William Griffith Thomas

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For the American architect, see Griffith Thomas.
W. H. Griffith Thomas

William Henry Griffith Thomas (2 January 1861 – 2 June 1924) was an Anglican cleric and scholar from the English-Welsh border country. He has been quoted by theologian Alister McGrath in the science-versus-religion debate.[1]

Life and work[edit]

Griffith Thomas was born in Oswestry, Shropshire, England, to a Welsh family. According to the General Register Office marriage record for his parents, his mother (Anne Nightingale Griffith) was the daughter of William Griffith, a surgeon of Oswestry. She married William Thomas on August 30, 1860. William Thomas was a draper and the son of Thomas Thomas, a farmer. By the 1861 census, Mrs. Thomas was widowed and living in Oswestry with her parents and infant son. She married secondly, in 1864, Joseph Charles. In the 1871 census, the family was living in Shrewsbury, Shropshire. By the 1881 census, Griffith Thomas was living in London. Then 20 years old, he worked for his stepfather's younger brother, William Charles, who was a watch dial maker. From 1882-85 he was a student at King's College London where he took an Associateship of King's College, before proceeding to Christ Church, Oxford.

In addition to several pastorates, he taught for several years as Principal of Wycliffe Hall, Oxford (1905–1910)[2] and then at Wycliffe College in Toronto, Canada (1910–1919).[3] He was a co-founder with Lewis Sperry Chafer of Dallas Theological Seminary. He authored several books including The Principles of Theology, a systematic theology text based on the 39 Articles of the Anglican Communion. Theologically conservative, Griffith Thomas was an Anglican and an early dispensationalist. Whilst at Oxford he edited the theological magazine, the Churchman.[4]

Gaining the reputation of a popular author and speaker in dispensationalism and victorious Christian life, he spent the last five years of his life writing and speaking at conservative gatherings. Partially funded by the Milton Stewart Evangelistic Fund, Thomas traveled with Charles G. Trumbull to Japan and China in the summer of 1920. In 1920 after returning to the United States from China, he made a sweeping accusation of the modernist tendency among China missionaries in the famous speech, "Modernism in China." The speech was delivered to the Presbyterian Social Union in Philadelphia in January 1921 and caused a great deal of debate among the churches and mission boards in North America. Thomas was accused of being directly responsible for the founding of the Bible Union of China. His reply was that "I had nothing to do with the formation of the Bible Union, except in so far as my address seems to have been the immediate occasion for it." There is certainly no evidence that Thomas personally initiated the Bible Union in China, but his speeches in China during summer missionaries retreat had the effect of significantly intensifying the conservatives' negative sentiment toward modernism in the field and prompting them to take public action.


More recently, Griffith Thomas has been quoted in the current science-versus-religion debate by theologian Alister McGrath in his argument with scientist Richard Dawkins over the issue of whether or not religious faith is based on evidence. According to McGrath,[1] Griffith Thomas expressed a typical and characteristic Christian understanding of faith when he wrote:

...[Faith] affects the whole of man's nature. It commences with the conviction of the mind based on adequate evidence; it continues in the confidence of the heart or emotions based on [the above][5] conviction and it is crowned in the consent of the will, by means of which the conviction and confidence are expressed in conduct.[6]

Griffith Thomas' view of "evidence" and "proof" in relation to the Bible, can be found in How We Got Our Bible and Why We Believe It Is God's Word.[7]


  1. ^ a b McGrath, Alister. Dawkins' God Blackwell Publishing (2005) p. 86
  2. ^ http://web.mac.com/brian.douglas/iWeb/Anglican%20Eucharistic%20Theology/Blog/7A199A4D-FCBA-11DA-9B93-001124732AA0.html
  3. ^ http://dts.edu/utility/file.aspx?FileID=252
  4. ^ "The First Century of The Churchman" (PDF). Retrieved 15 November 2013. 
  5. ^ The preceding two words are missing from McGrath's quotation.
  6. ^ Griffith Thomas, W.H. The Principles of Theology Longmans, Green and Co. (1930) pp. xviii.
  7. ^ How We Got Our Bible - by W.H. Griffith Thomas

External links[edit]

Academic offices
Preceded by
Principal of Wycliffe Hall, Oxford
Succeeded by