Chapter 2 of Rollins’ How (Not) to Speak of God is called “The Aftermath of Theology.” This title reflects the idea that Christianity is not a system for explaining God, but is rather a response to the experience of God.
In this chapter, Rollins gives us a vocabulary for the concepts that are at play in his book. Here they are:
Rollins begins the chapter with a discussion of the problem of those who refuse “to give up their interpretation of God, even in the presence of God.” As an example, he points to the Phariseees, who “held so closely to their interpretations of the Messiah that when the Messiah finally appeared in a form that was different…they rejected the Messiah in order to retain the integrity of their interpretation.”
To avoid this pitfall, Rollins suggests, we should recognize that our “theological musings” should be called “a/theology,” because they at once speak of God while also recognzing that the speech fails to define God.
Rollins reminds us that God must be thought of as a subject, rather than an object. God is not a theological problem to be resolved (this makes him an object of our thought), but the absolute subject before whom we worship.
Later in the chapter, Rollins points out that we should think of God as the subject and ourselves as God’s object. In other words, “we do not grasp God.” Rather, “faith is born amidst the feeling that God grasps us.”
God overwhelms and overflows our understanding and experience. Thus, neither sensual experience in worship nor theology can lead to a full understanding of who God is.
God is un/known (“hypernymity”)
One who is not known at all has anonymity. But a God who is both present among us and beyond our understanding is exactly the opposite: he possesses “hypernymity.” That is, there is so much to know that we can’t possibly know him fully any more than we can take in all of the light of the sun.
Christianity as a/theism
Christians must come to “disbelieve in the God they believe in.” In other words, we always seek to understand God, but we simultaneously possess a healthy distrust of our understanding, knowing that God transcends that understanding.
Rollins’ choice of the term “a/theism” is a little too provocative for me. I think it has a tendency to alienate some readers, and I would probably choose another term to describe this concept if this were my book. However, since Rollins has chosen it, I’m going to keep using it in this series.
In Chapter 3, Rollins will discuss the implications of a/theology, hypernymity, a/theism, etc. on the way we (don’t) go about speaking of God.