Tracy grew up in the church, but when her identification as queer contradicted her Evangelical upbringing, she decided she no longer fit within that tradition. Through the teachings of Richard Rohr, she found a spiritual home with the practice of contemplative spirituality. Tracy’s experience mirrors that of many millennial ex-Evangelicals who have discovered a spiritual mentor and teacher in the Franciscan priest, author, and founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation (CAC), Richard Rohr.
The CAC website describes Rohr as “a globally recognized ecumenical teacher bearing witness to the universal awakening within Christian mysticism and the Perennial Tradition.” Rohr’s teachings are gaining influence, especially among millennials who grew up in the Evangelical church. He is particularly influential in the progressive Christian movement and is referred to as a spiritual father, hero, and mentor by well-known progressive voices. He is endorsed by progressive leaders like Rob Bell, Jen Hatmaker, William Paul Young, Michael Gungor, and Brian McLaren, to name just a few. As Rohr gains popularity, it becomes increasingly more important for church leaders to be aware of his teachings and their widespread influence. In this article, I’ll take a look at Rohr’s view of the Bible, the cross, and the gospel.
Richard Rohr’s view of the Bible
Historically, Christians have believed that the Bible is the inspired and authoritative Word of God. Following Jesus’ own example, Christians have affirmed over the centuries that the Scriptures are internally coherent, without error, and infallible. However, Rohr holds a much different view of the Bible:
The Jewish Scriptures, which are full of anecdotes of destiny, failure, sin and grace, offer almost no self-evident philosophical or theological conclusions that are always true. . . . We even have four, often conflicting versions of the life of Jesus in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. There is no one clear theology of God, Jesus, or history presented, despite our attempt to pretend there is.
Rohr interprets the Scriptures using what he calls the “Jesus Hermeneutic.” He writes:
…The text moves inexorably toward inclusivity, mercy, unconditional love, and forgiveness. I call it the “Jesus Hermeneutic.” Just interpret Scripture the way Jesus did! He ignores, denies, or openly opposes his own Scriptures whenever they are imperialistic, punitive, exclusionary, or tribal.
Contrary to what Rohr teaches, Jesus never ignored, denied, or openly opposed the Old Testament Scriptures. In fact, as I argue in this paper, Richard Rohr’s “Jesus Hermeneutic” not only fails to offer any legitimate Scriptural support, but taken as a whole, the biblical data gives us an entirely opposite view of how Jesus handled the Scriptures. The truth is Jesus never once declared or implied that the Scriptures were anything but fully truthful and to be obeyed. Jesus affirmed the Old Testament to be the inspired, authoritative, historically reliable, inerrant, infallible, imperishable Word of God—and that it was all about himself.
Richard Rohr’s view of the cross
Historically, Christians have believed Jesus died on the cross for our sins, taking our deserved punishment upon himself. This is not only affirmed in Scripture, and taught by Jesus himself, but it goes back to the earliest creed in Christianity, which pre-dates the New Testament by about twenty years. However, according to Rohr, the idea of a God who would require the blood sacrifice of his son is “problem-oriented.” Of the atonement, Rohr writes:
I believe that Jesus’ death on the cross is a revelation of the infinite and participatory love of God, not some bloody payment required by God’s offended justice to rectify the problem of sin. Such a story line is way too small and problem-oriented.
According to Rohr, Jesus didn’t need to die on the cross. It’s your “false self” that needs to die, not someone else. He refers to substitutionary atonement as a “strange idea” that leads to a “transactional” theology. Contrary to Rohr, Scripture teaches substitutionary atonement, Jesus affirmed it, along with early Christians.
Richard Rohr’s view of the gospel
Historically, the Christian gospel is the proclamation of the good news of salvation. This has been understood through the lens of God’s redemptive acts throughout history. It began with the creation of the universe and mankind. After sin was introduced into the world by the rebellion of Adam and Eve, God provided a means of redemption and reconciliation through the atoning work of Jesus on the cross. Those who accept this provision of salvation will be given eternal life with God. But for those who reject this gift of grace, the Bible describes their eternal punishment separated from God’s love and goodness.
However, according to Rohr, the idea of a God who “doles out punishment” is unhealthy, cheap, and toxic. He does believe Jesus died, was buried, and was resurrected. However, he separates Jesus and Christ into two separate entities, with Jesus being nothing more than a “model and exemplar” of the human and divine united in one human body. And in Rohr’s view, Christ is a cosmic reality that is found “whenever the material and the divine co-exist—which is always and everywhere.” He implicitly denies the deity of Jesus. He writes: “We spent a great deal of time worshiping the messenger and trying to get other people to do the same… [Jesus] did ask us several times to follow him, and never once to worship him.” This “Cosmic Christ” is a New Age idea that Rohr is promoting as “Christian.”
Rohr also believes all religions share the same core truth and are all paths to truth (perennialism). He openly affirms panentheism, a view of the nature of God that teaches God is in all, all is in God, but God also transcends the world. This carries troubling implications for his view of the Trinity and the nature of Christ. He said: “The Universe is the body of God…yes, it’s the second person of the Trinity in material form.”
He denies original sin, the atonement, the exclusivity of Christianity, and he has an unorthodox understanding of heaven and hell, and the literal second coming of Christ. Rohr’s views stand in stark contrast to the historic Christian view of the gospel.
Through his books and his highly popular teachings on the Enneagram, Richard Rohr is rapidly gaining influence in the Christian church. But church leaders would do well to be aware of what Rohr actually teaches about the Bible, the cross, and the gospel. Faithful Christians should avoid his teachings at all costs.
Recommended resources related to the topic:
Jesus, You and the Essentials of Christianity – Episode 14 Video DOWNLOAD by Frank Turek (DVD)
Alisa Childers is an American singer and songwriter, best known for being in the all-female Christian music group ZOEgirl. She has had a string of top ten radio singles, four studio releases, and received the Dove Award during her time with ZOEgirl. In later years, Alisa found her life-long faith deeply challenged when she started attending what would later identify as a Progressive Christian church. This challenge pushed Alisa toward Christian Apologetics. Today you can read, listen and watch Alisa’s work online as well as purchase her recently published book on Progressive Christianity titled Another Gospel.
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