On Peter Rollins, Pt. I – Insurrection

[a brief, critiquish-review of Insurrection out of mad respect for Pete and his project]

Peter Rollins' book Insurrection is a radical, post-structuralist, Zizek-ian reading of Christianity. The central claim of this book is that the psychoanalytical realities (anxieties) of everyday life give rise to religious structures that provide a “solution” to the uncertainties of human existence: God. Rollins highlights the radical position of Jesus on the cross, experiencing the traumatic loss of God-as-certainty. He claims that only this profound experience of loss can bring us to the place of acceptance of reality as it is in the hope we might become better people. That is, only the traumatic experience of the loss of certainty (“crucifixion”) can help us get over our pathological reliance on false security (God) in order to become more authentic people and create a better world (“resurrection”).

In the strength of this work, Rollins takes us through treatment for the condition of classical theism.* As such, this work is intriguing and important, considering most prominent postmodern thinkers attack classical theism by way of critiquing (Greek) metaphysics. Throughout the text Rollins creatively weaves insights from, among others, Lacan, Zizek, and Caputo into a provocative and timely argument.

For all the post-structural-arity (?) Rollins embodies, he shares with classical theism a central concern: personal salvation (of courses he wouldn't use that term). After all, he does in fact also offer a personal path to wholeness and life with God, albeit first through this total loss of the certainty of the omni-God. That is, Rollins offers “new meaning, joy, and fulfillment” (118). He situates himself firmly within the religious question and gives, ultimately, a very religious answer. In the end, as we see in part two of the book, he still wants to make room for love, meaning, hope, and the divine.

This simply means Rollins' project is indeed religious. However, for me, it sits in awkward tension with the severity of his early argument. There is an abrupt turn, halfway through the book, because his eventual landing on God language, love, and Christ feels at odds with the extremity of his first-half analysis. After all, his argument isn't as baldly existential as someone like Sartre – he stops short of saying we completely construct our own meaning from “nowhere.”

I think it's unfortunate that Rollins finds no way to appropriate or include the life of Jesus. In no small way, as the anti-classical theist/evangelical, he remains dialectically positioned, narrowly fixated on the same thing evangelicals are: the cross. In so doing he implies Jesus' life isn't all that important and that all we really need from him is his death (or, to include Jesus' life we would have to read it as that of a typical classical theist until his faith was shattered on the cross – which just doesn't work for me). It is accurate to say, then, that Rollins is centrally concerned with atonement. Sure it's a different, radical view of atonement, but it's still atonement. What's unfortunate about this, to me, isn't that he wants to talk atonement, but that he misses so much of what the best of progressive Christianity roots itself in: radically re-reading the life and teachings of Jesus. Such fecund material – the vast majority of the gospel accounts – goes untapped. Rollins and the historical creeds share something in common: a neglect of Matthew 1-25. Interestingly, Rollins also doesn't discuss the socio-political powers that executed Jesus, missing a chance to offer more than just a psychoanalytical exploration of the cross.

All that said, Rollins occupies an important role in the future of progressive postmodern Christianity. While I would prefer more subtlety and nuance than Rollins offers, along with more reflection on the life of Jesus, that isn't a critique of the heart of his work – which I think is brilliant and important. His insights are penetrating, his style intriguing, and his method – skillfully diagnosing ontotheology as a pathology – is compelling. He must be commended for his ability to write so accessibly, for non-specialist audiences, which is unfortunately all too rare in progressive postmodern Christianity.

There's something about Rollins' writing that's engaging, magnetic. More thoughts on Pete to come…



* I'm using “classical theism” here to refer to the God-as-certainty idea because it most often presents as the omni-God of classical (Greek) metaphysical thinking (omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, etc.). This, of course, takes shape most prominently in the many forms of evangelicalism, especially of the Calvinist flavor.



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About Nick

I'm a church leader and graduate student. I'm also a teacher. I'm obsessed with (nearly) all things theology and philosophy. And the NBA.

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