The Idolatry of God: A Review

Last year I had the opportunity to hear Irish theologian, author and philosopher Peter Rollins speak at Stetson University.  Although his latest book The Idolatry of God: Breaking Our Addiction to Certainty and Satisfaction had not yet been published, he spoke from its outline and offered a critique of Western Christianity that was convicting and unsettling.  When the talk was over, Rollins was gracious enough to sign one of the event posters for me.  He wrote, "I pray God rid you of God.  Peter Rollins."

At first blush that might seem like an odd line for a theologian to include in his autograph.  You would think that of all the things a theologian might assert, the idea that it might be preferable to be "rid of God" would not be among them.  I must admit, listening to or reading the work of Peter Rollins is alternately enthralling and maddening precisely because of the provocative ways that he presents his ideas.

And then you get to the truth beneath the provocation and your mind typically gets blown.

Let me explain.

In The Idolatry of God Rollins explores how the Western Church has essentially commodified God and turned Jesus into object that is only worthy of our worship if we somehow gain fulfillment of our desire for certainty and satisfaction by doing so.  Christianity, he writes, "is sold to us as that which can fulfill our desire rather than as that which evokes transformation in the very way that we desire."

Then he goes on to say, "what if Christ does not fill the empty cup that 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?"

What Rollins does repeatedly in his work, and particularly here in The Idolatry of God is deconstruct the notion that doubt, unknowing, uncertainty and dissatisfaction  are faithless responses to God.  On the contrary, Rollins believes that they are faithful responses in their own way to a God who cannot be fully known and to his Christ who is, as Rollins describes, "an atomic event that does not destroy the world, but rather obliterates the way in which we exist within the world."

The mission of Jesus, in other words, was not to offer his followers a new way of living that was full of certainty and satisfaction.  In fact, the only certainty that Jesus offered was the certainty that following him might very well mean real disaster for those that chose to follow.  Rollins asserts that the Christ event was one that does not dispel the "darkness and dissatisfaction that make their presence felt in our lives," instead they "are stripped of their weight and robbed of their sting."

The Church, according to Rollins, fails to see this Jesus-reality and instead chooses to mimic the culture around it by turning "the good news of Christianity into the bad news of Idol worship."  By "selling" God as the ultimate source of certainty and personal satisfaction, the Church sidesteps the vital role that doubt and dissatisfaction play in the life of the Jesus-follower.

I know that this brief summation does not do justice to the depth of The Idolatry of God, but I hope that it offers a glimpse into Rollins' painfully necessary work.  Far too much of Christian teaching is both formed and informed by the notion that absolute certainty is the ultimate goal in the Christian's life.  The ultimate goal is not certainty, but transformation---the kind that can only occur when we truly encounter a God that defies our categories.

I found The Idolatry of God to be stimulating and convicting.  Rollins' theological reflections alone are worth the read, but The Idolatry of God  is also marked by examples of practice--ways that followers of Jesus can explore the depths of their doubt in community and in so doing discover the transforming power of the Good News of Christ.  

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