Tag Archives: peter rollins

fallible language III: experience of God?


Let’s go back now to a series that I’ve begun last winter but left unfinished, about fallibility of language (find part I and part II here, as well as the apophatic interlude featuring our Friend Rollins) in which we were looking at the way in which language fails us sometimes. This was not (as you would expect from a postmodern like me) from a postmodern viewpoint, but I started from the thought of G.K. Chesterton and mostly from the classical Orthodox tradition, on which I was reading a quite good book, and the church fathers.

I have been writing about the fallibility of language, and about how difficult it is to speak about God, as a created being. One of the most important things here is that we as Christians are in the first place not just expected to know about God (which requires human language) but after all and more important, we are to know God Himself. Christianity is not a gnostic sect in which we are saved by mere knowledge, but a restored relationship with the Source of all Creation (‘God’) through Christ… And relationality entails a completely different sort of ‘knowing’ than academic publishing!

I could say a lot about this, but other people have said much more intelligent things about this subject than I’ll ever do. I do know that in certain protestant circles knowledge of God by any form of ‘personal experience’ is frowned upon, while other traditions, from the Charismatics and Quakers to the Eastern Orthodox, see it as normative in very different ways. Surely, not only experience is important,without wisdom and guidance we don’t even know what we’re following, so we need reason, tradition, scripture and experience or are in problems. But experience is in no way unimportant here. Let’s for example go back to the Orthodox tradition, where speaking about God is considered to be utterly impossible by one who has not experienced God:

Personal experience is requisite to any valid talk about God, from an Orthodox perspective. Such mystical experience of God in the divine energies not only draws us to God, it also confirms within us the appropriateness of both positive and negative theology. We must speak about God because we are Christian; but we must also rise above these concepts, because God is transcendent. Personal experience of God draws us into union with him about whom theology speaks. Without that experience, any such talk about God is vacuous and presumptuous, according to Orthodoxy. (Payton, Light from the East, p 84)

We have to notice here that the goal surely is not just to talk of God, or to be able to make money by writing books about God; He is the Ultimate Reality… And the goal of our life is to be united to Him, and outside of Him we or anything else cannot even exist…

I got a gut feeling that the more we experience of God, the less we will be able to talk about it and the less intellectual systems we will be able to proclaim with absolute modern certainty… Thomas Aquinas, one of the greatest minds of the middle ages, wasn’t able to write anymore after a mystical experience with Christ. When they asked him to resume his writing works, he said that he couldn’t because ‘”all that I have written seems like straw to me”

And this leaves us not with less, but with even more problems in speaking about God, and the paradox of Peter Rollins:

“That which we cannot speak of is the one thing about whom and to whom we must never stop speaking”

Which might make it quite complicating, but who did ever say that it was easy??? It isn’t, and I have a long Way to go here, and maybe not much right to say anything about God… Who just IS beyond all we can say or understand…

What’s your experience here?

shalom

Bram

Holy saturday meditation: momamic (psalters)


Holy Saturday is the darkest day of the Christian year. The day when Jesus has died and is buried in the grave, and not yet come back from the death. The disciples must’ve been pretty devastated. We know how the story ends, but it’s good to for one day try to imagine their feeling.

My holy Saturday meditations mostly are quite dark, like they probably should be. Last years whe had Peter Rollins’ parable and Friedrich Nietzsche’s story of the madman, which both focus on the more metaphysical aspects of the death of Christ, who is God incarnate; but now I want to focus on our human experience in which it looks like God is dead.

Or absent. where is God when cities fall, when people starve in countries without any water, when no stone is left on the other in the ongoing destruction our fellow humans cause each other…

How hard is it for people who have lost everything and who still trust in God, and yet it seems like all there is is death and destruction. Refugees and victims of war, the oppressed and downtrodden… Those with whom Jesus identified when He shared in our suffering…

the next song captures the feeling perfectly for me:

The man in the moon and the man in the cup (psalters)

His step is fallin’ hard tonight.
eve has long broken,
cold black fell open,

Shine burns through fog
we sought for shelter from that light
It’s time we eat that dust up and take It in
It’s where we come from,
where were goin,
where we sin.

We’re the boots put us on tie us up,
You’re the Feet,
You’re the Blood,
we’re the cup

runneth over, runneth over me.

The cold moon is looking down on me

It shines my crooked face,
my wretched bones, my losing race
There’s no escape,
these cruel eyes of stone.

Alone alone alone with that cold moon.
Oh Lord oh Lord oh Lord
You said You were comin’ soon

Good God it’s You we love yeah.
Good God look up above,
there we are smiling down on You

Step in me fill me up,
we’re the boots
we’re the cup

runneth over, runneth over me

Save us from all we’ve done
with the blood of our Father’s Son
until that moon turns blood red,
until my wretched face has gone and fled,
until that moon is washed anew,
until these bones can rest again with You….
with You ….
with You.

peace

Bram

An apophatic video interlude with Peter Rollins…


I’ve been talking about apophatic theology, and the limits of language earlier, and the idea will come back in some future posts. Apophatic or negative theology is a very important way of doing theology in the Eastern Orthodox church and some church fathers. The basic idea is that God the Creator does not exist like we do, and is not bound to words and ideas that are derived from what we know as created beings in Creation, so the only way to speak of God is to say what God is not…

Another tradition that is very suspicious of the preciseness of language, when speaking about anything actually, not just God, would be postmodernist continental philosophy, which is quite popular in certain parts of the emerging church. So here is for you the guy with the coolest accent and the weirdest background music in postmodern christianity, Peter Rollins himself.

And no, whatever the description on youtube says, he could actually not be further away from classical christian liberalism, and fits more between old orthodox mystic apophatic negative theology and postmodern linguistic deconstructionism… Both thought systems that couldn’t be removed further from the rationalist roots of the original Christian liberalism… And yes, some of his stuff here is just semantic wordplay probably… Some atheists would object to his definition of atheism probably, but I see where he’s coming from.

What do you think? Is Pete making sense here? Or is he just talking heresy or plain nonsense to you?

shalom

Bram

hiding the Resurrection life like a candle under a bucket?


(This post was written for the April Synchroblog. It’s one of the most important subjects possible by the way!! )

Like those who read some of my recent posts will know, I’m still struggling with the question ‘what is the good news of the gospel?’ I know there is more to the gospel than ‘we are all evil and deserve hell, but Jesus got killed in our place by God so we can avoid hell if we accept that and pray the sinners prayer. The good news is probably bigger and better news than any scheme I or some smarter guy could come up with anyway.

There is more to the gospel than forgiveness and substitution. (read those 2 posts by 2 guys who are able to explain it much better than I am.) The gospel Jesus preached was about the Kingdom come, Gods reign that’s breaking in into this broken world. And then I’m not even spreaking about the resurrection, something incredible: death has been reversed. Something bigger than we can understand. Jesus, God-who-became-man, died and shared in our suffering, and surrendered Himself to be taken by the powers that hold us humans captive: death, evil and sin. But even though they killed Him, they didn’t have the last word. Death, evil and sin got defeated by Christ. This is why I think the idea of Christus Victor is very important.

But what do we do with the resurrection? Do we believe Jesus died and came back from the death? Do we live like it’s real? Does it change something in the way we live? Should it change sometjing about what we are?

I am here reminded of emergent theolgian Peter Rollins, who famously denies the resurrection with the following reasoning:

Without equivocation or hesitation I fully and completely admit that I deny the resurrection of Christ. This is something that anyone who knows me could tell you, and I am not afraid to say it publicly, no matter what some people may think…

I deny the resurrection of Christ every time I do not serve at the feet of the oppressed, each day that I turn my back on the poor; I deny the resurrection of Christ when I close my ears to the cries of the downtrodden and lend my support to an unjust and corrupt system.

However there are moments when I affirm that resurrection, few and far between as they are. I affirm it when I stand up for those who are forced to live on their knees, when I speak for those who have had their tongues torn out, when I cry for those who have no more tears left to shed.

There’s a lot to say about Pete’s reasoning here. I am indeed affraid that I deny the resurrection most of the time if we take it the way he does in this piece, but I wouldn’t make a either/or of it anyway. We can proclaim the resurrection by just believing that Christ did indeed rise from the death, speaking historically. But what will it help us then? Why is it important to believe in the resurrection? I know that some supposed conservative evangelicals like something like a cross-only gospel, based on Jesus death for us as the most important thing in the universe, which makes good friday more important than good friday, and who find the cross mainly important as an impossibility to be believed in as fact, as if there is any magically saving power in just believing that something happened that goes against our common sense…

No, the resurrection is at least as important as the cross. It’s a new beginning, and without it our faith is worthless, as Paul says. Not because believing the impossible has any power of saving us, but because the resurrection has enormous power, and if we don’t have faith in it we won’t see that in our lives.

As a Charismatic I believe there’s more to believing and living out the resurrection than just the radical love for the poor and downtrodden, but neither the supernatural reality nor the radical love for the least should be minimised in favor of the other, and most of the time I don’t see neither in my own life. So I guess something is wrong with me. Not with the gospel or with the resurrection, but with me, and maybe the christianity I’m part of, but who am I to judge?

To quote Bono:

I believe in the kingdom come,
Then all the colors will bleed into one, Bleed into one
Well yes I’m still running

You broke the bonds and you Loosed the chains
Carried the cross, and all my shame, all my shame
You know I believe it

But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for


The bonds are broken, the chains are gone, the powers of death, evil and sin are defeated and Love and Life will win and have the last word in the end, when heaven and earth meet and God will be all in all. But Christianity is more than looking forward to heaven.

It is also about the inbreaking of the Kingdom in the here and now, about the power of the resurrection becoming manifest in this groaning creation!

And still I’m like a singing bird who’s walking rounds in an open cage. Probably I’m just blinded by the gods of this world, distracted by the life of everyday, but I don’t proclaim the resurrection, I don’t bring it to the world around me who needs it. Maybe some splinters of it from time to time, but I don’t feel like this is it. There is more.

Why am I so distracted? Why is my faith so small. Why am I occupied by the irellevant wasting all my time on things that don’t matter? If time is an indicator of what’ s important to me, then I’m not at all giving much op for the ‘pearl of greath worth’ for which some sell all they have to obtain it. Following Christ is not just a hobby! No greater news can there be…

Then why am I just wasting most my time?

Lord Jesus Christ, Living son of God, have mercy!!

shalom

Bram

Here are the other contributions to the synchroblog:
Phil Wyman at Square No More –  Apocalyptic fervor spurs benevolent giving
Marta Layton at Marta’s Mathoms – Getting Out From Behind The Rock
Mike Victorino at  Simply A Night Owl – Crawling Out From Under A Rock
John Paul Todd at E4Unity - Still Asleep In the Light
Patrick Oden at Ravens – A Resurrection
Brambonius at Brambonius’ blog in english - hiding the Resurrection life like a candle under a bucket?
George Elerick at The Love Revolution – (for)getting the resurrection
Liz Dyer at Grace Rules – I Will Answer That Question In A Minute, But First, I Want To Talk About Jesus
Jeff Goins at Jeff Goins Writer – Resurrection
Tammy Carter at Blessing the Beloved – Rock and a Hard Place
Kathy Escobar at the carnival in my head – little miracles
Christen Hansel at Greener Grass – Resurrection Rhythm
Alan Knox at the assembling of the church – Living The Resurrected Life
Christine Sine at Godspace – Palm Sunday Is Coming But What Does It Mean
Matt Stone at Glocal Christianity – Living The Resurrection
Steve Hayes at Khanya – Descent into Hell and penal substitution
Bill Sahlman at Creative Reflections – Do We Live Under a Rock of Belief?

Holy saturday meditation (from Peter Rollins)


Let us imagine that we have died and are waiting to stand before the judgement seat of God … Try to imagine how it feels to look over your life – what you are happy about and what you regret… Now imagine being brought into a magnificent room within which there is a great white throne. Upon this throne is a breath-taking being who shines as if full of light…
After a moment the one who sits on the throne begins to speak: ‘My name is Lucifer and I am the angel of light. I have cast your God from his throne and banished Christ to the realm of eternal death. It is I who hold the keys to this kingdom. I am the gatekeeper of paradise and it is for me to decide who shall enter and who shall be forsaken.’
Now imagine that this angel stretches out his vast arms and says, ‘In my right hand I hold eternal life and in my left I hold death. For those who would bow down and acknowledge me as Lord, I shall grant them safe passage into paradise, but those who refuse I will vanquish to death with their Christ.’
After this the devil rnoves his arms so that each of his hands is placed before you and asks, ‘What do you choose?’


It is only as we experience Holy Saturday that we can ask whether we would follow Christ regardless of heaven or heil, regardless of pain or pleasure, whether we would follow in the midst of the uncertainty that Holy Saturday brings to our lives. It is only here that we can ask if we have truly offered ourselves to God for no reason other than the desire to offer ourselves as a gift. Faith does not die here, rather it is forged here.

(from the book ‘How (not) to speak of God’ by PeterRollins)

Would you still follow Jesus? Would I?

Do we follow Jesus for Jesus, or would we just take any way to eternal life available? whatever it would involve?