How (Not) to Speak of God How (Not) to Speak of God

Peter Rollins
ISBN 9780281057986 (0281057982)
SPCK, 2006

Category: Emerging Church & Postmodern Faith
Reviewed by: Jonny Baker

Congratulations to Pete Rollins on his first book (the first of many I suspect) - How (Not) to Speak of God. The book is in two halves. The first 'Heretical Orthodoxy' explores a theology of the emerging church. The second looks at the outworkings of that in the Ikon community in Belfast with outlines of several of their worship services. It's a fabulous contribution to the emerging conversation... Pete draws on Christian mystics to offer wisdom for how to live in the way of Christ in a postmodern world. As a philosopher he also offers a way of engaging with the postmodern deconstructionists. It is a fascinating and original take. He has a way with words often seemingly speaking in paradoxes and riddles. Though it's a short book it's one with weight and one you need to read a few times (at least I did). Language makes the world and Pete is definitely weaving the universe in a different way with a new vocabulary.

When I first read about postmodern culture and thought several years back, Christians were all very defensive about truth - the postmodern critique of big stories captured in Lyotard's famous quote 'I define postmodern as incredulity towards metanarratives' was seen as threatening, opening the way to relativism. In contrast I was actually quite energised by it. The notion that objective truth simply isn't available to us because we are all situated/embedded and so can't possibly have an objective view is a big relief and pretty obvious! It also explains why the Christian church at times while claiming to have the truth clearly hasn't - it has at times legitimised oppression in the name of God. So a critique that says that all our claims on truth are limited as we can only see in part makes sense. But what it doesn't mean is that truth doesn't exist. We just can't grasp it fully... I concluded back then that minimally Christians needed a lot of humility about truth claims and they needed to be lived out rather than shouted out.

Pete shares this postmodern insight. We need our theology (speech about God) but all the while recognising that this very speech will fail to define God. It is our speech after all... God is the God beyond God. Humility or to use Pete's term a powerless discourse should characterise our way of being. Here's a piece that suggests how Christians should be in the world...

In this way the emerging conversation is demonstrating an ability to stand up and engage in a powerless, space creating discourse that opens up thinking and offers hints rather than orders. In short the emerging community must endeavour to be a question rather than an answer and an aroma rather than food. It must seek to offer an approach that enables the people of God to become the parable, aroma and salt of God in the world, helping to form a space where God can give of God. For too long the church has been seen as an oasis in the desert - offering water to the thirsty. In contrast, the emerging community appears more as a desert in the oasis of life offering silence, space and desolation amidst the sickly nourishment of western capitalism. It is here in this desert as we wander together as nomads, that God is to be found. For it is here that we are nourished by our hunger.

Brian McLaren writes a foreword in the book in which he says this is one of the most rewarding books of theology he has read in ten years! There's a recommendation (and I'm sure Pete must have danced round his kitchen when he read Brian's generous foreword). Way to go Pete! Good luck with the book and the conversations it sparks...

Jonny Baker, May 2006

Jonny Baker is a member of Grace, an alternative worship community based at St Mary's Church, Ealing. He describes himself as being "on a journey exploring how faith connects with contemporary culture" and is co-author with Doug Gay of Alternative Worship.

Review Previously Published by Jonny Baker's Blog. Reused here by kind permission.


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