Before moving into a discussion of Chapter 1 of How (Not) to Speak of God, I want to unpack the title that Rollins gives to the first section of this book: Heretical Orthodoxy.
In the Christian context, heresy is any opinion or belief that runs contrary to that which is held by the leaders of a church as the correct or right belief. On the other hand, orthodoxy literally means “right belief.” It is a term that has been utilized by the church to refer to the correct set of beliefs about the Christian faith.
Hopefully, you can see how Rollins is messing with us when he uses the term heretical orthodoxy. On the surface it is an oxymoron. If one is orthodox, holding all of the correct beliefs and thoughts about God, how can one also be a heretic?
Rollins uses this puzzling phrase to make us reflect on the possibility that a framework for the Christian faith that is built around the concept of “thinking the right ideas” is itself missing the point, in the same way that we might think a heretic is missing the point.
Still struggling to see what he is saying? If this is a new idea for you, you’ll have to work at it a little, but I think its worth the effort – so lets go at it a different way:
One image that Rollins uses to illustrate this point is to compare the Christian faith to the experience of a baby that receives a kiss from its mother. I really like this analogy, so I want to extend it a little further than he does.
Think about the way a baby “knows” his mother. Though the mother gave birth to the baby and loves the baby in a powerful way, the baby is far inferior to the mother. He cannot really “talk back” to the mother, and he certainly can’t talk about the mother intelligibly. Yet he is learning from the experience of the mother’s love and that love will shape him as he continues to grow.
I hope you can see his point: our experience of God is one of transcendent love. It shapes us and forms us in powerful ways, but we will never be able to capture or explain the experience of God with words. Theology (or God talk), then, is not religion itself, but merely an (admittedly inadequate) effort to describe the thing that loves us and which is likewise the object of our love.
When we become lovers of our words about God, rather than God himself, we become like the heretic who has lost sight of the object of his faith.
More to come.