“A Faithful Life Has a Serious Purpose”: Remembering Geoffrey Nuttall

This past July, 24 July 2007 to be exact, one of the most influential church historians of the twentieth century died: Geoffrey Fillingham Nuttall (1911-2007). His way of doing church history I have always found exhilarating and profound, and a delight to read. He often focused papers on “small” figures of church history—but he was equally at home with the thought of major authors like Richard Baxter and Philip Doddridge. His specialty was 17th and 18th century English and Welsh Nonconformity, and it was a delight to sit at his feet and learn about figures ranging from the world of seventeenth-century Quakerism to the late eighteenth-century Particular Baptist community (my own central interest). As Alan Argent noted, “from the age of 19 to within three years of his death, Nuttall wrote prolifically” (for reference, see obituary below). Budding church historians would do well getting hold of one or two of his books and some of his articles, and perusing them, their style and method of argumentation.

I have never forgotten my first read of his major work, The Holy Spirit in Puritan Faith and Experience (1946). The depth of research and sureness of historical judgment was displayed on every page and a lasting impression made about Puritan pneumatology. But I also learned much about the methodology of being an historian, especially the need to build one’s case from primary source material. His argument in the book that the Quakers were the radical left-wing of the Puritan movement was controversial at the time, and still is in some quarters. I confess that his arguments have intrigued me though not fully convinced me.

I never met him to my regret, but in the early stages of my work on John Sutcliff (1752-1814), correspondence with him was an enormous help. Reading the obituaries below, one thing that stood out in addition to his remarkable scholarship was his love of the church and his keen consciousness of being an heir of Nonconformity.

For full obituaries, see “The Rev Geoffrey Nuttall”, The Times (August 29, 2007) [The Rev Geoffrey Nuttall obituary - Times Online]; Alan Argent, “The Rev Geoffrey Nuttall”, The Guardian (September 12, 2007) [Obituary: The Rev Geoffrey Nuttall | Obituaries | Guardian Unlimited]; “The Reverend Geoffrey Nuttall”, The Daily Telegraph (August 14, 2007) [The Reverend Geoffrey Nuttall - Telegraph]; and David M. Thompson, “Geoffrey Nuttall”, The Independent (August 14, 2007) [Geoffrey Nuttall - Independent Online Edition > Obituaries]. See also the Wikipedia article: “Geoffrey Nuttall” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geoffrey_Nuttall; accessed September 20, 2007).