Book Review: The Universal Christ by Richard Rohr. SPCK. Kindle Edition.

Discussion in 'Non-Anglican Discussion' started by CRfromQld, Feb 3, 2022.

  1. CRfromQld

    CRfromQld Moderator Staff Member

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    Part 1

    Rohr begins by asking "Is Christ simply Jesus’s last name?

    He then asks rhetorically "Weren’t they always one and the same, starting at Jesus’s birth?" [p11]

    The answer he develops in this book is to separate Chris from Jesus in a clear departure from traditional Christian belief.

    He starts by suggesting that Creation was the first Incarnation of God. He asks "What if Christ is another name for everything? [p5]. This self-disclosure of whomever you call God into physical creation was the first Incarnation [p12]

    This idea is repeated in his website;
    "The first Incarnation of God did not happen in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago. That is just the moment when it became human and personal, and many people began to take divine embodiment as a serious possibility. The initial Incarnation actually happened around 14 billion years ago with “The Big Bang.” That is what we now call the moment when God decided to materialize and self-expose, at least in this universe." [https://cac.org/the-first-incarnation-2019-02-21/]

    Is this Panentheism (as Rohr claims) or Pantheism?

    There are many definitions of Panentheism and Pantheism but the basic distinction is that in pantheism the sum of everything is god while pantheism says that god’s spirit is in everything.

    To complicate matters there are several flavours of pantheism, absolute, emanational, developmental, modal, multileve, and permeational."Permeational pantheism is encountered in Zen Buddhism. God penetrates all things, similar to "the Force" in the Star Wars movies". and this appears very similar to panentheism. [Ref]

    If we take an object, say a cup, panentheism would say that the spirit of god permeates, is in, the cup. Pantheism however would say that since it is part of everything and thus is a part of god. But if creation is the incarnation of god then the cup as a part of creation is a part of god.

    My conclusion then is that Rohr is a pantheist, not a panentheist.

    One consequence is that since everything is a part of God then everything is worthy to be loved and worshiped, starting with rocks, then trees, animals, then humans.
     
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  2. Rexlion

    Rexlion Well-Known Member

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    I hope you don't mind me pointing out that orthodox Christianity is neither pantheism nor panentheism.

    I think that God has revealed Himself to us through the flesh-and-blood-incarnated Christ, Jesus, as a Creator who loves us, relates to each of us individually as well as to mankind corporately, and suffered mortal death to redeem us. We are called to trust Him and love Him. This is usually called "Monotheism." Pantheism and Panentheism both lead one in a different direction philosophically and tend to detract (and distract) from the glory of God the Son.

    "Christ" means the anointed one and his anointing. A philosophy that views the creation itself as an incarnation of the uncreated Creator, Christ, makes the earth something more than it is (as if it is worthy of worship). There is nothing anointed about this fallen world; indeed, it (with its rocks, trees and animals) is under a curse.
     
    Last edited: Feb 3, 2022
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  3. CRfromQld

    CRfromQld Moderator Staff Member

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    I don’t mind at all.
     
  4. Botolph

    Botolph Well-Known Member

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    Perhaps it might be more correct to say absolutely that Christianity in not Pantheism, but quite distinctly unsersatnds God before and alter all things, not the sum of all things.

    On the other hand Christianity is generally panentheistic in its understanding, given taht God is the maker and creator of all things, and all creation bears to hallmark of its maker. This makes sense of Pauls argument in Romans 1 "Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made." Against that also we remember that as Elijah holed up in the cave God's voice was heard in the dound of sheer silence, for God was not in the earthquke, wind and fire (1 Kings 19).

    Perhaps more correct to say Orthodox Christianity rejects Pantheism, and embraces Panentheism though perhaps not absolutely and is not defined by it.
     
  5. CRfromQld

    CRfromQld Moderator Staff Member

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    I don't think panentheism is necessarily incompatible with Christianity since it could be taken as an expression of God's omnipresence. However I think it is easy to slide from that to God's spirit being in everything and making every thing holy. Rohr has made this slide and gone even further.
     
  6. Rexlion

    Rexlion Well-Known Member

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    Is God in the tsunami that destroys a coastal city?
    Is God in the rapist as he violates a little girl?
    Is God in satan, the leader of the rebellious former angels?

    Panentheism is incompatible with Christianity because it denies Christ and the need for a Savior; the philosophy basically embraces self-determinism apart from any requirement to submit to the Master of the Universe (unless one wants to do so). Consider http://www.panentheism.com/ and its defining statement:
    This site espouses:
    1. Consciousness, being, is composed of the same ‘substance and essence as God’
    2. You do not dissolve into nothingness upon death
    3. ‘Living your religion rather than leaving your religion’
    4. Two moral absolutes:
      • Protect the right and ability of the individual to travel life unimpeded
      • Travel life unimpeded
    As we can see, one is encouraged to "live one's religion" whatever that religion may be, because it is up to the individual to choose (as if all religions lead to the same end result). And one is told the moral absolute of living one's life "unimpeded," which obviates any need to serve God or to bend to His rules and will. And notice how that website begins its statement:

    This website is dedicated to the creation of a Universal Philosophy for life universally and for humankind in particular using the metaphysical concept of Symbiotic Panentheism. The purpose of this fifty-year project is to fuse Ontological, Cosmological, and Metaphysical Systems into one system in order that we, humankind, may 'put our house in order. A Universal Holistic System gives us a united interpretation as to what it is we believe, observe, and reason.

    We Christians already have our philosophy of life taught to us by God and communicated to us by the Bible and the Holy Spirit. Panentheism is a competing philosophy, a false world view, that excludes the need for Christ's atonement. It is the spirit of antichrist.
     
  7. Rexlion

    Rexlion Well-Known Member

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    Panentheism is very often understood by its supporters to posit both:
    • that God is in all things, and
    • that all things are in God.
    Evil is one such thing. If evil is in God, then there is no absolute good.

    If the earth is in God, then since the earth is corrupted and decaying and under a curse, a part of God is corrupted.

    Let's face it, the Bible teaches that God is omnipresent and that He sustains all of His creation by His word and power. But the Bible does not teach that God is in all of creation or that all of creation is in (a part of) Him. The Bible best supports an understanding that God and creation are distinct.

    Everywhere =/= in everything
    They sound similar, but they are different.
     
  8. Invictus

    Invictus Well-Known Member

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    It would be helpful to know just the motivation is for opting for panentheism as opposed to the classical theism that the Church has historically taught.
     
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  9. CRfromQld

    CRfromQld Moderator Staff Member

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    I hadn't found that site. It appears be be an idiosyncratic version of panentheism so I won't reference it agin.
     
  10. CRfromQld

    CRfromQld Moderator Staff Member

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    Indeed it would.
     
  11. CRfromQld

    CRfromQld Moderator Staff Member

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    Part 2

    Something you will soon notice is that the book is peppered with Bible references. Usually more than one a page, but most of these are only one or two verses. It can be difficult to check references because "Unless otherwise stated, the author uses his own translation and/or paraphrase of Scripture. He draws from a variety of English translations, including the Jerusalem Bible (JB), New American Standard Bible (NASB), New English Translation (NET), J. B. Phillips New Testament (Phillips), Revised Standard Version (RSV), and The Message." [p260] (For my comparisons I will use NASB unless noted otherwise.)

    It’s not too hard to find a single verse that can be quoted to support whatever you’re saying; particularly if you can cherry pick several translations or use your own translation. Even Satan quotes scripture when it suits him. It is another thing to ensure that the verse when considered in context and soundly interpreted really supports what you’re saying.

    Taking an example from the 3rd page of Chapter 1 [p12].

    "The incarnation, then, is not only “God becoming Jesus.” It is a much broader event, which is why John first describes God’s presence in the general word “flesh” (John 1:14). John is speaking of the ubiquitous Christ that Caryll Houselander so vividly encountered, the Christ that the rest of us continue to encounter in other human beings, a mountain, a blade of grass, or a starling." [p12]

    But now add the next verse, John 1:15 "John testified about Him and called out, saying, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who is coming after me has proved to be my superior, because He existed before me.’” Now it is clear that "the Word became flesh" refers not to some ubiquitous Christ but specifically to Jesus of Nazareth.

    I’m not saying that every reference is a misquote (using"misquote" to include incorrect text, taking it out of context, using a meaning not consistent with sound exegesis) but it is an early warning that we can’t assume that the verses quoted actually support what Rohr is saying.

    While reading Rohr’s "Immortal Diamond" I noticed a similar practice of misquoting the Bible. This does not appear to be an honest mistake.
    Other reviewers of "The Universal Christ" have commented on this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1AIwGpaNX4Q.

    It would be extremely tedious to check every quote by Rohr and I won’t provide more here but might do so in future posts where relevant. If however you have other examples, from this book or others, please share in the forum.
     
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  12. Rexlion

    Rexlion Well-Known Member

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    If, when I was a boy, it was Christ whom I encountered in those partridges, then I should regret having filled the Lord with #9 birdshot. :laugh: (My beagle was actually an excellent bird dog; she was better at putting up birds than the English Setter.)

    Ah, well. It seems you have correctly pegged this author as one who takes undue liberties with the word of God. I think he had deceived himself.
     
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  13. CRfromQld

    CRfromQld Moderator Staff Member

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    It's quiz time! How do you as an Anglican (or others) define the following words? Next time I will give my definitions and also look at how Rohr uses them in this book.
    • Christ/Messiah
    • grace
    • salvation
    • resurrection
     
  14. Rexlion

    Rexlion Well-Known Member

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    I'll play!
    Christ/Messiah: the Anointed One who was foretold by the prophets.
    grace: unmerited favor and more
    salvation: made totally whole
    resurrection: brought back from the grave to physical life

    I hope I at least score a "C".... :)
     
  15. Botolph

    Botolph Well-Known Member

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    1. Christ/Messiah - Greek/Hebrew - A title ascribed to Jesus as the annointed one of God - the singular act of God in opening salavtion to all of human kind, in accordance with the intent in the creation of humanity from the beginning.
    2. Grace - Gift or giftedness - the absolute recognition that salvation is dependent on God and not earned by and act of faith or charity. As we were made in the image and after the likness of god, as a gift we are called to accept rather than deny and try of self made salvation.
    3. Salvation - 1 or several redemptive metaphors - The origen of the term seem to be embued in the notion of rescue from peril - Redemption seems to focus in the notion that the price of a slavery to sin has been paid, Justification in the notion that we have been set in a right relationship with God (righteousness) - Restored with the emphasis on our creation in the image and after the likess. All these terms are bound in the relationship with God.
    4. Resurrection - Life beyond death - we have faith in Jesus' Resurrection, and we have hope in our own resurrection. There are those who feel compelled to demand that this must be physical, however I would prefer to see our focus on it being real. Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.
    I do trust you are not inferring some sort of graded redeption.
     
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  16. CRfromQld

    CRfromQld Moderator Staff Member

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    Here's my definitions
    • Christ/Messiah: literally "anointed one" but specifically to one who would be the saviour of Israel promised by the prophets. (Not just anyone or everyone who was anointed).
    • grace: undeserved favour or mercy.
    • salvation: deliverance from the righteous judgment of God upon the person who has broken the Law of God.
    • resurrection: the act of rising physically from the dead.
     
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  17. Rexlion

    Rexlion Well-Known Member

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    Nobody's demanding it, however the Bible says Jesus was raised with an incorruptible, physical body, and when He returns we will be like Him (1 John 3:2; Philippians 3:20-21). Romans 8:23 specifically says our bodies will be redeemed. Also, 1 Cor. 15 says we will be changed, for our corruptible bodies will be made incorruptible. We will exist in place where lions lie down with lambs (tame, docile animals), which implies physicality. Job 19:25-27 is another pertinent scripture. So it is the word of God, not me, :tiphat: that specifies a material (not just spiritual) resurrection.
    No, I was being facetious about being graded on my answers to the quiz, like being back in school and having to take a pop quiz for a grade. ;)
     
  18. CRfromQld

    CRfromQld Moderator Staff Member

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    So now let's look at Rohr's use of these words.

    Christ/Messiah

    “Christ” is a word for the Primordial Template (“Logos”) through whom “all things came into being, [p13]

    Christ cannot be coterminous with Jesus. [p16]

    “There is only Christ. He is everything and he is in everything” [p16 misquoting Colossians 3:11]

    Christ is the blueprint for all time and space and life itself. [p20]

    The full Christian story is saying that Jesus died, and Christ “arose” [p26]

    Christ: a universally available “voice” that calls all things to become whole and true to themselves. [p82]​

    grace

    The only really absolute mysteries in Christianity are the self-communication of God in the depths of existence—which we call grace, and in history—which we call Christ. —Fr. Karl Rahner, Jesuit priest and theologian, 1904–1984 [p11]

    Grace is just the natural loving flow of things when we allow it, instead of resisting it. [p77]

    But God rewards me for letting him reward me. This is the divine two-step that we call grace: [p78]

    You can call this grace, the indwelling Holy Spirit, or just evolution toward union (which we call “love”). [p99]

    The Gospel reveals a divine world of infinity, a worldview of enough and more than enough. Our word for this undeserved abundance is “grace” [p184]​

    salvation

    Thus salvation might best be called “restoration,” rather than the retributive agenda most of us were offered. [28]

    Salvation for Paul is an ontological and cosmological message (which is solid) before it ever becomes a moral or psychological one (which is always unstable). [p43]

    “I shall return to take you with me, so that where I am you also may be” (John 14:3), the Christ has promised. That might just be the best and most succinct description of salvation there is in the whole New Testament. [p45]

    I believe the Christian notion of salvation is not just personal enlightenment, but also social connection and communion [p212]

    Salvation, for me, is simply to have the “mind of Christ” [p225]

    Everything finally belongs, and you are a part of it. This knowing and this enjoying are a good description for salvation. [p225]​

    resurrection

    We need someone to model and exemplify the journey from physical incarnation, through a rather ordinary human existence, through trials and death, and into a Universal Presence unlimited by space and time (which we call “resurrection”). [p47]

    Even inside an incarnational worldview, we grow by passing beyond some perfect order, through a usually painful and seemingly unnecessary disorder, to an enlightened reorder or “resurrection.” [p236]
     
  19. CRfromQld

    CRfromQld Moderator Staff Member

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    Now for a quibble, but it is the opening line of Chapter 1
    "Across the thirty thousand or so varieties of Christianity,"

    This is often used, and I believe Rohr is too, to suggest that there is enormous disagreement among Christians about what we believe. If there is so much disagreement then (a) one more opinion makes little difference, and (b) Rohr is about to offer an overarching belief system that can unite this divided Christendom.

    Similar numbers are often tossed around by atheists however this is highly inflated. For a start it counts separately each country that a denomination is present in. There are 195 countries in the world today so even if a denomination is present in only half of those it increases the count by two orders of magnitude.

    Over 90% of Christians can be accounted for in just 12 denominations; Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Lutheran, Reformed(all), Anglican, Presbyterian, Anabaptist, Baptists, Methodist, Pentecostal, Uniting. https://www.christianvalour.com/christian-denominations-guide/#part2

    All Christians share a core set of beliefs as stated in the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds;

    • One God in three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (The Ttrinity)
    • For our salvation the Son was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary as Jesus.
    • Jesus was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate.
    • The third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures.
    • He will come again with glory to judge the living and the dead.
    • The resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.​

    The major differences are between the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestant churches. Otherwise the differences between denominations generally come down to minor matters such as:
    • Which day of week we worship
    • Modes of baptism: sprinkling, pouring, or immersion
    • Styles of worship: hymns, spiritual songs, different instruments
     
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  20. CRfromQld

    CRfromQld Moderator Staff Member

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    On Hell

    "In both cases, the descriptions bear less resemblance to Dante’s punitive “Inferno” than they do the broadly used ancient terms for the “place of the dead,” like Hades, Sheol, Gehenna, “prison,” “among the shades,” or even some notion of Limbo.

    But Dante’s version became the dominant one, forming our Western mind more than any other—even those described in the Bible itself.* Depictions of hell became staples in church art, embellishing the entrances of most Gothic cathedrals, and even providing the full backdrop of the Sistine Chapel. When the message of a punishing God is so visible, dualistic, and frightening, how do you ever undo it, no matter how consoling your sermons and liturgies might be? Even worse, the many Evangelical songs about the wrath of God, along with “fire and brimstone” sermons, often did nothing but reinforce fear of God over trust in or love of God."
    Rohr, Richard. The Universal Christ (pp. 180-181). SPCK. Kindle Edition.


    The day of my spiritual awakening was the day I saw and knew I saw all things in God and God in all things. —Mechtild of Magdeburg (1212–1282)
    Rohr, Richard. The Universal Christ (p. 203). SPCK. Kindle Edition.



    What do these two quotes have in common? Nothing at first glance. I didn’t even know who Mechtild was until I looked her up then I found;

    "This is especially true of her [Mechtild’s] realistic description of the hereafter. Writing on hell, she says, "I saw a horrible and wretched place; its name is 'Eternal Hatred'." She then represents Lucifer as chained by his sins in the lowest abyss of hell, all sin, agony, pestilence and ruin, that fill hell, purgatory, and earth, flowing from his burning heart and mouth. She divides hell into three parts; the lowest and most horrible is filled with condemned Christians, the middle with Jews, and the highest with Pagans. Hell, purgatory and heaven are situated one immediately above the other. The lowest portion of purgatory is filled with devils, who torment the souls in the most horrible manner, while the highest portion of purgatory is identical with the lowest portion of heaven. Many a soul in the lowest Purgatory does not know whether it will ever be saved. ...

    Mechtild's conception of the hereafter is believed by some to be the basis of Dante's "Divine Comedy", and the poet's Matelda ("Purgatory", Canto 27-33) to be identical with our Mechtild..."

    Catholic Encyclopedia > M > Mechtild of Magdeburg https://www.newadvent.org/cathen/10106a.htm

    So we see that Rohr is highly critical of Dante’s vision of hell in Chapter 14 while in Chapter 16 using Mechtild’s quote as a chapter header. This supports my view that Rohr just cherry picks convenient quotes to suit the current context without any consideration of underlying theology. This is something I noticed in his book "Immortal Diamond".