"In Rowan’s Rule, Shortt sets out to provide Rowan’s critics with a true measure of the man, attempting to relate both the substance of his thought and the story of his life. Shortt is that rarest of breeds—a religion journalist who knows what he is talking about—and he succeeds brilliantly in his project, showing both that Williams is well worth listening to and that many of his critics may not have listened to him closely enough.
From the right, Williams has come under heavy fire for his supposed theological liberalism and typically Anglican wishy-washiness. To a certain extent, such criticisms are unavoidable. Williams is in fact in favor of women’s ordination, his revisionist position on same-sex relations is on record, and his understanding of Scripture has drawn objections from many, not only evangelicals. If that were the end of the story, Williams would seem to be no more than a conventional liberal, along the lines of the average Episcopal bishop. But as Shortt shows, nothing could be further from the truth.
In fact, Williams is best viewed as part of the rebellion against the rebellion of the 1970s, working alongside his colleagues Oliver O’Donovan and N.T. Wright to bring the Church of England away from the arid liberalism of Honest to God and Don Cupitt and back to its roots in Word and sacrament, prayer and worship, tradition and Nicene-Chalcedonian orthodoxy. While many of his professors busied themselves with demythologizing the gospels and re-presenting Christian doctrine as anthropology, Williams insisted that Christianity at its core is answerable to God’s initiative, and most particularly so in the unique revelation of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.
Very much against the grain of British academic theology of the day, Williams’ first book, The Wound of Knowledge, showed through relating the history of Christian spirituality that “the theologian,” as the fourth-century monk Evagrius said, “is the one who prays”—which is to say that theology must always grow out of the encounter in worship and prayer with the surprising and extra nos Word of Christ, rather than taking its agenda from modernity. And in his second book, Resurrection, Williams showed that the church’s message of forgiveness and new life rests entirely on its real encounter with the risen Christ, who unexpectedly returned to his disciples from beyond the grave."
An excerpt from a lovely, honest, careful review by Jordan Hylden of Shortt's recently published biography of Rowan Williams, Rowan's Rule.