Micah Redding — Christian Transhumanism: faith, technology & the future

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Peter Rollins and Experiencing God

Church people1

In Insurrection, Peter Rollins critiques the way in which various religious movements attempt to experience God.

One approach is the one taken by Chick Tracts, where God is a being so external to the world, the earth is left with no real meaning, and life becomes just something to endure until the final reconciliation.

Another approach is believing that we can encounter God in worship experiences. This initially seems much better, since it says we have the ability to have a relationship with God here and now. But ultimately, this approach renounces the world as well. Since God is experienced under the exceptional circumstances of a worship service, a distinction is maintained between normal life, and life in connection with God. God is sequestered into a building and an event, not because this is the intent of the organizers, but because the very structure of what they are doing demands it. Someone who has a brief experience of God may well be drawn into an addictive pursuit of more and more extreme worship experiences, trying ever harder to create a "thin space" where God may be felt.

It's a simple calculation everyone intuitively understands. If God is experienced more in the service, then he is experienced less elsewhere. If powerful musical and inspirational performers, or special smells and ceremonies, or certain habits and locations, are the means by which God is brought close, then God is forever on the retreat from the world at large. The rest of life is less significant, and less meaningful.

It would seem then that there is no answer. God is either forever distant, incapable of being experienced at all, or our very attempts to experience him drain life of meaning.

But Christianity has a different answer altogether. God is not experienced in moments of exultation, in ceremonies, or far removed from the world. God is experienced only and entirely in acts of love towards others.

This is the way in which Christianity turns us towards the world, to radically re-engage in life as it is. In Christianity, there is no service to God outside of service to others, there is no spiritual experience outside of practiced love.

This is why Jesus makes a big deal about bread and wine at the last supper. Not because he wants them to have a ritual where they feel intense emotions as they exchange crackers, but because he wants them to pursue him in the living out of relationships, in the sharing of meals as the concrete expression of friendship and love.


Next: Peter Rollins and the Deception of Living in the Moment

Carl Youngblood:

Love it, Michah. Thanks for sharing. I will be trying to share this interpretation with others.

micahtredding:

Thanks Carl, that means a lot.

J. D. Bentley:

This also touches on western Christianity's false dichotomy of intellectualism (chick tracts, systematic theology, apologetics) and emotionalism (pentecostal breakdowns, 'getting saved', worship sensationalism). You'll either get what I'm saying or you won't, but I think Christianity (the truest strand of it) is "in the middle and in all places." Also, I think it's interesting to point out that the Eucharist uses bread and wine rather than grain and grapes. Jesus clearly wants us involved in Creation.

Demetrius Burns:

"God is sequestered into a building and an event, not because this is the intent of the organizers, but because the very structure of what they are doing demands it. Someone who has a brief experience of God may well be drawn into an addictive pursuit of more and more extreme worship experiences, trying ever harder to create a "thin space" where God may be felt." This excerpt especially chimed a chord in my heart. Early on in my faith, my whole relationship with God was musically/woship based. I would wake up early in the morning and play hillsong on my i-pod in my closet and attempt to reproduce the enthusiastic praise performances I was company to on Sundays. Eventually, I got tired of it, and stopped altogether. Luckily, I picked up Shane Claiborne's "The Irresistable Revolution," or else I may not be a Christian anymore. Shane led me to Rob, who led me to Peter, who led me to fish. Haha, metaphorically that is. Thanks for your words. :)

Tripp Hudgins:

Indeed...a via media. I also think it's important to remember that Rollins is a creative liturgist melding performance art with worship. Hmm...lots to chew on!

Gregory Yeager:

Well, let's not be absolute about this. The God of Jesus Christ is 'experienced' in acts of concrete love, yes indeed. But God is also approached in worship, communal and personal. We don't need to deny the one experience to exalt the other. It seems clear that God is indeed found in the music, chant, incense, and whatever turns some people on. But if there is no expression of concrete love among those people, I would say they're shallow Christians, not Un-Christian. There's no need for absolutes here. This is Christianity, after all, the most relative - relational - related faith, isn't it?

Lisa O'Rear-Lassen:

I completely agree that Christ is experienced in this time and place through radical love in relationship with the world. I disagree that all worship experiences detract from material Christianity. In fact, liturgical worship when acted out by the assembly, in the midst of the community of faith, is a means to incarnate Christ through relationship and to equip the community to act as Christ in the world. One worships both for solace and for strength, strength to act-to do justice and love mercy and to walk humbly with our God.

Bill:

Well said, Micah. I think you have captured the essence of Pete's thesis. May we all take it to heart - but, then again, what would that look like?... I just got a whiff of smoke, didn't you?

Obscuritus:

Powerful, simply powerful.