Archive for the ‘Religionless Christianity’ Category

Bonhoeffer Thursdays: God is no stop-gap
July 31, 2008

It has again brought home to me quite clearly how wrong it is to use God as a stop-gap for the incompleteness of our knowledge. If in fact the frontiers of knowledge are being pushed further and further back (and that is bound to be the case), then God is being pushed back with them, and is therefore continually in retreat. We are to find God in what we know, not in what we don’t know; God wants us to realize his presence, not in unsolved problems but in those that are solved. That is true of the relationship between God and scientific knowledge, but it is also true of the wider human problems of death, suffering, and guilt. It is now possible to find, even for these questions, human answers that take no account whatever of God. In point of fact, people deal with these questions without God (it has always been so), and it is simply not true to say that only Christianity has the answers to them. As to the idea of ‘solving’ problems, it may be that the Christian answers are just as unconvincing – or convincing – as any others. Here again, God is no stop-gap; he must be recognized as the centre of life, not when we are at the end of our resources; it is his will to be recognized in life, and not only when death comes; in health and vigour, and not only in suffering; in our activities, and not only in sin. The ground for this lies in the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. He is the centre of life, and he certainly didn’t ‘come’ to answer our unsolved problems. From the centre of life certain questions, and their answers, are seen to be wholly irrelevant (I’m thinking of the judgment pronounced on Job’s friends). In Christ there are not ‘Christian problems’. – Enough of this; I’ve just been disturbed again.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer – Letters and Papers from Prison

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(I have compiled a comprehensive collection of excerpts from Letters and Papers from Prison that are related to Bonhoeffer’s concepts of “religionless Christianity,” “Christianity in a world come of age,” and other related matters. View the PDF document.)

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Reading The Fidelity of Betrayal: Towards a Church Beyond Belief
July 13, 2008

The third and final section of The Fidelity of Betrayal is focused on “The Event of God.” This portion of the book, as with the other sections, is very difficult to discuss in one blog entry. I could write many entries about Rollins’ notion that doubting God is not the same as doubting the miracle of faith – the intervention of God. I could also write many pages about Rollins’ call for communities where belonging comes before believing. And I think I could start a whole new blog to work through the ideas of the last chapter, where Rollins begins to discuss what it might look like to forge faith collectives where “transformance art” and “theodrama” provide space for God to give God. But I simply can’t address all of it. So instead I will leave you with a few of my final thoughts about fidelity, betrayal, and moving towards a church beyond belief.

First of all, I want to make it very clear that Rollins is not simply playing games with this call to betrayal. “The Fidelity of Betrayal” is not just a clever title to help generate interest in the book. Rollins is calling for us to betray Christianity. To betray the Bible, God, and the Church. But we must remember, Rollins is calling us to a faithful betrayal. Rollins believes our ideas about God and the Bible, which take form in the Church and Christianity, point to a transforming event, a miracle that we cannot deny. And this miracle is what provokes our faith and our attempts to explain our faith. But these explanations and beliefs always fall short of expressing the miracle that has transformed us from the inside out. The miracle is unexplainable but undeniable. So we must always betray the solidification of the radical miracle of faith into mere beliefs. This does not mean we cannot hold beliefs, but we must hold them with great humility, always being willing to betray these beliefs – to rethink and reformulate these beliefs. And we must always acknowledge that these beliefs cannot hold the transforming event they attempt to describe.

I sincerely appreciate Rollins’ call for faithful betrayal, but more than anything I am intrigued by Rollins’ call for a church beyond belief. Again, this is not merely clever wording. Rollins is challenging us to move beyond churches centered on commonly held beliefs. Again, let me make it clear, beliefs are not bad. But we must move beyond beliefs as the central focus. Instead, we must acknowledge the centrality of the life transforming miracle these beliefs attempt to describe. A miracle that is truly beyond belief. A miracle that is beyond the system of Christianity. So what might a church beyond belief look like? This is what interests me more than anything else. With Rollins, I am interested in the development of this type of church. In the past I have called it “a church that’s not a church.” (also see this post, which describes a significant shift in my thinking about church). Rollins plays with the terms “religious collective,” “transformance art,” and “theodrama” as he tries to describe such a group.

In conclusion, I leave you with some of Rollins’ thoughts about the formation and nature of these experimental collectives:

“Here I am referring to the formation of passionate, provocative gatherings, operating on the fringes of religious life, that offer anarchic experiments in theodrama that re-imagine the distinction between Christian and non-Christian, priest and prophet, doubt and certainty, the sacred and secular – gatherings that employ a rich cocktail of music, poetry, prose, imagery, soundscapes, theatre, ritual, and reflection: gatherings that provide a place that is open to all, is colonized by none, and that celebrates diversity.

“Such an immersive, theodramatic space would aim to affirm the need for (1) collective reflection; (2) a space where individuals can lay aside political, religious, and social identities; and finally (3) offer creative, ritualistic acts that invite, affirm, recall, and relate the event housed within the religion without religion that is Christianity.”

And finally:

“These temporary spaces will likely appear as much in art galleries, on street corners, in bars and basements, as they will in churches and cathedrals…[E]verything, absolutely everything, will be designed to invite, encourage, solicit, seek out, recall, remember, reach out to, bow down before, and cry out to that unspeakable miracle that dwells, quite literally, beyond belief.”

I realize this is all pretty wild and crazy. Would something like this even be a church? Would it be Christian? Personally, I think those are the wrong questions. I don’t care if it’s really a church or truly Christian. I think it might be something “other.”

What do you think? I’d really love to hear your thoughts about a church beyond belief.

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Reading The Fidelity of Betrayal

1. Initial Thoughts
2. An Introduction
3. Betraying the Bible
4. Betraying God
5. Nietzsche and Bonhoeffer

Bonhoeffer Thursdays: Prayer and Action
July 10, 2008

Perhaps my favorite Bonhoeffer quote:

“Our church, which has been fighting in these years only for its self-preservation, as though that were an end in itself, is incapable of taking the word of reconciliation and redemption to mankind and the world. Our earlier words are therefore bound to lose their force and cease, and our being Christians today will be limited to two things; prayer and righteous action among men. All Christian thinking, speaking, and organizing must be born anew out of this prayer and action…It is not for us to prophesy the day (although the day will come) when men will once more be called so to utter the word of God that the world will be changed and renewed by it. It will be a new language, perhaps quite non-religious, but liberating and redeeming – as was Jesus’ language; it will shock people and yet overcome them by its power; it will be the language of a new righteousness and truth, proclaiming God’s peace with men and the coming of his kingdom…Till then the Christian cause will be a silent and hidden affair, but there will be those who pray and do right and wait for God’s own time.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer – Letters and Papers from Prison

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(I have compiled a comprehensive collection of excerpts from Letters and Papers from Prison that are related to Bonhoeffer’s concepts of “religionless Christianity,” “Christianity in a world come of age,” and other related matters. View the PDF document.)

Reading The Fidelity of Betrayal: Nietzsche and Bonhoeffer
July 5, 2008

In Part 2, as Rollins is betraying God, he turns to both Nietzsche and Bonhoeffer to assist him in this betrayal. As you know, Bonhoeffer has been much on my mind over the past nine months or so, so it was interesting to read Rollins’ thoughts about how Bonhoeffer connects to some of the ideas of faithful betrayal. This was particularly interesting in the context of Rollins’ thoughts on Nietzsche, who certainly influenced Bonhoeffer’s prison theology.

With Nietzsche’s assistance, Rollins addresses the issue of finding meaning in the world. If the core of Christianity is related to finding purpose in our lives and knowing that God loves us, then is Christianity merely a way of finding meaning in life? Is this the primary purpose of Christianity – to give us meaning and purpose within the context of our understanding of God and his purposes for the world?

I think this is largely true of Christianity – faith in God primarily as a way to find meaning.

The problem with this scenario is that these intellectual beliefs can become a hindrance to us truly living in the world. And these beliefs do not necessarily lead to a transformed life in this world. In fact, in many cases, finding peace and meaning in life can lead towards a rejection of this world and/or the creation of a false dichotomy between believing and living.

Rollins contests that Nietzsche’s protest was against any system (including atheism) that provided an all-encompassing way of finding meaning in life. Instead, Nietzsche hoped for a time when we would live with a full embrace of this world – embracing both its beauty and its terror. Rollins concludes that Nietzsche’s argument was not necessarily for or against the existence of God. Rather, his argument “claimed that the question of God’s existence was redundant.” Instead of asking the big question “why,” Rollins sees Nietzsche undermining the question entirely. Rollins asserts, “In response to the question ‘Why?’ [Nietzsche] replied, ‘Why ask why?’”

As I was reading this I couldn’t help but think about how related this is to Bonhoeffer’s prison theology. So I was quite excited when the very next page introduced Bonhoeffer’s “religionless Christianity” into the discussion! Connecting Nietzsche and Bonhoeffer, Rollins writes:

“[Bonhoeffer] wondered how to express the relevance of God (the God of faith) to those who do not feel the need for God (the Cartesian God that provides a matrix of meaning), while encouraging those who embrace such ideological religion to grow beyond it – helping those who have forsaken God (the Cartesian God) to find God (the God of faith) and those who have found God to forsake God.

“By exploring these issues he was responding to the idea that Christianity for a long time has been aimed at responding to a need in people (such as the feeling of guilt). As such it has been expressed as good news that can only be heard once a person has been brought low by the bad news…Bonhoeffer wondered whether it is possible to embrace God out of love and lightness of heart, out of a seduction that is caught up in the call of God rather than the need of God.”

How about that! Yes! The very questions I think are the most important regarding how to be a Christian/person of faith/lover of God in today’s world.

Any thoughts? Does this make any sense?

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Reading The Fidelity of Betrayal

1. Initial Thoughts
2. An Introduction
3. Betraying the Bible
4. Betraying God
6. Towards a Church Beyond Belief

Reading The Fidelity of Betrayal: Betraying God
June 29, 2008

In Part 2 of Peter RollinsThe Fidelity of Betrayal he takes up the topic of the being of God. Whereas in Part 1 Rollins’ argued that we must betray the Bible, in Part 2 he proposes we must also betray God. Rollins concludes this section with the following summary:

“…we must learn that in order to approach the God of faith and the truth affirmed by Christianity, we must betray the God we grasp – for the God who brings us into a new life is never the God we grasp but always in excess of that God. The God we affirm is then, at its best, inspired by the incoming of God and born there, but it is never to be confused with God.

“In the aftermath of God’s happening the true worshipper attempts to paint the most beautiful pictures imaginable to reflect that happening. It is this heartfelt endeavor to paint the most refined and beautiful conceptual images that speaks of God, not the actual descriptions we create.”

Rollins sees many problems with the common method for attempting to understand and speak of God. This method, which views God as an object of our contemplation, involves creating a distance between the believer and the source of the believer’s faith, so that we can dissect and explore the object (God), in much the same way as we might take apart and examine a computer. By attempting to examine God as a disinterested observer we have distanced ourselves from the most intimate and personal relationship in our lives. We have approached the question of God “as a problem to be pondered, dissected, and solved, rather than a mystery to inhabit and be transformed by.” Rollins believes this method hands over all authority to the experts and creates a false dichotomy between seeking truth and pursuing a life of devotion and service. Rollins is fearful of reducing Christianity to “a set of claims concerning ideas such as the world’s being created for a purpose, God’s loving us, and the existence of heaven.” By reducing Christianity to these claims we lose the transformational potential of the encounter with God. In addition, this view of Christianity can cause an unhealthy, and even dangerous, abandonment of this world, as we look solely to the next world.

Instead of viewing God as an object to be contemplated, “God is named as a verb,” and a happening being “made known only in action, only as blessing.” God is beyond understanding but is also intimately near to us. God is not an object but “a mystery to participate in,” giving new life. This new life “fundamentally changes how we interact with the things we see, touch, and experience.” God is not an object but is that which radically changes our own way of experiencing the world and everything in it. As with our rejection of the Bible, our rejection of God does not mean we can no longer speak of God, but it does mean we must always recognize that our words about God always come up short. God is always beyond our words and our conception of him. We must not attempt to distance ourselves from God in order to understand him. Instead we must welcome the incoming of God and embrace the mystery and transformative nature of this event we always fail to adequately describe.

(more to come on Part 2 – some thoughts about Nietzsche and Bonhoeffer)

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Reading The Fidelity of Betrayal

1. Initial Thoughts
2. An Introduction
3. Betraying the Bible
5. Nietzsche and Bonhoeffer
6. Towards a Church Beyond Belief

Bonhoeffer Thursdays: Individualistic Christianity
June 19, 2008

Hasn’t the individualistic question about personal salvation almost completely left us all? Aren’t we really under the impression that there are more important things than that question (perhaps not more important than the matter itself, but more important than the question!)? I know it sounds pretty monstrous to say that. But, fundamentally, isn’t this in fact biblical? Does the question about saving one’s soul appear in the Old Testament at all? Aren’t righteousness and the Kingdom of God on earth the focus of everything, and isn’t it true that Rom. 3.24ff. is not an individualistic doctrine of salvation, but the culmination of the view that God alone is righteous? It is not with the beyond that we are concerned, but with this world as created and preserved, subjected to laws, reconciled, and restored. What is above this world is, in the gospel, intended to exist for this world; I mean that, not in the anthropocentric sense of liberal, mystic pietistic, ethical theology, but in the biblical sense of creation and of the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer – Letters and Papers from Prison

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(I have compiled a comprehensive collection of excerpts from Letters and Papers from Prison that are related to Bonhoeffer’s concepts of “religionless Christianity,” “Christianity in a world come of age,” and other related matters. View the PDF document.)

Reading The Fidelity of Betrayal: Betraying the Bible
June 14, 2008

In concluding Part 1, “The Word of God,” Peter Rollins writes:

“It is all too common for Christians to attempt to do justice to the scriptural narrative by listening to it, learning from it, and attempting to extract a way of viewing the world from it. But the narrative itself is asking us to approach it in a much more radical way. It is inviting us to wrestle with it, disagree with it, contend with it, and contest it – not as an end in itself, but as a means of approaching its life-transforming truth, a truth that dwells within and yet beyond the words…And so, in our desire to remain absolutely, totally, and resolutely faithful to the Word of God, we come face to face with the idea that we must be prepared to wrestle with, question, and even betray the words.”

In Part 1, Rollins discusses the Bible. He begins by revealing the people of God in the Bible, Israel, as those who wrestle with God. In contrast to Islam, which means peace or submission, the people of Yahweh are called Israel, meaning those who wrestle with God. This notion of those who seek, follow, and love God being those who wrestle with God, is the central idea of the book. As he continues to discuss the Bible, Rollins proposes that in order to be faithful to the Bible, we must in fact “wrestle with it, disagree with it, contend with it…contest it…and even betray [it].” Rollins encourages us to refuse both of the common ways of dealing with the difficulties and ambiguities found in scripture – the two ways being 1) attempting to explain away the difficulties, and 2) accepting the difficulties but refusing to view the text as the divine Word. In place of these two options, Rollins proposes that we do not need to see the seeming contradictions in the Bible as a great dilemma. In fact, he believes the contradictions in the text are exactly what we would expect to find in a text inspired by God. Rollins sees the various stories of the Bible as attempts to put into words that which cannot be put into words, namely, the experience of God. So, in wrestling with the text we must realize that it is not merely an academic exercise in which we attempt to find the one true meaning of the text. Instead, to read the Bible in a truly transformative manner we must recognize that the text itself does not hold God. Rather, the text points to an encounter, an Event, that occurred in the lives of the authors. This encounter, this gaping hole in the text, is the Word of God, something behind and beyond the text itself. Rollins compares this to a crater, which is a sign of the occurrence of a volcanic eruption. The crater, or text, is not the Event itself, but rather points to the Event.

I believe Rollins’ view of the Bible has the potential to radically transform our reading of scripture. In fact, I believe this view saves the Bible and reinstates it as a text that can transform the reader. So much of modern Bible study is viewed as an academic exercise aimed at dissecting the text in order to find the original meaning and intention of the author. When taken to its logical conclusion, this method of reading robs the average reader and establishes the Biblical scholar as the only person capable of truly understanding the text. At best, with this most common method, we are all dependent on an expert who has been able to study the most recent Biblical scholarship. Rollins’ argument does not dispute the importance of Biblical scholarship, he simply desires to restore the rightful place of the Bible as a transformative text – a text that can radically change us as we struggle to encounter the true source, God, who is found beyond the words of the Bible.

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Reading The Fidelity of Betrayal

1. Initial Thoughts
2. An Introduction
4. Betraying God
5. Nietzsche and Bonhoeffer
6. Towards a Church Beyond Belief

Reading The Fidelity of Betrayal: An Introduction
May 27, 2008

After immediately devouring Peter Rollins’ new book The Fidelity of Betrayal: Towards a Church Beyond Belief (read my initial thoughts), I am now going back and rereading the book, slowly sifting through the material and thinking through the implications of Rollins’ provocative work. As part of this process I will be blogging through the book over the next few weeks. I hope you join me as I wrestle with the significant concepts presented in this book. And I’d love to hear your thoughts along the way.

In the introduction, Rollins presents the question, “What Would Judas Do?” Rollins uses this question as a tool to delve into his notion that we must betray Christianity in order to remain faithful to it. He writes:

“In other words, what would Jesus do when confronted with Christianity today? Would Jesus do what Judas did, and betray it? In saying this I am not hinting at the rather mundane insight that Jesus would betray the anemic, inauthentic, self-serving Churchianity that so often festers quietly under the banner of Christianity today. I am not asking whether Jesus would turn the tables on what passes as contemporary Christianity in favor of a more robust and radical version that may have once existed in an age long past. Rather, by asking whether Jesus would betray Christianity as Judas betrayed Christ, I am asking if Jesus would plot the downfall of Christianity in every form it takes.”

Continuing the introduction, Rollins sees the consequences of this faithful betrayal as twofold:

“First, we are led to embrace the idea of Christianity as a religion without religion, that is, as a tradition, that is always prepared to wrestle with itself, disagree with itself, and betray itself. Second, this requires a way of structuring religious collectives that operate at a deeper level than the mere affirmation of shared doctrines, creeds, and convictions. It involves the formation of dynamic, life-affirming collectives that operate, quite literally, beyond belief.”

At the Emergent Village blog, Rollins further explains the core concept of the book:

“In this work I make the claim that, in order to remain faithful to Christianity, we must be courageous enough to betray the bible (section 1), God (section 2) and the church (section 3). Why? Do I think that we must abandon them as redundant relics of a by-gone era? Do I think that they have served their purpose? Or do I feel that they prevent the world coming of age? By no means! Here I argue for a betrayal that remains faithful to these very words by helping us to re-discover the truly untamed, white-hot, life-transforming reality that they house.” (HT: EV blog)

I hope these quotes intrigue you enough to join in as I discuss this book, and perhaps you will even buy the book and read it with me – I hope you do.

You can read the entire prologue and introduction online.

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Reading The Fidelity of Betrayal

1. Initial Thoughts
3. Betraying the Bible
4. Betraying God
5. Nietzsche and Bonhoeffer
6. Towards a Church Beyond Belief

Reading The Fidelity of Betrayal: Initial Thoughts
May 15, 2008

Ever since reading Peter Rollins’ How (Not) to Speak of God I have been looking forward to his next book. In fact, I can’t remember a book I have anticipated more highly. So when The Fidelity of Betrayal arrived on Tuesday I was filled with excitement. That night I read about two thirds of the book and yesterday I finished the last third. I devoured it. I couldn’t read it fast enough. It was wonderful. Sometimes I find it helpful to start engaging a book by reading through it quickly, in order to gain the overall big picture, and then to go through it slowly, savoring every word. I am really looking forward to reading it again and blogging through it, just like I did when I read How (Not) to Speak of God for the second time. Hopefully I can start that in the next couple weeks.

Here are few initial comments related to the new book.

First, I think this book successfully builds upon the concepts in Rollins’ first book and takes them to the next level. So if you’re interested in Rollins’ work, I recommend buying both books and starting with How (Not) to Speak of God. Basically, The Fidelity of Betrayal builds on an idea Rollins started working with in the first book. In fact, he builds on the idea that most intrigued me in his first book – the notion of giving up Christianity in order to truly fulfill it. In his first book Rollins relates a powerful story from the movie Amen in which a priest in Nazi Germany gives up his Christian faith and becomes a Jew in order to identify with the persecuted, a move the priest believes is necessary in order to truly live his Christian beliefs. The Fidelity of Betrayal takes this concept and examines it through three lenses, the Word of God, the Being of God, and the Event of God, which forms the structure for the book.

Second, I’m convinced that Phyllis Tickle is right in her assessment of Rollins’ work. She writes, “Here in pregnant bud is the rose, the emerging new configuration, of a Christianity that is neither Roman nor Protestant, neither Eastern nor monastic; but rather is the re-formation of all of them. Here, in pregnant bud, is third-millennium Christianity.” I really believe it. What Rollins (and others) is writing about and doing may not be the future of Christianity but it is certainly a future of Christianity. And the possibility of this future gives me much hope. I believe the core concepts of this book are going to, and already are starting to re-form Christianity in our world. I’m not talking about a shift in the core beliefs of Christianity, but rather a revolution of how Christianity is experienced and expressed in the world.

Third, Rollins ends his new book with some discussion about starting communities that are forged in the midst of these ideas. He quite literally proposes “a church beyond belief” (the subtitle of the book). In short, Rollins is looking at the implications of moving from the church as a bastion of beliefs, towards communities of transformation. Just as Rollins argues for a “religion without religion” I think he is imagining a sort of church that’s not a church, which is exactly what I am most interested in.

So go buy this book. Read it. Think about it. Argue with it. Soak in it. And in the process, allow God to transform you.

[Check out my series on How (Not) to Speak of God]

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Reading The Fidelity of Betrayal

2. An Introduction
3. Betraying the Bible
4. Betraying God
5. Nietzsche and Bonhoeffer
6. Towards a Church Beyond Belief

Bonhoeffer Thursdays: Speaking of God without religion
April 24, 2008

Bonhoeffer continues his discussion of religionless Christianity:

“The questions to be answered would surely be: What do a church, a community, a sermon, a liturgy, a Christian life mean in a religionless world? How do we speak of God – without religion, i.e. without the temporally conditioned presuppositions of metaphysics, inwardness, and so on? How do we speak (or perhaps we cannot now even ‘speak’ as we used to) in a ‘secular’ way about ‘God’? In what way are we ‘religionless-secular’ Christians, in what way are we the ecclesia, those who are called forth, not regarding ourselves from a religious point of view as specially favoured, but rather as belonging wholly to the world? In that case Christ is no longer an object of religion, but something quite different, really the Lord of the world. But what does that mean? What is the place of worship and prayer in a religionless situation?”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer – Letters and Papers from Prison

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(I have compiled a comprehensive collection of excerpts from Letters and Papers from Prison that are related to Bonhoeffer’s concepts of “religionless Christianity,” “Christianity in a world come of age,” and other related matters. View the PDF document.)

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