If you take the time to explore the building just off James St. North on Cannon, you might stumble upon a fantastic little community called The Commons. It was at The Commons that I met Matt Thompson, a kindred spirit who persuaded me to join him on a trip to Baltimore to hear John D. Caputo at an event hosted by Home Brewed Christianity. Last spring, Matt Thompson, Adam Getty and myself were rewarded, with not only the opportunity to hear Jack speak, but also a chance of sharing a beer with him.
After some discussion, we felt that it would be beneficial to open up the conversation to others at the Commons and in our networks. Although we had originally planned on reading one of Caputo’s texts, we’ve opted to read Peter Rollins‘ book “How (Not) to Speak of God.“
As a way of beginning, I thought it would be good to make some preliminary remarks on my own relationship to the text and thereby situate some of my own commentary.
Although there are many points of reference between Caputo, Rollins and myself, the point that brings us together is an admiration of Derrida and “deconstruction.” One way I’ve learned to approach deconstruction, through my work at ICS, is by thinking about the movement between determinate action and the principles that inspire it (Caputo often uses the words “name” and “event” to describe this dynamic). Attempts by law to respond to the call of justice is an example of the movement between determinate action (law) and principles that inspire it (justice). When injustice, like poverty occurs in a community, justice demands that we take responsible action. An action to this effect might result in a law that alleviates pressure on the poor by providing affordable housing. In this way, determinate action, in the form of law, brings about justice. Determinate actions, therefore, enable or reveal the presence of the principle. Yet, this action is always partial. As a community grows and changes with time, using the money allocated for affordable housing elsewhere, like rehab centers for example, might prove to be a more just course of action. This demonstrates that determinate action cannot replace the principle it attempts to embody. The two are not interchangeable because actions are always determinate and particular, while principles, like justice, demand universality. As a result, we must always be willing to suspend the consequences of determinate action in the name of the principle that they attempt to follow. Deconstruction describes the necessity of both determinate action and universal principles while appreciating the call and response movement between them. As Christians we often try to articulate this dynamic by discussing the difference between the letter of the law and the spirit of the law.
Rollins’ book, “How (Not) to Speak of God,” is an attempt to think about this movement in relation to the determinate actions of religious communities–how Christian’s attempt to name God–and the principle or call to be formed in God’s image. To this effect, Rollins’ introduction describes the movement between not being able to speak of God, on the one hand, and needing to speak of God on the other. Rollins’ work offers a helpful point of entry into discussions of biblical interpretation—how does one read a book whose primary topic is the (un)speakable nature of God? At the same time, Rollins does an excellent job making connections between postmodern thought and religious practices. For these reasons I’m excited for the conversations that this book has the potential to encourage and I look forward to our first meeting next week.
As an aside, a friend of mine hosted an AMA with Rollins on Reddit that’s worth scrolling through.