On Christian Theology by Rowan Williams
(Blackwell, 2000, 328 pages)
Rowan Williams has been serving as the Master of Magdalene College in the University of Cambridge for about a year now, a position which followed a full decade as the Archbishop of Canterbury. Prior to serving as the leading figure in the Church of England and the global Anglican Communion, Williams had spent his life in the academic circles to which he has now returned. On Christian Theology is one of the major fruits from this earlier stage of academic life, and it demonstrates why Williams is so uniquely qualified to serve in the prominent public roles that he has found himself occupying.
This book is a collection of articles originally published in various journals. They deal with issues of scriptural interpretation, historical criticism, interreligious dialogue, Trinitarian theology, sacramental theology, and the nature of the Church. To all these issues, Williams brings a sensitivity to questions of historicity – how did the canon of Scripture come together in its historical process, and how does that affect our reading of it; how did the early Church begin to define itself in relation to the surrounding religions of its day, and how does that inform contemporary interfaith dialogue; does the Church dictate to society the best vision for the public good, or must it also listen and learn from “secular” interlocutors? Williams never seems to be willing to settle for easy or comforting answers, and he gently but firmly challenges the Church to constant self-examination and renewal.
Perhaps the single most significant contribution that Williams offers to the contemporary theological scene through this volume is the three-fold distinction between celebratory, communicative, and critical styles of theological reflection. These styles correspond (very) loosely to liturgical, apologetic, and apophatic modes of theology. Williams’ articulation of these three modes in the Prologue, as well as his demonstration of how to engage in each mode throughout the various sections of this volume, is a very helpful and nuanced model for theological scholarship.