Here is a short response I wrote over the weekend to the Rollins article posted below. The religion editor of the GR Press said that he is inclined to run it as a guest editorial, so I am hopeful. Any comments or suggestions before it runs?
Near the end I ask why Rollins was invited to speak at Calvin’s upcoming Symposium on Worship. I think it is great that Calvin engages in dialogue with those who have non-Christian views. I personally have enjoyed and benefited greatly from its award winning January series, in which many of the speakers express viewpoints that differ from mine. But I think that a worship symposium is different for two reasons.
1. Since I assume Calvin intends its symposium to help us to better worship the true God, it seems that its speakers should hold orthodox Christian views. Can anyone imagine God permitting an Old Testament Israelite or New Testament Christian to seek advice on worship from someone from a different religion? Here I agree with J. Gresham Machen’s observation that liberalism is not authentic Christianity but something else entirely.
2. Even if I grant that Rollins lies somewhere within the realm of generic Christendom, yet his views on revelation preclude him from being knowledgeable on the subject of worship. If worship is our response to what God has said and done, then what can we learn from someone who claims that he doesn’t know what God has said and done? Isn’t this a bit like asking a Vegan to address a beefeaters convention?
Anyway, here is my essay, which is my response to the interview with Rollins posted previously:
I read with interest the Grand Rapids Press interview with Peter Rollins (November 15, 2008), author of How (Not) to Speak of God and The Fidelity of Betrayal: Towards a Church Beyond Belief. The article begs a fundamental question: does Rollins believe that the Bible is God’s revelation?
The answer seems to be no. Rollins may concede that the Bible is a message from God, but this message is so convoluted with “metaphors that clash and smash together” that we cannot determine what the text means. Rollins apparently believes that the message of Scripture is that we can’t know God. The revelation is that there is no revelation. Perhaps this is why, in How (Not) to Speak of God, Rollins declares that “When it comes to God, we have nothing to say to others and we must not be ashamed of saying it.”
Once Rollins gives up biblical revelation, the specific, historic beliefs of the church quickly follow. As Rollins claims in the Press interview, “It’s not about what you believe,” for “The idea is not to get the right interpretation of Scripture….”
Rollins pursues the logical consequence of this view in How (Not) to Speak of God, where he compares his Ikon community to a doughnut: “Just as a doughnut has no interior, but is made up entirely of an exterior, so Ikon has no substantial doctrinal centre.”
Since there is nothing to know, Rollins turns his attention to the only part of the Christian faith left—how we live. He replaces “right belief” with “believing in the right way,” which means “believing in a loving, sacrificial, and Christlike manner.” He suggests that while our Christian beliefs never describe “the Real or reality,” somehow they are able to transform us into lovers who follow the way of Jesus by embracing others.
But how would this work? Rollins violates his own principle of interpretation, for despite Scripture’s “clashing and smashing metaphors,” he confidently claims that he knows that God is telling us to love and care for one another. So Rollins believes that he has “the right interpretation of Scripture” after all, something he insists is not possible.
To the point: Rollins knows that God wants us to love one another, but he does not know who this God is or what he is like. But how can he know the former if he does not know the latter?
Rollins’ professed dismissal of revelation raises a final question: Why is he returning in January to speak at Calvin College’s Symposium on Worship? Rollins may be a provocative dialogue partner about the shape of belief in a postmodern world, but in what sense is he a Christian contributor to the conversation? If worship is our response to what God has said and done, then what can we learn about worship from someone who claims to not know what God has said and done?
Rollins is right to emphasize our need to serve others, but he is wrong to suggest that ambivalence about the historic doctrines of the faith will help us get there. As demonstrated in last week’s Kent County Congregations Study (Grand Rapids Press, Nov. 9, 2008), Christians in West Michigan find that their belief in the gospel of Jesus Christ supplies the resources and motivation to love their neighbors. These Christians never stop serving because they never stop loving, and they never stop loving because they never stop believing.