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How (Not) to Speak of God Paperback – August 1, 2006

4.2 out of 5 stars 42 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In the first half of this powerful but frustratingly opaque book, debut author Rollins summarizes some of the theological ideas that the so-called emerging church is currently exploring: the importance of doubt and silence, the limits of apologetics, and the idea that God is concealed even as God is revealed. He skillfully scrutinizes Christian teaching though the lens of postmodern (especially deconstructionist) theory, and argues that Christians should both affirm their views of God and recognize that those views are inadequate. The second half comprises a set of liturgies that Rollins's religious community, an Irish group called Ikon, has employed. One service explores "divine absence" through a parable and a reading from Pascal. A ceremony for Advent uses sackcloth and ashes to highlight the penitential nature of the season. If most of these liturgies are affecting, some are a little hokey—in a concluding service called "Queer," for example, participants wrap stones, representing their prejudices, in Bubble Wrap. While this may prove an important book for some younger Christian leaders, dense prose will limit its audience: "God's interaction with the world is irreducible to understanding, precisely because God's presence is a type of hyper-presence." Nonetheless, a very enthusiastic foreword from Emergent elder statesman Brian McLaren will help create buzz. (Aug.)
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The emerging church is not just a term to describe a new movement for congregations that are just beginning; every congregation should see itself as emerging into the next stage of its journey, and this book will be an important tool on our journey as we think of how we speak or do not speak of God in this time in which we live. Congregations , 2007
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Paraclete Press (August 1, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1557255059
  • ISBN-13: 978-1557255051
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.5 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #325,010 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Peter Rollins is a provocative writer, lecturer, storyteller and public speaker who has gained an international reputation for overturning traditional notions of religion and forming "churches" that preach the Good News that we can't be satisfied, that life is difficult, and that we don't know the secret.

Challenging the idea that faith concerns questions relating to belief Peter shows that an incendiary and irreligious reading of Christianity is possible: one that destroys the distinction between sacred and secular, blurs the lines between theism and atheism and sets aside questions regarding life after death to explore the possibility of a life before death.

This approach has been christened "pyrotheology," and aims at burning up the basic assumptions that both critics and advocates of religion hold concerning the life of faith.

Peter gained his higher education from Queens University, Belfast and has earned degrees (with distinction) in Scholastic Philosophy (BA Hons), Political Theory (MA) and Post-Structural thought (PhD). He is the author of numerous books, including Insurrection, The Idolatry of God and The Divine Magician. He was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, currently lives in LA and will die.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
One of the problems with a book like this is that you wonder if it will ever be read by anyone outside the community it describes. Rollins is attempting to describe the philosophical underpinnings of the "emerging church" or the conversation that is taking place around the world about how to approach the Christian faith in a post-modern era.

To do this he brings the work of deconstructionist theory, and the history of Christian mysticism, to theology and faith. In doing so he tries to avoid the dichotomy of fundamentalist faith on the one had and relativistic nihilism on the other. He wants to challenge and re-imagine the Christian faith without abandoning its core meaning.

This is not an easy task. I have a feeling that a great many more traditional Christians will be turned off by 1) what they will perceive as a threat to orthodoxy; and 2) by its language rooted in post-modern criticism and theory.

But I would recommend that this book be read in the spirit in which is written. Instead of viewing it as a threat to orthodox Christianity, view it as a challenge and a source of potential insight. Rollins certainly challenges traditional ways of thinking about theology and faith.

His deconstructionist approach to knowledge and truth will feel awkward and potentially heretical to most Christians, and it isn't always easy to sift through the language, but there are a number of keen insights for those who put in the effort.
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I purchased this book solely because of the enthusiasm of noted pastor and author Brian McLaren, who described it as "one of the two or three most rewarding books of theology I have read in ten years." I wish I could echo McLaren's plaudits, but cannot. Indeed, after having read several of McLaren's own books and found them quite meaningful, I'm hard-pressed to see how he could have found so much of value in this one.

Peter Rollins, a young theologian and member of the Ikon Community from Northern Ireland, seeks here to view God through the lens of postmodernism and its skepticism about being able to reach neutral, logical judgments untainted by cultural or subconscious influences. Initially, Rollins has much to say about how the very existence of differing voices and perspectives in Scripture itself support a postmodern approach, about how "ideology" (the construction of logical descriptions of God) can become another form of "idolatry" (the construction of falsifying physical images of God), and about how one may unable to perceive God due, paradoxically, to God's overwhelming presence, much as one is blinded by staring straight into the sun. But, as the book goes on, Rollins seems so insistent on dwelling on God's unknowability, otherness, and "hypernomous" absence, one begins to get the sense that God is slipping out of focus and out of reach, as a dark, unsearchable void that we are expected to believe merely seems a void because of God's hyper-presence. So much time is spent on rejecting our notions of God, we are left with little but the gaping hole where those notions used to be.
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"How (Not) to Speak of God" is one of the most thought-provoking and hope-filled books I've ever read. I know I will read this book over and over. Ever since reading it, the content of this book has been transforming me in so many ways. The book is divided into two parts. The first part is the theoretical portion of the book and basically proposes a new way of believing. Speaking as a practitioner and philosopher within the "emerging church," Rollins proposes that this revolution occurring within the Church is not a revolution of WHAT we believe but instead HOW we believe. The second part of the book, which by itself would have been worth the price of the book, is a description of ten different services, Rollins calls them "theodramas," from Rollins' faith community in Belfast, which is called IKON. These ten services help to bring the first half of the book into the practical expression of a faith community.

In short, this book spurred my imagination to picture a Christianity for tomorrow's world. And the picture Rollins presents is one that brings me great hope.
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Format: Paperback
Peter Rollins has written an eminently readable, at times entertaining book on Christian spirituality (I'm not sure that he would be comfortable with the generic label of 'theology', for reasons that will become clear if you read How [Not] to Speak of God). The book is divided into two halves. The first lays out the theoretical framework of the emerging 'conversation' that Rollins and his fellow religious seekers are a part of. The second outlines ten worship services held by Rollins' Ikon group in Belfast. Before the description of each service is a 1 to 2 page synopsis of the theoretical background of the service's theme. These services are, in places, quite moving, and, despite all their irreverent dramatics (e.g., they are held in a bar, one involves the burning of religious pictures, etc.), I think they will appeal to a wide range of believers because they are, cosmetics aside, very traditional in their theological/religious message.

There are, however, some serious faults to be found in the theoretical chapters. The biggest, for me, is Rollins' reluctance to make exclusionary, normative statements. For instance, he argues that Scripture is properly approached through the interpretative lens of love. In the same vein, the details of what one believes are less important than the fact that one is able to hold those beliefs in a loving manner, which encourages one's love for God and the world. Rollins believes that by nominating love as the criterion of discernment of proper faith he has both headed off the charge of relativism and left his system open to a competition of beliefs and ideas that can guard against the idolatry of neat and inflexible dogma.
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