A few days ago I took a theological, and rather petulant, swipe at Pete Rollins’ recent work, Insurrection, though to my shame at the time it was only half read. Since then I have enjoyed a twitter exchange with @philsnider whose helpful representation of Rollins’ work I found engaging, even in 140 character bursts.
Having now moved from dismissal, to engagement, with Rollins’ text, I want to say very briefly, what I think is right in Insurrection but at the same time subject it to a brief theological critique.
Part 1 (Crucifixion):
Ø Nietzsche declared the death of God (but we should remember the god Nietzsche declared dead shouldn’t be confused with the God revealed in Jesus. There are many gods we have created in our own image and they all need to be declared dead)
Ø The church can, at times, lack integrity and honesty. It can live in denial.
Ø The church can treat God like another commodity – God is simply the thing you get to fill a gap in your own life.
Ø The church has lost the capacity of the psalms to speak authentically of loss, despair, pain, doubt, in the midst of faith.
Ø The church can be escapism. A failure to face the world and the God who loves this world in incarnation.
However, I do need to suggest that there are key problems in part 1.
– speaking of the death of God remains problematic. It remains unclear whether Rollins is flirting with the school associated with Mark Taylor and Thomas Altizer or merely taking advantageous use of the language. I would suggest any use of the language of death of God needs to be more crafted to avoid such confusions.
– there is a great danger in Rollins’ style that he, like I would suggest Nietzsche does with God, ends up creating something of a parody of the real church/God which it is easy to dismiss. I suggest he does this rather than wrestling with the manifestations of both we may know as members/practitioners. The church is not perfect, but why is it only the imperfections Rollins identifies?
– is a Lacanian understanding of the human being the only valid working psychological model he should consider? How should he interrogate the model and question its assumptions?
Part 2 (Resurrection):
Ø In Christ a new relationship between human beings has been shown as possible and this is not subservient to the social constructs the world has formulated.
Ø Those in Christ are called to live in the world, for the world, because God lived in and for the world in Jesus.
Ø The church, if it is to be the body of Christ crucified and resurrected, must live in and for the world today.
Ø God is made known (realised) in the love/act
Let me then, now, try and share my key theological anxieties about Rollins’ latest work.
My significant concern is with the move to, what I see to be, a singularly immanentist theological position. What do I mean by this? Rollins leads us to understand God as realised in what I will call the love/act, that is, how we live as the crucified and risen Christ in the world, now. For Rollins how we love the world, embrace it as God did in Christ, is how we know and believe in God. It is by acting in union with God’s intent that we believe. This is not a belief that leads to love, but a love which acts and is belief.
At one level this theory of love/act is good. We are to be a love/act community because Jesus was a (or the?) God love/act. However, let me highlight the danger. If God becomes only the immanent, only the love/act, then we have ironically domesticated God and again made God some-thing we can fully know, own, and at worst then control.
Where Derrida allowed for presence/absence to be held in tension the idea I believe Rollins develops here denies the absence and makes God wholly ours. Rollins rightly deconstructs the religious God in Part 1 of his work but replaces that religious God with a domesticated-religious-
God, though this is not his intent at all. What Insurrection then becomes is no longer an a/theology but only an immanent theology. I wonder if this problem arises because of his dependence on Lacan/Zizek. What if he considered another theological view?
What if, for example, he took something from theological thinking that looks back and does not see God and Creation as two equals, or two isolated alternatives, but sees creation as God’s expressing. This is not to be confused with saying creation is God, but is to be seen as creation being a continual love/act of God. God participates in creation. God is continually bringing creation to birth and so it enjoys God’s participation even when it is unawake to it. This provides a similar theological motivation to be a people of love/act but at the same time recognises several things simultaneously.
Firstly it is God, beyond our control, who calls us to a new way of being in the world, by the very action of incarnation which is love/act. Second, that because creation is God’s expression, but is not God, creation is graced and a proper place for our love/act. Third, that in remembering the God who is not domesticated within our love/act, but is present within and absent from it, we are continually called to be now and beyond now. Fourth, the absence/presence (immanence/transcendence) of God is why we doubt and yet believe. Fifth, God defined only in immanence is God under control and mastered, but God in presence/absence is the God who continually remains and appears in the disconcerting impossibility of resurrection.
I suspect Rollins’ book would wish to dismiss my argument on three levels. Firstly I’m guilty of putting belief back in the foreground. Second, I have missed his point about the need to be love/act as a priori belief, and third all my comments get us nowhere but into a blind theological discussion which changes nothing. Undoubtedly I am potentially guilty on all counts, so let me offer a last defence.
Firstly we need to remember God has addressed the world by creation, in the story of the people of Israel, and uniquely in Jesus Christ. Within this we are addressed by the story of God in the bible and the tradition of the church. Neither may be faultless but it has gifted us, because of the presence of God’s Holy Spirit and the incarnation of God in Christ, with a way of reading the world which is a priori in comparison to Zizek et al. However good Zizek may be thought to be, he too needs to be interrogated theologically. This doesn’t dismiss what Rollins is doing per se, but attempts to set it within a theological framework which is a divine gift to the church.
Second, we should remember the apophatic tradition. This has taught us that what we say of God does not define God, but reveals how much what we say tells us of what we don’t know about God. I may call God “Father” but I have no rational concept of “father” that makes sense when I speak it of God. I may say God exists provided I realise I have nothing by which to judge what existence might be when applied to God because there is no other genus by which I can measure God. This dilemma is a/theology where God is known and unknown, always beyond grasp; where God alone defines the language we use, or the love/act we are, because God is not a domesticated-religious-God we can control.
This leads to a final thought, that rather than a dualism of belief and doubt we realise that to doubt/believe is the human way to un/know God.
Not sure Pete will respond to my questions, but it did me some good to get them down somewhere.