Saturday, November 12, 2011

peter rollins ridiculous

In this parable we are reminded that a religious approach to the text is not one in which we attempt to find out its definitive meaning, but rather where we wrestle with it and are transformed by it. The parable tells us not that a God’s eye view is impossible, but rather that even if it were possible it would not be wanted. Why? Because a God’s-eye view of the truth would not be the truth. We can thus say that any interpretation of a verse that is given to us by God is not a true interpretation of the verse and must be rejected as such. For the problem resides not in having an interpretation but rather in the place that we give to our interpretation. No matter how wonderful our interpretation is, if it occupies an authoritative place then it undermines its own status.
Rollins, Peter (2009-01-29). Fidelity of Betrayal (Kindle Locations 1778-1784). Paraclete Press. Kindle Edition.

Really? A parable? Maybe one Jesus told? Well, let's see...

Is this not the wisdom that is contained in the Jewish parable that speaks of a heated debate taking place in a park between two old and learned rabbis? The conversation in question revolves around a particularly complex and obscure verse in the Torah. It is not the first time that these two intellectual giants have crossed swords over this verse; in fact they have debated it for years, sometimes changing their opinions but never finding a consensus. God is, of course, known to have the patience of a saint, but even God begins to tire of the endless discussion. So finally God decides to visit the two men and tell them once and for all what the parable means. God reaches down, pulls the clouds apart, and begins to speak: “You have been debating this verse endlessly for years; I will now tell you what it means. . . . ” But before God can continue, the two rabbis look up and say, in a rare moment of unity, “Who are you to tell us what the verse means? You have given us the words, now leave us in peace to wrestle with it.”
Fidelity of Betrayal (Kindle Locations 1771-1778). Nope, not one of Jesus'. In fact, we aren't told where it comes from, just that he calls it a "Jewish parable", which raises the eyebrows, as by and large the ancient Hebrews were noted for their great respect for the Scriptures, except when they were following all the rest of humanity in worshiping idols. One could well imagine that, for example, some ancient false prophet getting honked off at Jeremiah, and making some kind of argument like that.

But, well, moving on...

In my lack of researches, because only modernists care for verifying whether a historical statement is true or not, I've discovered in my imaginative reinterpretation of a biblical account of a time Jesus told a parable and then interpreted it for his disciples the nuclear shadow of an event (or is that an Event) that happened but for whatever reason (probably the fault of those nasty Nicenes) it didn't make into the Bible. But, thanks to me and my ability to deconstruct and find messages hiding in the gaps in the wounds of the text, here is a summary of it.

In Matthew 13, we have the account of Jesus telling several different parables. Verse 36 says that he left the multitude, and went into the house, and his disciples came unto him, say, "Explain unto us the parable of the tares of the field"

Jesus is just getting ready to explain it when there was a sudden commotion, a strange throbbing noise and weird lights, and suddenly a strange, pale man appeared in their midst, wearing strange clothes, and he was speaking very loudly.

"Stop!!" The man said, and yes did so with two exclamation marks. "You can't do that!" This caused some consternation among the disciples, as he was speaking in the English language, which had not yet made it's way into the world. Jesus appeared unfazed.

"My name is Peter Rollins." Said the strange man. "And I've come from the future, because you cannot explain that parable, Jesus.

"No, you can't explain it to them, because if you do, your disciples and all the rest of us will not wrestle with it and be transformed by it. Don't you know that a God's eye view of your parable is impossible, even though you as God told the parable to the people. Even though they have asked you to explain it to them, they don't really want that, because even if it were possible, it is not really wanted. Because any explanation or interpretation you can give would not be the truth, even if you as God give them the God's eye view of the truth. Any interpretaion you as God give to your disciples is not the true interpretation, and so they would have to reject it. Because any interpretation you as God would give would be authoritative, and thus because it is authoritative it would undermine its own status as an authoritative interpretation.

"So, no, Jesus, you cannot explain your parable to them. I command you to be quiet, you traitor! Why, I know about your conspiracy, I know who the really hero of Bible is! It's Judas, I tell you, not you! Oh, no, I know about your conspiracy! You and Lilith and Pee Wee Herman and her little dog, too, and..."

Suddenly, something went "boink" in the time machine this strange man who called himself Peter Rollins was using, and he was shot back to the future very suddenly and more-or-less intact, though there are rumors that parts of his mind have been found floating around in the Mariachi Trench.

So, after a rather startled moment, the disciples looked among themselves and then finally turned to Jesus. Jesus began to speak, answering their original question, and said, "He that sows the good seed is the Son of Man, and the field is the world. The good seed are the sons of the kingdom, the weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed the weeds is the devil, and the harvest is the end of the world. The reapers are the angels. As the tares are gathered and thrown into the fire, so will it be at the end of the world. The Son of Man will send forth his angels and they will gather out of his kingdom all thing that cause stumbling, and those who do iniquity, and cast them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. And the righteous will shine as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear."

So, yes, I did detect the nuclear shadow of a time-traveling Peter Rollins in that account. Hey, it's just as likely as the myths of Lilith and his conspiracy theory about Judas.

To be plain (I was serious, even in mocking), can one imagine the hubris and arrogance of Rollins' statements? Can you imagine him saying such a thing about any other person? If, let's say, he were a lawyer arguing a case in a courtroom, and he were to claim that the testimony of an expert witness should be ignored and discarded because it is the testimony of an expert? That a professor should be ignored for the simple reason that he's educated and experienced in his field? That, let's say, Gary Kasparov's analysis of a chess game should be discarded because it is given by a former world chess champion and one of the greatest players of all time?

To say that an interpretation that God would give would not be the truth is absolute nonsense, and let's be honest, it's blasphemy.


James said...

I understand why you feel as you do about Rollins work. He is intentionally prevocative, and not trying to exegete scripture. This is obvious. Ironically, the thrust of Peter RollIns work is to challenge the beliefs of those who claim to be Christian, but look strikingly similar to the culture in which they find themselves, which is what the parable you insert him into is trying to assert. Not everyone is changed by the hearing of the gospel. What Rollins is attempting to do is till the soil, so that what you claim to believe will manifest itself in how you live.

jazzact13 said...

--He is intentionally prevocative, and not trying to exegete scripture.

True, he isn't exegeting, he's eisegeting, he's reading into it what he wants. He wants ambiguity and unclearness? Well, throw it in, and call it deconstruction.

Rollins wants to challenge those who look like the culture? Yet, if anyone looks like the culture, it is Peter Rollins. It is the culture, after all, that wants a god that is green, gay-friendly, inclusive, wants to take from the rich and give to the supposed poor, isn't hung up on abortion, doesn't want to think hell is real, and the like. Tell me, please, how is Rollins really separating himself from the culture?

No, I give Rollins far more credit than that. He isn't trying to just be provocative, he's actually giving another gospel, one of works and experience divorced from any beliefs, so long as those works and experiences are such that he approves of them. He isn't worried about how much the church looks like the culture, but he's very concerned that church and culture look like himself.

jazzact13 said...

One more thing--how is Jesus' parable saying anything about believers, Christian, looking like the culture? It's about an enemy sowing weeds into a field of wheat. If anything, it's about those in the world look like the believers, but being fakes about it. Which I contend is what Rollins is, someone trying to look the part, sound the part, even claiming he's more the part than real believers, but is merely a weed.

Let Rollins actually meet some of these Christians he so easily denigrates from a distance. Frankly, he's far from alone in such attacks, it's common among the mega-church pastors, and it's sickening. Let Rollins and those others actually live as most Christians live, away from their shells that protect them from the great unwashed masses.

But I doubt that would happen. It's far more comfortable surround himself with like-minded people, and pretend everyone thinks his way.

James said...

"Rollins wants to challenge those who look like the culture? Yet, if anyone looks like the culture, it is Peter Rollins. It is the culture, after all, that wants a god that is green, gay-friendly, inclusive, wants to take from the rich and give to the supposed poor, isn't hung up on abortion, doesn't want to think hell is real, and the like. Tell me, please, how is Rollins really separating himself from the culture?"

I guess the answer is:

God is green - care for the planet is mans earliest mandate.
God is gay friendly - he even died for them
God is inclusive - God so loved the world...
God does want the rich to give to the poor.

I've never read anywhere that Pete Rollins is soft on abortion, but I'm guessing he would advocate love as a solution, not judgement. As far as hell goes, I'm not sure we would agree on that either, we ALL eisegete.

Also I made a mistake about which parable you quoted. Speed misreading. I was thinking of the other sowing parable, the one where the weeds represent the deceptiveness of weath and the cares of this world. Sorry for my lack of attention.

Good for you for reading things that you don't agree with. Your reply has made me think about what culture values. There is a sub-culture that is green, gay.. etc., but the dominant culture is driven by greed, turning a blind eye to the injustice around us. We as the church should be leading the way in trying to live counter culturally. Jesus is calling us to live in a different way, one that breaks down divisions of rich and poor, is attractive to those who are at the margins of society, and that may be scorned by the religious elite.

While I am not sure I agree with all of Pete Rollins shtick, I think we all benefit when we put what we believe to the test. The harshest test is asking ourselves if we are living authentically. I used to see things through a reformed lens, but there were too many scriptures that refused to fit that framework. Matthew 25 for example. I couldn't reconcile that discourse of the sheep and goats with my theology. Any attempts that I read to justify (pun intended) those verses with my theology, fell short, and eventually led me to a different understanding of the Gospel. One that does not diminish what Christ accomplished, but expands it.

jazzact13 said...

God is green - care for the planet is mans earliest mandate.
God is gay friendly - he even died for them
God is inclusive - God so loved the world...
God does want the rich to give to the poor.

Wow. Just. Wow.


God is green because he told us to care for the earth? In Genesis, we are told to fill the earth, subdue it, and have dominion over the other creatures on the earth. That is a far cry from the (post)modern concept of, for example, not using resources because it may (just, may) harm the environment in some microscopic way, want high gas prices because it means people can't get around, and basically keep everyone but Al Gore and other eco-nuts from using private jets.

By your logic about God being gay-friendly, He must also be murderer-friendly, adulterer-friendly, thief-friendly (even friendly to those nasty rich thieves), rapist-friendly, and even friendly to environment-polluters.

Yes, God so loved the world. Now, complete the verse, and in fact look at the entire passage. You'll find it in John 3.

So, by your reasoning, God wanting people to care for each other makes it ok for you to steal from one person and give to another? Last I checked, the Bible says a bit about justice not favoring either the rich or the poor.

The church should live counter-culturally? Where, pray tell, does the Bible say that? Where does any epistle, or any words of Jesus in the Gospels, tell the church to automatically take a counter-cultural position on anything? No half-baked answers to those questions, please, but actually look at the places you think support such a position.

What about Reformed theology is so very bad, in your mind? How does Reformed theology run contra to Matthew 25?

Your response is filled with rhetoric about the marginalized and poor, and that somehow it's a good thing to be despised by those you consider to be "religious elites", whomever those are. Jesus told people that the Scribes and Pharisees sit in the seat of Moses, and are to be respected for that. His problem was not that they were religious leaders, it was that they were misleading the people, and living hypocritically.

Rather than living counter-culturally, a rather shallow criterion to my mind, we are to respect authority, live quietly and do our work, those who use to steal are told to stop doing that and to do honest work and make honest wages so they could have something to give. The only case I can think of where any kind of disobedience to authorities was countenanced in the New Testament was when the Apostles were told to not preach and teach in Jesus' name early in Acts, and they responded by saying that they should obey God, who had explicitly told them to take to Gospel of Christ to the world, rather than men who were telling them to not do that.

Put aside the rhetoric and thought of counter-culture, which is completely foreign to the New Testament. It's not about being contrarian, it's about being saved from sin by repentence and faith in the Christ who really lived and died and rose again and is seated at the right hand of the Father until He returns to Earth.

Nick said...

When Jesus taught he often used parables. They were often unexpected. He commends a liar and a thief in one his parables, not because he if commended lying and stealing, but because he wants to challenge people to think in new ways.
When Jesus was asked questions, if often asked questions in return. He didn't always want to give the answers. He already gave us the Tanakh. In the New Testament, he came to challenge us, and force us to wrestle with the words that are written in the Tanakh and with the words that he was going to speak. Yes, he often said "I'm laying it, this is how it is," like in the sermon on the mount. But the sermon on the mount was challenging and engaging with the Torah.
Much of Jesus teaching was very open ended. He said that he taught in parables with the goal of confusing people. He didn't want people to have all the answers. He wanted those with ears to hear to listen. He wanted wrestling, he wanted engagement.

jazzact13 said...


Interesting. At this moment, I don't have time to respond as well as I would like. Perhaps in a day or two, please be patient.

jazzact13 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
jazzact13 said...

You are correct, Nick, that Jesus often taught in parables. Now, keep in mind the purpose of the original post--to answer Rollins' absurd claim that "...any interpretation of a verse that is given to us by God is not a true interpretation of the verse and must be rejected as such." It is answered by pointing out a time that the disciples asked Jesus what a parable meant, and Jesus telling them that.

And, for humor's sake, Rollins was thrown in to show how ridiculous his statements are.

Now, I'm not sure what you mean by saying that lots of Jesus' teachings were open-ended. That sounds rather postmodern, almost like saying the the reader is the one who decides what Jesus' teachings mean. Perhaps that's not what you mean, but if so, understand that I do not buy this kind of "death of the author" stuff.

I'm also not sure where you get the idea that Jesus wanted wrestling and engagement. When I read the Gospels, I see Jesus stressing belief in Himself. We have, for example, the account in John when many people left Him because of what He was saying and how difficult it was. But not all left Him, though throughout the Gospel accounts we are told that they did not often understand Him well. But they still believed in Him, and for all their faults they stay with Him, until the Crucifixion. But Christ after the resurrection came to them and restored them, and when the Spirit came on them they were bold to do what He had told them to do.

Nick said...

What I meant by Jesus leaving things open is not that he wants the listener to make up the answer, but that he wants them to discover the answer. It's the way that when asked why he eats with sinners, he doesn't give a theological statement, but he tells stories. Of course the final story is of the "prodigal son." The real kicker at the end, is when the father leaves an open invitation to the older pious brother. He doesn't end the story, he let's them finish it. Does the brother accept the invite? Will you, religious elites, sit at the table with me and the sinners? So, no, I'm not saying, based on that, it's all up to the reader or listener to decide the answer.

I love that you pointed out that section in John. When you brought up John, I thought, "Oh no, Jesus, is a lot more explicit in John, than the Synoptics, with all the parables. He's gonna nail me." But the passage you brought up is so perfect. When a bunch of his followers leave, why do they leave? Because Jesus said, "Eat my flesh and drink my blood!" Now, did he literally mean "eat my flesh and drink my blood"? Was Jesus just laying out obvious clear doctrine for people to follow? No. He was inviting the people to wrestle. "What kind of commit do you want to make? Will you rely on me for all your sustenance?" Jesus could have said more clearly what he meant. Some people were probably very confused by his symbolic language.

If Jesus was following the same pattern he does with parables, then he wanted them to be confused. He could have given a clear truth statement, but instead he used an upsetting and confusing seemingly sinful (don't eat blood) metaphor.

One of Rollins's parables I heard once made me furious. I won't go into the whole thing for the sake of space. I was so mad at the conclusion he seemed to be coming to, and I couldn't get the parable out of my head. I talked to my wife about it, I talked to my friends about it, and then one day it clicked. In that wrestling I found this deep, and actually pretty conservative, meaning.

The fact that it was a Rollins's parable is accindental to the discussion. The point is the way that parables and language work.

It is very telling that we do have Gospels, and not another form of literature as the basis for our faith. If God wanted to give us a catechism, he would have, but he didn't. He gave us story, and story demands the participation of the reader.

This is a reflection of what the Christian is, it demands the participation of the follower of Jesus. If we had a catechism, then those truths could exist in a vacuum and we could believe them intellectually and move on and live how we want. But our God gives us the story of the work of Jesus where we see people following and engaging in the life of faith in Jesus, and as the reader we have to wrestle with the texts, and live them in our lives.

jazzact13 said...

Hello, Nick. Hope Christmas was well for you.

You make some interesting point here. I hope I can adequately respond.

I'm not sure that the purpose of the parables was to confuse. Not that they may have confused people, no doubt they did, but I can't see how the intent was to confused. For one thing, there is a place in the New Testament where we are told that "God is not the author of confusion, but of peace".

On the other hand, they may not be easy to understand, and that can lead people to being confused. As an example, I've recently started studying the game of Go, and have a few instructional books. There is a lot about the game that can be initially confusing to a beginner or one who hasn't studied it much, and it has taken effort to understand some of those things. Go is a vast game in strategy and tactics, and I still don't understand it very well, but my confusion is lessened by attempting to understand things a bit more.

I suspect that a lot of subjects are like that, and the teachings of the Bible are no different. Concerning things that can be confusing at first, it may be wisest to study on them if one can, or maybe set them aside and maybe later light will be shed on them.

In that sense, the account you mention of Jesus' teaching to the crowd following him is a good example. Very likely they were put off by Him talking about them needing to eat His flesh and drink His blood. One thing to keep in mind is that they were following Him for the purpose of freeloading off of His miracles, these were people who had been there when He had fed thousands with only a very little food. One may well think that Jesus was saying to them that He had bigger fish to fry (pun intended) than providing a divine all-you-can-eat buffet.

But in another aspect of that account, even the disciples likely didn't come to understand what he was saying until the night of what we call the Last Supper, and Jesus presents to them the bread and wine as His body and blood.

You are right that the Gospels are accounts of the life of Christ, but I think that calling them story may be a little simplistic, or maybe I'm leary of that because of how people like Rollins are do into story. At any rate, the accounts in the Gospels seem to be more than just story or stories. They are records, for example, of what Jesus taught, and in those teachings there some lines drawn. In what we call the Sermon on the Mount, for example, He shows how much even the best of us break the law. He is constantly referring back to the Old Testament as being reliable and teaching about Himself. He is uncompromising in telling the people that they need to believe in Him, and laments that it is their rejection of Him that will lead to a coming judgment on them. For all that He used parables, there were times when He was also plain-spoken, such as when He made the statement that "Before Abraham was, I am". And it was often those times when the rejection of Him was most open, too.

Nick said...

On the subject of parables Jesus said, "To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is in parables, so that seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand." The parables of Jesus simultaneously serve dual functions. At once he tells them to reveal mysteries, and at the same time he tells them "so that" some won't get it. It depends upon who is listening. It depends upon the relationship between Jesus and the listener.

The important thing that I pick up on from the quote you have from Rollins is that proper interpretation is not the primary goal of a parable, but transformation is. Rollins often finishes his parables by explaining exactly what he means by them. He has not problem with giving an explanation for his parables, but he wants to make sure it is known that understanding the meaning is not the end.

There are plenty of people who can intellectually articulate exactly what Jesus is meaning (maybe not exaclty, I doubt anyone ever can), but if encountering Jesus does not materially effect your reality, then what value does it have?

Sometimes Jesus was deliberately vague, and yes sometimes he was extremely explicit, but never would he want someone to walk away saying, "I totally get it. I'll be on my way now." That is the postmodern critique of Christianity. We've set down a solid theology, treat Sunday morning like a college lecture, and make sure everyone understands exactly what they should intellectually believe.

I don't have a problem with education and understanding what you believe and why. I heavily value that, but it is worthless without the reality of Jesus transforming me and my life.

Jesus never came and said, "I am the Messiah. In fact I am God incarnate. I am a substitutionary atoning sacrifice. My death with be a payment for you sins, so that you will not burn in hell for eternity." Instead he said, "Who do say that I am?.... Okay, now don't tell anyone."

Sometimes he is vague, sometimes he is explicit, but the goal is get engage his disciples and us, so that we will follow him on the journey and have life. The fact that we do see both dynamic sides of Jesus shows that we can't pin him down, and try to imagine Jesus as some rational modernist, or a poetic postmodern. I reject the notion that Jesus doesn't want us to understand his teachings just as much as I reject that Martin Luther figured out all the theology that we'll ever need to know. But ultimately it is not about correct intellectual understanding, nor wrestling and fighting with mysteries, it's about eternal life in the kingdom under the reign of Jesus.