Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Rowan Williams - the pre-eminent Anglican thinker

Today it is a pleasure to redress a certain imbalance that's become apparent on this site, and to celebrate and admire the gifts of the present Archbishop of Canterbury (although the temptation to dish out some advice will not be resisted).



Rowan Williams' own website today published his recent address to the national Fresh Expressions conference in Oxford (you can watch it instead, if you prefer).  This is not going to be a detailed review of the talk, but it's well worth a read.  His characteristic "thinking aloud" style works well in this environment, and as usual, his content is deep and solid, without fluff or padding.  What superficially sounds like a quickly prepared address is full of biblical reflection, cultural references, and original thought.

There's some great stuff there about the nature and process of evangelism, and about how the sacraments might fit in a "fresh expressions" church culture. The idea of "helping people to see more than they ever expected" is a classic, destined to be much quoted. Rowan confronts the difficult question of how we encourage discipleship, which is a big problem for fresh expressions (and for most churches today, if we are honest).  His musings on the balance between the "big event" and small group life are quite fascinating, real food for thought for anyone involved in church leadership or planting, or concerned about the way church interacts with culture.

Rowan's intellectual gifts are not confined to dense treatises on Arius or Dostoevsky.  He is just as challenging a teacher on issues like fresh expressions and church leadership.  When he is out of the media circus, and able to tackle a subject in principle, as he does here, he is at his best as a Bishop, and has no equal in this generation of Anglican leaders. If, when he seems to be struggling a little, we scratch our heads and wonder why he was made Archbishop, then this kind of thing reminds us why. 

It would be good for him and for the church if he could shine in this way more often, and Always Hope thinks it knows how this could be achieved.  Among the current list of clergy vacancies is the See of Durham.  Historically considered one of the five senior Bishoprics (with Canterbury, York, London, and Winchester), it was in the past always filled by a theological heavyweight, a tradition which was happily revived when Tom Wright went there in 2003.  Now Wright has gone, it seems to me the church is already missing his authoritative voice from the line-up of Bishops.  What better job for a man recognised as the leading Anglican thinker of his time, who has served 8 years as Archbishop, but is still only 60 and has much to offer as a theological leader?

Rowan for Durham. You read it here first.

(and possibly last).

1 comment:

Dreaming Beneath the Spires said...

I like Rowan. His intellectual and literary gifts, his poetic bent and essential decency are wasted on what is essentially a boring administrative position; on the other hand, he's quintessentially Anglican, and makes a good ABC, in my opinion!
Anita