We want to believe, says Peter Rollins. It’s natural. We want to know that someone is watching. We want to know that things beyond our control will get better. We need to hope for a brighter future.
And, he says, this is just the problem.
In his book, Insurrection, Rollins makes the case that our ideas of God are, pervasively, sub-Christian, precisely because they hope too much for a happy tomorrow rather than embracing the broken today.
Rollins warns the reader early on that the purpose of this book is, in essence, to slash and burn: this is a work of “pyro-theology,” not constructive theology–an attempt to burn away the husk that has accrued to Christian faith and practice and return to the source.
In the end, this will be both the book’s strength and its failing. Its strength in that it holds up the mirror to the church and demands of us that we take a long hard look at what we say and do–and how these things fail to embody the gospel we confess to believe.
But it is also the book’s weakness as Rollins insists on a “not/but” where he should have constructively engaged in a “both/and.”
First, then, the strength of the book and what the church desperately needs to hear.
The book begins with reflecting on the significance of crucifixion. Christ was crucified. We are co-crucified with Christ.
And, on the cross, Christ was abandoned by God.
Thus, to live into our co-crucifixion is to live in a space where we experience and acknowledge that we are forsaken, that there has been no miraculous deliverance. The church has to create space for this embrace of darkness. Rollins speaks of our common mythology–the one that makes us all want to believe in God–that things will get better because God is present to deliver.
When we suffer, there will always be an army of Job’s comforters who attempt to save our mythologies, and like Job, we must resist them.
What does this have to do with the church? The church, wittingly or not, creates structures that reassure people that the experience of crucifixion isn’t what is truly real. The church’s confident sermons, its songs of comfort, tell us that the co-crucifixion is not ultimately determinative. “The structure acts as a security blanket that enables us to speak of the Crucifixion without ever undergoing its true liberating horror” (48).
The problem as Rollins outlines it is that when we have people celebrating divine presence in dozens of ways, we are enabled “to admit that absence and forsakenness are part of our faith without experincing the transformative trauma of this admission” (70). And, of course, while being the agents of certainty, many pastors secretly harbor the very doubts that they are covering other for others.
Instead, the community should be helping us acknowledge and find life in the midst of suffering. The “new life” of resurrection that Rollins will turn to in part two of the book is lived now as life is found within the suffering and trauma of the world.
Although he uses language and takes it to a level that I am not always comfortable with, Rollins makes a strong and important case in the first part of his book that crucifixion is a crucial component of the Christian life experience–not something to be overcome in order for us to know and live what is true, but something that is to be lived in as where we discover the truth about ourselves in the Christian story.
Next time, we’ll turn to what he says about resurrection. And this is where I’m going to want to part ways with Rollins, in order to embrace a paradox of saying yes to what he advocates while simultaneously saying yes to the hopes of traditional Christian piety.
Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from the Speakeasy on Tap book review folks. The Federal Government wanted to make sure you knew this, so that you could have all the information you needed to determine whether I was basically paid advertising rather than an objective reviewer. Of course, I never told the folks at Howard that I’d write a positive review, but they gave me a copy anyway. So, now that you know, you can decide for yourself: will I buy the book, or is this word of Kirk simply too tainted to be believed? I hereby fulfill my duties to the Federal Government.