The Orthodox Heretic (by Peter Rollins)

I can’t remember where I read an enthusiastic review of ‘The Orthodox Heretic and other impossible tales’. I had not heard of the author, Peter Rollins, but I was curious enough to check some reviews, and they seemed very mixed. Readers either loved the book, or thought it, essentially, heretical. It sounded like an intriguing read, so I added it to my wishlist.

I was given the book for my birthday a couple of months ago, and started reading it about a week ago. The introduction explains that these are stories - modern parables, to shake up people’s ideas and make them think. The author suggested reading them slowly, only one or two at a time; since each is complete in itself, albeit with a brief commentary afterwards, it seemed like a good idea not to read the book in just a couple of sittings.

However, I read more than one story per day. The blurb on the back says that they are ‘provocative and often disturbing tales’, and I would agree. They’re quite a mixed bunch. Some appear to tell one of the Biblical paragraphs, but with a different twist at the end. Some are entirely non-Biblical. Some pick up on phrases or beliefs that are popular in some Christian circles, and explore them in more depth. One or two verged on the outright heretical… I could see, in some, why more conservative readers might consider them wrong, even misleading.

But even as I found myself recoiling, a couple of times, I could see that this was due to some of my preconceived ideas. These stories don’t have the authority of Scripture, of course - but they are very thought-provoking. As, indeed, were the parables Jesus told, some of which would have made the religious leaders of his time very angry. But they’re stories - and stories reach into our emotions and make us ponder in ways entirely differently from direct teaching or exposition.

I can’t say that all the stories struck me equally. Sometimes I read one, and shrugged a little, and moved on. Different people will be struck in different ways, I’m sure, and not every story will strike a chord in every listener. The same was true in Jesus’ time, I’m sure.

I don’t like dramas or stories being explained, in general. However, although I was a bit dubious about reading the commentaries after each story, the author manages to avoid insulting the reader’s intelligence. They are more along the lines of how the idea for the story came into being, and other meta-comments rather than hand-holding detailed explanations. And I found them interesting, on the whole.

The book is divided into three broad sections: Beyond Belief, God is Now Here (or Nowhere, depending on how one reads it) and Transformations. I couldn’t really tell the difference between those in the first and second sections, but the third one does indeed tell stories of different ways in which people’s hearts and minds were transformed in some way.

I know some folk will find it too disturbing, and some will write it off as completely off the wall. But I would recommend it to anyone wanting to be pushed a little out of their comfort zone. At least one or two of these stories will remain with me for some time, I’m sure.

Review copyright 2019 Sue's Book Reviews

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