Posted by: watchman | December 10, 2011

The Church’s Potential

pyromaniac theology

One of my favorite writers/speakers/people to enjoy a pint with wrote a fascinating deconstruction of the abusive church in a recent blog post. In this very short post by Irish philosopher Peter Rollins, he manages to compare the Church to drunks and greedy bankers (sweet), cite Zizek (totally awesome),  and extend a sympathetic characterization to the church (wow). Here is a snippet:

Often the people who engage in the most destructive and reprehensible behaviour are the ones who began with the biggest dreams of transformation. Behind the drunk at the local bar, or the cynical money-maker who would step over anyone to get ahead, there is often a story of some idealistic youth who believed that the broken world could be rendered wonderful with a little work. In such situations it is the failure to enact such a world, to be a part of its birth, that leads people to the darkest of places (while those without such utopian ideas just potter along without the highs of success or the lows of failure).

I was originally drawn to Peter Rollins because of his theologically pyromaniac tendency to crash and burn long-held assumptions about the Christian story. But, consistently he has disappointed me by holding on to a hope that he finds in Jesus Christ and the Church.

Something rings true in Pete’s perspective. I’ve seen the worst and the best of people in the setting of the church:

  • I’ve had a 80 year old parishioner shed tears while he asked me not to change an aspect of the worship service. When was the last time I wept for something I believed in?
  • I’ve seen people invest their entire life savings into some ridiculous church building project. When was the last time I risked my future for something I believed in?
  • I’ve had church members restrict their children from my teaching for fear of the destiny of their child’s immortal soul. When was the last time I was so passionate about my children’s perspective of the world?

Dr. Rollins gives me pause. Have I seen the abuse of the church, more than the abuse’s origins? Have I seen the passions of well-meaning church folk as a dangerous threat more than a potential good?

One of the most annoying people in the world is my friend Drew. He is a pastor who refuses to become bitter and vengeful about the wrongs of the Church. He continues to see the Church as God’s plan for the future of the world. It always sounds to me like God’s plan for the future of the world involves unending business meanings and dbag board members. But, I think what he means is the theological hopes and indomitable passions of church people.

There are times when I am tempted to stomp away from all of his talk about hope and ecclesial change. I will spend hours dismantling every reason that he has to maintain hope; yet his hope remains. I will point out all the logical inconsistencies and advocate for a Jonah-type approach. Yet, his loyalty remains.

He has been deeply hurt by the church. He has a keen understanding about the Christological responsibilities that are required of the church. Yet, here he is, trying to get me to see the church for its potential more than its misdeeds.

I walk away so frustrated. I am not frustrated because he is not listening to me. I walk away because he is able to maintain a deeper, more compassionate, Christ-like understanding of the church.

The Church is deeply flawed. Yet, Drew reminds me of the fact that, flawed or not,  the Church remains just as capable of accomplishing good. Rollins points to the fact that in those flaws, we can find the root passion and hope that is Christianity at its most compelling.



  1. Confession: I actually, I think Peter Rollins is cool because I saw him rip some sweet pyro-theology while sippin’ on a Dragon’s Milk.

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