The Orthodox Heretic | Notes & Review

Posted on December 11, 2010


Peter Rollins. The Orthodox Heretic: And Other Impossible Tales. Paraclete Press, 2009 (184)

How to speak of something that cannot be said? (ix)

Parables subvert this desire to make faith simple and understandable. They do not offer the reader clarity, for they refuse to be captured in the net of a single interpretation and instead demand our eternal return to their words, our wrestling with them, and our puzzling over them. (xi)

Parables do not substitute sense for nonsense, or order for disorder. Rather, they point beyond these distinctions, inviting us to engage in a mode of reflection that has less to do with fixing meaning than rendering meaning fluid and affective. (xi)

In this way the parable transforms the way we hold reality, and thus changes reality itself. (xi)

The problem with so much religious communication is that it aims at changing our minds. (xi)

In contrast, parables represent a mode of communicating that cannot be heard without being heeded, in which the only evidence of having “heard” its message is in the fleshly incarnation of that message. (xii)


1 NO CONVICTION | I used it to express the idea that authentic faith is expressed, not in the mere acceptance of a belief system, but in sacrificial, loving action.


3 TRANSLATING THE WORD (ADAPTED FROM A BUDDHISTS PARABLE) | This divine Word cannot then be rendered into an object that is somehow separate from the subject who hears it or reads it, for the Word of God is an incarnated Word…like love…The Word is formed only when it is performed.


5 SALVATION FOR A DEMON | …through our trying to show hospitality to the demon at our door, the demon may well be transformed by the grace that is shown.

6 THE PEARL OF GREAT PRICE | But is it really possible to sacrifice something if we know that we are going to receive something of even greater value in return?

7 GREAT MISFORTUNE | When one speaks there is both the act of saying and the content that is communicated. … When we are facing difficult situations is it not true that the pastoral act is not one that offers some explanation for the suffering (the said) but rather is found in the act of one who offers presence to the other in the form of words and gestures (the saying)? Here it is not an explanation that brings healing and comfort, but rather the fact that someone is interacting with us… The truth of faith is not articulated in offering reasons for suffering, but rather in drawing alongside those who suffer, standing with them, and standing up for them.

8 THE THIRD MILE | …we must ask whether the Scriptures really offer us concrete ethical answers that can be turned into some religious code of conduct, or whether Jesus was actually opening up a radically different approach to living. What if Jesus was not offering his followers an ethical system to follow, but rather was inviting them to enter into a life of love that transcends ethics, a life of liberty that dwells beyond religious laws? …the way of love calls us beyond the law. Love pushes us beyond duty. …He [Jesus] exuded a revolutionary life that always sought to be faithful to the law by outstripping it.

9 THE INVISIBLE PROPHET | In the same way many of us have been so taken up by what we perceive to be the conceptual splendor of the Bible that we fail to note the message that is housed in the words–the story that cannot possibly be contained or constrained by the words, the message that gave birth to the words.

10 THE PAYOFF | Those who are rich and powerful almost invariably expend great energy insuring that they are seen to be above reproach. While we are all fragile human beings with a multitude of weaknesses, those in power expend a great deal of time and money insuring a public profile that hides this fact, often employing PR organizations dedicated to honing an appropriate image and then publicizing it. … The power of the prince smashes against the powerlessness of the priest and, in the process, the wisdom of the prince is exposed as hollow in contrast to the depth to be found in the foolishness of the priest.

11 FINDING FAITH | …religious belief can itself be a barrier to living the life of faith. …If this is so, then the activities that we think critique the unjust world are really the very activities that this world requires in order to run smoothly. Our church activities are then nothing more than a type of air vent in the machine. … To put this in religious language, the above story asks if perhaps the devil, far from hating our multitude of church activities, positively loves them, for it is in these very activities that we are able to become such productive agents in carrying out his insidious desires–making changes in the world that fundamentally ensure everything in the world remains the same.


12 BEING THE RESURRECTION | Christians are not called to believe in the resurrection but rather are called to be the site where Resurrection takes place–the site where Christ’s presence is testified to in action.


14 AWAITING THE MESSIAH | We often think that desire arises insofar as what we desire is absent. But what if we have got this all wrong, at least in relation to God and other humans? What if we can long for the arrival of someone only when that person has turned up? What if we can desire only the one we are already in relationship with? What if the presence of the other is precisely that which makes us yearn for that person?

15 THE LAST TRIAL | …the believer is invited to ask whether faith is focused on external rewards or whether it is embraced as its own reward.


17 THE ORTHODOX HERETIC | God says, “How I wish they would forget about me and keep my ways.” The key to understanding this idea lies in the notion that god is affirmed in, and only in, acts of love–not a love that loves only those who love back, but a love that embraces the stranger, the outsider, the enemy. …there is a Biblical injunction to question authority, regardless of who or what that authority is, when we believe that authority is not defending the persecuted. …For this reason we can embrace Christianity as that which is lived wholly in the world, as that which finds God in the act of giving to those in need and receiving from others as we are in need. …Christ is found in our interaction with others, in our offering food to the hungry and water to the thirsty.


19 THE AGNOSTIC WHO BECAME AN ATHEIST | …just as belief in God is always a belief in a certain concept of God, so the rejection of God is always the rejection of one or more concepts of God. …so one can ask an atheist, “What God do you not believe in?” …God is not directly experienced but rather is the name we give to a whole new way of experiencing. …Hence, religious experience is not really experience as such but the opening into a different way of experiencing. …Religious believers can therefore affirm atheism in the most radical sense because they refuse to let any conception of God take the place of God. …For what gives birth to the believer stands before all descriptions and remains free from them.

20 GOD JOINS THE ARMY | When God is involved, the oppressed always win.

21 BETRAYAL | All great teachers will seek to nurture students who will surpass them.






26 THE UNREPENTANT SON | Sadly, when it comes to religion, the same economic approach can also be seen at play. …Forgiveness thus follows repentance and so cannot take place until repentance has occurred. …But what if Jesus had an infinitely more radical message than this? What if Jesus taught an impossible forgiveness, a forgiveness without conditions, a forgiveness that would forgive before some condition was met? …What if repentance is not the necessary condition for forgiveness but rather the freely given response to it? …the father’s response shows that no economy is at work in the kingdom.

27 MANSIONS | …we give up the treasure we have for th poverty of affluence.




31 A MIRACLE WITHOUT MIRACLE | This latter idea of miracle does not relate to a physical change in the world (though it may result in changes), but rather, it relates to a happening that cannot be reduced to sight, touch, or experience.

32 THE REWARD OF A GOOD LIFE | …[this is a story that] seeks to expose the deep-seated idea that to act morally is justified only by some kind of reward or recognition. …what if the ethical act is in itself its own reward?

33 THE HERETIC | The question here, however, is not how we judge between orthodoxy and heresy, but rather how we judge between good heresy and bad heresy.

Another way of putting this is that we must question the difference between the heresy of orthodoxy, in which we dogmatically claim to have the truth, and orthodox heresy, in which we humbly admit that we are in the dark but still endeavor to live in the way of Christ as best we can. (184)

— VIA —

There are few books that I’ve read that have confronted me as much as this one. Each parable is quick, simple, easy to understand, and hard to accept. That is the beauty of Rollins’ writing, and the uncomfortableness of reading these stories. Several times, (bolded above), I found myself stopping and asking hard questions of my heart, my life, my actions, my motives, and my overall faith journey, its fruits, its desires, its goals, etc. I have a feeling that my response to this kind of confrontation will last me the rest of my life.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who is willing to seek the fullness of the Kingdom, the Gospel, and their engagement with both in the context of this real world. If you’re comfortable with your “brand” of Christianity and find anything outside your box offensive, then this book may not be for you, and yet, you are exactly who this book is written for.

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