Rowan Williams on the Character of Theological Discourse

Recently i commented on my growing disdain for the heavily polemical nature of theological blogging.  After reading a bit of Rowan Williams and reflection, i want to give a bit more naunced view.

A few years ago i had the realization (which apparently i had forgotten) that honest theological reflection in community will necessarily be heated at times.  This is because if we actually let our theologies permeate the way we understand the Gospel, to attack my theology, in a sense, is to attack my faith, my God, my understanding of reality.  We shouldn’t pretend otherwise, and to do so is dehumanizing to people.

This realization was brought to the forefront of my mind today while i was reading a bit of Rowan WilliamsIn his collection of sermons and addresses, A Ray of Darkness, his address entitled Different Christs? speaks to this point.  Williams points out that when people dismissively regard your beliefs about God as heretical, unthoughtful, or irrelevant it “strikes at the ground of your faith.”  All of our little visions of the Gospel carry “a little of our own blood in it,” Williams says, bringing with it the often painful struggle to understand oneself “in the light of God and the Gospel.”

For Williams the solution isn’t mere tolerance, b/c like it or not, we all must interpret what Jesus’ life means for us today.  If we merely choose to ignore other’s view of the Gospel, then according to the Archbishop we can fall prey to hating other’s views so much that we forget our own understanding of the Good News; the Gospel for us simply becomes what we do NOT believe. 

So, we must keep talking, without trying to “take the edge off the reality of the conflict.”  While we must always be seeking to boil down to the essentials, focus on living out our understandings of the Gospel, rather than merely to interrogate others, perhaps Williams’ final suggestion for debating theology in a Christlike way is the best corrective to becoming overly aggressive:

Christ is not just there as an object of our investigation, but is a challenging and unsettling fact for all of us, interrogating us without mercy, interrogating our understanding of God and ourselves.  Are you stripping yourself in prayer before the terrible and searching Word of God?  Are you being refined in that fire? And am I?  Is my vision doing that to me, breaking and remaking my thoughts and words, my heart and mind? 

If we can conduct our theological discourse within the context of letting ourselves continually being refashioned by the One who has the right to question us, then maybe we can continue to debate, saying things that may be hurtful, while still having the others best interests at heart.  It seems appropriate to finish with this quote from Williams

I have no right to destroy your vision, nor you mine.  I have no business to devalue your understanding or make light of your struggles, nor you mine.  But we have the right-and perhaps the duty-to put the questions to each other and hear them from each other.When all the formulae, all the slogans, all the impassioned, sincere, and no doubt inevitable theological disputation is over, then we have to get back on our knees and ask about our own fidelity to God’s questioning, our own readiness to go into the desert where the security of pictures and ideas fades away, where all theologies finally give way to God.

 

 

  

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