Book Club Discussion: Rejecting Christianity for Christianity's Sake

by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free

Forgive me for being such a slacker last week! I fell behind on posts primarily because my husband and I decided to remodel our guest bathroom before a wave of company came to town for homecoming. We managed to finish within minutes of the doorbell ringing…and then spent the weekend staying up late, catching up with friends, and enjoying OPKs (other people’s kids).  

Fortunately, I’m back on my writing schedule, so posts should be more consistent for the next several months.

Today I’d like to continue our discussion on Peter Rollins’ “The Fidelity of Betrayal.” (There’s certainly enough material in this book to get us through the rest of the month, so we’ll wait until November to begin the next.)

In the first few chapters, Rollins deconstructs the notion that Christianity can be reduced to an ideological system or a set of propositional statements that render God present as an object for contemplation or analysis. Rather, faith occurs as a response to a transformative event in the believer’s life—a rebirth that can never be fully explained, but dramatically changes the way life is lived.

Our theology and religious traditions, then, should not be treated as ways in which we somehow render God more understandable, but as loving and imperfect responses to the presence we have encountered.

Writes Rollins, “Our theology…is the grand architectural conceptual cathedral we create as a worshipful response to the one who dwells in this unapproachable light, rather than a direct description.” (p. 126)

With this in mind, Rollins uses Chapter Seven to advocate a kind of irreligious religion.

“As we attempt to understand our faith, we will develop ideas and practices that help us,” he writes. “Yet the point is that we must always be ready to critique these ideas and practices, for they are forever provisional. To display our fidelity to them we must always be ready to betray them.” (p. 133)

This strikes me as an incredibly important statement. If I’ve learned anything over the past few years, it’s been that loving God means holding my beliefs about Him with an open hand.  Having grown up in a religious environment that celebrates certainty, I was so convinced that my theological interpretations of God accurately represented God Himself that when I began having moral objections to some of those theological interpretations (i.e., the eternal damnation of the un-evangelized), I felt compelled to shut God out. What a relief it was to learn that God was not confined to the teachings of my religious tradition!

Rollins continues: “…The statement by Karl Marx that the beginning of all critique lies in the critique of religion can be seen as a profoundly religious assertion—one that is borne witness to in the lives of prophets such as Jeremiah and Amos, in Jesus, and in many of the great Christian leaders throughout history. Christianity affirms an idea of truth that transcends any system, and thus the Christian is one who is, in the moment of being a Christian (i.e., standing in a particular tradition), also the one who rejects it (remember thing prophets of old who warned us about how any tradition could become idolatrous)—betraying it as an act of deep fidelity. It is for this reason that the authentic believer can be described as a non-Christian in the Christian sense of the term.” (133-134)

Of course, within this paradigm, doubt is not seen as a threat to faith, but as a natural outworking of faith. You would think that, with the great history of Luther always before us, evangelicals would be more open to embracing religious doubt as a virtue. Sometimes, in order to save Christianity, you’ve got to question Christianity…perhaps even reject it.

What do you think? Does Rollins take this idea too far?

Our next discussion will touch on how Rollins’ thinks this attitude is to work itself out practically in Church life.

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