Thursday, December 04, 2008

Rowan Williams on Christian Faith

"Christian Faith has its beginnings in an experience of profound contradictoriness, an experience that so questioned the religious categories of its time that the resulting organization of religious language was a centuries-long task. At one level indeed, it is a task that every generation has to undertake again. And if 'spirituality' can be given any coherent meaning, perhaps it is to be understood in terms of this task: each believer making his or her own that engagement with the questioning at the heart of faith which is so evident in the classical documents of Christian belief. That is not, it must be said, to recommend any of the currently fashionable varieties of relativism or to romanticize a wistful 'half-belief.' The questioning involved here is not our interrogation of the data, but its interrogation of us. It is that intractable strangeness of the ground of belief that must constantly be allowed to challenge the fixed assumptions of religiosity; it is a given, whose question to each succeeding age is fundamentally one and the same. And the greatness of the great Christian saints lies in their readiness to be questioned, judged, stripped naked and left speechless by that which lies at the center of their faith."

Rowan Williams, The Wound of Knowledge: Christian Spirituality from the New Testament to Saint John of the Cross


mindy said...

What do you think it looks like for "the data to interrogate us"? Or in other words, what is the difference between the kind of questioning that might look like "relativism" and the kind of questioning he recommends?

Scott Savage said...


By the way, thanks for bringing up good ol' Rowan on Wednesday! I have ready this paragraph probably four times since yesterday.

I think what he means by "relativism" is that spirituality is not a free-for-all, with spirituality meaning whatever-we want-to-believe-as-long-as-we-look-deep-and-sound-interesting. Williams flips the focus on particularity first to Christ and then to our experience so that our experience becomes our reflection on the story of God in Christ and the very contingency of the whole Christ event. In other words, Christian spirituality is about the scandal of particularity.

I am not all that far into the book, but so far he puts the gospel's interrogation of our lives in terms of reading Scripture, which I am sure, as he is an Anglican, implies worship. We gather for worship to be interrogated by the gospel, thanks be to God :)


Rusty Brian said...

Thanks for putting this quote up, its a good one. I think that this is just a really nice way of talking about that classically Reformed (which in actuality is simply more Christian rather than exclusively Reformed) principle of the centrality of the word. No matter how 'religious' or 'spiritual' one may be, Scripture is not simply a text which is interpreted, but it is also a way that interprets our very lives.

Anyway, thanks again. I always forget to post on your blog, so I just wanted to check in and say "keep up the good work!"

Anonymous said...

I find that quote to be an exercise in wishful, or wish-fullfulment romanticising, because we really dont know how it all crystallized into a very powerful would be world conquering, power and control seeking institution---a world-wide scape-goat cult.

One thing that you can be sure of is that it all involved a lot of bloody power struggles with the associated mountains of corpses and rivers of blood.

By contrast this site gives a much more realistic picture of the origins of the "church", and its INEVITABLE applied bloody politics.

Plus in this day and age a phrase such as "the resurrection of jesus" is really just a bit of psycho-babble. Much more silly and nonsensical that most new-age psycho-babble.

Where is the POLAROID evidence?
Seriously---it is all self-serving conjecture. All of it, no exceptions.

Never mind to that most of the great saints within the "catholic" tradition were not really welcome within the walls of the insitutional church. They were sometimes persecuted, jailed and even executed.

But wasnt Jesus himself executed because he claimed to be one with god. Such a claim was then (as it is now) a heresy.
And a threat to the insitutiional power of the church fathers---as it is now.

Scott Savage said...

To Annonymous:

First of all, if this quote says anything about me (or if you have read any other posts on my blog) you should know that I welcome your critique and therefore am saddened if for some reason you feel you have to remain anonymous. Feel free to take off the mask! :)

As far as your comments are concerned, I am afraid you will have to be more specific. You are very general, which means I am probably already walking into your trap. Nonetheless, I think there are some things I could say. If you are saying that the church has a history of violence that can be objected to and even utilized as a way of discrediting her being/mission, or even discrediting Christianity as such, then I am perhaps inclined to agree. It can be argued that ever since Constantine the church has been a part of a power game often acting in contradiction to whom she claims is Lord. That is, while she confesses Jesus is Lord, she often proceeds according to the rules of Caesar’s game (whoever Caesar may be in the context). I am saddened by the theological division that resulted (and continues to result) in disunity (which I include in my understanding of violence), not to mention the crusades and the wars of religion.

As for saints rejected by the Catholic church, you say most were rejected. Who are these saints?

As for evidence, you have to look at the Jews. It is absurd that a people so displaced and violently oppressed would continue to follow their God (Yahweh) as they did if what he said about Himself (and demonstrated) was not true. Their dedication (even in their rebellion) is significant. And I feel you will disagree with this, so I will ask now? Why do you think what the Jews have said about Yahweh is not true?

Also, when we talk about the resurrection, we also have to talk about the Jews. The resurrection of Jesus is indeed a bit of psycho-babble for a people (the Jews) who believed that the resurrection would happen in the end when God would overcome all of Israel’s enemies and restore her from exile. This was known as the general resurrection. That is happened to Jesus in the middle of time is why it is so significant, as well as what qualifies Jesus as Lord and thus the true pattern of authentic humanity. This idea of resurrection as restoration and exile was re-narrated in Jesus who shifted (opened our minds to see) the emphasis to God’s overcoming Sin and death. But, if you don’t believe in the general resurrection at the end, as the Jews did (except for the Sadducees, as well as the whole Greek and Roman worldview on life after death), then the concept of the resurrection is still a matter of psycho-babble. In that case, I think it becomes of a matter of demonstration. And this is where the witness of the church becomes so significant, which is why I am often saddened by her history (my history). But that is why we don’t put our faith in the Church but in Jesus who was raised from the dead.

Okay, that’s enough for now. Thanks for the challenged by to think through my faith. Incidentally, what exactly to you believe? And don’t say nothing, but everyone has ultimate categories that they hold as true, assumptions that they believe are true always and for everyone, whatever they may be. It could be that fact that everyone dies; it could be the Easter Bunny. Whatever. I’m just curious it will help as I reflect.