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Williams, R., Tokens of Trust

By: Lisa Bozarth Ozaeta


Rowan Williams uses the Nicene Creed to proffer a liberal theology framework.

For each section, he offers a couple of ways that the section may be read by different people and then explains how he suggests that it should be read.

Main Theme

We can trust God. Anchoring our beliefs in this trust becomes the guidelight for answering the theological questions we face

Chapter Quotes

Chapter 1: Who Can We Trust

I Believe in God the Father Almighty

  • I Believe in God

  • Question being asked: Why should we put our confidence in God the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth?

  • Answer: I trust, I have confidence in, I take refuge in, the God who has made everything and so can have no selfish purpose and has made visible for us the sort of God he is and the sort of purpose he has in the life and death and resurrection of Jesus. (Location 256)

  • Supporting Quotes

  • One of the plainest answers is that found in the Letter to the Ephesians in the New Testament, where the long and complex introductory passage (including one of the longest sentences in the Bible) culminates in the claim that, in the events around Jesus Christ, God has at last made his purpose clear; he has revealed the mystery hidden for ages past, he has shown us what his agenda is. What once was mysterious – or at least shadowy – has now emerged into daylight, and the purposes of God that existed from the world’s foundation are now laid bare for us. (Location 174)

  • So we don’t get to know what God is ‘like’ in the abstract; we don’t get a definition delivered in the language of ideas. We get a life that shows us what God wants to happen, one that makes it possible for what God wants actually to become real in and for all (Location 190)

  • Revelations of Divine Love by the fourteenth-century hermit, Julian of Norwich. She is asked, does she want to know the Lord’s ‘meaning’ in all these visions – does she want to know what his purpose is? And the answer is, ‘Love was his meaning’. (Location 200)

  • that we can trust the maker of heaven and earth precisely because he is the maker of heaven and earth. (Location 212)

  • God is the unique source of everything. (Location 214)

  • because he cannot need anything, because he contains all reality eternally and by nature, the only thing that can ‘motivate’ his action is simply what he is, the kind of God he is. What he does shows us what he is. (Location 216)

  • some modern thinkers have been very tempted by language that seems to suggest that God is in some way in need of having something else around in order to become more fully himself. (Location 224)

  • we must get to grips with the idea that we don’t ‘contribute’ anything to God, that God would have been the same God if we had never been created. (Location 226)

  • Father Almighty

  • If ‘I believe in God the Father almighty’ means ‘I believe that there is somewhere an unlimited power that can choose and perform anything it likes, and I need to be on the right side of it’, that doesn’t sound as though it had much to do with trust; an almighty power like that, a huge arbitrary will, could be very unsettling indeed. (Location 267)

  • The word translated ‘almighty’ in fact in the Greek means ‘ruler of everything’ or even something like ‘holder of everything’; and this suggests a slightly different approach. It means that there is nowhere God is absent, powerless or irrelevant; no situation in the universe in the face of which God is at a loss. (Location 270)

  • his love never exhausts its resources, (Location 273)

  • get the idea of ‘almightiness’ a bit wrong by thinking of it in terms of a great wish-fulfilment fantasy instead of seeing it as a way of saying that God always has the capacity to do something fresh and different, to bring something new out of a situation (Location 275)

  • Instead it’s the discovery of what Abraham and Moses have discovered, a God who never runs out of love and liberty. (Location 315)

  • what matters is to grasp the idea of a God whose power is made clear in his patience and his capacity always to bring something fresh into a situation. And again we can begin to see why the execution of Jesus could seem to the first Christians not a defeat but a decisive moment of divine power. (Location 321)

  • Christians may be talking about a trustworthy God, but how do we know that this is a real God, as opposed to an impressive character in a book? In other words, does God exist? (Location 327)

  • Many centuries ago, a great theologian and pastor, St Ambrose, said that ‘it did not suit God to save his people by arguments’.2 (Location 331)

  • Often all we can do is to go on telling the stories of those who keep us going; I may not look very credible, but I can at least point to someone who does.

Chapter 2: The Risk of Love

maker of heaven and earth

  • stubborn intuition in most people that it is a fair question to ask where it all comes from; the other is the general trend of scientific research towards the notion of a ‘first event’, a point from which the universe as we know it begins to expand. (Location 441)

  • In Tom Stoppard’s brilliant play, Jumpers,7 George, the philosophy professor, is preparing a lecture on God’s existence for his class and uses the memorable phrase, ‘If there is an apparently endless line of dominoes knocking itself over one by one … somewhere there was a domino that was nudged.’ That idea is crude in itself, but it does express the suspicion that if we talk about things in motion, it is hard to avoid a question about what first moves them. (Location 444)

  • Believers in all these religions would say that creation is going on now. There is indeed a beginning point, but it is the beginning of an active relationship that never stops. (Location 472)

  • think about an electric light burning. The electric current causes the light to shine, but that doesn’t mean that the electric power is something that was around only at the moment you put the switch on, so that the light itself is a rather distant result. On the contrary, the light is shining here and now because the electric current is flowing here and now. In the same way, it is the ‘current’ of divine activity that is here and now making us real. (Location 475)

  • It means that within every circumstance, every object, every person, God’s action is going on, a sort of white heat at the centre of everything. It means that each one of us is already in a relationship with God before we’ve ever thought about it. It means that every object or person we encounter is in a relationship with God before they’re in a relationship of any kind with us. (Location 481)

  • One of the greatest Christian minds ever, Thomas Aquinas, said in the thirteenth century that we should never think of creation as an event, with a before and after, or as a change in circumstances – as if first there was a chaotic mess, then God came along and organized it, which was a popular view in the ancient world. Creation is (Location 487)

  • Creation isn’t a theory about how things started; as St Thomas Aquinas said, it’s a way of seeing everything in relation to God. Whatever you encounter is there because God chose that it should be there. (Location 508)

  • But - What about Evil and Bad Things?

  • If God makes a world that is really different from him, a world of interaction and interconnection, this means a world that is capable of change. (Location 533)

  • Different processes flow together, mesh together and make things happen. (Location 534)

  • It looks as though the very notion of a coherent universe implies that the processes of change won’t always be smooth or gradual; there can be cataclysms, ‘violent’ moments when the interactions are explosive. (Location 541)

  • This does absolutely nothing to make it emotionally easier to face something like the Asian tsunami, nothing at all; it won’t stop us questioning God or protesting to God. (Location 553)

  • And what makes it possible to find God credible even in this context will not be a knockdown argument explaining why evil occurs but – once again – the experience of how actual people find God real even in the middle of these terrors. (Location 558)

  • the universe we’re actually in, we are challenged to have confidence in its maker, it isn’t because he has guaranteed our safety but because he remains there, accessible and free to move things on, even in the most desperate situations. (Location 575)

  • There is a hint of a slightly more sensible approach in an idea put forward by St Augustine in the fifth century – that miracles were really just natural processes speeded up a bit, ‘fast-forwarded’. (Location 594)

  • If God’s action is always at work around us, if it’s always ‘on hand’, so to speak, we shouldn’t be thinking of God’s action and the processes of the world as two competing sorts of thing, jostling for space. (Location 596)

  • But what if there were times when certain bits of the world’s processes came together in such a way that the whole cluster of happenings became a bit more open to God’s final purposes? What if the world were sometimes a bit more ‘transparent’ to the underlying act of God? (Location 598)

  • All we know is that we are called to pray, to trust and to live with integrity before God (to live ‘holy’ lives) in such a way as to leave the door open, to let things come together so that love can come through. (Location 608)

  • God has – mysteriously – made a world in which what human beings do can help or hinder what he achieves at any point in the world’s history; when we give him space, through our prayerful consent to and identification with what he wants, things may happen that were otherwise unpredictable. (Location 644)

  • creates ‘heaven and earth and … all things visible and invisible’. The phrase is a helpful reminder that creation is more than we can get our minds around (Location 654)

  • When we express trust in ‘God the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible’, we affirm that we have grounds for hoping that our lives, in all their fragmentedness, their conflict and their imperfection, can be held and drawn into cohesion – just as the diverse and alarming world itself is held in cohesion – so that God’s own self-consistent active love and beauty may be reflected within the universe. (Location 726)

Chapter 3: A Man for All Seasons

and in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord

Question: Why is Jesus' life required?


  • I’ve chosen to follow the way that the creeds deal with it, starting with the ‘who’ rather than the ‘why’. (Location 984)

  • I’ve chosen to follow the way that the creeds deal with it, starting with the ‘who’ rather than the ‘why’. (Location 984)

Selected Quotes

  • Given the explosive political and religious atmosphere in which Jesus worked, the claim to speak on behalf of God so as to create a new people or nation, to establish a new government, and to change the way they thought of their relation with God, was very far from motherhood and apple pie. And what people wanted to say about Jesus himself as a result was a lot more than just respectful remarks about a great teacher. (Location 789)

  • There is really surprisingly little in the New Testament of any stage of early Christian belief when people thought Jesus just a teacher or a prophet. And this is because the emphasis is not on the ideas of Jesus but on what he has done; he is someone who by his action and his invitation has made a measurable difference to the human landscape by creating a new community that prays in a unique way. (Location 794)

  • Awkwardly and slowly and with much complication and even apparent contradiction, the New Testament moves towards the extraordinary notion that the Creator of the universe is at work without interruption in the life and work of Jesus – that it is God who is doing what Jesus is doing. (Location 804)

  • When the early Christians insisted that we could not imagine sin in Jesus, they were not saying something negative but something positive; there is nothing in this performance that blocks out the composer. (Location 940)

  • Jesus comes into being on earth because God breathes into the world his ‘breath’ (which is what ‘Spirit’ of course means) – as he breathed into the first human being in the creation (Location 953)

  • But this doesn’t happen without the human event of Mary saying ‘yes’. (Location 954)

  • By her consent she makes Jesus possible in that place, at that time. And we should not be ashamed of looking to her to hold our hands from time to time as we take the first steps that may make Jesus possible in this time, in this place. (Location 974)

  • Who of Jesus

  • the one who is speaking to us in the life of Jesus is to be relied upon, because he displays the self-consistency of God’s love available and unbroken in all things, we may be more ready to trust what is being claimed as the result of this life – and death. (Location 987)

Chapter 4: The Peace Dividend

He suffered and was buried, and the third day He rose again

  • Peace and praise, reconciliation and delight; these are the purposes of God. (Location 998)

  • ‘original sin’ (Location 1012)

  • In humanity’s history, the ingrained habit of turning inwards, turning in upon ourselves, is passed on. We learn how to be human only as we also learn the habits of self-absorption. We learn what we want, as some contemporary thinkers have stressed, by watching someone else wanting it and competing with them for it. (Location 1014)

  • To speak of original sin isn’t necessarily to speak as if there were a great metaphysical curse hanging over the human race; it’s just to observe that our learning how to exist is mixed in with learning what does not make for our life or our joy. And every failure and wrong turn in the history of a person as in the history of our species locks us more and more firmly into ourselves. No wonder we drift further and further from peace, become less and less free to give. (Location 1017)

  • Jesus is the human event that reverses the flow of human self-absorption because it is unconditionally open to the divine freedom. (Location 1029)

  • William Golding’s chilling Lord of the Flies, Simon, the one child who has discovered that there is nothing for the other castaway boys to be afraid of, bursts into the circle of their improvised ritual dance (meant to placate the evil forces they dread) to tell them it’s all right. And they turn on him and kill him. (Location 1035)

  • The murder of Martin Luther King in 1968 brought this to a shocking climax. If anyone takes on the responsibility for making peace they take on the risk of drawing out a violent ‘no’; so that to take responsibility for God’s credibility in the world, in the way we were thinking about earlier, is charged with risk. The more fully anyone takes this responsibility, the greater the risk. (Location 1046)

  • If we speak of Jesus as a human being offering a divine gift, offering unrestricted love to the Father and to the world, we are speaking, necessarily, of someone who is going to be intensely and terribly unsafe in the world. He will be facing the weight of our inherited resistance; he will carry the cost of our ingrained revolt against who we really are. (Location 1048)

  • Atonement Theories

  • Sacrifice is, in Hebrew Scripture, the gift that makes peace with God. When you are alienated from God because of moral or ritual irregularity, you have to ask what you need to give in order to restore relationship – recognizing that the giving will be costly. And so it becomes possible to speak of Jesus as a sacrifice, Jesus paying to God the price of all that he is and does, so as to restore peace with the world. many passages in the Hebrew Scriptures, that a life of obedience was a kind of sacrifice, perhaps the only one that really mattered. Jesus’ perfect harmony with God’s purpose could obviously be seen as a sacrifice in that sense. (Location 1070)

  • If we speak of Jesus as a human being offering a divine gift, offering unrestricted love to the Father and to the world, we are speaking, necessarily, of someone who is going to be intensely and terribly unsafe in the world. He will be facing the weight of our inherited resistance; he will carry the cost of our ingrained revolt against who we really are. (Location 1048)

  • It isn’t that a vengeful and inflexible God demands satisfaction, more that the way the world is makes it unavoidable that the way to our freedom lies through the self-giving of Jesus, even to the point of death.

  • when the Apostles’ Creed says of Jesus that ‘he descended into hell’, the original meaning was not quite this. The Latin word simply meant ‘the places beneath’ and referred to a passage in the Letter to the Ephesians about Jesus descending to the lowest parts of creation as well as ascending to the heights, ‘so that he might fill all things’ (Ephesians 4.10). (Location 1096)

  • The resurrection is in part about the sheer toughness and persistence of God’s love. When we have done our worst, God remains God – and remains committed to being our God. God was God even while God in (Location 1117)

  • ‘He ascended into heaven’ say the creeds, recalling the stories in Luke’s Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles about how Jesus says goodbye to the disciples and is carried into heaven. This is pictorial language, of course, not to be interpreted as if the Bible were thinking of a sort of space travel. The biblical writers knew quite well that God did not live in a literal place above the clouds, but they happily used the strong images of Old Testament poems and psalms to tell us that after a while Jesus appeared no more in material form to his disciples. He ‘ascended’, he left the scene, and he (Location 1143)

  • the community of Jesus’ friends is this breathing the same air, being enlivened by the same spirit, so that all who are called into relation with Jesus are at the same time given the capacity to relate to God the Father as Jesus did. (Location 1153)

  • The future is just that – the future: not something we can know and control. It is in God’s hands, ultimately, and we have been given the confidence that God is the end of the story and that our history cannot just fall away into final, irredeemable chaos. (Location 1181)

  • The purpose of Jesus’ ministry and death and resurrection is to re-create the community of God’s people, and the peace that he makes between God and us is a peace that is also made with other human beings and with the creation of which we’re part. (Location 1224)

  • We so easily make the mistake of thinking that peace or salvation is first a matter for each one of us alone; whereas the Bible always seems to take it for granted that we receive God’s peace and mercy as part of the community that is created by God’s word and action. So getting used to the light of truth is something that we do together as believers. (Location 1226)

  • the life that happens when we breathe the air of God is always life together. (Location 1238)

Chapter 5: God in Company

and I believe in one catholic and apostolic Church

  • So believing in the Church is really believing in the unique gift of the other that God has given you to live with. (Location 1274)

  • The apostle’s ministry is thus not essentially one of control but one of literal com-passion, suffering with, and congratulation, rejoicing with. (Location 1295)

  • So a well-functioning Christian community is going to be one in which everyone is working steadily to release the gifts of others. (Location 1300)

  • In its original Latin the Apostles’ Creed announces belief in the communio sanctorum; and this could mean one of two things – or maybe both. It could be ‘the sharing between holy people’ or it could mean ‘the sharing of holy things’. (Location 1339)

  • When we come together to pray at Holy Communion, we do so as baptized believers, people whose lives have been ‘soaked’ in the life of Jesus by the coming into our lives of the Spirit. And so our prayer is, so to speak, dropped into his, absorbed into his. We stand before God the Father, clothed in the identity of Jesus by the gift of the Spirit. We prayerfully give into Jesus’ hands the bread and the wine, so that his prayer may be made over them. His prayer is that they should become his body and blood. What he prays for happens, because he is the perfect channel of the Holy Spirit’s action. So the bread and wine are given back to us, transformed by the Spirit, to make us more deeply what we already are, to confirm the bond that God has created between himself and us. (Location 1408)

  • When we receive the bread and wine at Communion, we are nearest the very heart of what it is to be a Christian and to be the Church. We stand in the power of his prayer; we stand there because we have been invited by the risen Jesus, just as he invited sinners to eat with him in his life on earth; we pray in the Holy Spirit and we receive gifts that the Holy Spirit has made to be vehicles of this life. It is a moment when we declare who we are and when we are given the greatest opportunity to grow as believers because we are as open as we can be to the act of God in Jesus and the Spirit. (Location 1418)

  • When Christians meet for worship, they don’t just share bread and wine; they gather to be told who they are, not only in action but in word, in story and song and above all in the story and song that is the Bible. (Location 1449)

  • Reading the Bible

  • The leaders of the Reformation would have been surprised to be associated with any move to encourage anyone and everyone to form their own conclusions about the Bible. For them, it (Location 1486)

  • But what badly needs to be recovered now is the sense that the Bible is to be read in company. It is not just a book that can be opened and read anywhere; it has a unique role in representing to the gathered group as it meets for worship the acts of God in making a people for himself. (Location 1489)

  • Genesis may not tell us how the world began in the way a modern cosmologist would; but it tells us what God wants us to know, that we are made by his love and freedom alone. (Location 1500)

  • One of the simplest possible definitions of the Church is to say that it is meant to be the place where Jesus is visibly active in the world. (Location 1540)

Chapter 6: Love, Actually

I look for the resurrection of the dead

  • So to say that the Church is where Jesus is visibly active in the world is to say both that it shows to the world the face of Jesus and that in its own internal life it embodies the life of Jesus, flowing between believers. (Location 1613)

  • Heaven is what is laid open when the Church is truly the Church. (Location 1649)

  • it is when the Church is most clearly committed to the work of transforming the earth in which it lives that heaven becomes most clear. (Location 1651)

  • we should notice that we’re not asked to declare a belief in ‘eternal life’ in general or in ‘immortality’. (Location 1660)

  • Christian faith says that since God has come to encounter us in this world of material bodies, as a material body, and since God continues to use material things and persons to communicate who and what he is, we can’t suppose that life with him will ever simply sidestep our material life. (Location 1669)

  • God does not redeem us by making us stop being what we are – beings who live in community and context. (Location 1688)

  • Whatever life with God is, it is not something more abstract or more isolated than what we now know. (Location 1690)

  • People are sometimes rather shocked if you say that Christianity does not believe in the immortality of the soul; but in fact, while the Bible and the tradition talk about ‘immortal’ life, they don’t assume that this deathless existence is something reserved for a part of us only, (Location 1705)

  • The pattern we have had before us all the way through these reflections, the story of a God who is totally committed to what he has made and loved and worked with, whose action and purpose are all directed towards our flourishing and healing, all of that fits completely with the vision of a God who will not let us go even on the far side of death. (Location 1717)

  • Judgement

  • Christian theology has commonly taught that hell is our decision, not God’s (apart perhaps from the most extreme of sixteenth-century Calvinists, who held that God condemned some people even (Location 1801)

  • We have made ourselves deaf to God’s words; and the most truthful image we can have of hell is of God eternally knocking on a closed door that we are struggling to hold shut. (Location 1804)

  • But the miracle is that a repentant community, a community of people who are daily aware of their own untruthfulness and lack of love and are not afraid to face their failures, is a community that speaks profoundly of hope. (Location 1810)

  • To say, as we do in the Apostles’ Creed, that we believe in the forgiveness of sins is to claim, not that offences don’t matter, nor that things can easily be made all right again, but simply that even the worst of our failures cannot shut a door for God. (Location 1829)

  • For the Christian tradition, eternity is above all a joy in the sheer reality of God – not an absorption in some final ‘absolute’ but a living relation, more like personal relation than anything else, yet somehow different because set in the heart of the exchange of life and joy within the Trinity. (Location 1849)

  • For the Christian tradition, eternity is above all a joy in the sheer reality of God – not an absorption in some final ‘absolute’ but a living relation, more like personal relation than anything else, yet somehow different because set in the heart of the exchange of life and joy within the Trinity. (Location 1849)

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