Jenkins, Daniel Thomas (19142002), theologian and United Reformed minister, was born on 9 June 1914 at 92 Gwladys Street, Caeracca, Dowlais, above Merthyr Tudful, Glamorgan, the eldest of the seven children of Evan Jenkins (18881966), a coalminer, and later brick mason, and his wife, Eleanor (Nellie), née Davies (18901963). As the family increased, Jenkins moved, at the age of nine, according to local custom, to live nearby with his maternal grandparents. His grandfather, E. P. Davies, was a deacon at Bryn Sion Independent Chapel, which the whole family attended.
Jenkins won a scholarship to Merthyr Tudful county school, from where he was accepted as a student at the Yorkshire United Independent College in Bradford, Yorkshire, to prepare for the Congregational ministry. According to the college's practice, he was required first to spend three years studying in Edinburgh, where Karl Barth's theology was making an impact in advance of its influence in England. When Jenkins arrived in Bradford in 1935 he was particularly fortunate in his tutor (Harry Francis) Lovell Cocks, who was a former pupil of Peter Taylor Forsyth, and an admirer of Barth. Jenkins's outstanding promise as a theologian was soon recognized, and after two years he was sent to Oxford for further study at Mansfield College, under Nathaniel Micklem and others. It was through the Student Christian Movement in Oxford that he met Agatha Helen Mary (Nell) Cree (19171992), then an undergraduate at the Society of Home Students. In 1939 he was awarded a Commonwealth Fund fellowship to the United States, but the Second World War intervened. Instead he became minister of the Vineyard Congregational Church in Richmond, Surrey, where the aspiring Labour politician Harold Wilson was among his congregation (firewatching together cemented their friendship). In Richmond he published a brief but significant book, The Nature of Catholicity (1942), in which he argued that ecumenism involved digging deeply and searchingly within one's own tradition as well as in that of others.
On 15 August 1942 Jenkins and Nell Cree were married in Beckenham, Kent. In spite of the difference in their backgrounds (she was an Anglican whose father, John Francis George Cree, was a solicitor in Gray's Inn) the marriage was a deeply happy and fulfilling one, and their home was always the centre of generous hospitality. Their married life began in Birmingham, where Jenkins was appointed secretary of the Student Christian Movement in 1942. He was soon recruited as a joint editor of The Presbyter, a monthly journal of confessional and catholic churchmanship, and as a member of the Church Order Group. He was by now recognized as one of the most articulate and able exponents of the Genevan school of churchmanship, which rejected the prevailing liberalism and returned to the traditions of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, rather than the nineteenth and early twentieth. The group was particularly anxious that the prophetic role of the church in the years of post-war reconstruction should not be found wanting. Jenkins was invited to join the Moot, an influential discussion group convened by the veteran ecumenist J. H. Oldham, and (in 1943) to assume a role in two further projects inspired by Oldham: the assistant editorship of the Christian News-Letter and the secretaryship of the Christian Frontier Council. This involved a move to London, and brought him into contact with a circle including Kathleen Bliss, Donald MacKinnon, Karl Mannheim, and T. S. Eliot.
In 1948 Jenkins was able to take up the Commonwealth Fund fellowship which had been postponed in 1939, and the family, now including a son and a daughter, was the first to go to the United States under this arrangement. For the next twelve months, Jenkins relished the opportunity to enjoy the cut and thrust of theological debate and controversy at Union Theological Seminary, New York, with a freedom he had not known in Britain, where academic theology was still largely Anglican-dominated. This resulted not only in lifelong friendships with Reinhold Niebuhr and others, but also in his being appointed as a regular visiting professor in systematic theology at the University of Chicago, and to frequent invitations to lecture in other parts of the United States. For the following decade and more he spent three stimulating months each year in Chicago as part of a very lively group of theologians. Had he not been reluctant to move his family to America, he might well have accepted one of the many invitations he received to take up an academic post there.
On his return to Britain Jenkins became minister at the (Congregational) Church of the Peace of God, Oxted, Surrey, from 1950, while continuing his annual visits to Chicago. Before and during his time in Oxted, he had published three significant works on the Reformed tradition as interpreted through English and Welsh CongregationalismThe Church Meeting and Democracy (1944), The Gift of Ministry (1947), and Congregationalism: a Restatement (1954)reminding his fellow Congregationalists and others that being true to one's own tradition was part of the ecumenical task. In 1954 he attended the second assembly of the World Council of Churches in Evanston, Illinois, as a theological consultant.
In 1956 came an invitation to become minister of the historic King's Weigh House Church, in Mayfair, newly restored after bomb damage. Though small in membership, the church possessed resources enabling it to explore new ways of bearing Christian witness in metropolitan life. Jenkins rose to the challenge. He sought to make the church a centre for the study of questions of reunion, education, and public affairs, and for the exploration of the role of the laity in the life of church and society. This combined well with the diversity of networks involved in his continuing work for the Christian Frontier Council (and in Nell Jenkins's work as editor of View-Review, published by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge), which over nearly twenty years resulted in a series of works exploring Christian insights into social and political problems, the most important of which were Equality and Excellence (1961) and The Educated Society (1966). In these years Jenkins was exploring, in his preaching, lecturing, and writing, the nature of faith. He was influenced particularly by Barth and Kierkegaard, and set out to explore further the nature of what Bonhoeffer had called religionless Christianity. Beyond Religion: the Truth and Error in Religionless Christianity (1962) appeared the year before John Robinson's Honest to God and dealt with many of the same issues. Jenkins's The Christian Belief in God followed in 1964.
One of Jenkins's Weigh House conferences was devoted to the challenges presented by the creation in the early 1960s of new universities, among them the University of Sussex. When Jenkins received an invitation to become the first chaplain to the university in 1962 he was faced with a dilemma. He was disappointed at the lack of support for the Weigh House experiment, and after much heart-searching decided in favour of a move to Sussex, although it meant the end of his regular visits to Chicago. He arrived in Sussex early in 1963. Despite the generally sceptical atmosphere, he won respect from staff and students, and took pride in his collaboration with Sir Basil Spence on the design of the new meeting house. Though theology was not taught at Sussex, he was given the title of reader, and lectured in a course entitled The modern European mind.
After ten years Jenkins felt his work in Sussex was done, and returned to pastoral ministry in London. Regent's Square Church was now part of the new United Reformed Church, formed in 1972 through a union of Congregational and Presbyterian churches. Again Jenkins gathered a group of young people drawn by his challenging preaching. While there he published two further booksThe British: their Identity and their Religion (1975), in which he examined the relations between nationality and religion in England, Wales, and Scotland, and Christian Maturity and the Theology of Success (1976). On retirement in 1981 he returned to the academic life he loved as Weyerhaeuser professor of systematic theology at Princeton Theological Seminary, New Jersey, for a three-year term.
During the succeeding years of retirement in London, Jenkins continued to preach, review books, and write articles. The death of his wife in 1992 was a heavy blow from which he never really recovered. He did, however, take great pride in the achievements of his family, including the appointment of his son, Simon, as editor of The Times in 1990. A road accident in 1999 largely confined him to home. He died at the Lister Hospital, Westminster, on 22 June 2002, of bowel cancer, and was survived by his five children. His funeral was held in Highgate United Reformed Church, and he was buried beside his wife in the cemetery at Pennal, Merioneth, where he had spent summer holidays for almost half a century. An eloquent preacher and lively debater, and heir to the Reformed tradition, Jenkins had constantly challenged the Christian church to renewal, and made major contributions to contemporary debate in both Britain and America on the nature of the church and the Christian's responsibility towards society.
Christian News-Letter (19428) · The Presbyter (19435) · D. T. Jenkins, Congregationalism: a restatement (1954) · D. Jenkins, Equality and excellence: a Christian comment on Britain's life (1961) · D. Jenkins, Beyond religion: the truth and error in religionless Christianity (1962) · E. Kaye, The history of the King's Weigh House Church (1968) · The Times (24 June 2002) · The Independent (2 July 2002) · WW (2002) · personal knowledge (2006) · private information (2006) [Kate Jenkins, daughter; Simon Jenkins, son; A. Briggs; N. Watson] · b. cert. · m. cert. · d. cert.
BL NSA, documentary recordings
Wealth at death
£504,715: probate, 10 April 2003, CGPLA Eng. & Wales