My assessment of Pete Rollins’ argument is NOW HERE, which probably means for Pete that it is NO WHERE. See what he did there? It’s cute, but it’s not terribly helpful to give an argument/explanation/illustration for God’s non/existence that only works in the English language. I wonder what argument Pete would use in China. Perhaps he could make up something cool, like the name for God (Sheng-di) and nihilism is the same word in Chinese (which would be as true as the widespread rumor that the Chinese term for crisis also means opportunity, and it’s equally inspiring). Here is my brief rebuttal of yesterday’s streamlined presentation of Rollin’s main argument (again, with footnotes omitted).
The simple answer to Rollins is that the God who made us in his image knows how to overcome our frailty and reveal the truth about himself in words and deeds that we can understand. We will never comprehend or capture God with our human categories, but we are able to truly conceive of him. God is more than what he can express in the pages of Scripture, but he is not different from what we read there. We know God because he has revealed himself to us.
Rollins seems inconsistent on this point, for despite his repeated claim that we do not possess knowledge of God, he does claim to know that God, if he exists, wants us to love each other. He is even indubitably certain about it, for he has “the certainty that something has happened” which has transformed him into a born again person who sacrificially loves others. But how does he know this, and how is this experiential certainty any more reliable than “the epistemological certainty so loved by Enlightenment-influenced Christians”? It is surprising that someone who argues so vociferously against knowledge and certainty would ground his case in knowledge and certainty. In the end, Rollins’ deconstruction of traditional Christian orthodoxy could also be turned upon himself, making his argument self-refuting.
Rollins is also guilty of caricaturing the opposing view. He has nothing good to say about Christian doctrine, but argues that “the facts” of our faith distract us from our real business of loving our neighbor. It is true that some Christians may care more for the intellectual aspects of their faith than the call to serve others, but we should not use their unloving extreme as an excuse to justify the opposite extreme of ignorance. Knowledge of God and what he has done in history is what fuels our sacrificial love. “We love,” writes John, “because he first loved us” and “sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 Jn. 4:19, 10).
Finally, the wittily provocative Rollins seems to over think the message of Scripture. While I appreciate his passion for altruism, his argument for a thoroughly disinterested love is impossible to reconcile with the Bible’s promise of reward and resurrection. This may not bother a man who believes that there is no right interpretation of Scripture, but the rest of us must take our cues from Paul, who declares that the resurrection of Jesus is the catalyst rather than an obstacle to our faith (1 Cor. 15:1-34). Rollins’ reminder that the resurrection must be lived is well-taken, but he misses the more fundamental point that there is no new life to implement if Jesus did not physically arise from the tomb. Jesus’ resurrection is not an optional distraction but the very foundation of our faith. Contrary to Rollins, the Christian life of love cannot get started without it.