The Edge of Words: God and the Habits of Language by Rowan Williams
|The Edge of Words: God and the Habits of Language by Rowan Williams|
|Category: Spirituality and Religion|
|Reviewer: Rev Michael Johnson|
|Summary: Rowan Williams' examination of God through the lens of natural theology and philosophy is a compulsive must read for those with background knowledge but a bit of a turn off otherwise.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 224||Date: September 2014|
|Publisher: Bloomsbury Continuum|
This, Rowan Williams' first book since standing down as Archbishop of Canterbury, is based on a series of lectures that he delivered as Gifford Lectures in Edinburgh in 2013. Gifford Lectures are famous for their examination of developments in natural theology; a branch of theology that argues the existence of God based on reason and nature. In these lectures Rowan sort to examine how we as human beings develop use and process language, particularly when it comes to the use of language around faith and our perception and understanding of God.
Within this context he takes the thoughts of many great theologies and philosophers such as Augustine, Aquinas, Wittgenstein etc and places their thinking alongside that of the new understanding of human linguistic development. In this way he looks at the way in which these thinkers' use of language reveals more of their understanding of God and whether our own context changes our perception of what they could have been saying.
Ultimately Rowan's point is that we can only finally meet and hope to gain some understanding of God in true silence. The word God is not just a noun but also an adverb; it not only descripts God but is the action that is God. Therefore only in the eloquence of silence can we experience God. Only at the point where language breaks down can we encounter his true likeness:
Our safest eloquence… is our silence: yes, but it is eloquent because it has stopped saying, because it is a silence fashioned and framed by the enterprise of speaking our way into the most extreme difficulty.
This quote also demonstrates that Rowan has a great way with language throughout this book. However this very use of language can be the thing that can disengage the reader from his subject.
One of the problems is, of course, that this book is compiled from his lecture series at the time and so it's written verbatim from the lectures. Because of this there is a certain assumption made about the readers' understanding and knowledge of such things as philosophy, theology and language development that may well have been true of those who attend the lectures but cannot be assumed of those of us picking up the book.
This at one level may not be a problem but when the book blurb boasts that this book is eminently accessible, I for one would have questioned the term 'eminently accessible'. Without some knowledge of his subjects and references Rowan's finer points can be missed. It's therefore totally different to his more universally appealing works like Silence and Honey Cakes.
This therefore leaves me in a quandary. If you have the assumed background knowledge this book needs then it is easily a 5* but if you haven’t then the book is a struggle and a 3*. In the end I decided to go towards the fact that I loved it and so will settle on a 4.
(Thank you Bloomsbury Continuum for providing us with a copy for review.)
Further Reading: If you would like more Gifford lectures, how about Roger Scruton's 2010 series.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Edge of Words: God and the Habits of Language by Rowan Williams at Amazon.co.uk.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Edge of Words: God and the Habits of Language by Rowan Williams at Amazon.com.
Like to comment on this review?
Just send us an email and we'll put the best up on the site.