Review: Insurrection by Peter Rollins

Ever heard of Jacques Derrida? He was this famous postmodern philosopher who developed a scientific method known as deconstruction (or post-structuralism), which led to a lot of philosophers having a whole lot of their philosophies ripped to pieces by exposing personal biases and perspectives and pretty much leaving a bloody mess in his wake. He changed philosophy as we know it, some say.

However, he wasn’t without his critics, many of whom accused him of being overly verbose and obnoxiously long-winded, in speech or in writing. In fact, many of his opponents said he purposely made his lectures and writings purposely unintelligible in an effort to sound intelligent. I don’t think it went over well with others in the philosophical community, because deconstruction blew up over everything, even theology.

This is where I come to my love/hate relationship with Peter Rollins. This is a man well known in the progressive Christianity scene, taking no issue with tearing apart all the nice singing and pretty buildings evangelicals and fundamentalists like to put up and thus ripping off their masks and exposing their fears right in front of them.  This is pretty much the focal point for his book Insurrection: To Believe Is Human, To Doubt: Divine.

To summarize, Insurrection discusses the need for doubt within a Christian’s life, or at least to own up to the doubts we all feel, that perhaps our life has no meaning, that God is indifferent, or that he has forsaken us.  To Rollins, owning up to these fears is to directly participate in the crucifixion with Christ, who cried out “My God!  My God!  Why have you forsaken me?!”  There’s hope, though; to participate in the crucifixion, to own up to our fears is to also to live in the Resurrection, which allows us to stop using religion as a crutch and to truly live life.

Now, the way that sounds is as if this is some sort of Christian inspiration book (which I’ve come to consider the scourge of theology), it’s pretty far from it.  Though it definitely functions more in a practical theology sense, Rollins is not without a host of philosophical and theological sources and inspirations for his writings.  He draws predominately from apophatic theology, most commonly found in religious texts such as The Dark Night of the Soul or The Cloud of Unknowing. Though he quotes neither of these books, the influence is pretty clear. He also quotes Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Soren Kierkegaard, Mother Theresa, Jacques Lacan, Slavoj Zizek,  and even Paul Tillich (my reading of Paul Tillich turns up a lot of parallels between these two men), while referencing philosophers like Martin Buber.  In short, he’s not without an apophatic/existentialist influence, and this pours over into his readings of Scripture.

As I mentioned in my review of Rollins’ The Orthodox Heretic, there’s some stuff here that I like, and some that makes me say, “Um, don’t think so.” His deconstruction of evangelical/fundamentalist church culture both made me happy and kind of punched me in the gut, knowing that I’ve participated in such a mindset despite thumbing my nose at it for such a long time. It gave me a lot to consider, and even helped me to identify certain doubts and fears in my own life that I need to own and go through instead of running away from them.

However, I don’t care for his interpretation of what Bonhoeffer calls “religionless Christianity.”   A concept left undeveloped due to his untimely demise, Bonhoeffer only mentions this in his Letters and Papers From Prison, and then only perhaps once.  This hasn’t stopped many theologians from attempting to extrapolate, and Rollins is no exception. Rollins pictures a Christianity where we’ve shed our religious masks and embraced doubt and finitude just as Christ did on the cross, one where our labels and identifiers no longer own us.  In doing so, it feels like he empties out the meanings of many things Bonhoeffer (and other Christians he mentions) were rooted in, including the liturgies and confessions of the churches Rollins tries to deconstruct.

I borrowed this book, and I do intend to purchase it at some point in time.  I like a lot of the things Rollins has to say, but not the depth to which he takes his readers sometimes.  Definitely worth checking out, though.


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