One book I have currently had ‘open’ (meaning I should have finished it by now but haven’t), is Peter Rollins’ How (Not) To Speak of God. I’ll save an overall review for a later date. But I wanted to share a thought that comes forth in the early pages of the book.
Peter Rollins hails from Belfast, Ireland, and did his doctoral studies in philosophy. He now leads the emerging group known as Ikon. It is true that Rollins is an adamant advocate for the emerging church. The book is basically an apologetic for emerging theology. But, while there are some things I appreciate and other things I might not appreciate as much within the emerging context, I think Rollins hits on a very pertinent point as we engage with theology (or studying God).
He begins by challenging us with regards to the idolatrous conceptions we have of God. Our ideas of God, our doing of theology, can many times get in the way of the actual greatness and awesomeness and mysteriousness One that God truly is. Rollins states:
Like an aesthetic idol (such as the Golden Calf in the book of Exodus), the conceptual idol refers to any system of thought which the individual or community takes to be a visible rendering of God. The only significant difference between the aesthetic idol and the conceptual idol lies in the fact that the former reduces God to a physical object while the latter reduces God to an intellectual object.
He goes on to help us grasp just how incomprehensible God truly is in all His greatness:
On a more fundamental level, the fact that God’s name is unpronounceable acts as a symbol of God’s otherness. The very fact that the term ‘YHWH’ lacks the vowels needed for pronunciation reminds us that this ‘proper name’ is very improper insomuch as it is impossible to say. Unlike the other references to Israel’s God, which are either generic terms or descriptions of attributes which the Israelites ascribed to God, the term ‘YHWH’ preserves the mystery of God.
Though it can be difficult to admit, there is a call, at times, to see a breaking down (‘deconstruction’) of particular concepts and ideas about God so that we might revel in all that He truly is. Rollins would not argue theology is bad or that we cannot understand something of who God is. But he reminds us, challenges us, that our theology never perfectly grasps the unfathomable One, YHWH. Even more, our theology can become the idol we worship rather than the revealed, and at times unrevealed, One.