I purchased this book solely because of the enthusiasm of noted pastor and author Brian McLaren, who described it as "one of the two or three most rewarding books of theology I have read in ten years." I wish I could echo McLaren's plaudits, but cannot. Indeed, after having read several of McLaren's own books and found them quite meaningful, I'm hard-pressed to see how he could have found so much of value in this one.
Peter Rollins, a young theologian and member of the Ikon Community from Northern Ireland, seeks here to view God through the lens of postmodernism and its skepticism about being able to reach neutral, logical judgments untainted by cultural or subconscious influences. Initially, Rollins has much to say about how the very existence of differing voices and perspectives in Scripture itself support a postmodern approach, about how "ideology" (the construction of logical descriptions of God) can become another form of "idolatry" (the construction of falsifying physical images of God), and about how one may unable to perceive God due, paradoxically, to God's overwhelming presence, much as one is blinded by staring straight into the sun. But, as the book goes on, Rollins seems so insistent on dwelling on God's unknowability, otherness, and "hypernomous" absence, one begins to get the sense that God is slipping out of focus and out of reach, as a dark, unsearchable void that we are expected to believe merely seems a void because of God's hyper-presence. So much time is spent on rejecting our notions of God, we are left with little but the gaping hole where those notions used to be. And Rollins's insistence that desire for God must be purely untainted by even the slightest traces of self-gain lead to ludicrous statements such as that a true gift must be one in which a) the recipient is not aware of having received a gift at all, b) the giver is not aware of having given a gift at all, and c) no actual gift was given or received at all. (In the words of Noah, "Riiiiiiiiight....")
Similarly, although there is nothing to suggest Rollins rejects the Easter experience, he claims that the only "pure" faith in Jesus would come from a "Holy Saturday" perspective wherein one would elect to follow Christ while thinking him dead, buried, and rotten, his mission a failure. Once you bring the Resurrection into it, Rollins claims, you are merely aligning yourself with Christ because of wanting to be "on the winning side," or of selfishly wanting to "get to heaven." But, one might well reply, is wishing to be in the presence of God (whether one considers it in "heaven," the "Kingdom" or "New Jerusalem," or merely some form of non-corporeal, non-sensible spiritual intimacy) necessarily tainted by having an element of self-interest? If, say, God loves us and wants us to be with God for eternity, is wanting the very same thing somehow unworthy? My sense of much of the book is that Rollins would say "yes" -- that, for him, the only real faith is that of following quixotically, knowing defeat and death will be your only reward. With all due respect to Rollins, one might well wonder if this approach might contain the seeds of spiritual pride; the notion that "my faith is so pure, I'll follow you without expecting anything in return" seems, to me, to be placing oneself on a level of equality to and independence from God. Is that the faith Christ calls for?
The essential weakness I see in Rollins's book is that he is so wrapped up in the sense of God's otherness and incomprehensibility, he fails to give sufficient weight, at least in these pages, to the significance of the Incarnation, of Jesus as "God in human form," and, being in human form, making God (even if a tiny subset of God's immense being) comprehensible to humans in a way we can understand. While Rollins dismisses modernist, logical theology as "belonging more to Athens than Jerusalem," the sense I got was that Rollins's own thought in this book was closer to Tibet than either of them -- a view of God that might warm the heart of a Zen master, but that would puzzle Jews of Jesus's time no less than it would Christians of the Scholastic or Enlightenment eras. In short, while Christ offers us bread and wine as his body and blood, Rollins here offers slices of fog and a chalice-ful of mist -- hardly, for me, "food indeed" or "drink indeed."