Roaring about Rohr

 Fr. Richard Rohr has become a rather popular go to for devotionals and theology as of late. In truth, I like much of what he has to say, especially on some social issues that we all face, but once you scratch the surface of what he is saying, some rather disturbing thing come to light. I think that it is worth exploring what he has said, what the implications of that are, and how this fits into the Christian faith recognized by the church catholic throughout history.
It seems wise to begin with The Center for Action and Contemplation. In their Mission and Vision section, they give a fairly good explanation of what their goal is and the eight core principles that they follow, each having a reflection by Rohr. This is great as it gives a way to discern what is actually meant. We shall begin with principle one, which is “The teaching of Jesus is our central reference point.” At first glance this sounds good, but also carries with it the danger of the emerging church and their red letter movement which turns the Bible into a pamphlet. Jesus may indeed be our focal point, but Rohr misses a great deal in this explanation. While he focuses on Christ standing with the poor and marginalized, which He did very much do, he seems to ignore the reality that Jesus also affirmed that the first of the two great commandments was to love God. Understanding what that means requires a fair amount of Old Testament understanding as Jesus did not leave any explanation to this, so we are left with what this meant in the Old Testament. (Here is a place to start unpacking the two great commandments) The claim that Jesus somehow viewed sin in a totally different way, which is made by Rohr, is not consistent with the narrative of scripture, not to mention the teachings of the church catholic (or the Catholic church he is a part of for that matter). He is right to point out that we have very real problems in not holding ourselves accountable to our own sin in favor of pointing out others, but he falls into the trap of making everything about power and devolves into many of the platitudes that the emergent church movement uses.  He is right to point out that to often we as individuals, and also as a corporate body, do not often enough stand with the marginalized, but he is dead wrong to leave out that while Jesus stood with sinners, He also instructed them to go and sin no more. He couldn’t be more wrong about Jesus somehow redefining sin in the New Testament to be something different than God had revealed already. I’m going to leave the trinitarian implications of Jesus somehow correcting god’s revealed word for another day.
In Principle three, we find this gem: ““Resurrected” people prayerfully bear witness against injustice and evil—but also agree compassionately to hold their own complicity in that same evil. It is not over there, it is here. It
is our problem, not theirs.” There are elements of truth here, but it misses the mark again.  The problem is not only mine. In recognizing that we to often blame others, institutions, etc. rather than accepting personal responsibility, he has gone to the other extreme and placed all of the blame on each of us. This ignores several passages that call us to hold not only ourselves, but also our brothers and sisters in Christ, to account. He damages what is supposed to be Christian community in favor of a hyper individualized faith where we concern ourselves with only our own transformation and ignore others. That is not Christian community. Yes, we all need to be better at recognizing our own sin and own faults, but no, that does not mean that we do not, at the same time, call our brothers and sisters to account, and they in turn do the same for us. Mind you, not “to us” as that is an attack of sorts, but “for us” that we might be holy because God is holy. Christianity is a communal activity, and a personal pursuit, not one or the other as Rohr seems to want us to think. It is odd that he reduces it to this since he spends a great deal of time challenging us to move past a duality based thinking.
This is quickly becoming to long, but let me mention just a few things from the seventh and eights principles before I finish up. “Jesus clearly was much more concerned with journey, integrity, and what we would call “ortho-praxy” (our 8th principle of practice over theory) more than mere correct ideas or belonging to the correct group.”  This is one of the more dangerous things that Rohr teaches. This artificial separation of orthodoxy and orthopraxy is simply not the faith of our fathers (neither is the outright hostility and re-branding of orthodoxy by Rohr and others, but that is another rabbit hole…). Right belief (orthodoxy) leads to right practice (orthopraxy). They are two sides of the same coin, an inseparable whole if you will. The moment that you stress belief over practice, you are in danger of becoming as the pharisees who do the right things, but show no  signs of inward transformation, but Rohr goes in the opposite direction, and emphasizes works over belief leading inevitably to a works based faith that leaves us doing all the right things, but spiritually empty and falling short in our faith in, and knowledge of, the God that we serve, not to mention putting our eternal destinies at risk by leading away from the faith instead of to it.  The separation of belief from practice is not new, we, as mentioned above, see it in the pharisees after all, but not believing the right things not only damages our faith, and leads us away fro God, it will inevitably manifest as not doing the right things also. We do not have to look very far to see that belief is important. John 3:16 comes to mind. There is a reason we teach it to young ones to remember after all. We do not have to look far to see how the early church taught, Acts 16 is a good example. Decisions were reached, Paul travels, gets Timothy, and delivers those decisions to the people. Those decisions are a prime example of orthodoxy (right belief). Because of these decisions and the teaching of them, people obeyed (orthopraxy, or right action), and thus the church was strengthened in the faith (disciple making) and increased in numbers (spreading the gospel). This is a brilliant example of the great commission itself. Christ’s commission to the disciples included the mandate to teach, that means of course orthodoxy, or right belief. The separation by Rohr, and many others for that matter, is a part of what tears the church, and Christians apart, not what builds them up. What strengthens the church, is the proper understanding of orthodoxy and orthopraxy as a united whole and not as two competing standards.
Richard Rohr has become very popular, and his daily devotions have been widely spread. I have even read many, and like a few. I like a lot of his beginning ideas, but when you follow them in the way he has, they end up leading to some concerning theological places. I am sure that I will have more to say on the matter in the future, but please, investigate those who you accept as teachers, especially those who are anonymous in the sense that you are not personally involved with them. Be sure that their teaching is sound and not simply words to tickle the ears. Beware of the teachings that start by sounding like the gospel, but end up in places that the gospel does not go. Finally, and most importantly, beware teaching that does not, as it’s goal, focus on the whole council of scripture instead favoring this or that part of it. Blessings.

You Might Also Like

Leave a Reply, Please!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.