Posts Tagged ‘speech’

Peter Rollins on Gospel Speech

I’m headed over to Harvard Divinity School today to check out a lecture by a writer/thinker I’ve only recently discovered — Peter Rollins.  His first book, How (Not) To Speak of God (2007), deals with some of the philosophical and religious undergirdings of the emerging church conversation that has been taking place over the last decade or so.  In this book, which I am working through currently, Rollins (who is from Belfast, Ireland, where he started an innovative faith community) challenges the post-Enlightenment assumptions that we can wrap our minds around the unknowable God of the universe (he calls this idolatry), instead suggesting that our posture be more subdued and humble.  (without throwing religious faith out altogether and adopting a more humanistic view)  The emerging conversation about the Christian faith is as good a place as any, Rollins asserts, for Christians to ask the kinds of questions that need to be asked in a post-everything (Christendom, modernity, yada yada).

I like this passage, where Rollins deals with something we’ve talked about on this blog before: gospel “speech.” (previous post)  He takes it a tad deeper, you might say, to the theological reasons why I am not crazy about the traditional Evangelical models for “giving an answer.”  Check it out:

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.  In contrast to the kind of sermon that attempts to answer thought by providing a clear explanation of a passage or area of Christian life, the emerging community is in a unique place to embrace a type of communication that opens up a thought by asking questions and celebrating complexity.

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.  This offers a type of Copernican revolution in which the individual no longer imposes a logos upon the divine but rather is placed under the shadow of the divine logos.


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  space in which others can seek for themselves.

The next post will show how Rollins is merely enacting an ancient and good practice of his own people, the Celts. Oh, and if any locals are interested in today’s lecture, here are the details:

Harvard Divinity School (45 Francis Ave, Cambridge, MA) in Andover Hall, Room 103. 12:15-2:15 pm.