Anglicanfest

No doubt everyone has heard the news that Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, has said that he will resign at the end of the year to take up a position as Master of Magdalene College in Cambridge. To mark the occasion, I just purchased Benjamin Myer’s book Christ the Stranger: The Theology of Rowan Williams on Kindle, which I’ll get into tonight, looks terrific, see Rachel Marszalek’s review here. I should point out that Ben also has an article on Rowan Williams at the ABC Religions & Ethics page which is worth checking out, it is called, The Problem with Rowan Williams, where Myers celebrates what can be called the diaological nature of William’s bishopric and the priestly nature of his scholarship. Myers concludes: “What is unique about Rowan Williams is simply the fact that he is a priest. If anything will come to define his new position at Cambridge, it will be that he approaches academic life just as he approaches Church leadership: as a Christian and as a priest.”

My own estimation of Williams is less sanguine. I rate him as a top theologian, probably even towering over Michael Ramsay in his theological sophistication, he did better than expected in trying to draw people together, but I think his time at the top will be judged rather critically. Now, truth be told, Williams had an impossible task in trying to keep a church with mutually exclusive theologies and mutually assured animosity together in one communion. The liberals assumed that they were the true Anglicans and believed that Williams would take their side when push came to shove, after all, he was one of them – but he didn’t. The conservatives assumed that they were the true Anglicans and believed that Williams would take their side when push came to shove, after all, 80% of Anglicans are evangelical Africans – but he didn’t. He remained his own man, and therefore, nobody’s, and incurred the dislike of all for failing to take a clear side. People only like impartial judges when they are partial towards them. To his credit, Williams put aside his own views of sexuality and upheld a more conservative line as the standard for the communion, and never tried to deconstruct Lambeth Resolution 1.10 on sexuality.

However, I think Lambeth 2008 will be remembered as the disappointment of William’s bishopric. No, I wasn’t there, but I’ve spoken to Aussie bishops who were. While they were deeply impressed with William’s persona and passion, they were disappointed that nothing was really achieved. But from all accounts that is exactly what Williams wanted to achieve. Williams wanted Lambeth 2008 to be about dialogue, so there would be no parliamentary debate or democratic decision, no one would force the Americans to repent, and there would be no collegial resolution to the Anglican problem. The result was that 30% of the bishops saw no reason for coming and boycotted Lambeth (mostly Africans), Bishop Gene Robinson (gay bishop of New Hampshire who was not invited) stood outside the gates of Lambeth complaining, “I’m an Anglican bishop, why won’t they let me in” as the media lapped it up, and on the eve of Lambeth the GAFCON movement emerged as an alternative to the Anglican Communion. While some might think that William’s approach to Lambeth 2008 was unity through dialogue, my own hunch is that the whole affair was designed primarily as a filibuster. The center of gravity for William’s bishopric was to prevent the majority of Anglican bishops in the communion from being able to take punitive actions against the Americans.  You can only vote someone off the island if you are allowed to vote. So William’s greatest achievement was that he held the shaky ship Anglicania together. William’s greatest failure is the way that he did it, disempowering the bishops of the communion, and ensuring that the instruments of unity remained firmly in the hands of white western liberals. Williams had a noble end in mind (unity), but one wonders if the moral price to achieve it was too high! Perhaps Williams believed in the church far more than he believed with the church. Maybe I’m being too harsh, I’m open to correction, but I know my sentiments are shared my many others, not the least my brothers and sisters in Africa!

God bless Rowan in his new post and may God give a double portion of wisdom to the next Archbishop of Canterbury, he (or she!) will need it.

I should note that UK bookies have N.T. Wright as somewhere between 1/9 and 1/16 odds to be next ABC (though I wouldn’t bet on it).

I’m also reading a wonderful book edited by Robert Plummer called Journeys of Faith, which is about people who have converted to Evangelicalism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Catholicism, and Anglicanism. The chapter on Anglicanism is by Lyle W. Dorsett (AMiA) with a response by Robert A. Peterson (PCA). And today in the mail I’ve received Mark Chapman’s Anglicanism: A Very Short Introduction, which I’m looking forward to getting into too.

  • Frederik Mulder

    Exellent thoughts Mike. I heard Rowan Williams in Durham in 2009. A brilliant theologian, but, as you say, “unity” was probably everything to him..


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