I Am (Not) as Smart as Peter Rollins

Sorry to be late to the party on this one, but let me echo the rest of the emergent blogosphere when I proclaim, Pete Rollins’s book, How (Not) to Speak of God is the best bloody book yet on the the emerging church!

I had skimmed it before, and I’d read blog posts about it, but I hadn’t really delved into it till this weekend. I read it thoroughly because I was tapped to respond to Pete when he spoke at Yale Divinity School on Monday. My response there was mostly fawning, for Pete has written a negative theology for the emerging conversation that is poignant, beautiful, and profound. My main questions were not, “Is this the right direction for us to go?” but, “How will this play at Walmart…and Yale?” Not well, I’m afraid.

It’s a short book, and only the first half is theory. The entire second half is liturgies from his community, Ikon, in Belfast. At first, I was skeptical of the liturgies, but I am now convinced that they make the book. I can’t describe it. You have to read it, and probably meet Peter, to really get it.

Indeed, I like the book so much that I am making a proclamation:

I will no longer respond to any critics of Emergent
who have not read

How (Not) to Speak of God
.


If you want to
get the emerging church, read this book.

  • Anonymous

    hmm… that seems a pretty rigid line to walk re: requiring people who criticisize emergent to read that book first before you will hear/accept their criticism.do you actually mean that? or is that an ‘overstatement’ meant to communicate how high your esteem is for the aforementioned book?

  • jim

    Tony, I’m in a mainline PC(USA) congregation, and have been following the conversation over the past year or so on the Internet.Even so, this is the first book I’ve actually read about what it is to be emerging. I agree it is brilliant. I’ve started to do some reviews of the book on my blog. The first one are my thoughts from the first chapter but specifically coming from a mainline perspective: http://www.thechurchgeek.com/?p=181

  • josh

    i still think you need some sort of informal gang to protect you from the critics. i mean we could be under the radar and if you needed to deny any affiliation, we’d understand. but it would be a “wink, wink” deal where we took care of the problem. horse heads and stuff.

  • Existential Punk

    WHEW HOOOOOO, Tony!!!! Thanks for being SO bold! Glad you enjoyed the book and happy you got to meet Pete! Adele

  • Jamie Arpin-Ricci

    Tony,Not only do I fully agree with your review here, I LOVE how you titled this post (the feeling I had reading the book half the time). Thanks for putting it out there so boldly.Peace,Jamie

  • kyle

    I have heard many good things about the book from the emergent crowd and sharp criticism from emergent-bashers. My verdict is still out (I haven’t read it yet) and it’s near the top of my reading list. I think Tony mentioned the book at the Theology talk in Charlotte at the NYWC. The lack of humility in God-talk these days is really becoming a problem, which, I hope this book addresses.

  • Anonymous

    well… peter rollins IS smarter than you -that’s a given…without the parenthesis thank you very much… He doesn’t institutionalize ‘emergent’ like you are trying to do for monetary gain. You are not the president of ‘emergent’ because it’s like you are trying to be president of the clouds… it’s not happening. emergent it’s free… and not a brand or a logo … Peter rollin’s community didn’t start out because they went to emergent websites with the green leaf logo… it started because they are really living in a post-christian society … people were using emerging concepts long before someone came out with the term. what i am saying is emerging convo or church it’s people who are letting go of the mantle of mondernism and are restructuring their worlview in a different way that Peter Rollins is talking about like transcending binary… or in a/theological way. when people criticize the so called emergent they are not criticizing people who are trying to benefit from these concepts but postmodern a/theology.

  • Chase

    Disclaimer- I do not agree with everything Tony Jones says and am not what most emergents would call emergent. Having said that, Anonymous, your anonymous attack lacks authority and sincerity. If something is worth saying it is worth putting your name behind. Now, if you had really mean parents and your name in fact is “Anonymous”, my apologies on both concerns.

  • Peter Rollins

    Hey. Thank you sooo much for your warm words. I remember saying to you that this thing we are about is not rocket science… it’s so much harder. It’s about dieing to money, reputation, to a future. It’s about being a martyr rather that a tyrant – leading from the death of self rather than from the building of self! This, of course, is nothing to do with emergent, it’s about Christianity. I am so thankful to the person who posted saying that they thought I was trying to do that… but I must say that my first encounter with Tony convinced me that he was living in that way as well! This is about sacrifice not about video projectors… and my encounter with Tony leads me to believe he is fimly about the former.

  • Chris Enstad

    anonymous posts like that are relegated to my trash pile because that’s what they are… trash.

  • David Williamson

    To pick on an anonymous comment: “[Ikon] are really living in a post-christian society”…Ikon is based in Belfast, which according to Operation World may well have the highest percentage of evangelicals across a 50 mile radius in the world. In addition, Northern Ireland has a weekly church attendance of 50% of the population – wildly different from the European average of c.7%. The environment has much more in common with Alberquerque than Amsterdam.Look forward to buying the book rather than just thumbing through it the next time I’m in a bookstore.

  • Chris

    Tony,Negative theology has an interesting history. While it has been incredible useful to maintain the triune God as totaliter aliter, it was unable to make a distinction between Greek philosophical gods and the Abba of Jesus Christ. I have not had time to read the work yet, does Rollins deal with Christianity and the via negativa? If Christianity involves, as Nietzsche rightly understood, “the revaluation of all values” (power in suffering, redemptive suffering, valuing the other above the self), how does the via negativa help in that revaluation? Please read this as nothing more than an honest inquiry, and an attempt to sift an ever increasing reading list.Grace and peace

  • Chris

    On a side note: Chase – thank you for defending Tony, who it is obvious you do not agree with too frequently. Thank you for portraying the ethic of Christ

  • chase

    Chris,I appreciate the encouragement. Sometimes discussion in the body gets heated and we are passionate. If we are passionate abuot something, we should be able to stand by it. I cannot imagine Jesus going to Peter and saying, “tell those guys your friend said this, but don’t tell him who it is.”

  • Jimmy Kahn

    Chris enstead said, “anonymous posts like that are relegated to my trash pile because that’s what they are… trash”ohh – good one, you must be very proud of yourself. Chase writes, “Anonymous, your anonymous attack lacks authority and sincerity. If something is worth saying it is worth putting your name behind.”Chase, is your name really Chris? You seem not to like anonymous. And what authority and sincerity does your comment stand on? This is all white noise. Look, Emergent is just another protestant denomination and the likes of Tony Jones, Pagitt and others are its founding fathers. It is the hot ticket on the block right now until those within emergent get a little older and start having kids. Those kids will then rebel against it and go off start their own post-emergent or emergent-emergent church. And around and around we go. It’s the problem with protestantism – a big problem. And, by the way, emergent does not do theology. I have not heard ONE original theological idea come from anyone affliated (even loosley) with emergent. It is all liturgical. It is a conservative evangelical protestant liturgical movement. Carry on revivalists.

  • chase

    Jimmy Kahn, No my name is not Chris, it’s Chase- Chris might be offended by your connecting me to him. My comment stands on the authority of authenticity, the teaching of guys like Edwards and Sprugeon, and Christian integrity, and which anonymity lacks. What does your comment have to do at all with the post and why are you yelling at us? I might just be one of those revivalists you are imploring to carry on.

  • Jimmy Kahn

    Chase, Oh, I see, your statement rests on authenticity becuase YOU say it does. I suppose you are the world’s judge for authenticity. Apparently the clowns of Edwards and Spurgeon are the criterion upon which you evaluate autheniticity. Did you know that Calvin was accused of sodomy? And that J. Edwards was just like Mohammed in that he used God to advance his political ambitions? Thus, Islam and Calvinsim are really not much different. Both take their scripture to be the inerrant literal words off the lips of the alpha-omega him/herself. Thus the danger in such radical islam and radical calvinism. And what doesn’t my comment have to do with this post. The burden of proof lies on you Chris, I mean Chase – you are the same person, stop pretending.

  • Blue Jake

    Chase wrote, “Anonymous, your anonymous attack lacks authority and sincerity. If something is worth saying it is worth putting your name behind. Now, if you had really mean parents and your name in fact is “Anonymous”, my apologies on both concerns.”Oh my gosh that is funny! Alright, enough of the name calling Chase. We are doing serious theology here. If you are just gonna joke around and call names, why don’t you go somewhere else. Peace to you as well-Blue Jake

  • chase

    Blue Jake, my apologies for your offense at my wording. I simply find anonymity on the internet ridiculous. If your understanding of my comments is that they involved name calling, again, my apologies. I certainly could have made my point without the last sentence of my original comment. Thanks for putting you name behind your opinion.

  • Chris

    Since this is a blog dedicated to theology, my question remains. If Christ’s life and teachings, death, and continuing resurrected life does create as Nietzshe rightly understood, a “revaluation of all values,” how does Rollins’ book aid in this project. I am not knocking the book. I have not read it. I am asking after its missiological thrust. In light of the via negativa’s historical support from oppressive systems of goverment and family life, I ask how, “How much does Rollins work help the church to be apostolic, to be the sent out community?”Again, please read this as an honest inquiry and not an attack. If the majoirty of those who have read the book affirm that it helps move the body out into God’s mission, then I will order it tonight.Just a question.

  • AG

    Let’s all stop with the silly and nonsensical “conversation” and just call the submergent movement for what it really is. APSOSTATE. Hope you all feel better. I certainly do. It’s amazing and yet so simple when we call a spade a spade. The Truth will always set and keep us free.

  • Anonymous

    Chase: good, short, incisive critique of the Anonymous comment…especially if someone’s going to be as hardcore nasty as that…I don’t quite get why you’re getting blasted by these folks. And I’d second the comment above that gives you kudos for having tony’s back here. He continues to exhibit a commitment to healthy conversation, and as far as I’ve seen, you do too.And Chris (not Enstad), I have two comments:1) Could you give your last name or some other signifier helping us separate your thoughts from Chris Enstad?2)I haven’t read the book yet, but your question is a solid one. I’m as interested as you on whether Rollins’ book (in its critique), helps to show a way forward; though it might be asking a bit much from it to have that more complete message (critique plus vision) included. Sometimes we need a strong stance backed up with some good thoughts on the stance to help us consider a message highly undervalued by the church.But your question still stands. Maybe, if Rollins doesn’t come up with a positive move forward, we could have a suggestion from Tony or others of a book that would mesh well with the critique of Rollins and give us a more complete picture?

  • Anonymous

    Hi Tony. We corresponded ages ago having met at the Youth Specialties Conference in Dallas. I was a youth minister in London England. I now am CEO of Church Army, a leading body in developing new christian communities in the UK. Just wanted to say hi…www.churcharmy.org.uk

  • Chris Enstad

    Chase and Chris Enstad are different people as are Chris and Chris Enstad. I’m Chris Enstad. As for the book, I have it, I’m a fifth of the way through it, and it has already shattered me… in good ways. Still digesting, underlining, reconciling it but I have to agree with Tony the Pete Rollins has, finally, made a case for what this movement could be… and it is not the “new big thing” which is what I’ve criticized Tony and Emergent for all along… just ask him. The people who are genuinely in this conversation (with and without reservations) are faithful and certainly not apostate. Heretical? Perhaps, according to some… but heretics have a wierd way of being proven right by history and I am re-dedicated to participation in this conversation… Rollins has provided a framework that is respectful of tradition and is not really about any NEW discoveries. Instead, he is coming at this theology thing in a different way… and is doing so with an academically and faithfully sound motive. He lands in some radical places, but that is not cause for rejection or yelling or screaming… he has not, so far, denied the salvation in Jesus Christ, he has not, so far, gone off the reservation of orthodox Christian belief, but he does, finally, lift up the errors present in both the conservative and liberal theological projects and gives us a way to reconcile with each other and live together as Christian believers. This is good stuff.

  • sacred vapor

    Just finished reading the book and I enjoyed it. My only short critique is I wish Rollins would have spent more time on how Jesus is understood in this context. Perhaps in his next book.vapor

  • Sean Witty

    Tony,We spoke on the phone once, which I think makes us friends…;)Is this what is called “open source theology”?…sweeeet.Hung with Pete at Drew U. It was terrific.TJ – you’re doing great work. Keep writing. Thanks for your books. Read ‘em all.

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