I like books which deal with Christians and doubt. I have come to distrust books that give pat answers and easy formulas for solving insoluble problemI like books which deal with Christians and doubt. I have come to distrust books that give pat answers and easy formulas for solving insoluble problems. One of my favorite books is Greg Boyd's book "Benefit of the Doubt" which challenges the reader to embrace doubt as a helpful part of life and then deal with it carefully and over time.
"Insurrection" is also about doubt; but it swings the pendulum too far the other way from being overly certain about everything. This book makes doubt and unbelief into a permanent philosophy. I struggled with where to place this book in my bookshelves. That may seem like a small decision, but I struggled to understand where this books fits. Rollins wants to style himself as a theologian--or others do perhaps--but there is very little theology in here. Some would argue that I view that as a modernist, which is why I can't see the validity of his theology. But even if I was a post-modernist, I would struggle placing this as a theology book.
Eventually, I decided this was a philosophical treatise that uses a biblical muse as its jumping-off point. Rollins is a classic post-modern philosopher who wants to engage a group of people who desire to stay in touch with Christianity while rejecting most of what the Church embraces. For those who read this review, this book appeals to all the disenfranchised Christians around the world. Unfortunately, I agree with his assessment that this group is growing very large and loud. With the failure of the Emerging church to produce an alternative to today's megachurch/sunday-morning-concert style of religion, Rollins approach is the viewpoint of the anarchist. "Blow it all up".
This book is a pseudo-theological basis for doing just that.
I admit, this is theology in the broadest sense of the word: A study related to God. But in that broad sense Hawking, Dawkins, Hitchens and Woody Allen write books on theology. In a more narrow sense, Rollins barely interacts at all with any stream of theology. Instead, he creates simple caricatures of Fundamentalism, Charismatic churches, the American church, etc. and uses that facade to contrast his more robust philosophy. It is like comparing a cartoon to a painting. The painting will always look like it has more depth.
Rollins has always wanted to be stylized as a "Heretic Theologian" and therefore feels no need to engage contemporary or classical theology. In addition, he wants to be taken seriously by both philosophers and theologians. I suspect this book fails at both.
And this is the problem I have with the book. The people he most wants to engage are those who grew up in church and have a passing knowledge of theology. To them, he has to present this book as a theological examination of certain issues. But it is actually a philosophy which has nothing in common with Christian Theology. Let me give some examples.
Rollins begins each chapter with engaging parabolic stories. No question Rollins is a good story-teller and has collected engaging and provocative stories. I may use some of them again in my speaking. Then, he takes a tangential point of each story and launches into an aspect of the last week of Jesus' life in order to make a radical point. He does this with Jesus' agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. Then, he goes to the seminal event of the crucifixion. After spending several chapters there, he explores the resurrection.
All of this sounds like theology, doesn't it? But it's not.
Let's take his examination of the crucifixion. Rather than engaging any of the orthodox meanings of the crucifixion, he develops a completely novel way of looking at it. In "Insurrection" the Cross is not about sin, death or judgment. To Rollins, the cross represents that moment when Jesus realizes he is an Atheist. Lest you think I'm exaggerating, the sub-chapter is called "When God became an Atheist". He describes the agony of Jesus on the Cross and boils it down to his cry, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me." This chapter is compelling because we have all felt this separation from God, whether we have admitted it or not. I liked where he was going with this. But then, for no apparent reason other than his post-modern approach to this subject, he takes a logical leap of faith. This is not surprising, since much of his understanding of Theology comes from Kierkegaard.
In this approach to Jesus' cry, he borrows heavily from St. John of the Cross and Madame Guyon, mystics who spoke of the Dark Night the soul endures. But whereas those writers arrive at a goal of contentment and surrender to God, Rollins does not. To him, the point of the Cross is to recognize that we have lost God and may never find him again. He advises churches to embrace this a/theism as he calls it, and jettison any hymns of hope. We should have hymns of sorrow and despair with no final verse that solves it all. Rollins states that the best Christian is the one who follows Christ's example and gives up on God completely. Only then can you start living a life of freedom from Religion.
According to this a/theism, the best Christian is one who suffers, who lives in despair and finds contentment in never having God help them.
Religion to Rollins means the church. As a survivor of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, he does not see the church containing much meaning any more. Like many is this post-modern wasteland of belief, he wants to blow it all up and start from scratch with Christianity. His philosophy is called "Pyro-Theology" which simply means "burn down the church." In this, he is quoting the Spanish Anarchist Durruti who said "The only church which illuminates is a burning church." Durriti was not referring to revival.
So, as I said, the best Christian is this a/theist. If you embrace the cross you give up hope in God. You learn to live in this life without God's direct "deus ex machina". This is an interesting twist. The phrase "deus ex machina" means "God in the machine". It refers to a plot device employed by lazy writers to superimpose a previously unknown gimmick to save a hero from his crisis. Rollins believes too many Christians live this way. They want God to just do a miracle and save them from the logical outcome of living in this world. He says the true follower of the Cross will desire that God does not ever show up unannounced.
This is actually a point I began to agree with him about. I have believed Scripture is pretty clear that God's direct interaction with man is limited and used only when nothing man can do will suffice. We should not live our life relying on God to constantly bail us out. That is weak religion for sure. But then, Rollins won't leave it alone.
It is like George Costanza on the T.V. show Seinfeld. When they were developing an idea for a show, George has an insight: "The show is about nothing." In essence, he is saying the show doesn't have a plot. The characters and their reactions are the key point. But in the interview with NBC, George can't leave well enough alone. Every time the producers try to find any meaning in the show, George interjects with shouts of "It's about nothing. It's about nothing."
This is what Rollins does. Instead of allowing us to think, "Surely we should want God to interact somewhat in this life with us", Rollins says "NO, NO, NO! You have been abandoned by God and He will never show up. If you're a holy person, accept that and stop whining."
That has a perverse appeal to the cancer patient who has prayed for years to be healed. It sounds right to the refugee who sees his entire family slaughtered in front of his eyes. It feels like it might be true. But it has nothing to do with anything but one verse in the Bible. No one in the Bible lived that way and to live that way now is ludicrous.
This is just a repackaging of Camus. I'm accurate in this. He even references Camus' approach to the legend of Sisyphus. In that legend, the greek gods make Sisyphus roll a rock up a hill and then let it roll down again. He is sentenced to do this for eternity. Camus sees this as the essence of Existentialism. At its core, there is no meaning to rolling a rock up a hill. But Camus says there is no meaning to anything. All Sisyphus has to do is find his own meaning in this process and he will be happy. He will be happy even though it is all meaningless.
From this we conclude that Rollins is simply a Camus existentialist with some late 20th century european communists thrown in for good measure.
He does the same twisting of philosophy with the resurrection. The resurrection is not an event, but an idea. The idea is that there is no God to look forward to in heaven. God is seen when I show love to someone these days. God is love, he does not love. We love and that shows God's resurrection power. Rollins believes there is no transcendent God. God is the love that we show. He makes a great show of mentioning Mother Teresa's crisis of faith in the late 40s and says she gave up on the idea of a God. But she keeps the name God and applies it to acts of love. When she loves, there is God.
So is Rollins now a pantheist, a humanist, an existentialist or what?
I guess what bothers me is that he doesn't prove anything he claims; he just says it. We can accept it on the basis of whether we like it or not. He borrows heavily from Derrida of course, but also, strangely, from european philosophers like Zizek.
Side note: Zizek makes no sense to me. I have read him dozens of times, and he gets more tied up in knots every time. Perhaps it is because I am reading translations of him, but I don't think so. His views on the value of Communism and the way economics should work are nonsense. Yet, Rollins quotes him a dozen times. None of the quotes look like they fit the point Rollins is making. He also quotes Camus, Heidegger, Caputo, Derrida, and many other a/theistic voices. If this is radical Christianity, it is amazing how much it looks like tired European philosophy.
In order to understand this book, you already have to be a follower of Rollins. Otherwise, this makes very little sense.
So why on earth would I give it 2 stars instead of zero? Five reasons:
1. It is interesting and readable. I would tackle this over Caputo and Zizek any day. He actually makes sense. 2. His stories are great. 3. I love his observation that Paul rarely mentions any of the events of Jesus' life except his death and resurrection. I think the point he draws out of it is shallow, but his observation is new to me and got me thinking long into the night. 4. I like his appreciation of Mother Teresa and the value of putting love into action. If he had said that God is present when we love, I would have changed my view of the book. But he doesn't want to negate his view that there is no "deus ex machina" so he has to say that we are God and we are Love. 5. He does evaluate some of the problems with some evangelical churches correctly. His recipe solutions are very post-modern. That is to say, he does not believe in solutions. He thinks that deconstruction is the solution because we don't need solutions, just dialogue.
I believe most who love this book in the 4-5 star range already loved this philosophy or this writer and haven't examined the contents carefully enough. I hope that is the case....more
Definitely an accurate book historically and wonderfully laid out. Characters are believable and crisp. The dialogue is superb. I didn't like the endiDefinitely an accurate book historically and wonderfully laid out. Characters are believable and crisp. The dialogue is superb. I didn't like the ending, but it still fit the rest of the story well....more