The Divine Magician | Peter Rollins

The cover of Rollins' The Divine MagicianA classic magic trick has three parts:

  1. The Pledge: “An object is presented to the audience” (3)
  2. The Turn: “This object is made to disappear” (3)
  3. The Prestige: “The object then miraculously reappears” (3)

In The Divine Magician, Rollins uses this unorthodox metaphor to describe Christianity. The sacred object is the Pledge—be it the tree of the knowledge of good and evil or the Divine presence in the Holy of Holies. The crucifixion of Jesus is the moment when the curtain is pulled away and we realize that the sacred object is not there. In the end, the sacred returns in a deeper way than before.

The Prestige of Christianity testifies to an experience in which the sacred is no longer that which pulls us away from the profane, but rather is that which emanates from the profane. This is not about some belief in the inherent meaning of things; rather it is living as though everything has meaning—a life that cannot help but relate to the world as rich, regardless of what we think. The sacred thus is not some positive thing, but the experience of depth and density operating in things. (90)

Rather than the Pledge—an object forever removed from us—the Prestige pushes us “deeper into the world” (91) in love.

Peter Rollins excels at making complex ideas immediately understandable. He brings Lacanian-style psychoanalysis to the arena of theology with a philosopher’s grasp of the big picture.

My problem with Rollins lies with his radical theology (I’m using “radical theology” in its technical sense—a post-modern theology). He seems to find the greatest meaning in life when he leaves his deity behind. While his talk of the Pledge and the Turn gripped me, his description of the Prestige sounded vague and almost Oprah-esque at times. This is sad, because the Pledge, Turn, and Prestige could be used in a wholly orthodox sense. The Prestige could be understood as Spirit-indwelling—the divine no longer behind a curtain but within.

As always, Rollins is insightful, engaging, and honest. You don’t have to agree with all of his arguments to love the man’s spirit or his writing.

—Peter Rollins, The Divine Magician (New York: Howard Books, 2015).

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