I‘m not actually sure how to describe Peter Rollins – he is Irish, he’s an academic, he has a doctorate in postmodern theory and a few other degrees, and he’s the author of four books. All I really know is that he has some very interesting ideas about Christianity.
How (not) to speak of God is his first and most well known book. It is broken into two parts. In the first part he talks about how we need to be careful that our theology doesn’t become an idol, and yet he recognizes that we need some sort of understanding of the Divine in order make sense of things. He discusses such topics as: God purposefully hiding in plain view; how Christianity needs to be both theistic and atheistic; and how love needs to saturate our entire lives, and inform our theology. In all of Rollins’ books there is also the common theme of doubt, not as something to be feared, but as something to be embraced.
As an example of how Rollins thinks, he explains how we often use the term “God shaped hole” to describe the non-Christian’s longing for a God they don’t know. Then in typical Rollins style, he turns that on its head and suggests that perhaps the God shaped hole is evidence that God is in our life – not absent from it; as a footprint in the sand is evidence of foot having been there, so the God shaped hole is evidence of God having been there – and we cannot long for what we don’t know.
Rollins was part of an experimental group in Ireland called Ikon. It was like st. ben’s rowdy cousin. They met once a month in a pub, on a Sunday night. There was poetry, music, liturgy, audience participation, and anything else they could think of. And, like st. ben’s, all were welcome. In part two, Rollins describes some of these services in an attempt to give meaning, and flesh, to some of the concepts in part one.
When I first started reading Rollins, I found it beautiful to read (it helps to read it with an Irish accent); it’s almost poetry – he’s actually a masterful storyteller. But therein lies the only problem with Rollins – sometimes it is so poetic that the language gets in the way of understanding the concepts. I have since gotten used to his style, so it’s not a problem anymore, but it can be at first. Rollins is not for everyone; he makes you think about things in ways that would have never occurred to you before, so it can be mentally exhausting – but it is well worth it.
If you are intrigued, but not sure, I recommend you go to drewmarshall.ca and find the archive audio of interviews with Rollins; I believe there are four. He is very engaging to listen to.
Reviewed by Rudy Giesbrecht