Book Symposium – Peter Rollins’s Insurrection

This week bring us a new review of Peter Rollins’s Insurrection. Jason Clark offers an extended and thoughtful interaction with Pete’s work characterized by a pastoral heart. You can read about Pete and his work at his website. Clark is one of our contributors here at churchandpomo, and you can read his bio here.

Review of Peter Rollins’ Insurrection

Having contributed to a book with Pete Rollins,[1] collaborating in person on that work, and having worshipped with Pete, I find myself for the purposes of this review, in somewhat of a quandary.  Within that relationship, and knowing that Pete is reading and due to respond to my review, there is the temptation to simply offer praise due to a collegiate friendship, or to provide a critique as an alternative.  Instead I wish to provide an extended review, that seeks to understand Pete, his current work, and larger writing corpus.  This review has given me the opportunity to grapple with and seek to understand Pete’s work.  It also provides an opportunity to reflect on how Pete’s work impacts upon my own Christian faith, as most others reading it make their own personal assessments.

Pete’s latest book Insurrection invites us to understand and explore his work as one of ‘pyro-theology.[2]  For Pete ‘pyro-theology’ is to ask a question that ‘ruptures’ and ‘re-configures Christianity’[3] that also ‘overturns the Church as it presently stands’ in all its current forms.[4]  The hoped for outcome of this proposed theological method is a Church that is utterly different and yet is true to its previous incarnations.[5]

By way of method, Pete suggests that it is in a question from Bonhoeffer that we find not only an example of this ‘pyro-theological’ method, but the question we need to ask today.  This question is one where we ask whether religion is necessary to participate in the Christian life.  It is this question we must respond to, if we are to be true to Christianity, and engage in these reconfigurations and over-turnings.[6]  Pete wants to get us to Bonhoeffer’s ‘religionless Christianity’.  Pete would have us understand that the question by the early Church of whether Gentile Christians should be circumcised was an antecedent of his ‘pyro-theology’ theological method.[7]

And it is here that Pete’s theological method seems most immediately problematic.  For we might ask if the question of whether Christianity needs completely overhauling, and the Church replacing is valid for establishing his method.  Pete does not seem to give direct warrant to that claim, other than to make statements in his work couched in generalizations.  For example he talks of how ‘Church leaders believe on behalf of the community’ in the contemporary Church, thus denying all Christians the ability to experience the cross.

Many of us involved in Church life might take issue not just with such a premise and generalist claim, but the setting up of his work as an antidote to the whole and contemporary Church, in all its forms.  I am sure in his planned response to me on this blog, Pete will be able to affirm that not all Church leaders are oriented and established around a disposition to keep people from the cross, and the struggles of faith and belief.

And then for a work that aspires to be a theological method, it is rather more one of philosophical theology, and I suspect better read as such.  For Pete’s real focus strikes me as a philosophical reading of the nature of God, and the experience of faith within that.  Whilst Pete signposts his work with theological words, such as God, Cross, Incarnation, Crucifixion, and Resurrection, it is not the historic, confessional and traditional theological content of those terms that are his methodological horizon.  And it is not that Pete even wants to contest such horizons. Rather it is that his philosophical method means that belief in those things seems irrelevant to his task.  I was left wondering if for Pete those terms have their ‘true’ meaning solely as descriptions of the existential ‘events’ of Christian experience?

It is here that I think Pete leads us into an understanding of God, and an apprehension of Christian faith that Bonhoeffer would not have recognized, as ‘religionless Christianity’.  For whilst Bonhoeffer and Mother Teresa may have navigated a ‘dark night of soul’, they did so with confessional faith, one with a deeply theological content, and their hope in a real historical resurrection.  The issue of circumcision was not simply the removal of an external religious practice that stopped people from embracing the cross, and the loss of God for their religious experience.  It was to a deeply somatic response, that relocated the nature of the experience of salvation into an even more intense and embodied experience; one where the heart that was now to be circumcised in regard to its desires and orientation.  That internal circumcision was to now bring our lives, in all their aspects, into an experience of the cross.  It was to bring the life we live in our bodies, into a very real experience of the God who was and is there in the cross, and into His body.

Here I suspect Pete and I argue for the same thing, but from different understandings of the cross.  And like Pete I would agree that it is better to experience the cross, rather than have some religious belief in it—something that actually stops us from encountering it. But I do think that Bonhoeffer’s apprehension of the cross within ‘religionless Christianity’ was something very different to Pete’s proposals.

For one cannot read Bonhoeffer’s confessional theology without reading that the experience of the cross was more than a psychological dynamic, and one that changes all that we are, even our bodies themselves.  In terms of how we apprehend the experience of the cross that Pete offers us, I am left wondering how ‘cerebral’ that psychological apprehension is, and how it requires a metaphysical locus that Bonhoeffer would have rejected.  For Bonhoeffer asserts that God is simultaneously (a la Barth) ‘wholly other’ whilst shockingly immanent and intimate. For Bonhoeffer writes:

God as a working hypothesis in morals, politics, or science, has been surmounted and abolished; and the same thing has happened in philosophy and religion. For the sake of intellectual honesty, that working hypothesis should be dropped, or as far as possible eliminated. A scientist or physician who sets out to edify is a hybrid.  Anxious souls will ask what room there is left for God now; and as they know no answer to the question, they condemn the whole development that has brought them to such straits. I wrote to you before about the various emergency exits that have been contrived; and we ought to add to them the death-leap back into the Middle Ages. But this principle of the Middle Ages is heteronomy in the form of clericalism; a return to that can be a counsel of despair, but it would be at the cost of intellectual honesty[8]. …But all the time God still reigns in heaven… he remains the Lord of Earth, he preserves his church, constantly renewing our faith and not laying on us more than we can bear, gladdening us with his nearness and help, hearing our prayers[9].

Pete not only empties theological terms, those used by Bonhoeffer, Mother Teresa, the wider Church and ourselves of their content, he also presents them as universal processes and experiences.  And they are also deployed rather confusingly by him, at least in my reading.  For example, the resurrection appears to be subsumed into the crucifixion by Pete, as something that is merely an experience of the cross, or a means to experience the cross.[10]  So again I wonder if anyone reading Pete’s work for a theological method might, like me, be frustrated at his lack of attention to Christian theology, and wonder at his appropriation of Bonhoeffer.

As a further example, Pete spends some time reflecting on the Kenosis and Christology within Philippians 2, of the emptying of God himself.[11]  If I have understood Pete’s method, there is no God out ‘there’ in the first place, outside of our experience, to be emptied into the reality of and particularity of human experience; be that an experience that is somatic, psychological, emotional, spiritual, etc.  Pete voids and evacuates the theological term Kenosis of any theological content and meaning.  On reading Insurrection I was left with the anxiety that God is dead, there is no cross, just the idea of the cross, and that there is no place for God to be involved in my life at all.

Pete explicitly wants to remove the notion from us that loving Christ directly is possible. Rather, God is to be indirectly loved, as we participate in love generally.[12] In the whole of Pete’s work I then found this sentence the most startling, ‘in the Incarnation, Crucifixion, and Resurrection, we discover that God is not something we encounter directly and thus is not something that we experience’.[13]  Not only does that leave me with no possibility of an experience of God as object and me as his subject, a sense of ‘otherness’, that I am his,  and he is mine, but it also seems to elevate the love of love itself, as the telos to any ordering in our relationship with God.  For Pete it is not enough to realize that we have desired the wrong objects in life, it is that we need to desire desire itself, as God is not an appropriate or possible object for our love.  I doubt how many humans can live in this mode of love, let alone whether it is even Christian.  And I do not make that statement lightly or casually.  If God is not the object of my love, and me his, then what is the purpose in Christianity at all?

Or at least such an apprehension is the best I can hope for as an experience of God.  And perhaps that is the intention of the book in any event.

The Jesus of Christianity as a real transcendent person, who becomes finite to us so that we might adventivally experience him, now seems lost to us as other theological terms are similarly emptied by Pete.  The theology of the cross that the Church holds historically, presently and which it confessionally experiences in much of its worship, is shorn of all biblical narratives and paradosis, with crucifixion reduced to psychological process.  I felt left with a Jesus who was only an exemplar of self-awareness of an existential experience.   If this is the case, then perhaps Pete’s work might be less about a ‘religionless Christianity’, and more about Christianity without an historical, immanent, and risen Jesus.

Not that this is all a bad thing, as long as we understand that this is what Pete presents us with.    And within that realization I find the most compelling element of Pete’s work, that there is a God-forsakenness intrinsic to the Christian faith, replete with doubt, mystery and question that is too often replaced with certainty to cover our fears.  And I agree with Pete that Bonhoeffer does call us to refuse to let our Christian religious constructions stop us from an experience of the cross.  Such experience is intrinsic to Christianity.  For Bonhoeffer ‘religionless Christianity’ was about the loss of all that keeps us from the cross.  Just as God despised the false religion that kept us from him, he seeks to bring us out from all religious life, even that set up within much that masquerades as Christianity, which is in fact something that keeps us from the cross.

I have already strayed too far into philosophical critique, which is not my natural domain, and with which I have no fluency or proficiency.  But I have stepped into that domain, in order to attempt to interact with Pete’s work on his terms, and by that I have no doubt done him a great disservice.

But I have also approached his text on my own terms, and however non-philosophical my bent, I am left wondering how a real theology, a theology of the cross attends more fully and more immediately, and would be apprehended more readily by others.  For the Church as it exists already carries within large segments of itself an understanding of the theologia crucis.  Luther clearly observed and questioned how Christians would rather go to Easter Sunday for an experience of the theologia gloriae, bypassing the need to experience the cross, and participate in its God-forsakenness.  Such theologies of the cross are readily available to us, are already part of much of contemporary church life, and are more akin to that which Bonhoeffer was building upon. Pete’s work would have been more compelling for me, if it at least gave greater nod to the Church’s theologies of the cross, especially those that attend to Bonhoeffer’s work, having invoked Bonhoeffer.  Or at least the philosophy within those theologies.  For there is a confessional Christian faith in which incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, and parousia, are able to attend to the false comforts of religion, whilst allowing us the comfort of a real person to know and experience in Jesus.

If the idea of embracing doubt, mystery, and question are new to the faith of any of Pete’s readers, then his work may re-assure them (no pun intended) that such experience is deeply Christian.  But I am suggesting that they then turn to the larger Church, and explore how that experience has been readily available and reflected upon for our apprehension.  Such apprehension might be more easily retrieved from that location, than a complete overturning of the Church.  And by that I am not saying that much that passes as the Church and Christian doesn’t need overturning!

As I conclude, I find that Pete’s work has forced me to explore the philosophical dimension of some my own theologies, to be reminded (again) of the need to consider Bonhoeffer in my own ecclesial re-formulations, and the place of the cross at the centre of my Christian experience.  Thank you.

As I finished reading Insurrection, I wondered if Pete’s latest work reveals most of all, the nature of his work as his own autobiography; as do most authors in their writing—as I know I do.  Insurrection is perhaps best read as Pete’s escape from his own churched cages of Christian certitude and the theologia gloriae that bypassed the cross.  It might become yours too as you read it.

And it is there that I find myself, despite deeply different theological convictions to Pete, with much in common.  My own story of finding an experience of the cross, with my own apprehension of doubt, mystery, and question as central to my Christian life has taken and continues to take place. I have had and continue to have my own ‘dark night of the soul’.

Pete writes, ‘in crucifixion we are brought to a place in which we see the full weight of anxiety bearing down upon us without anything that would shield us’.[14]  I am wiling or at least wanting to reject all the ‘religion’ that would shield me from the experience of the cross of Christ.  Yet Pete’s writing left me with a feeling that he has replaced one theologia gloriae with another; of human reason and existential experience that takes the place of experiencing the Cross.

I wonder that when Pete and I talk about the cross (which we have in the real time and space of a worship service), that whilst I thought I was talking about Jesus, Pete thought I was only talking about myself.

[1] Church in the Present Tense, McKnight, Rollins, Corcoran, Clark, Baker Academic, 2011.

[2]Insurrection, xiii.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., xiv.

[5] ibid.

[6] Ibid., xv.

[7] Ibid., xii.

[8] Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison, p. 187.

[9] Ibid., p. 205.

[10] Insurrection, p 123.

[11] Ibid., p168.

[12] Ibid., p123.

[13] Ibid/, p123.

[14] Ibid., p112.

  • Anonymous

    Thank you Jason for this very helpful and elucidating review. Myself being no theologian I had the impression that you managed to find words and clear descriptions where I had only a vague (and sometimes uneasy) feeling.
    There are books which somehow are a final statement, a summary of a theologians’ long and thoughtful journey and there are books which are more like an interstation on a journey into unchartered territory. To me Pete’s book is more of latter type and as such a fascinating and thought provocing summary of where he is right now.
    Maybe exactly because it is deeply autobiographical and reflects the intense struggles and doubts he had on his spiritual journey I felt myself deeply understood in the first chapters. His very poignant and concise description of our situation within the church and as followers of Christ touched me deeply. And his reflections on Jesus’ cry on the cross still keep me busy thinking. He encouraged me to accept and embrace doubt, uncertainty, complexity, and failure even more strongly as part of my christian vocation than I did before. Thus, the first part of his book really kept me emotionally and spiritually involved and therefore I’m Pete very thankful.
    However, when Pete started to elaborate on possible ways out of the dilemma more and more questions arose and I had the impression of a “deja vu”; the empression of a “postmodern theologia crucis” with a fare too strong emphasis on the cross (and the cross only) and a neglection of everything else what Jesus had lived for and preached about (not to mention his bodily resurrection). I was wondering, whether Pete would say that everything that Jesus believed and said about a trustworthy father, a subject (not object) whom you indeed could encounter, talk to, worship, was proven false and annihilated by the experience on the cross and that since Golgatha we are left with nothing else than the pure process (e.g. of loving) without ever having the slightest chance of someone actually encountering us.
    But, as I said: for me the book is written “midway” on Pete’s journey and I’m curious to see (and read about) where his reflections will lead him next.

    • Jason Clark

      Dear Michael,

      Your experience resonates with mine. I’m all for the need to go to the cross, as an experience and as a reality. But it’s the other side of the cross, where Pete leaves us abandoned and without hope, that I can’t buy into his work. Much like you I suspect. That’s at a personal level, and Pete’s work is written at the level on the one hand.

      Theologically, it offers no hope. I find more hope in Moltmann’s event process understanding of the cross, and more with Luther, within a real resurrection, that is grounded in a historical Jesus, who isn’t me.

      For Luther the cross (as I think it is for orthodox christians and those of the early church) was a material reality, not just/merely an existential event process. The resurrection was of a similar magnitude for all of material reality. Pete leaves us to act by ourselves, for ourselves, whilst the cross leaves us with a God who acts for us, and in us, and with us, beyond our ability to perceive any existential experience of the cross.

      Pete’s solution seems to be more of the very problem that the cross deals with, endless abandonment. The response is resurrection, I am not the resurrection, He is. But I get to take part in that with Him through going to the cross, with my cross.

      You ask an interesting question, I hope Pete responds to it. LIke you say Pete is in process, and I do hope he finds Jesus. I don’t mean that in some crass fundamentalist way, but that Pete find the other side to the dark side of God, the resurrection.

      • adam moore

        I’m surprised you don’t think Pete seriously engaged resurrection in this book. I’m quite familiar with Pete’s work and I’ve heard him speak many times. I give that background to say that in reading Insurrection what struck me most was Pete’s emphasis on resurrection. In hearing Pete speak I’ve wished he would speak more to resurrection at times, but in this book I felt he emphasized it quite heavily. In fact, I would say this is a book about resurrection more than doubt and crucifixion. In a deep sense Pete reveals his evangelical sympathies in this book–it is all about being born again, converted, transformed. Insurrection is at its heart an affirmation of the resurrection.

        • Jason Clark

          Hi Adam,

          My concern was how Pete engaged with resurrection. It’s not enough just use the word. In my review I drew attention to how he might use the word resurrection, but confuses it with the cross. And in terms of what resurrection means, for the church in history, makes little connection to that theology.

          I think you are right this is a book about doubt, and the existential experience of it at the cross. But it’s not about resurrection as a response to that, beyond personal experience. And I fear there is no real cross for Pete, an historical, cosmic, person other than myself cross, through which a power from someone other myself can break into life for transformation.

          If there is in the book, can you help me to see where that is and how that is?

          Cheers, Jason

  • cjdm

    Very insightful, Jason. The meta-question, it seems to me, is how one can rightly use the resources of a tradition while simultaneously working to change it. It is a delicate thing, given the ways that one can so easily either fall into blind dogmatic fidelity to practices of belief or step so far outside of the tradition that critique feels like it comes from the outside looking in. Both of these have been radically tried, and it turns out that neither one is especially useful.

    • Jason Clark

      cjdm: I agree with your diagnosis, do you have some suggestions about how we might navigate that process more carefully? I would place Pete’s use of tradition as being a step to far outside tradition, at least the process of how tradition is itself re-appropriated by itself (I have in mind here the idea and practice of ‘paradosis’) despite his claims and aspirations for a ‘pyro-theology’ method.

  • Anderson Campbell

    Thanks for this review, Jason.

    I freely admit that I have not read “Insurrection.” So, I can’t speak directly to its content. However if your description of his metaphysical turn is true (and I have no reason to think otherwise), then that is indeed troubling. To empty theological terms of their historic meaning only to take them up again in a way that is novel and re-imagined is one of my critiques with some in the emergent movement.

    I sat with a pastor over coffee this morning and we talked about the importance of being rooted within a theological and practical tradition. We agreed that one of the great contributions of emergent conversations is the recapturing and reinvigoration of spiritual ecclesial practices that have lain dormant in modernist churches (especially those of an evangelical bent).

    Yet some within those conversations have gone so far down the deconstructionist rabbit hole that they have effectively commodified those practices–emptying them of any meaning so that they can then fill them with whatever meaning serves their purposes best. And this they do in the name of “rootedness.” From what you write, it sounds like Pete is extending this practice of holding a “rummage sale” (to use Tickle’s imagery) to include historical theological terminology.

    I imagine that there will be many who will read Pete’s work and find it mostly agreeable. In fact, this pastor friend of mine found little to disagree with in “Insurrection.” But he also admits he brought a historical understanding of crucifixion and resurrection into his reading of the book. He resonated with the idea of “being a community of the resurrection,” by which he meant actually participating in the still-echoing historical event.

    Again, thanks for the review and I look forward to Mr. Rollins’ response to it.

    • Jason Clark

      Hi Andy,

      Thanks for your comment. Pete’s book is well worth a read, and it would be great to see you compare a read of it with your thoughts above.

      First thing your post makes me mindful of is the role and place of philosophy for Christians. Within the age old question posed by Tertullian of, ‘what indeed has Athens to do with Jerusalem?’, we might ask what does philosophy have to do with theology. More specifically what does Pete’s philosophy do with a theology of the cross? I’m not a philosopher and I wish someone like Jamie Smith would engage with that question and with Pete’s book for us.

      I suspect Pete’s work gets us to the existential anxiety that modern consumers ‘feel’ and try to avoid, and how the cross is the place for that experience to be brought and revealed and extended. Yet as Michael says below, it’s what happens at the cross and after that I find most problematic due to Pete’s philosophy.

      One thing to be aware of is that Pete is not ‘deconstructing’ per se, not deliberately anyway. He is using existential phenomenology and philosophy. They are related, but Pete’s methodology is more one than the other. Maybe in one sense Pete does ‘deconstruct’ theological terms, and I think ‘voids’ them of the ‘real meaning’ for Christians. But he seems more to deconstruct the atheistic existentialism of his philosophical sources. This is Pete’s larger a/theism theme and method I suspect.

      Again to any philosophers I reveal my ineptitude over philosophical method. I think your average reader of Pete’s book will find it as hard to penetrate, or gloss over, or just try to ‘intuit’ what he is saying.

      If commodifcation is the treatment of things as if they were marketable commodities where they weren’t previously, that’s not something Pete is doing. But there might be the cultural commodifcation Bell Hook references of ‘eating the other’, like where white men like the feeling of crossing over to another race because of certain primitive fantasies. Perhaps there is some of that taking place with the need to empty theologies and take part in atheistic fantasies to ‘feel’ that we have taken part more fully in the world. If that is the case then Pete’s idea of this being a way to ‘resist’ the problems of desire, is reality a capitulation to them.

      Within that maybe your are intuiting and seeing that it’s more exciting to inhabit some cultural and atheistic fetish, than to engage in the deep theological sources, the ‘rootedness’ you mention. As I mentioned Pete talks about his theology being rooted in the inceptive theological method of the early church, but it seems something very different to that.

      And I say that not to be strident or perforative but to take his theology to task a little. With your last anecdote it reminded me of how I felt reading Pete’s book. A strong yes to bring myself naked and bare before the universe, and say here I am, but there being no real cross or resurrection of a cosmic in breaking scale to clothe my nakedness.

      • Anderson Campbell

        Wow. Thanks for the response, Jason. Philosophy has always been difficult for me. I think that I intuit philosophical constructs better than I articulate them. Yes, I agree that consumers ‘feel’ and try to avoid an existential anxiety… something that they (we? I?) can rarely put into words.

        Next stop for me is to read the book so I can be better able to continue conversations like these. Thanks again.

        • Jason Clark

          Would be interesting to see your comments back here when you get your copy!

      • Jon Annett

        Thank you Jason…I think you bring up many good points and I am looking very forward to reading Pete’s response. I have been thoroughly encouraged by Insurrection and think that Pete is giving voice to many who have left the church and many who have never considered it, but as I dialogue with my friends about some of the things that make much sense to me, I nearly always get feedback similar to yours (albeit less intelligently put!) Thank you for your honesty, and I am guessing Pete will enjoy your challenging some of his thoughts. Nobody likes an ass kisser!:)

        • Jason Clark

          Hi Jon, thank you .

          I’d be interested to know what some of those things are when you say: ‘things that make much sense to me, I nearly always get feedback similar to yours’.


          • Jon Annett

            Well Jason, I like Pete’s focus on the Crucifixion and the pain involved in life being shared by Christ. His being deserted by God, while feeling sacrilegious (Westmont Grad), are much closer to the experiences of this stage of life (8yrs).

            The idea that God is supposed to fill a hole in us (which he doesn’t) or a need for us has me (and others) to constantly feel like we are pursuing God incorrectly/poorly (bad) or that he doesn’t care about us enough to show up (worse)….when we are told that should expect what Christ got, our expectations for God to show up to “save us” in difficult situations goes away.

            I am still trying to figure out when we CAN count on God showing up, but i’m afraid I’m still deconstructing the old shit and haven’t built much to speak of yet. It does have me excitedly looking at Jesus’ life and feeling the full weight of the crucifixion like I hadn’t before.

            My “Christian” friends jump to the “Jesus was quoting a Psalm” or “including homosexuals is unbiblical” etc… some of them are in ministry and don’t have the capacity to re-think what they have committed their lives to, and some of them just don’t care enough to rethink things. Most Christians think that the end of the Bible is the end of change….just like the high priests who crucified Jesus….wanting to hold on to what “is” rather than see what could be….”he is trying to change everything!”

            In the meantime, I will question how people read the Bible (or don’t), how they see and live out Jesus’ life, and how they came to their decisions about what “is”. Trying to gently unsettle and complicate the picture of those around me a bit.

            Thank you for your interest and would love to hear your responses….

            Unfortunately i am pretty lost on some of this philosophical conversation….in fact I think I should be Pete’s ghostwriter for his next book….a less intelligent articulation of his great ideas thus making him readable and offensible to the masses!

          • Jason Clark

            Jon getting away from philosophical nuance and into personal experience, I’ve just blogged something personal about my own experience of the cross, with both of my parents having committed suicide recently.


            If there is no real cross, no place of abandonment and godforsakeness that is bigger than which I am experiencing, I might just as well eat drink and be merry, or commit suicide myself.

            The only way to resurrection, is through the cross, to pick up our cross daily and practice death and resurrection. But for Pete we are the resurrection, there is no real resurrection that we can speak of.

            I find myself with all I am facing, taking no comfort in that idea today.

          • Jon Annett

            I just read through your blog posting from this morning and am absolutely speachless….thank you for this “real” example of the implications of not leaving room for dependance on anything but ourselves. I think that Pete’s view of the crucifixion (at least for me), has made it much more relevant and huge for me with the psychological trauma and God’s abandonment of God on our behalf. His interpretation of the resurrection echos a bit “thin” for my liking, and I think that your recent experiences would be a perfect example of where the resurrection HAS to be more than “our responsibility to take responsibility for our own actions, love, and continue on, even if it doesn’t mean anything”….would love to see Pete’s human interaction with your story as it is not a “theoretical” to be combatted, but a life to be respected. Thank you for your vulnerability and honesty….while it may be healing for you, it is heartbraking and inspiring for us to witness your honorable dealing with such unspeakable tragedy. Thank you for the gift of your response.

          • Jason Clark

            Good to engage with Jon on something other than conceptual abstractions of the cross.

  • geoffh


    Thank you for the post. I appreciate your engagement with Pete’s text. When you say that Insurrection is more a work of philosophical theology in a pastoral idiom (and I’m not against philosophy at all). While you don’t describe which philosophy it is, it seems rather obvious that it is a theology interpreted through Lacanian psychoanalysis (via Zizek at times) (I’m also not against psychoanalysis). I think you capture this well when you end with while “thought I was talking about Jesus, Pete thought I was only talking about myself.”

    In one sense I think Pete’s work is a pastoral rendition of trends in philosophical theology that incorporate Lacan from Caputo, Zizek, to the younger Clayton Crockett, where the Cross and Resurrection becomes figures for understanding different subject positions (those who need God the crutch and those who do not).

    But (and remember I already said I’m not against philosophy or psychoanalysis, but find them very useful up to a certain point), but I think the analysis of desire that generates some of Pete’s most insightful remarks on church life also betrays him because ultimately psychoanalysis can’t distinguish between desire and love–at least not love in the sense of Christian love. It always reduces love back into desire. You can see this modulation in Pete’s text where he will use them interchangeably even though you can’t get from Lacan’s desire to Christ’s love something more than the cross (but to have more, in Pete’s theology is always to run back to religion, hence the commitment to desire as never fulfilled).

    Anyway, those are some of my thoughts.

    • Jason Clark

      Hi Geoff,

      Again sources I am not familiar with, Lacan, Caputo, and Zizek, other than by name. But I do find there are theological resources around desire and resistance, that more immediately resonate with people’s psychological and emotional experiences, in Augustine.

      Perhaps seen with people like Eric Gregory and Charles Mathews accounts of Augustine, where to put it crudely our problem isn’t that we love the world too much but that we don’t love it enough. Those accounts make the distinction between love and desire, and allow for resistance that you mention, and offer real world concrete locations for love community and political action.

      Your analysis is beyond me, but I’ll dig into Lacan, and Zizek a little more to see if I can track with that.

      • geoffh


        No reason to apologize for not knowing things. Hell, we all don’t know a whole bunch. And I’d bet you are a more astute philosopher than you are letting on.

        About Augustine’s account of desire and love, that was basically who I was thinking about but didn’t mention.

        And if you don’t need to read Lacan or Zizek, then don’t.

        I think all the Zizek you would need to know you could get from Fitch’s “End of Evangelicalism?” which might tie into your interests in the future of evangelicalism well.

        • Jason Clark

          Tnx Geoff, I’ve read Fitch, his chapter on the duplicity of beliefs, how they distance us from the practices of those beliefs with our bodies was very compelling.

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  • Garreth Ashe

    thanks for your review Jason.

    I have to admit that I haven’t read Pete’s new book as yet, but I would like to point any interested parties of a indepth review on by a Nate Bostian, which give a great overview of Pete useage of the God, Truth, incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection etc, but also give a indepth critique, and I think a lot of what he says overlaps with some of your review Jason. Also a great book on Zizek I would recommend you to read is Marcus Pounds very critical engagement, because his critique of Zizek can be used on Pete, especially in relation to both of them taking theology more seriously, and not just using it a model for existential despair.

    But i feel an imporatnt point that the reviewer on amazon/com brought out for me is Pete’s understanding of truth, not the sense that he view it as a process, but that truth is conflict itself, which speaks to me that are insubjective relations are always a war against war ( in Hobbesian sense as I take it), but the deeper question is if truth is conflict and strife which is an inescapable part of human be-ing, can we then ever speak of an insurrection if this is the case, and if this what Pete’s understanding of truth is then that would mean for me that an insurre tion could only ever be ahistorical, so Pete’s argument for life before death, can never be but otherworldly and as Hegel claims Jesus Christ’s is nothing but a beautiful soul and he Kingdom as a earthly worldly kingdom is nothing but a dream, which can never be realised in the world.

    • Jason Clark

      Hi Gareth,

      Thanks for the heads up, I dug down into the amazon reviews and found that by Nate. Seems to know far more philosophy than me and critique Pete far better in that regard.

      Also thanks for the heads up on Marcus Pounds work on Zizek, I assume it’s the work, Zizek: A (Very) Critical Introduction (Interventions)? From what you say, that critique and method, is the same thing I am reaching for as I engage with Pete. I’ve just ordered a copy from Amazon.

      I considered Pete’s call a rational and existential experience void of any historical in breaking now, as I mentioned. There is no possibility of an experience of Jesus in this life the cross is the loss of even the possibility of the cross as a real event, that I can experience now and in any universal sense.

      But the way you express that, is very helpful. I had wondered at Hegelian fantasies. But again I don’t have the philosophical tools to articulate that, as you have. Thank you.

      It does seem that for St Paul the claim that Jesus had risen from the dead was as an historical ,material event and reality, not just a ‘spiritual’ and existential one. Other wise our faith would be ‘in vain’ and the dream you suggest.

      • Garreth Ashe

        jason thanks for yor reply.

        My main problem with Pete has always been his a/theism or a/theology, even from his first book ‘How (not) to speak of God he wrote, especially when in his first book his critique of the enlightenment idea descartes and ‘pure reason’, but in his a’theism in my read his still is haunted by the purity he rejects because he claims if we don’t speak of God in his pure sense, which is impossible, we commit idolatry, but the problem with his a/theism, we cant be anything but idolators, we can’t rise outside of this state, so as i said inj my earlier comments this is why in my eyes speak speaks of truth as conflict and this why i believe because of this the insurrection is talks about can only be a rapture of abandonment into the void with redemptive element.

        Another good book to read is James K A S mith fall of interpretion especially the chapters on Heidegger and Derrida and his last chapter on who’s not afraid of postmodernity on Radical Orthodoxy.

        Thanks again

        • Jason Clark

          Gareth, one of my friends remarked to me that reading Pete can feel like reading Bultmann when he was most into Heidegger and existentialism. I wonder you make of that suggestion and possibility. Is Pete replaying those processes in any way?

          We are all idolators, all our speaking of God is a ‘Pheidian fantasy’, with no hope to rise out of this state as you say, unless a material other to redeem us from that void of abandonment. (I reference the C S Lewis fantasy below)

          Speaking with another friend about my review, and Pete’s work, we were also asking if whether there is anything, in fact, outside language for Pete. Within a biblical studies view committed to a view of Scripture as God’s self-disclosure – Pete’s talk about incarnation, cross, resurrection, church, etc. seemingly leaves the biblical text far behind, let alone theological content to those words.

          C. S. Lewis, Footnote to All Prayers:

          The one whom I bow to only knows to whom I bow
          When I attempt the ineffable Name, murmuring Thou,
          And dream of Pheidian fancies and embrace in heart
          Symbols (I know) which cannot be the thing Thou art.
          Thus always, taken at their word, all prayers blaspheme
          Worshipping  with frail images a folk-lore dream,
          And all in their praying, self-deceived, address
          The coinage of their own unquiet thoughts, unless
          Thou in magnetic mercy to Thyself divert
          Our arrows, aimed  unskillfully, beyond desert;
          And all – are idolators, crying unheard
          To a deaf idol, if Thou take them at their word.

          Take not, O Lord, our literal sense.  Lord, in thy great
          Unbroken speech our limping metaphor translate.

          • geoffh

            Yeah. It is true that we can’t trust our words, that is why God sent the Word to speak for us.

          • Garreth Ashe

            Thanks again Jason,

            Funny you mention Heidegger, i remember a blog Pete put on his previous webpage, were he spoke about original sin, and funny enopugh he used Heidegger interpretation, but the the problem is that Heidegger ‘ontologised sin’, the same as Pete does, and this is why that Pete insurrection can only be an inserrection which limits violence and conflict and not live outside of it (this is why also I mentioned James K A Smith, because he goes into this in depth with relation to Heidegger and Derrida and so also with Pete).

            Personally i would argue that Pete just promoted a penel substitutory understanding of the cross from an ontology perspective, but that another comment all to gether, personally in I read Pete As promoting Gnostism not Christainity.

            Thanks again.

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  • Katharine Sarah Moody

    Jason, I’m troubled by your comment that Pete ‘voids’ theological terms like Crucifixion and Resurrection of ‘the “real meaning” for Christians.’

    You seem to connect the “real” or “true” meaning of these terms to “an historical, immanent, and risen Jesus,” thereby positioning Pete into a philosophical realist/anti-realist framework that I believe his work (and other radical theologies, such as Caputo’s Derridean theology of the event, from which Pete takes some significant cues) attempts to problematize.

    I do think you’re right to say that belief or disbelief in physical resurrection is ultimately ‘irrelevant to [Pete’s] task,’ as Pete himself says in this video clip: But this is primarily because Pete’s work seeks not to confirm or deny our particular beliefs about Jesus’ resurrection but to be a vehicle of our own transformation.

    I’ve blogged a bit more about this and about Pete’s response to your post here:

    • Jason Clark

      Hi Katherine, thanks for reading, your previous review and taking the time to engage here.

      Firstly my statement on voiding, is in the context of my previous sentence on that where I say, ‘Pete voids and evacuates the theological term Kenosis of any theological content and meaning. On reading Insurrection I was left with the anxiety that God is dead, there is no cross, just the idea of the cross, and that there is no place for God to be involved in my life at all.’

      Perhaps the phrase ‘real meaning’ is too perforative, but I signal carefully (or at least I tried to), by use of scare quotes around ‘real meaning’ that I feels its use is potentially ironic and I to put some distance between that diagnosis and myself. My warrant for Pete’s theological voiding is given in the examples I provide of the confessional faith of Bonhoeffer who Pete wants to claim as his antecedent.

      I do think that Bonhoeffer would not see Pete’s use of his theological words, as falling within any confessional theology, which for a Christian practicing faith within a confessional tradition would view Pete’s use of the terms of devoid of any ‘real meaning’.

      For a confessional standpoint like Bonhoeffer’s, he would not or could not speak of any ‘real’ meaning of theological terms, without a basis in an historical immanent, and risen Jesus, and confessed as such. So I am saying a) Pete uses Bonhoeffer to claim a theological method of ‘pyro-theology’, but then does not explore Bonhoeffer’s theology within that at all, or not that I can see and 2) from his response to me he makes and admission that his work is not theological but one of existential philosophy, and from what you say does not require a real resurrection, or confessional position.

      I just want to signal that for any confessional christians, Pete’s work rest not on theology but a philosophy that does not require a real immanent Jesus and resurrection. And I think for Christians whether Jesus did and rise from the dead is more than a matter of philosophical realist/anti-realist frameworks. Most people reading Pete’s work don’t approach the world that way. Either Jesus was a real person that we can experience or he was the idea of an experience.

      For confessional Christians like Bonhoeffer, a Jesus experienced with no real immanent Jesus would be less than Christian for him.

      So if you are reading Pete better than me, as I suspect you do, you confirm that Pete is articulating and experience of the cross outside of confessional faith, and historic horizons of the larger traditions of orthodoxy. And that is most likely his pyro project, a Jesus we can experience without the need for a confessional position.

      It’s not one I want to take, personally, let alone theologically. I think something is at stake for Christians who require a confession of a real Christ, that is vital to faith. Just as Pete will assert it is not.

      And as I have tried to suggest in the larger comments on this post, talking about the cross removed from biblical texts and theological understandings of confessional faith places Pete outside what the early Church were doing. They were not forming faith around existential philosophy of an event, with no confessional basis.

  • Jason Clark

    With our discussion about coming to the cross and my suggestion that there is much within the church already to draw on, this article caught my attention.

    Nice to see a main stream evangelical magazine, bringing this kind of resource to people as an aid to their experience of the cross.

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  • Rick Johnston

    Personally I like Pete’s approach but I just couldn’t get over the fact that the initial premise was on such shaky territory. If Pete had used a solely philosophical approach it would have better suited him but instead he engaged directly with the texts in Matthew 27 and in doing so this is where his ideas unravel before they have begun.

    My own personal review focussing on ‘My God, My God’ section is at my blog if anyone is interested.

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