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Harry Blamires and ‘The Christian Mind’

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Category Articles
Date February 21, 2018

The obituary of Harry Blamires recently printed in the Times newspaper came as a shock. Not having heard of this writer for years, one assumed he had long passed away, but through he columns of this daily newspaper one learned that he had recently died, 21 November, aged 101 years and 15 days. The obituary was quite fascinating and reads as follows:

As the self-styled scourge of ‘trendy theologians’. Harry Blamires considered it a badge of honour when he was booed off stage by theology students at the University of Kent in the mid-1960s. With his fogeyish attire and his unreconstructed belief that the Church of England would be doomed if it tried to modernise, he made no concessions to the sensibilities of redbrick universities.

The students’ abusive response did not worry him unduly, because he preferred the company of his own set and enjoyed stirring things up, as he had done with his book The Christian Mind in 1963. It had been a counterblast to the fashionable ‘South Bank’ theologians of the day, warning that their approach would herald an age of humanist secularism and moral relativism.

The book gained a wide readership in seminaries and other Christian institutions and was specially invited to lecture in America and The Christian Mind is still a set text at many universities there.

He published many books after that, notably The Bloomsday Book (1966), his commentary on James Joyce’s Ulysses, and Word Unheard, a guide to T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets that was reprinted in June last year.

Harold Blamires was born in Bradford in 1916, the son of Tom Blamires, who worked himself up from barrow boy to prosperous greengrocer, and his wife, Clara. In 1926, Tom was the first person in his street to buy a car, and Harry learnt to drive his trucks while still a child. He was once taken to Bradford wholesale market at 4am and recalled how the men there would chat over the first edition of the daily newspaper. ‘They would be laughing together,’ he recalled, ‘about what “they” were getting up to down in London.’

From Grange High School in Bradford he went to study English at University College, Oxford, where his tutor was C. S. Lewis. He considered Lewis to be ‘the belle of the ball’ whose lectures were ‘the best by far’ and would be delivered to packed houses. He was less complimentary about those of J. R. R. Tolkien, noting tartly that ‘as few as half a dozen would attend his lectures on Anglo-Saxon’.

On leaving Oxford in 1939, Blamires became a conscientious objector and was appointed to the staff of High Pavement school in Nottingham, but was relieved of his duties when the local education authority decided that it could no longer employ men who refused to enlist.

He was accepted by Beltane, a ‘progressive’ school run by Andrew ‘Tommy’ Tomlinson. Joining a school named after the druid festival of fire might have seemed a challenging appointment for such a rigorous Christian thinker, but Blamires became a respected figure there over eight years, during which the school was evacuated from London to Melksham in Wiltshire. Among his pupils was Hilary Ann Bardwell, who went on to become the first wife of Kingsley Amis and the mother of Martin.

In 1940 Blamires married Nancy, his childhood sweetheart. She walked down the aisle at St Wilfrid’s Church in Bradford in a wedding dress made out of parachute silk. It was a happy marriage that produced five sons, and she was an ever-willing sounding board for his literary ideas. Nancy died in 2011. They were married 71 years. He is survived by their sons: Gabriel, a former personnel manager; Alcuin, an emeritus professor of English literature at Goldsmiths, University of London; Cyprian, who combines charity work with writing; Fabian, who works in marketing; and Ben, a lawyer.

Lewis continued to mentor Blamires as he embarked on his writing career and their correspondence can be found in the Bodleian Library. ‘He [Lewis] was very approachable. He wanted to talk about you and about himself,’ recalled Blamires.

In 1948, he joined the staff of the English department at King Alfred’s Teacher Training College in Winchester, where he became dean of arts and sciences, but never lost his creative approach. ‘After one of his classes acted out scenes from Hamlet, he was delighted to hear a student carry a dish of roast beef to a table in the dining hall and declare: “My tables! — Meet it is I set it down.”

Blamires was much involved in King Alfred’s transition into the University of Winchester and ended his teaching career there in 1976 as ‘dean of degrees’. He retired to Cumbria that year to pursue writing full-time. His preoccupation with Samuel Beckett and Joyce led him to ponder the nature of ‘Irishness’. ‘The English are allergic to Christianity, while the Irish readily get hooked on it,’ he remarked in his C. S. Lewis Memorial Lecture of 1982.

He followed this up even more provocatively and drolly with reference to liberal Protestant English theologians: ‘The spectacle of unbelievers who seem unable to get Christianity out of their systems is an Irish spectacle, whereas the spectacle of supposed believers, especially theologians, who seem incapable of getting Christianity into an engaging and attractive personality’. The author of the Church Times obituary (24 January, 2018), Brian Davis, was one of his former students and he wrote, ‘The strong traditionalist line that he took in matters of faith might suggest someone who was lacking in humour. But this could not be further from the truth. He was bubbling with fun and energy, which stayed with him all his life. At my last visit to see him in old age, he was still full of vigour, mentally alert, darting out of the room to fetch me a copy of his latest book.’

He was the author of twenty books. The Christian Mind (being the eleventh) burst on the scene in 1963 and was commended by every kind of professing Christian on both sides of the Atlantic. Principally, through the late Dr. Ed Palmer, the students at Westminster Seminary Philadelphia, were enthused with the Christian ‘world and life view’ and in Wales, thoughtful people, young and old, were urged to read this book to show the breadth and depth of Christianity. Blamires made this claim:

There is no longer a Christian mind. There is still, of course, the Christian ethic; a Christian practice, and a Christian spirituality… But as a thinking being the modern Christian has succumbed to secularization. He accepts religion — its morality, its worship, its spiritual culture; but he rejects the religious view of life, the view which relates all earthly issues within the context of the eternal, the view which relates all human problems — social, political, cultural — to the doctrinal foundations of the Christian Faith.

One supposes Blamires is thinking of the church attender, the nominal believer, the person who is not sitting under expository consecutive biblical preaching. One does not think that it is possible to maintain Christian morality, worship and spiritual culture when this is absent year after year — If the Christian mind is gone then those other facets of true religion are also absent. But in gospel churches and the disciples’ hearts, the mind that was in Christ Jesus is also active in them today. They set their minds on things that are above. Their minds are set in Jesus Christ who is at the right hand of God. Every regenerate person must have a Christian mind because each one is a new creation; old ways of thinking are passed away. All things, including the mind, have become new.

But Malcolm Muggeridge was right when he wrote in a foreword to another of Blamires’ books (Where Do We Stand?), the following,

As an experienced and discerning teacher, Mr. Blamires understands with particular clarity how barren and desolate is a mind self-restricted to mental data; how meager is the range of a pilgrim confined to time, with no concept or sight of eternity; how paltry is a vision that ends on the horizon.

John Stott said, ‘ One of the most influential books I have read was Dr. Blamires’ The Christian Mind, as it emphasized the importance of “thinking Christianly”. We are most appreciative of John Stott’s Your Mind Matters: The Place of the Mind in the Christian. It is brief, biblical, and immensely helpful.

The opening chapter of Blamire’s book was stirring reading, but many of us never finished the book. The nature and rediscovery of the Christian mind was not made clear because the nature of what a Christian is was not explained as it should have been. Blamires was glad that evangelicals were reading his book, but the Church Times’ obituary noted, ‘Like Lewis, he was particularly popular with evangelicals, without being one himself.’

The Christian Institute (which is certainly evangelical) is unashamed to acknowledge that Blamires’ writings were an inspiration in their founding. John Burn and Colin Hart had great respect for Harry Blamires. The Chief benefit of the lectures he gave at the Institute was getting his hearers to think, stimulating them to think Christianly. The four lectures began on 9 June, 1990. They were entitled ‘A Collision of Thinking’, ‘The Effects of Thinking’, ‘Our response to the Collision’, and ‘A Post Christian Mind’. They are interesting and accessible and can be hear today on the Christian Institute website.

Yet his plea for a Christian mind was weakened by his lack if commitment to confessional historic Christianity. One’s reservations with Harry Blamire’s approach to the Christian mind are threefold:

1. The Christian mind is formed and educated by the Bible. There can be no true Christian thinking without the attitude to Scripture that was the Lord Christ’s. For him, the Scriptures could not be broken. To defeat that anti-Christian mind of Satan, he said to him, ‘It is written…’ three times, and each time quoted the appropriate Scriptures from the book of Deuteronomy. In his great prayer of John 17, he said to his heavenly Father, ‘Thy word is truth.’ If we accept the so-called ‘assured results of modern criticism’ then we have done a great damage to Christian thinking. To believe in limited inspiration is to lose the Christian mind.

Often we have observed truths of Scripture being rejected in the name of the ‘Christian mind’. There are great right-angled truths of the creation of the world, the fall of man, divine sovereignty, grace alone, the final judgement, and the bifurcation of the destinies of mankind, but religious men plead that they have ‘wrestled with them’ (they tell us how much they’wrestle’) and yet reject these truths, and do so claiming that they have a Christian mind. The phrase is too vague a concept when it is cut away from the binding authority of the holy Bible. So disciples like the Scottish crofter, and the Welsh farmer’s wife, and the Durham miner, and the Cockney London City Mission worker all possess a Christian mind because they have marinated and formulated their thinking by the Scriptures.

2. The Christian Mind is centered on Jesus Christ. By him all things cohere, in the earth, under the earth, and above the sky. All things were made by him and for him. For us he can say nothing wrong. His work of redemption is complete and the entire contribution we make to salvation is our sin and our need of mercy. Our righteousness is at the right hand of God, our minds are set on him there: He, of God, is made unto us our wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption. The Christian mind is set on this man and these achievements. They are the stuff of believing meditation, they are the theme of our doxology and the heart of our good news proclamation and the key to understanding the Word of God. We glory not in the fact that there has been a church in the United Kingdom for 1800 years — we are most thankful for that fact — but that Christ has continued to visit Britain in the gospel and by his Spirit, regenerating men and women, so that multitudes who have been British salt and light have not been conformed to the mindset of their fellow-countrymen. They have been transformed by the renewal of their minds. It is not the church, it is Jesus Christ himself who has made all his people new creations. All the great men in church history, the Fathers and the Reformers and the Evangelists and the Missionaries and gospel preachers today, have all been captivated by one great obsession — ‘that I might know him.’

3. Harry Blamires has absolutized the opposition of the secular mind to Christianity. It is too narrow and limited an enemy; the beast who comes from the sea in the book of Revelation has seven heads, not one. The secular mind is just one of our enemies. There is the prince of the power of the air with all his devices; there is man’s indwelling sin centered on a heart of stone that refuses to do the things of the Spirit of God; there are the world’s other religions with all their horrors and hostility to Jesus Christ and his people; There are the cults so that in some European countries the so-called Jehovah’s Witnesses are so numerous that they are thought to be authentic Biblical Protestantism.

One could go on, but let us consider that in Eden, before the Fall, our first parents had Christian minds, and so did Judas hearing the last Adam, but moral and epistemological thinking alone cannot keep church attenders from falling. We must have a close walk with Jesus Christ, abiding in him, and be zealous in doing good works, and be filled with the holy Spirit, and sit under the best biblical preaching we can hear each Sunday, and be presenting our bodies to our Lord day by day. We are all enabled to do this by the peace of God guarding our minds in Christ Jesus, and then we stir up our thinking to do our duty. As Harry Blamires would helpfully exhort us from the words of the apostle, ‘Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things’ (Philippians 4:8).

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