Yesterday I started a series of posts around a set of questions posed to me by Ben Aldous, a master’s student at Redcliffe College and the Reverend in charge of the Mission Portfolio at St Martin’s Church in Durban, South Africa.
Aldous is writing his master’s dissertation about the work of Peter Rollins and asked for comment around four questions:
- What troubles you most about Rollins’ work or ideas?
- What do you find most liberating or freeing about his writing/thoughts?
- How much do you identify with his work personally?
- Please comment on negative or positive missiological concerns that you feel Rollins provokes. What do you make of Rollins’ typical deconstructive notion that, ‘evangelism should be a powerless approach that breaks down the them and us thus creating space to become re-evangelised.’
Today I tackle the second question:
What do you find most liberating or freeing about his writing/thoughts?
I come from an evangelical Protestant background, where the emphasis is so often on figuring out what is ‘right’ belief. Rollins’ work challenges the idea that right belief is the be all and end all of Christianity, replacing it with the idea that living like a Christian in the real world is more important.
(Of course, I’m not saying that evangelical Christians are not concerned with living like Christians in the real world – they are of course. But there are times when living like Christians in the real world gets de-emphasised or obscured, especially in churches that emphasise getting ‘saved’ at the expense of much else.)
I don’t think Rollins is saying that we can’t ever really figure anything out about God or scripture, so we should just give up. Far from it. His work is heavily philosophical and intellectual so if anything he is urging Christians to engage with their faith with their brains fully switched on.
But there is something liberating about realising that you don’t have all the answers, and that’s okay.
I also come from a background where the legitimacy of Catholics as ‘real’ Christians has been questioned, and continues to be questioned, by some. For example, when I was getting married I received letters from some friends questioning whether my marriage was really ‘God’s will’, based on the idea that a Catholic couldn’t really be a Christian. Or, perhaps more charitably, Catholics can be Christians but they should see how corrupted their church is and leave it, if they ‘really’ are …
Engaging with Rollins’ work, and with ecumenical Christians (unavoidable, once you start working in a place called the Irish School of Ecumenics, I suppose!), has also made me much more relaxed about the bigger picture of who’s included in the wider church.