Aside from its small size (smaller than most paperback books, though it is a hardcover), the first thing that caught my eye was the back cover. In the upper corner are the words, “Shelve under: Christ-Following.” Now, I’m used to seeing the genre of a book by the bar-code, but this is the first time I’ve ever seen one so direct. I even found it a bit funny. I’ve never seen a shelf in Barnes and Noble labeled, “Christ-Following.”
In The Orthodox Heretic, Peter Rollins has assembled many short tales - parables if you will. Much like the parables Jesus told, they serve to illustrate an idea, a theme, or even a way of life. Some may shock, others may provoke though. Even parable is followed by some commentary by Rollins. He may explain where his idea came from, or he may expound upon it if he thinks there is a chance the reader may become confused.
As with any book that serves as a collection of ideas and stories, there are some that are stronger than others, or at least some that may resonate more with you than others. Among my favorites was “Turning the Other Cheek.” It starts with Christ’s telling his followers to turn the other cheek when they are persecuted. But then he turns and addresses those who are doing the persecution. He tells them that those they persecute will not judge them, will not condemn them, and will not turn against them, and that these people are His people, and they are His message. To ignore them would be a great folly.
Another story that really struck me was “The Last Trial.” Rollins imagines a situation where the devil is able to overthrow God and banish him to eternal death. Upon your death you are brought to Heaven’s gate and are offered a choice: “In my right hand I hold eternal life and in my left hand eternal death. Those who would bow down and acknowledge me as their god shall pass through the gates of paradise and experience an eternity of bliss, but all those who refuse will be vanquished to the second death with their Christ…Which will you choose?” It is a thought provoking tale, and one that is meant to cause contemplation on what your faith truly means for you. Please take note that Rollins is not writing this as a scenario you might actually encounter – he’s not. Rather, he explains that he is asking what faith means. Is your faith based on treasure, or is faith based on Christ?
Of course, there were some stories which I did not connect to as well. Among them were “Finding Faith,” “The Agnostic who Became an Atheist,” and “God Joins the Army.” Though in each case Rollins’ commentary helped a bit, they did not strike any particular chord with me. With “The Agnostic who Became an Atheist,” he tells of a man who is searching to find whether God exists or not. It is not until God tells the man, “I do not exist,” that the man is satisfied. Yet, the ending seems unclear. I could not tell the purpose of the story while reading it. Some people may connect to this story, just as some may not connect to ones I liked, but I did not find it as strong as his others.