Revelation and Reconciliation: An Angle on Modernity

By Stephen N. Williams

An exploration of the tension in Western thought between the secular belief in human moral self-sufficiency and Christian belief in reconciliation in history.

ISBN: 9780227177389


This substantially revised second edition of Revelation and Reconciliation, first published by Cambridge University Press in 1995, gives a fresh account of the intellectual breakdown of Christianity in the West. In contrast to the familiar focus on epistemological questions and the collision between reason and revelation, Stephen Williams argues that underlying this collision is a deeper conflict between belief in human moral self-sufficiency and Christian belief in reconciliation in history. Taking issue with thinkers including the philosopher of science, Michael Polanyi, and the theologian, Colin Gunton, the argument proceeds by examining the contributions of Descartes, Locke, Barth and Nietzsche before coming to conclusions on the theological reading of intellectual history and the prospects of revitalising a contemporary Christian belief in reconciliation in history.

Students of both theology and the history of modern thought will find in Williams’ analysis an alternative interpretation of the balance of forces in post-Reformation Western thought with implications for how they should be addressed.

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About the Author

Stephen Williams is Honorary Professor of Theology at Queen’s University, Belfast. He holds master’s degrees from Oxford and Cambridge Universities and a doctorate from Yale University. His teaching career has been centred on Presbyterian theological colleges in Wales and Northern Ireland, but he also has professional links to Central and Eastern Europe. He has published in the areas of theology, ethics and intellectual history.



1. Around and About Descartes
2. Restoring a Measure of Faith in Locke
3. Troubled Giant
4. The Verdict of Nietzsche
5. From a Theological Point of View
6. Towards Reconciliation



Endorsements and Reviews

In this lively book, Stephen Williams challenges the conventional wisdom regarding Christian theology’s responsibility for modern atheism, urging that Christianity’s claim about God’s historical act of reconciliation and forgiveness is at least as offensive in modern culture. It is an important proposal, rich with implications both for constructive theology and for plotting the history of modern religious thought.
David H. Kelsey, Luther Weigle Professor Emeritus of Theology, Yale University

For Stephen Williams, not only is the epistemological charge brought against the seventeenth-century thinkers difficult to make stick, but it is clear also that the decisive change which takes place in the period has more to do with a conception of moral autonomy, and in particular with the self-perfecting subject and the rejection of traditional understandings of sin. The author has a penetrating intelligence, and makes the shape and importance of his discussion brilliantly clear.
Oliver O’Donovan, Honorary Professor of Divinity, University of St Andrews

In this substantially revised second edition, Stephen Williams explores again the challenges faced by theology in modernity. In contesting accounts that over-determine our cognitive states, he develops a more rooted and holistic understanding of Christian faith. Insightful and stimulating, Williams’ analysis deserves renewed attention at a time of increasing dissociation of faith from contemporary culture.
David Fergusson, Professor of Divinity, University of Edinburgh