And so we come to systematic theology. Schneider decided that she has to get down to God-talk, and do some doctrine. So this chapter has a bit of theory, followed by some constructive theology in two parts: firstly on water, and secondly on rock. God is fluid and porous. The notion of linguistic competence is in the background throughout.
The theory is actually fairly familiar stuff for anyone used to reading constructive theology. She lays down the principle of metaphoric exemption at the beginning which is somewhere between apophatic theology and a theory of the indeterminacy of language: ‘everything we think or say, teach or proclaim, believe or catechize, is not God, not the Deep, not multiplicity, not enough.‘ (p153, italics original)
She then starts to work her theology around the two poles of the greatness and the there-ness of God. That God evades our knowledge, but at the same time is known in the most familiar, intimate, and experiential moments of life. God is there. God comes. Schneider calls this a contradiction: presumably one of experience rather than a logical contradiction. Whilst she doesn’t mention the terms, it is difficult to avoid being reminded of the puzzle of a transcendent/immanent God.
Knowledge about God is therefore cast back upon our local, particular forms of language and life. All our knowledge and life is a shared experience, and so knowing God is an attempt at developing fluency in theological talk and practice. Fluency rather than mastery: the ability to try out new formulations, assess their results and listen flexibly. Schneider wants us to be poets of the divine in the sense in which we can both experiment with and destroy our language.
She wants to preserve the open-endedness of God-talk, that makes it ever open to revision. Rather than being soothed into blessed assurance, we should be able to talk without self-assertion. Like adults. Which is why we need an image of God that is not static and reliable but dynamic and supple, open to transformation (and here she refers to the ways in which Theology has overcome challenges posed by the Copernican revolution by adaptation rather than resistance).
Such a theology is porous, it does not insist on its own boundaries. Just as our bodies and lives are not as self-contained as we would like to think (we moult, sweat, change shape and are regenerated), so there can be no hard and fast separation between God and the World. Which is not to say that they break down into each other, but that you can’t necessarily see the join, though you can make the reference. Difference is not static, but dynamic and ever-changing.
The ways in which we are in the world as non-monadic beings is in other ways reflected in God’s being-with the world. We know God through the flesh, and indeed Christian theology must begin with the flesh, because without the fleshiness of the world, there is no God. Which is to say that to think divinity without incarnation is reductive theology, rather than a more fully transcendent theology.
Thoughts for reflection: in contrast to the last chapter, Schneider refers to her task here as a dialect rather than a logic of multiplicity, and this obviously reflects her concern with localised thought. In responding to the challenge of weaving together the skepticism of her metaphoric exemption with the chaos of experiential God-talk, she asks ‘Might divinity be responsive like an idiom, specific and local like a dialect? Might theology thereby articulate localized concepts, language, and practices of faith that assume postures of fluency rather than mastery?’ (p155) She contrasts this with the ‘Constantinian’ temptation to making a universal dialect (and presumably this would apply to all sources of authority too, including scripture). A beautiful advantage of this approach is the different implications a doctrine may have in the various dialects. A good example arises when she locally interprets the doctrine of immutability: ‘The God Who Does Not Change is the fantasy lover who will never age, never look away, never betray.’ (p157) Granted. But surely it is also a remedy to the fantasy of an infinitely pliable lover, who (like Pooh) always wants what I want? In conversation we may develop an even more particular and specified dialect, but one that aspires to be a language: one that can say no to despotic God-fantasies, like a logic.