The thought of Ludwig Wittgenstein in Rowan Williams’s theological account of language.

Brian McKinlay

Published in New Blackfriars 98, no. 1075 (2017): 327–41. doi 10.1111/nbfr-12225.


This article looks at the significance of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s philosophy in Rowan Williams’s theological understanding of language. It begins with an overview of Wittgenstein’s ideas on language and their application to theology. Williams took up the way we use language and the possibilities of speaking about God in his 2014 Gifford lectures and the associated book, The Edge of Words. The book exemplifies Williams’s encounter with Wittgenstein and other philosophers of language. But it is deliberately limited to natural theology and does not say a great deal about revealed theology. Therefore the article goes on to look at Williams’s thinking on the place of language in the Christian story. This is often found in his discussion of other topics.