Peter Rollins: The Idolatry of God, Introduction and Chapter 1

The full title of this book is: “The Idolatry of God, breaking our addiction to certainty and satisfaction.” What does this tell us about what this book is about? What are your expectations of the author?

Rollins starts the introduction by describing a commonly held belief about the apocalypse, is what he describes consistent with your understanding? (Page 1)

What is the “Good News” of Christianity?

Page 3: Did Jesus come to abolish religion or set up a new one? Did he seek to show us a way of escaping the world or of embracing it?

Page 4: “It is the claim of this book that Christ signals a type of apocalyptic event much more dramatic than the one we find in fundamentalist literature. For in the figure of Christ we are confronted with an atomic event that does not destroy the world, but rather obliterates the way in which we exist within the world.”

How do you feel about not knowing, and not being satisfied?

Chapter 1: The Church Shouldn’t Do Worship Music, the Charts Have It Covered

Creatio ex nihilio: something coming from nothing

In Chapter 1, Rollins suggests that infants undergo two births. The first is their physical entry into the world, the second is the birth of self-consciousness. Rollins says:

  • “One of the fundamental experiences that arises from this second birth is a profound and disturbing sense of loss, for as soon as we experience our inner world, we encounter for the first time an outer world.” (page 12)

Page 12: “..for when we feel separated from something we assume there was something we once had.”

On page 15 Rollins introduces the concept of prohibition, and states that this is what Paul called “The Law.”

Can you think of any examples of a MacGuffin?

Rollins says that this sense of loss is a gap we spend our lives trying to fill, and that this gap at the core of our being has an ancient theological name: Original Sin. (page 19)

  • Original Sin is parsed, “sin” meaning separation” and “original” referring to that which comes first.

On page 19 Rollins writes:

  • “But this belief in something that would finally bring satisfaction is nothing more than a fantasy we create, a fantasy that fuels the obsessive drive we have for books, talks, and people who promise a life of total sexual, emotional, and/or spiritual fulfillment. This Original Sin is the very thing that causes us to falsely think it is not original at all. This sense of gap makes us think that there must have been something before it, an original blessing that we somehow lost.

I am a bit uncertain about what Rollins is getting at in the bold sentence above. Is Rollins suggesting here that what we think we have lost, we in fact have not lost? It seems so, he goes on…

  • “Sadly, almost the entire existing church fails to embrace the full radicality of what Original Sin actually means, for they presuppose that there is something we are separated from, something that will bring wholeness and insight.”

Rollins suggests that contemporary church worship music is really not too different from secular music. Do you agree or disagree?

Rollins then goes on to make a pretty strong statement about the church today. In observing how contemporary worship music tends to replace secular objects of desire with Jesus, he writes:

  • “When such music is used in a church context, it renders the source of faith into just one more product promising us fulfillment, happiness, and unwavering bliss. The church then takes its place beside every other industry that is in the business of selling satisfaction.” (page 22)

The statement above raises the questions:

  • why does the church exist?
  • what is the church’s purpose?
  • why am I a member of a church?
  • what’s in it for me?

One thought on “Peter Rollins: The Idolatry of God, Introduction and Chapter 1

  1. Frank –

    Thanks for the excellent questions you have created based on the introduction and chapter 1 of “The Idolatry of God.” While reading the text, I came up with a set of my own questions. I think between the two lists we can have a great discussion, one which might take more than a single evening.


    In his introduction, Rollins doesn’t state explicitly that the event that follows the apocalypse in Christian thinking is the coming of the kingdom of God, yet it seems implied. Is your understanding of the Kingdom of God a place where all your hopes and desires are satisfied? If not, how would you define the Kingdom of God?

    Do you think the Kingdom will come after the apocalyptic return of Jesus, or does the kingdom come some other way?

    Rollins mentions some different portraits of Jesus. What are the images of Jesus that you have had in your life? How have those images changed from childhood to adulthood?

    In addition to the questions “Did Jesus come to abolish religion or set up a new one?” and “Did he seek to show us the way of escaping the world or of embracing it?” I would ask a more fundamental question. What was the mission and message of Jesus?

    Further, is Jesus the answer to our prayers, or one who calls us to follow him into action?

    Is salvation all about you/me or is it about the world? Does Jesus offer individual salvation for a life in heaven, or does he offer us a way to save our society and the world from a system that benefits a few at the expense of the many? Or is Jesus about something else?

    Chapter 1

    Are Rollins’ ideas about the separation that occurs when the infant becomes self-conscious his own opinion or does this reflect a common psychological hypothesis?

    If this separation engenders a feeling that something has been lost and is now missing, what do we feel is absent in our lives?

    Rollins says that ‘sin’ means separation. Traditionally the church has said that the Greek word for sin means ‘missing the mark.’ How would you define sin?

    What was the sin of Adam and Eve in the garden? What did they hope to gain by eating the fruit?

    Should worship be about comfort or challenge, or both?

    Does contemporary Christian music offer God (and Jesus) as a product to make us happy, fulfill our needs, and keep us safe from harm?

    What are some of the favorite praise songs used at Hope and what do the lyrics sell?

    How has the traditional hymnody of the church also tried to sell a product?

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