The Idolatry of God by Peter Rollins: A Book Review
In the last year I have become a bit of a fan of author and speaker Peter Rollins. I’d read two of his previous books, How (Not) to Speak of God and Insurrection and they had both challenged my understanding of God and my motivations for relationship with him to the core. They were like a Refiner’s Fire warm up exercise.
If they were the “warm up” though then The Idolatry of God was the “Fire”.
I got up on Jan 1, the day Idolatry came out, and went to Amazon all ready to download it. Nope, I could still only “pre-order it”. The penny dropped. Yes it was Jan 1 here in Hong Kong but still Dec 31 back in the States. Finally about 5:00 PM Hong Kong time someone in the U.S. sobered up enough from his New Year Eve’s merriment to hit whatever button needed to be pressed and I was able to finally download the book.
It was worth the wait! This is probably Rollins most clear and approachable work to date. The chapter titles give you a small glimpse into what awaits. Titles such as:
- On Not Getting What You Want, and Liking It
- Hiding Behind the Mask That We Are
- Be Part of the Problem, Not the Solution
As you can see Rollins has an adept way of turning concepts about God on their head and making you examine whether your relationship with him has been constructed on something solid…or artificial.
And then he will challenge your notions about even what we are supposed to receive in our relationship with God. If we are looking for God to fill some hole in our soul, we are really just seeing God as an object to fill a need.
To put it another way, what if Christ does not fill the empty cup we bring to him but rather smashes it to pieces, bringing freedom, not from our darkness and dissatisfaction, but freedom from our felt need to escape them?
The Idolatry of God Pg 4
Rollins critique of the present Christian system is that our churches have become a form of crack house where we go to sing songs of joy and certainty in order to mask the pain in our lives. When we do this God gets objectified. Rollins would suggest rather than God being just another object we attempt to squeeze into our lives, we should instead see God as the One who transforms how we relate to all the other objects in our lives.
If one thinks though that Idolatry is just another post-modern academic exercise that is heavy on deconstruction but light on substance you would be wrong. Rollins iconoclastic nature means he addresses issues and terms in Idolatry one wouldn’t expect in a book of this genre. Terms like Original Sin, The Law, and Grace get unpacked in such a deft manner that there is something there for both the initiated…and the uninitiated.
“This prohibition was called “The Law” by the Apostle Paul. He understood that the prohibition of the Law does not cause one to renounce an object but rather fuels a self-destructive drive for it.”
The Idolatry of God pg 16
The final section of The Idolatry of God is termed “The New Collective” and outlines Rollins experience with putting these ideas he’s proposing into practice. Rollins had started a group (one couldn’t call it a church in the traditional understanding…but I would) in a Belfast pub and is currently reproducing a similar group now in New York City. In Rollins words:
” Instead of repressing or disavowing our humanity, we need places where we come to embrace it, returning to where we already were but experiencing it in a different way. This will require the formation of collectives that invite us to leave our cultural, political, and religious views at the door, let go of our frantic pursuits for wholeness, sensitize ourselves to one another and learn to embrace our lives.”
The Idolatry of God pg 173
It was this section that really appealed to me especially since I have been looking for a similar place. Recently I organized a discussion evening in Central Hong Kong and invited a bunch of people who I thought might be interested regardless of their religious background. I was inspired to do this after reading about Rollins work with Ikon. We put out a nice spread of wine and cheese and then we watched a teaching by Rob Bell. About a dozen people showed up and although I had said the meeting would go until 9:00 no one left until 11:00.
What I had confirmed that night was that people want a “space” where they can talk through life and God and not get quick and trite answers to complex questions.
The Idolatry of God is not for the faint hearted. It will challenge you and in the end you’ll probably disagree with some of it’s propositions…
…but one gets the feeling after reading the book that Peter Rollins would welcome that.
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