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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99 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.’


  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.

      • “Rohr claims that those who refuse to immerse in ‘the flow’ of God remain in sin.”

        The Gospel according to Rohr?

        No thanks Rohr, I’m good.

  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

    ..(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.

        • So yes, of course, Rohr should know better, but on encountering christian people for whom Rohr has been a critical shaper-of-thought, statement such as “he’s a heretic” are probably unhelpful.

          • I’m a fan. I don’t think you have to agree 100% with a person’s theories or beliefs to believe they have words worth listening to. He’s a smart man, and very wise also. I agree that when we fixate too much on tradition and ritual, the the foundation of that act can become buried under the repetition. For me, Richard takes many things that have become cliche speaking, and he breaks them down into language that actually gives meaning to the words. I also believe he proposes many ideas that scare people because it’s so contrary to what they have always been taught and believed. He simply asks us to consider whether there are other perspectives worth looking at than just those we claim are “the way.” We’re human; we misunderstand things constantly. We think we have answers and years later find out we were wrong. We know this to be true…..yet here we are criticizing a man that asks us to consider that there are often many ways to look at things.

          • Well, I am personally not averse to looking at things in a new way. The issue for me comes when someone proposes that we look at things in a way which fairly clearly reject or contradict the teaching of Jesus, and claim that this is still ‘Christian’.

            I agree that some traditions are unnecessarily narrow. But what are the boundaries of Christian belief for you? Do you have any?

        • Mat,
          What is marvellous, is your questioning, your quest, search for truth, which did not stop with Bell, all part of your testimony. I found some answers with CS Lewis, (I’ve seen recommended by parents to their teen youngsters in a New Frontiers church) and Francis Schaffer’s trilogy.
          As Tim Keller says, we should doubt our doubts.
          We also should question the question itself, at times.

      • 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”:

    • 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.

    • Finally it is mentioned that he is a Roman Catholic priest! Yes, and I do believe his ideas are well formed, and should not be dismissed. Perhaps Ian will respond to your comment.

      • The suggestion that Rohr’s views align with Catholic dogma is self-evidently bizarre. The proof of the theological pudding is in the reading of what he says; his status tells us no more about the doctrine of the Church than it would if he were Anglican.

  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

      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.

      • Here’s an even better idea: read the book (you can borrow it); read the review; then see whether you think the review is right on the basis of the evidence.

        I am not interested in being tribal or living in a silo. If I am right on the basis of the evidence, that is what matters. If so, you can then put the book in the bin. If not, then tell me why…

  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!

  22. Hi,
    I had no idea who Richard Rohr was. I have just moved into a new town that is located about 200 miles from my last address and was in search of a therapist. I wanted someone who is a Christian.

    I googled Therapists in my neighborhood and found two numbers to call. The first one called me back asap and was not a Christain. I, however, made an appointment. Just because she was not a Christian does not make her a bad therapist. 😀

    The second called me back the next day. She was okay to talk to. However, when I asked her if she was a Christian she suddenly was all happy and started talking about this guy Richard Rohr. She started telling me how he believes and how he thinks and how she’s following him all the time. As I tried to talk to her about stuff she kept referring back to him. She said “Richard says that you have to allow your pain of life to move through Christ and that if you don’t move it through him you will always be ill. ” Or something like that.

    The next thing she said was about how she reads his daily inspirations and how even today she found how it has really enriched her life.

    This woman is a professional and it really startled me and frankly put me off. The last deal that really broke it for me to call her back and make an appointment was that she kept interrupting me. I didn’t and don’t want to spend 70.00 to 130.00 an hour on someone who was going to “sell” me on this guy.
    I am a true believer that we need the bible for all things in our lives. Being a Christian is not about making life easy. It’s about living for God and doing what needs to be done through him.

    She did the opposite for me. She turned me off big time to her and to this guy. I did try to find out about him with a wonder of what was this all about. It reminded me of Joel Osteen and a couple other very popular Paster types that proclaim that if you believe in God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit then you can get rich or should be rich etc.

    Not for me. I hope not to hurt others feelings. I really don’t want to do that. It just makes me really uncomfortable. I have an amazing relationship with God. When I read anything to do about him, I read books that are pointing toward him and the holy trinity. Not on how it can give me this or that.
    Thanks for your blog. It really helped me at a time I needed to find a truth.

    God Bless you and all your help.

  23. Searched for s site critical of RR (and found IP’s excellent critique of his work) because I had found it intensely depressing that people I know are so thoroughly taken in by his pseudo scholarship. His constant hints at ‘deep,’ and special insights are the opposite of the, ‘liberal’ approach he purports to advocate. He certainly makes factual claims that are false but he can assume that his lazy followers will not check up on him. Today’s irritation concerns a claim that the phrase ‘true self’ is used only once in the Bible – Romans 7.20 – when the fact is it is never used at all! RR takes the word ‘ego’ and wants to make it fit his views so he just says, Jerusalem Bible, where it is, in fact, translated as ‘myself’ . RR has demonstrated before that he takes a pretty cavalier approach to language, whether it be Greek, Latin, Aramaic, Hebrew or sloppy English. His main scholarly weapon seems to be: it means what I want it to mean and my fan club won’t be be put off by pedantic seekers after truth. A powerful weapon for all charlatans down the ages.

  24. There is one God (Father, Son and Spirit) and Father of all, we are all God’s children and nothing separates us from His love. Anyone that points people to the saving love of Christ deserves some of my time and attention regardless of whether everything he/she says is right or wrong. I have been a devout Christian all of my life, studied and know the Bible very well yet so many questions arise that are not answered by traditional church theology or structure (all due respect to you Ian Paul that I am sure you deserve) . I have all the time in the world for RR, Thomas Merton, Henri Nowen and any other of God’s children that connect my heart to the heart of Christ. So many things I will probably never understand and may not need to but to scratch the surface and begin to know and experience the height, depth, breadth of the love of Christ, priceless… Shalom to you all

  25. I’ve read very little by Rohr, But was curious. I’ve seen his influence on others especially clergyman and how they tend to go down a “liberal slope.” I guess this is the danger of “poetic red herrings” and “talking points” which too often ends up as using many words without really addressing anything. Reminds me of the philosophers on Mars Hill ?

  26. Peace Be With You !
    We learned today at prayer meeting that Fr. Richard Rohr has had a relapse of the cancerhe has battled.
    ” Raise us above the distinctions and differences which divide us ” Sufi saying
    As led please include Fr. Richard in your prayers,

    • Thank you for that news. Very happy to pray for all. Though saddened of the need to reach for a Sufi saying, when there is plenty of encouragement to pray in the teaching of Jesus…

  27. Wish I hadn’t found this by the use of its ‘clickbait’ title. Feels like a plank pointing to a speck (to use a non-sufi saying.) But I can disregard this–as I disregard anyone (RR, IP, the pope, the prez) with human understanding–and glean and test Truth. I do appreciate what all has been shared here.

    • I think you misunderstand the term ‘click bait’, which indicates something in the title that has no relation to the content. The whole article is in fact considering that question.

      I am glad to hear you actually quote Jesus, though it is a shame that you don’t use it in the way Jesus did. I am accusing Rohr of mishandling and distorting scripture and other ideas; if I had a plank in my own eye, that would imply I am distorting them even more wildly, which you do not in fact claim is the case.

      It is a shame you disregard the understanding of others; just about every part of Scripture encourages us to learn from other saints, albeit with discernment.

      ‘Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil. Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ (1 Thess 5.20–23)

  28. I’m sorry, Paul. I was using this ‘understanding of clickbait (something (such as a headline) designed to make readers want to click on a hyperlink especially when the link leads to content of dubious value or interest. Webster’s Dictionary)

    Did you read my comment? I said I could ignore that it felt like you were doing the same you were accusing RR of. And I did, in fact glean some truth from your article. I’m sorry I mislead you to thing (and shaming me?) for disregarding the understanding of others. (Seems ironic and arrogant, but point taken.)

    • I don’t think I understand what you are saying here. ‘Clickbait’ means having an exciting headline which has little relation to the rubbish content. Is that what you are accusing me of?

      And I have offered clear evidence that my argument is *not* like Rohr’s. Could you offer me some evidence that it is, to support your accusation?

  29. i really wish i had not ordered ‘The Divine Dance’ online, in my view the worst book on The Trinity or Christianity I have ever read. it would take a book to explain why but here are a very few points; 1/ calling the Holy Spirit ‘she’ all time when Our Lord taught us to say ‘He’, is Richard above the Lord Jesus in wisdom? oh and ‘Father’ is a metaphor only he says 2/ playing down sin and only talking about God’s love, yes God IS Love but the Lord Jesus talked about hell and judgement all the time, Richard ignores this 3/ stupid claims like the Trinity has been ‘missing in action’ for 1,700 years in the Church and 4/ it has taken 2,000 years to make this shift (Church’s view of God in light on Revelation) or 5/ the Church views God as a ‘small god’ and 6/ the Church has been trying for centuries to be obviously religious but with ‘small results’ (that’s the Catholic Church!) and many other comments downplaying the historical Church 7/ criticizing St Thomas Aquinas for trying to explain transubstantiation!! words fail me on this 8/ quote; ‘there’s no evidence Jesus ever expected his little movement to take over the world’ 9/ quote; ‘…the spaces in between the members of the Trinity are unmistakably feminine…’ 10/ he says the Church is wrong to make Jesus an EXCLUSIVE savior!! 11/ Richard claims we can refer to the Son as ‘daughter’ 12/ Richard says he sees ‘passive resistance’ in his flock at Mass because they are ‘conditioned to expect nothing’…i am not sure, but is he amazed at people not being bowled over by him? – the above is a tiny tip of a big ice burg.

    I’ll preface my comments in that I’ve had a rather lazy but 30 or so years delving into greek, hebrew and aramaic. I’ll also add that I tried to “get” into the evangelical line of thinking, i really did.. but it left me cold, often confused, and usually quite judged and repressed. I guess that’s why after after (1980-2000)20 years of being a christian i gave it up. Now did i give up my faith, well no and yes. I did have a paradigm shift that many talk about in conversions and deconversions… which involved a very bumpy ride for the next 10 years or so until I found a bit more of an expansive tribe of “spirituality not religious.” Since then I’ve attempted to visit churches, much to my displeasure that the’re still trying to be clever, sensational or are just boring. We’ll come back to how that fits into the with the review of Rohr after one last point for context. a few years after I gave up I started getting into tarot, yoga, and really getting back into studying the aramaic from a more internal level. This continued through losing a well paying job, a divorce, a painful rebound relationship, and figuring out how to make my life work being self-employed, especially in the now very expensive world of modern dating.

    Why all that to make my point, well Rohr speaks to me.. yes, still as a hired shepherd as are most unfortunately in the world of religion, but he speaks to the soul and essence of a faith that resonates deeper than the PHD’s in so called “orthodox faith.” I also see Rohr passionately defending helps groups like AA and even being invited to speak at New Age churches. Mostly though I see his God out “on the edges and fringes” as he would say… unlike most trying to figure out what scripture is the “right” medicine for our ills. Rohr doesn’t also seem to be bent on having to “be right” as many theologians and preachers and has a certain vulnerability in that. Mostly though I’ve had confirmed that even though his understanding of science may be murky at times he worships the God of today and is ever expanding like the Universe we live in.. meaning he isn’t trying to keep christian museums open to look at the God of the past. Thankfully I’ve little time nor patience for those Mulder and Skully seminarians desperately looking for “the truth that out there,” I’m more interested to see if love is out there or if it can dwell in me more sustainably.

    • Thanks–that’s interesting to hear. It seems as though we are agreed on believing that Rohr is at some distance from what anyone might describe as ‘orthodox’ Christian belief—though there remains the question of how Christians might better engage with the frustrations you encountered.

      • hmm.. well it depends on who you ask. I seem to remember you’ve traveled in quite a few circles within modern churchianity and i’m sure what one group considers orthodox and another differ extremely.. thinking mainly of some of the charismania of my youth. Historically he may have been well liked by someone like Chesterton who held quite a robust set of views himself .. that were likewise heavily faulted in some ways despite his genius as well. I feel that the issue of orthodoxy might be best seen through the lens of William James “Varieties”.. in which he posits some heavy trauma that has been set upon in the religious mind. Maybe we need to ask as June Singer (Jung’s protege) said in Boundries of the Soul… what we are truly asking of in our so-called gospel and considering more the conditions of the person whilst trying to “save” them. . Maybe our search for certainty is the real problem to which emergent brethren are very good as part of the “body” to articulate.. and such orthodoxy is more part of “searching the scriptures daily but unwilling to come to Him”.. as to engaging the frustrations we can’t blame individuals I feel for this.. much as Bono said about christian music, we have to be willing to engage with life in much more authentic terms in order to find it’s soul to engage with..

  31. To begin with I approached the work(s) of RR in a spirit of curiosity, having heard his name in local church circles. I soon formed the impression that he was a poor writer, dubious theologian, rider of fashionable bandwagons, keen to impress by pseudo scientific analogies and shaky linguistic scholarship. BUT! – there is a seemingly limitless market for exploitation (dare I say: especially in the U.S.A.) of the insecurity of those who crave some form of religious reassurance but have an insatiable appetite for novelty. It is probably best to see the RR organisation as yet another commercial operation. Recent posts asking for donations and at the same time advertising staff vacancies in terms appropriate to Facebook, google, etc.

    Having been irritated by RR’s cavalier attitude to linguistic scholarship when imposing his interpretations of Scripture or theology through the ages, I found it ironic that he recently claimed his name meant ‘conduit’ (how amazingly appropriate!) without mentioning its other connotations or uses such as ‘reed’ – as in: ‘ein schwankendes Rohr im Winde’ !

    By the way, I assume that the God RR knows so well has to be an English-speaker (American) since the ‘atonement’ RR is so keen to render as ‘at-one-ment’ will not, as far as I am aware, bear this treatment in any other language.

    A question! – Does RR take questions? Do he and his organisation have a system for responding to queries about his postings, meditations and writings?

    • Hi Peter,
      You ask, does he take questions? Well I’ve posed a few over the last couple weeks when ads have popped up. (I have a FB friend who likes him). I’d looked into his teachings a couple of years ago because a Young Adults leader was “liking” his posts. I’d never heard of him. Then I discovered that he’s a panentheist, denies original sin, denies the substitutionary atonement, teaches Jesus was a Wisdom Teacher, a model who shows us who we really are, not a priest, prophet or Messiah. That Christianity is dependant on other religions, we “save” our own souls: “Some might call this the God Self, the True Self, the Christ Self, the Buddha Self, or just the soul. Life at this point is indestructible! In short, you must discover or “save” your own soul, and nothing else can compare with this discovery. ” He says the Second Coming “happens when we allow it”. Anyway, clearly he’s outside orthodox Christianity! So when they popped up I thought I’d warn people about him. Saying basically you can believe Jesus or RR. They responded by telling me how to avoid the ads (ha!) and the while RR’s teaching isn’t mainstream, it helps people, who find it more inclusive and loving. I responded with a question about the wonderful inclusiveness of the gospel, but no response. Over the last couple of days when they popped up I’ve just put short Bible quotes eg on his latest “You are always and already saved”, I just put “Jesus said “You must be born again”. Today I see they have removed “comment”. You can only share! So that’s your answer.

  32. So funny to come across this review, having just listened to my first book by Rohr on Audible, The Universal Christ. This critique of him and the assumptive, negative, judgemental comments smack to me, of the tendency of those that just don’t understand something (at a brilliantly simple, but much deeper level than that which they are comfortable perceiving) criticizing those who do…

    just as the Universal Christ, embodied in Jesus, was criticized for a radically different – or progressive – interpretation of truth.

    Honestly, have “Catholics” (which literally means Universal) become so elitist, literalist and narrow-minded – they condemn people who rightly emphasize the Trinity as Love itself – or Relationship itself – as too “progressive” a person, or idea, or understanding for them to even read?

    And this is supposed to be a more intelligent, or Orthodox a view?

    I believe there is a difference between works that are truly, deeply and humbly intelligent, uplifting, and profoundly wise, like Rohr’s, that inspire people to think for themselves and spiritually evolve –

    …and lengthy, judgemental critiques that can only encourage shared delusions of spiritual superiority.

    It is exactly the profound, the simple, the paradoxical and the more deeply true, that the proud, superficial and materialist, no matter how legalistically “correct” – will remain blind.

    • ‘This critique of him and the assumptive, negative, judgemental comments smack to me, of the tendency of those that just don’t understand something’.

      Thanks for commenting. But I don’t know if you can see the irony of your comment. I have offered very specific reasons why Rohr’s writing is problematic. But instead of actually engaging in this, you tell me I just haven’t understood—precisely Rohr’s tactic, and one which I critique with reasons.

      And you criticise me for appearing ‘superior’—the proof being that your approach is in fact superior, and I am ‘blind’ not to recognise that!

  33. Yes, your critique offered very specific “reasons” why you personally, subjectively, find Rohr’s writing “problematic”, including criticizing what you perceive as an overuse of “progressive” “buzz words” – like “inclusivity” and “relationship”, “throwing things together” ,”vain repetition” and speaking “downright” untruths.

    Of course, when one has a narrow, literalist, legalistic interpretation and use of the human language, and takes things out of Rohr’s context, I guess one could fool themselves into believing Rohr’s books contains lies.

    But this, as well as our over preoccupation with sin and error, is one of Rohr’s main points – about what has happened to religion, points which perhaps you did miss, like I suggested, or with which you disagree….but you haven’t proven him wrong – let alone, his book poorly written.

    Which is my point.

    I could have responded to reasoning, if you had used any, but you don’t offer reasoning – just reasons based on subjective claims or out of context literalist legalities.

    The duty to prove someone guilty of formal or “downright untruths” (like heresy) lies on the part of the one making the accusations.

    Also, you accused me of “criticizing you for sounding ‘superior’”, which IS a downright untrue statement – and you can recheck my initial comment if you doubt. I didn’t think you sounded “superior” at all, but like a person with poor reading comprehension and even less of an ability to formulate a challenging argument against the author.

    What I said, in full context, was this critique of him smacks to me “of the tendency of those that just don’t understand something (at a brilliantly simple, but much deeper level than they are comfortable perceiving)…”

    Indeed, I believe, I was exactly correct.

    You cannot use reasoning to tell us why you feel the simple words “relationship” or “inclusivity” to describe the Trinity are problematic – except to tell us that they are the “reason” you feel that way.

    You call them “progressive” Words, ignoring the fact that Christ’s words as well were perceived as over simplistic, problematic, progressive (even heretical) – and he spoke about such things as Love, family, relationship and becoming One with one another – perhaps more than any other subject.

  34. The support of “evangelical” Christians of the criminal in the Whitehouse affirms everything RR writes in Falling Upward. It is American “Christianity” that has lost track of Christ. If anything, RR has been proven prophetic by trumps election and the way you slice and dice his plain spoken words about our immature legalism masquerading as “the gospel.”

    • Hang on a sec—so because someone looks a bit like someone you dislike, then that person’s critique of someone else must be wrong. A version of ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’, but without actually engaging in the material points made in the review?

      I guess that is one way to ‘engage’…

      • Come on Ian, show a little intellectual honesty here, for those of us who can read and think for ourselves. Rick’s reasoning, to rightly call Rohr “prophetic”, was not that “someone looks like a bit like someone (he) dislikes”.

        You twist words & meaning in an attempt to negate the simple, valid points of those who comment on your blog, then criticize those who don’t get down in the dirt with you to engage in the word salad – you’ve created – by slicing and dicing, Rohr’s own words?

        Seems to me, for someone who simply objects to the Trinity being called a “Relationship”, with no explanation at all except that it sounds “progressive” to you (ooh, scary!) – the burden of giving a valid reason why this is ‘bad’ – is on you.

  35. This has been so very interesting reading all of these comments.
    A bit of my story and why I appreciate Richard Rohr:
    I grew up in a devout Roman Catholic home, parochial school and all up through the 8th grade. I loved my teacher/nuns and wanted to become one of them. I had always had spiritual inclinations as a child. After graduating from high school I became disillusioned with the church of my upbringing and began searching for something more. I began attending Bible studies with my sister who had married a “born again” Christian. This is when I left home and began to attend a “Protestant” church, much to my father’s chagrin. Nevertheless, the Bible came alive to me! I was so excited to discover all of these wonderful things that were in it. I had only heard snippets of it all my life through the Mass but now I had discovered a treasure trove of truth. I eventually met and married a young man who had a dramatic conversion to Christ and we began attending a charismatic, non-denominational church. He is now a pastor of a non-denom church which we’ve been in leadership in for over 30 years. Over the last several years I have been drawn to the area of spiritual formation. The writings and practices encouraged by people such as Eugene Peterson, Dallas Willard, Richard Foster, and many more in that vein have been so very enriching and have been the cause of much spiritual growth for me. I have always been very wary of Richard Rohr because of all the here say about him. So I decided to find out for myself what all the controversy was about. I’ve read his book on the Enneagram, The Divine Dance, Falling Upward, and the Universal Christ. I have greatly benefited from them all, even though I struggled with some of what he said but I chose not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. The fact that he weaves scripture throughout all of his writings has given me comfort and security. All this to say, I am not afraid of falling into error or heresy. If his writings or the writings of other so called heretics lead a person to a real a living relationship with the Triune God that we Christians claim to worship, then who are we to stand in the way of that happening. Nothing can separate us from this love of God! (Romans 8:38-39) I keep remembering the way the religious people of Jesus’s day were so set on maintaining proper belief and practice that they missed the whole point. I’m also happy for the few of them that were courageous enough to follow him because they knew Truth when the heard it and saw it. Anyway, not at all comparing Rohr to Jesus but I think we need to be careful in our accusations. Yes we shouldn’t take everything he says hook, line, and sinker but as someone had mentioned before, he hasn’t been defrocked or excommunicated by the Roman Catholic Church so that should speak volumes in itself.

    • Thanks for this interesting perspective. I think his teaching *has* in fact received a formal rebuke of some sorts. I think Rohr is in quite a different place from Peterson, Willard and Foster.

  36. Dear Mr. Paul,

    Thank you for sticking your neck out and wading into the shark infested waters of theological dialogue for the purpose of bringing clarity and understanding on difficult and infinitely important topics like God and his essential nature. I would even say how you view this topic impacts your eternal well-being, so it matters. I too was raised in a Roman Catholic Church, it was progressive and celebrated Vatican 2 openness and inclusion of other faiths. Instead of learning what Jesus really taught, or what made the Judeo-Christian unique on the world stage, we studied other cultures, faiths and superstitions trying to find points of agreement. Mind you I was learning this in the 7th and 8th grade (very impressionable). To sum up what we were taught a very pious priest kept saying to us, “The height of spirituality is when you can think about, what you are thinking about, what you are thinking about.” (Very Richard Rohreresque stuff!)

    And then tragedy struck. My father died, my brother left the faith, a priest I know was accused of pedophilia, and other issues that will remain unspoken. So needless to say I needed truth, real truth, not just sentimentalism and stories that make you cry. I began to read everything I could on church history, theology, exegetical accuracy and scripture, scripture, scripture. Eventually I taught the Bible in Russian schools for a year and came back to the United States to work in a church teaching high school students. It happened to be in the same area as Rob Bell when he was just becoming popular. He was a phenom! People from our church left in droves to go hear his wonderful, fresh take on scripture. I appreciated his ability to communicate. But I did not appreciate his gift for making clear teaching obscure. He revels in obscurity. Ultimately he left for California and the people who left our church to follow him, left church altogether. No one could teach like Rob, they would say.

    Rob started morphing and changing into this New Age guru, and I wanted to be informed of what he wrote and said because I had to pick up a lot of the theological carnage in my town that he left behind. When Rob started quoting Richard Rohrer I started to read his writings too. All I can say is that reading Richard Rohrer was like being back in my 7th grade RCC class. He wants to sound spiritual but he leaves life wanting real answers.

    My experiences have led me to the conclusion that those who have chosen to speak for God have an enormous responsibility. Life is not about impressing people with sweet sounding truths, it is about living in reference to the way things really are. A guiding verse for all who choose to be teachers must be Malachi 2:7-9 “For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and people should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts. But you have turned aside from the way. You have caused many to stumble by your instruction. You have corrupted the covenant of Levi, says the Lord of hosts, and so I make you despised and abased before all the people, inasmuch as you do not keep my ways but show partiality in your instruction.” Richard Rohrer does not abide by this mandate, he plays fast and loose with serious things, which does not help the soul that is drowning.

    Thank you Ian for standing in the middle of the battle. It is obvious people have not come to hear you out but defensively defend Richard because he said sweet things. You have been kind and gracious, meticulous and reasonable. Thank you, I needed this today!


  37. I’ve never met Richard Rohr but I often think I would have a lot in common with him. I came across this critique of him quite by accident. I was in an English seminary training to be a priest at the same time as Richard was in formation. After being ordained in 1971 I followed Richard in his commentaries on the ‘Great Themes of Scripture’ tape series when he was director of the New Jerusalem Community. Needless to say I have been an avid follower since. We are roughly the same age and share a very similar background: cradle progressive Catholic follower of Jesus the Christ.

    To cut to the chase: I believe that being a Roman Catholic for the past 75 years and taking in all the centuries of such a rich spiritual heritage is beyond words.

    If I had been born into an evangelical non-Catholic milieu it would have taken me centuries to fully appreciate the wisdom of Richard’s teachings.

    Sadly I see so many non catholic folks struggling to appreciate and even understand Rohr that I have come to the realistic conclusion that Church history does matter.

    • Thanks for the comment. But can I check something. Are you saying that Rohr is *more* in touch and in line with historical orthodox Christian teaching?

      If so, I am not sure you will find many who know the tradition a lot better than me agreeing with you…!

      (Your claim is also explicitly contradicted by Rohr’s own construal of his position.)

  38. Ian,
    you say:

    “The issue for me comes when someone proposes that we look at things in a way which fairly clearly reject or contradict the teaching of Jesus, and claim that this is still ‘Christian’.”

    From The Gospel of 2020 (.org):

    “The wayfarers of The Beloved seek no personal profit when ushering in the reality of Divine Charity. The work is whole in itself. Any spiritual or religious leader who takes money for their own personal material wealth from wayfarers, seekers, or lost souls, for spiritual talks, guidance, leadership, or even spiritual/religious book sales is still enchanted by the delusion of mammon. What The Beloved gives is free for all, and the wayfarers of The Beloved abide by this loving call. For as Yeshua taught, “You cannot serve God and mammon.””

    Also, Luke 9 verses 1-6 teach us that what is from God should be freely shared. Those who truly serve God ask for nothing in return, for what God offers those humble servants is more than enough. This is the “living water” that Yeshua offers the Samaritan woman at the well. It is the food that Jesus has to eat that his disciples do not understand.

    So, by Richard Rohr amassing material wealth from his books, mystery school, and personal appearances, he is becoming rich off of seeking and lost souls. Thus, what he is really selling are his own constructed ideas and not the word of God. For the word of God cannot be bought or sold.

    But, what about you Ian? Do you take money for your spiritual guidance, books, or teachings? If what you really have is from God—then it was freely given to you—and what is truly from God should be freely offered through Divine Charity.

    So few people actually serve God and not mammon.

    • What about me? Well Paul says very clearly that people should be able to earn their living from the gospel (1 Cor 9.5) and ‘the worker deserves his wages’ (1 Tim 5.18). But in the last five years I haven’t earned enough to have to pay tax.

      What about you?

      • Dear Ian,

        If what we have to offer someone is truly of God, then we have no right to charge for it. For God offered it to us freely. Maybe Paul had not gotten to that level of understanding when he wrote to the Corinthians. Divine Charity is not a reality for someone who is still clinging to the constructs of the false self.

        To answer your question of me, I give 100% of whatever I am offered for leading retreats or offering lectures or talks on spiritual/religious topics to feeding and clothing my homeless brothers and sisters. If God is truly working through me then all of that money belongs to God whom is doing the work. That’s why Jesus asked the rich man, “Why do you call me good?” And then he stated, “No one is good except God alone.”

        • Hmmm…I think this leads to three questions.

          First, do you have another source of income? And if so, why don’t you also give all that away? After all, the abilities to do that occupation were given to you by God, were they not? ‘No-one has anything that they were not given.’

          Secondly, are there any other areas of discipleship and spirituality where you have surpassed poor Paul?

          And thirdly, are there some areas where you have surpassed Jesus too?

  39. Dear Ian,

    Paul did not take money for preaching the Gospel. As Gregory of Nyssa comments in “From Glory to Glory”:

    “Paul preached the Gospel gratuitously, going hungry, thirsty, and naked.”

    Gregory of Nyssa then goes on to state:

    “Thus, the Law commanded that those who serve the altar should live by the altar, and allows those who preach the Gospel to live by this.” However, in this case, Paul went beyond the Law, which is what all Christians are called to do. The Law is necessary for those who still have not given themselves to God. This is why Jesus claimed that he did not come to abolish the law. He knew that many people in the world still needed it. Yet, he calls his disciples out of the world.

    Also, the Church fathers and many Christian mystics and saints have taught of the difference between natural contemplation or infused contemplation. Natural contemplation could be achieved through one’s own efforts, which is why it can lead to an even more extreme reliance on the ego rather than faith and trust in God. However, infused contemplation could only occur through the grace of God. This is what sets Christian mysticism apart from many Oriental and Eastern forms of mysticism. The Word of God can only be given by God. Thus, anyone who is called upon by God to share that word cannot take money for it. For it is God’s, and everything that God gives is free and unconditional. Therefore, if we are truly of God, we cannot place a value or a condition on sharing the Word of God. It may come through us, but its’ source is always God.

    However, if someone becomes a great athlete or a physicist through their own natural efforts of practice, discipline, and study, this is obviously not the same thing. An atheist can be a great athlete or physicist. However, The Word of God can only come through a person who has been transformed by the Holy Spirit. This is why Jesus said, “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”

    Only God is good.

    Peace be with you my brother.

  40. Thank you for this succinct review of Richard Rohr.

    I am trying to understand what parts of true Roman Catholicism he still adheres to. The Mass? Confession? The Eucharist?

    I’ve done a lot of studying in the past 20 years, moving all the while from Dispensational Fundamentalism to, finally, the True Church that Jesus instituted on earth 2000 yrs ago.

    After reading a few of Mr. Rohr’s views and teachings, I got a picture of Cezanne’s Paintings that I viewed at the Philadelphia Art Museum back in the 1990’s. It included his very early work: detailed pencil drawings of still life; portraiture; landscapes. I was amazed at his talent and all the work he had done to become so proficient an artist as to capture real life in 2-D. Then, proceeding through the exhibition, I viewed his progress to more stylized paintings. by the end of his life, Cezanne’s work looked nothing like those early drawings. But his paintings still captured real life in 2-d in a pleasing way, full of color and form.

    It seems to me that Mr. Rohr’s teachings would be like someone who glanced at Cezanne’s work as well as other contemporary artists and concluded that they could teach other people how to paint like Cezanne’s later works, without any of the hard work that he put in to be able to “break the rules” and “go with the flow” with his paintbrush. Cezanne’s work was original and fresh, but only because of his love for it and all the year’s work beforehand to allow him the freedom to experiment.

    To be a true Roman Catholic, you must believe ALL that is contained in the Catechism. It might be really hard work to slog through it all, gradually changing your opinion based on the work you do to understand, grasp and believe it. But, once you understand what you are believing in, then the FREEDOM comes to “go with the flow”.

    All of the “rules” melt into a belief in LOVE and how God gave and continues to give the ultimate price to marry His 100% holiness with His 100% justice and with His 100% LOVE. It was not an easy fix. If God can just forgive sin, as Mr Rohr wants to say, (which is ultimately a person slapping God in the face and saying, like a toddler, “NO! I want to do it MY way!” (as they walk out into the street with cars whizzing by.) How is that “love”, if God allows the child to continue doing things “his” way right toward total destruction? It is NOT love at all. It is irresponsible and horrendous. Especially with eternity in view.

    Christ’s incarnation was just the first step, but it had to end in Him giving Himself as the perfect sacrifice for us. It was not JUST an example of what we have to do now in our lives (which, of course, we do- a live of sacrifice.) It was a REAL event that was the culmination of all the years of history preceding it. God “fixed the glitch” of Adam and Eve. Finally, man could offer himself as a living sacrifice (not just animals), as a perfect sacrifice, because it is joined to a sacrifice the Father could accept as the Holy, Just God that He is, that is, in Jesus Christ on the Altar during Mass. He couldn’t change his attributes, but He didn’t just abandon us. He instituted The Mass.

    It is all a part of the system Jesus placed on this earth, that has endured for over 2000 years. Nothing else works. I was a strong believing Protestant most of my life and I know for a fact that I only became a different person, one who is becoming more and more like Christ, through the GRACES given to me through the Church along with MY work in conjunction with God’s work to change me, moment by moment, free-will-decision by free-will-decision. I’ve moved on from being an unknowing, rebellious “toddler” to a full grown “Practicing Catholic” adult. I did not skip the steps to just “go with the flow” and “love everyone”. Nope…that does not work – I HAVE TO CHANGE.

    Besides, if Mr. Rohr is correct. Wow! Good thing he came along! We’ve all be doing it WRONG for 2000 years! And how unconscionable of God to wait this long to FINALLY give us the truth through His NEW PROPHET, Mr. Rohr. We fill finally have World Peace, the end of poverty, and everyone will be able to do “what is right in his own eyes” while singing Kum ba yah! (Tongue firmly in cheek!)


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