Rowan Williams on the Function of Theological Language

Snappy title eh!

I was sat yesterday afternoon in the cafe of the Royal Northern College of Music, while my eldest took some musical lessons as a way of keeping up her parents’ middle-class credentials (and frustrated resentment at the fact that they were never taken to music lessons).  Here is a quotation from Rowan Williams that set all sorts of interesting trains of thought running:

‘…theological language has to open out on to a sort of darkness – not the darkness of obscurity or confused ignorance, but the darkness of sheer resistance to the finite mind on the part of the divine.  And at the same time, theological language must be the language of a community of persons actively engaged in the common life of building the Body of Christ.  Doctrinal formulae are neither a set of neat definitions nor some sort of affront to the free-thinking soul; they are words that tell us enough truth to bring us to the edge of speech, and words that sustain enough common life to hold us there together in worship and mutual love.’

Rowan Williams, Wrestling with Angels: Conversations in Modern Theology (edited by Mike Higton; London: SCM, 2007), xiii-xiv.  NB: the publication details of this volume are confused.  Amazon lists one version with the wrong title and cover, but published by SCM, and another, cheaper version, published by Eerdmans, with almost the right cover.  The pic and link are through to the SCM site: this is the version in UK shops.

The essays that follow in this collection all revolve around this central insight into the function of theological language and the task of doing theology at all (essays on the via negativa, Hegel, Balthasar, Barth and particularly that on Bonhoeffer and Wittgenstein were the focus of a very pleasurable 2 hours yesterday, although each one could take two hours to read properly).  It is an insight that: demonstrates why Williams, despite the present challenges that surround him as Archbishop, is a hugely significant theologian; makes me wonder whether as Baptists we need to do more work on the whole issue of language and our speech about God; suggests an idea for a blog meme.  For the last of these, see the next post.