at City Temple in London and for his books, including The Will of God, The Christian Agnostic, and Psychology, Religion, and Healing.

Life[edit]

Weatherhead was born in London in 1893. He trained for the Methodist Ministry at Richmond Theological College, in south-west London. The First World War cut short his training, and he became Methodist Minister at Farnham, Surrey, in September 1915. After serving in India, Manchester, and Leeds, Weatherhead was called to be Minister of the City Temple, a Congregational Church on Holborn Viaduct in London. He served there from 1936 until his retirement in 1960. From 1930 till 1939, Weatherhead was a member of Dr Frank Buchman's Oxford Group and wrote several books reflecting the group's values, including Discipleship and The Will of God. He often symbolised the "head" of the Oxford Group London.

His book This is the Victory was first printed in 1940 (preface dated November 1940) and reprinted in March 1942. In the space of time between these two editions, the City Temple was "gutted by fire from incendiary bombs dropped from enemy aeroplanes". He was able to continue his ministry thanks to the nearby St Sepulchre-without-Newgate church. After the war, Weatherhead raised the funds to rebuild the City Temple, largely from John D. Rockefeller. The City Temple stands to this day and is now a congregation of the United Reformed Church.

Weatherhead served as President of the Methodist conference in 1953. The re-built City Temple was opened in the presence of the Queen Mother in 1958. In 1960, Weatherhead retired to live at Bexhill-on-Sea. He died in 1976.

The three books of his sermons which Weatherhead considered his best were That Immortal Sea, Over His Own Signature and Key Next Door.[1]

Three biographies of Leslie Weatherhead have appeared: in 1960, for young people, Dr. Leslie Weatherhead of the City Temple by Christopher Maitland; in 1975 Leslie Weatherhead: A Personal Portrait by his son A. Kingsley Weatherhead, a professor of English; and most recently in 1999 Doctor of Souls: Leslie D. Weatherhead 1893–1976 by John C. Travell.

Credo and Commitment[edit]

In the summary chapter of The Christian Agnostic, Weatherhead stated what he believed in a sort of twelve-part creed:

1. God: Weatherhead believed in God, whom he felt most comfortable referring to as "Father." Like most Christians, he felt that the Creator was higher on a scale of values, but that God must also be personal enough to interact in a direct relationship with people.[2]

2. Christ: Weatherhead believed in the divinity of Christ, in that he (Jesus) stood in a special relationship with God and "indeed an incarnation of God in a fuller sense than any other known Being."[3] Weatherhead pointed out that the New Testament never refers to Jesus as God and neither did Jesus refer to himself in this way. Jesus called himself the Son of Man and the Word. To say that Jesus was the "only begotten son" of God would be an impossibility, as such information is not presently available.[3] The virgin birth was not an issue for Weatherhead, having never been a major tenet for being a follower of Christ. Moreover, the New Testament traces Jesus' lineage through his Father Joseph, not Mary, to show that he descended from the house of David.[4] Weatherhead did not believe Jesus to be sinless, as evidenced by the fact that Jesus got angry, cursed a fig tree because it didn't produce fruit and rebuked Peter, one of his closest disciples, calling him Satan. Since Jesus was morally superior, many theologians assume him to be sinless, though Jesus never made that claim for himself.[5] Weatherhead apparently agreed with Dr. Nathaniel Mickelm, whom he quoted regarding the blood sacrifice of Jesus as something that was unnecessary for forgiveness. For Mickelm (and subsequently for Weatherhead), it would be a perversion of God to suppose that "God did not and could not forgive sins apart from the death of Christ." Yet that sacrifice revealed something of the nature of God that made one want to be forgiven.[4]

3. Holy Spirit: As for the Holy Spirit, Weatherhead conceded agnosticism. "Few Christians, whom I know, think of the Holy Spirit as a separate Person," he said. His view was that this would equate to worshiping two gods instead of one.[6]

4. Church: His view of the church was an idealistic one. The church on earth should be a photocopy of the divine original, in which all who loved Christ would be joined together to "worship and move forward to the unimaginable unity with God which is his will."[7]

5. Bible: Weatherhead believed the Bible to be an amazing and often inspired collection of works that progressively revealed man's search for and understanding of God, culminated in the best representation of God's true nature in Jesus Christ. He was, however, critical of many passages including some from Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy because they went against the nature of what Jesus taught, stating that "some of the passages of Browning are of far superior spiritual value."[8] Weatherhead insisted that one must reject anything in the Bible that did not coincide with the gospel of Christ, that is, anything that did not harmonise with the spirit of "love, liberty, gaiety, forgiveness, joy and acceptance."[9]

6. Providence: Webster's defines this as "God conceived as the power sustaining and guiding human destiny"[10] Weatherhead understood that God cared for humankind but that some would find this difficult (since suffering exists in the world). If "God is love" it would be difficult to deny God's Providence.[9]

7. Prayer

8. Faith

9. Sin

10. Soul

11. Eternity

12. Heaven

Reception[edit]

Weatherhead was a highly controversial figure on account of his questioning of some of the central tenets of the Christian faith—he once said he regarded "creeds and confessions of faith" as "museum specimens"[11]—and his incorporation into Christianity of elements from other religions and from spiritualism.

In the view of Professor David D. Larsen, of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, "Weatherhead jettisoned historical Christianity". He denied the Atonement and the efficacy of the Blood of Christ in A Plain Man Looks at the Cross, and the bodily Resurrection of Christ in The Manner of the Resurrection in the Light of Modern Science and Psychical Research. He dismissed the Virgin Birth, was inclined to believe that Zechariah was the father of Jesus, thought that the "legion" of demons probably meant that the man had been molested as a child by Roman legionnaires, and regarded the Apostle Paul as hopelessly neurotic. Weatherhead regularly attended spiritist séances, at one of which John Wesley appeared to him.[12] In 1957 he gave a lecture to the City Temple Literary Society on "The Case for Reincarnation".[13] He continued to advocate reincarnation for the rest of his life in books like The Christian Agnostic and Life Begins at Death.

For Professor Horton Davies, Weatherhead was "unrivalled as a twentieth-century physician of souls and preacher of the integration of personality through Christ".[1] Professor Larsen, however, while agreeing that Weatherhead was "a brilliant preacher", judges his sermons to be theologically "vacuous and empty". Weatherhead, he writes, was perhaps the most striking example in the British Isles of "the increasing horizontalization and psychologization of the sermon",[12] a tendency wittily characterised by E. Brooks Holifield as "From Salvation to Self-Realization".[14] Weatherhead's scorn for theology—he claimed that poets had more insight than theologians—and penchant for "preaching as psychotherapy" made him, in Larsen's view, "a tragic instance in which psychical research replaced 'sound doctrine'".[15] Even his psychology, which drew on fringe thinkers as well as more mainstream figures like Freud, is now "severely dated. No one today talks about Odic force and the leakage of psychic energy. His 55 books are virtually unread today."[12]

The Rev. John Taylor, reviewing Doctor of Souls, disagrees that Weatherhead is no longer read: "his writings still have an impact on Churches today, and Christians read and re-read his works". Nevertheless, though Weatherhead was a "great man", he "remains an enigma.... His name and ministry still enable passions to arise, depending how you see him." As Minister of "a supra-denominational church" like the City Temple, "he was largely free to follow his own agenda", which he did, "not accepting the doctrine of the Virgin Birth, nor being comfortable with the doctrine of the Trinity". He was "a rebel, breaking out from the confines of Methodism", and impossible to imagine "in a traditional Congregational church".[16]

Virgin Birth[edit]

The Rev. Ian Paisley, now Lord Bannside, denounced Weatherhead in a 1969 sermon as "the man that said that Jesus Christ was the bastard son of Zechariah (John the Baptist's father) – and Mary, who was a prostitute of the temple.... That is about as vile a thing as anybody could say." He called Weatherhead "an arch-apostate", whose place was "in hell".[17]

However, Weatherhead had in fact made every effort to present Mary as a very pure and sincere (if immature) young maiden—who had simply interpreted the Angel's Annunciation as a divine instruction to go and stay for three months with her cousin's husband, Zechariah—and that was when Jesus was conceived.[18]

Weatherhead regards it as significant that the Gospels contain absolutely no record of Jesus mentioning that his mother had conceived him without a human father.[18]

Weatherhead's theory that Jesus was the son of Zechariah later became part of the teachings of Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church. Encountering it in Weatherhead's The Christian Agnostic,[18] Unificationist theologian Young Oon Kim adopted it as the best explanation of the birth of Jesus in her work Unification Theology, a standard textbook of the church.[19] Christian author Ruth A. Tucker comments in her book Another Gospel: "Kim's Christology is a prime example of liberal theology.... By diminishing the role of Jesus, Kim paves the way for the exaltation of Sun Myung Moon."[20]

Works[edit]

Weatherhead wrote many books, including:

  • After Death: A Popular Statement of the Modern Christian View of Life Beyond the Grave (1923).
  • The Afterworld of the Poets: The Contribution of Victorian Poets to the Development of the Idea of Immortality (1929).
  • The Transforming Friendship: A Book about Jesus and Ourselves (1929).
  • Jesus and Ourselves: A Sequel to The Transforming Friendship (1930).
  • The Presence of Jesus (1930).
  • The Mastery of Sex Through Psychology and Religion (1931).
  • His Life and Ours: The Significance for Us of the Life of Jesus (1932).
  • Pain and Providence (1932).
  • Discipleship (1934)
  • How Can I Find God? (1934).
  • Psychology and Life (1934).
  • Why Do Men Suffer? (1935).
  • It Happened in Palestine (1936).
  • A Shepherd Remembers: A Devotional Study of the Twenty-third Psalm (1937).
  • The Eternal Voice (1939).
  • The Mystery of Pain (1939).
  • Thinking Aloud in War-Time: An Attempt to see the Present Situation in the Light of the Christian Faith (1939).
  • This Is the Victory (1940).
  • Psychology in the Service of the Soul (1941).
  • Personalities of the Passion (1942).
  • In Quest Of A Kingdom (1944).
  • The Will of God (1944).
  • A Plain Man Looks at the Cross (1945).
  • The Significance of Silence and Other Sermons (1945).
  • Holy Land (1948).
  • The Resurrection and the Life (1948).
  • When the Lamp Flickers: Radiant Answers to Life's More Perplexing Questions (1948).
  • Psychology, Religion, and Healing (1951).
  • That Immortal Sea: A Book of Sermons (1953).
  • Over His Own Signature: A Devotional Study of Christ's Pictures of Himself and of Their Relevance to Our Lives Today (1955).
  • Prescription for Anxiety (1956).
  • A Private House of Prayer (1958).
  • The Resurrection of Christ in the Light of Modern Science and Psychical Research (1959).
  • Key Next Door and Other City Temple Sermons (1960).
  • Salute To a Sufferer: An Attempt to Offer the Plain Man a Christian Philosophy of Suffering (1962).
  • Wounded Spirits: Case Histories of Spiritual and Physical Healing (1962).
  • The Christian Agnostic (1965). Wikiquote: The Christian Agnostic
  • Time for God (1967).
  • Life Begins at Death: Replies to Questions Put by Norman French (1969).
  • The Busy Man's Old Testament (1971).

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Bishop, John. "Leslie Weatherhead: Surgeon of the Soul", p. 2
  2. ^ Weatherhead, Leslie (1965). The Christian Agnostic. Abingdon/Nashville: Festival Books. pp. 344–345. ISBN 0-687-06978-5. 
  3. ^ a b Weatherhead, Leslie (1965). The Christian Agnostic. Abingdon/Nashville: Festival Books. p. 345. ISBN 0-687-06978-5. 
  4. ^ a b Weatherhead, Leslie (1965). The Christian Agnostic. Abingdon/Nashville: Festival Books. p. 347. ISBN 0-687-06978-5. 
  5. ^ Weatherhead, Leslie (1965). The Christian Agnostic. Abingdon/Nashville: Festival Books. p. 349. ISBN 0-687-06978-5. 
  6. ^ Weatherhead, Leslie (1965). The Christian Agnostic. Abingdon/Nashville: Festival Books. p. 350. ISBN 0-687-06978-5. 
  7. ^ Weatherhead, Leslie (1965). The Christian Agnostic. Abingdon/Nashville: Festival Books. p. 352. ISBN 0-687-06978-5. 
  8. ^ Weatherhead, Leslie (1965). The Christian Agnostic. Abingdon/Nashville: Festival Books. pp. 352–353. ISBN 0-687-06978-5. 
  9. ^ a b Weatherhead, Leslie (1965). The Christian Agnostic. Abingdon/Nashville: Festival Books. p. 354. ISBN 0-687-06978-5. 
  10. ^ http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/providence
  11. ^ Weatherhead, Leslie D. (1928). The Transforming Friendship. London: Epworth Press, p. 56.
  12. ^ a b c Larsen, David L. "Leslie D. Weatherhead: The Sermon as Psychotherapy", p. 2. Preaching.com.
  13. ^ Weatherhead, Leslie D. (1958). "The Case for Reincarnation". M. C. Peto, Surrey, England.
  14. ^ Holifield, E. Brooks (1983). A History of Pastoral Care in America: From Salvation to Self-Realization. Abingdon Press.
  15. ^ Larsen, David L. "Leslie D. Weatherhead: The Sermon as Psychotherapy", p. 1. Preaching.com.
  16. ^ Taylor, John. "Review of John Travell, Doctor of Souls
  17. ^ Paisley, Ian R. K. (2 March 1969) "Apostasy vs Fundamentalism" Sermon given at the Martyrs Memorial Free Presbyterian Church, Belfast, Country Antrim, Ulster.
  18. ^ a b c Weatherhead, L.D. (1965). The Christian Agnostic. England: Hodder and Stoughton. pp. 59–63. 
  19. ^ Kim, Young Oon (1987). Unification Theology: Some Additional Problems
  20. ^ Tucker, Ruth A. (1989) Another Gospel: Cults, Alternative Religions, and the New Age Movement. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, p. 251.

Further reading[edit]

  • Maitland, Christopher (1960). Dr. Leslie Weatherhead of the City Temple (Red Lion Lives). Cassell. For young people.
  • Weatherhead, A. Kingsley (1975). Leslie Weatherhead: A Personal Portrait. Hodder & Stoughton. ISBN 978-0-340-20127-5
  • Price, Lynne (1996). Faithful Uncertainty: Leslie D. Weatherhead's Methodology of Creative Evangelism. Peter Lang. ISBN 978-0-8204-3190-1
  • Travell, John C. (1999). Doctor of Souls: Leslie D. Weatherhead 1893–1976. Lutterworth Press. ISBN 978-0-7188-2991-9; ISBN 978-0-7188-3004-5

External links[edit]