Flew, Dr Robert Newton
1886-1962; e.m. 1913

A leading NT scholar and ecumenist, he was born at Holsworthy on 25 May 1886, the son of Dr Josiah Flew (1850-1925; e.m. 1879), author of Studies in Browning (1904). He was educated at Christ's Hospital and Merton College, Oxford, and in 1909 spent a period at Bonn and Marburg. He was Assistant Tutor at Wesley House, Cambridge, from 1910 to 1913, taught New Testament there from 1927 to 1955 and was Principal from 1937 Between 1921 and 1923 he edited a short-lived 'journal of fellowship' entitled Experience, He received an honorary DD from Aberdeen in 1942 and was President of the Conference in 1946. A magisterial theologian and a leader of the inter-war Faith and Order Movement, his Idea of Perfection in Christian Theology (1934) was a comprehensive survey of the history of the doctrine, with a valuable restatement of the WM tradition in modern terms. His Fernley-Hartley lecture, Jesus and his Church (1938), dealt with NT ecclesiology in the light of modern scholarship and the Conference statement on 'The Nature of the Christian Church' (1937), the first comprehensive ecclesiological statement formally approved by British Methodism, bears the marks of his influence. He was co-editor with Rupert E. Davies of The Catholicity of Protestantism (1950) and in 1953 gave the WHS Lecture on The Hymns of Charles Wesley. He died at Cambridge on 10 September 1962.

His son, Professor Anthony Garrard Flew (1923-2010) was born on 11 February 1923. During World War II he was involved in deciphering intercepted messages at Bletchley Park. After graduating at Oxford, he taught philosophy at Keele (1954-1971) and Reading (1973-1982) Universities. He became an atheist at the age of 16 during his time at Kingswood School, but in his closing years, in the revised Introduction to his God and Philosophy, modified his stance to posit the possibility of a creator, though not the interventionist Being of Christian orthodoxy. His position continued to develop and in There is a God: how the world's most notorious atheist changed his mind (2007) he described his clear shift from atheism to theism. Furthermore he also wrote that if there was a revealed religion, Christianity had the strongest case. He died on 14 April 2010.


'In August 1939, the British Weeklycommented: "The man of the hour at the Liverpool Conference was undoubtedly Dr. R. Newton Flew... He spoke brilliantly in the debate on education and has been the moving force behind the remarkable report on Sunday School organisation. His chief theme, however, was that of religious reunion, speaking as secretary for the Methodist group. He has a vivacious style and a voice so effective that Conference did not object when he turned away the microphone."

'W.F. Howard wrote of him banteringly in the Methodist Recorder: '"There are two Dr. Flews. There is Dr. Flew the learned and charming controversialist. He wears spectacles. There is Dr. R. Newton Flew, who ascends the Conference tribune or the platforms of General Councils wearing eye-glasses with a broad black ribbon. That is the Conference potentate in whose presence I feel very small, before whom my knees tremble and my bones become as water."

'It was this which prompted Flew to ask a riddle of his men at Wesley House: "When is a scholar not a scholar?'"with the answer, When he becomes a journalist"! In a subsequent piece, Howard made a slight correction. The eye-glasses did not have a broad black ribbon, but a thin black double cord!'

Gordon S. Wakefield, R. Newton Flew (1971) p.174

  • Methodist Recorder, 18 July 1946; 13 & 20 Sept. 1962
  • Conference Handbook, 1946
  • F. Tice, The History of Methodism in Cambridge (1966) pp.124-30
  • G.S. Wakefield, Robert Newton Flew 1886-1962 (1971)
  • David M. Chapman, In search of the catholic spirit (Peterborough, 2004), pp.98-100
  • David Carter, 'The doctrine of holiness in the work of Robert Newton Flew', in Methodist Sacramental Fellowship Bulletin, no. 133 (2006) pp.13-19
  • Daily Telegraph, 14 April 2010
  • Oxford DNB