THIS IS AN INTRODUCTION to Peter Rollins’ work, reported by ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm.
You’ll also want to read: David Crumm’s new interview with Peter Rollins.
PETER ROLLINS isn’t preaching your Mom’s Christianity. Nor is he preaching a version of the faith that you’re likely to find in most American congregations. It’s not that he denies the sacred core of Jesus’s teachings—on the contrary, he vigorously defends what he sees as the core of the Christian faith. Rather, Peter Rollins is attacking Christianity as expressed in organized religion, typical church structures and even in the creeds and liturgies used by 2 billion Christians today. He brings many of his central ideas together in his newest book: The Idolatry of God: Breaking Our Addiction to Certainty and Satisfaction.
USING THE “I” WORD: Like an Old Testament prophet railing against the prevailing powers, Rollins calls the existing structures of Christianity: idols. He argues these idols have been set up to fulfill the wishes of needy churchgoers. Peter compares the goals of most contemporary Christian preachers to parents telling their children stories about Santa Claus. In some cases, Peter uses even nastier metaphors to describe the selling of Christianity as wish fulfillment—see our interview with Peter for more on that.
REACHING FOR THE CLOROX: Among the many prophetic teachers trying to scrub down Christianity today—including Brian McLaren, Anne Lamott, Marcus Borg, Barbara Brown Taylor and Richard Rohr—Peter Rollins is the equivalent of reaching for a jug of Clorox bleach. Others hope to cleanse and polish. Rollins wants to start by wiping away the whole structure of what passes for organized religion.
4 Reasons to Read Peter Rollins
Why would anyone read a book by such a radical prophet? (Peter proudly calls himself a “radical” and fully recognizes the extreme nature of his message.)
Peter Rollins Prepares Us for Times When All Else Crumbles
Peter takes what other reformers are preaching in a softer form, then pushes those ideas to their logical conclusion. Want to see how Christianity might survive and thrive even in a post-apocalyptic world in which our major social and political institutions crumble? Peter is writing that theology today. He is not inviting global catastrophe, but he is writing about how people of faith can keep living and working and finding satisfaction—no matter what tragedies and doubts assail us. One of his models is Mother Teresa, who confessed her own sense of God’s silence—even as she continued her work among the poor.
From Peter Rollins’ 2011 Insurrection, in a passage about Mother Teresa: Her strength is not staggering because she was able to banish all her doubts, but rather because she was able to acknowledge them without entering into some nihilistic prison. In her utter devotion to bringing life, protecting life, and enriching life, she utterly lost herself. And in losing herself she found joy, peace, happiness and life.
Peter Rollins Calls the Truly Alienated Home
Peter speaks to many who are completely alienated from faith. For example, ReadTheSpirit has long recommended the work of Jay Bakker, the radical American preacher who is the son of disgraced televangelists. When you read about—or watch TV documentaries about—small groups of Christians gathering in a Jay Bakker style of congregation, then you’re glimpsing what Peter Rollins is teaching. Peter isn’t preaching a church-growth message about luring seekers into worship. Peter is writing about embracing truly wounded men and women who are offended by church.
From Peter Rollins’ new The Idolatry of God: My primary inspiration for writing the book came as a direct result of sharing the ideas with some people who would not describe themselves as theistic or religious. They had not known that there was such a thing as a faith that genuinely embraced unknowing, celebrated difference and encouraged a direct embrace of life.
Peter Rollins Welcomes Downsizing
Rollins is not alone in preaching the spiritual wisdom of downsizing. Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson Hartgrove coordinate a nationwide network of small Christian communities that see their grassroots communities as the future of the faith in troubled times. Rollins is writing about how to begin connecting circles of spiritually seeking men and women even before these full-fledged communities form.
From Peter Rollins’ new The Idolatry of God: I am arguing for collectives … where the liturgical structure does not treat God as a product that would make us whole but as the mystery that enables us to live abundantly in the midst of life’s difficulties.
Peter Rollins Preaches a Survivor’s Faith
Contemporary Christianity works well for millions of Americans because America is a successful nation. One reason that Buddhism meshes well with impoverished Asian cultures is that Buddhism’s central teachings urge people to quit striving after human desires and focus, instead, on right living that compassionately helps others and awakens a deeper appreciation of the world as we find it. Buddhism begins by taking into account that life will involve a great deal of suffering—something most American preachers are hesitant to proclaim. Rollins starts with that deep spiritual truth and preaches a Christian hope that, even in the midst of suffering, we can appreciate each other, we can express our compassion and we can appreciate the sacred wonders of the world around us. This survivor’s faith welcomes doubt. This survivor’s faith frees us from striving after typical symbols of success. This is a Christian message that finds hope and a way forward, even as tragedies befall us.
From Peter Rollins’ 2011 Insurrection: To Believe Is Human To Doubt, Divine: Traditional Western fairy tales, as mythological expressions of our values, are often concerned with poor people becoming wealthy, powerless people becoming powerful, or single people finding a suitable marriage partner. This is very different from cultures that have stories of the rich renouncing their wealth, the powerful becoming weak, and lovers letting their beloved go. … Just as this is true of a society’s fairy tales, so it is true of our personal ideals, political dreams and religious imaginings. Our ideas of what a fulfilled life would look like, how a just society would operate, or how an authentic faith could be expressed are all too often uncritically reflective of the dominant underlying political and theological ideas that we imbibed as infants. The truly revolutionary move, then, does not lie in attempting to fulfill our dreams but in putting ourselves into a situation in which we are able to dream new ones.
PRAISE FOR PETER ROLLINS
Depending on who you already are following for edgy writing about the future of Christianity, most of those authors also read Peter Rollins’ books …
Brian McLaren on How (Not) to Speak of God (2006): “Reading this book did good for my mind and for my soul. … In fact, I would say this is one of the two or three most rewarding books on theology I have read in ten years.”
Rob Bell on Insurrection: To Believe Is Human To Doubt, Divine (2011): “Pete takes you to the edge of a cliff. And just when most writers would pull you back, he pushes you off. But after your initial panic, you realize that your fall is a form of flying. And it’s thrilling.”
Tony Jones on the newest, The Idolatry of God: Breaking Our Addiction to Certainty and Satisfaction: “Let the reader, the Christian, the skeptic beware, for with The Idolatry of God, Peter Rollins has taken his theological programme of turning everything we believe upside down to the next level. Not content to simply subvert how we believe, Rollins now turns his attention to what we believe.”
You’ll also want to read: David Crumm’s new interview with Peter Rollins this week.
Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.