11. Book Review of the History of the Cambridge Theological Federation

by Graham Kings

Date added: 18/03/2022


This history of the Cambridge Theological Federation, celebrating its 50 years in 2022, is heart-warming and prayer-encouraging.

I know the Federation well, as a student at Ridley (1978–80) and lecturer in the Federation (1992–2000), but discovered many gems of new information from this fascinating book. The following are some of my favourites, and no doubt you will find many of your own:

  • Over 500 ordinands studied at Ridley during the time that Handley Moule was its first Principal, and about one-fifth of them later served as missionaries. 
  • The Theological Colleges Union, a Cambridge body which acted as a forerunner of the Federation, began in 1914 at a meeting in the Henry Martyn Hall. 
  • Frank Buchman, founder of Moral Re-Armament in 1938, had been an American student at Westminster College. 
  • Max Warren, former General Secretary of the Church Missionary Society, when Chair of the Ridley Council suggested that the college’s theological position was one of ‘Open Evangelicalism’. 
  • Brian Beck classified the entire Wesley House library on the Dewey Decimal system to bring it into line with the system in Westcott’s library. 
  • Ivor Jones, when Principal of Wesley House, once preached in Bulgarian. 
  • The phrase ‘roots down, walls down’, popularised by Graham Cray when Principal of Ridley, was the motto on the front of the liturgy of the Federation’s inaugural service in 1972.

At that inauguration service, there were three colleges, Westcott House, Ridley Hall and Wesley House, and in 1976 they were joined by Westminster College. At that time all four Principals were male. In 2022, there are now 12 Federation Institutions. As well as the four original colleges, there are four other full members and four associate members. The other full members are: Margaret Beaufort Institute (Roman Catholic), Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies, Cambridge Centre for Christianity Worldwide (formerly the Henry Martyn Centre), and Westfield House (Lutheran). The four associate members are: Eastern Region Ministry Course, Faraday Institute for Science and Religion, Kirby-Laing Centre for Public Theology, and Woolf Institute (for inter-religious relations). Six of the Principals of these 12 institutions are female.

Students of the Federation currently study at three Universities (Cambridge, Anglia Ruskin and Durham). In the final chapter it was very moving to read testimonies from five students, across the various institutions, who spoke at the online Federation Service of Commendation in 2021. 

The authors of the book are both servant-scholars who have been involved deeply in the Federation. Mary Tanner was on the staff at Westcott House, teaching Old Testament in the Federation, served as General Secretary of the Church of England’s Council for Christian Unity and later as European President of the World Council of Churches. She was Chair of the Federation Council from 2015 to 2018. Ian Randall lectured in Church History and Spirituality at Spurgeon’s College, London, and in Prague, is a Research Associate at the Cambridge Centre for Christianity Worldwide and author of several books on mission and renewal.

The 134 pages are made up of eight well-researched chapters: 

  1. Forerunners and Formative Influences
  2. Beginnings of the Federation
  3. Growing Together, 1976–80s
  4. Expansion in the 1990s
  5. Shaping a New Identity, 2002–2012
  6. thanks Through Crisis to Fresh Possibilities, 2013–2018
  7. Approaching the Fiftieth Anniversary
  8. A Courageous Response to an Unimaginable Challenge

The Federation has weathered two recent storms and has come out of them more flexible and stronger: the financial crisis came to head in 2017, which resulted in a streamlining of governance; the Covid pandemic of the last two years led to imaginative online teaching and the provision of ebooks for students.

Looking to the future, with the excellent administrative hub of the Federation now based in the Bounds buildings of Westminster College, the authors point out three areas of wider, long-term development: the globalisation of theology, which includes the significance of engaging with students from the global south; the growing emphasis on research; and the increase in digital learning.

This absorbing book is well worth buying, pondering, celebrating, praying over and sharing.


The Cambridge Theological Federation: A Journey in Ecumenical Learning by Mary Tanner and Ian Randall (CTF, 2022).

This review was first published in the Lent Newsletter of Ridley Hall, Cambridge and is republished here with permission.




Graham Kings

Graham Kings

Wood panel


Wood panel

A bronze