Peter Rollins in Grand Rapids

I know I said that I would be off for a week for the ETS conference, but my morning newspaper had this article on Peter Rollins.  You can read it at  I am contemplating a guest editorial  response in the paper, which I may post next week for your feedback.  For now, what do you think about someone with Rollins’ views presenting at the Calvin Symposium on Worship? 

Just in case the link to the Grand Rapids Press goes out of date, I will post the article here:

GRAND RAPIDS — For Peter Rollins, God’s truth is out there. His is a Christianity beyond the grasp of the church.

That’s why the spiritual community he founded in his native Belfast, Northern Ireland, conducts a kind of discipleship training that interrogates the religion’s long-held tenets. The group also studies atheist writings. And, in another twist, participants open themselves to evangelization by other traditions.

“It’s not about what you believe,” Rollins said this week by phone from Texas during a six-week speaking tour promoting his book “The Fidelity of Betrayal: Towards a Church Beyond Belief.”

“The idea is not to get the right interpretation of Scripture, but that we argue with it and wrestle with it and be transformed by it.”

Rollins, 35, was in Grand Rapids recently as part of the tour, spending time with philosophy students at Calvin College and with Emergent West Michigan, a group of like-minded spiritual thinkers.

He is the coordinator of Ikon, a group that meets in a bar and exhibits characteristics of the emerging church movement. Far from the “flashy blue lights” of contemporary evangelical worship, the emergent movement is rediscovering ancient theological traditions eclipsed during the past few centuries, Rollins said.

“In the wonder of the Enlightenment, we lost mystery,” he said. “We lost the idea of Christianity as something deeper than belief.”

Rollins describes Ikon as a collective of diverse people who share “experiments in transformance art,” including live music, poetry, theater and ritual. The point is to create a provocative space to challenge how people believe and live, he said.

Ikon’s “The Omega Course,” drawing on the work of mainstream dissidents like John Shelby Spong, deconstructs the basic principles of Christianity taught in the popular Alpha Course used by churches worldwide. The group also partakes in “Atheism for Lent,” studying Freud, Marx and Nietzsche.

“We’re not afraid to ask questions; we attempt to offend everybody,” Rollins said. “The Bible’s truth is not reduced to a worldview. There are metaphors of God as warrior and as peacemaker, metaphors that clash and smash together. The truth of Scripture is not in one metaphor or another. The truth is in the revelation that creates the different metaphors.”

Also the author of “How (Not) to Speak of God,” Rollins has a forthcoming book of parables called “The Orthodox Heretic.” The book he’s currently touting explores Christianity as “an irreligious religion” broader than any institution.

Rollins plans a return to Grand Rapids Jan. 29 through 31 to present at the Calvin Symposium on Worship.







11 responses to “Peter Rollins in Grand Rapids”

  1. Great. Now I’m going to have to have some more mint chocolate chip ice cream to get the taste of bile out of my mouth.

  2. Pam Elmore

    One of the things I find interesting about many emergent writers is a tendency to indulge in doubt (and even cynicism) for its own sake. It’s like being in George Orwell’s 1984… doubt is the new faith.

  3. mike g.

    ‘the emergent movement is rediscovering ancient theological traditions eclipsed during the past few centuries’, Rollins said.
    “We lost the idea of Christianity as something deeper than belief.”

    I don’t think this ancient tradition Rollins is speaking of is as ancient as Paul, when he says to the Corinthians…
    “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importanct: that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures…”

    Has the church called Rollins what he is yet? A wolf in sheep’s clothes. When will “postmodern innovators” figure out that its ok to renounce some people. Jesus did it. Paul did it. He should be rebuked and confronted and offered opportunity to repent. If he refuses we should pray hard that the enemy doesn’t use him to turn more people away from Christ Jesus.

  4. Jonathan Shelley

    Um, does Rollins realize that words actually have meaning? “The Bible’s truth is not reduced to a worldview.” Does he know what a worldview is? Christianity is “something deeper than belief”? What is deeper than belief? I cannot imagine what he thinks is deeper than the core tenets of a person’s noetic structure that are so ingrained in the individual that they are argued from, not to. Simply saying words that sound deep and mystical but are in fact jibberish is not edifying, constructive, or even admirable. It reminds me of Paul’s warning to Timothy and the Ephesians to avoid people who engage in pointless debates. Rollins seems like a modern Hymenaeus, destroying the faith of some and leading people into heresy and destruction.

    Mike G hit the nail on the head – call a wolf a wolf and put him under church discipline. If Rollins is so keen on “offending everyone,” perhaps the defenders of Orthodoxy should be more willing to offend him and his followers by censuring their heresy and excommunicating them if they refuse to repent. Why should a modern disciple of Pelagius or Arius (as examples) be treated any better than the original heretics?

  5. mikewittmer


    You ask “Why should a modern disciple of Pelagius or Arius (as examples) be treated any better than the original heretics?” You aren’t implying that we banish Rollins into exile, are you? That would be one important difference in how we treat modern heretics more compassionately in the past, and probably for the better! But I completely agree with you about excommunication–though I’m not sure who would have that authority or how it would be done–probably the best we can do is agree that Rollins’ views are not sufficiently Christian and leave it at that.

  6. Jonathan Shelley


    I thought you knew your history better than that. Pelagius ran off to Jerusalem when his views became unpopular with the Latin church leaders and the government since the church leaders in Jerusalem were more inclined to accept him, especially given the political climate of the time. In time, the views of Pelagius and Arius (among others) caused a rift among churches that has not been healed. That, in itself, is an important lesson: by tolerating hetero- and unorthodox views to speak in the church the church is not protecting its purity. Your questions on the nature of Christian worship underscore this point. I do not believe that we should burn Rollins at the stake or any such nonsense, but I do believe that respected and prominent institutions, such as CTS on behalf of the CRCNA, should take a very deliberate and intentional stance against allowing men like Rollins to influence the church. A little yeast can work itself throughout the entire batch. I think a zero-tolence response is necessary.

    Your point about who has the authority to excommunicate in the Protestant church is well taken. It is a point I struggle through in the paper I am presenting on Nov 20th in Providence, so please make sure you ask about it during my presentation.

  7. mikewittmer


    Thanks for insulting my knowledge of history. Just for that, I may not share my bed with you after all.

    You’re right that Pelagius ran off to the East, but his followers Coelestius and Julian were not welcome back in the West, and it is a fact that Arius was exiled–at least for two years. Come to think of it, they were pretty soft on heretics back then.

    I’ve already practiced my questions for your presentation, especially the condescending, disdainful tone in which I will ask them. Guaranteed to put you on the defensive.

  8. Jonathan Shelley

    Uh, could I ask you to revise your comment about sharing your bed? Seriously, I’ve asked my wife, pastor, family, coworkers, etc. to visit this blog. This is not what I want them to see!

  9. Jonathan Shelley

    Oh, and Athanasius and his boys spent more time in exile than Arius did. And based on the recommended reading I was given for early church history, I think Arius (the man, not the movement) got a bum rap anyway. Regardless, as a very wise man once said to a post-emergent leader, if you begin in a stream of heresy… (you can finish the quote).

  10. Bryon Morgan

    What is to be done with “heretics” of our day? Does excommunication work in a global Church with no central authority?

    Every emerging leader I know was removed forcibly from a previous church leadership position. Psychologically, the PI/Emergent/emerging churches are offering validation for these people and their ideas.

    Perhaps our methods are outdated. Whether we fire or excommunicate “heretics,” are we being faithful to the global Church?

    Is there a more transformational way not just a historical practice of dealing with “heretical” leaders?

  11. zoecarnate

    Pete bothers ya that much, huh? My own perspective is that this is healthy from time to time (for me, perhaps even monthly), but I also need a more ‘normative’ rhythm of more conventional Christian tradition. Which for me these days is looking like a Quaker/Anabaptist/Episcopal hybrid. God help me! 🙂

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