Rowan Williams, Tokens of Trust; An Introduction to Christian Belief (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2007), 161pp.
In 1943 CS Lewis transcribed some talks he gave on the BBC radio into a book called Mere Christianity. What Lewis had in mind was to set forth not what any particular denomination believed, but the essence of faith common to nearly all Christians in all times and places. Since then other writers have made similar efforts to distill the gospel. John Stott's Basic Christianity (1961), The Heart of Christianity (2004) by Marcus Borg, and NT Wright's Simply Christian (2006) all come to mind.
The latest and one of the best efforts at explaining the basic tenets of Christian faith comes from no less than the Welshman Rowan Williams (b. 1950). After lecturing at Cambridge University, at the remarkably young age of thirty-six Williams was appointed the Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity at the University of Oxford. In 2003 he became the Archbishop of Canterbury and head of the 100 million-member Anglican church. Considered by many to be one of the most important English-speaking theologians, Williams is also a noted poet. He speaks or reads eight languages. Suffice it to say that any book by Williams is a model of intellectual rigor, cultural relevance, Biblical fidelity, and pastoral care.
This book is an expanded version of a series of talks that Williams gave at Canterbury Cathedral before Easter 2005. The text is written in an informal style and intended for a general readership. As he says in his introduction, he takes nothing for granted (eg, any knowledge of the Bible). The entire book has only twelve footnotes (although numerous references to poetry, history, film, music, etc.). To explain the basics of the faith Williams follows the Apostles' Creed and, when needed to expand and expound, the Nicene Creed. His six chapters, then, take their cue from the creed:
1. I believe in God the Father Almighty
2. Maker of heaven and earth
3. And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord
4. He suffered and was buried, and the third day he rose again
5. And I believe one catholic and apostolic Church
6. I look for the resurrection of the dead
In addition, the book includes numerous illustrations by the painter David Jones, along with other photographs from around the world. Williams skillfully avoids the perennial temptation of theologians to say either too much or too little. He is as confident and bold in his faith as he is in acknowledging honest questions and profound mysteries. His method draws on his own Anglican tradition to synthesize what we learn from Scripture, church historical tradition, reason, and experience about a God who is characterized by unconditionally generous love, and who invites us to trust our lives to Him.