How (Not) to Speak of God: A/theology as icon

We now move to Chapter 3 of Peter Rollins’ book How (Not) to Speak of God.

In Chapter 3, Rollins explores the implications of the idea that Christians must be a/theological (that is, we must speak of God while simultaneously recognizing that God transcends anything that we can conceive or speak about). Here are the six concepts that he covers:

1. Dis-course: Once we begin to speak in a/theological terms, we can accept denominational differences without creating denominational barriers. No one group holds the “true” interpretation, since everyone acknolwedges that their views, though the “best they can do,” are limited.

2. Doubt as Virtue: Rather than being viewed as a cancer to faith, doubt is seen as absolutely essential – otherwise, we might become idolatrous about our own ideas of God. (I wish that here Rollins would have made something clearer: doubt enables us to refine and re-focus. By shaking us from our particular “perspective” of God, doubt requires us to re-evaluate, recongize that God is transcendent of our ideas and understanding, and perhaps ultimately arrive at a way of thinking that, while still imperfect, is much better than what we held to before).

3. The End of Apologetics: Rollins believes that the modern church has mistakenly bulit its foundation on the apologetics of word (rational argument which shows Christianity is compelling) and/or wonder (alleged miraculous events). He sees both of these as abusive power-plays because they seek to compel someone to act regardless of their motive or desire. Jesus, by contrast, offers a “powerless” discourse, which entices people to love God by putting on display the love that God has for them.

4. Iconic God-talk: As a result of a/theological thinking, we can begin to think of our words and symbols as aids in contemplation of the real thing, rather than living under the idolatrous delusion that our words fully describe God. When we wish to gaze on the face of someone we love, he explains, it is not because we love the face, but the whole person who is represented by the face.

5. A/theology as transformative: As a result of a/theological thinking, we can begin to see our faith community’s traditions and our spiritual disciplines as tools for transformation, rather than as rigid systems of religiosity. Each system may be different, but thats okay – they are all birthed from the same experience of God, and explore that experience in different ways.

 6. The saying of nothing. “Evangelism” in this context means creating space in which others can explore their own experience of God, rather than engaging in a “power discourse” that beats them over the head with the One System that gets them “saved.” As Rollins puts it, “when it comes to God, we have nothing to say to others and we must not be ashamed of saying it.”

I could go on and on expounding on almost every one of these points, but I don’t have the time to expand this post any further right now. Later, I may try to come back to the idea of “power”discourses and apologetics, because its really insightful and it deserves more attention.

Nevertheless, up next: Rollins discusses the importance of re-discoving our desire/hunger for God in Chapter 4.

Previous Posts:
1. Introduction
2. The meaning of heretical orthodoxy
3. Chapter 1: God Rid me of God
4. Chapter 2: The Aftermath of Theology


5 Responses to How (Not) to Speak of God: A/theology as icon

  1. toby says:

    Matt, I really like #5 above. History does show that most of our various churches’ traditions and methods were birthed out of an experience with God or a desire to experience God. The challenge for the church today is not only accepting each other’s traditions and practices, but allowing Christians the freedom to pursue God in a way that is meaningful to them. If a certain method is “ok”, then it is ok for me to pursue God in this way. If an “emergent” service takes me to the throne of God in humble submission, then my being drawn to it, even if it is at another church, should not bring down the condemnation of my current church. Allowing others to worship God as they are led while fencing in your own followers is quite hypocritical.
    My question with this chapter concerns #3 above. Although I see where he is going with the abuses of word and wonder and the fact Jesus’ ministry was “powerless” in that it mingled with the common people and opposed the religious authorities, Jesus’ ministry was also constantly powerful in acts of “wonder”, How does Rollins deal with this?

  2. Matt says:

    Good comment on #5, Toby.

    With respect to #3, I don’t think Rollins is trying to say that Jesus did not do things that were powerful, but that he did not use that power to coerce people into doing what he wanted. Instead, his wonders put on display the nature of a loving God and invited others to respond by living a life that imitates that love.

  3. […] of heretical orthodoxy3. Chapter 1: God Rid me of God4. Chapter 2: The Aftermath of Theology5. Chapter 3: A/theology as Icon6. Chapter 4: Inhabiting the God-Shaped Hole7. Chapter 5: The Third […]

  4. curtis says:

    #6 is probably my favorite point…

    This is something that I’ve started to realize on my own lately, and it’s refreshing and gives me great hope, to be hearing this idea from others as well…

  5. […] Matt was commenting on some of the main points in Chapter 3, and one of the points really struck me because it’s been something that’s been on my […]

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