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Book Review

Rupert Shortt

Rowan Williams: An Introduction

ISBN 0-232-52490-4

DLT, London, 2003, 7.95

(price at publication of review)

Reviewed May 2004;
© Copyright, The Society of Saint Francis, 2004

Who is Rowan Williams?  Who is any public figure?  All that most of us have to go on is the public image, the more or less haphazard product of a brew of stereotypes, projections, expectations, half-remembered (and often inaccurate) press reports, and gossip.  The opportunities for direct contact, and thereby for checking image against reality, are for most of us few, brief and occasional.

A great merit of this short book is that Shortt knows his subject, having been taught by the then Professor Williams in Oxford.  He is that rare phenomenon, a journalist who is theologically literate.

First we are led through the biography: upbringing in Wales, formation as a theologian in Oxford and Cambridge, the academic and episcopal career.  We are also told about the deep humanity shown in the befriending of life's victims - an aspect of the Archbishop's character it is important not to forget.

Next come chapters on philosophy and theology, on spirituality, and on politics.  Of these the first two, reflecting the Archbishop's professional engagement as a theologian of the first rank and as a deeply sensitive pastor, are more satisfactory than the third.  In the fields of political, social and economic engagement he is not a professional but a highly intelligent amateur.  As a theologian he has his critics, even his enemies.  On the level of theology he can deal with them, although at the level of church politics some of them will be intractable.  But in the realm of public policy, which is what the newspapers will notice, he will often be up against expert criticism.

Rupert Shortt makes it clear that we have a remarkable Archbishop - a true man of prayer, a world-class theologian, and a deeply intelligent and spiritual pastor.  Do we deserve him?  Will we let him exercise his gifts?  For myself, I fear more for the church than for the secular world.

The Rt Rev Mark Santer

Honorary Assistant Bishop, Birmingham



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