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The Idolatry of God: Breaking Our Addiction to Certainty and Satisfaction

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Theological firebrand Peter Rollins asserts that mainstream Christianity reduces God to an idol, made in our own image, for the purpose of providing certainty and satisfaction.

You can’t be satisfied. Life is difficult. You don’t know the secret.

Whether readers are devout believers or distant seekers, The Idolatry of God shows that we must lay down our certainties and honestly admit our doubts to identify with Jesus. Rollins purposely upsets fundamentalist certainty in order to open readers up to a more loving, active manifestation of Christ’s 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. Showing how 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 joyfully embrace our brokenness, resolutely face our unknowing, and courageously accept the difficulties of existence. Only then, he argues, can we truly rob death of its sting and enter into the fullness of life.

208 pages, Paperback

First published September 22, 2015

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About the author

Peter Rollins

15 books294 followers
Peter Rollins is a Northern Irish writer, public speaker, philosopher and theologian who is a prominent figure in Postmodern Christianity.

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, an interpretation that views faith as a particular way of engaging with the world rather than a way of believing things about the world.

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 ones care and concern for the world. As an outspoken critic of “worldview Christianity” 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, rendering them fluid and opening them up to the new. This event cannot then be understood as a religious, cultural or political system, but is a way of life that operates within such systems.

In order to explore and promote these themes Rollins has founded a number of experimental communities such as ikon and ikonNYC. These groups describe themselves as iconic, apocalyptic, heretical, emerging and failing and engage in the performance of what they call 'transformance art' and the creation of "suspended space." 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.

Although Rollins does not directly identify with the emerging church movement,he has been a significant influence on the movement's development. As a freelance speaker and popular writer, Rollins operates broadly outside the walls of an academic institution, and currently lives in Greenwich, Connecticut. His most influential book to date is How (Not) To Speak Of God (2006).

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 134 reviews
Profile Image for David Steele.
Author 5 books170 followers
July 6, 2015
Peter Rollins writes, "My desire is that this work would help to agitate and disturb the reader in a positive way." The author certainly accomplishes his objective with this reader, yet there is nothing positive about the proposals set forth in the book, The Idolatry of God.

Rollins essentially argues that most churches peddle a God which is an impotent idol. Such a God "is treated as nothing more than a product, a product that promises certainty and satisfaction while delivering nothing but deception and dissatisfaction." Admittedly, if Rollins' proposal is accurate, he would have a case to make. But to accuse most churches of propagating a "idol/idle" God is an overreach at best and sheer nonsense at worst.

The author stands with other postmodern and emergent thinkers who cast doubt on epistemological certainty. But Rollins takes his view one step further. He sets his sights on anyone who yearns for satisfaction. Hence, the subtitle is an accurate reflection of the message that Rollins seeks to set forth, namely - "breaking our addiction to certainty and satisfaction."

What I find emerging in these pages is an anti-church treatise that downplays doctrinal propositions, creeds, and orthodoxy. I am always fascinated by writers in the postmodern stream who resist absolute statements of truth (which is a subtle way of rejecting the correspondence theory of truth). Yet all the while, these authors are quick to promote their own views, metaphysical presuppositions, and epistemological claims.

There are many original thoughts here. Unfortunately, these thoughts are not in step with Scripture and prove unhelpful.
Profile Image for Lee Harmon.
Author 4 books106 followers
November 27, 2012

Have we turned God into an idol? In this thought-provoking book, you’ll learn to think about God, life, and love differently.

The idea of God as the fulfillment of our desires is so all-pervasive today that most of us take it for granted. But is this not the very definition of an idol? That which we focus on as the solution to our unfulfillment, in hopes of attaining happiness?

Next time you attend church, listen closely to the worship hymns. Each one promises to provide something which will fill the emptiness we feel by nature … a nature that began with birth, and our severing from the universe to create a separate being. In this way, the church takes it place beside every other industry that is in the business of selling satisfaction. Religious hymns become little more than advertising jingles, and the clergy come to resemble slick salespeople presenting their god-product to the potential consumer. If idolatry is the artificial search for ultimate satisfaction, then the church today does not offer an alternative to the idolatry that weighs us down, but instead blesses it and gives it divine justification.

What can we do about it? Rollins encourages us to be part of the problem, not the solution, and he closes the book with several intriguing group exercises to help us think outside the box, recognizing and embracing life for its uncertainty and unattainable satisfaction. Remember when Jesus died, and the curtain in the temple was torn from top to bottom? The Holy of Holies lay exposed, and the separation between man and God finally came down. So what did temple visitors find there, beyond the curtain of separation?

That’s right: nothing. There was nothing behind the curtain. That is not to say that Christianity is a lie, or that the scriptures are wrong. The reality is more interesting than this.

Like every other idol, God proves to be meaningful only while unattainable. Once obtained … once lived … the meaning dies, but is reborn, as it shifts from idolatry to experience. An experience which cannot be ours until we lay down our certainties and our doomed quest for ultimate understanding and satisfaction.
Profile Image for Eileen Lee.
Author 8 books14 followers
February 3, 2013
I was hoping to have my beliefs shattered and crushed under the heel of this book, but, alas, it did not happen. I think hanging out with Quakers for the last decade--a group that has already discarded many of their "idols"--has already put me through the process that this book may provide for others. I distinctly remember the discomfort experienced in my first year or so in Meeting.

My two-star review is based, then, mainly on my own personal disappointment. There were some interesting ideas that Rollins presents, however; I was especially interested in the juxtaposition of Lacan's mirror-stage and Original Sin as the origin of the yearning and dissatisfaction that we all experience as human beings. Rollins gives readers many such tidbits to mull over, which I think makes this book a worth-while read whether you come out a broken (or fixed) being or not.

*I am editing this review to add that upon rereading I've realized that one might infer that I was disappointed in the book because I'd set the contents and their desired effect up as an "idol" of spiritual development or self-improvement, therefore it was inevitable that I was disappointed. Well played, Rollins, well played.
Profile Image for Kelsey Gould.
49 reviews12 followers
May 25, 2020
9/10. Over the past couple of years, the framework through which I approached my faith became increasingly... troublesome. It’s been so helpful to read stories of people who have experienced similar things, but there was still so much confusion and anxiety around the subject. This book has helped so so much. As the title suggests, the point of it was not to contribute to any certainty, but to freedom. And it did! It has given words to many of my wonderings and suspicions and unease, and it has given me hope for experiencing a substantial faith in a different way.

I can think of a few people for whom this would also be a freeing read, and many more who would be well-served by the philosophical and theological challenges Peter Rollins has to offer. Highly recommend to groups desiring aforementioned outcomes.
Profile Image for Ali M..
317 reviews56 followers
August 13, 2016
Whether you agree with the ultimate conclusions Peter Rollins comes to or not, the guy is brilliant at breaking down how the human being functions psychologically, for better or worse – and he's especially good at exposing the false constructs that religious people build for themselves to stay comfortable. While I didn't find this book as convincing and cutting as Insurrection, it's still well worth the read and contains plenty of ideas that should be confronted by every Christian. One of the points Rollins makes later in the book (one that should fall under the "well, duh" category) is that Christian communities desperately need to cultivate space where they are faced with diametrically opposed ideas and worldviews on a regular basis. Without this healthy dialogue and constant self-reflection, we are in danger of seeing God as nothing more than an idol – something to chase after for our own fulfillment – and of making the Church universal into nothing more than a shrine, instead of a force meant to be used for love and good in the world.

This book argues that the common Christian view of God as a being who will bring us ultimate satisfaction is not actually a Biblical view at all, but fits the scriptural definition of an idol, and should be avoided. Rollins discusses how our first moments of self-awareness as children always come with a sense of loss, since we perceive "I" for the first time as separate from the world around us. But this sense of separation and alienation is actually an illusion, he insists, since we did not in fact lose anything - we simply began to perceive the world and ourselves differently. He builds on this idea by framing the Crucifixion as the moment where Christ, who never experienced this human sense of alienation, feels it for the first time when he cries out: "My God, my God why have you forsaken me?" He frames the Law as part of this system of idolatry that is so central to our nature, and suggests that "new creation" occurs the moment God breaks our hold on our tribal identities, and we cease our desperate search for meaning in idols (even Him) – instead, we see Him infuse the world around us with meaning.

Rollins summarizes what this looks like in practice:

The Idol is experienced as that which is utterly beautiful, that which is so radiant everything else pales into insignificance. But when we read that God is love, we are reminded that love cannot be directly approached as beautiful and sublime but as that humble reality that renders the world beautiful and sublime. Love does not say, "Look at me," but invites us to look at another. Unlike the Idol that tries to capture our gaze, the God testified to in love avoids our direct gaze and invites us to be taken up by the beauty that surrounds us.

...and I agree completely. When we're focused on others – on the divine image inherent in the people and world around us – we do not feel that primal sense of separation as keenly because we are not focused on ourselves. It's Altruism 101, but always bears repeating. And this is also an interesting argument for the "absence" of God testified so often in Scripture, because God wants our line of sight to be horizontal (looking to the needs of others), not vertical (looking to fulfill our own needs).

Where I think the Rollins brand of "pyrotheology" breaks down is in the details of individual experience. I think everyone has a unique way of perceiving, understanding, and relating to God that is not quite the same as the person next to them, just as no two personalties are wholly alike. Christian a/theism, in the end, just doesn't seem comprehensive enough to account for this wide variety of experiences, many of which may not line up with the ideas Rollins presents in the end of the book. There may be many ways to break apart the false "idols" of God we have unwittingly created. In fact, I think the shattering of these constructs is an inevitable part of human life, not even something we have to fight to do – although I do agree it would help to be more conscious and deliberate about it.

Anyway, great food for thought, as always. I'll continue to read anything Rollins puts out because Christian a/theism is just SO INTERESTING. (And because he used Equilibrium, WALL-E, and The Walking Dead as illustrative examples. Ha. +100 points, Pete!)
Profile Image for David .
1,223 reviews147 followers
August 2, 2016
I like Peter Rollins' work because he challenges my assumptions. What most struck me in this book, and dovetailed nicely (or uncomfortably) with what I've been thinking about a lot lately, is how we tend to fit Jesus into our preconceived schemes. Basically, if all humans want to be on the winning team, we Christians say joining Jesus is the winning team. So our selfish desire to win is still there, it is just baptized. Rollins uses different analogies, but gets to the same point - what if Jesus does not satisfy us the way we have been told, or simply sanctify our selfishness, but instead frees us from the desire to win in the first place?

Overall this is a thoughtful book that does echo mystics from the church's past, but unlike those books, is one people today may actually read. The third part tells stories from Rollins' community on how they have sought to illustrate these ideas and while those stories are interesting, they seemed sort of tacked on. At one point near the end, I thought Rollins was getting a bit arrogant, as if to say everyone (or nearly every Christian today and in history) got it wrong but finally he has come along to get it right. That said, it is a great read.
Profile Image for Mehrsa.
2,234 reviews3,660 followers
October 19, 2019
I thought the book could have been more organized, but I really love Rollins perspective on faith. I learned about him on a podcast where he talked about being comfortable with "the lack" in our lives. I thought it was a super insightful conversation and I wanted more so I read the book. It gave me a lot to think about.
Profile Image for Raoul G.
155 reviews17 followers
February 2, 2023
For someone familiar with Peter Rollins work many of the ideas in this book will not be exactly new. Still, here he manages to put them together in a understandable and coherent way. As always, his use of examples (e.g. movie scenes, parables etc.) is helpful to make the various points he is making understandable. As always the content is a mix of theology, philosophy and psychoanalysis. In my opinion this book serves well as an introduction to Peter Rollins' 'pyrotheology'.

Now a few more words regarding the content:

In the beginning of the book Rollins talks about an insight from (lacanian) psychoanalysis. A sense of loss / a lack / a void in the center of our being marks our existence as human beings:
"It is this sense of a gap that causes us to feel incomplete in some way. As a result, one of our first impulses is to find ways of abolishing the void. We attempt this by connecting our vague and abstract sense of separation to something concrete and then trying to gain it. However, this strategy can never wholly work, as the disquieting sense of separation that makes its presence felt in our bodies has a hunger bigger than any object or objects could ever satisfy."

In Rollins' opinion the way most people relate to this lack is problematic, indicated by the fact that there are whole industries grounded on the false promise that they can fulfill this lack. Sadly, the church isn't doing much better:
"Today the 'Good News' of Christianity ... is sold to us as that which can fulfill our desire rather than as that which evokes a transformation in the very way that we desire. Like every other product that promises us fulfillment, Christ becomes yet another object in the world that is offered to us as a way of gaining insight and ultimate satisfaction."

This ultimate satisfaction that is promised to us can of course never be delivered and makes the object which promises it to us an idol:
"What we see taking place in the church today is the reduction of God to an Idol, that is, to a thing that will satisfy us and fill the gap we feel in our hearts. In thinking of God in this way, the church ends up mimicking every other industry by claiming that they can take away the sense of loss that marks our life."
He goes on to describe how these idols (be they religious or secular) enslave us and affect the way we relate to each other.

Of course this book does not present only problems, but also some solutions. According to Rollins, what the Gospels offer is a radically new freedom:
"not the freedom to pursue what we believe will satisfy us, but the freedom from the pursuit of what we believe will satisfy us."

Further on he explores how this plays out theologically by taking a look at the crucifixion event and some biblical passages written by Paul and then connects them:
"For Paul it is this very loss of identity that identifies us with Christ. As we experience the loss of the operative power of our identity, we thus touch upon that experience of utter loss expressed in the Crucifixion of Christ."
This loss of identity hints at something called 'Religionless Christianity' in pyrotheology.

The last chapter of the book looks at some concrete liturgical manifestations of this 'Religionless Christianity' that Rollins organized in Ireland, and some contemplative practices which are helpful in destroying the idols of certainty and satisfaction.
One of the contemplative practices in which I participated this year and which I found very fruitful is 'Atheism for Lent':
"The practice of Atheism for Lent exposes participants to some of the greatest, most perceptive criticisms and critiques of God, religion, and faith, the hope being that this difficult and challenging journey will result in the destruction of Idolatrous ways of thinking about faith."

If you're ready to be challenged in your beliefs and willing to leave the realm of false certainty for a authentic struggle for truth I recommend you start looking into Peter Rollins work, maybe even this very book.
Profile Image for Nathan Wheeler.
9 reviews5 followers
March 8, 2013
The latest book, from Peter Rollins, is the crescendo of his work so far. Reading this book helped me put all his works, so far, into focus. I highly recommend his prior books, especially The Orthodox Heretic.

The Idolatry of God exposes the “if only” Gospel presented by most churches today. God is just another product offered to the masses as a solution for life. Promoted, advertised and consumed by Christians as the fulfillment to all our desires.

“Whether people accept the idea of God or reject it, they seem to be talking about the same thing; a being who satisfies our soul by filling the gap in our existence.” Pg 23

He goes on to write, “By misunderstanding the nature of faith, they turn the good news of Christianity into the bad news of Idol worship. By claiming that God is the way to fill this gap, they reduce the divine to the level of a product.” Pg 27

In the book, Rollins redefines God, original sin, church, belief, the meaning of Jesus’ death and a whole host of other long held assumptions of the Christian faith.

One of the main critiques in the book is our insistence that Jesus came to fulfill us. “But there is another, more radical form of freedom hinted at in the Gospels- not the freedom to pursue what we believe will satisfy us, but the freedom from the pursuit of what we believe will satisfy us.” Pg 80

“Christianity does not offer a salvation that operates within this framework, but instead opens up the possibility of a salvation from this frame.” Pg 87

The book is broken up into three distinct sections; the Old Creation, the New Creation and the New Collective. It lays out the critique in the first section, develops an alternative in the second section and finally shows how these ideas can be fleshed out in a practical setting.

The Idolatry of God, is a deep reflection on what a majority of Christians believe and how our beliefs build up, not tear down, our dissatisfaction and difficulty in life. It’s a poignant and much needed critique on modern Christianity. It will challenge your faith and that is a good thing. I highly recommend The Idolatry of God for anyone who is serious about theological reflection or anyone who is interested in progressive forms of Christianity.
Profile Image for Jamie Howison.
Author 9 books12 followers
May 2, 2013
I read this one over the course of about eight weeks, as part of a bi-weekly book breakfast group in which we took on just two or three chapters at a time. On the positive side, this book generated some great conversation. In fact, it stimulated some of the most impassioned responses in our group's seven year history. One of our group members is a university lecturer in psychology, and her response (rebuttal?) to the way in which Rollins "psychologizes" the fall and original sin should have been recorded!

On the negative side, I found very little in this book to be all that terribly original, and think it really unfortunate that Rollins seldom cites sources or really connects his work to the line of people who have already explored these questions. How could he possibly write about doubt as being a part of faith (not its opposite...) without referencing the work of Paul Tillich, or of St Augustine for that matter? And so much of how he approached idolatry appeared in the writings of Robert Farrar Capon twenty and thirty years ago.
Profile Image for Robert Johnson.
15 reviews1 follower
December 20, 2022
A book that came into my life at the right time giving me to the freedom and love to think freely on what I had been struggle with for years. So grateful for the words and thoughts of Peter Rollins. Highly recommend. I imagine if you aren't in the right space for this, it will be a rough or nonsensical read, but if you are where I was, it will breath life into your soul.
Profile Image for David.
1,032 reviews39 followers
January 27, 2013
Peter Rollins, founder of the emergent church collective Ikon, has written a great book, but sure to be misunderstood. It's based on his claim that "God is treated as nothing more than a product, a product that promises certainty and satisfaction while delivering nothing but deception and dissatisfaction".

I'll let Rollins describe "The Idolatry of God" in his own words:


"Basically I argue that the modern church engages in a host of material practices designed to act as a security blanket for life. It does this by offering preaching, prayers and songs that solidify our tribal identities and promise fulfillment. In so doing the church becomes a type of crack house selling feel-good drugs to those who enter its doors. The problem, however, is that our attempt to avoid the inherent difficulties of life does not mean that we are free from suffering but rather that we are most oppressed by it. The truth that we suffer might be one that we can avoid much of the time, but we are always in danger of being directly confronted with it. Because of this we tend to cling to a security blanket, whether it is church, drink, or drugs. Such acts are not in themselves a problem but rather the solution to a problem -— namely, the problem of pain. Yet the limitation of this solution is exposed the next day when we experience the return of everything we had repressed. The pain is not worked through but simply avoided. As a result we are tempted to repeat the cycle."

. . .

"My concern is that most of the actually existing church acts as a type of drug den with the leaders being like the nicest, most sincere drug dealers. What we pay for are songs, sermons, and prayers that help us avoid our suffering rather than work through it. In contrast I am arguing for collectives that are more like the professional mourners who cry for us in a way that confronts us with our own suffering, the stand-up comedians who talk about the pain of being human, or the poets singing about life at the local pub. In other words, a church 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. A place where we are invited to confront the reality of our humanity, not so that we will despair, but so that we will be free of the despair that already lurks within us, the despair that enslaves us, the despair that we refuse to acknowledge."

. . .

"My main desire is that this work would help to agitate and disturb the reader in a positive way. Rather than simply agreeing or disagreeing with the message my hope is that those who engage with the book would find themselves reflecting upon their lives in new and beneficial ways. While there is a part of most writers that gains enjoyment from convincing people to see the world in the way that they do, my primary desire is not in getting people to agree with my vision of the world, but rather to give them a work that encourages them to ask difficult questions of themselves. My main concern is not is changing what people believe but in asking readers to reflect upon why they believe what they believe. I am inviting people to engage in a type of archaeological dig aimed at discovering if their beliefs are protecting them from the embrace of unknowing and suffering, and if so, what ought to be done about it. Finally, for those readers who find that they are questioning some of the things that they once took for granted, I hope the book will encourage them to seek out like-minded people who are on the same journey. Individuals who might become fellow workers in the task of forging the new collectives hinted at within the Christian text."

Profile Image for Zoë Birss.
779 reviews17 followers
June 22, 2016
I don't feel able, upon just finishing this book, to offer a critique. Instead, here are just some initial thoughts.

I'm quite shaken from reading the final part of the book, the description of the practice of Ikon, Peter Rollin's faith community. The practical examples given sound like a black metal or punk rock Jesus People. It was all very intriguing. However, it was also all so dark that I could hardly imagine how the performances and rituals could be carried out safely, when it comes to people's experiences of trauma and/or church abuse. Most of them have to do with creating an atmosphere of unease and instability when it comes to one's faith. However, the methods of using images of burning churches, fire alarms, the voice of a fundamentalist preacher played over DJ'd electronic music, or a contemporary worship song sung with dissonant words displayed on the screen all sound potentially very triggering to me, currently recovering from PTSD. It all sounds like something that would be just fine for privileged middle-class young adults, but I can imagine a lot of people who could be actually damaged by some of the performance and practice he suggests. That said, Rollins is very clear that all of these things are done in loving, safe community, with lots of discussion and consent.

So... with that off my chest.

I loved this book.

I recently lost my belief, and have been reeling ever since. I used to be an evangelical pastor. My loss felt very much like the loss of an idol, so this book spoke to me very deeply.

I believe there may still be room for me in the story of Jesus. This book helped give me that hope.

I expect I will return to this book again, perhaps often.

This book felt more like a meditation than an argument. It made me feel probed, and caused me to look at myself, even if it didn't necessarily feel like it gave me a lot in itself. I suspect that the author wouldn't mind. Someone else might find that the book is full of really good content and strong ideas, that perhaps I wasn't in a place to grasp. For me, the stories and allegories and parables were as helpful as the pure ideas. I think the book may have been written for people like me.

So, if you approach this book from the darkness, broken, unbelieving yet wishing for belief, maybe you'll find it as helpfully provocative as I do.

And, that's not a review, but this book has left me spent, so that's all I have.
Profile Image for Justin Morgan.
32 reviews1 follower
April 13, 2013
A week after reading this I decided to pick it up and read it again and take notes along the way. That should probably be a good enough review for anyone - a book that makes you think about it enough (whatever your conclusions, questions, or concerns) to motivate you to revisit more deeply.
Much of what Rollins talks about I found challenging in a good way. It is strikingly similar to (or perhaps is the same as) Radical Theology of the 60s (God is dead...) but reframed in a fresh, accessible and straightforward manner. A lot I found meaningful and much resounded with me. At the same time, I found myself asking a lot of questions about his ideas. There is a destructive streak to this theology that could probably have a good and negative side, but maybe ultimately I'm a traditionalist who desires continuity in my religious tradition in addition to engagement with the big problems he exposes. My two big criticisms: he spends so much time helping the reader change their perspective of things, but a superior intellectual vantage point is not enough. He admits this and says there must be experienced a change at the core of our being, but he fails to really articulate what that might look like very clearly.
The second criticism is about the last section of the book. I'm glad that he is experimenting with fleshing out his ideas/questions in a communal/symbolic/ritualistic setting, I just don't know how much of that would really speak to me. Still, I found his examples interesting at least.
The things I loved: Rollins extremely frequent following of Christ in the telling of parables, many he wrote himself, many from the Gospels, and many from modern media/entertainment. Instead of just talking about ideas he illustrated those ideas through story to enable the reader to SEE differently.
I also loved his willingness to embrace the hard questions and deal with it all honestly (even if I felt it wasn't completely comprehensive in the end.)
I think anyone seriously engaged with the faith today would do both themselves, their neighbors and their enemies a favor by giving this book a worthy engagement. It made me think a lot, see some things differently, and ask a lot of good important questions.
Profile Image for Joy Matteson.
591 reviews54 followers
April 12, 2018
This is a very difficult book to review. The whole point of the book is to leave you wondering if you've made God an idol in your life, and the answer is yes, yes, you have. But this book is about questions, not answers, in true postmodern theological undertaking. As the back of the book puts it so clearly--you don't know the secret. You can't get satisfaction. Deconstruct the God you think up in your mind--the image you have of Jesus, perhaps that you received straight from the pages of the Bible, because we are stained with separation and unknowing, and our perceptions of who God truly is are inherently flawed.

So...now what? Rollins is admittingly still figuring it out, realizing that as he's writing this book that he's actually writing his own brand of systematic theology. So, great questions, as is usually the case with postmodern theology, but not great answers. Because they're not about the answers. They're about the mystery, and where mystery is, there God is as well. Become like Christ in His suffering, experiencing separation from God, and only then will you break your addiction to certainty.
Profile Image for Ronald.
15 reviews
May 23, 2016
This book is a precision instrument. Much like, a scalpel, with which, to cut away those segments of Americana, that have been mistakenly overlaid as Christianity. So, in order to accept Christ, one must accept the American concept of it. This book turns the pages back to the gospel, in order, to move forward in Christ from now. The carved away portion of American nationalist religiosity, allows true faith to grow. Peter Rollins, is much like a doctor who wants to help people suffer less. And when people in Christianity, stop to think about it, there are various strains and interpretations that have caused suffering and oppression to people, that Christians have tried to ministering to at the same time. Jesus Christ took our suffering for us, for humanity, and when there are those who introduce suffering to others, this ceases to be Christianity and can be seen, truthfully as, oppression and suffering from the religion of the American empire.
148 reviews1 follower
September 20, 2018
Ai, ai. En helaas heb ik nog een boek van hem.
Profile Image for Leigh Anne.
933 reviews34 followers
April 30, 2019
Christianity: you're doing it wrong.

Americans often forget, with their megachurches and prosperity gospel evangelists, that the early Christians practiced a dangerous, radical faith that was diametrically opposed to the culture they lived in. No worries, though: Peter Rollins is here to remind you. His central thesis is that Christianity, as currently practiced, is actually idol worship, and that most people have lost their connection to the mystery that drives faith.

If that sentence didn't make you flounce off in a snit, you may very well be intrigued by Rollins's arguments, which are grounded in not only theology, but also philosophy and logic. People seek a lot of different things from religion, and Rollins is more than happy to burst their balloons by arguing that what people want from it ultimately can't be obtained. You're never going to have a pain-free, worry-free life. You're never going to be 110% safe, or certain, of anything. And you sure as hell aren't going to fully understand anything, ever. You can, however, accept that everything about this life is a mystery, and that things are going on way above your head and out of your comfort zone. Embracing this concept can ultimately lead to deeper faith and a better life.

This book is definitely not for everybody, but given that most of the publishing world still skews traditional Christian in output, this would be an excellent pick for making the collection more inclusive. Rollins includes several examples of worship services (mystery plays?) and other experiences that he has designed and implemented as part of what he calls "pyrotheology" (which, this reviewer admits, is the best neologism she's heard all year). Book club discussion questions and an interview with the author are included, allowing readers to take pyrotheology for a test drive (and, presumably, a very heated night at book club).

So, recommended for larger collections, churches that want to really shake things up (Rollins is way left of even progressive Christianity), and individual seekers, especially Christians dissatisfied with what the contemporary church has to offer. The only reason this doesn't get the fourth star is that while I personally love to be shaken up and disturbed, most other readers won't feel the same. One extra star for me, then, and, maybe, for you.
28 reviews1 follower
November 25, 2019
Hoe word je gelukkig? Misschien is dat de kernvraag van dit boek.

Nou, niet door al je hoop te zetten op zoiets als geluk. We leven in een chaotische, ondoorgrondelijke wereld, we zijn gebroken, vertwijfelde mensen, die van binnen allemaal een kern van leegte hebben. De complete vervulling van die leegte, wat het geluk zou moeten brengen, is in ons bestaan onbereikbaar. Als we die leegte desondanks proberen te vullen, en als dat ons leven gaat bepalen en richting gaat geven, dan zijn we bezig met afgoderij. En de God van het christendom is verworden tot precies zo'n afgod: iets wat de leegte moet vullen, onze identiteit gaat bepalen en ons weer heel moet maken.

Zo is het christendom niet bedoeld. Christus kwam niet om het zoveelste geluksproduct in het rijtje te zijn naast macht, geld, mode en postzegelverzamelingen. Hij kwam om ons te verlossen van het hele schema en ons op te roepen om alles waar we in dit leven aan vasthouden, alles waar we het diepste geluk van verwachten kapot te maken. Dat is nodig want alles waar we aan vasthouden en wat ons kaders, vastigheid en identiteit moet geven, staat tussen ons en een werkelijke ontmoeting met de ander in. De ander valt dan immers buiten jouw kader. "Verslaafd aan God" is doortrokken van een diep wantrouwen tegen vastigheid en identiteit. Waar een wij is, is een zij. Daar komt ruzie en oorlog van.

Maar krijg je van identiteitsgevoelens echt alleen maar ellende?

Als ik denk aan momenten dat ik een diepgaand geluk ervoer, dan zijn dat momenten dat ik me zoiets voelde als 'thuis'. Hoe kan zo'n ervaring tot stand komen? Is dat niet juist ook door die gegeven kaders, door een identiteit? Een voorbeeld dat me te binnen schiet van zo'n ervaring was in mijn studententijd. Een tentamen was geslaagd doordat ik er hard voor had geleerd, met vrienden was ik naar de kroeg, we zaten aan het bier, waren gelijkgestemd, ik was deel van de groep. Ik hóórde daar, bij die vrienden, als student, in die kroeg. Gek genoeg zou ik die ervaring - die er alleen maar kan zijn dóór identiteit, door cultuur, dóór regels en verwachtingspatronen, kortom door wat je ook 'beperking' zou kunnen noemen - ook wel vrijheid noemen. Vrijheid vind je binnen een beperking. Vrijheid zonder grenzen is zinloosheid. Paniek.

Ik zou dus denken dat een bestaansvoorwaarde voor geluk is dat de aan mij, gedurende mijn leven in de taal, opvoeding, en in de cultuur toegekomen rollen, identiteiten en verwachtingspatronen me als passend voorkomen. Waar je heen wilt, wie je bent, wat je vindt, het krijgt allemaal vorm in gesprek met wat je in je gedurende je leven in je omgeving meekrijgt en hebt meegekregen. Je kunt (beperkt) een eigen richting bepalen, maar dat kan alleen dánkzij die omgeving die jou richting heeft gegeven, eventueel om er tegenin te gaan.

Nu, Peter Rollins moet van die identiteit, van verwachtingspatronen, van regels, van alles wat in een (sub)cultuur en in het christelijk geloof 'gestold' is, dus niets hebben. De kern van het christendom zoals te vinden bij Paulus en in de verhalen over Jezus in de evangeliën, zegt Rollins, is juist een deconstructie van alle denkbare identiteiten, zowel politiek (vrij en slaaf), biologisch (man en vrouw) als religieus (jood en heiden), naar de bekende evangelietekst.

p. 116: voor Paulus is juist verlies van identiteit datgene wat ons met Christus verbindt;
p. 126: het moment waarop we de grond onder onze voeten voelen verdwijnen en het verlies van alle zekerheden voelen, is het moment dat we in aanraking komen met de ervaring van het kruis.
p. 160: Trouw aan het christelijke gebeuren betekent zodoende dat we ons inzetten voor de ontkrachting van de diverse verhalen die voor waar aannamen.

Kortom, christelijk geloof is deconstructie. Nu, zo zout heb ik het nog niet vaak gegeten en dat is het mooie aan dit boek.

Rollins geeft op het eind van zijn boek voorbeelden van rituelen mee om dit deconstructieproject aan te vangen. We worden bijvoorbeeld geacht ons samen met anderen onder te dompelen in lectuur die tegengesteld is aan onze eigen normen en waarden. We worden uitgenodigd om mensen met andere opvattingen te ontmoeten en met hen onze eigen positie aan te vallen. Soms hebben de rituelen wat weg van performance art, zoals het rondgooien van proppen met Bijbelpassages.

En dan, als we helemaal leeg zijn, als alle identiteit en zekerheid ons is ontvallen, ontstaat er een mogelijkheid tot echte verbinding met anderen. Dan staat er niets meer in de weg.

Dat dit een hachelijke onderneming is, is ook Rollins ook wel duidelijk. Terloops geeft hij ergens een korte waarschuwing om genoemde rituelen nooit alleen, maar altijd in een gemeenschap te doen, omdat je anders het risico loopt depressief te worden.

Kortom, wat een boek! Onstuimig, fantastisch, aanstootgevend en bij vlagen enorm inspirerend. Er staat echt wat op het spel.j Het hele christendom moet op de schop. Het zal me nog wel even heugen dat ik dit heb gelezen. Eigenwijs ook, als je bedenkt dat hij strooit met inspirerende inzichten van psychoanalytische snit, waar menigeen tegenwoordig toch de neus voor ophaalt!

Maar, uiteindelijk laat het boek toch teveel en te grote vragen open:
- is identiteit en vastigheid alleen maar slecht? Leidt het alleen maar tot oorlog? (Dat het tot oorlog kan leiden is mij ook wel duidelijk.)
- komt er niet alsnog een nieuw 'wij', een nieuwe identiteit, namelijk de mensen met het lef en het doorzettingsvermogen om zichzelf te beroven van alle identiteit?;
- is deze existentialistische/deconstructivistische wijze van interpreteren van het "Christusgebeuren" niet een beetje anachronistisch? Goed, in deze hermeneutische tijden is zoiets als de oorspronkelijke bedoeling natuurlijk ook niet meer heilig, al was het maar omdat we nu voldoende weten dat het lastig wordt die te achterhalen. Maar Rollins houdt zich met de historische context van de Bijbelteksten helemaal niet bezig, terwijl die vraag zich bij zijn wijze van interpreteren toch wel een beetje opdringt;
- wordt de christengemeenschap nu niet een ontzettend gevaarlijke plek? Wat als je al die deconstructie die we in naam van het evangelie moeten ondergaan, niet uithoudt? Wat als je de bodem niet bereikt en er niet hernieuwd uit naar voren komt? Is het genoeg om in een bijzin even te waarschuwen dat je je niet alleen in een zolderkamertje moet beroven van al je waarheden, maar samen met anderen? Krijg je geen geloof dat ten diepste alleen maar openstaat voor virtuozen in onthechting? En de rest dan? En kan de strijd voor onthechting en de pijn die je moet doorstaan, niet leiden tot frustratie die er vervolgens op allerlei problematische manieren uit kan komen? Bij iemand zoals Rollins, die zich goed raad weet met psychoanalyse, zou ik hier ook een reflectie op verwachten.
Profile Image for Jitse.
197 reviews29 followers
October 4, 2019
It's a joy to read Peter Rollins. His ideas are pleasantly against the grain and his theology is surprisingly good and seems to transcend the level of 'hey-I'm-just-saying-something-interesting-and-provocative'. I believe that at the heart of his book there is even quite some orthodoxy to be found. It made sense. It resonated.

There's also a but. As much as I love his theoretical work on idolatry and Pauline divisions, I am somewhat skeptical about his contemplative suggestions. They're interesting, I'd love to visit and encounter them some time, but I doubt they're useful for being a lasting community, for building a/the church. Chesterton's words come to mind: "the object of opening the mind is to shut it again on something solid." For as much as I think it's great to burn your securities, I think it's also great to build up something again. Doubt is useful, and should be an essential part of our faith, but I also believe we ought not live in deconstruction for the rest of our lives. "Stand for something or fall for anything." I'm looking for the second naïveté, and it's there in his theory but not in his practise.

P.s. Dutch translation decent, but maybe not great.
788 reviews80 followers
June 29, 2020
What to say about this book? I think that a lot of people who have been hurt by church and church people will love it. People who are into existential and Derridean philosophy will enjoy it.

But theology this is not. Rollins would do well to remember Schweitzer's famous words, "Thus each successive epoch of theology found its own thoughts in Jesus; that was, indeed, the only way in which it could make Him live. But it was not only each epoch that found its reflection in Jesus; each individual created Him in accordance with his own character." Rollins, an iconoclast in love with deconstructionism and epistemic doubt finds a God that ... SURPRISE!! ... is exactly like himself. But for such an advocate of being disrupted by alternative views, Rollins does a rather disappointing job of discussing them.

This book is almost entirely written in the following format: build a framework that deals with a very limited subset of questions, set up a liberal straw man and a conservative straw man, knock both down, and then invert the question in an epigrammatic way based on said framework. . I can do that too ... "Conservatives believe that mankind can only find reconciliation with God through personal faith in Jesus, liberals believe that all mankind will be reconciled with God by following Jesus' example of love and faithfulness. The first makes a mockery of God's love for all of those who die without hearing of Jesus, and the second places an intolerable and unachievable perfectionism on mankind. But there is a third way, when we realize that God has been here all along, and we begin to understand the mystery that God's love is the place where reconciliation is never needed because separation can never happen."

There is no discussion of Christian faith, and where it might be lacking. Only avant-garde proto-theology based mostly on bald assertions with no argumentation to back them up. For example, Jesus' cry on the cross is a cry of abandoning God as an object. Okay ... where does that come from? Why is it a cry of anguish if Jesus "lacks the lack". Nonsensical. But Jesus, who identifies with God and has been with God the Father since before beginning, crying out in pain at their first separation ... that makes sense. Rollins speaks of idolizing God, which again, is nonsensical, because the whole point is that God is to be worshiped instead of other things (worshipping God is not to be conflated with using God as a means to some other end, which actually is idolatry). Can I then suggest that Rollins idolizes uncertainty? Read 1 John 1. Does that sound like the voice of epistemic doubt? Or Paul's Romans 8? Or James? Or anyone in the Bible except Thomas? Where does the faith to die for one's beliefs evidenced by all of the apostles come from?

The thing is, there are some nice psychological insights in here. The worked examples are far different in tone and style and are well-done. There is good material here. Rollins can correctly identify many of the problems with churches and Christians. I am thankful for that. But the solution he offers is far worse than the disease. And for someone who professes so much uncertainty, Rollins sure seems certain that all of Christian history is wrong, and that he is right.
Profile Image for Mack Hayden.
440 reviews18 followers
February 8, 2017
Peter Rollins has been on my radar for a while. I'd seen him debate Lawrence Krause and had a decent number of friends recommend him to me. I'm an ex-Christian who still likes to keep tabs on what's new in the church. Rollins makes some compelling and important points about how the contemporary Christian world seems to make an idol out of God himself. If I ever get drawn back to Christianity, it'll be to the sort of Ecclesiastes-informed Christianity Rollins advocates here. His parables sprinkled throughout the book are clever and profound too. Still, there are moments where it's hard for me to tell what makes Rollins' points specifically Christian here. It seems he's taken Lacan, Zizek and maybe a bit of Alan Watts and given it a distinctively Jesusy flare. Definitely enjoyed it overall and I'd recommend it to anyone who likes having their ideas about philosophy, religion, psychology and human nature challenged and/or enlivened.
Profile Image for Adam Ross.
750 reviews97 followers
September 1, 2013
This is the first Rollins book I've read, and I can see why he's so interesting. In this book he claims that the typical evangelical presentation of the gospel is a false gospel because it maked false promises. He says that the story which the world promises about consumer goods the church has turned into a promise about Jesus. Where the world will promise that this or that object will ultimately satisfy our deepest longings, the church claims God will do for christians. He objects to this idea and shows us that the longing we feel comes from the tramatic psychological event of birth and early childhood development and is impossible to actually be satisfied. He argues that Jesus does not satisfy our deepest longings at all; rather, He frees us from the futile pursuit of satisfaction in the first place. He lets us be content with our imperfect, limited, finite existencecas creatures and frees us from pursuing all those things we think will give us fulfillment, including pursuit of God. If you pursue God for the satisfaction of your own desires, he contends, you have set up a false idol in God's place.

Now I didn't agree with everything in th book, but reading it for agreement isn't the point of bookd by emergent types. Their purpose in the church seems to be to challenge and shake up our certainties and confidences in a good way, in a way similar to the prophets. You have to go into the book interested in and open to being shaken up.
Profile Image for John Hanscom.
1,169 reviews18 followers
April 12, 2013
I had read his book, Insurrection, and fund it sort of average, but this one came with such glowing reviews, I decided to try again. I wish I had not. His basic thesis is our concept of God, church, liturgy, creeds, etc., can become as idolatrous as anything else, especially if we feel, as in the Prosperity Gospel, if we do this or that or believe this or that, we will reap great reward. What we should do, he believes, is know we cannot know, and embrace doubt. Well-and-good, but this has been said much better by many, such as, oh, EVERY CHRISTIAN MYSTIC EVER!!!!!!!. In addition, he wants us to embrace the Cross and Good Friday, especially Jesus' [probable, it is debated] sense on abandonment. Again. well-and-good; he is absolutely right. At the same time, he makes no real mention of the salvific event to which Good Friday points, Easter. It is almost as if it does not exist. Finally, at the end, he tries to verbally describe several groups and events which will aid others in what he feels important. Again, well-and-good, but it is like trying to describe sex; you kind of have to be there, and the verbal descriptions make them sound silly, however meaningful they actually are.

Though this may say more about me than him, I hope remember, the next time I see his name, that his writing just does not speak to me.
Profile Image for Robert D. Cornwall.
Author 31 books77 followers
March 7, 2013
I understand that Peter Rollins is a popular writer and speaker. He speaks out of a post-modern/non-foundationalist perspective that taps into the frustration so many have with modern/enlightenment views.

In this book he speaks of the ways in which Christians fall into the trap of objectifying God, that is, turning God into an idol. He speaks of the desire to find certainty in our faith -- therefore our willingness to turn God into an idol. His answer is to blow up our desire for certainty and satisfaction.

So, why did I give just 2 stars? I fear that it might be age-related. I just doesn't speak to me very well -- I'm not the audience. As I tried to read the book I felt like Rollins was going around in circles without saying that much.

Part of it might be his intended audience, which appears to be fundamentalist Christians, who are caught up in narrow dogmatism. But for those of us who long ago moved out of that trap and recognize that we must live faithfully with a certain amount of gray, none of this is new. As pastor of a Mainline Protestant church, my greater concern is for people who don't seem to know the stories well enough to make a difference.

This book might be for you, not so much for me.
Profile Image for Omar Domenech.
11 reviews
April 23, 2020
I like to finish what I start, but this was one of those rare books that was so bad that I recognized it wasn't worth my time. The main issue I had with it is that the book doesn't bother attempting to justify any of his ideas; it makes a lot of assertions without giving you any sort of backing for them. It doesn't make any appeals to scripture or to tradition or reason or any overarching philosophies, it simply expects you to agree with whatever is says because the author says so.

In addition to this, there's just nothing very novel or interesting in here. It's just your typical progressive Christian views except that unlike a book by Marcus Borg or Brian McLaren, you don't get the explanation for why you should believe anything the author is saying.

If you're looking for a progressive Christian view, read Marcus Borg's "Convictions: how I learned what matters most" instead.
Profile Image for Kelly Arndt.
19 reviews1 follower
November 15, 2020
idolatry of God challenges the very nature of mainstream Christianity’s claim that on the other side of salvation is certainty and satisfaction, but instead reorients faith as embracing suffering, beauty and all of humanity in it’s mystery. the Crucifixion event isn’t one that makes us complete is some idealized state— it is a moment in which God as man experiences suffering, lack and separation just as humanity does. The crucifixion was not to create a new religion, or a product or new Idol with which we sell to the world— but to abolish us from the slavery of needing to apprehend the next best thing that we think will complete us. Rollins’ book is controversial, especially for anyone coming from traditional Christian backgrounds. He places doubt, mystery and unknowing back in the theological space of faith and gives those elements the honor they deserve.
Profile Image for Michael.
10 reviews7 followers
August 3, 2013
This is certainly the most provocative and solid work to date in the canon of the ever-developing radical theology of Peter Rollins. No one--not even himself--could have ever imagined Pete going into a radical recovery of the symbolic order of Christianity in such a systematic way. Perhaps another systematic theology on the horizon within the radical fold? Maybe the most significant since Tillich? This book is both relevant and incomplete, begging for a follow-up. And I look forward to that sequel--The Divine Magician.
Profile Image for Jacob.
701 reviews30 followers
July 25, 2019
This book will be Heresy to some and Life to others, but it will be thought provoking to all! I first heard Peter Rollins on Rob Bell’s podcast and loved listening to his thoughts and accent! So I was thrilled to discover he wrote some books and even provided the narration for this one so I listened to this book over the course of three days and already want to listen again. I found his perspective to be refreshing and encouraging. This book bubbled over into all of my conversations these past few days. Really struck a true chord within me.
Profile Image for Steven Fouse.
82 reviews
June 11, 2015
There are only a couple of people who write and teach about matters of faith who make me more excited about our faith instead of more bored or more horrified. Peter now joins Rob and Brian to change it from a couple to a few.

The Good: Thought-changing, and so life-changing.

The Bad: Not for those who want to stay the same.

The Ugly: The idolatry that consumes even our faiths.

Good stuff. Not for everyone, though.
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