Christ the Stranger: The Theology of Rowan Williams:
A Critical Introduction
(London: T & T Clark, 2012), 160 pp
Regents Reviews, 2012
Ben Myers’ guide through the theology of Rowan Williams is not an easy book, especially given that it is an ‘introduction’. This relatively brief paperback requires a slow and thoughtful reading. This is not any form of “Idiot’s Guide”to Rowan Williams – nor is it the kind of analysis conducted from a patronising stance ‘outside’ the texts under consideration. Ben Myers invites the reader into the darkness, struggle and pain of human existence, because only from there can we begin to grasp the dynamic of Williams’ thought.
His description of resurrection, for instance, is not simply the divine ‘conjuring trick with bones,’ nor an alternative to the stark horrors of death, nor a free ticket to eternal bliss. To grasp something of what resurrection means, we are brought to the brink of the existential abyss, to peer into the depths of human loneliness and alienation, to face head-on the traumatic realities of the human condition. Williams / Myers (at times their voices merge) leave us no way out, no shallow consolation, no bogus refuge that would save us from exposure to the godless nothingness that shrouds human experience. Only when exposed to this sheer and absolute absence, appreciating its monstrous weight, acknowledging its final say over who we are, only then do the cosmic tremors of resurrection begin to rumble. It is for this reason that Myers’ introduction is not an easy read: it is less a dry and detached argument, than a daring invitation into a region undergoing an earthquake.
If we want an objective, measured, systematic critique of Williams, this is not the place to look. For instance, I would like to have seen Myers devote more energy to the distinction he makes between the fluid, groundless, self-effacing theologies of post-modernism and Williams’ own position, which can feel excessively ‘un-concrete,’ inoffensive and post-modern. The Hauerwases of this world clearly state their position, identify their enemies, attract controversy and pay the price. Williams, at the other extreme (and for understandable reasons) often treads so carefully, so lightly, that his own position remains clouded in ambiguity and mystery. These dimensions of Williams’ thought, so brilliantly highlighted by Myers, left me hungry for more in the way of explanation.
But explanation is not Myers’ priority. Outlining the breadth of Williams’ theological influences (Augustine and Hegel, Russian Orthodoxy, Wittgenstein and Freud, Mackinnon and Gillian Rose), Myers’ lucid exposition has a strong poetic quality. In fact, Christ the Stranger is poetic theology in which the voices of Myers and Williams slowly fade, leaving the reader confronted by the disturbing, disruptive, liberating Christ to whom they point.