“There is a fire inside the building; please step inside” With those words, Peter Rollins begins the introduction to his newest book, Insurrection: To believe is human. To doubt, divine.
In the introduction, Rollins sets a course for what is to follow in the rest of the book. He writes;
“Each epoch in the life of the Church arises from the white-hot fires of a fundamental question, a question that burns away the husk that was once thought to be essential in order to reveal once more the revolutionary event heralded by Christ’s Crucifixion and Resurrection. Such questions do not address the vast sea of disagreements that exist within the shared theological horizon of an era but challenge the very horizon itself”
It’s a courageous and risky way to set up the content of a book, but it’s exactly what he does. In the Christian community in America, there are many disagreements and debates that some consider white-hot. The most recent flame up being universalism, hell and Rob Bell. Yet, these debates are largely internal debates within the Christian community itself. While those of us inside the Christian community often believe the hairs we split are substantial, to those that aren’t invested in the conversation they are of little or no practical value. This hairsplitting occurs around considerable agreement about what things like the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus mean, accomplish, etc. Rollins won’t help you come to a conclusion about reformed vs. armenian theories of atonement/salvation. He won’t help you decide if you like Mark Driscoll better than Rob Bell. His conversation isn’t even in the same ball park. He challenges the very horizon itself.
What is the white-hot fundamental question of our era? Hear, Rollins relies on the later work of Dietrich Bonhoeffer when he writes;
“The theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer succinctly articulated the answer shortly before his execution by the Nazis. In a compilation of his personal correspondence entitled Letters and Papers from Prison, he wrote of how the question for us today is whether or not religion is necessary in order to participate fully in the life testified to by Christ.”
This idea sets up the rest of Rollins’ work. It’s a question that challenges our basic assumptions about how we think about and relate to God. As I get more into the works in later posts, I’ll talk more about this. In short, Rollins asks questions and advances arguments and ideas that are familiar. He reveals how the dominant understanding of God in our era is as a deus ex machina – i.e. the thing we roll out to solve our problems such as “fear, ignorance, or despair.” He squarely critiques the ways in which the contemporary church uses Jesus as a crutch in the midst of life’s horror instead of helping people face it head on, in truth and hope. The only difference is I usually hear these arguments from people that don’t believe the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus rests at the center of life. So, it’s here that I find Rollins at his most intriguing. He advances christological arguments against using religion as a crutch. He pulls the crutches of religion out from under the reader.
Rollins ends the introduction with these ominous words (which, having read the book, should be heeded);
“This work of pyro-theology will involve outlining the present understanding of God, exploring the way Crucifixion and Resurrection open up a different reality, and charting what might arise should we be courageous enough to step into this reality.
This will not be an easy read; many will find it disturbing, for some of the things we hold precious will be attacked from the very outset. But it is written with a firm conviction that we must not be afraid to burn our sacred temples in order to discover what, if anything, remains.
Indeed, perhaps it is not what remains after the fire has died that is true, but rather the fire itself. If so, then we need to take the words of Spanish anarchist Buenaventura Durruti seriously when he boldly declares: The only church that illuminates is a burning one.”
There you have it. Peter Rollins pulls no punches.
If you are familiar with Peter Rollins work (pervious books, sermons, interviews, etc.) some of the material will be familiar to you. However, in my opinion, this is the most well argued and presented work of Pete’s to date. There seems to be a sense of care and intentionality in this book that is unlike some of the more “stream of consciousness” storytelling and writing of his other works. After listening to his Greenbelt 11 presentation, he makes this transparent. He believes he has something important to say and wants to say it as clearly as possible.
Even though Peter is a PhD in Post-structural though (I don’t even know what that means) he speaks through stories and parables. This makes the work, while difficult, all too accessible – that’s why it stings.
At the same time, from an American context, it’s difficult to imagine what personal and collective faith looks like if you embrace Rollins work. He doesn’t write a chapter on “3 Steps to implement this in your faith, life and church”, which is the point. Just saying up front if that is what you need, this book isn’t for you. You will have to do some heavy lifting of your own and confront whether or not you truly what to experience crucifixion and resurrection or whether you would rather have a Jesus that will solve all your problems, make you happy, and protect you from reality (if not in this life, at least in the next).
My intent is to tackle some of the ideas in the book from my perspective as an Anabaptist Mennonite follower of Jesus and see what shakes out.
In the meantime, if you are brave read Insurrection (it will make Love Wins seem like a children’s book).