Christ on Trial

Williams, Rowan
Zondervan (2000)
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Rowan Williams generally writes two kinds of books: those which are relatively easy to read and those which almost defy prosaic interpretation, tending towards the poetic, the ambiguous and the elusive. The latter sort are a welcome counter weight to contemporary schools of theology which treat it like Newtonian (as opposed to the much more exciting contemporary) Physics and perhaps the fact that such books are inaccessible to the general reader is a price worth paying.

Christ on Trial sits midway between these two genres. At a superficial level, it looks like a conventional Lent Course with tidy units with a tendency to establish some uniformity of approach but once the conventional signposts have been passed, the journey becomes challenging. I found writing Study Notes for teachers and participants almost as time consuming as writing a Lent Course from scratch!

The chapter on Mark which contrasts the integrity of Jesus with the cynicism of modern politics is clear and relevant; the contrast between (clerical) self importance and wisdom in Matthew is a little more problematic but manageable; the antithesis between the outsider and the insider in Luke is obvious at a superficial level but some of the theological superstructure is complex and enigmatic. The real trouble comes with John where I was reduced to the reflection: "I know what you are saying and I know what the individual propositions mean but I cannot see where the links re".

The fifth Chapter on martyrdom is the least intense and satisfying and might be mooted in a five-week course and the sixth provides some kind of synthesis and way forward.

I found it necessary in adapting the material for a Lent Course to re-write the questions completely so that each set had some internal coherence and so that each built on the work of the previous week. Such coherence may be present in the original but I could not always discern it.

In spite of these quibbles which might be important when using the book for teaching purposes, I found the work as a whole exciting and even risky; but I feel it will be some time before I find my way back home which is something I can live with; but I am not sure about my students.