blip : Blog of Isaac & Jason :

How (not) to speak of God by Peter Rollins: a fragmentary reveiw (1)

March 22nd, 2007 by isaac · 2 Comments

A very long time ago, Adam Walker at pomomusings sent me an advanced copy of Peter Rollins hip book, How (Not) to Speak of God (Paraclete, 2006). The hope was that I would review it on this blog. After much delay, I will stay true to my word. Instead of one comprehensive review, I’ll post on however much I can get through in the morning before I go to work.

Rollins receives quite a compliment from Brian McLaren in the forward: “this is one of the two or three most rewarding books of theology I have read in ten years” (vii). McLaren is right that this is an interesting book. But part of me also wonders if this says more about McLaren’s reading list than the book.

In his introduction, Rollins locates his work between two poles. The first comes from Wittgenstein: “What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence” (xi). And the other: “God is the one subject of whom we must never stop speaking.” The danger with the way we talk about God is that we think we can dissect God. We think we can put God under the microscope and figure out how it’s all linked together. Our speech about God may lead us to a dangerous place where we attempt something like the cartography of God—as Rollins puts it, “to colonize the name ‘God’ with concepts” (xii). But Rollins wants to offer us a way to shape our language according to the language of the mystics. Thus, Rollins summarizes what he takes to be the mystic impulse: “Christians testify to having been caught up in and engulfed by that which utterly transcends them.” (1).

For Rollins, the opposite of mystically driven Christianity is idolatry. He identifies this antithesis to his project early on: “To take our ideas of the divine and hold them as if they correspond to the reality of God is thus to construct a conceptual idol built from the materials of our mind” (2). Rollins identifies the danger of a faith that is wedded to a correspondence theory of knowledge when it comes to the divine. It’s the danger of anthropomorphism. Despite his repetition of a common misconception when it come to the distinction between something called “Greek” and something else called “Hebrew”, Rollins outlines the mystic way (and “Hebraic” way, he says) forward for the emergent communities of faith: “the orthodox Christian as one who believes in the right way” (2; italics mine). And the right way to believe takes the form of love: “the priority of love: not as something which stands opposed to knowledge of God, or even as simply more important than knowledge of God, but, more radically still, as knowledge of God” (3). Thus, “to love is to know God precisely because God is love.” Even though he doesn’t mention it, there are strong resonances with First John.

Tags: reading corner

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Lee // Mar 22, 2007 at 9:42 am

    Hey Isaac, thanks for reviewing this. I’ve heard a lot of buzz about this book, but not enough to convince me that it’s worth spending time with. Looing forward to future installments.

    I also can’t help but think that many of the attacks on “traditional theism” are attacking a straw man. I’m just not convinced that anyone who’s spent time with, say, the Church Fathers or Thomas Aquinas or Luther or Calvin would find that picture confirmed. But I’m interested in learning more.

  • 2 isaac // Mar 22, 2007 at 1:41 pm

    Hi Lee, thanks for the comment. I can’t say that my goal is to get you to buy the book. I think it’s interesting for these emergent people who are in the process of grasping at anything and everything to help them do something with the hardening tradition of their evangelical youth—and, for some reason, they have a hunger for all the sexy “post-modern” stuff. It’s also interesting for people like me who like to eavesdrop on the Evangelicalism. But I’m afraid the book isn’t the key to the revolution we’re all waiting for (at least, that’s how I hear some folks talking about Rollins’ book).

    I hope to do a decent job explicating the book first. I think it deserves a fair reading. Then I will offer some critical engagements.

    By the way, I very much appreciated your patient explication of Augustine’s Enchiridion recently. Also, I meant to comment on your autobiographical notes on atheism. Thanks for telling that story.