Is Peter Rollins on a Mission? Towards an Assessment Part IV

imageToday I conclude my series based on 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:

  1. What troubles you most about Rollins’ work or ideas?
  2. What do you find most liberating or freeing about his writing/thoughts?
  3. How much do you identify with his work personally?
  4. 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.’

The fourth question is:

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.’

In my first post, I wrote that I could understand how some Christians are troubled by Rollins’ approach to mission, which I called anti-conversionism. On the other hand, I am sure some Christians find this approach refreshing, a necessary corrective to the overbearing way in which some Western missionaries spread the faith. I also think this approach is refreshing, to an extent.

I also wrote that I do have some concerns about what Rollins’ ideas, if taken to their most extreme conclusion, could mean for the institutions of our existing churches.

I am as much disillusioned with the ‘institutional church’ as the next disillusioned Christian, but as a social scientist I also see some value in institutions for ‘getting things done.’ I instinctively like the idea of an institutional-less Christianity but I am not sure that it would actually work!

An important insight embedded in the quote Aldous provided above is that the missionary (if that is the correct term) is also open to becoming re-evangelised. This captures the idea that every cross-religious/cultural/ethnic/political/etc encounter can involve an exchange of gifts, rather than an assimilation of one into the other.

Rollins often returns to the passage from Galatians 3:28: There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

He has rewritten it this way:

You are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither high church nor low church, Fox nor CNN, citizen nor alien, capitalist nor communist, gay nor straight, beautiful nor ugly, East nor West, theist nor atheist, Israel nor Palestine, hawk nor dove, American nor Iraqi, married nor divorced, uptown nor downtown, terrorist nor freedom fighter, paedophile nor loving parent, priest nor prophet, fame nor obscurity, Christian nor non-Christian, for all are made one in Christ Jesus.

And he says that ‘…One of the fundamental gifts that the nascent movement called emergent has to offer the wider church’ is being a place:

“… in which we theatrically divest ourselves of our various identities, we allow for the possibility of encountering others beyond the categories that usually define them. We encounter the other beyond the colour of their eyes, beyond the contours of their political and religious commitments…”

This is a church that breaks down all barriers and the power relationships that sustain them. It favours a relationship-centred approach in which the church is already open to all.

In such a church, traditional ‘mission’ is rendered superfluous.

This is certainly an idealistic vision and one that resonates with the theme of my blog, ‘building a church without walls,’ which I describe this way

“For me the ‘church’ is people from all backgrounds working together, no matter their denominational loyalty, to break down walls of social, political, and spiritual division and to build up something better – a more just and loving world for us to live in.

I think that many, if not most, of our Western church institutions are broken and not up to this task. I think our best hope lies in people realising that we are the church, and reforming or replacing those institutions. This is not just a task for clergy and pastors; it is for all of us.”

It follows from this that the best form of mission is simply being the church – a model of peaceful, loving community that the rest of society can see (an idea I am stealing from Stanley Hauerwas). This is a church so compelling that others cannot help but be attracted to it. I think this is the kind of church Rollins is seeking.

(image sourced on flickr photo-sharing, by bec.w and used previously in the post explaining the launch of ‘building a church without walls’)

One Response to Is Peter Rollins on a Mission? Towards an Assessment Part IV

  1. monty December 12, 2011 at 5:15 pm #

    Gladys just a couple of very speedy points. I think the philosophical bankruptcy of Rollins’s deconstructionism can be seen most plainly in the quote below. Can someone explain to me how- at any level the following makes sense?

    “You are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither ….., Christian nor non-Christian, for all are made one in Christ Jesus.”

    Does the conditional nature of the first sentence not negate his second sentence? At one level this is warmed up classic universalism, at another level it is playing games with words- something Rollins is usually adamantly against.

    I guess my concerns would be (at least) threefold. Firstly, his concern for anti-conversionism or doing away with the ‘us and them’ will have great difficulty coming to terms with the numerous “exclusivist passages” in the NT, not least those uttered by Christ himself. To me the NT’s position is best described as a totally inclusive-exclusivism. That is: there is universal access- regardless of all the “walls/definitions/categories’ we erect or define people by – to the exclusivist position of being “in Christ”.
    Secondly- by seeing mission purely as sociological and as an exchange of cultural / religious views, he ignores the theological (pneumatological) dimension. Could traditional biblical mission not just be seen as the offering of the spiritual gift of life through Christ by one person to another in the power of the SPirit of grace and love. Why do we always have to imply that the cultural imperialistic interpretation is the right one

    Thirdly, Rollins’s stiff sounds clever in the academy, but surely the real test is how is washes with the common woman or man. This was the genius of Christ and his ability to communicate with a Doctor of Divinity Nicodemus and an outcast woman in close succession. I don’t think I would be able to represent Rollins accurately to most of my
    congregation, but then again, I’m not sure I would want to. He may offer some tasty bites to a certain subgroup of disillusioned and cynical cognoscenti, but I don’t see him offering any “real food”- or hope- to the vast majority of hungry souls we deal with every day.

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