How (Not) To Speak of God
by Peter Rollins
Brewster: Paraclete Press, 2006, 145 pp., tradepaper.
Here in pregnant bud is the rose, the emerging new configuration, of a Christianity that is neither Roman nor Protestant, neither Eastern nor monastic; but rather is the re-formation of all of them. Here, in pregnant bud, is third-millennium Christianity (back cover endorsement).Apparently Peter Rollins' How (Not) To Speak of God will reveal where the emerging conversation is taking many of us, at least all of us who wish to leave the second millennium in the dustbin of history. Rollins begins by explaining that the early mystics (such as Eckhart von Hochheim AKA Meister Eckhart) have been a major influence. That immediately concerned me, as I don't see the mystics as a positive influence. Eckhart's famous quote, "The Eye with which I see God is the same Eye with which God sees me" has been treasured by neopagans and Buddhists more than by most Christians.
one side naively claims that orthodoxy (as right belief) is still possible...one affirms the supremacy of their God in an implicitly exclusive and violent way (2).Like Brian McLaren, Rollins excels at calling for peace, love and generous understanding, unless one is speaking of the naive morons also known as traditional evangelicals. The brilliant and kind thinkers of the emerging conversation in contrast offer up a way to move beyond traditional orthodoxy:
The reversal from 'right belief' to 'believing in the right way' is in no way a move to some binary opposite of the first (for the opposite of right belief is simply wrong belief); rather it is a way transcending the binary altogether. Thus orthodoxy is no longer (mis)understood as the opposite of heresy but rather is understood as a term that signals a way of being in the world rather than a means of believing things about the world (3).Not surprisingly, Rollins happens to think that he is correct in believing this thing about the world. Transcending the binary seems too difficult to achieve, even for those with a Ph.D. in postmodern philosophy. We already have a pretty good idea where this is all headed, and we haven't reached the first chapter yet.
Hence revelation ought not to be thought of either as that which makes God known or as that which leaves God unknown, but rather as the overpowering light that renders God known as unknown (17).At this point I mumbled "Karl Barth" to myself, so I wasn't shocked to turn the page and read:
we are rediscovering the Barthian insight that even the revealed side of God is mysterious (18).Then, overwhelmingly true words follow:
The emerging Church is thus able to leave aside the need for clarity (18)That sums up the stacks of books that I've read, especially by Brian McLaren, who delights in obfuscation, preferring questions to answers, despite drifting into certainty on topics like supporting Barack Obama's presidential bid.
Emerging thought is a self-acknowledged form of heresy insomuch as it is aware of its failure to describe that of which it speaks. This recognition acts as an effective theological response to fundamentalism, as it unsettles the dark heart of its self-certain power (27).How do you really feel about fundamentalism, Peter? Again, emergents can't merely disagree with fundamentalists or traditional evangelicals, they have to make absolute denunciations.
The fear and rejection of doubt as a legitimate part of faith can be seen at its most stark in the twentieth-century Church's obsession with the area of apologetics (a term which refers to a formal justification or defence of doctrine). Legal terminology is often employed within this apologetic discourse so as to give the impression that Christianity can be proven beyond all reasonable doubt by a cold and objective analysis of the empirical evidence for its claims...Because of their compelling nature, these apologetic strategies can be termed 'power discourses'. Yet it is precisely against these power discourses that the emerging community must take its stand, offering instead a genuinely Christlike and effective alternative (37).Rollins fails to note that the term "apologetics" is derived from the Greek word for "defense" or "answer," taken straight from 1 Peter 3:15:
but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,The verse ends, "do it with gentleness and respect." Christians are expected to make a legal-style defense of their faith (thanks to "many infallible proofs" Acts 1:3), but at the same time to maintain an irenic spirit that is antithetical to the non-Christlike and ineffective 'power discourse' that Rollins would hold up as the only option in binary opposition to his emerging view.
In contrast to the view that evangelism is that which gives an answer for those who are asking, we must have faith to believe that those who seek will find for themselves...If this is true, then the job of the Church is not to provide an answer - for the answer is not a phrase or doctrine - but rather to help encourage the religious question to arise...Central to this approach is the idea that God stands outside our language regimes and cannot be colonized via any power discourse...Instead of the evangelist steeping up when someone shows an interest in religious matters, this is precisely the point when they should step down (43).Chapter four is titled, "Inhabiting the God-shaped hole." In the first section, "Religion and the absence of God," Rollins states:
Recently, when I was presenting a paper to the Belfast humanist society, I was asked how I could possibly believe that my own religious tradition was true...The only answer I could give to this question was, 'I don't.' While I found myself hesitant about speaking of religions that I knew nothing about, I was quite confident in asserting that my own religion was not true (47).The chapter dives into Derrida and deconstruction, resulting in statements like these:
Christianity testifies to the impossibility of grasping God because of the hyper-presence of God...The Christian religion thus testifies to a relation with God that exists without relation, to religion as both im/possible and un/necessary (49). The believer...is one who has a God-shaped hole formed in the aftermath of God, a hole that compels them to seek after that which they already have (55).Here is third-millenium emerging Christianity, or should I say, here (is?) third-millenium e/merging Christ-ianity?
To be a Christian is to be born of love, transformed by love and committed to transforming the world with love (75).Part Two then continues with sample services from Rollins' Ikon community in Ireland. The final service ends the book on an emerging note, as we read in the service description:
As people enter the bar, their eyes are drawn to a stage...a bare-chested man standing motionless. A young woman...is writing words such as 'gay', 'queer', 'homosexual', 'faggot', and 'sodomite' on his flesh as he stands there passively. Dozens of large rocks have been scattered around the floor (141).A speaker explains that Ikon will make no statement for, against or even undecided on any religious debates. Rather, people are encouraged to love and learn. Someone tells a story about 'coming out' to his family as a heterosexual, parodying the usual trauma of homosexual outings. Attendees are then encouraged to encase a rock in bubble-wrap. The closing poem is projected on the wall for people to read aloud as a liturgy (public worship). It ends:
We are the Body of Christ. The Body of Christ is queer, is man, is woman, is straight. The Body of Christ is the people of God, gathered here, and carried in our hearts. This is the body we have, this is our body (145).People are encouraged to take their bubble-wrapped rocks home instead of doing violence to others and another Ikon service concludes their demonstration of third-millennium Christianity. Make of it what you will. Isn't that the emerging way?