Vidler was born in Rye, Sussex, the son of Leopold Amon Vidler who had recently married Edith Hamilton Roper and attended Sutton Valence School. During World War I he worked in a family business, and served briefly in the British Army. He was then an undergraduate at Selwyn College, Cambridge, and attended Wells Theological College and the Oratory House, Cambridge.
Initially, after his ordination, he was a curate in a poor parish in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. He was then a curate and acting parish priest in Birmingham; he was one of the Anglo-Catholic clergy setting up a confrontation with the bishop, Ernest William Barnes, centred on the parish of Small Heath.
In 1938 Vidler became editor of Theology and librarian at Hawarden. There he was promoted to Warden of St Deiniol's Library, and encouraged Gordon Dunstan who was in a junior position, before becoming Canon of St. George's Chapel, Windsor. During World War II he was one of the regular participants in J. H. Oldham's discussion group, "The Moot". In 1946 he published with Walter Alexander Whitehouse Natural Law: A Christian re-consideration based on ecumenical meetings at St Deiniol's Library including Hans Ehrenberg, Hubert Cunliffe-Jones, Richard Kelwe, Gerhard Leibholz, Philip Mairet, Richard O'Sullivan K.C., and Victor White.
Later he taught at the University of Cambridge, where in 1956 he succeeded Ivor Ramsay as Dean of King's College, later supervising the doctorate of David Nicholls. He retired in 1966 to his house in Rye, where he wrote his autobiography and served as Mayor of Rye.
He died in July 1991.
He was a lifelong friend of Malcolm Muggeridge, whom he met as an undergraduate at Selwyn. Through Vidler's influence Muggeridge lived at the Oratory House in Cambridge in his last student year; Muggeridge later described Vidler as one of three most important people in his life. At the Oratory House in Cambridge in 1933 he encountered Wilfred Knox, then the only other inhabitant. Penelope Fitzgerald, who calls Vidler "this great priest, theologian, and natural administrator and organiser, whose horizon widened year by year", describes how Vidler brought the retiring Knox into circulation in the University.
He was the editor of Theology until the 1950s and the author of several books that received wide attention. He also edited, with Philip Mairet, Frontier (journal of the ecumenical Christian Frontier Group), until 1953. Paul Tillich was one of his favourite theologians. Vidler was interested in translating theology into the language of the people, but in the process he was willing to set aside many traditional teachings. He is noted for his correspondence with C. S. Lewis, who wrote for Theology, and is mentioned in several of Lewis's books, particularly in Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer.
In 1958 Vidler published a book called Windsor Sermons. At the time he was Dean of King's College, Cambridge. In one sermon in that book, Vidler had contended of miracles that "the Fourth gospel does not call it a 'miracle' . . . but a 'sign'. It should be read more as a parable than as a miracle." Lewis took issue with this position as a distortion of the natural reading of the text of Scripture. A symposium, held under the title "Soundings," was turned into a book by that title with Vidler editing the book and contributing to it. In Objections to Christian Belief, Vidler wrote of the "striking inconsistencies" in the New Testament writers.
- A Plain Man's Guide to Christianity: Essays in Liberal Catholicism (1936)
- The Modernist Movement In The Roman Church: Its Origins And Outcome (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1934)
- Prophecy and Papacy: A Study of Lamennais, the Church, and the Revolution (London: SCM Press Ltd, 1954)
- Windsor Sermons (London: SCM Press Ltd, 1958)
- The Church in an Age of Revolution: 1789 to the Present Day (The Pelican History of the Church, Vol. 5, 1961)
- Soundings: Essays Concerning Christian Understanding (editor) (Cambridge University Press, 1962); Vidler's chapter is entitled "Religion and the National Church."
- Objections to Christian Belief (Penguin Books, 1963) with contributions by four Cambridge deans—James Stanley Bezzant of St. John’s College, Alec Vidler of King’s College, H. A. Williams of Trinity College, and Donald MacKinnon
- 20th Century Defenders of the Faith (1965)
- A Variety of Catholic Modernists (Cambridge University Press, 1970)
- Paul, envoy extraordinary (co-authored with Malcolm Muggeridge) (New York: Harper & Row, 1972)
- Scenes from a Clerical Life (1977) His autobiography.
- Alec R. Vidler biography Librarything.com
- "The Cambridge Objectors". Time.com. 6 March 1964. Retrieved 3 August 2009.
- Trevor Beeson, Priests And Prelates: The Daily Telegraph Clerical Obituaries (2006), pp. 7–8.
- Geoffrey Rowell, Kenneth Stevenson, Rowan Williams, Love's Redeeming Work: The Anglican Quest for Holiness (2003), p. 641.
- "The Rev Professor Gordon Dunstan". The Daily Telegraph. London. 19 January 2004. Retrieved 23 April 2010.
- Stefan Collini, Absent Minds: Intellectuals in Britain (2006), p. 317.
- de:Gerhard Leibholz
- Malcolm Muggeridge, Chronicles of Wasted Time: The Green Stick (1972), p. 80.
- Malcolm Muggeridge: A Biography
- Penelope Fitzgerald, The Knox Brothers (1991), p. 204.
- Simon Blaxland-de Lange, Owen Barfield: Romanticism come of age (2006), p. 144.
- Beeson, Trevor. Priests and Prelates: The Daily Telegraph Clerical Obituaries – The Rev Dr Alec Vidler. Google Books