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On not kicking out Jesus

Jason Byassee has a great post on Rowan Williams up at the Duke Faith and Leadership blog. It gets at the heart of what a lot of people miss about Williams, his theology, and what it all means in terms of how we understand ecclesial faithfulness.

Williams’ theology holds that Jesus interrupts our easy consensuses — this is handy against fundamentalisms of all kinds (like Jack Spong’s and Pullman’s), but less helpful in situations of, say, church discipline. All the same, to have a spectacular theologian as head of a church is somewhat novel today. One would think those liberals and conservatives in the Anglican Communion who are frustrated with Williams for not disciplining their opponents might have read his “Truce of God” or his “Resurrection.” They would realize that the Archbishop sees the risen Christ as one who meets us in the enemy with whom we cannot leave fellowship. For him to kick the bad guys out of the church would, unfortunately, be to kick out Jesus himself.

But to actually abide in this sort of radical tension is utterly difficult. It requires what Romand Coles rightly found at the heart of John Howard Yoder’s theology: wild patience.


  1. kim fabricius wrote:

    I would confirm everything that Jason says of Williams as a person. And it is not just that Rowan is self-effacing and exocentric, genuinely interested in and concerned for friend and foe alike, and artlessly attentive to whoever happens to be with him at the moment (with a remarkable memory for faces and names), he is consistently so. I could tell you several stories; here is one (not reported in Shortt’s excellent biography).

    On Saturday 21st April 2001, LGCM held its AGM at Swansea University, South Wales. At the time Rowan was the Bishop of Monmouth, living in Newport , about sixty miles east. His episcopal duties entailed that he could not take part in the day as he would have wished. Nevertheless – and hardly an economical use of time (not his time – an example of his “wild patience”) – he took a train from Newport to Swansea (remember, Rowan cannot drive) just, if briefly, to say hello to old acquaintances, to make some new ones, and to show his solidarity with the cause.

    Wednesday, April 14, 2010 at 9:47 am | Permalink
  2. Auggie Webster wrote:

    Ah, yes, had those harsh Christians of old only held the radical tension in that crucified place with the Judaizers, Gnostics, Docetists, Marcionites, Donatists, Arians, Pelagians, Montanists, Monophysites, Monothelites, Sabellians, Nestorians, etc., etc., etc., what a wonderful Church this would be. But I guess Athanasius et al. took the easy way out.

    Truth is, Rowan is, as an academic, by nature a ditherer. He is also personally pro-gay ordination and marriage and he has tried to delay the disciplining of TEC and Canada at the cost of the wider communion. But he’s about to get his ass handed to him by some brown folks who represent 80% of the Anglican Communion.

    Wednesday, April 14, 2010 at 1:38 pm | Permalink
  3. Halden wrote:

    Come on, Captain Cheap Shot. All of those doctrinal heresies were dealt with in extremely long and torturous process of dialogue and argument (“that crucified place”). That’s why there were so many councils held, treatises written, etc.

    And the analogy doesn’t even work. The litany of heresies you slap down all pertain to fundamental points of Christological and Trinitarian orthodoxy. Figuring out how the two passages in the NT about same sex relations ought to inform our current practices seems a tad different. Just a tad.

    Wednesday, April 14, 2010 at 1:50 pm | Permalink
  4. Auggie Webster wrote:

    Come on, Commodore Kool-Aid. Dislodge your tongue from Rowan’s roos. My intent was not to elevate the gay problem into the Trinity, but to point out how the Church has handled dissension in the past. Here’s the analogy: Christianity is not about maintaining a Hegelian tension, its about the Either/Or of Kierkegaard. And at least Christianity is certainly not the Big Tent of Lambeth 2008. It is instead the narrow gate outside of which there will be gnashing of teeth. Regardless of the time period, all of these spades WERE called a spade. Councils WERE held, treatises WERE written. These folks, these theologies, WERE excluded, declared anathema, etc. Apparently, there is some requisite number of meetings, committees, treatises, years, etc. which must pass before anyone gets disciplined and all apparently at Rowan’s leisure. What is your recommended HFP (Heresy Fester Period) in our information age?

    And if, as you falsely assert, this whole thing is just about “two passages in the NT” (a special candy-apple-red herring), these are apparently enough to split the third largest Church on Earth, thus automatically raising it, just a tad, to “fundamental” or DEFCON 1 status. Of course, if you believe that TEC is, or has been, a home of Christological or Trinitarian orthodoxy for some time, then you haven’t been paying attention. Which of the above heresies are not held by a majority of TEC bishops?

    Wednesday, April 14, 2010 at 4:17 pm | Permalink
  5. Halden wrote:

    But, Admiral Asinine, you seem to state pretty clearly that you think a church that persists for any length of time with an internal argument about homosexuality is equivalent to tossing out any and all forms of historic Christianity. That is simply not an honest or a valid comparison. And you know it.

    I get that you’re pissed about the state of the Anglican communion, that comes through loud and clear. But just railing and emoting about it doesn’t really help anything or make any sort of coherent argument.

    For the record I’m not interested in in the least in preserving dialectics or tensions as such. What I am interested in is having churches in which actual arguments about real ethical issues can be had (Clearly the Anglican communion is not such a place. I don’t pretend it is.). The same kind of utter certainty about homosexuality that you seem to wish was enforced on the church was, until not too long ago held about issues like women not being to be public servants or be paid the same as men, about birth control being clearly wrong . . . the list goes on. The church somehow found ways to argue and in many situations change its practices about these things. I don’t see a prima facie reason why homosexuality should, by fiat, simply be off the table.

    Now, I’m no Anglican, nor do have anything good to say about TEC, let alone the Anglican Church of Canada. Just again, for whatever its worth. I despise Gene Robinson as much as any person of goodwill could.

    I suppose some of the difference in our respective reactions to Rowan Williams comes down to, as you hint at, the meaning of Christianity itself. For my part I see, at the very roots of the Christian story, a consistent theme of us getting things wrong, of not figuring Jesus, his message, and his way out. The gospels are shot through with this theme, and, if anything it only increased in the book of Acts and the rest of the NT. Church history as a whole follows a pattern that can hardly belie this. As such, I don’t tend to adhere to a “Fuck you all, we’ve always done it this way, so it must be right, end of discussion!” approach to the nature of the faith. But that’s just me.

    Wednesday, April 14, 2010 at 4:52 pm | Permalink
  6. Auggie Webster wrote:

    Corporal Cornhole (yes, I replied just so I could write that),

    As for my bona fides. I’m not Anglican, nor have ever been, but instead am a parishioner of the pederasts. I’m for women priests, bishops, popes, use birth control every day, am a strict pacifist, against death penalty, a coniciliarist, and agree that the papacy as currently practiced is the biggest obstacle to ecumenical movement. My interests are purely ecclesiological as I am somewhat involved in ARCIC and wish to absorb the AC in toto into the Borg. In all my graduate ecclesiology classes the AC is used as the example of how NOT to do things only second in line to the RCs. But we and self-flagellation go way back. I don’t have time or space to go into it, but much of this current crisis, and it is a KRISIS, can be laid at the feet of RW. The conversation is what’s important. The indaba gospel. The conversation IS the gospel and the gospel IS the conversation and I’m afraid you may be saying the same. We don’t get anywhere, because that’s the point. Just keep talking, and talking, and talking . . . . . . The gospel is not getting the gospel wrong or talking about the gospel. The gospel IS Jesus. Peter denying Jesus is the precise opposite of the Gospel and is not to be a model of the of the faith, or, God forbid, an excuse, just because it’s in the NT.

    Hell, I like the guy. Stanley vouches for him so he must be OK. We actually go to the same eye brow stylist here in Oxford. He gets the “Dumbledore, I prefer the “Eagle Owl”. But being a nice fella and even a great theologian does not make one a good leader or even necessarily Christian. Oh, homosexuality has been firmly “on the table” and the parties “at the table” since Lambeth ’98 and what are its fruits?: Delay, obfuscation, a gay bishop, some gay “marriages”, a lesbian bishop, millions in lawsuits, disintegration, fracture, dissolution. How much more “conversation”? Will there even be a Lambeth ’18? My concern is that the AC will simply no longer exist to talk with or about.

    Wednesday, April 14, 2010 at 5:48 pm | Permalink
  7. Halden wrote:

    Private Penis?

    Well, you’re my kind of papist, which is saying a lot. Speaking as anarcho-iconoclast-anabaptist, I suppose I should just say that for me a “conversation” about homosexuality is probably something utterly different than anything that has or could go on in the AC (or the RC). So that may be the source of some of the gratuitous crossfire here.

    Also I did not intend my point about getting things wrong to be a recommendation of wrongitude. Indeed, getting the gospel wrong is getting the gospel wrong. And yeah, we don’t want to do that. But Christianity is not the gospel (color me Barthian, I don’t care). And much of Christianity is a long exercise in getting the gospel wrong. Which is precisely why we seek to return to the gospel (which is Jesus, EXACTLY!) again and again.

    Wednesday, April 14, 2010 at 6:02 pm | Permalink
  8. Auggie Webster wrote:

    Field Marshal Feltcher,

    As a Catholic-anarcho-former baptist, I sympathize. Yep, I often interchange Christianity for Gospel or Jesus and it’s a semantic mistake I need to avoid. To be honest, SK uses Christianity v. Christendom and it’s kinda stuck in my head that way. I think we’ve reached that place of Golgothic tension. I read you everyday and agree with 99.5% of the stuff you post. Keep up the good work and thank you for your patience.


    Rear Admiral

    Wednesday, April 14, 2010 at 6:19 pm | Permalink
  9. Halden wrote:

    Warrant Officer Wanker,

    And with that, we conclude yet another delightful exchange of oratorical fireworks.

    With all best wishes,
    Sgt. Shitslinger

    Wednesday, April 14, 2010 at 8:00 pm | Permalink
  10. Questionable wrote:

    Auggie, I am pretty sure calling yourself “Rear Admiral” gives Halden the W in this exchange, no matter the content of your post.

    Wednesday, April 14, 2010 at 8:06 pm | Permalink
  11. Robby wrote:

    Man, I really needed to hear these words. I really appreciate Williams’ witness here. Living in this kind of tension is hard enough, but to try to lead through it seems impossible most of the time. I think it really says something about someones belief that God is still present and active in a given situation to be willing to manage the polarities that Williams’ has to attend to. Great post. Thanks for sharing.

    Wednesday, April 14, 2010 at 8:23 pm | Permalink
  12. Collin Moody wrote:

    I do love me some Roman Williams, are you attending the Wheaton Theology Conference this weekend with N.T. Wright? I’m headed up to the ‘burbs from downtown Chicago and am excited to get my Anglican on..

    Wednesday, April 14, 2010 at 8:54 pm | Permalink
  13. Doug Harink wrote:

    Military Madmen,

    I have no idea what to make of RW as a leader, since I don’t really follow the follies of the AC very closely. I do wonder, though, why I find RW as a theologian such a yawner–and having said that, I realize that I will immediately lose even the little respect that I might have had among many of Halden’s readers. RW’s theological writing is always infuriatingly qualified, obscure and indirect, never coming to any point that matters, never arriving at any either/or, and therefore usually eminently forgettable. I don’t think I’ve ever referred to or quoted RW in any of my published work, because I can never remember what he wrote about anything.

    OK, that will pretty much sink my theological career.

    General Idiot.

    Thursday, April 15, 2010 at 10:42 am | Permalink
  14. Halden wrote:

    I’ll forgive you for not liking Rowan Williams if you and your wife make sure to come back out to Portland for a week this summer.

    Thursday, April 15, 2010 at 10:56 am | Permalink
  15. Doug Harink wrote:

    OK, we’ll be there. But the sacrament of your forgiveness must be BBQ ribs.

    Thursday, April 15, 2010 at 11:01 am | Permalink
  16. Halden wrote:

    It seems to me that a sacrament must include not only food, but drink. So I guess we’ll have to drink, too. You know, for Jesus.

    Thursday, April 15, 2010 at 11:02 am | Permalink
  17. Doug Harink wrote:

    Right! I have been saved by Portland beers (and Jesus).

    Thursday, April 15, 2010 at 11:10 am | Permalink
  18. Halden wrote:

    By and for Portland beers (and Jesus).

    Thursday, April 15, 2010 at 11:12 am | Permalink
  19. Doug Harink wrote:

    In, with and under Portland beers.

    Thursday, April 15, 2010 at 11:18 am | Permalink
  20. Auggie Webster wrote:

    It would seem that his theological tail wags his Canterburial dog. But unlike his writings, I don’t believe his reign as ABC will be so forgettable, akin to the reign of Darius III.

    Thursday, April 15, 2010 at 12:31 pm | Permalink
  21. Charlie Collier wrote:

    You had a career? That was your first theological mistake. :)

    Thursday, April 15, 2010 at 2:01 pm | Permalink
  22. Jonathan wrote:


    As a former Baptist, Catholic interested, Frederick Rolfe and Alexander Theroux loving, current church(membership)less Christian, I am highly interested in how you went about joining the Catholic Church. Seriously. I want to ask a few questions to you because a) I live in Korea and don’t have any English speaking priests around and b) even when I do eventually talk to priests I’m wary of even asking questions to potentially magisterial fundementalist ones. I’ve seen your posts on a few other blogs and very much agree with your stance that Protestantism’s end goal should be to cease to exist. So, if it’s possible for me to ask you a few things, email me at

    Thursday, April 15, 2010 at 11:25 pm | Permalink
  23. Dave Belcher wrote:

    You guys are reminding me not only of St. Paul and the end of the canon in the Eucharistic prayers, but also the penultimate stanza of St. Patrick’s “Breastplate”; I’ll paraphrase:
    Portland beers (and Jesus) be with me, within me, behind me, before me, beside me, to win me, to comfort and restore me. Portland beers (and Jesus) beneath me, above me, in quiet, in danger, in hearts of all that love me, in mouth of friend and stranger.

    Saturday, April 17, 2010 at 5:49 am | Permalink
  24. Dave Belcher wrote:


    I also appreciate the Lutheran “consubstantiation” interpretation of Portland beers….though, there is no corresponding ubiquity is there?! Oh how I long to partake of the mystery of Portland beers in Durham, NC!

    Sunday, April 18, 2010 at 5:16 am | Permalink
  25. roger flyer wrote:

    Wormwood and I loved the exchange.

    Thursday, April 29, 2010 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

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