Assessing Richard Rohr's book "The Divine Dance"

(Carson Weitnauer) #1

Hi @jasminehennock,

To continue the discussion from Do Christians worship three Gods?:

I noted with interest your commendation of Rohr’s book The Divine Dance. Doing some research, I came across Fred Sanders review of the book here:

Dr. Sanders has studied and written on the Trinity a bit, in a way that I’ve found helpful, so I thought his critique was particularly insightful. A few key points:

  • Rohr’s main emphasis appears to be on “the Flow” - which is simply distinct from the Bible’s focus on the Trinity.
  • The “flow” is an impersonal abstraction; this is distinct from the relational love of the Trinity (e.g., “God is not just a dancer; God is the dance itself”).
  • The historical work on how the church has affirmed the doctrine of the Trinity is lacking; Rohr doesn’t really engage with the theological work of “Augustine, John of Damascus, Aquinas, Bonaventure, Calvin, Wesley, and Barth”, which is a significant omission.

As Sanders summarizes:

And my long—forgive me—review has one main point: it’s that The Divine Dance isn’t about the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It’s a book about an alternative spirituality of Flow, committed to a metaphysic that refuses to recognize a distinction between God and the world. It’s one long looting of the language of Trinitarian theology, with an avowed goal of using that language to teach an entirely novel doctrine.

In light of this detailed critique, I would appreciate hearing from you on the ways in which you found Rohr’s book to be orthodox and Biblically grounded.

(SeanO) #2

After reading a few articles and listening to some of Rohr’s videos, I believe that he is a heterodox Catholic mystic. A few errors that he clearly has fallen into are:

  • emphasizing experience over both Scripture and tradition, claiming that our experiences ultimately trump either. The Bible is clear that God’s Word and Spirit are meant to transform our outlook and experience - not the other way around. Rohr rejects the Bible as God’s Word.

  • emphasizing social justice and inclusiveness while sacrificing holiness and truth - Rohr’s teaching is filled with a Jesus who eats with sinners, but has no references to the Jesus who told the woman at the well that ‘salvation is of the Jews’ and a man he healed ‘go and sin no more’ and spoke of the judgment to come. Rohr rejects the reality that God will one day judge the secrets of men’s hearts.

  • abandoning Biblical sexual ethics

Here is a fuller analysis of Rohr’s teachings from an Anglican - Jane Krammer - who was concerned about friends who were under his influence.

Richard-Rohr-by-Jane-Krammer-for-AM.pdf (313.1 KB)

However, @jasminehennock @CarsonWeitnauer I think he is well spoken and uses Christian terminology to express his ideas. I would be curious about your guys’ thoughts on Krammer’s critique? And what were your thoughts on Rohr’s book? I have never read it. May the Lord grant us discernment and wisdom.

(Anthony Costello ) #3

@CarsonWeitnauer @SeanO


So, I haven’t read Rohr’s book, but I remember reading this original review by Fred Sanders. Let me just fill in some blanks about Sanders. I know Fred personally, he has been my professor twice here at Talbot and let me say that Fred is about the most well-educated and well-read theologian in the country, maybe one of the top in the world right now, when it comes to the doctrine of the Trinity. I would highly, highly recommend both his books on the Trinity here:

“The Deep Things of God” is the more introductory text and “The Triune God” is more scholarly, but both are great resources for trinitarian Theology. In short, when it comes to the issue of the Trinity, I have strong confidence that anything Fred says is probably more well thought out, more deeply researched, and more historically accurate than what Rohr says.

God bless,

(Jimmy Sellers) #4

Before this post I was ignorant of an active mystic “Christian” interest/movement". I would not have connected this with the Shack (have not read but did like the movie). At first glance I thought that the “Divine Dance” was referring to the “Grace Dance” a Greco-Roman understanding of how a 1st century AD audience would/could have understood “Charis/Grace” as it was presented in the epistles. Glad that was not the case as I am partial to this understanding and finally the Divine Dance reminds me of a type of Christian Sufism.

(Lakshmi Mehta) #5

This paper on Christian Mysticism was eye opening to me. I knew they were pantheistic in their beliefs but did not realize the philosophy is so developed. The “Cosmic Christ” concept is synonomous to the “Supersoul Paramatma” concept in the Bhagavad gita. The non- distinction between good and evil, the rhetoric about Christians being immature and unawakened for not being inclusive, the interpretation of Scripture out of context, the downplaying of Jesus’s atonement and deity, sounds like eastern philosophy repackaged to appeal to the western mindset. I came across Christian mysticism only recently as I started to look into the Benedictine practice of Lectio Divina. How can one can know if they are being guided by the “Cosmic Christs” or the “Holy Spirit” when practicing Lectio Divina ? What does “being still to know God” mean in the Bible? Any thoughts? Thanks.

What does it mean to 'be still and know that I am God'?
(jesse porter, jr) #6

Have you seen // ?

(Lakshmi Mehta) #7

@jporterjr Thanks for the article. It seems “Lectio Divina” could look different in practice in the Catholic and Reformed tradition. It seems to be more than just reading, pondering and applying scripture in life. What I liked about this article is the importance of slowing down in prayer and this statement, “If done wrongly, if we pursue some kind of mystical experience that is not connected to the natural meaning of the text, we turn the Bible into a subjective, individualistic experience for which it was never intended”.

However, many aspects of the process of Lectio Divina as described do seem subjective and contradictory to the notion above. Some quotes from the article - " its purpose is to allow you to experience and feed on what you know…Stop at whatever it was that really tugged at your heart and reread that significant piece over and over. Repeat it (some people even say the phrase out loud), lingering over the phrase. Pretend that the original author is speaking it to you and try to imagine the tone of voice he might have used. The goal is not only to see the words with your eyes but to feel them with your heart, mind, and soul…Picture yourself in the setting and context of the passage…………Lectio divina is not a good tool to understand what a passage means…….The “task” in this stage is to simply be silent in the presence of God (Psalm 46:10)" It seems it would be hard not to focus on an experience while trying to focus on feelings as described above. Is it implied in the article that a technique brings one into presence of God? How can one be sure that the presence is not just an imagination? (The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?" Jeremiah 17:9).

Also originally the practice is rooted in Roman Catholic tradition rather than scripture alone and some concepts are at odds with scripture. Thomas Keating, a Roman Catholic Priest and an authority on this subject writes in ‘The Classical Monastic Practice of Lectio Divina’ - " In this way of doing lectio divina, one is recognizing the presence of the Word of God in all creation and in every occurrence, experiencing what the author of John’s Gospel wrote in the prologue, ‘Without Him was made nothing that has been made.’ In contemplative prayer, we are in touch with the source of all creation; hence, we transcend ourselves and our limited worldviews. As a result, we feel at one with other people and enjoy a sense of belonging to the universe". This quote here is a very pantheistic concept. Another quote from this article " The Divinity begins to dwell in us bodily in proportion to our capacity to receive it as we grow in union with the Eternal Word" . But Jesus promised to seal us with the Holy Spirit forever on believing Him.

The God of the Bible promises to be with the contrite and lowly in spirit. I understand it as God is always with us but we recognize Him more as we humble ourselves.

Isaiah 57:15 For thus says the high and exalted One Who lives forever, whose name is Holy, "I dwell on a high and holy place, And also with the contrite and lowly of spirit In order to revive the spirit of the lowly And to revive the heart of the contrite.

The verse in James seems to sum up very well how we can draw near to God.

James 4: 7-10 Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.

So Lectio Divina seems to mean different things to different people and its fruits depend on how it is practiced.

(jesse porter, jr) #8

Your reply reveals a grasp of the essentials of God’s revealed truth.
However, your question. “How can one be sure that the presence is not just an imagination?” indicates a lingering uncertainty.

I do not ascribe to a Catholic world view, but we can still learn from Catholicism. Jesus told his disciples to call no man father for we have one father, God. Jeremiah, declares on God’s behalf, "You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. (Jer. 29:13) We can be certain that we will find Him and not some false apparition of Him because He has assured us of it. Jesus, I am sure, had that promise in mind when he said, “Seek and you shall find; knock and the door will be opened.” To Kneel in a church to make that search, especially in the presence of a priest, seems a less likely way to successfully search than in private, alone with God. Monks and priests can dispense wisdom to us, having spent much solitary time in their own search, not because of their position in the Church, but because of their prior position on their knees in private.

(Lakshmi Mehta) #9

@jporterjr, I agree that God answers a sincere seeker and yes, we can certainly learn many things from Catholicism. Growing up in India I think of Mother Teresa and her contributions. However based on the paper above about Richard Rohr and his theology, I feel I should be cautious about contemplative prayer. Richard Rohr and Keating belong to the same camp. See link below

I think Catholic contemplative prayer may be different from just seeking God with all our heart as described in the Bible. I am all for a private prayer, meditation on scripture and even feeling emotions out of true convictions based on scripture and living out transformed lives. Personally, I believe the Holy Spirit does guide us as we yield to Jesus and his finished work on the cross but I don’t understand why the contemplative leaders have different versions of truth than revealed in the Bible if it is the Holy Spirit guiding them. I read somewhere that the Catholic contemplative tradition as described by Richard Rohr and Thomas Keating came out of their effort to bring together diverse contemplative practitioners even those from different religions such as Buddhists and Hindus. That may be the reason for so much eastern philosophy in their understanding of the Bible.

I am no expert on any of these issues but the mixing of Western and Eastern practices for worshipping the God of the Bible, the Creator God concerns me as it seems to dilute the gospel. Would love to get some guidance on this from others. I just want to know how to respond if I meet someone involved in contemplative practice.

Thanks again for the reply.

(jesse porter, jr) #10

Thank you. Only one additional thought. As I understand it, the early church selected from many alternate writings, which to recognize as scripture by carefully comparing them with what was already recognized as scripture and seeing whether they were consistent with them. We can do the same with our own worship. I believe that God continues to reveal Himself to us, but we can be certain that He will not reveal anything to us inconsistent with what He has previously revealed.

(Lakshmi Mehta) #11

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I like what you said about God’s consistency in His revelation. A great guide for the rare occasion of special revelation. As I thought about your words " We can do the same with our worship" I remembered Ravi Zacharias comments on “Integrity of worship” and here’s the link:

(Anthony Costello ) #12


So, I just wanted to try and clarify a few things about Lectio Divina and also Roman Catholicism and maybe even pantheism. Your post is very good, well written and thorough, so I don’t have too much to push back on, but I think that I can alleviate some of your concerns over Lection Divina.

First, it is a practice that goes back some time in the Church, prior to the Reformation easily, and perhaps as far back as the early Church Fathers (Origen, etc.) If done properly, I don’t think it is something that needs be confused with New Age or even post-modern Christianity. It is a historical Christian practice.

Second, I attended a pretty conservative, Evangelical Seminary here in Southern California, and we have a very good and rather well regarded Spiritual Formation program here that is mandatory for anyone doing an MA. Lectio Divina was encouraged as part of our training, but not required. So, I think if we understand Lectio Divina as something that can be entertained as a spiritual discipline, a way of reading scripture and encountering Christ in our life, then it can be fruitful. Certainly, however, it is not something that must_be done. And, like any other Christian endeavor it can have its pitfalls (e.g. one can be a missionary, but neglect his family, or be an expert bible scholar, but neglect to care for his neighbor, etc.)

Third, I think you are correct in pointing out that a Reformed lectio divina can be different than a Roman Catholic one, and that is probably a very appropriate distinction to make. Calvin, in the first paragraph of his _Institutes says that there are two kinds of knowledge: Knowledge of God, and knowledge of Self. To be ignorant of one, will lead one down the road of subjective experience untethered from the true God. But, to be ignorant of the other will lead to dead religion, i.e. propositional knowledge of God, but without personal transformation. Thus, I would say that something like lectio divina can be a tool or method for gaining knowledge about one’s self as the self relates to God. If it is only to gain knowledge of self, then I would see it as useless, even dangerous. But, if it is knowledge of self as the self relates to God and the Word of God, then I think lectio can be a good and beneficial practice.

That said, I don’t see it as necessarily a bad thing if some spiritual discipline emphasizes the subjective experience of God over against the propositional knowledge of God. After all, it is how God relates to us as subjects that matters to our sanctification. Thus, if lectio divina can help some people learn more about themselves and in the process more about how Christ redeems even very specific aspects of our lives (particularly aspects of our pasts and the habituated sin patterns that have accrued) then I say, go for it. It is a worthy practice, even if it is one that should be done with caution. I, for one, have tried it, but have little patience for it. Also, to practice this does not mean one has to neglect the propositional knowledge of God that we find in the study and exegesis of Scripture.

Finally, with regard to your statement about the catholic priest Thomas Keating, who I do not know nor am I familiar with his work, I would say this. I do not think that the quote you provided is pantheistic. It would be one thing to say that we become more aware of our place in the universe, of our life in Christ and our awareness of others, i.e. that we transcend ourselves. I think this is actually a rather orthodox and biblical statement since 1) we are members of the “body of Christ” (Rom 12:4-5; 1 Cor 12; Eph 4:15) a body which has often been construed ontologically, 2) Paul confirms the concept of God’s omnipresence in Acts 17:28 "For in Him we live, and move, and exist (or have our being, and 3) our lives really are “caught up in Christ” and there is a real ontological connection between the believer and God, and perhaps even to other believers. It does not mean that the believer and God are identical, just connected. A pre-born baby is connected to his mother and even indwells her, but is not identical to her.

Thus, if Keating is saying that we become more aware of the Word of God (i.e. Christ) in all of creation, that we come into some kind of more intimate contact with the “source of all creation” (i.e. again Christ), and that we transcend ourself and our limited worldview (perhaps meaning our subjective worldview), then I think his statement is rather biblical. I think it is biblical if the result of contemplative prayer is a greater awareness of our own limits, a greater intimacy with Christ and a greater sensitivity toward others. I see no problem with this. Now, this should not be confused, however, with someone who might claim that we actually become Christ. That would be something quite different. Or, if the claim was that Christ _is _us or that God is me, well, then that I would say is pantheistic and should be renounced in full. But, I don’t think it is pantheistic to claim that we come to a greater awareness of God in Christ through prayer, or that we come to transcend the limits of our own worldview, so long as that doesn’t mean we transcend the truth claims of Christianity in some way that now makes them seem untrue.

Also, with regard to “feeling one with other people,” again, I would say, especially if this relates to other believers, i.e. the Body of Christ that is the Church, then I don’t know why we wouldn’t want to feel more unified with others in the church. That seems like one of the primary purposes of our sanctification is that we come to know the “other” in a more intimate way. _

Just to reiterate, if the claim is that God is me or that I become God, then I would be wary of a pantheistic agenda. But, if the claim is just that I become more intimate or more aware of God, or of His creation, or of His people, well, I don’t see any problem with that and, in fact, I think that is what we are called to do.


Tony _______


(Lakshmi Mehta) #13

@anthony.Costello, I truly appreciate your time and effort to put together your thoughts to allay my concerns about “Lectio Divina”. Having come from a Hindu background into the Christian faith and not having formal biblical training I tend to be more cautious of practices that I dont find directly in the Bible. After doing some more research, I am feeling more comfortable in coming to the same conclusion as you that "if Lectio Divina is done properly, it doesn’t need to be confused with New Age or Post-Modern Christianity “. This paper by Evan Howard called " Lectio Divina in the Evangelical Tradition” has helped me understand better where you may be coming from.

The problem is that what I was learning about “Lection Divina” previously was mostly from the “Contemplative outreach movement” leaders, which I am now finding may not be fully supported even by the Catholic Church. The way “Lectio Divina” is practiced by the contemplative outreach movement is by combining “Lectio Divina” with “Centering Prayer” where a person is encouraged to remove all thoughts for complete stillness of mind by focusing on a sacred word for a spiritual experience that cant be controlled. What I have realized is that the “contemplation stage” as practiced by this new movement is different from that in the traditional historical “Lectio Divina”. The article “Closer look at Centering Prayer” by Feaster M on brings out the similarities between the beliefs of this new form of contemplation and New-age/eastern beliefs.

You are right, my previous quote may have not fully captured Thomas Keating’s beliefs. The theological principles of this neo-contemplative movement are here. One of their principles is that " the Divine Presence is in every member of the human family - The presence of the Divine in us is the permanent self-giving of God to every human person. The Word of God and Source of all creation sustains everything that exists and relates to each human being in a personal way. The primary call of the Spirit is to consent to this intimate relationship. No belief in Jesus is required to receive the Holy Spirit.

Fr. Thomas Keating was heavily involved not only in the centering prayer movement but also Interfaith spirituality. He was a convener of the Snowmass Conference and a member of the international monastic inter-religious movement. Based on the following excerpt from his report on principles and guidelines for interfaith dialogue, we can conclude his beliefs are not biblical.

"A report on an experience of on-going inter-religious dialogue might be helpful at this point. In 1984, I invited a group of spiritual teachers from a variety of the world religions — Buddhist, Tibetan Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Islamic, Native American, Russian Orthodox, Protestant, and Roman Catholic — to gather at St. Benedict’s Monastery in Snowmass, Colorado, to meditate together in silence and to share our personal spiritual journeys, especially those elements in our respective traditions that have proved most helpful to us along the way.

We kept no record and published no papers. As our trust and friendship grew, we felt moved to investigate various points that we seemed to agree on. The original points of agreement were worked over during the course of subsequent meetings as we continued to meet, for a week or so each year. Our most recent list consists of the following eight points:

  1. The world religions bear witness to the experience of Ultimate Reality to which they give various names: Brahman, Allah, Absolute, God, Great Spirit.
  2. Ultimate Reality cannot be limited by any name or concept.
  3. Ultimate Reality is the ground of infinite potentiality and actualization.
  4. Faith is opening, accepting and responding to Ultimate Reality. Faith in this sense precedes every belief system.
  5. The potential for human wholeness (or in other frames of reference) — enlightenment, salvation, transformation, blessedness, “nirvana” — is present in every human person.
  6. Ultimate Reality may be experienced not only through religious practices but also through nature, art, human relationships, and service of others.
  7. As long as the human condition is experienced as separate from Ultimate Reality, it is subject to ignorance and illusion, weakness and suffering.
  8. Disciplined practice is essential to the spiritual life; yet spiritual attainment is not the result of one’s own efforts, but the result of the experience of oneness with Ultimate Reality".

So only the kind of “Lectio Divina” practiced by Keating and some other monks that follow a different theology is of concern.

I also agree with you that there is nothing wrong in pursuing a spiritual discipline that allows you an experience. The danger is only when the experience becomes an idol and takes the place of God.

I think I now know what to be cautious of when I hear about people practicing “Lectio Divina” which was a term I got introduced to only recently. I just need to ask what they mean by it. Thank you for your feedback that helped me ponder more and learn more.

(Anthony Costello ) #14


Yes, thank you for your follow up e-mail! Coming from a Hindu background I think it is very good that you are being as cautious as possible with regard to some of these spiritual practices. Further, after seeing the fuller disclosure about Keating and his “Snowmass” movement, I would definitely urge us all to be very skeptical if not outright condemnatory (to use a fairly strong word) of such practices and beliefs. I would reject all 8 of the points you listed here, minimally in their language, if not also in their propositional content. These are very unclear, ill-defined, and potentially deceptive terms that Keating uses here. Thanks for sharing that. I wonder if the Vatican has not excommunicated or defrocked him? Especially if he was writing these things at the time of John Paul II.

In any case I hope that lectio divina in its historic sense doesn’t need to be a stumbling block for you; but again, perhaps if one is coming out of an Eastern religion, it may be best to simply avoid it. I don’t know. Either way I will pray that the Holy Spirit guides you in wisdom with regard to your prayer life and that you will stay focused and clear-minded about Christ and His Truth.

God bless,