Rowan Williams and the Anglican Communion crisis
Why Williams is Williams
Rowan Williams and the Anglican Communion Crisis
By Charles Raven
The Latimer Trust. 176 pages. £6.99
The works of Rowan Williams could hardly, by any measure, be described as an ‘easy read’. Perhaps this is why, even among evangelicals, opinion is divided as to the orthodoxy, or otherwise, of his views.
Thus a leading evangelical of my acquaintance recently expressed the opinion that ‘only those who have engaged in a very cursory (or an extraordinarily picky) reading’ of the works of Rowan Williams could believe that he was ‘selling the Christian faith down the river’. And put that baldly, I would have to agree. But then there are very few on the liberal wing of the Church of England who could nevertheless be accused of engaging in a deliberate betrayal of the gospel.
I would take serious issue, however, with the suggestion that only those who have failed to get to grips with his writings could have any misgivings about Dr. Williams’s theology. On the contrary, my own reading of his works (including On Christian Theology, Resurrection, Open to Judgement, Arius and The Body’s Grace) convinced me that, while Williams is clearly passionate about the God he sees revealed in Christ, there are some glaring problems and lacunae in what Mike Higton, a sympathetic commentator, nevertheless termed his ‘Difficult Gospel’.
I would, therefore, very much commend to anyone with a vested interest in understanding Dr. Williams’s thought, and his personal impact on the current state of the Church of England, Charles Raven’s own account, Shadow Gospel.
What lies behind
Having said that, I think the ‘shadow’ theme was one of the less-effective aspects of the book. Where its real strength lies is in explaining not so much what Williams presents (as it were) ‘in place of’ the gospel, but just what lies behind his theology in general and his ecclesiology in particular. Above all, it opens our eyes as to the historical and political significance of how Williams’s theology has been developed and applied.
I have often taken issue with the view of many liberals today, that Williams has somehow ‘betrayed’ his principles in the way he has responded to problems in the Anglican Communion. Rather, my belief is that he has acted in a manner entirely consistent with his deepest theological convictions. To my mind, Raven confirms that view, but by digging into Williams’s works he adds considerable dimensionality and colour to our understanding of just why Williams has adopted the approach he has taken on key issues.
If I had any real problem with the book (apart from the lack of an index), it was the presence of numerous minor ‘typos’ and one glaring mistake. I have drawn the latter to the author’s attention, and passed my annotated copy to the editor for correction of the former. Since Latimer books are printed ‘on demand’, these issues should be rectified in future editions.
It is easy to grow tired of the internecine quarrels of the Church of England. Those of us who still hope it might be rescued from decline and decay must, nevertheless, seek to understand our situation in order to change it. The £6.99 cover price of Shadow Gospel is money well spent. Those who still regard such criticism of Dr. Williams’s views as somehow arising simply out of ignorance or mean-spiritedness would also do well to invest their time and money in engaging with its challenges.