Voice of Nonconformity
William Robertson Nicoll and the British Weekly
By Keith Ives
Within this study, Keith Ives looks at the life and influences of this remarkable man, opening up significant areas of William Robertson Nicoll’s (WRN) life that have been neglected by other studies, and shedding light on his influence. Voice of Nonconformity examines the life of WRN, a Scottish Free Church Presbyterian, who came to have considerable influence in the period from 1888 to 1923. The book looks at all areas of his life ranging from faith, politics and culture and ultimately seeks to find out some of the reasons that caused a decline in the Nonconformity.
Robertson Nicoll’s career as an editor came about after illness forced him to retire as a minister of the Free Church of Scotland. He moved to England and gradually established himself as a leader through the growing influence of his paper the British Weekly. Though Nicoll was mainly theologically conservative, and committed to maintaining the orthodox stance of the Christian Churches, he, nevertheless, encouraged many of the new and more liberal ideas, which he felt would prove of benefit to the Church. The debate over the impact of his legacy for the health of the church continues and is addressed within this book, using previously unstudied information on WRN’s life.
“We believe that between faith and politics on the one hand and between faith and culture on the other, there ought to be the most intimate and friendly relations…” WRN – British Weekly 1887
Nicoll interacted with some of the great literary figures of the nineteenth century. Initially promoting culture amongst his readers by writing book reviews in the British Weekly, he moved on to found and edit The Bookman, a purely literary periodical which became a commercial success from the start.
As Nicoll’s influence over the book buying decisions of his readers grew, he became a significant player within literary circles so that it was thought that his say so, could make or break a book.
Politically, Nicoll was an effective advocate of the Liberal Party. He had a hand in the rise of Prime Minister Lloyd George, who supported passive resistance on the issue of education and recognition for the status of Nonconformity within society. He also engaged with controversial figures such as William Gladstone, Joseph Chamberlain and Lord Rosebery.
Nicoll was influential in his role amongst the Churches. He sought to navigate them through the difficult tensions caused by various crises of faith. Though always orthodox and revering the evangelical heritage of the past, he became a liberal evangelical, believing that it was necessary to make concessions to the modern mind, and yet also demonstrating that Christianity was credible and dynamic as a needed force for contemporary society.
This biography is widely accessible to anyone interested in the life and times of William Robertson Nicoll, as well as acting as a work of interest for scholars of late 19th Christianity and Nonconformity of this period.
About the Author: Keith Ives has degrees from London University and Brunel University through the London School of Theology. His main career has been in Education and teaching in secondary schools until 1997 when he took early retirement and became the Pastor of Emerson Park Evangelical Church, Hornchurch in 2000. He has always had a passion for the place of preaching and after resigning in 2004, his main focus has continued with itinerant preaching, at home and abroad.
For release May 2011
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