August 12, 2020

Peter Rollins on Orthodoxy, Doxology and The End of Religion

pete-rollins.jpgIn the book Rising from the Ashes, Becky Garrison interviews emerging church leader Peter Rollins, author of How (Not) to Speak of God and the soon to be released The Fidelity of Betrayal: The Ir/Religious Heart of Christianity.

Rollins has always intrigued me. Some of his ideas are difficult to grasp, but in this interview he does a fantastic job of describing some of the essentials of a Jesus-shaped spirituality. While his definition of being a Christian starts out well in the first sentence, it needs help after that, but the rest of this section of the interview is right on target for me.

This interview is taken from Rising From the Ashes by Becky Garrison, pp. 48-49.

Some would say this sounds un-Orthodox.

Peter Rollins:….The word today has taken on a rather unhelpful Enlightenment-influenced definition as “correct belief” – the ability to affirm a certain creedal formation. However, in the more ancient tradition the doxa of orthodoxy does not refer to belief bit rather to praise. We see this in the word doxology, which doesn’t mean belief, but rather worship. So, orthodoxy actually means correct praise not correct belief. In that kind of a way, it becomes less about the affirmation of a theological approach- important as theology is- but a way of being like Jesus. We have to rediscover this idea that orthodoxy isn’t belief oriented but praxis oriented. In this way the approach I outline isn’t unorthodox if it helps to bring people back to wonder and praise…whether it does or not is of course open to question.

What then is the task of orthodoxy?

Peter Rollins: The answer to that is simple, and yet infinitely complex, for to be orthodox is to bring praise to God through one’s life. While people these days are asking the question, “Is Christianity true?” the more fundamental question must be, “What does Christ mean when he uses the word truth?” The reason I am asking that question is that when Jesus talks about the truth, he talks about life. The truth is what brings life. My axiom for today is that Christianity at its core doesn’t explain life but it brings life. We must thus ask whether our beliefs and actions bring life, healing and love to the people in the world. To bring live into the world is to know God for God is love. This is not the knowledge of creeds and theology but the knowledge of a transforming relationship with the source of all love. Truth in Christianity is thus different from the way we understand truth in the world, for the truth of Christianity is life, not description. This is what I talk about heretical orthodoxy, i.e. someone who does not understand God yet who changes the world in love.

What then does it mean to be a Christian?

Peter Rollins: It means entering into a journey of becoming one. It does not mean accepting a worldview but rather entering into a healing journey of life… To be a Christian also means that one is committed to exploring this life through the Judeo-Christian tradition, wrestling with it, learning from it, and being transformed by it. Being a Christian means learning how to be the opening of life into the world.

Why do you call Jesus a subversive prophet who signaled the end to all religious movements?

Peter Rollins: One of the most interesting things about Christianity is that Christ both founded a religion and yet signaled the end of all religions. Jesus said there will come a time when we worship in spirit and in truth rather than on one mountain or another….Christ thus can be seen as founding an irreligious religion, i.e., a religion that critiques the idea of religion, a religion without religion. This is one way of understanding deconstruction.


  1. The distinction between correct belief and correct praise is interesting, and I think biblical. There is at least one example, but I’m pretty sure there are more, where we see talk about our knowing God to be not necessarily a knowledge of God, but rather God’s knowledge of us (Gal 4:9 for example). So can we ever have fully correct belief or knowledge of every, or any, aspect of God? In addition, we see an inability of man to move past the point at which he currently is. That is, a man may not always have correct belief, because it may not have been given to him, or he may simply not have the mental capacity at the time, or ever, to understand a certain theological matter. But we can always show correct praise through Christ, regardless of how much of Scripture we understand, or whether or not we have a neurological disorder that prevents us from maturing to comprehend abstract ideas. At least that’s my understanding of the subject.

    I think I agree with the answer to the question about being Christian, but I think maybe a better phrase than “a worldview” would be “personal convictions,” like how many beers you should have a week, or whether or not Roe v. Wade should be overturned. I think a worldview is more of a holistic thing, and in a sense to be a Christian, your worldview would have to change drastically. But what I think he’s trying to get at is that before all that, before one comes to a conclusion about all the more mundane matters of everyday morality, one must first know Jesus. Then the rest can follow, and indeed cannot be expected of a person who does not know Christ, nor does it carry any significance whatever without that relationship. If that is indeed what he is saying, then I agree.

    stamati anagnostou
    A Brother is Born Blog

  2. Peter says “However, in the more ancient tradition the doxa of orthodoxy does not refer to belief bit rather to praise. We see this in the word doxology, which doesn’t mean belief, but rather worship. So, orthodoxy actually means correct praise not correct belief.”

    Early Church history shows that a lot of the activity in the Church was focused on correct belief vs. heresy. The early councils and much of the Patristic writings were focused on dealing with the various “wrong beliefs” and correcting them.

    Peter’s view of orthodoxy does not have historical merit.

  3. Interestingly, the creeds explicitly address belief, don’t they? (“We believe…”) They explicitly summarize belief, don’t they? But, then again, it makes little sense to set up belief against worship. After all, a major aspect of worship is the expression of our beliefs, right?

    And, lexicographically and historically speaking, is it really accurate to say doxa means praise rather than belief, or even praise more than belief? It has been a few years since my year of NT Greek, but my foggy memory and a quick internet search suggest otherwise.

    I’m a philosophy student now, and we talk about funny things like ‘reliable doxastic practices’, which has to do with being careful about how your beliefs are formed. Here doxastic simply means ‘pertaining to belief or things like beliefs’.

    Philosophers, at least those of us who don’t have a belly full of the Continental Cool-Aid, get worried when people accuse things of being ‘Enlightenment-influenced’.

    And regardless of how Jesus used the word ‘truth’, the question of the truth of statements like ”God is reconciling the world to himself in Jesus” remains meaningful and important. Jesus used ‘truth’ to refer to the real, to himself as the reality to which the types and shadows in the OT theocracy pointed. Fine. That is a great way to use the word! You can use it that way too, if you like! But there is something else for which the word ‘truth’ is used. And this thing, whatever it is exactly, can’t be dumped just because Jesus wasn’t referring to it when he used the word ‘truth’ in those passages. Jesus was simply talking about something different.

  4. Thanks Michael for this. Peter has many interesting and stimulating ideas, and his apophatic theology has the capacity to delve into the depths.

    Well, on orthodoxy being right praise. Ortho-doxy is not built upon orthos + doxa/praise but more on orthos + dokeo/doxa/opinion, and the latter is about right thinking. The two work hand in hand, in fact, and bad thinking will not lead to right praise.

  5. How does one know they are worshipping the true God without belief?

    How do we know what life is without a correct definition which leads to doctrinal belief?

    How do we know what love is without a correct definition which leads to a doctrinal belief?

    Can one be sincere in their worship of God and yet be wrong?

    The idea that one can be a Christian and yet not adopt a Christian worldview is somewhat of a weird thing to say.

    I absolutely believe that mere affirmation of creeds is not enough, one’s life must be transformed by truth (sanctified) if one truly is a believer in Christ.

    But to somehow disconnect living the truth from believing the truth and say this is what Christ (or any prophet or apostle) taught is absurd. Correct belief and correct worship are interconnected and inseperable.

  6. From what this guys says I’m left wondering if he really believes that Jesus is true God and true man or just another clever person with a message. Jesus is the answer but he seems to be pointing more to a process.

  7. I understand Rollins to be saying that coming to properly express our faith in Jesus through worship is a process, and a process with an important personal dimension that takes place outside of our conversations about the Jesus we ‘know’, the Jesus at whom the theological and philosophical axioms presume to start with – an ‘answer’ can’t be worshipped, but a God who became man certainly requires we step outside of ourselves to know, love, and serve him.

  8. Peter Rollins says

    Hey. Someone sent me this link. Thanks for posting the interview and thanks for the critical engagement. One thing I should clarify is my comment on the word ‘orthodoxy’. My answer makes it sound as if I am saying that the word can be unproblematically reinterpreted as ‘right praise’ i.e. as ‘believing in the right mode’ or ‘composing oneself in a suitable manner to God’.

    The lack of clarity in this interview is my fault. What I am really wanting to do is to re-affirm the usefulness of the word by showing that it can be (re)interpreted outside a strictly epistemological frame. Etymologically speaking the word is generally associated closely with creeds etc., however I am interested in the undecidability at work in the word between doxa as belief and doxa as praise.

    By saying that I think there is a more ancient tradition which affirms orthodoxy as ‘right praise’ (a definition which, of course makes room for epistemology without giving it the best seat) I am referring to the idea that this resonates with what Jesus was up to.

    I am adopting a similar strategy to the one I used regarding the word ‘heresy’. While understanding that the word generally refers to something bad I would argue that there is a positive revolutionary potential housed within it that I am keen to explore.

    By returning to the revolutionary event hinted at in the word ‘orthodoxy’ I am rejecting the orthodoxy/orthodpraxis distinction. For I would argue that both are already at work within the word orthodoxy itself.

  9. Rollins’ answer to what constitutes being a Christian was soggy bread. Not impressed. Maybe I have Rollins all wrong, but obtuse emergentspeak is getting old. Fast.

  10. Amy, you have every right to your opinion, BUT when you do express yourself, PLEASE explain your disagreement. i am a good friend of Pete’s and i dont always agree with him. But a sweeping statement you make, “Rollins’ answer to what constitutes being a Christian was soggy bread.” needs clarification as to WHY?!!! Thanks and i look forward to your reply!

  11. E. Punk,

    I appreciate the kind spirit of your question. I found Rollins’ answer to the question to be so fuzzy, I honestly had a difficult time understanding exactly *what* he was saying. “Exploring life through the Judeo-Christian tradition.” Huh?

    Scripture speaks with clarity and potency about what being a Christian is. Therefore, I am troubled when someone such as Mr. Rollins has an opportunity to speak with clarity and potency and instead gives me “soggy bread.”

    Hope that helps. thanks.

  12. For those of you who seem to require ‘scriptural basis’ for everything, I hadn’t seen the word “Christian’ mentioned anywhere. Postmodern ideas are by their nature fuzzy as viewed from the vantage point of Modernism.

    I am very happy to have have discovered Peter Rollins. The Cathars were unfortunate to have found themselves on the side of being wrong from the Orthodoxy.

    I like Peters unusual word analysis of Orthodoxy. I will leave correct beliefs to someone else, unless I find myself tied to that stake with flames surrounding me.

    Jesus did have problems with the traditional keepers of theology in his day. Somewhere in there the Bible mentions love being the fullfilment of ‘The Law'(Romans 13:10). What ever happened to that?

  13. nodedog,

    Let me get this straight: Are you saying that anyone who believes in any specific, absolute, objective truth is essentially a Torquemada? However, anyone who leaves things “fuzzy” (your word) and open for personal interpretation is all about love and, ergo, is fulfilling the law. Is that it?

    Had any bad thoughts about anyone lately? Neglected to care for a need? Called your brother a “fool”? If you think that “love is the fulfillment of the Law” is GOOD news, think again.

    None of us is fulfilling the law, amigo. Read Romans. After dismantling the Jewish elite for their self-righteousness, Paul then turns his guns toward you and me. Love is the summation of the law, but it is HARD. It is exacting. It is demanding. And we all do a crapola job of it and we are under the Law’s condemnation, whether or not we are hard-nosed traditionalists or cozy, fuzzy postmoderns.

    That is why if you leave Jesus’ substitutionary death and resurrection out of the picture — if that is compromised or glossed over — then what is left is indistinguishable from any other human-centered, work-oriented scheme of salvation/actualization. THAT is why I get so bothered when Peter Rollins, et al, talk about “exploring life through the Judeo-Christian tradition” rather than clearly explaining the depth of our sin and our need for a Savior. The former cannot save you, only the latter can. And withholding essential, saving Gospel information to a lost world is NOT loving.

  14. It sounds like you are saying that Romans 13:10 is superfluous to us mortals since we are sinful. I wonder why those verses were written into the Bible. Is Love fuzzy?

  15. nodedog,

    Goodness, no. Here is what I was trying to say, perhaps poorly:

    You seemed to be saying that, over here, you have people like me who believe that there are “correct beliefs.” And we are Pharisees who gave Jesus a hard time, and we might even be people who are prone to tying people to stakes. On the other side, we have folks who are practicing Romans 13:10 and don’t care so much about doctrinal precision as long as there is love. If I am mischaracterizing you, please correct me.

    What I am saying is that is a false dichotomy. Jesus commanded us to love. No question about that. At the same time, he was unyielding in his insistence that we are moral failures and therefore need his righteousness credited to our account through his death on the Cross. It is this doctrine, this “correct belief” about Jesus that I would insist on because Jesus insisted on it. To do any less is unloving because it leaves humans in their sin.

    We love because he first loved us. Love does not build a ladder to God; rather, God descended to us through Jesus, who loved perfectly, obeyed perfectly, died perfectly and arose perfectly. He applies that perfection to us through faith, and we respond in love.

    This is NOT the kind of absolute belief that turns people into monsters. Rather, it should produce gratitude and compassion. To link anyone who holds to this kind of belief to the monsters of the Inquisition is a gross distortion and, frankly, insulting. I really hope you weren’t going there.

  16. Amy

    Actually, the absolute beliefs of historical orthodox Christianity has made people into monsters, all in the name of Jesus Christ. Christianity has a very dark side to it. I would say that those who think that we are deparved because of original sin are the most dangerous of all.

    This comes from my own personal experience with being an attendee in Churches for many years.

    It seems like you label anyone fuzzy who thinks in more than two dimensions. I don’t agree with everying that Peter Rolliins has to say. But at least he is helping people move towards something different than the same old stale, dishonest, Sunday School slop.

    If you think that I am being extreme just read the news. For many people who think of themselves and ‘close to Jesus’, this war against terrorism is sponsored by God. It is therefore okay to kill men, women and young children who happen to believe differently.

    My intention is not to insult you even if my words were strong. I was going to soft peddle this, but I would be doing you a diservice not to be as honest as I can.

  17. The last posted comment is well off the subject of the original post.

  18. Aw, nodedog and I were just having fun. ;P

    No prob, iMonk. 🙂