Why are they called denominations?

There is a guy named Peter Rollins who is brilliant and is also someone who I have a very difficult time understanding him. It is not because of his accent (he is Irish*) but because he is a philosopher and I am not. In a conversation I heard between him and Science Mike and Michael Gungor and Peter Rollins said something that hit me.

From what I recall, Rollins was talking about metaphor. A metaphor does both describe and negate that description simultaneously. For instance, if you described someone as having a heart of gold, you are both saying something about that person's heart while at the same time saying their heart is not a block of metal. Metaphors both affirm and negate. 

The next step of the conversation was about how all language about God is metaphor. When we say God is father we are both saying something and negating something. God is like a father, but God is also not a literal father. This is the beauty of language about God, it is both helpful and limited. It gives us insight into something but it also leaves us a little lost. 

We Christians have had a habit of elevating one half of the equation while dismissing the latter half. That is to say, we like the side of language that affirms (God is father) but do not like the side of language that negates (God is not father). Rollins points out that the role of religion is to move people to embrace that which is unknown and so religion needs to elevate the side of language that negates in order to help us mature. 

Rollins pointed out that he likes that Christian divisions are called "denominations" - they are groups that de-name. Can we be a denomination that embraces the power of language in it's fullness? Can we be a people that is at ease with both what God is and what God is not? Can we be a people who are courageous enough to look at a situation that is done in the name of God and stand up and say in fact this action is not of God? Are we mature enough to see that God is and at the same time God is not? 

Maybe this is why they are called denominations. They are groups that are trying to be mature enough to embrace the fullness of God, and not just the parts of God we can name.


* I originally identified him as Australian. I apologize to all Australians and Irish and all thinking people.