Speaking of God...

Archived post, originally from 2-9-07

How do we speak of God? I have just finished two works that approach the question from different points of view. Peter Rollins' book, How (Not) to Speak of God suggests that we really can’t say anything about God, and at the same time we need to strive to say something about God. He is coming out of the emergent church movement, and seems to be offering a theology for that movement (which is interesting for a movement that claims to be a-orthodox). Maybe because I previously read Caputo’s work and had that in my mind, or maybe because Caputo recommended the work that I have this feeling, but it seems to be Caputo, light. Specifically The Weakness of God. Rollins offers a nice view of his favorite theologians and theological movements, but does not seem to be offering any deep or profound kind of thoughts. While he does not reference the idea of apophatic and cataphatic theology (he does reference Dionysius), this seems to be the theology that Rollins is advocating. He claims to be apolitical and atheological specifically with different movements, but considering the way he treats the fundamentalists and the evangelicals, and the fact that he would consider talking about “queer” folk in Christianity suggests that he leans towards the progress, open side of theology. Not that their’s anything wrong with that. What I enjoyed about Rollins work is this emphasis on the journey and the space between the words in finding God. God is not found in our concepts, ideas or boxes. We cannot speak of God, and so must rest in the yearning to speak of God. It is a humbling reminder to all of us who strive to do theology.
On the other hand, a bunch of Catholic feminist theologians are trying to suggest different ways to speak of God. I am referring to the work, Freeing Theology, edited by Catherine Mowry LaCugna. It is not specifically the content of the book that is fueling my musing, but the agenda of the feminist movement (and many other theological movements for that matter). They are arguing about how to speak of God. Is God a “He” or a “She?” Elizabeth Johnson suggests that Jesus Christ needs to be understood as the incarnation of the spirit. Mary O’Neil argues that the relationship between many and woman needs to be lifted up over the idea that man and woman complement each other. They are arguing for a specifically way to speak of the church and to speak of God.
Even with Rollins’ book in mind, I cannot find fault with the feminists. They are not so much trying to define God, but trying to change the language that speaks about God. Language that is confining and demeaning effects the spirituality and the experience of many women in the church. To say that we must change the way we speak about God is not to try to force God into a box, but to free people from boxes. To go immediately to silence ignores the experience of the oppressed. I believe that one must move from the language of restriction to the language of liberation to the silence of God. The feminists are making that move towards the silence of God by first freeing their own experience.