In Hegel and the gods of Postmodernity, Williams begins by quickly laying out the current anti-Hegelianisms of postmodern rhetoric. According to Williams, the postmoderns (specifically Derrida, Taylor, etc.) have increasingly become fascinated (and eventually alienated) by the Christian tradition of negative theology and its supposed antipathy for the Hegelian tendency to reduce difference to identity (where simply identity moves to simple identity). Their fear is one of totalization, and Williams shares it with them. However, for Williams, Christian truth is not fundamentally totalizing. Christian truth never declares the end of negotiation, and its preference for history is anything but simple dialectical negation (it is defined as the labour of the negative for a reason). For Hegel, the character of the negative is concrete, it must be thought, and this includes the self-critical posture as well. However, the idealism of Hegel and company does not get by without the necessary criticism.
In Trinity and Ontology, Williams takes up Donald Mackinnon’s attack on (mainly linguistic) idealism. Mackinnon’s project, following G.E. Moore, is to acknowledge the defeat of the picture-theory of propositions (and the correspondence theory of truth in general) while preventing the complete eradication of the realist position. For Williams, this new form of realism is grammatical: the correspondence between words and things is less like that between a word and its pictured form, and more like an appropriate move in chess. Truth is inherently an embodied skill.
These remarks on ontology are fleshed out theologically in terms of the moral dangers of theological forms of idealism – talk about God that serves the sole purpose of negating the reality of historical particularity. The problem with this kind of theology is that it makes God into just another subject in the dialectic; it erases the radical difference of God, and serves the solely human purposes of ‘meaning’ and ‘truth’. The error in Hegelian trinitarianism is that it refuses the radical particularity (the tragic) found in the life and death of Jesus. Mackinnon’s realism, on the other hand, seeks to bring this language into the life of the Trinity, but not out of necessity. In short, we do not begin with a robust trinitarianism (or ‘immanent Trinity’) and ask, ‘How can God be such in the world?’ Instead, we see the particulars of history (cross, empty tomb, etc.) and ask, ‘How can this be?’
An interesting point was made in our seminar concerning Williams’ logic here: namely, where is the ascension? As stated, Williams specifically mentions the cross as the symbol of the passion, and the empty tomb as the symbol of the resurrection (and, presumably the virgin birth for the Incarnation and Pentecost for the advent of the Spirit), but the ascension of Christ is conspicuously absent. Williams’ self-critical posture is one of his enduring trademarks as a Christian leader (and for this he should be thanked), but his pneumatology seems to over-emphasize the inward-looking position of the church to the neglect of its directedness towards worldly mission. If Christ is currently seated at the right hand of the Father until his enemies have been made his footstool (specifically the power of death), then this must be as powerful a symbol for the church’s identity as the cross and empty tomb.