Every now and again, there comes along the book that you just can’t wait to read. For me, at the moment there are two deserving of that honour: First, there’s a excellent study that I’m currently reading by Nik Ansell entitled, The Annihilation of Hell: Universal Salvation and the Redemption of Time in the Eschatology of Jürgen Moltmann (soon to be published by Paternoster). This is a laudable first-rate study.
The other is a study on Dostoevsky by Rowan Williams entitled Dostoevsky: Language, Faith, and Fiction. I’ve just ordered my copy. William’s Grace and Necessity is one the most exciting theological books I’ve read, and I’m predicting that Dostoevsky will be just as thrilling. I mean seriously, who better to write a study on the world’s greatest writer than one who has so plunged the (theological) depths of the Russian psyche and who appears to be continuously working through the implications of what it means that grace has encountered the human than Williams! In the meantime here’s what the reviewers are saying:
‘Reading Dostoevsky is like looking from a high peak at several mountain ranges, some brightly lit, others dark with mist, going back farther than the eye can see. In this breathtaking book, Rowan Williams takes us on a journey through literary art, the nature of fiction, psychological depths, historical and cultural setting and allusion, and beyond all else a world of faith and doubt, of philosophy and theology not dry on the page but moist with tears of compassion. We return to Dostoevsky with new insight and wide-ranging understanding and to real life with fresh perspectives on what it means to be human, to be under threat from the demonic, and above all to sense the dark and urgent presence of the living God’. – N.T. Wright, Bishop of Durham
‘Rowan Williams here reveals the originality and daring that have made him such a controversial (and inspiring) leader of his church. The readings demonstrate an impressive grasp of current scholarly criticism of Dostoevsky. But this is not just another book about Dostoevsky. The literary interpretations are guided by an intense humanism that shares at points surprising parallels with radical leftist critiques. As author of a previous book of Sergej Bulgakov, Williams is at home in Russian philosophy, particularly the Orthodox emphasis on kenosis, the voluntary emptying out of Christ’s divine attributes during his time on earth. This aspect of Russian thought was important for Bakhtin, who serves as a kind of dialogic third partner in Williams conversation with his reader. This is a work of learning and passion, a heteroglot blend of literary, ethical, and subtle theological argument that is full of surprising local triumphs of interpretation — and that most un-academic virtue, wisdom’. – Michael Holquist, Professor Emeritus of Comparative and Slavic Literature, Yale University
‘Rowan Williams, in this study of Dostoevsky’s characters, brings to attention the theological anthropology implicit in and generative of the narratives’ dynamics. In his hands, theology becomes not a kind of explanation or completion but both a release, an opening of the narratives to the as yet unsaid, and a clarification of the continuities between the characters and the Orthodox Christianity of the setting. Crucial to this reading of Dostoevsky is an understanding of personal identity not as a possession but as a consequence of an ongoing relational process and an interweaving of freedom with a responsibility for others. As we no longer read Dostoevsky the way we did before reading Mikhail Bakhtin, so also, having read Williams, we no longer will read either Dostoevsky or Bakhtin as we once did’. – Wesley A. Kort, Professor of Religion, Duke University