Peter Rollins founder of the Ikon Community , an emerging church in Ireland, has recently penned “How (Not) to Speak of God” (Peter Rollins).” It is a book that will be important for every church to wrestle with. Rollins writes as one who is both theologian/philosopher (he has a Ph.D. in Postmodern theory) and a practitioner. He is deeply involved in a church community that considers itself iconic, apocalyptic, heretical, emerging and failing.”
The book is broken into two portions, like Rollins, it has a theoretical side (part I) and a practical side (part II). Unlike other books of this nature, I found both portions to have covered the right amount of material, and left me satisfied with the picture he presented. Though the book deals with some weighty theological and philosophical concepts I found the book to be very readable. Rollins includes enough anecdote, stories, parables, and examples that help get at the difficult points made.
In the first part of the book he tackles two unlikely statements, Ludwig Wittgensteins What we cannot speak of we must pass over in silence,” and Evangelical Christianitys God is the one subject of whom we must never stop speaking (xi).” From these two paradoxical phrases Rollins states, That which we cannot speak of is the one thing about whom and to whom we must never stop speaking (xii).”
This dialectical approach to theology lays the groundwork for the rest of the book, which is an attempt to deal with the problems caused by evangelicalisms desire to know God in terms of right-thinking: orthodoxy on the one hand and on the other hand liberalisms attempt at suggesting that nothing can be known about God: God is unknown.
A central point, is that Gods revelation is both against concealment and concealed from us. We are left, realizing that revelation embraces concealment at one and the same time as it embraces manifestation and that our various interpretations of revelation will always be provisional, fragile and fragmentary (18).” God can never be fully comprehended, and when our theology attempts to do so, we set up, as Karl Barth said, conceptual idols (120).
In this perspective how we believe becomes of essential importance; love, relationship with the other, truth as that which transforms, and experience of God are core principles that ground this kind of Christianity. This flies in the face of Fundamentalist religion. For Rollins, and other emerging Christians, everything we do is evangelical insofar as we invite others into an ongoing conversation, or dialogue with God, where all are participants, onlookers, and all have the potential to not only join the conversation but add something to it. For the Ikon community then, there is no us/them mentality.
The second part of the book is a lot of fun to read, because Rollins invites us to be onlookers of how the Ikon community worships God and shares its faith. With services that seek to deconstruct our ideas of God and challenge the human side of faith, Rollins launches into describing ten different church services that all take place in a small pub in Northern Ireland.
Those ten services are their Tenabrae service: dealing with forsakeness and the insufficiency of our beliefs; Prodigal: where seeking is a means of having faith; Sins of the Father: deals with lament and confronting our creator; A/theism: expresses the importance of both naming God while de-naming God (97); Advent: focuses on our need for Christs incarnation in us; Judas: they place themselves in the shoes of the betrayer; Prosperity: a parody of self-centered Christianity; Heresy: before God we are all heretics – God is not reducible to a theory as Barth showed (120); Corpus Christi: we know God by finding God in the other – loving God is a sign of knowing God; Queer: this service focuses on the way we disagree with others, and how our judgments (especially when dealing with questions of sexual orientation) become destructive and are used to tear down people (they wrap stones in bubble wrap).
This is a lucid and must read account of emerging theology, and will be a primary text for all churches in postmodernity. This will be used as a textbook” of sorts for churches looking to re-think our modern bipolar (Augsburger, 2006) Christianity. Not only is it clear and succint, but it is rooted in the God of the Bible and exemplifies the life of Jesus in various areas of the book. I found it not only useful for the larger emerging church conversation, but found many parts that fit well with the needs and claims of convergent Friends. In fact much of this book screamed Radical Reformation and for this it will be useful to a large range of people.
Peter Rollins is on a book tour of the US currently.
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