Tuesday, September 30, 2008

(In) expressible

The Fidelity of Betrayal: Towards a Church Beyond Belief
by Peter Rollins

Many of us have searched for a long time for a theology that affirms the uniqueness and salvific role of Jesus Christ while at the same recognizing the truth to be found in other faith traditions. I have never been able to reconcile a God who would create each of us and who loves each of us with the exclusive nature of so much "Christian" theology. I think Christians are way too focused on eternal life - we cannot deal with the fact that we do not get to be the ones who decide who is in and who is out. Peter Rollins is finding a way to let God be God and free us to experience God without having to deny the experience of God that others have.

About a year ago I read Rollins's first book How (Not) to Speak of God, and highly recommend starting with that one if you have not been exposed to his ideas before. I really see The Fidelity of Betrayal as a continuation of the ideas he began to articulate in his first book. It is hard to write about this book, because Rollins does amazing things with language, starting with acknowledging how limited language is as a tool to imagine or express an idea of God. In recognizing this limitation, he manages to take a step around (over? through?) it, and in doing so helps the reader see the possibilities of faith as a transformative lifelong event rather than a checklist of doctrines to which we must subscribe.

This is a book that I will read over and over again. It fed my spirit like nothing else I have read in awhile. However, I do not claim to have Rollins's facility with logic or language, so I hesitate to expound on the book too much for fear of unintentionally misrepresenting him. Instead, I will share just a few quotes from the book in hopes of whetting your appetite.

"We are led to embrace the idea of Christianity as a religion without religion, that is, as a tradition that is always prepared to wrestle with itself, disagree with itself, and even betray itself. Second, this requires a way of structuring religious collectives that operate at a deeper level than the mere affirmation of shared doctrines, creeds, and convictions. It involves the formation of dynamic, life-affirming collectives that operate, quite literally, beyond belief (p. 7)."

"By confusing doctrines with the truth of faith we can begin to hold them in such an absolute and unreasonable way that they effectively become crutches that stop us from facing up to the uncertainties of existence. Uncertainties, doubts, and suffering are a part of life, and thus they are a part of faith (which is not an escape from life but a means of entering more fully into it). The truth of faith does not protect us from the unknowing and suffering of mere mortals; rather it provides a means of living with the unknowing and suffering (p. 97)."

"A miracle worthy of the name is so radical that while in the physical world nothing may change, in the one who has been touched by it nothing remains the same...a miracle is signaled by the fact that the entire landscape of our being is transformed and transfigured. For when a miracle takes place, everything changes in the life of the individual-not only the present and the future, but also the past. Let us consider one such miracle, the act of forgiveness. When one forgives nothing changes in the world; everything continues as normal as if nothing had happened. Yet in another sense something of fundamental significance has taken place (p.p. 149-50)."

So, if you have read Rollins, what do you think? Is he the theological wave of the future? Or is he just trying to weasel out of the doctrines that we Christians have held dear for so long? It must be obvious by now what I think, but I would like to know what you think.

You. Must. Read. This.

Reverent Reader


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