Ch 2: The aftermath of theology - How (Not) to Speak of God

(Link to introductory post)

How (Not) to Speak of GodRollins builds on the idea of the idolatry of doctrine in the second chapter, indicating that doggedly holding onto established interpretations is akin to the actions of the Pharisees of Jesus time.

Indeed, this can be seen as one of the central problems with the Pharisees as represented in the New Testament, for they held so closely to their interpretation of the Messiah that when the Messiah finally appeared in a form that was different to what they expected, they rejected the Messiah in order to retain the integrity of their interpretation.

Rollins doesn't reject theology as a fundamentally bad thing. He just wants to shift the focus. He claims that, in the past, theology was an attempt to define God, whereas he sees the proper role of theology as a response to God. I'm not sure I completely agree with his premise, but I can certainly agree with him about what theology should be. He also introduces another of his "both/and" words: a/theology, by which he means that

they acknowledge that we must still speak of God (theology, as traditionally understood) while also recognizing that this speech fails to define God (a/theology)

In the next few sections, he goes on to introduce several more such words: hyper-presence (God is so close and present that God overwhelms our understanding and experiences), un/known (God's very hyper-presence blinds us to being able to really know God), hypernymity (based on anonymous - unknown because of a lack of information. hypernymous - unknown because of an overwhelming overabundance of information). While I think all of these words can help to convey the points he's trying to make, my head was spinning the first time I read it, trying to sort out all of these terms. I would recommend reading through this section slowly and carefully, probably several times, to let things sink in.

The last section of the chapter, "Christianity as a/theistic," spends a lot of time contrasting the emergent conversation with fundamentalism, which Rollins defines as

... a particular way of believing one's beliefs rather than referring to the actual content of one's beliefs. It can be described as holding a belief system in such a way that it mutually excludes all other systems, rejecting other views in direct proportion to how much they differ from one's own.

He doesn't claim that we shouldn't hold onto our beliefs. Only that there should always be a tension between those beliefs and other ideas that bring those beliefs into question. Bringing it back to the idea of idolatry:

This a/theism is not then some temporary place of uncertainty on the way to spiritual maturity, but rather is something that operates within faith as a type of heat-inducing friction that prevents our liquid images of the divine from cooling and solidifying into idolatrous form.

I really like that idea of the tension being important in and of itself, and not just an uncomfortable period between static belief states. It's in line with some of the things I've been saying on the political front, about both sides of various debates needed to listen to and respect the views of the "other side."