Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Book Review: Christ the Stranger

I have been a big fan of Rowan Williams', especially his sermons and articles which can be found online. For those of you who don't know him, the Rt. Rev. Dr. Rowan Williams is currently the Archbishop of Canterbury and will be stepping down in Dec. 2012 to return to academic life. Williams has produced an abundance of material, including quite a bit on the Eastern Church. He has several very good books on praying with icons as well as an entire book on Dostoevsky which was published a few years ago. His doctoral dissertation at Oxford was on Eastern Orthodox Theology. Needless to say this man is a pastor's pastor and a scholar's scholar. His writing touches upon a wide range of thought from priesthood and vocation to ecology to ecumenism to faith and culture. As Williams transitions back into academic life one hopes that he continues to write and reflect on these themes.

Dr. Benjamin Myers has given us a little preview of Williams' corpus, producing a book called Christ the Stranger: The Theology of Rowan Williams (NY: Continuum, 2012). Myers looks at Williams' entire output, including his poetry as well, and shows us the various themes, images, and topics which Williams is interested in. The book is divided into fourteen chapters each focusing on a separate theme: desire, hope, prayer, fantasy, mission, growth, and so forth. Most people realize that this book is but a survey and one would hope that people would dive deep into the well of Williams' thought and theology. Myers includes not just an overview of Williams' thought but provides some sampling of his writing as well such as a letter to a girl named Lulu who asked him a question as well as short quotations from his writings.

One major theme which is a thread throughout this book is that Williams focuses on God's transcendence, that the Word became flesh and lived among us. Some writers in the Eastern Church such as Mother Maria Skobtsova, Father Sergius Bulgakov, and Paul Evdovkimov would call this personalism. We tend to push God away from us, back into the heavens, yet he continues to come to us through is Son. Christ does come to us as the title of this book states as a Stranger, as an outsider, and our acceptance of him is pure grace.

Myers provides a good survey of Williams' thought but I left wanting more. This slim book just skims the surface, Myers probably could have turned each chapter into an entire book by itself--alas that would have been too much of an undertaking! Christ the Stranger though provides an introduction, a road-map of sorts, for anyone who wants to read more.