"Doctor of Souls"
This biography of Rev Dr Leslie Weatherhead was written by Rev Dr John Travell, past Minister of PCC, who was greatly influenced by Weatherhead when a worshipper at the City Temple Congregational Church (now United Reformed). The book is based on John Travell's PhD thesis. The following review is by PCC's present Minister, Rev John Taylor:
Leslie Weatherhead remains an enigma, even now twenty-four years after his death. His style of ministry, preaching in a theatre-like building to large crowds, as an orator-minister has gone. Yet his writings still have an impact on Churches today, and Christians read and re-read his works. In the conclusion of his book, John Travell claims there has been a lack of interest in Weatherhead's life and works in this country, although sales of this book hardly bear that out However in the USA there seems to be more support for his writings and theories. John Travell's devotion to redressing the balance in Leslie Weatherhead's favour is the motive for his book, leading us deeply into the soul of this great man. We are transfixed with the detail and feel almost as if we were there, watching his life unfold all over again, hearing his message, and adapting it for the twenty-first century. Yet the question comes to mind, "Was Leslie Weatherhead ahead of his time?" The ministry of healing in the Churches, and the link between psychology, the individual and psychotherapy (one of his major themes) would find more support in the church of the twenty-first century than it did half-way through the twentieth century. His boldness to speak on issues we would not dare share with our congregations, and his honesty in dealing with complex issues are impressive. How we would have gained from his wise counsel in the debates about human sexuality, and other deep and pressing issues.
We must read the book with some understanding of the Church structures within which he worked, especially that of Methodism. We feel the frustration of Weatherhead's heart's desire in not becoming minister of the leading church in Methodism, Wesley's Chapel in City Road, London. Had he moved to Wesley's Chapel his ministry would have been very different, probably more restricted. He escaped from the confines of Methodism, into a supra-denominational church, the City Temple, where he was largely free to follow his own agenda. Doctor of Souls encourages us to follow this whirlwind life, leaving the reader breathless, yet at the end of his life there is the pathos of a once great hero in his declining years. During John Travell's long ministry in Penge, not a Sunday would go by without the mention of Leslie Weatherhead, and his ministry and thought proved to be an encouragement to the congregation. His writings still enthral after many years. Picking up his books in second-hand shops and looking through his devotional literature still encourage many.
John Travell portrays the genius of the man, yet there appear to be some issues that are not followed through. The book contains only passing references to women's ministry: mention is made of Maude Royden and Dorothy Wilson, Weatherhead's assistants, and later of the formidable Elsie Chamberlain. However, we do not seem to enter into Weatherhead's mind on the place of women in the ministry. Does he see their rôle as complementing his ministry, as fellow ministers and colleagues, or as subordinate to him? His name and ministry still enable passions to rise, depending how you see him, a mixture of evangelical, and liberal, receiving from and giving support to Billy Graham, believing in conversion, yet not accepting the doctrine of the Virgin Birth, nor being comfortable with the doctrine of the Trinity. Perhaps Weatherhead is too honest for us in sharing his deepest convictions. Yet debate on these issues in the church is still lively. He was influenced by Russell Maltby who rejected substitutionary and legalistic theories and interpreted the Cross as the supreme revelation of divine love (p73). This theme has been taken up by Stephen Dawes and challenged by Howard Mellor. The debate stirred by Leslie Weatherhead is alive today.
John Travell's book repays a debt to his mentor, and is in that sense a life's work. It is a joy to one who only picks up a book if really necessary, I found it compelling reading, interesting and informative. Here is a rebel, breaking out from the confines of Methodism, to follow his ministry. I can't imagine him in a traditional Congregational Church. What would we make of his enthusiasm? How would we cope today? I wholeheartedly recommend this work.
Doctor of Souls by John Travell. Pp 327. Lutterworth Press 1999 (paperback edition 2000). Hardback £27.50. ISBN 0 7188 2991 3. Paperback £15.00 ISBN 0 7188 3004 0.