Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Study Notes For Rowan Williams, 'Tokens of Trust'

In a study group we are reading Rowan Williams' introduction to Christianity entitled Tokens of Trust. I am writing notes for each chapter for members of the study. I will post these notes each week in case you would like to read the book as well, or perhaps run a group in your church!

“Basic to everything here is the idea that Christian belief is really about knowing who and what to trust. (p. viii)”
1. The loss of trust generally felt in society, directed at all levels.

2. The “I/We believe” of the Creeds is not a statement about whether we believe “God” is possible, like someone saying “I believe in UFOs.”

3. Creedal “I/We believe” is more like “I/We trust…”, and indicate where we find the anchor, meaning and purpose of our lives. (p. 6) Which is potentially problematic given the general dissipation of trust within society generally. (On this idea of “believe” being more like trust Williams mentions on p. 5 John 9 which is worth looking up.)

4. So, how do we know we can trust God the Father almighty? The answer has two parts.

5. First, Jesus reveals the inner meaning and purpose of God the creator of everything. The incompleteness and darkness of our natural inclinations toward God are clarified and corrected in the revelation of God in Jesus. (pp.7-11)

6. Note this does not mean we now know everything there is to know about God!(p. 9) But the meaning and purpose that is the inner dynamic of our lives and of history is revealed. Note also that we do not receive this revelation in the abstract (just ideas cut off from life) but in a real human life, the life of the Jew named Jesus of Nazareth. (p.9)

7. The meaning and purpose is unselfish, self-giving love. (p. 10)

8. This section finishes with this beautiful quote: “At the heart of the desperate suffering there is in the world, suffering we can do nothing to resolve or remove for good, there is an indestructible energy making for love. If we have grasped what Jesus is about, we can trust that this is what lies at the foundation of everything.” (p. 10)

9. The second part to the answer as to how we know we can trust God, the Father almighty emanates from the Christian insight that God is love in Godself, and is not requiring anything of anyone/thing else. God is complete fullness. (pp. 11-14) This is important because it means that our creation does not come from God’s need, but out of unselfish love. If there were any kind of deficit at all in God, a deficit that the creation filled, then our meaning and purpose from God is not unselfish, self-giving love. There would be something in it for God, so to speak. (especially p. 12)

10. This is the theological foundation for the Christian claim that we are not forgiven because we are moral. God’s love makes us good. (p. 13)

11. The next section (pp. 15-20) is asking about the nature of God’s almighty power. It is not arbitrary power to do whatever one likes, so that God might choose to destroy just to show God’s almightiness! “Almighty” in the Greek means “ruler of everything” or “holder of everything”. (p. 16) This means God is not only everywhere, but can be relied upon in all situations, and can make good from all situations. God is never found wanting.

12. An interesting discussion of Genesis 18 and Exodus 32 where Abraham and Moses respectively persuade God not to act contrary to the nature of God revealed in the covenant. (pp. 17-19) Williams suggests that these passages, and others like them, function in the Bible as a tongue in cheek literary device to highlight the reliability of God; even in these extreme situations God can be relied upon to be faithful to the covenant (and new covenant).

13. The final sections (pp. 20-28) talk about living this life of love in the world, and being conduits of it, even in our imperfection. He uses a number of examples, including Etty Hillesum, to show that those who believe (that is, trust) are called to stroke the embers of that trust in others. He puts it boldly; we are to be those who take responsibility for God’s believability.

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