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Shadow Gospel: Rowan Williams and the Anglican Communion Crisis

By Charles Raven
Latimer Trust.
184 pages. £6.99 RRP.
First published September 2010
ISBN: 978 0 946307 78 4

Reviewed by Julian Mann
October 4, 2010

This is an elegantly written theological thriller. Or, to be more accurate, it is a theological investigative report of the highest quality. One can imagine the author emerging from a side entrance at Lambeth Palace, dressed in the requisite mac and trilby, having 'made his excuses and left'.

Charles Raven begin_of_the_skype_highlighting     end_of_the_skype_highlighting charts the problems Dr Williams' Hegelian theological approach has posed for the Anglican Communion since his 'The Body's Grace' lecture in 1989, which became a seminal text for gay religious activists, through his championing of the attempt to water down the 1998 Lambeth Resolution 1.10 affirming biblical orthodoxy, through the impact of his appointment as Archbishop of Canterbury in 2002, up to recent events in 2010.

The following paragraph about how Dr Williams chose to adapt to the 'contradictory pressures' of the expectation that as Primate of All England he would support the liberal English establishment's agenda and yet be a focus of unity for the Anglican Communion, whose 'numerical centre of gravity' is orthodox Christian, illustrates the incisiveness of Charles Raven analysis:

In Hegelian terms, we can see that Williams adapted to these contradictory pressures by withdrawing from the role of advocate for the 'antithesis' focussed on opposition to Lambeth Resolution 1.10 (but not withdrawing his views) and instead took upon himself the orchestration of 'synthesis'. But such a 'synthesis' can only emerge if the various parties are willing to be 'dispossessed' of their commitment to a particular outcome in advance.

If they are not willing to make their positions provisional in this way, as conservatives should not and the radical liberals of TEC and their friends clearly will not, then however dialogue is dressed up, such as the 'indaba' project of Lambeth 2008 or the 'listening' commended by the Anglican Covenant, it becomes a language game of a darker kind. Its underlying 'grammar' is actually that of manipulation'(p122-123).

Like any good investigator, the author has a keen sense of the insidious evil of the situation he is unmasking. His quotation of a remark in a national newspaper interview by Alpha founder the Revd Nicky Gumbel is a particularly chilling illustration of Evangelical naivety in the face of false teaching:

I think he's absolutely brilliant. He is very nuanced, but not everyone can be in the Rowan Williams league - he is one of the greatest brains in the country.

Raven who is taking his cue from Christ's revealed Gospel rather than from 'nuanced' intellectual philosophy, comments:

But the crisis of leadership in the Church of England and the wider Communion is more than an intellectual puzzle that can be resolved by a 'great brain'. It is a spiritual crisis which turns on faithfulness to God's Word which can only be resolved by repentance and that is a word Williams is very reluctant to use (p159).

---Julian Mann is vicar of the Parish Church of the Ascension, Oughtibridge, Sheffield, UK. His weblog is Cranmer's Curate

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