Jun 6, 2007

Our first class on Peter Rollins' book How (Not) to Speak of God introduced the emerging church and discussed Chapter 1 of How (Not) to Speak of God: God rid me of God.

Summarizing the class. In the wake of modernity, a situation often called post-modernity, we are living in a time where metanarratives, those universally agreed upon "big stories" about values, have been dismantled. No longer can we assume that the people in our neighborhoods, cities, nation or world share the same religious or metaphysical vision as we do. As Nietzsche declared, "God is dead" for many people. Given this situation, the emerging church is attempting to proclaim the truth of God in a world where truth is not self-evident and where people are suspicious of claims of certainty. What then is the recommendation of the emerging church?

Rollins begins How (Not) to Speak of God by noting that our speech about God is always flawed and potentially self-interested. Thus, the way to proceed as a post-modern believer is to note that "naming God is never really naming God but only naming our understanding of God." This shift of emphasis begins to elevate orthopraxy (right practice) over orthodoxy (right belief). Or, in the formulation of Rollins, the emerging church is making a shift from emphasizing "right belief" to "believing in the right way," a way that is "loving, sacrificial, and Christlke in manner."

To defend this point, Rollins warns against conceptual and linguistic idolatry, where we begin to think our current understanding of God IS God. Thus, it is important for Christians to routinely pray the prayer of Meister Eckhart: "God rid me of God." That is, we ask God to continually to rid us of all the bad notions and ideas we routinely ascribe to God. This move keeps us humble and searching, a much better place to begin as Christians in the post-modern situation.


gjc06b said...

The following is taken from the introduction of "The Holy Spirit in Counseling, Vol. 1 Theology & Theory", by Marvin Gilbert and Raymond Brock.

"Theology (Man's words about God) describe God as ultimate; He transcends the realm of finite reality that we inhabit. Thus, no finite reality can express God directly and properly. Whatever we say about God of to God needs to have special meaning and is often best expressed symbolically. Tillich (1958) stated that God must be expressed symbolically because symbolic language alone is able to express the ultimate. The langauge of faith is the language of symbols.

But modern Man is becoming "symbol-less." Westerner civilization prides itself in what it calls being "free from superstition"; much of that pride is good. Pragmatists like William James defined a rational way of reasoning and problem-solving. This has helped to lead us away from the errors of a superstitious way of thinking. However, the modern Westerner does not understand the extent of the grip of "rationalism." Rationalsim has destroyed our capacity to respond to our own psychic needs for symbolic thinking, and indeed, for symbols themselves.

If we have lost the capacity to react to symbols and to use symbols, then we are at the mercy of a technological world that has dehumanized the spiritual realm. Our moral and spiritual tradition is disintegrating and we now pay the price of separation from the universe around us."

In this sense, when I say "God" I do not mean to delineate what God means but rather I refer to that entity of God above and beyond what I may know or think about him. We know that we cannot fully know God. As we come to know God better, we learn how poorly we indeed know him. However, we can still express the entity of God by using the symbol of the word, "God."

Richard Beck said...

Great stuff. Rollins, in Chapter 3, makes a very similar move to the one you are making here. He speaks of speech about God being "iconic," similar to Gilbert and Brock's word "symbolic." That is, our language is pointing to God rather than reducing God to verbal categories. As I've read recently, in the words of Gillian Rose our language is always "falling toward" God.


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