Subtle Seduction

Recently I have been reading some books by Richard Rohr: 'Falling Upwards'; 'Immortal Diamond'; ’Things Hidden'; 'The Divine Dance'. There is, I have to say, a fair bit that is very good about them. I have learnt quite a lot - about myself; where I am now; where I’m headed. And they have made me think, hard, about my faith - about what I believe and why I believe it. But, despite all that, I would advise against reading his works.

The danger lies in the quite subtle seduction they attempt. To read them uncritically would be very dangerous. It is only with solid bible knowledge, and a willingness to research each of his quotations (particularly the biblical ones) that his errors (or deliberate distortions of the truth?) begin to be revealed.

Amongst many 'smaller' errors, Rohr is a self-avowed 'universalist'. He clearly believes that, ultimately, everyone is saved and goes to heaven. This is an attractive heresy...

Because who among us wants to live with the fact that those of our fellow men who do not believe that Jesus died to save them are destined, ultimately, for death, and not for heaven? It would be nice to be able to say that all religions (and none) lead to God and heaven. But that is to fly in the face of quite explicit biblical truths such as this:

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. John 14:6

That statement - from the author of our faith himself - is fairly unequivocal. I suppose, if you want to stretch the point a little, you could claim that the precise meaning of 'through me' is unclear, but that's as far as you can go without leaving the path of orthodoxy.

The biggest problem (as I see it) with universalism is that it demeans and belittles Jesus' death on the cross. Put bluntly, if we're all going to heaven anyway, what was the point in Jesus going through that agonising death on the cross? Going at it slightly more subtly, if the love between God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit is as perfect; as intimate; as uniting as Rohr himself claims (in The Divine Dance), then why do the other two members of the Trinity allow the Son to go through this painful, apparently unnecessary, humiliation at all - after all, it (temporarily?) breaks their perfect union. From that viewpoint, universalism makes no logical sense.

Jesus is inclusive:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. John 3:16-17

That is a universal invitation - it is aimed at anyone and everyone - 'whoever' - but it needs to be tempered by my first quotation - you can only get to the Father through Jesus. Some Christians (at the very opposite end of the spectrum from Rohr) want us to believe that their precise set of beliefs are the only ones acceptable to God. That probably makes the 'narrow gate' in the following quotation narrower than it really is:

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. Matthew 7:13-14

I fully expect a lot of 'exclusive' Christians to get a shock at just who (including some of those they don't believe are Christians, because their beliefs are different on some aspects of doctrine) 'gets in' when the day of judgement arrives. Nevertheless my comment still stands - I don't believe that anyone and everyone will 'enter through the narrow gate' - otherwise why did Jesus say these things? And why did He come to earth to die if we're all going to be saved anyway?

This is his main heresy, but Rohr also avoids any and all of the 'hard things' Jesus says, in an attempt to 'broaden' the appeal of the gospel. But in so doing, he both dilutes its power and makes Jesus no more than a 'good moral teacher'... Which is oddly inconsistent when you've written a book about the Trinity (The Divine Dance) in which Jesus is one of the three 'main players’ forming the godhead.

Part of the problem is that he is right in some of his analysis of the church, and Christianity, and what's wrong with it... For instance, he is right when he says that many who are orthodox in their beliefs and practices don’t understand the love and mercy of God at all and are motivated to follow a 'ritualistic' religion purely out of fear and duty. However, heresy is not the answer to this problem, the authentic Jesus of the gospels is.

He also seems enamoured with all sorts of 'New Age' philosophies and practices (such as, for instance, the enneagram of personality), and is apt to weave these into his writings. Some (but not all) of these are fairly harmless 'hokum', but all serve mainly to obscure the truth, and to divert one from the true gospel.

So I would say that reading his books poses various dangers. They're fairly subtle, and quite seductive in their ideas and thinking, but there are distracting, dangerous, destructive, ideas wrapped up in 'the good stuff'. I would recommend avoiding his writings.

Copyright Phil Hendry, 2016