Is Richard Rohr a heretic?

Last week I posted a link to a review of Richard Rohr’s The Divine Dance, written by Fred Sanders in 2016 soon after Rohr’s book was published. Sanders is well-known as a conservative theologian specialising on the question of the Trinity, and his review was pretty scathing—leading to my (slightly) tongue in cheek heading ‘Just so you know that Richard Rohr is a heretic’. Not surprisingly, given Rohr’s popularity, there was some reaction against both my heading and the review, and one of my online friends challenged me to read it for myself—and kindly sent me his copy.

I have good reason to be interested in what Rohr says about mysticism and the Trinity for several reasons. Perhaps the most intriguing is that I remember having a mystical experience myself whilst in chapel worship during my theological training, in which God as Trinity appeared to be inviting me into participation in the divine dance, and this formed an important part of my spiritual life for some time following. I have also been involved in charismatic churches almost all my Christian life, and was taught about the experience and gifts of the Spirit as a teenager; the use of the gifts and physical manifestations of the work of the Spirit in myself and others has been a normal expectation for me.

And the book makes massive claims. It will lead to a change in my perception of God that will change the way I view everything, according to the blurb. And the reviewers, who read like a ‘Who’s Who’ of ‘progressive Christianity’ are no less ambitious. It is Rohr’s best book, the best book on the Trinity that has been written, pastoral and psychologically brilliant, containing the wisdom of C S Lewis and the accessibility of Rob Bell (who is also a reviewer). And Rohr himself is one of the greatest spiritual masters of this time—or any time.


Why, then, did I find it almost impossible to read? Two things struck me immediately. First, from the beginning, the text included every buzzword from ‘progressive’ thinking that you would expect—inclusivity, feeling, relationship, and the central idea of the book, ‘flow’—along with cliched and stereotyped criticisms of propositions and formal religion. But secondly, and even more frustrating, the whole text appeared to have been thrown together, with little obvious line of argument, much repetition, and the appearance of the author simple adding thoughts as they occurred to him. (The fact that the book is written by ‘Richard Rohr with Mike Morrell suggests that this could in fact reflect the way it was produced.) Perhaps this was designed as a deliberate exercise in non-linear thinking; perhaps this was part of Rohr’s theological method of ‘circling around’ ideas; or perhaps it is just poorly written.

Part of this approach is to use single line paragraphs at key moments, often lines with only five or six words in each, in order I suppose to encourage the reader to slow down and concentrate on the statements—which are often a sequence of repetitions or rewordings for emphasis. And the text is peppered with exclamation marks and questions marks, the latter deployed in sales-style links to the next section.

But the content itself is equally problematic. There are plenty of helpful and positive insights, summarised in pithy observations—for example, that the metaphors for the Spirit in Scripture are constantly dynamic and fluid (p 59). But if you throw enough darts at a dartboard, you are bound to hit the bullseye from time to time, and in between these insights are a good number of things which are simplistic, unhelpful, and downright untrue. Perhaps the most breathtaking claim is that, since the Cappadocian fathers of the fourth century, no-one has been talking about the Trinity until William Paul Young wrote The Shack (p 26). Of course it is true that there has been something of a revival of thinking about the Trinity in the twentieth century, but it is quite difficult to comprehend how ignorant (and even self-important) one has to be to make such a statement. (Young wrote the forward to the book.)


Fred Sanders highlights in his review the numerous errors in the claims Rohr makes about Trinitarian thinking—the false (though popular) interpretation of the Greek idea of perichoresis as ‘dance’, the mistaken etymology of the word, and incorrect understandings attributed to the fathers in their Trinitarian thinking. A key illustration—that Rublev’s icon of the Trinity originally had a mirror attached so that you, the viewer, became the fourth person at the table—is historically implausible, impossible to detect (because of numerous restorations of the painting), and without any actual evidence. Rohr claims that the German term for Trinity means ‘three infoldings’; the term he cites is not the common term in German (it is archaic); and it no more has this implication than we do if we use the term ‘threefold’.

This careless compilation of Sunday-school errors and wishful thinking permeates Rohr’s use of Scripture as well. He repeats the evangelical error of supposing that Jesus’s address of God as abba is identical in meaning with a child’s intimate cry of ‘daddy’, something that James Barr pointed out as erroneous decades ago. And the plural of majesty (‘let us make…’) in the creation narratives are a pointer to the truth of God as Trinity ‘hidden in plain site’, a claim that is not only wrong, but implicitly anti-semitic in asserting the basic incompetence of Jewish exegesis of the Jewish scriptures. The word kosmos usually translated ‘world’ does not mean ‘system’ (p 64, even if Walter Wink’s language of ‘domination system’ is a helpful way to understand some aspects of the NT); the same word describe the thing that God loves in John 3.16 and the thing that hates Jesus and his followers in John 15.18, and it is a paradox in John that needs wrestling with, not sweeping aside with trite ‘insights’. And Jesus’ promise to his disciples that ‘in my Father’s house there are many mansions’ is not, read in context, a proof text for progressive agendas of diversity and inclusion as Rohr supposes. (It would take too long to list all his errors; I have found one on most pages I have looked at.)

All the way through, Rohr footnotes Bible references as proof texts for his position, without any acknowledgement either that the texts might not mean what he claims or that there has been any previous discussion amongst Christians about what the texts mean. The worst example is his assertion that the Sermon on the Mount is all about relationships, with the helpful citation ‘Matt 5–7’, without any reference to the central importance there of ‘righteousness’ (meaning for Matthew right actions) or Jesus’ emphatic strengthening of the demands of the law. And he tends to mock customary use of language that has good foundations in biblical terminology. In his at times insightful observations about the surprising vulnerability of God, he exposes popular failure to grasp this by asking ‘How many Christian prayers begin with some form of “Almighty God”?’ He offers no awareness that the respective Hebrew and Greek phrases translated by this (Yahweh sabaoth and kurios pantokrator) represent central theological ideas in each testament, and that God’s vulnerability in his love for his people and his creation (in both testaments) only makes sense in tension with this notion, rather than displacing it. Something similar is going on when Rohr (and Maclaren in his commendations) mock static religious picture of God as an old man with a white beard on a throne (p 67) and heaven as a place where we sit on clouds with harps—without any awareness that these are scriptural images from the Book of Revelation which might actually have some important theological content—but of course not content that fits Rohr’s agenda.


The large theological ideas are equally confused, as Rohr appears to sample from a smorgasbord of mystical and fringe theological ideas. Thrown in some panentheism and universalism (which Rohr defends in a footnote as being found both in the fathers and in Scripture); mix a little Martin Buber’s ‘I-Thou’ theology; borrow from Process Theology the idea that ‘God is an emergent process’ (though without wondering whether that actually means anything). Assert that ‘the Christ is the universalisation of Jesus’ (p 52), and argue that true expressions of love can only be between things that are similar, so there is an essential similarity between the Trinity and the creation, which in effect becomes ‘the fourth person of the Trinity’. Mix in some very poor popular science, in which the interaction between subatomic particles in quantum physics are the equivalent of human interpersonal relationships, so that, by some mysterious magic, the whole of the physical world is inherently ‘Trinitarian’. One of the strange paradoxes in all this is that Rohr starts by talking of how mysterious and incomprehensible all this is—and yet, by ignoring actual discussion and suggesting that everything fits with his perspective, he makes it very straightforward. We just need to ‘stay in the flow’.

As Rohr offers his cliched and stereotyped simplicities, he ignores some key theological issues, which I think most people would realise without too much thought are problematic. He quotes from one of his ‘authorities’ (‘a mystic and a scholar’) that God is all about change—but ignores both the biblical insistent of God’s unchanging nature, and the pastoral importance of consistency rather than changeability. And any understanding of Jesus’ atoning death as ‘penal substitution’ is swept aside in a single statement about God’s freedom (p 132)—as if the question of God’s holiness in tension with God’s freedom to forgive, nor the costliness of forgiveness, wasn’t a central theme in both Scripture and Christian theology. And in case we had missed how important and easy this conclusion is, he has put it in italics for us. Add to that the idea that holiness is primarily about therapy, and that all mental illness is at root about loneliness, and you have simply and handy answers to all the world’s problems.


Given these issues—which I suspect would be evident to most reflective Christian readers—the question remains: why is Rohr so popular? It would be easy to dismiss him on the basis that he is simply giving his market what they want to hear—that faith is not about ethics or obedience, but is about going with the flow. God is, as we always hoped, just like us, and shares the same, 21st-century, inclusive agenda. I suspect that is true for some readers, but cannot explain all of his appeal.

One of his central stereotypes is between Christianity as a religion of rule-keeping, and as a religion of relationships. I suspect for many of his readers, particular in the US, and particularly amongst Catholics and fundamentalists, this rings more than one bell. I also suspect that it rings bells for those who see faith in these stereotyped terms from the outside as well. And it is certainly the case that practical books on Christian living are not often based on theological reflection on the Trinity—though that has changed in recent years. Rohr’s approach will certainly be more appealing for most churchgoers than the complex debates about whether or not the Trinity is a model for interpersonal human relationships. And many will enjoy his pithy insights which they desperately need to hear: God loves us not because we are good, but because he is good. Never mind that this was (in effect) the central theological idea of the Reformation; it is something we need to hear, and which many theological traditions have succeeded in obscuring.

But Rohr’s popularity also surely points to the ‘post-truth’ age that we live in. Does it really matter, for most readers, if the illustrations he cites as certainties which prove his case simply are not true? Perhaps this is, in the end, an indictment of many churches in the West, which have, in the face of post-Christendom, and the kind of criticisms that Rohr ranges against them, have abandoned the importance of teaching about Scripture and theology in preference to aiming to be relevant. And it is no small irony that the flattening of relationships and the elimination of difference that Rohr bemoans are the very things in both global economics and social media that allow Rohr’s work to be distributed so widely.


So, is Richard Rohr a heretic? Probably not, in that his thinking does not appear to be sufficiently formed or coherent to offer an alternative to orthodox faith. It certainly contains a mixture of unorthodox ideas—but it seems to me to be more confused rather than heretical per se. What worries me more is that, because his reading of Scripture is so poor, and his use of other theologians so piecemeal, that to stay with his line of thinking, your only option is to read more Richard Rohr, or others who agree with him. In that regard, and contrary to his claims of liberation and freedom in discipleship, he is making his readers ever more dependent on his own work.


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55 thoughts on “Is Richard Rohr a heretic?

  1. Wow – what a fabulous Fisking.

    Favourite line (amongst many):
    ‘Perhaps this was designed as a deliberate exercise in non-linear thinking; perhaps this was part of Rohr’s theological method of ‘circling around’ ideas; or perhaps it is just poorly written.’

    Brilliant!

  2. Thank you for this. I began following Richard Rohr a few years ago and found him refreshing and speaking into my life where I was at, at the time. I remember I bought his book on the Trinity a couple of years ago and began reading because I like the idea of the Trinity as Divine Dance – it has a resonance for me in other contexts. However I found, to my surprise, that I couldn’t really get into the book – and some of the ideas seemed confusing. Ironically there didn’t seem to me a ‘flow’ in the narrative or argument and I gave up on the book. I think now that perhaps I had an intuition that I was not being invited to consider the propositions but subscribe to them as a follower. I’m aware that since then I have not followed his writing quite as much, but for those of us with lesser intellect than you (and that is not meant to flatter!) it’s hard to put a finger on why. So I appreciate your analysis.
    A former NT lecturer of mine once used this expression about the times you want to criticize and challenge something but not quite certain you should: ‘it’s like criticizing the Hospice movement or swearing in church something completely taboo’. Though I’ve no recollection now to what he was referring! Nevertheless I think it fits – I’ve felt uncomfortable sometimes about Rohr’s thinking but he presses it with such certainty – a bit like the type of theologians HE questions! So thanks again

    • Charmaine, I think you highlight here an interesting paradox. Rohr, like other ‘progressives, argues very hard against the ‘certainty’ of ‘traditional’ religion. But they seem very certain themselves that their views cannot be questioned! There were many other issues I did not comment on, but one that struck me is the clarity with which Rohr claims that those who refuse to immerse in ‘the flow’ of God remain in sin.

  3. Well done Ian – this is pretty comprehensive! And congratulations for wading through Rohr.

    I think you may be onto something with ‘post-truth’. A lot of modern people seem to me to feel rather than think. I think we saw this in society with gay marriage (and still see it): people feel that it is right rather than think it through logically. A few months ago we discussed this in our home group, and one person made the comment that defining marriage as between a man and a woman offended her sense of fairness. I think this is why Ed Shaw’s “The Plausibility Problem” and Glynn Harrison “A Better Story” are so important: we need the way that we feel to be re-written by the gospel.

    When it comes to Rohr, I wonder whether he is a ‘feel-good’ writer. People read him because they want insights about God which will make them feel good about themselves. Talking about things in traditional words such as sin, repentance, judgement, justification, sanctification etc is pretty out-of-fashion these days. So it’s better to go with someone who’ll say nice but not-too-challenging things, thought-provoking but not too much, about God.

    I see many books these days like that – and, sadly, many churches and even bishops. As I commented on your original Facebook post, if Rohr was an Anglican they’d have made him a bishop by now…

  4. One way to get a following is to think (or enunciate) within presently-accepted channels, and do this from a vantage point one step up from your layperson reader.

    RR’s books do exemplify what I’d try to work against, and we do get lots of complaints about them, and his followers are probably (from my observation) Zeitgeist types. I suppose I would not be particularly keen on any Christian nonfiction that was not historical-critical anyway. The other approach (postmodern as it sometimes is) seems like a cheat. Unless what one says has some maximally objective foundation, readers could be wasting their time by comparison with the astonishing quantity of riches to be found elsewhere in the never-ending treasure trove of Christian writings.

  5. Many thanks for the review. In many ways it reminded of Alastair Robert’s critique of the style of communication adopted by Rob Bell with Bell’s background in advertising. Pose a question, imply an answer, but don’t answer and move on – a bit like a scatter gun technique – you might hit the spot with one pellet but that is obscured, deliberately, by all the miss hits.

    I was happy in my ignorance of Rohr. Now I’m uneasy over the influence he has, just as with Brian McClaren.

    From what you have written, the book is far from charismatic Christianity, generally, as exemplified, theologically, by Gordon Fee with God’s Empowering Presence, or his smaller book based on it, or John Pritchard, or Colin Urquart, or John Wimber. It seems to suck in and spew out some specious or counterfeit spirituality. Francis Schaeffer’s True Spirituality, may be an intial, first aid antidote – but it probably has too many sentences and too much joined up thinking.

  6. Savage
    Adjective

    ..(of something bad or negative) very great; severe.
    “Ian Paul’s review of Rohr’s work is savage and uncompromising.”

    I felt similarly to this after reading Rob Bell’s book, Velvet Elvis, many years ago. I struggled with the strange flow of writing and unorthodox ideas it contains. That said, I still count the book as formative for my christian thinking as a teenager, and value it still today for the study it prompted and the discussion it created, despite my many disagreements with it.

    • I had an interesting experience with Velvet Elvis. People were flagging it up as the next big thing. I read it, and, try as I might, I could not see what was either different or new or remarkable about it. Once again, I think that it goes to show how much more historical and factual ought to be the normal sermon diet.

      • I think I bought Velvet Elvis at a Christian youth conference, possible Soul Survivor(?) I remember it clearly being a new release, much talked about during some of the seminars, but at the time I was 15 or 16 and therefore not really ‘au fait’ with the current meta of christian publication. 😉 Rob Bell was certainly no one special, and I read the book with no preconceptions about its agenda or theme.

        Three things at least struck me as different about it though.

        1. It left me with more questions than answers, and I liked that . It meant that I actively sought out and talked to people I thought might know the answers. Although they were too polite to say so I probably annoyed my youth leaders/ministers with my constant questions about universalism and matters of orthodoxdy. I also started engaging in debate online around this time, and I can credit Velvet Elvis with initiating some of that. Sorry Ian, that means you can blame Rob bell for my presence here….

        2. The writing style is something I now view as ‘sticky’ and slightly anarchic. But then, as a teenager and just beginning to flex my mental muscles theologically, I thought it engaging and well written; I even brought copies for my fiends and recommended it people. Occasionally I still do. I remember reading it from cover to cover at least twice and feeling it was important others did so, the questions in it were too important to be left unanswered.

        3. I distinctly remember my dad (a well-read christian and long time street evangelist) hating it and complaining that I had liked it. Of course, that made me like it more (sigh, teenagers…), but it was the first time I remember discovering sincere and genuine theological conflict within my own house. We use to argue about the book quite a bit, and I know that I grew a lot because of that.

        What I’m trying to say is that I would very much like to ‘rubbish’ Velvet Elvis as being the largely mistaken, liberal, universalist mouthpiece it is, but I can’t. Reading it when I did, and in the context I did, is what made me the christian I am today. I am sure that this will have been the experience of people reading Rohr today also.

    • Matt,
      I too was led to the Lord through error. He graciously led me through it to solid ground of conversion to Christ. That, however, does not give a licence to propagate it, especially, from the photo of Rohr, from someone who is old enough to know better, who is more than likely to know the severity reserved for false teaching.

      • Yes, thanks.

        I am not defending Rohr (I haven’t read any of his work, though I know of it) nor Bell per se. I am defending the idea that something can be objectively wrong, and recognised as such, yet also, paradoxically, be the route to truth for some people.

      • My sister was led to the Lord through someone erroneously challenging some aspect of her belief or walk. The fact that she received a challenge at all (justified or unjustified) was something unusual in the present culture, and led to very profitable self-examination.

        J John was led to the Lord through Andy Economides saying ‘Are you a Christian? No? Then you are stupid’. Come to think of it, that is good means and good end.

  7. There’s a fail-safe test.

    List/enumerate the elements of your ideal scenario.

    Then ask the question: All things being equal, how much of my ideal scenario is likely actually (by coincidence) to be true?

    This should give one a keen eye for those who want to obscure the very large difference between real and aesthetically pleasant.

  8. This is not just a fun Fisking but a really important topic that goes way beyond Rohr, and which the Church needs to bring out in the open. It is a real problem that we are unwilling in the arena of our popular pastoral “stars” to take a stand for truth against error and trust God to manage the consequences.

    I am a published scholar in Classics, a field with pretty high standards for not accepting completely erroneous and unfounded claims of textual interpretation. I am also a pretty recent Christian convert. At a crucial time in my conversion, I was able to turn to a popular book by N.T. Wright and recognize that it really had sane and solid reasons behind its claims for things like the historicity of the Resurrection and the consistency of Paul’s Gospel with Jesus’ Gospel. I thank God, the more in retrospect, as I realize how unlikely it was to hold a popular book that cared about all its claims remaining defensible all the way down to the Greek text read carefully in all its available contexts. If I had picked up a book by Rohr or Bell at that juncture, I might have lapsed right back into my smug dismissal of the orthodox Christian faith itself.

    Now that I am Christian, in my church we have read books by writers like Rob Bell (who is guilty on almost every page of such atrocities as described here). I think there’s something really dangerous about calling them “pastorally effective” and moving along without real repudiation of the exegetical trainwreck they offer in place of solid teaching. I find nowhere in the writers of the early Church the idea that the catechumens should be given appealing bundles of lies mixed in with the articles of the Creed in order to make it go down quickly. It’s apologetic Machiavellianism.

    • I realize the bit at the end implies the authors know they’re offering error (“lies”), which may not be the case. I think my point still applies to the Church as manifested in Christian publishing, reviewing, etc. We are not as learned as we once were to detect error, but I don’t think we’re so desperately short of competent Biblical scholarship that we can’t mount an effort to insist on it.

      • The amount of competent biblical scholarship (like the quantity of good hymns) is ever-growing, since none ever dies but plenty gets born. It’s a comforting thought.

      • But if you claim something in a book, and you have not checked whether it is actually true, then you are passing on gossip, and its status is no different from fake news stories or personal gossip about others. It is not far from meriting the term ‘lie’ through laziness rather than intentional deceit…

    • TW,
      An excellent contribution, thanks.
      I’d go so far in “taking a stand for truth against error” to say that it is incumbent to point out the error and set truth up against it, otherwise there is a presumption that by emphasising truth, listeners will automatically recognise the error and renounce it. In reality, they may still not recognise the error and continue to subscribe to it. As a former lawyer, error always had to be countered , otherwise it was deemed to be conceded. A simple example would be to compare and contrast the Triune God of Christianity, with Islam. There are many in the pews who don’t see any difference between them unless the difference is emphasised. There was a time when the Athanasian Creed, by law, had to be recited in Church in England, 13 times a year ( if I recall correctly).
      At the lowest level, but at the same time highest point, it comes down to which God we believe.

    • TW… I think that this “pastorally effective” hits a nail squarely on the head.

      Pastorally effective but scriptural dubious is an oxymoron. Like slowly raising the temperature and boiling a lobster… It’s just nice and comforting at first…

    • TW, thanks for sharing your fascinating observation and testimony. After writing the review, my strongest feeling was my concern expressed near the end, which chimes with your testimony.

      If Rohr is selecting proof-texts from Scripture, and ignoring important parts of the biblical testimony, then he is actually discouraging people to take Scripture seriously. And if readers ‘feel’ that he is scratching where they itch, the final result will be the approach of Steve Chalke, in which numerous texts are deleted as ‘mistaken’.

  9. I appreciate your restrained definition of heresy.

    I do resonate with Rohr on dismissing the whole “clouds with harps” picture of heaven, because it is a grab-bag DISTORTION of those Revelation ideas you mention, and it doesn’t come close to describing what will doubtless be a satisfying experience of worshiping and communing with God. Such cliches do serve to sap our anticipation of heaven.

    That said, heaven can be clarified to God’s glory, or it can be clarified to serve an author and his readers’ cynicism. It doesn’t sound like I’d get two pages into Rohr’s book.

  10. Thank you Ian. That was, indeed, thorough. I found it useful. Rohr pops up quite often though I’m always a bit chary of ‘you must read this/them’ whoever they are.

    “So, is Richard Rohr a heretic? Probably not, in that his thinking does not appear to be sufficiently formed or coherent to offer an alternative to orthodox faith.” Isn’t this a problem though in that he, almost certainly, thinks he is ‘formed enough’ to write this book and put it up for sale? ‘Heresy’ might be too strong a word but it’s still in opposition to orthodoxy.

    Some of this is the itching ears phenomenon presumably. It fits well with the kind of ;”Make me feel better and don’t ask me to handle complicated stuff” spirit of the age. I felt something similar about ‘The Shack’ and could never recommend it. It seemed to be a story creating it’s own saccharine theology. Or maybe that’s too savage…..

  11. I dont know if he is a heretic or heterodox, but I do know despite several purchases and attempts I cannot cope reading him – I often dont understand what he says, and that makes me think his conception of God is very different than mine. I do know that some of those who publicly endorse and laud him I do think are heretics – Bourgeault etc

    I thank God for Ian Paul’s clarity here – what a gift he is helping us wade through the issues and seeing the wheat from the chaff.

  12. Thanks Ian. I think Rohr does appeal on many levels. His Falling Upwards is a largely brilliant, honest reflection on the way God uses the failures of our life and doesn’t finish with us and picks us up. It has a feel of the Fathers joy at the return of the prodigal and only a few unnecessary digs at those of us who take Jesus call to holiness, and his clear in/out language seriously. But in Immortal Diamond there was just more of the assertion without back up, regular digs at anything exclusive and the stream of consciousness you’ve highlighted here.

    He may just be moving further down the “post-orthodox” world or just got overly mystic.

    • Hi Adrian, your comments on ‘Falling Upwards’ really resonate with me. I also bought ‘Immortal Diamond’ but I did not finish reading it. I have not read ‘The Divine Dance’ but I have read excerpts and reviews and I doubt if I will bother to read it!
      I am relieved that Ian concluded that Rohr is confused rather than a heretic – I believe that Rohr loves the Lord, but he seems to get rather carried away with ‘the flow’ :-). I think the book ‘The Divine dance ‘ might better be described as a reverie. I would say the same about ‘The Shack’ and also about Rob Bell’s ‘Velvet Elvis’ – I became pretty sleepy when I tried to follow Bell’s meanderings!

  13. Ian, just a quick comment on the German word “Dreifaltigkeit” which must be what Rohr has in mind. It indeed parallels the English “threefold” in meaning and carries no hidden meaning of “three INfoldings” (whatever Rohr means by that).

    However, it is not accurate to say that the word is archaic.

    You may be more familiar with the word “Dreieinigkeit” for the Trinity, which is indeed the word used in the Protestant community; “Dreifaltigkeit” tends to be used primarily in the Roman Catholic community. Thus the Sunday after Pentecost is called in Lutheran language “Trinitatis” (the Lutherans, unlike the Catholics, having preserved the traditional Latin names of the Sundays of the liturgical year), while in Catholic speech it is called “Dreifaltigkeitssonntag”. In Catholic liturgy as well, the adjective “dreifaltig” is used to describe God interchangably with “dreieinig”.

    See this page from the online version of the major German missal, the “Schott”:
    http://www.erzabtei-beuron.de/_SA-mobile/schott/register/jahreskreis/schott_anz/index.html?file=herrenfeste%2FDreifaltigkeitB.htm

    • Thanks for the clarification Wolf. I think perhaps (in light of our conversation on Facebook), I should have used the term ‘religious archaism’. As you say, the other common term is Dreieinigkeit, used more in Protestantism…though note that Rohr does not say ‘a German term’ but ‘THE German term’ which is not the case…and it does not carry the implications he claims, as you confirm.

      (I did not comment before consulting another German friend—but this is the kind of basic fact-checking that any responsible author, or publisher for that matter, should engage in.)

  14. Thanks for this, Ian. I’ve been uneasy for some time at what seemed to me to be Rohr’s bowdlerising of Scripture and the way he creates an equivalence between its authority and that of psychology and other influences. Your post has helped me to more clarity.

  15. I can’t see that you mention one rather important fact in your piece – that Richard Rohr is a Roman Catholic priest in good standing with the RC Church. That very fact suggests that he is rather more ‘orthodox’ than you like to paint him, and would mean that his thinking was probably quite well formed. You may not *like* the way he thinks, or forms his ideas. But that the RC Church allows him to exercise those formed thoughts in the context of the Church gives it rather more credibility than you allow for and needs mentioning.

    • Interesting Observation, but I don’t think there’s always a connection between ‘good standing’ and ‘good theology’. The former does not strictly indicate the latter, and there are many cases where it is quite the opposite; where there is a yawning gulf between the two.

      This is as true of Catholicism as it is of Anglicanism, of Baptists and of any denomination you care to mention.

      • Mat by and large I agree but it is generally thought that the Roman Catholic Church is more ‘orthodox’ with regard to issues like the ordination of women, human sexuality, marriage etc and so public representatives of the RC Church, which Rohr is, will have been questioned about these issues many times in the process of their ‘formation’.

        That he may have a different process and framework for interpreting the scriptures does make his theology any less ‘good’. It may or may not put him outside the view of orthodoxy that you or Ian or I hold – but it clearly has not yet put him outside the bounds of orthodoxy of the RC church. And that’s worth mentioning.

        • That he may have a different process and framework for interpreting the scriptures does make his theology any less ‘good’.

          Well yes actually, it does, at least if your chosen framework and interpretation(s) exist outside of what is generally considered normative for your tradition, which is substantially Ian’s point.

          • And Mat the point is that Richard Rohr’s tradition – the RC Church – is arguably the most ‘normative’ in the whole of Christendom. And they obviously accommodate him within that tradition. He is not ‘outside’ that norm.

  16. Andrew, ‘Catholicism is arguably the most ‘normative’ in the whole of Christendom’ Really?
    how so…numerically? As a Protestant priest ordained on oaths to uphold Protestant beliefs, some of which are framed to challenge certain Catholic notions, don’t you subscribe to the conviction that Catholicism is not ‘normative’ as regards Biblical Apostolic orthodox faith?

    In the past year or two I have read quite a few severe criticisms and careful concerns of Rohr from ground up Catholics online lining up to protest Rohr’s un-Catholic spirituality and theology. Many Catholics are just as befuddled by the enneagram evangelist as others posting here. Seems Rohr’s main support is amongst mid-faith crisis christians, Post moderns or post evangelicals on a trajectory away from orthodoxy – whilst traditional Catholics and Evangelicals remain challenged by his language, concerned by some of his ‘spiritual’ bedfellows (Keating, Bourgeault, Jung) and conscious that he does not sit well with Tradition nor Scripture. His popular offerings have not received the Imprimatur or Nihil Obstat which suggests he is not within the bounds of ‘normative’ Catholic theology and spirituality.

  17. Setting aside the question over RC “normative.” the point is not relevant, that is, not “logically probative of the fact in issue”, which was the review of the book, it’s style contents, theology, use of scripture.

  18. Simon and Geoff: this is really easy, and totally relevant, and about facts, not viewpoints.
    Ian’s (slightly tongue in cheek, but obviously not totally) is about whether Fr Richard Rohr is a heretic. The *fact* is that the RC church, which is *arguably* the most normative ‘form’ of the faith in Christendom, does not seem to think he is a heretic.

    I’m happy if you want to challenge any of those facts with the relevant bodies. Ian did not happen to mention that Richard Rohr was a RC priest, in good standing with the RC Church, and it’s another fact worth mentioning.

    Hence, in the interests of ‘balance’, I’ve mentioned these pertinent facts.

    It’s really that simple.

    • RR has written 2 books on the Enneagram, and it also underpins others of his writings. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops, as well as the Church Document ‘Jesus Christ, Bearer of the Water of Life’, are against the Enneagram. See http://www.catholicworldreport.com/2012/01/31/a-dangerous-practice.

      The way you (Andrew) are couching things, it sounds like you are expecting a blanket yes or a blanket no for RR and all his works. But a moment’s thought shows it cannot work like that. There will never be a case where *everything* he (or anyone else) writes is in error or heretical (some things would be orthodox even by pure chance). So it’s always going to be the case that the question is: ‘Is *anything* he writes in error or heretical?’ When we phrase things that way, then few writers will escape the net. The concern with RR is that the error is in more central matters (Enneagram, cultural conformity, etc.).

  19. OK, then, Andrew.
    Please let us have your comments on the Review of the book, rather than the, perhaps distracting, title of Ian’s blog, which may have bought into the publishing ethos of an attention grabbing headline. Not knowing who Rohr is or any of his books, I may not have progressed to read the review. I’ll, now, not read the book, no matter, Rohr’s RC church standing or credentials. In fact it has helped me greatly to form a view of the book without that hinderance of presupposed bias for or against him, or indeed the RC church, which is totally irrelevant as far as the book is concerned It’s all about the content of the book. If the review were favourable I may have had interest in reading the book, notwithstanding, his standing or denomination, both of which would have been irrelevant. I’m not particularly impressed by biographical, CV authority referencing, which is not so prevalent today at a popular theological level. (Even at a less than popular level, Ian’s new commentary on Revelation makes no mention of his doctorate on the front cover).
    What you are suggesting seems like an inversion of the ad hominen fallacy, irrelevant to the book review or the book itself.

  20. Does anyone think that Jesus might have been considered a tad heretical?

    Those of us who are delighted by the words of Richard Rohr have perhaps moved passed the roman catholic world of dogma, ritual, the sometimes stultifying traditional views of what is true in our relation to what is most Real.

    As a cradle RC, daily communicant for decades, RC educated through college, CCD teacher for over twenty years, I became slowly, totally disillusioned with church views on the meaning of salvation, the pagan blood sacrifice to appease an angry God scenario, its views on women, its papering over a mind-numbing, centuries long history of hypocritical hierarchical behavior. Until I came upon the CAC and its views, I felt an isolated, but convinced heretic, where I am actually a Franciscan! It was refreshingly liberating to see that others, far more versed than I in theological thought, had come to the same conclusion centuries before I did. Francis, Bonaventure, Duns Scottus.

    Jesus certainly thought “outside the box”, and the church needs not be threatened by those in its ranks who do the same, those who think, reason, and question in their search for the truth. If we simply swallow wholesale the views , dogmas, and attitudes served up to us as children; if we dare not question, in love, what we are asked to believe, if we do not use the intelligence that defines a large part of our humanity, what do we have to offer our God?

    Aside, of course, from love!

    • I could not have said it any better… Thank you.
      And thanks to Richard Rohr, who has certainly led me closer to God through Jesus Christ.

      • thank you, Thomas, to a fellow heretic/Franciscan! Have you ever read Andrew Greeley’s The Jesus Myth? my wonderful father, self educated in all things Christian thought the 30’s-to turn of the century writers, gave me copy some 40 years ago, and I still go back to it annually. it is a marvelous, timeless commentary on the person of Jesus–free of dogma or institutional bias, totally NT based. I think you might just love it.

        • Hi:
          Yes I have read all of Greeley’s stuff, including his novels. He drove conservatives mad! I came across this article on Rohr because I just ordered his newest Just This was looking for a review. Unfortunately I found this negative and very personal attack on the poor Friar! The new volume on him from the Essential Spiritual Masters Series is a treasure.
          Personally his book on the Trinity is my least favourite, but I found nothing “wrong” with it. These so called conservatives have to learn to go from the head(mind, intellect) of dry dogmatism to the living Wisdom of the Heart leading to an authentic experience of the Living God. That is what is essential and what people are looking for and what people like Rohr (and Meister Eckhart) offer. Thank God for their prophetic witness, not often accepted, as Sunday’s Gospel says, in their own home town.

  21. I am a new comer to our gifted mystic in the desert and his Franciscan forbearers. His refreshing freedom from dogma, willingness to go beyond tradition and yet go back to Christian basics is liberating, to say the least! His willingness to listen to heart over head, ability to see beyond tradition, yet go back to the truth of the early years of The Way is what our church sorely needs. When he quotes the New Testament it is truly new for me. Just got Immortal Diamond, my first of his books. I’ve been enjoying his daily meditations so far.

    Long ago it occurred to me that the church in which I was raised was anchored in doctrine that was overthought, overwrought, and overtaught.

    When I discovered non-roman writers–Sarah Maitland, John Polkinghorne, Robb Bell– it was a revelation. Such clarity, reasoning, and insight, with nary a hint of “thou shalt believe.”

    There is a Lutheran minister I just stumbled on who might interest you: Nadia Boltz-Weber. Her homilies are breath taking, her books can be gut wrenching in their honesty. She is “not your mother’s” minister, but has the gist of the Lord’s word perfectly. If you can find her take on the Prodigal Son I guarantee you’ll be delighted. She’s on YouTube, and has a website called The Sarcastic Lutheran. Close your eyes and just hear her. You’ll know what I mean!

    Mariynne Robinson is also marvelous: she is ” a Calvinist with a difference, a biblical fundamentalist with a difference, she is also a Marxist with a difference”. Her book Gilead (part of a trilogy) is like walking into an Andrew Wyeth painting. She is a Marxist Calvinist Pulitzer Prize winning author who paints pictures with her words and builds cathedrals with her essays. She has several books of them, taken form lectures she’s given over the years. The depth of her knowledge is astounding–her take on Shakespeare’s Christianity is most convincing. She is an unapologetic cheerleader for John Calvin whom she sees as having suffered from “bad press” for generations.

    Viva la difference!

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