Book of the Month: November 2013

RowanWilliamsHisLegacyRowan Williams: His Legacy by Andrew Goodard (2013)

For those who missed the last decade, or were not paying attention at the time, Goddard’s book provides a helpful summary of the major events, debates and developments that marked Rowan Williams’ time as Archbishop of Canterbury. It is made up of a patchwork of facts and figures, and quotations from Williams and those who know him, with each chapter headed by a quotation from one of Williams’ published works, speeches, newspaper articles or radio interviews.

Goddard aims at comprehensiveness in tackling various aspects of Williams’ primacy. The structure begins chronologically, with the lead-up to Williams’ appointment and reactions to it, followed by topical chapters on different issues and spheres of responsibility. Mission shaped church and fresh expressions rightly come first, as that which Williams has noted as the highlight of his time in Canterbury. This is followed by three chapters dominated by debates on sexuality and women bishops, and their impact on the Anglican Communion. The relatively brief treatment of relationships with other churches and other faiths might have been much expanded, as these sections on Williams’ wider activity might have balanced a generally Anglican-centred approach. The fallout of the Sharia Lecture is properly highlighted as one of the events which stuck in the public consciousness, but it is placed in the wider context of Williams’ commitment to ‘interactive pluralism’ and his engagement with social and political issues.

The occasional typos and mistakes doubtless reflect the speed with which this book was produced; appearing less than two months after Williams stepped down from the position. Given its timing, the work is perhaps mis-titled. It is too early to say what Williams’ legacy as Archbishop will be. Hence the work is dominated by debates that mattered at the time, over women bishops and sexuality – indeed, there is a degree of repetition on these issues. While they may have marked Williams’ primacy, it is to be hoped that they will not be his primary legacy. Goddard’s final chapter, on ‘Being a Priest and a Bishop’, recognizes this, arguing that Williams’ main legacy will be the impact that he has had upon individuals as preacher, teacher and pastor.

Goddard’s expressed aim is to be ‘merciful’ to Williams in his assessment, and the work treads a true Anglican via media between critics from both right and left. This approach might give these critics undue prominence. However, what it does well is to explain Williams’ apparent weaknesses and failures through Williams’ own views about Christian leadership and the nature of the Anglican Communion. This book provides a helpful summary of ‘Rowan Williams: His Activity as Archbishop of Canterbury’, although we will need to wait for the definitive work on his legacy.

Reviewed by Beth Dodd, STETS

As Book of the Month for November it is just £8.99 and POST FREE until 30th November 2013.

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