Monday, November 26, 2012

Book Review: How (Not) To Speak of God

On coming to review this book by Pete Rollins, I'm discovering just how hard it is to try to work out what he's actually saying, and what the point of it all is. Rather than 'difficult and dangerous', it's just confusing. So many times, it's as if Rollins wants his cake and to eat it, living in a world of contradictions and complexities, demonstrating the postmodern mindset to the nth degree. Early on, he indicates that 'The book as a whole is aimed at either those already involved in what has been called 'the emerging conversation' or those who would like to understand it in a deeper way.'

Further, he declares that 'the movement is not so much developing a distinct religious tradition within Christianity, but rather is re-introducing ideas that help to both revitalize already existing religious traditions and build bridges between them. It is not then a revolution that is in the process of creating something new but rather one that is returning to something very old.'

Part one of the book reflects on the struggle of academic theology according to the postmodern theory - wherein 'the argument is made that naming God is never really naming God but only naming our understanding of God.' and thus to introduce the idolatry of our concepts as divine. Rollins proposes that his way is to avoid the binary of 'right belief' or 'wrong belief' - and particularly the Northern Irish preoccupation with right belief by instead focusing on 'believing in the right way.' At times, it seems as if he just plays with words, making them slippery for his own purposes, and this was certainly one of those times.

It appears that Rollins may helpfully point out that there is still a future tense to our salvation: 'that we are becoming Christian, becoming Church and being saved,' but he emphasizes this to the neglect of the past tense parts of the faith and salvation, seen throughout the New Testament. Following (or perhaps preceding) Rob Bell, he declares that 'we need to be evangelized as much, if not more, than those around us.'

Returning to the idolatry of our attempts at speaking of God, and with emphasis on the Western idolatry of theology, he tries to make the point that 'God cannot be revealed through human logos.' But what if God has spoken and revealed himself in human logos? On this point Don Carson's 'Becoming Conversant with the Emergent Church' is untouchable. Further, if God is incapable of being understood, then how can Pete himself seek to be understood and communicate ideas?

There are further bizarre ideas in the rest of the first section, but I really can't bring myself to seek to present them. The second part presents a series of meetings from Ikon in Belfast, Rollins' postmodern church community, with strange liturgies and scripts that leave you wondering what they are trying to achieve. In most, it appears to be the subversion of the truth, in an ironic (and almost hipster) postmodern way.

For those seeking to understand postmodern theology, I would definitely recommend Don Carson's work rather than Peter Rollins'. While he claims to be part of Christianity, and uses the language, it's hard to see in reality how it is Christian.

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