Shalom Place Community
Critique of "The Universal Christ," by Richard Rohr

This topic can be found at:

25 April 2019, 06:41 PM
Critique of "The Universal Christ," by Richard Rohr
I have written a lengthy and detailed critique of this book and published it as a pdf on my site.

See to read/print and feel free to share your responses here.
27 May 2019, 09:23 PM
Richard Rohr's organization, "The Center for Contemplation and Action," (CAC) sponsors a Facebook group to discuss this book. I joined up and posted a link to this review, and a few people were quite engaged in discussing it for a few days. The exchanges were polite, even when disagreements were expressed, and in the end, I suspect we all agreed on much more than we disagreed.

There were a few oddities that kept coming up, as people made the point that Rohr is more invested in Franciscan theology than Roman Catholic theology. That seemed odd in that Franciscans are RC and don't have alternative doctrines of creation, incarnation and Christology that are at odds with RC teachings. One of the moderators kept noting that CAC is about exploring what they call "alternative orthodoxy," which I labeled an oxymoron, as something that is orthodox (in terms of RC theology) is simply orthodox, and need not be alternatively so. The link below summarizes the themes in this "alternative orthodoxy." Depending on how these are developed, they need not be considered heterodox. Also, it seems to me that they are denoting a spirituality moreso than a theological perspective.

Despite the moderator and others reassuring me that Rohr is really an (alternatively) orthodox panentheist, I was never able to clarify why they believe his view of creation as literally incarnational isn't pantheistic, as my book review emphasizes.

After a few exchanges, it seemed that interest in discussing my review was depleted. I got involved in a few of the many other discussions, and met a few wonderful people. With over 5,000 in the group, however, a discussion quickly becomes buried, so what's the point in participating? Unlike this discussion forum format, it's difficult to navigate among topics.

The group did seem to include quite a few with axes to grind about Christianity. There were also what I'd call hard-core New-agers, or theosophists -- people who heard Rohr saying that there is a "Christ consciousness" available to us all, and Jesus realized it better than anyone else. This neo-gnostic perspective was quite common, and while the book doesn't come out and endorse this approach, I can see why some would find it a friendly resource. A good number also have this notion that the Logos, or Word (universal Christ) simply "IS," and has no vision or motive. I tried to engage that idea as well, but it didn't go over successfully, I'm afraid.

There were a good number of active participants who were openly hostile to traditional Christian teaching. One person told me that this needs to change -- that's why churchgoing is dropping off. Another popular discussion held that the bible had been changed in many ways to favor men, thus distorting Jesus' true teaching. They seemed to know nothing about how modern biblical translations came about -- the ecumenism and scholarship across a wide range of disciplines.

The last straw for me was the posting of a cartoon sketch that showed Jesus on the cross with the quote bubble, TGIF. There were a number of Likes and Laughing icons to support it. Someone commented, "Appropriate?" I replied that it wasn't, and announced I was taking my leave. I don't know if the moderators took that down; they left up a lot of misinformation.

As things stand with me at this time, I still can't recommend this book -- at least not to people who aren't well-educated and well-read on the Christian life. There are too many errors, and too negative a slant toward traditional Christian doctrines. Rohr has this tendency to present Christianity as a religion deeply enmeshed with what he calls "empire," which is a point worth exploring, but which hardly characterizes the development of Christian teaching and practice through the centuries. Again and again, it's not so much what he says that is a problem, but what he leaves out. You'd never know that Christianity has been foundational for the rise of democracy throughout the world, for example, and behind powerful movements for justice. Also, Vatican II happened . . . ahem! That's never really mentioned.

I consider myself to be a Roman Catholic with deep roots in the theologies and movements that developed after Vatican II. I'm open to deep dialogue with other Christian churches and even other religions; I believe we can all learn from each other. Yet in the CAC Facebook group, I often felt very much like a dinosaur, or pariah. What was even more odd is that out of over 5,000 people in the group, I'd seldom receive a like for my posts, and only a couple of people teamed up to explain traditional teachings in some of the discussions. That was odd.

Finally, and this is going out on a limb, there was a sense in which Richard Rohr, to many of the participants, is like something of a guru. They completely trust his scholarship and see no need for him to explain or justify some of his points. There was, at times, a cultish feeling in the group. A few people even mentioned this and expressed caution about it. That bothered me.

So I am done with the group, but am still willing to discuss the review here with anyone who's interested. If, by the way, you prefer to listen to it as a podcast, be my guest.