According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for
this world to recreate, reclaim, 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

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Peter Rollins - The Idolatry of God + Insurrection





"This book will offer a systematic frame within which to understand my project to date. The release date is 1st January. Sign up to my mailing list (on the right on my website) in order to get some advance excerpts. More information to follow."

Peter Rollins
May 5, 2012
Publication Date: Jan 2013
http://peterrollins.net/?p=3656


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Peter Rollins – a Narrative of Idolatry
http://masonslater.com/2012/02/21/peter-rollins-a-narrative-of-idolatry/

by Mason Slater
February 21, 2012

Peter Rollins was recently interviewed by Whitworth University about some of the themes in Insurrection.

I find myself especially interested in his push back on the idolatry inherent in the way we use God-talk as a talisman in our quest for a narrative that tells us why we are right/ good and they are wrong/ evil.

Not because right and wrong, or good and evil, don’t exist. But because we all too easily assume that we are “on God’s side,” that we are playing the role of the good and the right in the story being told. And we then craft a narrative about faith, or love, or politics that uses God-talk to reinforce that assumption without ever really allowing the living God to challenge our actions and our beliefs.





My Take on Peter Rollins

by R.E. Slater
June 8, 2012

I give the two following commentaries below as an example of the give-and-take debate between two friends involved with the formative [philosophical] topics of Insurrection. Having met Rollins personally, and following him here on this blog site, I continue to find his ideas and thoughts helpful in marking the distinction between Christianity as a religion and Christianity as a faith. I may get lost in his Christianized philosophical ideas, and I may wish he would use more familiar theological terms for me... terms that aren't stripped of their great theological wealth of meaning and expression for my faith... but when expressed in a philosophical vernacular seem to escape my appreciation for their criticism by one who is a philosopher first, and a theologian second. But even so, I must listen and glean by what he thinks important to state openly about the 20th Century Church.

Hence, when listening to Peter I try to glean what I can from his passion and then re-express it into the more familiar categories of biblical terminology. Which is what I think Jacob Clark tries to express of his frustration to us in his commentary below. Though I think I am more willing to give to Peter the benefit of the doubt and not hold him as critically to the theological "gun" of critique as some are currently doing. More rather, I try to (critically) import Peter's insights and concerns into my faith even while I try to appreciate his philosophically oblique/dense (that is, to me!) referential symbolisms and cultural imports on the Church's philosophically religious state and behavior. I do not, however, find myself, nor my faith, unhelpfully criticized when reduced to these philosophical introspections. On the contrary, I in fact welcome them as from a friend whom I trust and through whose eyes may see something I do not. But this does not mean that I avoid the hard work of interpretation from what I glean. All the more, I must listen and interpret where-and-when I can by Peter's insights as I extrapolate them into religious terms and Christianized categories, since that is more my background and experience.

Thus, for myself, Peter has provided important insights into my faith as well as the experience of my faith as a religion. And I find his criticisms relevant and valid for usefulness in constructing an Emergent Christianity that can both deconstruct itself while at the same time reconstruct itself into a more relevant postmodernistic expression for the witness of Christ to 21st Century postmodern cultures and religions of our day. As I take it, Peter is simply giving us more legs (or pillars) on which to stand up the Gospel of Christ to compete more effectively against the humanistic philosophies of our times. For this help I am thankful. But it is left to the Church to figure out how to effectively translate these insights from Peter Rollins, and other similar soothsayers like Peter Rollins, into the necessary relational experiences and expositional categories for people to hear, digest and respond to in their everyday confession, repentance and living faith.

R.E. Slater
June 8, 2012


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by on Monday, October 31, 2011 · Comments


This week bring us a new review of Peter Rollins’s Insurrection. Jason Clark offers an extended and thoughtful interaction with Pete’s work characterized by a pastoral heart. You can read about Pete and his work at his website. Clark is one of our contributors here at churchandpomo, and you can read his bio here.

Review of Peter Rollins’ Insurrection

Having contributed to a book with Pete Rollins,[1] collaborating in person on that work, and having worshipped with Pete, I find myself for the purposes of this review, in somewhat of a quandary. Within that relationship, and knowing that Pete is reading and due to respond to my review, there is the temptation to simply offer praise due to a collegiate friendship, or to provide a critique as an alternative. Instead I wish to provide an extended review, that seeks to understand Pete, his current work, and larger writing corpus. This review has given me the opportunity to grapple with and seek to understand Pete’s work. It also provides an opportunity to reflect on how Pete’s work impacts upon my own Christian faith, as most others reading it make their own personal assessments.

Pete’s latest book Insurrection invites us to understand and explore his work as one of ‘pyro-theology.[2] For Pete ‘pyro-theology’ is to ask a question that ‘ruptures’ and ‘re-configures Christianity’[3] that also ‘overturns the Church as it presently stands’ in all its current forms.[4] The hoped for outcome of this proposed theological method is a Church that is utterly different and yet is true to its previous incarnations.[5]

By way of method, Pete suggests that it is in a question from Bonhoeffer that we find not only an example of this ‘pyro-theological’ method, but the question we need to ask today. This question is one where we ask whether religion is necessary to participate in the Christian life. It is this question we must respond to, if we are to be true to Christianity, and engage in these reconfigurations and over-turnings.[6] Pete wants to get us to Bonhoeffer’s ‘religionless Christianity’. Pete would have us understand that the question by the early Church of whether Gentile Christians should be circumcised was an antecedent of his ‘pyro-theology’ theological method.[7]

And it is here that Pete’s theological method seems most immediately problematic. For we might ask if the question of whether Christianity needs completely overhauling, and the Church replacing is valid for establishing his method. Pete does not seem to give direct warrant to that claim, other than to make statements in his work couched in generalizations. For example he talks of how ‘Church leaders believe on behalf of the community’ in the contemporary Church, thus denying all Christians the ability to experience the cross.

Many of us involved in Church life might take issue not just with such a premise and generalist claim, but the setting up of his work as an antidote to the whole and contemporary Church, in all its forms. I am sure in his planned response to me on this blog, Pete will be able to affirm that not all Church leaders are oriented and established around a disposition to keep people from the cross, and the struggles of faith and belief.

And then for a work that aspires to be a theological method, it is rather more one of philosophical theology, and I suspect better read as such. For Pete’s real focus strikes me as a philosophical reading of the nature of God, and the experience of faith within that. Whilst Pete signposts his work with theological words, such as God, Cross, Incarnation, Crucifixion, and Resurrection, it is not the historic, confessional and traditional theological content of those terms that are his methodological horizon. And it is not that Pete even wants to contest such horizons. Rather it is that his philosophical method means that belief in those things seems irrelevant to his task. I was left wondering if for Pete those terms have their ‘true’ meaning solely as descriptions of the existential ‘events’ of Christian experience?

It is here that I think Pete leads us into an understanding of God, and an apprehension of Christian faith that Bonhoeffer would not have recognized, as ‘religionless Christianity’. For whilst Bonhoeffer and Mother Teresa may have navigated a ‘dark night of soul’, they did so with confessional faith, one with a deeply theological content, and their hope in a real historical resurrection. The issue of circumcision was not simply the removal of an external religious practice that stopped people from embracing the cross, and the loss of God for their religious experience. It was to a deeply somatic response, that relocated the nature of the experience of salvation into an even more intense and embodied experience; one where the heart that was now to be circumcised in regard to its desires and orientation. That internal circumcision was to now bring our lives, in all their aspects, into an experience of the cross. It was to bring the life we live in our bodies, into a very real experience of the God who was and is there in the cross, and into His body.

Here I suspect Pete and I argue for the same thing, but from different understandings of the cross. And like Pete I would agree that it is better to experience the cross, rather than have some religious belief in it—something that actually stops us from encountering it. But I do think that Bonhoeffer’s apprehension of the cross within ‘religionless Christianity’ was something very different to Pete’s proposals.

For one cannot read Bonhoeffer’s confessional theology without reading that the experience of the cross was more than a psychological dynamic, and one that changes all that we are, even our bodies themselves. In terms of how we apprehend the experience of the cross that Pete offers us, I am left wondering how ‘cerebral’ that psychological apprehension is, and how it requires a metaphysical locus that Bonhoeffer would have rejected. For Bonhoeffer asserts that God is simultaneously (a la Barth) ‘wholly other’ whilst shockingly immanent and intimate. For Bonhoeffer writes:
God as a working hypothesis in morals, politics, or science, has been surmounted and abolished; and the same thing has happened in philosophy and religion. For the sake of intellectual honesty, that working hypothesis should be dropped, or as far as possible eliminated. A scientist or physician who sets out to edify is a hybrid. Anxious souls will ask what room there is left for God now; and as they know no answer to the question, they condemn the whole development that has brought them to such straits. I wrote to you before about the various emergency exits that have been contrived; and we ought to add to them the death-leap back into the Middle Ages. But this principle of the Middle Ages is heteronomy in the form of clericalism; a return to that can be a counsel of despair, but it would be at the cost of intellectual honesty[8]. …But all the time God still reigns in heaven… he remains the Lord of Earth, he preserves his church, constantly renewing our faith and not laying on us more than we can bear, gladdening us with his nearness and help, hearing our prayers[9].
Pete not only empties theological terms, those used by Bonhoeffer, Mother Teresa, the wider Church and ourselves of their content, he also presents them as universal processes and experiences. And they are also deployed rather confusingly by him, at least in my reading. For example, the resurrection appears to be subsumed into the crucifixion by Pete, as something that is merely an experience of the cross, or a means to experience the cross.[10] So again I wonder if anyone reading Pete’s work for a theological method might, like me, be frustrated at his lack of attention to Christian theology, and wonder at his appropriation of Bonhoeffer.

As a further example, Pete spends some time reflecting on the Kenosis and Christology within Philippians 2, of the emptying of God himself.[11] If I have understood Pete’s method, there is no God out ‘there’ in the first place, outside of our experience, to be emptied into the reality of and particularity of human experience; be that an experience that is somatic, psychological, emotional, spiritual, etc. Pete voids and evacuates the theological term Kenosis of any theological content and meaning. On reading Insurrection I was left with the anxiety that God is dead, there is no cross, just the idea of the cross, and that there is no place for God to be involved in my life at all.

Pete explicitly wants to remove the notion from us that loving Christ directly is possible. Rather, God is to be indirectly loved, as we participate in love generally.[12] In the whole of Pete’s work I then found this sentence the most startling, ‘in the Incarnation, Crucifixion, and Resurrection, we discover that God is not something we encounter directly and thus is not something that we experience’.[13] Not only does that leave me with no possibility of an experience of God as object and me as his subject, a sense of ‘otherness’, that I am his, and he is mine, but it also seems to elevate the love of love itself, as the telos to any ordering in our relationship with God. For Pete it is not enough to realize that we have desired the wrong objects in life, it is that we need to desire desire itself, as God is not an appropriate or possible object for our love. I doubt how many humans can live in this mode of love, let alone whether it is even Christian. And I do not make that statement lightly or casually. If God is not the object of my love, and me his, then what is the purpose in Christianity at all?

Or at least such an apprehension is the best I can hope for as an experience of God. And perhaps that is the intention of the book in any event.

The Jesus of Christianity as a real transcendent person, who becomes finite to us so that we might adventivally experience him, now seems lost to us as other theological terms are similarly emptied by Pete. The theology of the cross that the Church holds historically, presently and which it confessionally experiences in much of its worship, is shorn of all biblical narratives and paradosis, with crucifixion reduced to psychological process. I felt left with a Jesus who was only an exemplar of self-awareness of an existential experience. If this is the case, then perhaps Pete’s work might be less about a ‘religionless Christianity’, and more about Christianity without an historical, immanent, and risen Jesus.

Not that this is all a bad thing, as long as we understand that this is what Pete presents us with. And within that realization I find the most compelling element of Pete’s work, that there is a God-forsakenness intrinsic to the Christian faith, replete with doubt, mystery and question that is too often replaced with certainty to cover our fears. And I agree with Pete that Bonhoeffer does call us to refuse to let our Christian religious constructions stop us from an experience of the cross. Such experience is intrinsic to Christianity. For Bonhoeffer ‘religionless Christianity’ was about the loss of all that keeps us from the cross. Just as God despised the false religion that kept us from him, he seeks to bring us out from all religious life, even that set up within much that masquerades as Christianity, which is in fact something that keeps us from the cross.

I have already strayed too far into philosophical critique, which is not my natural domain, and with which I have no fluency or proficiency. But I have stepped into that domain, in order to attempt to interact with Pete’s work on his terms, and by that I have no doubt done him a great disservice.

But I have also approached his text on my own terms, and however non-philosophical my bent, I am left wondering how a real theology, a theology of the cross attends more fully and more immediately, and would be apprehended more readily by others. For the Church as it exists already carries within large segments of itself an understanding of the theologia crucis. Luther clearly observed and questioned how Christians would rather go to Easter Sunday for an experience of the theologia gloriae, bypassing the need to experience the cross, and participate in its God-forsakenness. Such theologies of the cross are readily available to us, are already part of much of contemporary church life, and are more akin to that which Bonhoeffer was building upon. Pete’s work would have been more compelling for me, if it at least gave greater nod to the Church’s theologies of the cross, especially those that attend to Bonhoeffer’s work, having invoked Bonhoeffer. Or at least the philosophy within those theologies. For there is a confessional Christian faith in which incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, and parousia, are able to attend to the false comforts of religion, whilst allowing us the comfort of a real person to know and experience in Jesus.

If the idea of embracing doubt, mystery, and question are new to the faith of any of Pete’s readers, then his work may re-assure them (no pun intended) that such experience is deeply Christian. But I am suggesting that they then turn to the larger Church, and explore how that experience has been readily available and reflected upon for our apprehension. Such apprehension might be more easily retrieved from that location, than a complete overturning of the Church. And by that I am not saying that much that passes as the Church and Christian doesn’t need overturning!

As I conclude, I find that Pete’s work has forced me to (i) explore the philosophical dimension of some my own theologies, to be (ii) reminded (again) of the need to consider Bonhoeffer in my own ecclesial re-formulations, and (iii) the place of the cross at the centre of my Christian experience. Thank you.

As I finished reading Insurrection, I wondered if Pete’s latest work reveals most of all, the nature of his work as his own autobiography; as do most authors in their writing—as I know I do. Insurrection is perhaps best read as Pete’s escape from his own churched cages of Christian certitude and the theologia gloriae that bypassed the cross. It might become yours too as you read it.

And it is there that I find myself, despite deeply different theological convictions to Pete, with much in common. My own story of finding an experience of the cross, with my own apprehension of doubt, mystery, and question as central to my Christian life has taken and continues to take place. I have had and continue to have my own ‘dark night of the soul’.

Pete writes, ‘in crucifixion we are brought to a place in which we see the full weight of anxiety bearing down upon us without anything that would shield us’.[14] I am wiling or at least wanting to reject all the ‘religion’ that would shield me from the experience of the cross of Christ. Yet Pete’s writing left me with a feeling that he has replaced one theologia gloriae with another; of human reason and existential experience that takes the place of experiencing the Cross.

I wonder that when Pete and I talk about the cross (which we have in the real time and space of a worship service), that whilst I thought I was talking about Jesus, Pete thought I was only talking about myself.


[1] Church in the Present Tense, McKnight, Rollins, Corcoran, Clark, Baker Academic, 2011.
[2]Insurrection, xiii.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid., xiv.
[5] ibid.
[6] Ibid., xv.
[7] Ibid., xii.
[8] Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison, p. 187.
[9] Ibid., p. 205.
[10] Insurrection, p 123.
[11] Ibid., p168.
[12] Ibid., p123.
[13] Ibid/, p123.
[14] Ibid., p112.

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“Insurrection” Book Symposium – Rollins’s Response to Clark

by on Monday, November 7, 2011 · 72 Comments



The symposium on Peter Rollin’s Insurrection has been a really great exchange so far. Katharine Moody engaged with Pete’s work helpfully on the level of philosophy, bringing Pete’s work further into conversation with one of his main influences, Slavoj Zizek. Jason Clark’s review approached Pete’s work from a pastoral perspective, offering some challenging reflections on Pete’s work with respect to situating Pete in relation to historical and confessional theology. Pete’s response to Clark is below. You can read more about Pete and his work at his website. Thanks for all the interaction in the comments. With this post, the Symposium concludes, but can the conversation can continue with your comments.

Ten Thousand Angels Are Not Enough: Reflections on Jason Clark’s Review

I appreciate the concerns that Jason raises in his reflection on Insurrection and will try to address what I take to be his main criticism. Before doing so however I just want to push back on one minor point. Jason seems frustrated that I make certain generalisations. But I am not so sure that this is, in and of itself, a problem. When one wishes to make observations concerning some underlying structural reality manifested in the historically concrete, one explicitly does this. We do not carry around maps the size of the territory we are seeking to explore. They are scaled down and, as such, miss the vast majority of minor, insignificant details. The purpose of the map is to accurately portray the information needed to get to where you want to go.

The issue then is not that I make generalisations (even multi-volume texts on specific parts of church history do that), but whether the generalisations are accurate descriptions of underlying structural tendencies.

So what are my generalisations? In brief the primary one is that there are two broad tendencies in the church today - either we find communities that explicitly treat God as a garniture of meaning (our faith gives us a way of understanding the world and our place within it, God acts as a being who offers happiness, satisfaction and bliss, i.e., is treated like a product etc.) - or we are free to question the idea of God as garniture of meaning while the liturgical structure we participate in continues to treat God in this way (thus acting as a type of security blanket). The map I draw won’t, of course, be a 1:1 of the territory it describes. The question rather is whether it puts its finger on a virtually ubiquitous underlying reality (and here, unlike elsewhere, I think I stand very close to the late Bonhoeffer). I then go on to try and show why this notion of God is problematic and how we might create collectives where the liturgical structure draws us into an encounter with our own brokenness.

Let us now consider what seems to be Jason’s main concern. He makes the case that I do not pay enough heed to the confessional theological tradition, that I am not interested in the historical context of the theological terms I employ and that I reduce central Christological claims to mere existential events. If we were to go head to head on these issues I would like to tease the claims out a little more and push back a bit. However, to a greater or lesser degree, I can agree with his assessment. My interest in this book (though not my sole theological interest) is to explore the existential import of Christianity (the subjective in Kierkegaard’s sense – meaning the way that its transforms our subjectivity).

An analogy might help to elucidate what I mean. If I am an analyst and someone comes to me to talk about their memories, dreams and fantasies I do not ask myself whether or not they are historically accurate descriptions of empirically observable situations. Rather I delve into the meaning they have for the individual. Together we explore their subjective significance. This does not mean that I judge them to be false in some objective way. Rather the question of historicity is bracketed out so that we can concentrate on the meaning and power of what is being discussed. I would, if I had space, argue that this type of approach to the faith is an eminently theological project and that if one wants to talk about the historical claims of Christianity a better person to dialogue with would be a well-trained archaeologist or historian.

To make his point Jason quotes me saying that God is not someone we directly encounter and thus not one we directly experience. His point, if I understand correctly, is that I am not interested in the objective reality of God, even rejecting the idea completely. As an aside the statement that he quotes can actually be seen as a rather orthodox one (there are many places throughout the Bible that speak of humans not being able to directly encounter God, let alone the ideas of God as found in the midst of service to the other). But the point that I am making (which he does not refer to) is not primarily related to this. Rather I am presenting the idea that the notion of “rebirth” does not, properly understood, actually describe an experience but rather the transformation of how we experience everything (just as one does not experience birth, for birth is what opens one up to experience).

This takes me to the heart of why I am interested in bracketing out the debates that saturate the popular arena of religious debate. To understand this let me take the example of the rabbi of Gur that I employ in The Fidelity of Betrayal. The story goes that during the Second World War he escaped from Germany and met with Winston Churchill to talk about the Nazi war machine. The story goes that this rabbi said, “there are two ways in which the Nazis could be stopped: the natural and the supernatural. The natural solution would involve 10,000 angels with flaming swords descending upon Germany. The supernatural would involve 10,000 Englishmen parachuting down from the sky.”

The point is that is if 10,000 angels with flaming swords descended upon Germany this would be a natural event. In other words these angels would act like other objects in the world; they would be seen, heard, and experienced. These angels would exist within space and time like every other object.

In contrast, the rabbi speaks of a supernatural response, namely 10,000 British soldiers descending in parachutes. Here the rabbi is hinting at a deep change in the hearts of the British that would precipitate such a drastic response. This change, for the rabbi, would be deeply supernatural because the change itself would not be something that could be captured in a laboratory or measured by reference to some purely utilitarian calculation. Unlike the descent of warrior angels, this change would not lend itself to be approached as a natural object to be reflected upon; it would not be made manifest to the senses but indirectly testified to in certain actions.

This no more excludes the possibility of phenomenon being influenced by something outside a closed system of cause and effect than it affirms them. Rather the point is that physical changes are natural insomuch as they take place in the natural realm. In contrast conversation on a miracle worthy of the name does not register it as an object that can be recorded and beamed around the world but rather refers to an event so radical that while nothing need change in the physical world nothing remains the same for the one who undergoes it.