Over the years, a number of attempts have been made to put some kind of wedge between ‘Christ’ and ‘Jesus’. Some, for example, have distinguished between ‘the Jesus of history’ and ‘the Christ of faith’. Philip Pullman, in similar vein, would have us imagine ‘Jesus’ as a ‘good man’ and ‘Christ’ as a ‘scoundrel’.
A couple of months ago, I read Richard Rohr’s book The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation (Whitaker House: 2016).
I had been prompted to read it by a friend, who had felt reassured by Rohr’s challenge to evangelicalism’s ‘exclusivism’ and thought that this book offered a new and better way.
I wrote a post summarising my initial feelings about Rohr’s book, but haven’t got round to writing anything further about. Frankly, the prospect of doing so felt a bit depressing. Plus, I have had plenty of other projects on the go.
But allow me to give a few general impressions:-
- I welcome any critique of evangelical faith that is done in good faith. We can often learn more from our critics than from our admirers.
- I like Rohr’s insistence that in God’s providence wonder and suffering are two of the great means of spiritual growth.
- I dislike his repeated caricatures of fundamentalists/evangelicals (he doesn’t seem to know the difference) as Bible-thumping, hell-fire-preaching bigots.
- I dislike much more his idiosyncratic interpretations of certain Bible passages (the ones that he can pull out of shape to suit his own agenda), and his total neglect of all the others (the ones that don’t suit his agenda).
But how serious is the problem? Is his teaching not only at odds with evangelical theology, but also with the historic creeds and confessions of the catholic (i.e. worldwide and age-long) church. I’m afraid it is.
To reach this sad and regrettable conclusion, one only has to read this post, which is extracted from The Divine Dance.
Rohr is addressing, in that post, the question of inter-faith friendship. He says that Trinitarian theology (his version of Trinitarian theology, mind, the kind expounded in his book) opens the way for ‘true inter-faith dialogue and friendship’.
Why does it do so? Because ‘now Christians don’t have Jesus as our primary or only trump card.’ We have to move our focus from the historical Jesus to ‘the Cosmic Christ’. The ‘Cosmic Christ’ is ‘the original metaphysical identity of the second Person of the Trinity’, and this is ‘an identity much larger than the historical Jesus.’ It is this ‘Cosmic Christ’ who (or which) ‘includes and honours all creation’ and therefore poses no threat to Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and spiritual-but-not-religious people. They ‘have no reason to be afraid of us, nor we of them.’
In his attempt to proof-text this, Rohr goes to Colossians 1:20, where it is Christ (for Rohr, the ‘Cosmic Christ’) ‘who reconciles all things to himself . . . in heaven and on earth.’ And then he goes to Colossians 3:11, where Paul says, ‘There is only Christ: he is everything and he is in everything’ (JB).
I’m not going to attempt here to unpack these two verses, in their context. Kindly follow the links to the relevant chapters, and my notes thereon.
What I will say is that this attempt to separate the historical Jesus from the cosmic Christ is deeply flawed. It cannot be read out of the biblical text. It can only be maintained by reading into the biblical text a pre-existing theology. And, because the error concerns our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, it is a serious one.