A ‘new’ book (Simply Good News / pub. Jan 6, 2015 / HarperOne, 208 pages) by prolific Anglican Theologian and Author N.T. Wright. I draw attention to the word new because in a sense this not a new book. It’s largely a restating of Wright’s well established lines of thinking; thinking he has engaged in the myriad of books and articles he’s written, and in the myriad of interviews and lectures.
Anyone familiar will Wright will find little new in this book, however, it does serve as a distillation of his thinking as far as it relates to an understanding of what the gospel or “good news” is. Or, as the book’s subtitle puts it: “…Why is the Gospel News and what makes it Good?"
However, anyone new to Wright (and this is probably as good a starting point as any), or wanting his thinking about the “good news” in one book, this is a great place to start.
Andrew Wilson from CT offers a brief review of the book here.
I was recently browsing through a copy of Marina Warner’s recent publication Once Upon a Time: a Short History of Fairy Tale. I didn’t buy it, but retain a fascination in the literary genre that is the fairy tale. I was therefore interested in this recent review of Warner’s book and two others by Rowan Williams. The title of the review is the title of this post.
Here are William’s closing paragraphs:
“…The individual fairy tale is not itself a myth, but it presupposes a mythic framework of surprise, dependence or vulnerability, the balancing of anxiety with expectation: a thumbnail sketch of human experience in a bewildering natural and emotional environment.
Perhaps the problem with specific fairy tales becoming our shared myths, in the sense [Marina] Warner suggests, is that they turn so easily these days into dramas of the individual psyche with supernatural special effects: either leaving us in a world of paralysing moral ambiguity or (in the Disneyfied version) offering salvation through the discovery of unsuspected inner resources (we can all be what we most want to be). Against this, both the original fairy tales and the chaotic romance of the Arabic wonder stories present a world of sharper edges, larger shocks, and possibilities of unmerited help, as well as danger, from outside. And that, in one form or another, may turn out to be more like the mythology we really need.”
You can read the complete review here. For an excellent little book on Pan's Labyrinth try this title: Pan's Labyrinth (BFI Film Classics) Paperback – 25 Oct 2013
“The Christianity I was originally formed in was not very ritual-minded: it was both intellectually alert and emotionally intense – the best of a style of Welsh Nonconformity now almost extinct – but tended to look down on physical expression of belief (other than singing, which I suspect was regarded as not really physical). Only when the family joined the Anglican Church when I was in my early teens, after we’d moved to another town, did I discover a sense of worship as a physical art, involving gesture, movement and colour. I still have a vivid memory of my first experience of a solemn Mass with procession at Easter, when I was, I suppose, about 12 – the awareness of a deliberate strategy of involving the senses at many levels.
The mild High Church atmosphere of those years was, for me, an environment that made strong imaginative and emotional sense, and indeed is still the kind of setting where I feel most instinctively at home, rather than in more simply word-oriented styles, or in the heated atmosphere of “charismatic” worship, repetitive song and unstructured prayer – although I’ve learned to be nourished by that, too, in many circumstances. But the ritual that is most significant for me apart from the routines of public worship and the daily recitation of the fixed words of morning and evening prayer owes more to non-Anglican sources.
Readers of Salinger’s Franny and Zooey will recall the somewhat unexpected appearance there of an account of the traditional Greek and Russian discipline of meditative repetition of the “Jesus Prayer” (“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner”). Practically every Eastern Orthodox writer on prayer will describe this, and many in the tradition also describe some of the physical disciplines that may be used to support it – being aware of your breathing, sitting in a certain way, focusing attention on your chest: “bringing the mind into the heart”, as the books characterise it.
In January 2014 Michael Gorman conducted two interviews at St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore (where he teaches) with his good friend N. T. (Tom) Wright about his new book, Paul and the Faithfulness of God. The videos are on YouTube. In the first, he talks with Tom; in the second, he moderates a conversation about Paul between Tom Wright and Professor Richard Hays of Duke Divinity School.
I guess, for me, Rowan Williams recently stated the obvious when he recently suggested that the UK was Post-Christian, a description equally true of New Zealand.
“…Britain is now a “post-Christian” country, the former archbishop of Canterbury has declared, as research suggests that the majority of Anglicans and Roman Catholics now feel afraid to express their beliefs…
…While the country is not populated exclusively by atheists, the former archbishop warns that the era of regular and widespread worship is over…”
The reactions to his comments are themselves insightful.
Stanley Hauerwas was recently interviewed by John Clearly on ABC Radio. Hauerwas is an American theologian, ethicist, and public intellectual who's been described as the greatest living theologian in the English-speaking world.
Also, Exploring the New Paradigm: Girard and the Christianity of the 21st Century - the transcript of the session with Brian McLaren and James Alison recorded at the 2013 Colloquium on Violence and Religion held at the University of Northern Iowa.
Today, the draft of an interview with Rowan Williams, centered on Teresa of Avila (28 March 1515 – 4 October 1582 / Note – 500th Anniversary of her birth 28 March 2015) that will apparently be published in the May / June 2014 issue of Theology.
Here’s an excerpt. The interviewer is Kirsty Jane McLuskey (“KJM”):
“…KJM: This question comes with the benefit of hindsight because, of course, both were very marginalised and the majority of people at the time would not have come into contact with their spirituality. But mysticism is not something often mentioned in the way people talk about mainstream religion today. I wonder whether mystical experience is still possible, or whether we have pathologised the transcendental to the extent that a Teresa or a John could not express themselves at all in these days and be taken seriously?
RW: That’s quite a complicated question, really. People have certainly tried to pathologise Teresa, in particular, and she undoubtedly had some very strange experiences. At the same time, people do still have these experiences and are sometimes very frightened of talking about them, because they don’t want to be thought insane or disturbed. People look with a mixture of suspicion, respect and envy at those who claim some sort of connection with the transcendent, and don’t quite know what to do with it. There are two problems, I think, in our modern discourse about mysticism. One—I hinted at this, I suppose, in the book—is to identify mysticism with a whole succession of odd experiences; whereas I think that for Teresa, and certainly for John, the really stomach-churning, dramatic and bizarre experiences are just your entry into another level. It’s not that you go on having stomach-churning, bizarre experiences and mystical ecstasy right up to the end. The whole point is to get you to another kind of normality, almost. So the mistake now is often to see mysticism as just about ecstasy. People look at Bernini’s famous statue and think that’s mysticism, whereas Teresa, I think, would have taken a very dim view indeed of that statue, very dim. “That’s precisely not the point: of course I had these extraordinary experiences, and I wished at the time I wasn’t having them, but eventually what it permitted me to do was to wash the dishes mindfully and prayerfully.” She more or less says that.
Now the other error, I think, is the old chestnut about spirituality and religion: “I’m not religious, but I’m spiritual.” A statement which drives me to distraction, as you can imagine, because there the spiritual becomes something very private, very interior, which doesn’t really threaten anybody very much and doesn’t do what people like Teresa are doing, which is to put a sharp question from the margin. To say, well, if you’re serious about being spiritual, you live differently: get used to it. Those two problems make these questions all the harder these days…”
Also, see also Williams’ lecture (46 mins), as part of the Legatum Institute's current Salon Series, 'Prosperity on the Edge: 1913-14 The Last Year of Peace'. Former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams delivered a lecture on historian Adolf von Harnack's influence at the time, as well as the way in which post-war thought was shaped by the reaction against his kind of liberal religion. It was delivered in Jan. 2014 and was titled: “The Deadly Simplicities of Adolf von Harnack – Liberal Theology in Germany on the Eve of the Great War”.
Audio (+ downloadable podcast via iTunes) and transcript are available here.
a written interview with Rowan Williams about CS. Lewis and Narnia. Many of you
will be aware a small book by Williams on Narnia – The Lion’s World: A
Journey into the Heart of Narnia (pub. p/b UK 2012 SPCK while in the USA it
was published the same year, but by OUP in a hardcover format). The interview is brief and not
in-depth, but it’s a good read and if it encourages people to read Williams’
rich little book it will have served a useful purpose. I still have rich
memories of listening to Williams (though sadly not as one of the congregation
he was speaking to) delivering the 2011 lectures on which his book is
based (though the lectures are extended). In particular the lecture, which
featured Eustace and the Dragon, still stands out.
is it about Narnia, which can seem so obviously Christian to many readers, that
appeals to non-Christian or secular audiences?
It's not an easy question to
answer. I think it's partly that the narratives themselves have a great deal of
force. You know, they're very simple stories—I don't mean simple in the sense
of crude—but emotions are strong. They're about loyalty and betrayal, victory
and defeat. They have that sort of buzz; they just keep going and keep your
They have at their heart
something very mysterious, something that comes in alongside your ordinary
human interactions and gives them an extra depth, an extra dimension, because
Aslan is not a presence who's visibly there all the time. Yet, there's
something or other breathing over your shoulder and making you think again,
reminding you that you're responsible to something bigger. I think that appeals
to almost any intelligent or sensitive reader of any age.
Narnia is something that
people do revisit. Some of the images stay with me. And though of course Lewis
wrote them as children's books—that's what they are—children's books, as we all
know, are quite powerful tools for grown ups' imaginations…”
You can read the complete
interview here. Published online 1st
November 2013. You'll find a positive review of the book here.
In their own words the team @ Nomad “…somehow managed to persuade Tom Wright, one of the world’s
leading New Testament theologians, to come on the show for a third time! We ask
Tom to summarise his 1680 page Paul and
the Faithfulness of God…”
You’ll find the podcast here. You’ll find the “Contents” page of Wright’s book here (PDF). You’ll find the Preface here and you’ll find Chapter 1 (PDF) here. For Mp3’s of lectures by one of Wright’s
Pauline Studies teachers George B. Caird, go here. You’ll find Wright talking on a YouTube clip with Michael
Bird (approx. 25 mins) about the book here.
I liked Rowan Williams’
response to the following question put to him in an interview back in June
Interviewer - I ask him
where is the best place to start looking for answers if we are struggling with
RW - “…The most important thing to know is that
this takes the time it takes; you can’t force yourself to its conclusion. But
what you need to do is find people of faith that you trust. They can be living,
or they can be writers from an age ago; but you must find people who are not
interested in taking the easy shortcuts; it’s a journey that we must all take
in some way. You may not find you end in the destinations they do, but it’s
vital to at least travel with them…”
You’ll find the article that
was the output of the conversation here.
Also, you’ll find an
overview of Rowan Williams’ forthcoming 2013 Gifford Lectures (November) here. It includes abstracts of each
lecture. I loved this line in the abstract for lecture # 3 – “…We speak in the hope of