Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Gospel According to Rowan Williams

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams summarizes his response to the question, "What is the gospel story in your own words?" like this: "Trust Jesus when he tells you what God is like." There's no mention of Jesus’ teachings and deeds, little emphasis placed on the crucifixion, and only the most oblique reference to the resurrection. And along the way, when Williams notes the difficulties faced by the first disciples, he says: "How do you trust Jesus when he appears to fail and when he appears to die?"

"Appears to die"? I’ll give the Archbishop of Canterbury the benefit of the doubt by saying that he did not intentionally set out to say something that contradicts the New Testament and the historic creeds. But still, on the whole, this is not two minutes of Rowan Williams at his best.

What do you think?


Chris+ said...

I don't know. I don't think he is too far off as far as trusting that Jesus is the most complete revelation of God. That is what I hear, despite the fact those words are not used. One could argue, that the trust angle is inclusive of all of it.

Although, I am reminded of something N.T. Wright wrote about Jesus acting climactically, not merely paradigmatically. Sometimes, it is easy to overdo teaching and deeds. By overemphasizing teachings and deeds, Jesus becomes a great new pattern, rather than the Son that lived and died for the sin of the world.

The "appears to die" peace is a jolt. I think he means, Jesus appearing to be dead forever.


Bryan+ said...

Hey Chris+, and thanks for the comments.

I was frankly disappointed in Rowan++ for not saying what you're saying as explicitly as you are saying it. I do hear echoes in this brief excerpt from a larger interview from his very fine book Tokens of Trust. But I'm not sure I'd go so far as to say that the "trust angle" is inclusive of saying that Jesus is "the most complete revelation of God." Can't we trust what someone tells us about God without believing that he/she is the complete revelation or incarnation of the God they tell us about? Don't many Christians do that with their pastors? Or with other Christians whose way of life they admire and wish to emulate?

I hear what you're saying about overemphasizing teachings and deeds, but I don't buy the opposition between Jesus' becoming "a great new pattern" on the one hand, and his identity as the Son of God who "lived and died for the sin of the world" on the other. Indeed, I think it's precisely because Jesus is the latter that his identity as the former gains its justification and authority. IOW, it's because Jesus is the Son of God who died and was raised from the dead that his example and teachings gain their authority over us. Otherwise, he's just another moral teacher (of which we've had plenty, as C. S. Lewis once noted).

I'm sure that you're right about the "appears to die" bit being a jolt - which is why I said I give him the benefit of the doubt on this.

Nevertheless, I'm still disappointed by his meandering response to the question. Is this really a response that would capture the imagination of the unchurched? I really doubt it.

Bryan+ said...

Just for clarification, let me add that I continue to admire Rowan++ as a fine theologian and ambassador for Anglicanism. While I have not always agreed with the way he's handled matters since he became the Archbishop of Canterbury, there's no doubt in my mind that he's one of the most gifted Christian intellectuals speaking, writing, and preaching in our day.

Which is all the more reason why I find this meandering response to a rather 'simple' question so disappointing. Notice that he doesn't really answer the question on the question's terms - that is, he doesn't tell the gospel story in his own words. Indeed, he doesn't tell a story at all. I'm sure that he's more than capable of doing so. Which makes me wonder why he didn't.

Chris+ said...

I think you are right. One could hope for a more compelling, simple condensation of the Gospel.

I didn't mean to imply that Jesus as model vs. fulfillment created two mutually exclusive options. But, around the Church, I often hear that reductionistic view of Jesus as the one with a really elevated God consciousness that said, "Be good".


Bryan+ said...

Thanks, Chris+. Your comments on this blog are always more than welcome.

BTW, I regularly go to your blog, and while I don't often comment on postings, I want you to know that you've got a good thing going over there.

Chris+ said...

Likewise. BTW, I am having a little outpatient surgery on my foot (long boring story of marathon running) in the am. Keep me in your prayers.


Bryan+ said...

Prayers you shall have at Morning Prayer and the noonday Eucharist tomorrow at St. Andrew's Cathedral!

Tobias Haller said...

Rowan is paradoxical in this as in so much else. He is more delightful in person than in the written word, but also not at his best in terms of theological precision. It is a trade-off, it seems.

Bryan+ said...

Thanks for your comment, Tobias. As always, you have a way of clarifying things that's helpful.