The Fidelity of Betrayal: Towards a Church Beyond Belief
Much of protestant Christianity embraces what is referred to as cataphatic or “positive” theology. Often, in reaction to this, there exists a stream of thought which is it’s natural opposite: apophatic or “negative” theology. Apophatic theology refers to that which speaks to what we cannot say about God in relation to doctrine, belief & reason. In this tradition, Peter Rollins seeks to make a readjustment to what he sees as modern Christian thought’s overemphasis on faithfulness, knowledge and systematized belief structures.
Using Hebraic Mythology and Classical Philosophy, Rollins undertakes the task of reasserting a proper place for a belief structure, but one that operates outside of a structure of its own making – and a faith that is beyond faith itself. Rollins makes his case by reassessing the understandings of what faithfulness looks like in the contexts of various biblical characters, and then in the understanding of how we view and understand both God and the scripture.
Rollins’ book can be potentially be seen as a reassertion of what is often termed ‘postmodernist’ thought – in that it strikes against the assertions of modernism and it’s integral foundation: reason. Rollins does a good job of providing an apologetic for the necessity of a destabilization of the Christian faith from the security of aligning it too closely with both human potential and human understanding. In other words, he urges an understanding that the Christian faith has more to do with Christ then it does with Christians – in that we must constantly remind ourselves that it is ‘beyond us.’ He urges us to create a place within our belief for the ‘unbelievable,’ and embrace the understanding that a true fidelity to our faith may mean the rejection of what being true to God & the bible commonly are assumed to mean and interpreted to look like.
Rollins begins his project by initially examining the issue to fidelity – and how it may be actually necessary to be unfaithful to the faith to be truly faithful to it. He explores this through a succession of Hebraic, apocryphal, and biblical stories. He then addresses the idea of approaching the scripture through the indirect, Barthian perspective of seeing ‘The Word’ behind ‘the word.’ Rollins also explores alternate interpretations of the name of God “I Am,” and then what a ‘religionless religion’ might look like. He further explores the idea of what faith & miracles are, and then concludes with what communities that celebrate these ideals, along with their seeming contradictions, could potentially look like when a radically subjective view is adopted rather then the traditional objectification/rationalist positions are espoused.
Rollins does a good job of “unpacking” an apophatic understanding of theology. It is arguable that it is true: that the larger portion of Christian thinkers tend to be almost exclusively cataphatic in their thinking – and reserve a degree of aversion, if not derision, for any apophatic inclinations. Rollins may likewise do a good job of speaking a correction to this balance, but it can also be argued that he may go too far – as is often the case with original and/or corrective thinkers – in seeing his way only, rather then the potential for a more integrated apophatic/cataphatic epistimolologic-theological framework/worldview. Perhaps a further correction might be towards a ‘meta-‘modernity: in which both classical mysticism, modernity, and its counterpart, postmodernity are respected and in – in parts – appropriated. It is certain that what Rollins offers is a fantastic tool – but he may be guilty of inadvertent hypocrisy by insisting that his own ‘tool’ be used as an all encompassing ‘foundation.’ It is argued by some that true theology is both all anthropology (Feuerbach) & all Christology (Barth) as well as classicist-mystical/modern/postmodern in it’s cultural application. Hopefully – if asked – Rollins would agree that true theology is truly transcendent in its relation to all our own epistemological tools, yet – in parts – also grounded in them by virtue of Divine condescension – or as Calvin would say – God’s own “lisp.”