I posted last week about my experience over the last number of years coming to terms with my faith and breaking out of the evangelical cocoon that I felt trapped in. One of the subjects I touched on was the issue of doubt and it generated a bit of good discussion. I’d like to explore this topic a little further here. The quotes here are taken from a book entitled How (Not) To Speak of God by Peter Rollins (a Belfast boy!) whom I think does a great job of putting into words what many people feel and think.
Here what I’d like to touch on is an aspect of evangelical Christianity that seeks to give answers to the spiritual questions that people have. What I find most disturbing is that this vein of Christianity is prideful in that it supposes to know God. Now to be sure, the scriptures talk about knowing God and the fact that God is revealed in the scriptures and in Jesus but this revelation is simultaneously concealment. In other words, when we seek to talk about God we must recognize that God is beyond our words and cannot be contained by them. If you have God all figured out and He fits nicely in your head then that thing which you are talking about is not God. This idea of God being beyond our language is something I think is missing in much of evangelical Christianity. We think we can put forward propositional statements about God that are true in and of themselves while failing to realize that these words cannot contain the God we seek to talk about. Anyways, let’s take a look at some quotes from Pete’s book:
“In contrast to the view that evangelism is that which gives an answer for those who are asking, we must have faith to believe that those who seek will find for themselves…If this is true, then the job of the Church is not to provide an answer – for the answer is not a phrase or doctrine – but rather to help encourage the religious question to arise.”
I don’t know about you but in my experience of Christianity I was always being trained on how to give an answer. In fact, this is what modern day apologetics is all about. Defending the faith by way of reason. But if it’s true that God is beyond all language then there really aren’t any propositional statements we can give to people to satisfy them. This is true in my experience as well. I find that the more propositional statements about God I’m given the more I cringe and seek to be embraced by a God that cannot be contained by our knowing. At any rate, I think what Pete touches on here is key. The Church is to “help encourage the religious question to arise.” In fact, didn’t Jesus say something about the Church being the “salt” of the world (Mt. 5)? Salt adds flavour to a meal and makes one thirsty. Salt gives you a taste of the meal but it is not the meal itself. Salt causes you to thirst but it cannot satisfy that thirst. Rather, it points towards something else. In my experience with evangelical Christianity we’ve always sought to give people answers. Perhaps we’d be better off asking questions that will help people realize they are thirsty.
“Christianity thus engages in a pragmatic discourse which intends towards the one who lies beyond all language. As such, the language of faith is at its best when it both remembers its profound limitations and simultaneously places us in a clearing within which we can be addressed by God.”
Here God is described as the One who “lies beyond all language”. I think this is important for Christians to remember. We don’t know God fully. You cannot reason your way to God because he is above reason and language and these things cannot contain Him.
“The silence that is part of all God-talk is not the silence of banality, indifference or ignorance but one that stands in awe of God. This does not necessitate an absolute ‘silencing’, whereby we give up speaking of God, but rather involves a recognition that our language concerning the divine remains silent in its speech.”
“Central to this approach is the idea that God stands outside our language regimes and cannot be colonized via any power discourse. This means that the Christian faith is extrapolated via a powerless discourse which, at its most evangelical, attempts to create a space in which others can seek for themselves. Consequently, one of the roles of the Church is to provide a sacred space for this exploration.”
I think this is a great picture of the Church and one that remains faithful to the scriptures. I don’t know about you but if I’m listening to someone talking and they are speaking as if they have the answer I’m immediately turned off. The Christian faith isn’t presented in the scriptures as a destination people reach when they’ve come to a right understanding of God. Rather, the Christian faith is presented as a journey that is embarked upon where the pilgrim is taken up and embraced by God. We don’t embrace God with our thoughts and our words. Rather, we are embraced by God.
“So in a sense, when it comes to God, we have nothing to say to others and we must not be ashamed of saying it. Our approach must be a powerless one which employs words as a way of saying that we have been left utterly breathless by a beauty that surpasses all words. This does not mean that we remain silent – far from it. The desire to get beyond language forces us to stretch language to its very limits. As Samuel Beckett once commented, we use words in order to tear through them and glimpse at what lies beneath. This is why the mystics would write so extensively about how nothing can be written and would preach beautiful sermons about the futility of words.”
“God is not revealed via our words but rather via the life of the transformed individual.”
To my fellow brothers and sisters, let us cease striving to have all the answers because this just makes us seem arrogant and proud. May we realize that our faith does not need defending and God cannot be contained by our words. Instead, let us be salt. May we be the aroma rather than the food, the question rather than the answer. May we be a hint rather than a propositional statement.