How (Not) To Speak of God

Peter Rollins’ book How (Not) To Speak of God (Brewster: Paraclete, 2006) gives voice to the phenomenon of the emergent church in remarkable ways. Rather than engaging in deductive and increasingly abstract reasoning in the tradition of classical theology, Rollins tells a multitude of parables, speaking at the intersection between the profoundly Biblical and the postmodern.

Here are just a couple of samples of the interesting things Rollins has to say:

“Not only is Christianity atheistic insomuch as it rejects ideas of God which stand opposed to those found in its own tradition (the early Christians were called atheists because of their rejection of those deities worshipped by the Romans), but there is also a sense in which Christianity is atheistic because it rejects its own understanding of God. For a Christian who does not simultaneously reject the idea of God that he or she affirms implicitly claims that the one he or she worships can be held within his or her systems of belief” (p.97).

Such statements reflect an appreciation for the mystics who spoke so eloquently about the limitations of language, creating a space for God through their words, rather than filling the void with their inadequate statements (see p.42).

One of my favorite parables is this one:

There is an ancient story, passed down through the generations that tells of a group of unknown disciples who witnessed the bloody crucifixion of Christ. Not able to stay another moment in the place were their Messiah had just been crucified they packed their few belongings and left for a distant shore. With great sorrow they turned their back on the place of their birth, never to return. Instead they founded an isolated community far away from Jerusalem. On the first night that they set up camp each disciple vowed to keep the ground holy, they promised that as long as they were permitted to live they would keep the memory of Christ alive and endeavour to follow the way that he had once taught.

The community lived in great solitude for over a hundred years, spending their days reflecting upon the life of Jesus and attempting to remain faithful to his ways. All this despite the overwhelming sorrow in their hearts and the harrowing sacrifices that such a dedicated life required.

Endless days passed until at dawn one morning, a small band of missionaries stumbled upon the isolated settlement. These preachers of the Word where amazed by the community that they found, they were startled by the fact that these dedicated disciple’s of Christ had no knowledge of his resurrection and ascension. Without hesitation the missionaries gathered together the entire community and taught them about the events that had transpired after the horrific crucifixion of their Lord, telling them of His victory over sin and death and the subsequent rewards we can partake of because of this.

That evening there was a great celebration in the camp. Yet, as the night grew dark, one of the younger missionaries noticed that the leader of the community was absent. This bothered the young man and so he set out to look for the elder. After some time he eventually found the leader kneeling in the corner of a small hut, on the fringe of the village, praying and weeping.

”Why are you in such sorrow”, asked the missionary in amazement “for now is the hour for great celebration”.

”Indeed” replied the elder, who was all the while crouched on the floor, ‘this is an hour for rejoicing, but it is also a time for great sorrow”.
“For over a hundred years we have followed the ways taught to us by Christ. We emulated his teachings faithfully even though it cost us deeply, and we remained resolute despite the belief that death had defeated Him and would one day defeat us also”.

The elder slowly got to his feet and looked the missionary compassionately in the face.

”Each day we have forsaken our very lives for Him. Why? Because we judge Him wholly worthy of the sacrifice, wholly worthy of our being. You find me now, praying for myself and for my future generations, for I am fearful that we may one day follow him not because we love Him and believe him to be worthy of that love, but rather because we love ourselves and want the treasures of eternal life that he offers”.

After offering these thoughts to the young missionary, the elder left the hut and made his way to the celebration, leaving the teacher on his knees in quiet contemplation.”

(According to this site, this was adapted from an Islamic story. Rollins (p.122) attributes it to Jon Hatch).

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