Questioning Theology: Reflections on De-Centering Practices
by Peter Rollins
February 17, 2014
A theology that’s genuinely open to questioning eventually hits a point when it must question itself. In other words, a sustained questioning theology thus inevitably leads to the point of questioning theology.
This means that the very base from which theological questions are asked itself becomes a question. Apophatic theology (the name given to negative theology) here gives way to a type of auto-deconstructive thinking that uproots and upsets confessional theology without leaving it behind.
This is, at any rate, the direction that my own work has taken, from How (Not) to Speak of God through to Idolatry of God and into my forthcoming The Divine Magician. This approach questions confessional theology from within, opening it up to acknowledging the operative forces of contingency, history and fluidity.
More than this, the auto-deconstructive approach to theology is one that opens up a fundamentally different way of understanding faith, an understanding that is rooted in a form of life rather than the affirmation of some particular belief.
Dialectically speaking kataphatic thinking (affirmative theology) gives way to apophatic thinking (negative theology) that in turn opens up to forms of radical theology (a theology that negates the negation of apophatic thought). Although, strictly speaking, one could argue that the experience of the apophatic comes first.
While this might sound rather abstract and theoretical, the point I want to make is fundamentally a pastoral one. For those of us who want to introduce fluidity to confessional theologies that are too rigid, and open up paths toward a radical faith beyond belief (playing on the ambiguity of that phrase) all we need to do is encourage people to ask questions from within the tradition they already find themselves.
In the words of John Caputo, we must help them discover the power of the word ‘perhaps,’ introducing it into the lexicon of their dogmatic assertions. While this can sound simple, the problem is that this requires great courage. As I have argued elsewhere, it’s often easier to die for our beliefs (or kill for them) rather than to question them.
What we must do then is walk this path ourselves, build mutual respect and trust with others in our traditions, and carefully curate spaces that encourage this questioning; providing practices that allow the power of the “perhaps” to deepen and widen.
In my own work I’ve developed what I call De-centering Practices. These are practices that help people undergo a form of lived deconstruction. One that, I believe, opens the way up to a richer, though not necessarily happier, experience of life (what this might mean is a subject that we can’t go into here).
If you’re interested in finding out more about de-centering practices I’d encourage you to watch and discuss the following videos with friends and colleagues. They provide a little information concerning what de-centering practices can look like. There are numerous communities engaging in these practices already and my hope is that you might consider either copying one of those mentioned in the videos, or create one of your own.
Atheism for Lent
The Force of God
Pyrotheology - Salvation for Zombies
The Idolatry of God