Thursday, February 14, 2008

Trial and Error

Christ on Trial: How the Gospel Unsettles Our Judgement
by Rowan Williams

My friend/neighbor/fellow clergygal L. recommended this to me, and I am so glad I read it. It is wonderful, thought-provoking Lenten reading, and I can see that a) this is one that I will return to again and again and b) am definitely going to have to read more Rowan Williams. Frankly, overtly "churchy" books are often kind of a slog for me. I prefer finding the theology that pervades fiction, memoir, history, etc. I read churchy stuff because I want to keep up with what is out there, but it is not usually my favorite. This one is different. I could not put it down. It is a short book, but packed with insightful, beautifully written observations. Each chapter ends with excellent reflection questions and a brief prayer that encapsulates the main idea of the chapter.

I hesitate to say much about the book's content, because one of Williams's main points is the inadequacy of the human construct of language to describe God or our relationship to the divine. He is right that conversation about God is inevitably limited by the language that we use. Therefore, I feel uneasy about making broad generalizations about Williams's observations.

In his introduction, Williams reminds us that the Greek word for "temptation" and "trial" are the same. He then takes us through each gospel, and specifically Jesus' trial within that particular book. He points out the unique characteristics of each trial narrative and eloquently discusses the parts within each of us that are on trial alongside Jesus. It is just extremely well done - a humbling yet hopeful book to read.

I'll let the readers discover the many gems within this book for themselves, and just close with one thought from a late chapter in the book on the early Christian martyrs and what we can learn from their experiences: "What is martyrdom about? Essentially, it is about something other than heroism. It has to do with freedom from the imperatives of violence - a freedom that carries the most dramatic cost imaginable . . .What we have to ask is how this freedom is to be realized when the test, the trial, is the undramatic context of daily life, or how a life which may never have to face violent challenge may yet express the truth that violence is overcome and silenced in Christ."

Read it!

Reverent Reader


At 2/14/08, 10:28 PM , Blogger Roy said...


I'm leading a Lenten study group on Williams' book. Great conversation, and I'm glad you like his work.

Take care,

At 2/15/08, 9:53 AM , Blogger Reverent Reader said...

I was thinking of using this in Lent next year, since it is probably too late to get it organized for this one. I see it as an excellent Lenten study, so let me know how your goes.

At 2/15/08, 8:33 PM , Blogger jbl said...

I will definitely read this. Is there any recent research referenced about the differences in the gospel writings?


At 2/16/08, 5:16 PM , Blogger Reverent Reader said...

Hi JL - the book came out in 2003, so it is not brand new. But yes, there are references to the different style and emphasis of each gospel. Williams definitely knows his stuff. Overall, though, I would say that the book is more reflective than academic.

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