29 August 2019, The Tablet

Owen Barfield and the power of words

Owen Barfield and the power of words

Owen Barfield: ‘… the one with the most penetrating ideas’


Owen Barfield has been described as “a paradigm-busting Christian thinker”. The author of a new study of his thought believes his radical ideas have never been more relevant

I was once in a group mulling over what we should do to spread the Gospel and boost church numbers. An hour passed, as did various moods, from anxiety to optimism. And then someone said, “But wait. It’s not our mission that matters. It’s God’s mission.”

The thought fell on me like a revelation. We had got the question wrong. What we should be asking is, where is God’s mission happening? And it was only in reading Owen Barfield that I begin to grasp what might be unfolding in our times of church decline.

Barfield was a lesser-known member of the Oxford Inklings group, though C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien acknowledged he was the one with the most penetrating ideas. Born in London in 1898, when Queen Victoria was on the throne, he died in 1997. He faced periods of acute depression and major disruptions in his career. Unlike Lewis and Tolkien, he was never employed by Oxford University. At first, it looked as if he would be the Inkling to become a famous writer. He published a mythopoetic story for children, The Silver Trumpet, in 1925, more than a decade before The Hobbit appeared, and his first significant non-fiction book, Poetic Diction, came out in 1928, causing an immediate stir.

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