Thursday, 7 August 2008

Book Review: Rowan Williams, 'Tokens of Trust. An Introduction to Christian Belief'.

A guest-post by Joan Durdin.

The author, a theologian, philosopher, teacher, writer and priest expands on addresses that he delivered to a Holy Week congregation in 2005, and offers them to a wider audience. His teaching is prompted by his conviction that there is a crisis of trust in our society. Without trust we cannot fulfill God’s agenda for us, to live in peace with each other, free for our foremost activity of offering praise to God.

The book’s sub-title is ‘An Introduction to Christian Belief’. It is based on the church’s time honoured statement of belief, the Apostles’ Creed. The writer presents his teaching in six chapters, each exploring the implications of one segment of the Apostles Creed. The first chapter is entitled “Whom can we Trust?” and the answer is immediately provided in the words ‘I believe in God the Father almighty’. The issues raised include the lack of trust in today’s society – indeed, in the history of humankind, and the justification for putting our trust in God the Father - God thought we were worth dying for. A few examples from biblical times to the present, draw our attention to the lives of people whose trust in God, in the most daunting circumstances, never failed them.

In the second chapter, entitled ‘The Risk of Love’, the focus is on the phrase - ‘maker of heaven and earth’. This is where questions about the existence of God come up. Chapter 3, ‘A Man for All Seasons’ is developed from the words ‘and in Jesus Christ his only Son, our Lord’. The fourth, fifth and sixth chapters are respectively titled ‘The Peace Dividend’ (He suffered and was buried and the third day he rose again); ‘God in Company’ (I believe one catholic and apostolic Church); and ‘Love, Actually’ (I look for the resurrection of the dead). Each chapter offers a wealth of Christian doctrine and teaching.

Several features of the book have special appeal to me :

  • The structure is made clear in the list of chapter titles and sub-titles and helped me to ‘see the wood for the trees’.
  • From the depths of his theological understanding, the writer shares his insights on many issues of concern to the Christian, including the problem of evil, miracles, pain and suffering, the answer to prayer, sacrifice, the virgin birth, forgiveness.
  • He displays a sense of humour which lightens the reading and points to his natural ‘human-ness’ and humility
  • In each chapter the selection and framing of certain key statements provides, in a sense, a summary which helps the reader to recall the content.

The illustrations which appear throughout demand attention. As Archbishop Williams stated in the introduction, the paintings invite us into a much deeper world by the mysterious lightness of the strokes and the colours. They ask us to look at the world in a new way.

Among many books which have I have read on the subject of Christian belief, I find ‘Tokens of Trust’ particularly satisfying. It requires careful reading and reflection.

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