On Christian Theology 1st Edition
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"A sustained and remarkably coherent essay on the daunting task of doing theology today. They again show him to be a theologian of immense erudition and maturity, and, perhaps more importantly, of fine sensitivity to the subterfuges of human frailty."Times Literary Supplement
"It is certainly a thought-provoking book; and if it gets people thinking honestly and deeply about the problems it discusses, then I am sure its author will be satisfied." Church Times
"Few contemporary theologians could offer such an exhilarating, authoritative and properly demanding exploration of what it means to do Christian theology. A companion volume on Christian ethics would be more than welcome." Nicholas Sagovsky, University of Newcastle.
"Rowan Williams speaks out of a fund of learning and pastoral experience which has made him arguably the most distinguished theologian in the English-speaking world. In Williams' hands the language of finality and universal significance gains unexpected energy." The Way.
"[On Christian Theology] exhibits a distinctive theological posture...having remarkable and deep internal coherence. His terms of engagement do not so much incite challenge and response as provoke fresh and more supple thinking of one's own. And that provocation is accompanied by the intense esthetic satisfaction of being drawn into the intellectual dance of so nimble and inventive a theological sensibility." David H. Kelsey, Yale Divinity School.
"The range of these essays, the importance of the subjects they treat, and, of course, Williams's erudition all mean that these essays will need to be taken seriously. A wide range of readers will owe Williams a debt of gratitude for the scatter of characteristically brilliant insights in these essays." The Heythrop Journal
"All in all, this is a valuable and stumulating book - one to which the reader will want to return." Studies in World Christianity
From the Back Cover
Williams argues that theology moves constantly between the three registers of the celebratory, the communicative and the critical, and is held together by something not captured by any of these modes. He reflects on the fundamental connection between theology and self-awareness and self-critique, and discusses doctrinal issues - creation, incarnation, the Trinity - in this light. He addresses the nature of signs and sacraments and looks at the public and ethical embodiment of this theological vision.
Overall, Williams presents a theological perspective acutely aware of the cultural and political crises of our time. He suggests that detachment from doctrinal tradition will not solve our problems and argues instead for an imaginative reworking of the doctrinal tradition, formed in an intense dialogue with modernity and postmodernity.
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There are large subjects addressed, like "The Judgement of the World," where he addresses many like ideas: "The diffuse discontent that consumer pluralism can engender (although it largely contains and even utilizes it) yields itself readily to any program that dresses itself persuasively enough in moral rhetoric..." There's a taste of the theologian's writing.
You won't find this on a popular reading list, but certainly the publisher Blackwell has found a steady seller with this compilation. The subtitle is "Challenges in contemporary Christianity," and apt it is--of special interest to Christians in general and Episcopalians and Anglicans in particular. Afterall, the Archbishop is an Anglican. Here he remarks on the world and we as creatures in relation to God. Along the way he says what God is to us and creation. He calls this God's freedom: "...God in creation means that God cannot make a reality that then needs to be actively governed, subdued, bent to the divine purpose away from its natural course. If God creates freely, God does not need the power of a sovereign: what is, is from God." Sometimes the writing is clearer to me than others, which is my limitation. I understand, "what is, is from God." Here's an understandable statement, among many in an understandable book, from the chapter "On Being Creatures": "Being creatures is learning humility, not as submission to an alien will, but as the acceptance of limit and death..." He says for that we need moral imagination. One gets the idea of the scope of his concerns and thinking, which are matters of the heart and living.
In the chapter, "Word and Spirit" (again larger subjects, but fascinating and engaging ones to the Christian reader, and others I think), the author says what is extraordinary, or ordinary about the Christian human being. For afterall, this man can speak of being a Christian and of the Christian human being: "We can recognize perhaps more clearly the dispressure of the figure of the crucified Messiah: we can accept more readily the breaking of certain kinds of sacral barrier, so that 'Spirit' ceases to be confined to the extraordinary but becomes a qualification of Christian human being."
Some other chapters: "Triniity and Ontology," "Between the Cherubim," ("It will effectively be claiming tht what is vital to Christian discourse about the resurrection can be stated exclusively in terms of what happens to the minds and hearts of believers when proclamation is made that the victim of the crucifixion is the one through whom God continues to act and speak."), "Nature and Sacrament," "Sacraments of the New Society" ("...we are either bound together by being 'seen' by God as distant, as strangers, or bound together in a common assurance that we are received, affirmed, adopted."
Today, in this season of Epiphany, in the winter of California where I live, I wanted to write a poem for this review (a kind of review in itself). Here it is:
Epiphany Brings News
by Peter Menkin
The Winter is young,
Trees bare against a grey sky.
Epiphany brings news
To me of the resurrection's
Through this gift,
In the cross-resurrection.
This Rowan Williams
Tells us these things;
Wait on the Christ-open heart.
This theologian I am reading
Shed enmity towards failures,
Enmity between people,
Then comes friendship with God.
Not matters of the mind,
Of the head,
But of the heart.
I think of Easter,
"the living of the believing life."
Our trust is in Easter.
Many people have said that Rowan Williams writes of the crisis in our world, even the back cover notes proclaim such: "Overall, Williams presents a theological perspective acutely aware of the cultural and political crises of our time..." I would be remiss to leave that statement out of this review. For me, though, I found this a book of spirit and interesting writing opening windows and doors during this winter season into a light on the Trinity and man's relation to God in Christ. This isn't a book for a quick read, and I enjoyed the studying of text, even where I knew I was becoming only familiar with terms and people. As I've begun to become familiar with Rowan William's writings, I think I chose a good book as part of that familiarization process.
Peter Menkin -- Epiphany
Rowan Williams is a gifted writer and theologian and has written many other interesting books. Fortunately despite its travails, the Anglican church still seems capable of producing theologians that are genuinely ecumenical, balanced and orthodox and also intellectually well-formed. Cardinal Newman was perhaps the best mind Anglicanism produced, but there are many other great Anglican divines such as Thomas Cramner, Richard Hooker, Jeremy Taylor, George Herbert, Edward Pusey and many others whose writings and reflections can be illuminating to those inside and outside their communion.
Williams is fortunately a theologian who is well-grounded in history, patristics, spirituality and 'Catholic' (by Catholic I mean the first 1000 years of the undivided church) thinker. He has written important monographs on Arius and the Arian heresy, edited writings by Cardinal Henry Newman, produced insightful articles about topics such as Thomas Aquinas's theology of the Trinity (clearing the Angelic Doctor of many of the charges made against his excellent Trinitarian theology) and is widely knowledgeable about Christian spirituality, including the Roman Catholic and Orthodox, as well as Desert traditions.
His reflections are thus valuable and worth careful reading, especially in an age when tribalism, fundamentalism and ecclesial triumphalism are returning. It is refreshing to see someone writing in the Catholic tradition (Catholic in the sense of balancing reading the Bible in the light of Christian history, theology and traditions) and not just arrogantly dismissing the insights of other communions or pushing some ideological agenda, as countless apologists and other 'Christian' thinkers tend to do. Especially tiresome is the cosy but Faustian alliance many Christian leaders and thinkers have made with the right-wing side of politics to push as what they see as Christianity, but which selects some elements of the Gospel and NT at the expense of others. The Anglican Communion and its bitter debates over homosexual people and the ordination of women show that perhaps these controverted issues, which right-wing Christians could not accept (many Anglicans chose to join Catholicism or broke communion with the Anglicans after some liberal reforms were enacted) show that perhaps not even someone of Rowan William's talents could handle these issue, and his sense of balance and desire to dialogue, rather than enforce unity and conformity, is perhaps sadly reflected in the current problems over Pope Francis and the Roman Communion, where there are deep divides over issues such as whether the divorced and remarried can have the eucharist.
In a broken and flawed world, heaven on Earth is perhaps impossible until the end of time. Even so, William's balanced Catholic theology offers a refreshing break from the often sterile fundamentalisms and second-rate apologetics that dominate Christian discourse today.
Top international reviews
Although it is sometimes described as Rowan Williams 'Systematic Theology', 'On Christian Theology' is actually a collection of several of his essays over a period of twenty years that have been arranged systematically. Williams, in traditional Anglican style, prefers the medium of the essay to lengthy volumes of Systematics in order to explore the range and inner nuances of Christian theology. The work itself is divided into five sections, which could be described as a Prolegomena, a discussion of the content of revelation itself, a discussion of the metaphysical underpinnings of revelation in response to revelation, a discussion of ecclesiology and the sacraments, and finally a discussion of ethics and (briefly) eschatology. In the Prologue, Williams discusses the three 'registers' or modes that Christian theology works in: the celebratory, the communicative and the critical. The first is what he describes as 'an attempt to draw out and display connections of thought and image so as to exhibit the fullest possible range of significance in the language used' (p.xiii) (i.e. the realm of hymns, preaching, iconography, Eastern Orthodoxy and von Balthasar; perhaps the best analogy for this is dogmatics). The second, the communicative, is 'a theology experimenting with the rhetoric of its uncommitted environment' (p.xiv), which can perhaps be described as a kind of apologetics. The final register or mode is the critical, a theology 'alert to its own inner tensions of irresolutions' (p.xv). It is these divisions which are at the heart of 'On Christian Theology', and Williams - often within a single essays - weaves through all three.
It must be noted again that this is a collection of essays arranged systematically. Those looking for 'the comprehensive thinking of Rowan Williams' will be disappointed here. Here are a few illuminating snapshots of Williams' thinking. The essay-style of the book is unusual, but in being so it has many gems. Thus, in being in essay form, the essays all begin from differing perspectives and challenges: this is not an unfolding of a single theological idea (ala Barth, Tillich or Rahner), but rather the approaching of different doctrines from certain particularities but with an inner consistency. For instance, his discussion of the empty tomb is also a wonderfully insightful discussion of the ark of the covenant, two seemingly unrelated subjects stunningly brought together - in which both subjects are in turn illuminated. On another occasion, his discussion on the Incarnation works through a critical engagement with the Lux Mundi theologians; a discussion of ecclesial ethics uses the engagement against racism as a way of working through what it means to be the church of Jesus Christ. Whilst sometimes this leaves the reader initially question what actually has been discussed, a second or third reading brings out the inner connections of the essay at hand. When the writing is at its most complex (his discussions of Moore's logic in 'Trinity and Ontology' is quite a challenge to read through), a patient reading will eventually discern the inner gems.
This is not a work for those hoping to find in Williams a theological liberal. Although he engages with 19th and 20th Century liberalism, Williams himself is firmly in the 'Generously Orthodox' School, based in Christian tradition and the thinking of Barth and Balthasar. All in all, despite the eclectic mix of approaches to various doctrines, there is an inner consistency here at work. After sometime with the book, one notes that the essays still keep on bringing out fresh insights even after several readings: the mark of all great theology and all great theologians. A true theological classic to keep on one's theological bookshelf!