Peter Rollins’ writing is like a sour beer.
Sour beers are daring, provocative, and shake up all your preconceptions of what a beer can be. They are also not the sort of beer you are going to want to recommend to a novice, or to drink on a regular basis.
That would be, more or less, how I felt while reading Rollins latest book, Insurrection.
In the pages of Insurrection, Rollins challenges us to ask what truly motivates our faith, and then deconstructs our idolatrous images of the divine.
Using continental philosophy, postmodern critique, and a fair bit of existentialism, Rollins makes a provocative suggestion – many of us who claim to have faith are in fact using God as a means to an end. Faced with our own mortality and unfulfilled desires, we create for ourselves a deus ex machina, a divine being who steps in to ensure our life has comfort, meaning, and hope.
It matters little if we actively believe in this god, because others (our church, the pastor) believe on our behalf, and by entering into the play-acting each week we are able to attain all the same advantages whether we truly believe or not.
But instead of running from the pain and despair of life, Rollins insists that the Cross and Resurrection lead us to embrace them and in doing so rob them of their power.
He argues that while religion is the giving up of all for God, at the Cross we give up even God himself, joining Christ in his cry of forsakenness, and in the process experience the presence of God in his very absence. Resurrection then becomes a fresh start where we see God not as the one who calls us to love, but as the one present in the very act of love itself.
As the book continues Rollins leverages these ideas in a number of ways, but his central point seems to be this – we affirm our beliefs not through our words but through our deeds, and the role of theology is to be a pyrotheology which is always burning down the structures of our faith and in the process finding truth.
In his words “The truth arises in the very conflict itself, the conflict that drives us onward.”
Truth be told, I quite enjoyed Insurrection. Rollins is a talented writer, with a knack for telling stories, and it did indeed set fire to some old assumptions while encouraging me to examine the motives of my faith.
But like I said, it was also a bit like drinking a sour beer. There’s a place for it, and it can even be a needed change, but it’s not what I’d build a foundation on.
In fact a foundation is exactly what Insurrection does not provide. It is an incendiary work, an act of theological arson, and while that may be necessary at times I find myself growing tired of constant deconstruction that leads to…more deconstruction.
We can burn down the wreckage of the old structure, but are no better off until we build something new in it’s place.
Also, I’m not as sold on existentialism as Rollins seems to be. It has it’s place, but when used as the lens through which we view our faith, it seems liable to lead us in all sorts of unhelpful directions.
So, would I recommend Insurrection? Yes, it’s a thought provoking book and a worthwhile dialogue partner. Just don’t make it your session beer.