Richard Briggs, Director of Biblical Studies and Lecturer in Old Testament at Cranmer Hall, Durham, reviews Rowan Williams’ Luminaries: Twenty Lives that Illuminate the Christian Way (London: SPCK, 2019).
In a little under 150 modest pages (small page size, large font), Rowan Williams takes us on a guided tour of 20 people whose lives have something to say to us. The ‘us’ in that sentence, I guess, is people who are interested in learning from the lives of others, and who have broad interests in church history ancient and modern, and are willing to believe that illumination could lie anywhere. My own experience of reading this book was that it does indeed lie rather more widely than I might have expected.
First a description of what Williams does. He takes anything from 5 to 12 pages over each ‘life’, typically 7 or 8 pages, and offers the briefest context before probing one or two key points that speak to us today. The material is eclectic, and sourced from various places. By my count, 7 of the pieces were sermons, 7 more were lectures or addresses, 3 are extracts from previously published works of his, 1 was a radio talk, and 2 are not credited (including the longest piece, 12 pages on Theresa of Avila, about whom Williams once wrote a book). The result of these origins as (mainly) oral address is that the book feels quite informal, and also quite focused on delivering a short, sharp message to take away from each chapter.