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

Monday, November 9, 2015

Introducing Peter Rollins. Post-Structuralist. Radical Theologian.


Peter Rollins is a provocative writer, philosopher, storyteller and public speaker who has gained an international reputation for overturning traditional notions of religion and forming “churches” that preach the Good News that we can’t be satisfied, that life is difficult, and that we don’t know the secret.

Challenging the idea that faith concerns questions relating to belief Peter’s incendiary and irreligious reading of Christianity attacks the distinction between sacred and secular, blurs the lines between theism and atheism and sets aside questions regarding life after death to explore the possibility of a life before death.

Peter gained his higher education from Queens University, Belfast and has earned degrees (with distinction) in Scholastic Philosophy (BA Hons), Political Theory (MA) and Post-Structural thought (PhD). He is the author of numerous books, including Insurrection, The Idolatry of God, and The Divine Magician. He was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, currently lives in Los Angeles and will die somewhere as yet not known.

Born 31 March 1973

21st-century philosophy/theology


Main interests

Notable ideas
Pyrotheology     Transformance Art     Suspended Space




Peter Rollins (born 31 March 1973) is a Northern Irish writer, public speaker, philosopher and theologian who is a prominent figure in Radical Theology.[1]

Drawing largely from various strands of Continental Philosophy, Rollins' early work operated broadly from within the tradition of Apophatic Theology, while his more recent books have signaled a move toward the theory and practice of Radical Theology. In these books Rollins develops a "religionless" interpretation of Christianity called Pyrotheology,[2] an interpretation that views faith as a particular way of engaging with the world rather than a set of beliefs about the world.[3]

In contrast to the dominant reading of Christianity, this more existential approach argues that faith has nothing to do with upholding a religious identity, affirming a particular set of beliefs or gaining wholeness through conversion. Instead he has developed an approach that sees Christianity as a critique of these very things. This anti-religious reading stands against the actual existing church and lays the groundwork for an understanding of faith as a type of life in which one is able to celebrate doubt, ambiguity and complexity while deepening care and concern for the world.[4] He argues that the event which gave rise to the Christian tradition cannot itself be reduced to a tradition, but is rather a way of challenging traditions.

In order to explore and promote these themes Rollins has founded a number of experimental communities such as ikon[5] and ikonNYC.[6] These groups describe themselves as iconic, apocalyptic, heretical, emerging and failing[7] and engage in the performance of what they call 'transformance art' [8] and the creation of "suspended space."[9] Because of their rejection of "worldview Christianity" and embrace of suspended space these groups purposelessly attempt to attract people with different political perspectives and opposing views concerning the existence of God and the nature of the world.[10]

Although Rollins does not directly identify with the emerging church movement,[11] he has been a significant influence on the movement's development.[12][13]

Early life and education

Rollins grew up in East Belfast during The Troubles,[14] a period of intense and violent sectarian conflict that erupted in Northern Ireland in the late 1960s and resulted in the deaths of more than 3,600 people[15] before the signing of the Good Friday Agreement on April 10, 1998,[16] which is generally regarded as the end of the conflict, though pockets of violence persist today. He attended Orangefield Boys High School and left at the age of sixteen without the qualifications required for further study. He was unemployed for several years before taking a job as a youth worker in Carrickfergus and working in a homeless shelter run by the Simon Community on the Falls Road, Belfast. He then went on to study an access course on the Castlereagh Campus of the Belfast Metropolitan College (an intensive one-year course designed for disadvantaged students who wish to attend university but lack the entry requirements).[17] Rollins has a B.A. Honors in Scholastic Philosophy, an M.A. in Political Theory and Social Criticism, and a Ph.D dealing with Post-Structural Theory from Queen's University, Belfast.[18]

Academics such as Cathy Higgins have explored how an understanding of Rollins activism requires an appreciation of The Troubles. The development of groups like the Belfast-based ikon collective was at least partially a response to the pervasive atmosphere of violence, economic hardship, rigid identity markers and deep rooted sectarianism in operation in the province. The sectarian violence combined with the use of religion to legitimate injustice, the fundamentalism of many Protestant churches and the sexual abuse scandals of the Catholic Church, played a major role in creating the frame of reference from which Rollins works.[19] The result being an emphasis on creating practices designed so that “participants [could] set aside the various identities that define them" and gather as a gathering of equals to "share stories, struggles, and rituals that help them respond to one another in a Christ-like way.” [20] In contrast to a dogmatic form of religion and she notes that ikon provided a space in which “doubt is viewed as healthy and necessary for owning our material reality, vulnerability and limitedness”.[21]


While operating broadly outside the academy Rollins does work with various academic institutions across the UK and US. He has been a research associate with the Irish School of Ecumenics (Trinity College, Dublin)[22] and is currently on faculty at the Global Center for Advanced Study.[23]

Early writing

Rollins' unpublished PhD (His Colour is Our Blood: A Phenomenology of the Prodigal Father) offers a survey of religious thinking in the aftermath of Marx, Freud and Nietzsche. It engages directly with Martin Heidegger's critique of onto-theology and explores the religious significance of Jacques Derrida's post-structural theory and Jean-Luc Marion's saturated phenomenology (drawing out the points of connection and conflict between them). This manuscript represents Rollins' initial attempt to articulate an approach to faith that would short-circuit the categories of theism and atheism and problematize the various debates that arise from them. In so doing this marks an approach to Christianity that is not related to a system of belief but rather to a particular mode of life.

His first book, How (Not) to Speak of God (2006) popularized the main themes of his PhD by blending the apophatic work of Meister Eckhart[24] and pseudo-Dionysius[25] with the Post-structural work of Derrida[26] and Marion.[27] How (Not) to Speak of God also outlined how the theory was developed and worked out in a concrete way through the ikon collective (the second half of the book outlined a series of 'transformance art' liturgical experiments).[28]

While his early work is marked by themes that continue to play a central role in his later development (such as doubt, complexity and ambiguity), they remain largely within a specifically theistic and mystical register.[29]

Shift to radical theology

The Fidelity of Betrayal (2008) signalled a movement from apophatic and post-structural discussions witnessed in his PhD and How (Not) to Speak of God into Radical Theology.[30] With this work we begin to see a critique of purely theistic forms of faith and witness the growing influence of political philosopher Slavoj Žižek and psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan in his overall project.[31] The Fidelity of Betrayal is thus a work that bridges the more mystical influence of his first writings toward a theological materialism, a trajectory that was subsequently fleshed out and deepened in Insurrection (2011) and The Idolatry of God (2013). In these later books the influence of Hegel, Žižek, Lacan, later Bonhoeffer and Tillich comes to the fore, though John Caputo remains as an ongoing point of reference.[32]


Rollins incorporates narrative forms into his talks to create a more informal style of communication. In 2009 Rollins published The Orthodox Heretic, a book of 33 short, parable-like stories. He has also written fairytales[33] and a play on the theme of desire.[34]

Current thinking

Rollins' overall project is marked by the themes of doubt, complexity, unknowing and embracing brokenness.[35] More than this, he has been interested in showing that these themes are central to the founding event of Christianity.[36] He is interested in showing how the central scandal of Christianity offers us a critique of religion[37] (including the need to believe) and tribal identity,[38] both of which have been lost in the actually existing church; an institution that he argues represents a fundamental betrayal of the insurrectionary power of faith.[39] His work is an attempt to show that Christianity does not rest on theistic belief, some commitment to supernaturalism or the affirmation of some set of dogmas.[40] Rollins has named his theological program pyrotheology.[41] The name was inspired by the Spanish anarchist Buenaventura Durruti's statement that "the only church that illuminates is a burning church."[42] The phrase has also inspired some of Slavoj Žižek's work related to radical theology.[43]

Rollins’ work operates at the intersection of where Post-Structuralism, Psychoanalysis, Phenomenology, and Existentialism meet and inform each other.[44] What follow are some of the major themes evidenced in his project:

  • Humans have a natural and destructive disposition toward the pursuit of satisfaction: By employing insights developed by psychoanalysis, Rollins argues that humans tend to seek some object that would seem to promise satisfaction.[45] This very pursuit is, however, itself destructive, for we either don't get what we seek above all else and thus always long for it, or we do get it and discover that it is actually unable to offer us what we sought.[46]
  • Humans have a natural and destructive disposition to seek out certainty: Employing the insights of childhood development in the area of metapsychology Rollins argues that, as children, we identify with false images that help us to cover over our weakness and dependence on others.[47] Rollins claims that adults often remain caught within these false images.[48] Our various beliefs offer us a certain level or security and sense of belonging. But he argues that they ultimately damage us by distancing us from others, causing us to repress doubt and preventing us from being positively impacted by people who think and practice in ways that are different from our own.[49]
  • Religion falsely promises to offer the certainty and satisfaction that we seek: While certainty and satisfaction are being offered to us from multiple sources, Rollins argues that the church offers the paradigmatic version of this pursuit. God is offered as that which will give us satisfaction and a certainty not available elsewhere.[50] He argues that anything that we believe offers this type of happiness and confidence is actually nothing but an idol that offers, ironically, the opposite: dissatisfaction and uncertainty.[51]
  • The Liberal and Progressive forms of Church are structurally similar to Conservative and Fundamentalist Church: While Conservative and Fundamentalist churches can be seen to fall into the problems Rollins outlines, his main concern lies with Liberal and Progressive communities. He argues that Liberal and Progressive churches verbally advocate doubt, complexity, ambiguity and brokenness, yet generally enact an idolatrous view of faith in their liturgical structures.[52][53]
  • Faith is not a system that offers certainty and satisfaction but is a mode of living free from these drives.


Rollins's project involves attempting to encourage a constant rupturing of ideological forms of Christianity through the development of non-dogmatic collectives that embrace doubt, complexity and ambiguity, open themselves up to critique, and face up to the human experience of lack.[54][55][56] He has stated that these communities have a structural similarity to twelve step programs insofar as they involve facing up to one's issues and working them through in communities where grace and acceptance are fundamental principles.[57] Psychoanalytic ideas, particularly from the school of Lacan, play a fundamental role.[58][59] Rollins has developed a number of "contemplative practices" that are designed to help in this process.[60]

Transformance art

Transformance art is a psychoanalytically influenced approach that combines music, visual imagery, soundscapes, theatre, poetry, storytelling, ritual and reflection to form a space in which people are invited to question their cultural, political, and religious views, let go of the pursuit of wholeness, sensitise themselves to the needs of others, and learn to embrace existence.[61] Central to transformance art events is the creation of suspended space where the various divisions and distinctions that separate people are placed into question.[62] The aim of this is to create a space where people might encounter each other as fellow human beings and expose the structures that promote inequality.[63][64]

* * * * * * * * * *

What if the most diseased element of our religious, political and cultural life could be made to vanish before our very eyes, only to reappear in a fundamentally healthy and liberating form? In The Divine Magician this possibility is precisely what is presented through a subversive reading of Christianity that argues for a faith beyond dogma, doctrine and tradition, a faith that doesn’t uphold a particular religious identity or demand some sectarian allegiance. Instead he employs the structure of a magic trick to offer up an irreligious reading of faith that stands against these very things. Rollins interrogates traditional religious notions from a revolutionary and refreshingly original perspective.

With sensitivity to the Christian tradition and a rich understanding of postmodern thought, Rollins argues for a radically new form of church that offers a singular, unprecedented message of transformation with the potential to revolutionize the theological and moral architecture of Western Christianity. How (Not) to Speak of God takes its stand on the claim that Christian faith is not simply able to make room for doubt, mystery and unknowing, but rather fundamentally embraces them. In this book the reader is confronted with a type of theory and practice that ruptures the binary oppositions between theist and atheist, sacred and secular, belief and unbelief to provide a truly new vision of future church.

In this incendiary new work, the controversial author and speaker Peter Rollins proclaims that Christian faith is not an otherworldly faith interested in the possibility of life after death but rather is an invitation to discover the reality of life before death. In order to unearth this truth, Rollins prescribes a radical and wholesale critique of contemporary Christianity that he calls pyro-theology. It is only as we submit our spiritual practices, religious rituals, and dogmatic affirmations to the flames of fearless interrogation that we come into contact with the reality that Christianity is in the business of transforming our world rather than offering a way of interpreting or escaping it - Belief in the Resurrection means but one thing: Participation in an Insurrection.

What if one of the core demands of a radical Christianity lay in a call for its betrayal, while the ultimate act of affirming God required the forsaking of God? And what if fidelity to the Judeo-Christian Scriptures demanded their renunciation? In short, what would it mean if the only way of finding real faith involved betraying it with a kiss? Employing the insights of mysticism and deconstructive theory, The Fidelity of Betrayal delves into the subversive and revolutionary nature of a Christianity demands us to betray all institutions that claim to arise from it. This is not some argument against structures but rather for a type of church against church. A church that stands opposed to all religious dogmas, that calls into question its own orthodoxies and that invites all people to find meaning in the work of love.

In contrast to the usual understanding of the “Good News” as a message offering satisfaction and certainty, Rollins argues for a radical and shattering alternative. He explores how the Good News actually involves embracing the idea that we can’t be whole, that life is difficult, and that we are in the dark. Arguing that God has traditionally been approached as a product that will render us complete, remove our suffering and reveal the answers, he introduces an incendiary approach to faith that invites us to embrace our brokenness, face our unknowing and accept the difficulties of existence. Only then, he argues, can we truly rob death of its sting and enter into the fullness of life.

In this bold new book Peter Rollins presents a vision of faith that has little regard for the institutions of Christendom or the practices of the actual existing church. Yet his uncompromising critique of religion, while often unsettling, is infused with a deep and abiding love for what it means to genuinely live with a concern for the world. The Orthodox Heretic plants thirty-three explosive parables into the hearts and minds of the reader that are designed to blow apart any dogmatic, religious defences that protect us from encountering the subversive core of Christianity. In so doing this subversive text seeks to expose the reader once more to the life affirming and world-transforming violence of faith. A faith that is not concerned with beliefs about the world, but with a different way of being in the world.

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