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Peter Rollins: a fragmentary review (2)

March 26th, 2007 by isaac · 1 Comment

In the first line of the first chapter of How (Not) to Speak of God, Peter Rollins locates his book within the amoebic movement among Western evangelical churches called Emergent: “While the term ‘emerging Church’ is increasingly being employed to describe a well-defined and well-equipped religious movement, in actual fact it is currently little more than a fragile, embryonic and diverse conversation being held between individuals over the Internet and at various small gatherings” (5). Working within this conversation, Rollins wants to tease out the implications of the language of ‘emergent’ Christianity. It’s “a process of journeying and becoming” (5).

Rollins offers this Christian becoming as an alternative to the frameworks of “modernity.” Modernity is far to teleological for Rollins. Modernists “emphasize the idea of ‘being’ and ‘destination’: one becomes a Christian, joins a church and is saved” (6). The danger with such an understanding of Christianity is that it establishes a confidence and completion that renders others unnecessary. Once we’ve arrived at our Christian destination, we have no need to ask others for directions. Evangelism becomes a one way street: Christians share what they possess with those who don’t know the gospel. But Rollins wants us to keep us always ‘emergent’—it’s an atelological movement, one that “embraces journey as a type of destination” (6). This has important implications for emergent evangelism: “once we acknowledge that we are becoming Christian, becoming Church and being saved, then the other can be seen as a possible instrument of our further conversion” (6).

That the church must be evangelized is a central concern in the work of Gustavo Gutierrez, though he is probably more radical than Rollins on this point. Gutierrez calls for an “’uncentering’ of the church.” It’s a movement away from the “ecclesiocentric” position of the Catholic tradition, and towards a Christocentrism, or maybe Pneumatocentrism: “a new awareness that the action of Christ and his Spirit is the true hinge of the plan of salvation.” And as he goes on to say most poingnantly, “the church must allow itself to be inhabited and evangelized by the world.”

Although there is much convergence here, there emerges a very significant difference. Rollins likes to talk about the ‘decentering’ of faith that happens through a “dark night of the soul” or something akin to an existential moment of doubt that is part and parcel to faith. But for Gutierrez, the existential crisis that constitutes our faith is the “dark night of injustice”—Gutierrez is more existential because he has to do with the concrete, the particular, the human beings who suffer and have faith. As he says, “what renders these difficulties even more intense is the situation of poverty and exploitation in which the poor live. It is a situation that seems to have no end; it is like living halfway through a tunnel.” (Essential Writings, pp. 242-247, 254-269).

Tags: reading corner

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 jared // Mar 27, 2007 at 7:46 am

    Hey Isaac, how are you doing? I am glad to see that you are reviewing Peter’s book. We had him out to our community about a month ago and are planning some kind of relationship between our two communities over the next year. It is good to hear your perspective on his book. I find his book very helpful and probably the most intelligent of the emerging discussion. I hope you are well. I tried e-mailing you a little bit ago through this site, because my computer lost all my email addresses, I would love to talk to you soon. Peace, jared