Reflections on Peter Rollins Lecture & Newt Gingrich’s Book

Peter Rollins

I found out a few weeks ago that Peter Rollins was going to be in Columbus yesterday, so I worked things out to be able and go listen to him. He offered a three hour lecture. The whole experience was a little surreal as I joined a crowd of 80 in a dimly lit old theater listen to a post-modern Christian philosopher from Ireland with beer on-tap. I haven’t had a lot of exposure to Rollins, but my interest was piqued by some video clips I ran across online a few weeks back. Trained as a philosopher, Rollins has brought to light one area I feel especially inadequate in study. A few years ago I remember being challenged by John Caputo at a conference about the place of philosophy in our faith. To say that it was lacking in my training would be a huge understatement.

I’m not sure I could adequately reflect on Rollins’ lectures here, but would strongly encourage anyone who gets the chance to hear him to do so. His group works on the fringes of Christianity and will stretch any Christian in our country with his thoughts. He suggests that his work (with the quasi-faith community called Ikon) has a prophetic voice on the fringes of orthodox Christianity. No doubt many would question his place within orthodoxy altogether, I do believe that he is providing necessary critique for the current state of the modern church. I am very excited to read his forthcoming The Orthodox Heretic (April) as it is a collection of parables created by Rollins to help communicate. Highly entertaining to listen to, Rollins is well schooled in parables from philosophy, rabbinic traditions, and other places – it will be well worth anyone’s time to read from his forthcoming collection.

Essentially, Rollins argued in the first section of his lecture that the modern project of reason succeeded in objectifying God . . . the pinnacle coming with Nietzche’s “killing of God.” Nietzche, in fact, simply proceeded through the modern project. Rollins made use of a helpful image of God always pushing back at theology resisting the temptation to be objectified. I loved his image of God being so close, and so transcendent that we can’t figure him out (as opposed to so far away we can see him, what, I’m sure many of his opponents argue). There’s more to be said here, but I’m still processing.

Rediscovering God in America

Secondly I wanted to spend a few minutes dissecting a book given to me by one of our elders (thanks, Curt 🙂 ). The book, Rediscovering God in America, is a tour through the monuments and important structures in the United States which Newt Gingrich has compiled to “rediscover the historic source of American liberty and to rediscover the founding generation’s understanding of what is required to sustain liberty in a free society.” p. 131. I appreciate Curt giving me this book and offering it as a challenge to the pacifist perspective I argue.

I ackowledge that this book has forced me to reevaluate my considerations for the relationship between the Christian faith and participation in this nation. I believe that I often over-state the ills of our government in order to make the case that a Christian is not called to participate in government. The United States is a rather enigmatic case for Christians to consider when considering the government. I believe what Gingrich is trying to do is to combat the radical left that wants to rewrite history books taking “God out of the founding of our nation” – I would imagine he would say something like that.

Gingrich states that he does not intend for his book to be theological in nature, but for the theologian, everything is theological. To allow a book like to address state concerns or sociological concerns and NOT theology is to create and/or expand an incredibly harmful compartmentalization that deeply affects the American church. Gingrich’s observations should be troubling for Christians on multiple accounts. First of all, the unspoken logic of the book is that because Scripture permeates the national landmarks we were indeed birthed as a religious (Christian) nation. It’s amazing to me how many evangeicals rush to the frontlines of our nation’s beginnings and uphold the founding fathers as born again Christians. It is well documented that many, if not most, of these forefathers were Deists at best.

With our Scriptures stamped all over the landmarks of this nation, I am disappointed more Christians are not disheartened by the early ways these forefathers did not act like Christians, devistating the Native peoples from their lands (in many ways, I believe the horrors inflicted on the Native Americans are every bit as horrendous as what Hitler did to the Jews – by the grace of God, the Jewish race survived the atrocities, but many Native civilizations were destroyed by this “Christian” nation – but becaue it is closer to home, it is not talked about). We are too quick to separate their behavior from their actions. We are too close to the situation. We want to have the Christian underpinnings of society, but to do so, we have some seedy baggage to deal with. Christ has called us to faithfulness to him, period. Not knowledge of Scriptures. Not claiming a land for him. Not policing the world in his name. We are called to love him and love others. By participating in the state, I am not sure we can do that. I see it in the people I care the most for. They cast a blind eye at blatantly un-Christian practices at the state level excusing it as if Jesus holds the state to a different standard.

This brings me to a second important point. I believe the most mis-guided aspect of our discussions about the state in America centers on the concept of freedom. It is vital that we ackowledge that the Bible is no guaranteer of freedom. The United States has propagandized the nation over recent decades, focusing especially on Christians, stamping our fight for freedom in all international conflict under the guise of godly oversight and protection. The Bible does not teach to fight for freedom. NOWHERE! If this offends you, stop reading right now and do a study. There is no guarantee of freedom. I know it’s easy for me to say that. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. But God has called me to faithfulness, obedience, and love, not the right of freedom. Slaves were told to obey their masters, not fight them or run away. This concept calls into question the very root of our nation – fighting (read killing) for our freedom. Is this what Jesus taught on the sermon on the mount? How dare we give a free pass to those in the military because they do so in combat? Jesus never makes that distinction, how can we? This places the onus on those who wish to argue for military participation, not me.

This is not an easy discussion to be had. I don’t know if many are ready to fully open themselves up for the implications of what this means. I believe that Gingrich is narrow-mindly American in his book and potentially sows the seed for a future holy war. Perhaps he will follow it up with a second volume noting all the landmarks of Iran that are covered in verses from the Koran and how their nation is built around a good-peaceful religion gone bad and now must be destroyed. It becomes nothing more than a modern-day crusuade. The cycle of this thought continues. We must spend more money so our military is the biggest so that no one threatens us . . . haven’t we misplaced our hope as soon as we do that? And so many of us do that without even thinking about it. My hope is in God. Period.

The idea of kingdom is political. It was the political jargon of the day. What purpose would Jesus have had in using that language unless he meant his kingdom to be an alternative politcal reality? We can praise the outcome of the wars of the state (freeing blacks, defeating Hitler, etc.) but Christians must always do so with a partly disappointed heart knowing that this is not the way of the kingdom. The means must be consistent with the end . . . the end cannot be used to justify whatever means possible. This is not an easy teaching to accept. But, something that Gingrich fails to ackowledge, is that every ruler, every war, is started and maintained by people who believe that God is on their side (is the swastika not a broken cross?) Just becuase we think God is on our side does not make us right . . . or good.

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