Wrestling with Angels: Conversations in Modern Theology

Williams, Dr Rowan (ed. Higton, Mike)
SCM (2007)
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These collected papers, written between 1978 and 1998 show Dr. Rowan Williams at his best, as a facilitator of conversation, gracious and graceful in his writing, giving more than is perhaps due to those with whom he takes issue; and so we learn a great deal about the flaws of others without really getting a full grasp of what the Archbishop would say of or for himself. This can be frustrating because, like almost all Guardian leaders he stops just when you really want him to set out his stall. Each of his papers therefore leaves issues hanging which is his purpose; so if you are looking for cut-and-dried, decisive rebuttals of any of the positions of the theologians Williams not so much tackles as respectfully addresses, you will be disappointed.

It's as well to make it clear that none of these essays sets out the basic theology of the named persons so this is not a book for beginners. Williams, writing from his own level, assumes massive knowledge on the reader's part.

Having said all that, I was particularly grateful for:

and, leaving the best till the last:

Still, at the end of the book, I found myself inwardly shouting, "so what?" which, for an aspirant philosopher and theologian, is hardly the thing to shout! But, then, I reflected on how long it actually takes to sort out a piece of language about God that promotes our relationship with 'him' which is why Wiles' project on the history of doctrine is so pertinent. How long did it take, for example, to get God off his cloud into the form of Jesus suffering with the victims of oppression which is, perhaps, the greatest shift in theology in the 20th Century; but which is not represented in these papers.

There are many useful cross-references between the papers, enough to justify a much more coherent introduction or a tying up of some loose ends in a conclusion. Theology is, particularly in Williams' hands, always an open-ended process but ordinary mortals would probably be grateful for some signposting and stock-taking.

Kevin Carey
1st March 2011