Tom Wright–Rowan Williams: An Appreciation

Rowan’s style has been private and unstrategic. Once, questioned about strategy, he responded crossly ”˜I believe in the Holy Spirit!’, seemingly oblivious to the possibility that the Spirit might work through long-term planning. Maybe that’s what we needed then. Certainly nobody doubts that he leads by example in his life of prayer and self-discipline. But we now need consultation, collaboration, and, yes, strategy. Despite routine pessimism, the Church of England isn’t finished. In a sense, it’s just getting going. We need someone with vision and energy to pick up from where Rowan’s charismatic style has led us and to develop and deepen things from there.

A new Archbishop must be allowed to lead. Yes, there are deep divisions. Part of the next Archbishop’s task will be to discern and clarify the difference between the things that really do divide and the things that people believe will do so but which need not. But, at the same time, there are problems of structure and organization that slow things down and soak up energy, problems that can and should be fixed so that the church and its leaders can be released for their mission, and to tackle properly the problems we face.

Read it all.


Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, Anglican Provinces, Archbishop of Canterbury, Church of England (CoE), CoE Bishops, England / UK, Global South Churches & Primates, Instruments of Unity, Lambeth 2008, Religion & Culture, Same-sex blessings, Sexuality Debate (in Anglican Communion), Theology, Windsor Report / Process

14 comments on “Tom Wright–Rowan Williams: An Appreciation

  1. NoVA Scout says:

    What a welcome contrast this nuanced, insightful and gracious appreciation provides to the harshness of Archbishop Okoh’s statement of a few days ago.

  2. Ralph says:

    A well-written statement for sure.

    Nobody in his right mind would ASPIRE to be the next ABp of Canterbury.

    But, if God is calling Tom Wright to that position, I hope that the Crown Nominations Committee will respond to that call.

  3. Sarah says:

    Yes — he is a deep and brilliant theologian and very nice.

    And he worked [i]really really hard[/i] to achieve unity. And the way we’re all so incredibly wonderfully unified was by the sheer power of his own person, inspiring all sorts of loyalty, only not enough for 1/3 of the provinces to show up at the Lambeth Conference, and not enough to keep Primates from resigning from the ACC and the “Standing Committee” or refuse to stand for nomination, and not enough to prevent a huge chunk of Primates from boycotting the Primates Meeting.

    Hopefully the next ABC will not work so awfully hard for unity. More such unity will kill us.

    Let us, please, have an incredibly lazy Archbishop of Canterbury who will pursue such unity with less vigor. With unity like this, who needs division?

    But I agree — he’s a brilliant theologian, very nice, and very very hard-working.

  4. flaanglican says:

    A nuanced response to a nuanced archbishop. +++Williams is a godly man to be sure but we don’t need more nuance. We need clarity on issues of Scripture. I pray that the Queen has a firm hold on the nominations process as she is certainly orthodox in her views.

  5. Father Jonathan says:

    #1, very much agreed.

  6. David Keller says:

    I have to agree with Sarah. I fail to understand the praise being heaped on him. Though he is a lovely and well educated man was not fit for or up to the job. This is not a personal attack. I am certain I would enjoy knowing him, but as ABC he was a failure. Somebody compared him to Chamberlain, and I think that is apt. He failed to grasp the danger. As Winston Churchill said, “Sometimes doing your best is not good enough. Sometimes you have to do what is expected.”

  7. sophy0075 says:

    Sarah, David,

    I think phrases like “brilliant theologian” and “worked very hard” are being used here as the British counterpart to our Southern “bless his heart.” No one can deliver an insult as politely and sweetly as a Southern lady in her Sunday best and pearls.

  8. Sarah says:

    Sophy0075 . . . . I think you’re right. I had thought, personally, that the NT Wright appreciation was faint praise indeed. And it nicely transitions to “here’s what we ‘now’ need” . . . ; > )

  9. David Keller says:


  10. Bookworm(God keep Snarkster) says:

    Biting, in my view.

    “He is a classic Anglican theologian: not one for big, clunky systems, but solid, deep and rich in his study of the Bible and the Fathers. To hear Rowan expounding St John or St Augustine is to encounter Anglican theology at its best”.

    And why someone, anyone, with those credentials would toss all that for the revisionist blessing of homosex is beyond me.

  11. jamesw says:

    When speaking of tributes, here is part of what Churchill had to say about Neville Chamberlain in 1940:

    It fell to Neville Chamberlain in one of the supreme crises of the world to be contradicted by events, to be disappointed in his hopes, and to be deceived and cheated by a wicked man. But what were these hopes in which he was disappointed? What were these wishes in which he was frustrated? What was that faith that was abused? They were surely among the most noble and benevolent instincts of the human heart-the love of peace, the toil for peace, the strife for peace, the pursuit of peace, even at great peril, and certainly to the utter disdain of popularity or clamour. Whatever else history may or may not say about these terrible, tremendous years, we can be sure that Neville Chamberlain acted with perfect sincerity according to his lights and strove to the utmost of his capacity and authority, which were powerful, to save the world from the awful, devastating struggle in which we are now engaged. This alone will stand him in good stead as far as what is called the verdict of history is concerned.

    And the same will be said about Rowan Williams, and I expect that history will look back on Rowan Williams much as it looks back on Chamberlain. Knowing the Brits, it would be shocking beyond belief for someone to write about RW what Okoh did. Even amongst plain-speaking Americans, it is not considered good grace to quite so openly bash the person who is leaving the position. I don’t think that Wright would ever tell us what he REALLY thought of RW’s specific actions.

    I found Wright’s final three paragraphs to be very interesting.

    Sifting through them, I think we can draw the following conclusions:
    1. Wright appears to believe that Rowan tended not to think strategically or long-term, and that this needs to change.
    2. Wright believes that Rowan did not sufficiently “discern and clarify the difference between the things that really do divide and the things that people believe will do so but which need not” and that this needs to be done.
    3. Wright believes that structural reform is necessary and that there is way too much Communion bureaucracy (“Who, after all, is running the Church of England? We have Lambeth Palace, the House of Bishops, General Synod, the Archbishops’ Council, the Anglican Communion Office, and (don’t get me started) the Church Commissioners. How does it all work? In an episcopal church, the bishops should be the leaders.”)

    Overall, I think that Wright would be a wonderful choice as the next ABC, but doubt (for that very reason) that he will be chosen by David Cameron.

  12. c.r.seitz says:

    #11 insightful. As they say in Scotland, ‘you’ve got it in a oner.’

    But I must say, having visited Lambeth several times, I am always struck how underwhelming it seems, given the length and breadth of the Communion. But proliferation there certainly is, exacerbated by the notion that another meeting or committee would help, in the place of more executive decision-making.

  13. Bookworm(God keep Snarkster) says:

    In reading the Churchill/Chamberlain paragraph in #11, it appears an articulate and flowery way of saying, “He meant well, but he mucked it all up”.

    “Overall, I think that Wright would be a wonderful choice as the next ABC, but doubt (for that very reason) that he will be chosen by David Cameron.”

    You’ve been a fly on the wall in my house the last couple of days. 🙂 I wonder if Cameron will be able to find himself an ordained secularist? I bet he won’t lack for seeking one…

    “But proliferation there certainly is, exacerbated by the notion that another meeting or committee would help, in the place of more executive decision-making”.

    That’s a beautiful line. There are those who are good at pontificating, and those who are good at leading. Very few out there are good at doing both. And what do we get when we have a pontificator(or proliferator, if you will) in an executive position? Now we know.

    And yet I don’t think it matters what one is in that job–what matters to many concerned is that he is willing to follow The Agenda, and nothing more.

  14. Boniface says:

    Archbishop Okoh spoke the truth.