According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Review - Peter Rollins "Insurrection"

Insurrection (pt. 1)

by J.R.D. Kirk
December 23, 2011

We want to believe, says Peter Rollins. It’s natural. We want to know that someone is watching. We want to know that things beyond our control will get better. We need to hope for a brighter future.

And, he says, this is just the problem.

In his book, Insurrection, Rollins makes the case that our ideas of God are, pervasively, sub-Christian, precisely because they hope too much for a happy tomorrow rather than embracing the broken today.
Rollins warns the reader early on that the purpose of this book is, in essence, to slash and burn: this is a work of “pyro-theology," not constructive theology–an attempt to burn away the husk that has accrued to Christian faith and practice and return to the source.

In the end, this will be both the book’s strength and its failing. Its strength in that it holds up the mirror to the church and demands of us that we take a long hard look at what we say and do–and how these things fail to embody the gospel we confess to believe.

But it is also the book’s weakness as Rollins insists on a “not/but” where he should have constructively engaged in a “both/and.”

First, then, the strength of the book and what the church desperately needs to hear.

The book begins with reflecting on the significance of crucifixion. Christ was crucified. We are co-crucified with Christ.

And, on the cross, Christ was abandoned by God.

Thus, to live into our co-crucifixion is to live in a space where we experience and acknowledge that we are forsaken, that there has been no miraculous deliverance. The church has to create space for this embrace of darkness. Rollins speaks of our common mythology–the one that makes us all want to believe in God–that things will get better because God is present to deliver.

When we suffer, there will always be an army of Job’s comforters
who attempt to save our mythologies, and like Job, we must resist them.

What does this have to do with the church? The church, wittingly or not, creates structures that reassure people that the experience of crucifixion isn’t what is truly real. The church’s confident sermons, its songs of comfort, tell us that the co-crucifixion is not ultimately determinative.

“The structure acts as a security blanket that enables us to speak
of the Crucifixion without ever undergoing its true liberating horror” (48).

The problem as Rollins outlines it is that when we have people celebrating divine presence in dozens of ways, we are enabled “to admit that absence and forsakenness are part of our faith without experincing the transformative trauma of this admission” (70). And, of course, while being the agents of certainty, many pastors secretly harbor the very doubts that they are covering other for others.

Instead, the community should be helping us acknowledge and find life in the midst of suffering. The “new life” of resurrection that Rollins will turn to in part two of the book is lived now as life is found within the suffering and trauma of the world.

Although he uses language and takes it to a level that I am not always comfortable with, Rollins makes a strong and important case in the first part of his book that crucifixion is a crucial component of the Christian life experience–not something to be overcome in order for us to know and live what is true, but something that is to be lived in as where we discover the truth about ourselves in the Christian story.

Next time, we’ll turn to what he says about resurrection. And this is where I’m going to want to part ways with Rollins, in order to embrace a paradox of saying yes to what he advocates while simultaneously saying yes to the hopes of traditional Christian piety.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from the Speakeasy on Tap book review folks. The Federal Government wanted to make sure you knew this, so that you could have all the information you needed to determine whether I was basically paid advertising rather than an objective reviewer. Of course, I never told the folks at Howard that I’d write a positive review, but they gave me a copy anyway. So, now that you know, you can decide for yourself: will I buy the book, or is this word of Kirk simply too tainted to be believed? I hereby fulfill my duties to the Federal Government.

Insurrection (pt. 2)

by J.R.D. Kirk
December 23, 2011

The first part of Peter Rollins’ Insurrection was an exposition of the crucifixion as definitive of the Christian life (see part 1 of my review here).

Next, he turns to resurrection.

This is the part of the books that elicited the strongest reactions from me, both positive and negative. I knew I was going to have problems with the chapter when its epigram read:

“I am God,” says love. -Marguerite Porete

God is love. Love is not God. This is a fatal mistake that haunts the chapter. It begins well, however.

Rollins leads us through the realization that we tell stories about ourselves. We have ideas about ourselves. But these do not match the reality of what we do. The true us, Rollins argues, is found in what we do; the explanation of what explains our actual actions is a more realistic depiction of us that the ways we idealize or even demonize who we are and what matters to us and what motivates us.

We say that we know money and a larger house and a different neighborhood will not make us happy, and yet we devote all our time and energy to obtaining those things. Which is the real us? The one that says she does not believe it? Or the one who acts like she does?

This part of the book is pure gold. It helps put more meat on an assertion that I make regularly: the hardest part of preaching is convincing people that the message is calling them to repentance. We tell ourselves stories about who we are and what we believe, blind to the fact that our lives belie every bit of it. We need stories to unmask our self-deceit.

Rollins argues in compelling fashion that “our actions do not fall short of our beliefs–our actions are are beliefs.”

Ch. 7 is where things get more complex.

Rollins articulates here the best of what biblical scholarship will tell you as well: the kingdom of God, and even eternal life, are not categories simply about the future, but categories about a transformed here and now that we are called to participate in.

But Rollins mistakes the presence of the transcendent God within our world for the falsehood of the idea of a continued transcendence. And he mistakes the presence of the kingdom here and now for the falsehood of the idea of a future and perfect reign.

The biblical narrative maintains a tension between the already-and-the-not-yet, as well as between the immanent-and-the-transcendent. This dialectic is lost in Insurrection.

Thus, I find myself celebrating much of what Rollins affirms–because presence and realization are central to the gospel. And yet I find myself parting ways with Rollins in what he denies–because transcendence and futurity are core components to the gospel as well.

Here’s the problem, that manifests in the chapter, with confusing the statement “God is love” with its pagan counterpart, “Love is God.” This confuses God with the activity and attribute of God; it invites us, in fact, to worship and serve the creature–better, our own creation–rather than the creator.

In Rollins’s words, “God is the name we give to the way of living in which we experience the world as worthy of living for, fighting for, and dying for.”

God is a label of value we append to what we find beautiful in the world. God is an idol of our own making, rather than a being who is at work to make the world worthy of living for, fighting for, dying for. Far from a splitting of hairs, labeling God aright in relationship to the creation is the difference between Christianity being a projection of our imaginations, or a reality in which we are called by Another to participate, the difference between true (all of life-)worship, and idolatry.

Thus, while Rollins rightly challenges us with his claim that we cannot claim to love God while hating our neighbor, Christianity can never ground this on the claim that God is the love that exists between one person and another.

Heeding Rollins’ urgent pleas, we will find ourselves more invested in the world, never guilty of that classic failure of being so heavenly minded that we are of no earthly good. But we must so engage the world with the understanding that the kingdom is God’s and not ours, and that there is a future for this world because the resurrected Lord is at work in it here and now.

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