I’m currently reading through a little book by Peter Rollins called How (Not) to Speak of God. Rollins seeks to lay out some of the theory and praxis behind the movement known as the “emerging church,” and in so doing attempts to re-emphasize what is sometimes referred to as the “apophatic” strand of Christian tradition. Put briefly, this tradition sees God as so radically transcendent that it is more appropriate to speak of him in terms of negation—what he is not—because all of our positive statements fail to capture his essence, and communicate only our own understanding of God.
Rollins uses the term “hypernymity” to blend this sense of God’s hiddeness and mystery with his immanence—kind of like an information and sensory overload, or “excess of presence.” This concept is thought to open the door to a more mystical and less binary understanding of God which embraces apparent paradoxes or “creative tensions.” Doubt is seen as a proper part of belief, rather than something to be gradually shed as faith matures.
With this concept of hypernymity (which, I fear, I have understood and explained rather poorly) in mind, consider the following quote:
The believer who encounters serious doubt does not renounce his or her faith but rather uses it as an opportunity to affirm it. We may call this acknowledgment of doubt a Holy Saturday experience (a term that refers to the 24 hours nestled between the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ). This day marked a moment of great uncertainty and darkness for the followers of Jesus. Yet it is precisely in the midst of a Holy Saturday experience that the decision to follow Christ becomes truly authentic. A faith that can only exist in the light of victory and certainty is one which really affirms the self while pretending to affirm Christ, for it only follows Jesus in the belief that Jesus has conquered death. Yet a faith that can look at the horror of the cross and still say ‘yes’ is one that says ‘no’ to the self in saying ‘yes’ to Christ. If one loses one’s life only because one believes that this is the way to find it, then one gives up nothing; to truly lose one’s life, one must lay down that life without regard to whether or not one finds it. Only a genuine faith can embrace doubt, for such a faith does not act because of a self-interested reason (such as fear of hell or desire for heaven) but acts simply because it must. A real follower of Jesus would commit to him before the crucifixion, between the crucifixion and the resurrection, and after the resurrection. (emphasis added)
Now while I’m all for recognizing human epistemological limitations, and while I would certainly affirm that doubt is a normal, even necessary part of faith, and while I acknowledge that little context is provided for this quote and that I have not completed the book, I found myself disagreeing strongly with Rollins here. Does anyone else think this sounds suspicious? Does a faith that depends on the resurrection really only affirm the self? Is the authenticity of one’s commitment to Jesus really measured by whether or not one “needs” the resurrection? Does the need for Christ’s victory over death make one’s faith somehow less worthy? Is doubt a virtue in and of itself?
A lot of stuff goes through my mind when I read a quote like this, and I could certainly write a good deal more – especially about the importance of the resurrection and the defeat of evil… But I’m curious to hear if others have any thoughts? Am I missing something obvious here? I think that Rollins’ concept of a “hypernonymous” God who is transcendentally immanent and at least partially resists human conceptualization may be a useful one, but I don’t know that I’m willing to go as far as Rollins seems to be advocating here…