Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Masters recap part one of a lot

I took a class on contemporary Anglican Theologians, with the Rev. Drs. Ben King and Rob MacSwain. Ben is a historian of the church and Rob is a theologian. Rob taught many of my theology classes for my MDiv including directing my independent study on Stanley Hauerwas, a theologian and ethicist. Hauerwas, famously, was on the cover of Time Magazine in 2001 as the America's most important theologian, which he had a real problem with; but no one remembers this because the issue came out on Sept. 11. Hauerwas, being American, is given to pithy quotes, see here.

The first theologian we read was Rowan Williams who is decidedly NOT given to pithy, bumper-sticker ready quotations. As I read through his extraordinarily dense and nuanced, On Christian Theology, I kept looking for that one phrase that would sum up his project. I couldn't find it. Hauerwas can be summed up in "The first task of the church is for the church to be the church," followed closely by, "The Church doesn't have a social ethic, it is a social ethic." But Williams...? Nope.

Williams is doing something else. I think this is owed to his being a poet, but the activity of reading On Christian Theology imparts an experience of the content, which is some doctrine of God or a method of doing theology. The form itself communicates the content. What I mean is, his chapters on the Self and the Holy Trinity actually, I think, give a sense of what life is like in these doctrines. So his chapters on the Trinity, for example, are very subtle, intricate, and intermingled. One gets an actual experience of the Trinity's perichoretic relationship. It is the most difficult theology I've ever read, but it repays the effort.

Williams writes widely for the wider audience. I'd highly recommend, Finding God in Paul, Being Christian, and my favorite, Silence and Honey Cakes.

Another aspect of Williams that came up in our discussion of his theology was the fact that he was the Archbishop of Canterbury, and not a widely successful one. Some of his thoughts on homosexuality didn't fair too well once he had the power of the office. One person in the class said insightfully, "If only he had been Rowan Williams instead of the Archbishop of Canterbury, he thought we needed the office, not the man." Williams ultimately went against some of his own thoughts as the Archbishop, this, apparently had real personal consequence. Therefore, some of Williams later work looks at tragedy as a Christian category. In fact as I work on my paper for this class, which is on theodicy,wondering about a loving, powerful God in a world of pain and suffering, Williams' thoughts on tragedy loom large.

I'll reflect more on this class, especially the other theologians we covered, later.

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