Garry Williams: Archbishop’s theology not orthodox

Author says differences not restricted to sexual ethics as frequently reported
The Dallas Morning News, Jan. 11, 2002 (Opinion)
Garry Williams / Special to The Dallas Morning News

Anglicans – especially Anglicans in England – are debating how they should respond to orthodox other than on the issue of sexual ethics.

But a careful consideration of his published works shows that the difficulties with the new archbishop’s theology are in fact on central doctrinal questions. The controversy around sexual ethics is merely the presenting symptom. Much as earlier debates in the church about circumcision and indulgences were actually debates about the doctrine of salvation, the heart of the matter here is the doctrine of God’s self-revelation and its adequacy and reliability.

One striking example will suffice to indicate the extent of the problem. Archbishop Williams writes about the question of Jesus’ identity in an essay titled “Different Christs?” He discusses how people who hold different views of Jesus should understand their differences. He argues that they do not have the voice of God to tell them which beliefs are right. They have their own differing visions of Christ, but Christ himself is silent.

Christ has left them with signs such as the bread and wine, but these do not speak: “Silent signs, as silent as he was before Pilate, consistently refusing a straight and simple answer.” Any attempt to make Christ speak is pointless: “We can draw little balloons coming out of his mouth, as much as we like. What does that tell us? The vulgarity of the analogy underlines the futility of the exercise” (Open to Judgement, page 107).

It is important to note that Archbishop Williams is not saying that there are some controverted issues, some peripheral areas where Christians cannot know the mind of God. He is speaking about central, painful, theological disagreements about the identity of Jesus Christ. On these, he says, Christians have only silence from Jesus.

The archbishop’s view of revelation has, as we would expect, consequences for his estimate of the Bible. His description of John the Divine and his Book of Revelation is the plainest example. As the archbishop sees it, the book contains two scripts, one with a clear and “haunting authority,” but the other “tightly written, pen driving into cheap paper, page after page of paranoid fantasy and malice, like the letters clergymen so frequently get from the wretched and disturbed” (pages 113, 112).

It is true that for Archbishop Williams even this script contributes to our hearing the Word of God, but it does so by its stark contrast with the other script: “Perhaps, as we read the Revelation of John, we should let its ugly and diseased elements speak to us in this way. The very disorder, the madness and vengefulness, of certain passages can help us to hear more clearly the depth and authority of others” (page 114).

So it is that Christians do not have to submit to the teaching of the Book of Revelation. With people like John, “We aren’t called to believe and endorse all they say, only to ask ourselves what we are taught here about the strangeness and sometimes the terror of the Word of God to fragile minds” (page 116).

Christians may struggle to grasp the truth that God reveals, but so did the Bible writers, the archbishop believes, and they often got it wrong: “We read with a sense of our own benighted savagery in receiving God’s gift, and our solidarity with those writers of scripture caught up in the blazing fire of God’s gift who yet struggle with it, misapprehend it, and misread it” (page 159). Hence, for example, the parable of the unjust steward is “a story which St Luke does not seem to have understood particularly well” (page 158).

The problems are far more serious than even this selection suggests, and we have not yet mentioned that the archbishop approves of homosexual activity. In “The Body’s Grace,” a lecture published by the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, he argues that homosexual activity that entails the genuine communication of mutual desire is legitimate.

The teaching of the Bible indicates that the sexual ethic which Archbishop Williams advocates will have terrible eternal effects. The Apostle Paul tells us that unrepentant homosexual practice leads to being shut out of the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9-10). By his publicly declared views on sex, the archbishop has taught and is teaching people, now millions of people in Britain and around the world, a sure way of being shut out from the presence of God forever.

Given his views on these issues, the theology of Rowan Williams puts souls at risk of perishing. The consequence for Christians around the world – and not only for Anglicans – is that they must pray that he will repent of his views, and must oppose him for as long as he does not.

Dr. Garry Williams teaches church history and doctrine at Oak Hill College in London. To read a longer critique of the archbishop’s theology by Dr. Williams, see

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Religion News Blog posted this on Saturday January 11, 2003.
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