Monday, February 05, 2007

How (Not) to Speak of God – Chapter 2: The aftermath of theology

In chapter 2, Rollins charts a new path for theology. Instead of understanding theology as the task of defining God, Rollins challenges us to view theology as a “worshipful response to God.” Theology is “where God speaks into human discourse,” the place where God “overwhelms” us. Rather than being something we “do,” theology is something that acts on us – we are “overcome and transformed by it.” Rollins sums this up in the following:

“If theology comes to be understood as the place where God speaks, then we must seek, not to speak of God, but rather to be that place where God speaks. Through our words and actions we seek to be the site of revelation through which people encounter the life-giving Word of God.”

Rollins explores and expands these thoughts in a number of ways throughout the rest of chapter two. I want to briefly focus on two intriguing (and admittedly somewhat confusing) aspects of the discussion.

God as known and unknown - Rollins contends that “in the same way the sun blinds the one who looks directly at its light, so God’s incoming blinds our intellect.” In this way, God is both transcendent and immanent. Rather than a “poverty of absence” we experience an “excess of presence.” God is “concealed amidst revelation,” therefore the God of Christ is “an un/known God.”

Christianity as theism and atheism - This perspective recognizes we must "affirm our view of God while at the same time realizing that that view is inadequate.” In this way, we hold both “atheism and theism in the cradle of faith.” This a/theistic faith admits to the “oscillation between understanding and unknowing” and comes from a “deep reflection and sustained meditation.” Lastly, this a/theism is not a temporary state, as we move towards a place of certainty. No, this faithful a/theism is “a type of heat-inducing friction that prevents our liquid images of the divine from cooling and solidifying into idolatrous form.”

So what is the purpose of this strange language (God as un/known and Christianity as a/theism)? I think these concepts are helpful as a way to keep us from polarizing seemingly incompatible concepts. Rather than declaring God as known and simply rejecting those who see God as wholly mysterious, we can instead embrace God as un/known. He is “hyper-present,” blinding us in the midst of revelation. Also, instead of becoming rigid and creating an intellectual idol of our God, we can faithfully recognize that our image of God is always lacking and incomplete. All of this occurs within the context of faithfulness - embracing a/theism and acknowledging our God as un/known.

Perhaps Rollins’ concluding words from chapter 2 will provide some help:

“This site of uncertainty and unknowing is often a frightening place to dwell, but while the comfort provided by religion is placed into a certain distress by the idea of doubt, this distress, too, is not without a certain comfort. For while we do not grasp God, faith is born amidst the feeling that God grasps us.”

Others in this series:
- Introduction
- Chapter 1
- Chapter 3
- Chapter 4
- Chapter 5

3 comments:

Rishi said...

This is heady stuff, but I like what I understand of it!

Amy said...

This makes my brain hurt, but in a good way. My favorites... (I would apologize for repeating, but I think this stuff bears repeating.)

"...we must seek, not to speak of God, but rather to be that place where God speaks. Through our words and actions we seek to be the site of revelation through which people encounter the life-giving Word of God.”

"No, this faithful a/theism is 'a type of heat-inducing friction that prevents our liquid images of the divine from cooling and solidifying into idolatrous form.'"

"For while we do not grasp God, faith is born amidst the feeling that God grasps us.”

Adam said...

Amy, I really appreciate those same quotes. One of my favorite things about Rollins is that he is a very good writer. He uses language very well - I wish I had that gift. He also does a good job of making insanely complex concepts, a little less insanely complex.

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