Obituary: Dr Douglas Alan Templeton, theologian, New Testament expert, lecturer and writer

Dr Douglas Templeton
Dr Douglas Templeton
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Douglas Alan Templeton, theologian: Born, 27 May 1935, in Glasgow. Died, 22 August 2017, in Edinburgh, aged 82

The theologian Dr Douglas Templeton is affectionately remembered by his students as much for his crumpled kilt and his golden Labrador, Donald, as for the erudite content of his lectures on the New Testament.

A teacher at New College, Edinburgh University’s Faculty of Divinity, on the Mound, he was for many undergraduates on the New Testament Honours course the spirit of 1960s Edinburgh, entertaining them to a crate of beer at his flat in Rose Street while discussing the Biblical insights of abstruse German philosophers. Donald the dog’s favourite place was Templeton’s office in college, where visitors would offer him their biscuits.

Templeton’s style was ruminative: soft-spoken, he would pace the room, never too quick to criticise someone’s contribution to the debate. He was, one former student said, “studiously eccentric”.

Templeton kept his hair long all his life, and was sometimes mistaken for, as a friend put it, “some kind of suspicious character”. In later years he had another golden Labrador, Ossian. A gentle sort, brimming with sympathy for people’s feelings, Templeton served for a time early in his career as assistant minister in the parish of Richmond Craigmillar, at Niddrie, south-east Edinburgh.

He published, in 1999, a book, “The New Testament as True Fiction: Literature, Literary Criticism, Aesthetics” , which has been described as “an intertextual tour de force” and “an extended meditation” on imaginative truth and how this may differ from the truth of history.

Among the strongest influences on his thinking were the German Lutheran theologian Rudolf Bultmann (1884-1976), who contended that what mattered was that Jesus Christ had existed, rather than any particular fact about Christ’s life; and the British philosopher and archaeologist Robin George Collingwood (1889-1943), an Anglican Oxford classicist whose father had happened to be private secretary to the Victorian aesthete John Ruskin.

Templeton’s reading covered a vast range, from Hegel, Spinoza, Wittgenstein and Aristotle, to Goethe, Coleridge, Walter Scott, and P G Wodehouse. He would read James Joyce in bed, and could quote from TS Eliot, Wallace Stevens, and the poetry of the medieval Provencal troubadour Bernart de Ventadour, as well as enjoying Spike Milligan, the Monty Python comedies and JK Rowling’s Harry Potter.

Described as “a superb teacher”, he had studied in Germany, in Baden-Wurttemberg at the university of Tubingen under another German Lutheran theologian, the New Testament scholar Professor Ernst Kasemann, as well as at Gottingen University in Lower Saxony, and at Jena – Jena being at that time separated from the West in the then Communist German Democratic Republic. He visited Bultmann, who was then Professor of New Testament theology at the University of Marburg, in Hesse.

Templeton for his first degree had studied classics at Cambridge University, and, as well as Greek and Latin, knew Hebrew, German and French. After two years’ national service in the Black Watch, he studied for his Bachelor of Divinity degree at Glasgow University, winning distinction in New Testament. He obtained his PhD at Glasgow in 1967, under the supervision of Professor Ronald Gregor Smith. Templeton’s subject was the Kerygma (the core proclamation of Christianity in the Gospels) as understood by Bultmann and the Welsh New Testament scholar Charles Harold Dodd.

Douglas Alan Templeton was born in Glasgow, the son of Kenneth Griffith Templeton, an engineer. He was the second of four children, with an elder brother, Alaster, a younger brother, Ronald, and a sister, Sheina. He was educated at Fettes College, Edinburgh, where he played rugby.

Templeton married, in 1977, Elizabeth Maclaren, a fellow former student of New College, 10 years his junior, who became the first woman there to hold a full-time lecturer post. She was a New College student while he was lecturing in the late 1960s, but it seems he may not actually have taught her. As Elizabeth Templeton she would help to develop the doctrine of the Kirk and other churches on many subjects; New College would name a lecture room in her honour. She died in April 2015.

The Templeton family lived in Pitlochry, Perthshire, and Stockbridge, Edinburgh. Douglas and Elizabeth had three children: Kirsten, Alan, and Calum. In November 2006 sorrow struck, when Alan, then aged 24, went missing. He had been suffering from depression. It was not until 2012, when a walker on Arthur’s Seat came upon bones at the foot of Salisbury Crags, that his body was found. Douglas Templeton, who had always taken delight in his children, found the loss too painful to speak of, and was known to stop anyone throwing out items that had been his son’s.

Templeton is survived by his daughter Kirsten and son Calum, and by his sister, Sheina.

A man who was generous and easy-going towards others,Templeton in his work was extremely demanding of himself. In moments of leisure he loved music, especially Brahms, Richard Strauss and Canteloube’s Songs of the Auvergne. Another enthusiasm was hill-walking, which he did in kilt, mountain boots and khaki jacket. Just as with his unerring instinct for the right theological expression, so was he sure-footed in Scotland’s remotest glens. He astonished a companion in 2012 by finding, without a map, the way through bog and heather to Scotland’s remotest “hotel”, at map reference NN 926 789, 1750 ft up in the Cairngorms: the wild, centuries-old, in that time intermittently roofless, then restored, Tarf Bothy by the oft-flooding streams of the Tarf Water and the Feith Uaine Mor.

ANNE KELENY