A new website that explains the burgeoning theological project ‘pyrotheology,’ and how Christian collectives might enact this through ‘transformance art,’ has been unveiled.
Pyrotheology has come to be associated with the Ikon collective in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and the writings of one of its founders, Peter Rollins. The ‘about’ section of the website describes pyrotheology this way:
The word “pyrotheology” was first coined by Chris Fry, a member of ikon, in 2009 for an event they ran at the Greenbelt Festival in the UK. Since then the term came to represent the overall project of that collective and the work of its founder, Peter Rollins.
Ikon was an underground, grassroots movement that quickly earned an international reputation for challenging some of the most basic assumptions held about faith, the nature of belief and Christianity.
By embodying a form of Christian life uncoupled from notions of religious belief, tribal identity and cultural commitments they challenged the distinction between theist and atheist, as well as developing a faith practice that short-circuited the seeming conflicts between sacred and secular life, they birthed a provocative new form of liturgical practice.
Through a rich blend of live music, visual imagery, soundscapes, ritual, interrogative practices, discussion and personal reflection, the theory and practice of pyrotheology aims to help free people from the twin tyrannies of seeking certainty and satisfaction. Helping participants celebrate unknowing without anxiety and embrace the traumas of life without fear.
The new site is a welcome supplement to the pyrotheology Facebook page, which has been serving to connect people on both sides of the Atlantic who are interested in this approach.
It is elegantly designed, with a mixture of video, audio recordings, and text explanations. It also includes a useful calendar of events, though most of these so far are located in North America. The home page features a video of Rollins introducing this theological project, which is well worth a watch before clicking around the site to discover more.
As regular readers of this blog will be aware, I’m currently working on an academic book about the wider Emerging Church Movement (ECM) with Gerardo Marti, The Deconstructed Church: The Religious Identity and Negotiated Practices of Emerging Christianity (Oxford University Press). While Ikon does not identify itself explicitly with the emerging church, we do see Ikon as part of a broader current of change that is taking place within Western Christianity and which can be encapsulated in that term, emerging church.
Having said that, we see Ikon as on the most radical end of the ECM spectrum, willing to push the boundaries further in its approaches to theology and in what it does in public gatherings. The new Ikon New York City (NYC), which Rollins recently helped to set up, looks to continue in this vein.
And this new website is in part designed to help other groups explore the ideas behind pyrotheology, and how they might structure their own gatherings and activities.
As such, it includes sections on the main practices which Ikon has developed over the years:
- Transformance Art
- Last Supper
- Evangelism Project
- Atheism for Lent
- The Omega Course
- The Non-Membership Course
Each of these sections include sections on Theory, Format, Frequently Asked Questions, and Testimonials (in the interest of full disclosure, I am featured in some of the audio recordings in this section).
And for theoretical and background reading, the site recommends the following authors to supplement their practices:
John Caputo, Peter Rollins, Katharine Moody, Kester Brewin, Barry Taylor, Creston Davis, Chris Rodkey and Phil Snider are all important thinkers to become familiar with (to name but a few).
I think the site will be especially useful for new ‘start-up’ groups, or perhaps cell groups in already established denominational congregations.
But I would caution that attempting to ‘carbon copy’ Ikon just isn’t the point.
The integrity of each local gathering will depend on the experiences and creativity of the individuals who make up the collective.
To appropriate what Rollins says in the video on the homepage, the point isn’t to seek out and find one burning bush – it is to have eyes to see that every bush is burning.