(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

On Christian Theology is one of many works by Rowan Williams, whose erudition, superb style, and profound vision earned him a reputation as one of the finest theologians of his era. Born in Wales, Williams earned two degrees at Christ’s College, Cambridge, and a D. Phil. from Christ Church and Wadham College, Oxford. After being ordained a priest of the Church of England, he remained in the academic world for the next decade and a half, becoming a recognized poet and a prominent theologian as well as a social activist. In 1991, Williams was elected bishop of Monmouth, Newport, Wales. Nine years later, he became archbishop of Wales, and in 2003, he was enthroned as archbishop of Canterbury. However, his administrative duties did not prevent Williams from continuing to pursue his scholarly interests and to publish works on a wide variety of subjects.

On Christian Theology is a collection of eighteen essays and lectures that were produced by Williams in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Although the subjects of these pieces vary, the collection is unified by Williams’s vision of what Christianity is meant to be. It is also given coherence by the fact that the purpose of the essays is as much to define theology and to explain its purpose as it is to illustrate its applications.

In his prologue, Williams defines the twofold task of the theologian: on one hand, to observe the ongoing life of the Christian community, and on the other, to remind the members of the community of their historical roots. Theological thought, he argues, is divided into three styles. The “celebratory” style uses the full range of sound, imagery, and symbolism to create a transcendent vision. Examples of this style would be hymns, psalms, and religious poetry.

The “communicative” style is experimental, tentative, and courageous, for it involves taking the Gospel into alien environments. Williams cites as one example the inclusion of Stoic and Platonic ideas in...

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(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Sources for Further Study

Breyfogle, Todd. “Time and Transformation: A Conversation with Rowan Williams.” Cross Currents 45 (1995): 293-312. Williams comments on music, literature, and theology; the ordination of women in the Anglican Church; and theological differences within the Church.

Higton, Mike. Difficult Gospel: The Theology of Rowan Williams. London: SCM-Canterbury Press, 2004. Argues that Williams sees theology as necessarily tentative because the body of Christ consists of billions of people, each with a different response to God. A useful guide.

Hobson, Theo. “Rowan Williams as Anglican Hegelian.” Reviews in Religion and Theology 12 (2005): 290-297. Explains how Williams utilizes Hegel’s insights to show that Anglicanism offers the best basis for the ideal Christian society.

Kelsey, David H. Review of On Christian Theology. Modern Theology 16 (2000): 562-564. Points out that despite being written at different times, the essays in this volume are consistent stylistically, intellectually, and theologically.

Shortt, Rupert. Rowan Williams: An Introduction. London: Darton, Longman, and Todd, 2003. A lengthy biographical chapter is followed by sections on Williams’s philosophy and theology, spirituality, and politics. Bibliography and index.