Ronald Inchley

Founder of Inter-Varsity Press
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The Independent Online

The British theological scene in the 1930s was largely high and liberal; evangelicals in university theology departments could be numbered on one hand. In accounting for the huge sea change since, the influence of Ronald Inchley, in building the Inter-Varsity Press (IVP), cannot be ignored. From small beginnings, with T.C. Hammond's In Understanding Be Men (1936) and the study guide Search the Scriptures, it grew to become the UK's leading academic publisher of conservative theology.

Ronald Inchley, publisher: born Erdington, Warwickshire 31 January 1912; married 1940 Olive Swannell (four sons); died Brockhampton, Herefordshire 13 April 2005.

The British theological scene in the 1930s was largely high and liberal; evangelicals in university theology departments could be numbered on one hand. In accounting for the huge sea change since, the influence of Ronald Inchley, in building the Inter-Varsity Press (IVP), cannot be ignored. From small beginnings, with T.C. Hammond's In Understanding Be Men (1936) and the study guide Search the Scriptures, it grew to become the UK's leading academic publisher of conservative theology.

Ronald Inchley grew up in Castle Bromwich, Warwickshire, the fourth of seven children (the youngest being triplets) born to George Francis Inchley, a cabinet-maker, and his wife Elizabeth Wilday. Ronald was educated at King Edward VI Grammar School in Birmingham, where he took the lead role in several Shakespearean productions and played the organ for morning chapel. He read English and History at Birmingham University, the first member of his family to receive a university education.

He was approached to join the staff of the fledgling Inter-Varsity Fellowship (IVF, now the UCCF, the Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship) in 1936 as a young graduate; he would assist its General Secretary, Douglas Johnson, and take responsibility for literature production.

The whole publishing operation had to be cut back drastically during the Second World War; Inchley (or "RI" as he became known) was taken on by J.W. Laing (Construction) to work on the airfield expansion programme in the south of England, as a site manager and quantity surveyor.

Sir John Laing was to play a critical role in the IVF in postwar years. Laing had been lent a copy of a modest publication, Christ and the Colleges (1934), written by Donald Coggan, later Archbishop of Canterbury, and he found its account of student evangelism compelling. From 1942 until 1960 he chaired the Inter-Varsity Fellowship Council, under which sat its growing publishing operation.

It became clear that most liberal academics found themselves unable to recommend anything from the IVF stable. So in 1945 Inchley devised a new imprint, Tyndale Press. R.V.G. Tasker, Professor of New Testament Exegesis at King's College London, had been deeply moved by addresses given to the Christian Union at King's by the Welsh doctor turned preacher Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Having previously published with the more liberal presses Tasker threw in his lot with Inchley, first contributing The Biblical Doctrine of the Wrath of God (1951) in a series of Tyndale academic monographs. This was a courageous public statement from the incumbent of one of the most senior chairs in the country. With Tasker as an author, Tyndale Press could not be ignored.

Professor J.N.D. Anderson of the School of Oriental and African Studies at London University contributed scholarly titles on Christianity and world religions; Tasker edited the New Testament Tyndale Commentary series, and Donald Wiseman, Professor of Assyriology at Soas, edited the Old Testament Commentaries. Evangelicals had until then retreated from the field of scholarship, but the tide had now turned. The flagship New Bible Commentary first appeared in 1953, Donald Guthrie's Introduction to the New Testament in 1961 and the New Bible Dictionary in 1962.

Inchley's publishing was to serve the general student market too, where well-written Christian apologetics were much needed. As Penguin and Pan launched first-edition softbacks for the first time in the late 1950s, Inchley seized the opportunity to do the same, and published six titles in paperback simultaneously in 1958. These included Basic Christianity by John Stott, which was to break the million mark in sales, and Fundamentalism and the Word of God by J.I. Packer. Both writers continued to publish highly significant books with IVP, with virtually all their books still in print. Another of Inchley's authors to prove of particular significance in the universities was Michael Green, later Adviser for Evangelism to the Archbishop of Canterbury.

As publisher for the student world, Inchley was unafraid to tackle controversial issues in the realms of science and human sexuality. Sir Fred Catherwood's The Christian in Industrial Society (1964) brought a further breakthrough in helping evangelicals to relate biblical teaching to working life.

In 1968 the whole IVF publishing operation was re-named Inter-Varsity Press (IVP). In 1974 Inchley purchased new warehouse accommodation in Nottingham which enabled expansion to its current list of some 700 titles.

He retired in 1977. For the following five years he acted as the first Honorary Administrator for the Evangelical Literature Trust (now part of Langham Partnership International), to provide books for preachers and theological teachers in the developing world. He negotiated with friends in the UK publishing fraternity to provide royalty-free run-ons at cost price, and the service expanded significantly in those years.

Julia Cameron



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