My Review of Insurrection by Peter Rollins – Part 1

I was sent this book as part of the Speakeasy On Tap Blogger Program. As always I am not required to give a positive review, only an honest one. I also agreed to give a timely review but I failed at that. I’m about a month overdue. Likely no one will notice but the truth is I really wanted to write the right words for this.

First the presuppositions.
I am an admirer of Pete Rollins.
A few years ago, good friend, Thomas Turner of the great blog Everyday Liturgy and I organized an event in Philly that featured Pete (and John Franke). We got to spend some time with Pete and I appreciated his heart. (Didn’t really expect much because he’s a philosopher. Add to that, he’s Irish. An Irish philosopher with a good heart? Let the paradoxes begin!)
Anyway, he was still living in Ireland then and was planning on moving to the States. Now that he has, I’ve been fortunate enough to see him a number of times. Last year I bumped into him in a coffee shop and asked him about his next project. He said this next book may upset some people, among a number of things.

I thought he was exaggerating but here I am, a bit messed up. I’ll get to that in a minute.

Among the reasons that I like Pete is because I like hyperbole. It’s all I use in my ministry ;) But about halfway through Insurrection, I confess, I was no longer sure where hyperbole ended and Pete’s “actual” words began.

I’ll give you an example. I love, LOVE, the ideas of doubting everything we think we know, setting fire to our presuppositions about God and newly trying to discover (rediscover) our presuppositions again. It’s part of the deconstruction/reconstruction of it all that I am attracted to. I firmly believe that great doubt leads to great faith. (Unfortunately, so does great pain and great suffering, well potentially anyway).

However, I don’t really believe that you can accomplish Pete’s “pyro-theology”, I don’t think he thinks so either but I tell you, it’s a wonderful exercise. One night, when you’re not in too great of a mood or in too bad of one, write down everything you think you know, believe about God. Tear the page out, take a good long look at it and destroy it. If you are literalist, you will likely set fire to it. Because I am not, I crumbled it. And because I am a bit of a materialist, I kept it. But because I’m reflective, I kept it in my notebook.

In some sense, it was easy, good nerdy fun. That Pete Rollins is a lot of fun. I was underlining and highlighting and exclamating and enjoying the book so much that one of my criticisms was that Insurrection seemed to be an odd title for a book so enjoyable.

Then I got to Part 2. Insurrection started living up not only to it’s title but also to what Pete said in the coffee shop. As I rounded the corner of Chapter 6, my questions that I had tucked away for Peter to address became evident that he had already addressed them. Specifically, I became confused on Pete’s idea of God’s Personhood. Is “God/god” simply the collective moral faith of what we ought to do for ourselves and for each other? To put it as simply as I possibly can, I believe that God is a “person” and while I don’t see Pete denying this, I don’t see him acknowledging or affirming this. Here’s what I mean.

“When God is treated as an object we love, then we always experience a distance between ourselves and the ultimate source of happiness and meaning. But when God is found in love itself, then the very act of loving brings us into immediate relationship with the deepest truth of all. In love, the fragile, broken, temporal individual or cause that draws forth our desire becomes the very site where we find pleasure and peace. God no longer pulls on us as something ‘out there’; rather, God is a presence that is made manifest in our very mist. Here meaning is not found in turning away form the world but in fully embracing it through the act of love” (120).

On one hand, I agree in the sense that we ought not to “objectify God”. Further, you cannot read Pete’s idea of God without having I John 4 echoing through your head (specifically vs. 16). So I’m all the verb aspect of God in that sense. But I also clearly see the Personhood of God just as clearly. And the surrounding context nor the book in general seem to affirm God as a person. So in a world of paradox and plurality, it confused me of why Pete seemed to leave out that possibility. I may have missed it and that’s why this is the review is Part 1. Part 2 reserves the right to clarify.

I did a quick Google search and saw that Pete has responded via Twitter that he’d address some concerns. Having intentionally not read the posts he is referring to (for the sake of this post), I do not know what he means but I suspect that others expressed similar concerns. (Then again, it could have been because he ruined Batman in chapter 7 ;)

Moving on. I was so excited to get to the chapters concerning the Resurrection. For me and for so many, everything rises and falls on the Resurrection. I love/not love so much of what Pete says about it in chapters like We Are Destiny & I Believe in the Insurrection. For example:

“If participation in the Crucifixion involves being overtaken by the darkness, where all guiding flames are extinguished, then participation in the Resurrection is the moment when we find the ability to affirm light and life in the very midst of the darkness and beneath the cold shadow of death.” – Love it.
“This is not some way of life that we can argue for as somehow better than the alternatives” – Ok.
“We cannot find some reasoned apologetic for why one should embrace life int his way.” – True in the sense that apologetics and rationale are limited and that the Resurrection must be ultimately be taken on by faith.
“Resurrection is not something one argues for, but it is the name we give to a mode of living (p. 161).” – I still think you can “argue” for it just like one can argue against it. Further, I find describing it as “a mode of living” to be underwhelming.

I know some of my evangelical friends will read what I have written and ask, “Then why bother reading Pete and books like Insurrection?”

I absolutely loved how he framed the crucifixion in the first part of the book. I’d quote more from it but you should read the beauty created in the context for yourself. I’m not sure I’m exaggerating when I say that no one has done (for me) a better job in explaining Jesus’ words of being forsaken at the cross than Pete. I plan on plagiarizing err, quoting these thoughts in future messages and writings.

Reading books that challenge us (like Insurrection) improves our thinking, imagination, preaching and devotion. (That is, if you’re not afraid of wrestling with the gray world).
Two, his wiring is profoundly beautiful.
Three, related to one, if we only read the books we agree with, our spiritual formation and our theology will suffer.
But four, and most importantly, in some way, all of our presuppositions about God eventually limit our view of God. This is the mere starting point of the book and it’s after books like these, that I love God more and I am not using hyperbole.
This alone makes the price and the time commitment worth it.

This was the most challenging of Pete’s books so far. He may not be for everyone but I look forward to googling around on what’s out there regarding this and look forward to his next project. Word is, he’s coming to Boston next week, I may try to see him.

You can order Insurrection here through Amazon).


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  1. […] I hate that this day was necessary. The themes of which are suffering, evil, sin, sacrifice and death. Jesus takes up on Himself the sins of the world, becomes the perfect sacrifice for us all, experiences the pain of the cross and the separation from God himself. Many have said prior that to celebrate Easter, we must observe Good Friday. This is true but I love how Peter Rollins takes it further in Insurrection says: “If participation in the Crucifixion involves being overtaken by the darkness, where all guiding flames are extinguished, then participation in the Resurrection is the moment when we find the ability to affirm light and life in the very midst of the darkness and beneath the cold shadow of death” (My review here). […]

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