New Age in the Church - the deceptive theology of Richard rohr
By Piet Guijt (translated by Ursula Moestapa)
- Who is Richard Rohr?
- Why this article?
- What’s Rohr’s intention?
- What does his teaching imply?
- Rohr’s view on Christ
- Other doctrines
- Contacts with New Agers
- Objections against the teachings of Rohr
- Disturbing influences in our country
These days with the internet, Christians can come across all kinds of information that undermine our faith as the Bible indicates and intends to. Also in modern bookstores there’s plenty to buy about modern ‘spirituality’, which is not in line with what the Bible indicates. We can mention books on astrology, mindfulness, channeling, meditation, astral projection, reiki, about so-called healing stones that supposedly would contain healing energies, etc. Additionally, there are books about New Age and several eastern religions and philosophies available. Among those books there are popular books by the popular mystical American Franciscan preacher Richard Rohr. In this article we shall discuss Rohr’s ‘message’ and we will consider whether it is justified that he is so popular with some Christians.
Who is Richard Rohr?
Richard Rohr was born in 1943 in Kansas. He achieved his Master’s degree in Theology in 1970 at the Dayton’s University. He joined the Franciscans in 1961 and was ordained to the priesthood in 1970 (17). He has written many books with beautiful titles of which I will mention some: The Immortal Diamond (2013, which is about the search for your true self), The Divine dance (2016), The Christ Mystery (2019), the enneagram secret (2019), which is about a way to a deeper self-knowledge, Spiritual Bible reading (2020), The Universal Christ (2021). His books (translated in Dutch) are finding an eager audience. A couple of these books even appeared on the New York Times’ Bestseller’s list.
Why this article?
Due to his books (with often ecstatic language) (7) and his very popular teachings about amongst others the enneagram (a personality model which deals with conscious or unconscious behavior) (4), Rohr gains influence, especially among millennials that were raised in the evangelical church. But he also finds audience with well-known figures like Gloria Gaither (the wife of Bill Gaither, leader of the musical group The Gaithers) and the Christian theologian and author in the Quaker tradition Richard Foster (Childers). Rohr is exceptionally influential in the progressive Christian movement and has been referred to by well-known progressive voices as a spiritual father, hero and mentor (2). People speak of a liberating, conscious expanding message (3). Rohr is supported by leaders such as Rob Bell (author of the book Love Wins), and William Paul Young (author of the controversial book The Shack) (2).
Rohr gains popularity because he matches the growing desire for spirituality (14). Because it is also questionable that he uses sources from Buddhism and Hinduism and also from Carl Jung, it becomes increasingly important for church leaders to be aware of (the danger of) Rohr’s teachings and their widely spread influence (2).
What’s Rohr’s intention?
Of course his dogmas in the sense of basic truths for the religious life are very important, but Rohr intends to fight against the clerical dogmatic (orthodoxy) which does not lead to fruit and life. He is trying to interpret the Christian faith in such a way that it has become a message of universal love, a message of unity and solidarity with each other and with the Cosmos (7). He justifiably criticizes the religious rituals that are focused on rules instead of on the highest central role of the relationship with God and the fellowman (17). He refers to Jung who was disillusioned by his own father and six uncles that were all Swedish reformed leaders, whom he considered to be unhappy and non-integrated. Jung felt that Christianity has contributed to a discontinuity – an irreconcilable gap – between God and the soul, by overemphasizing external rituals and intellectual faith instead of the inner experience and inner transformation. Jung actually said about Christianity: “It doesn’t work in real life” (9). The mistake that Rohr made, is that he did see indeed that there sometimes was no fruit to be seen, but he did not see that it was because many Christians were not filled with the Holy Spirit, Who lays the true life in the believer if he opens himself for it in devotion to Jesus and to God the Father. Then rivers of living water will flow from his innermost being (Jn 7:38)
Rohr emphasizes an ‘alternative orthodoxy’, a term that the Franciscan tradition has applied to itself, referring to a focus on ‘orthopraxis’ , which is a conviction that lifestyle and practice are much more important than sheer verbal orthodoxy (17). The essential message of Rohr’s work is focused on the unification of divine reality with all things and the human potential and desire for this unification (17). It’s about a process to a life attitude meant by God. In other words, it’s not about acknowledging some dogmas intellectually, but about incarnation, experiencing the divine indwelling. Loving God is something that has to grow, something we need to be working towards. We should start small, according to Rohr, with loving the elements – afterwards the trees, then the animals, then humans. Through that way you grow towards a love for God. This is not about analyzing yourself intellectually, but rather about contemplation: experiencing God (16).
Rohr’s intention is good and understandable, but by overlooking an important, even essential element, that became the major pitfall in his teachings. What he pursues is actually only possible by the fulfilment with the Holy Spirit! And only in born again believers, who have accepted Jesus Christ (Jn 1:12), but, unfortunately, he seems to be ignoring that completely.
What does his teaching imply?
We shall pass through various parts of his view.
1. Rohr’s view on Christ
The meaning of the word Christ is according to Rohr not the ‘surname’ of Jesus or an honorary title for an individual man of two thousand years ago, but an indication which is more universal and far-reaching than just being attached to the Man from Nazareth. The word Christ stands for the divine depth dimension of the whole reality (7)! You learn to understand that God permeates His entire creation and that He is everywhere present around us. He is to be met in everyone you encounter (3). The divine DNA is present in every human being – whether we are aware of it or not. Jesus is the ‘light of the world’, the Light makes you to see all other things. ‘In Jesus Christ, God’s own wide, deep and all-embracing world view becomes accessible to us’. Christ is another name for all things. He loves things by becoming things (3). Those are nice words but are totally alien to the Bible. Additionally, it is not indicated how that would become reality in a person.
Rohr thinks that Jesus and Christ are two different beings, and in his book The Christ mystery, Rohr distinguishes Jesus from the Bible who had lived 2,000 years ago and the Christ (the “Cosmic Christ”), who is an eternal being (1,2). This ‘Cosmic Christ’ is a New Age idea that Rohr promotes as a ‘Christian’ (2).
However, the word ‘Christ’ means ‘anointed’ (or filled with the Holy Spirit) and Jesus Christ was the indication/title of the Messiah promised by God (1). Therefore it is incorrect to say that Jesus and the Christ are two separate men. And that Jesus had found the ‘Christ consciousness’ is the same heresy which we also see in e.g. Deepak Chopra who claims that Jesus became the Christ and found divine illumination, or a God consciousness, as he calls it (1).
Why does Rohr come to a concept which is not in line with what the Bible means? He says that Catholics and Protestants have mainly been engaged with the ‘historical Jesus’, the one who lived 2,000 years ago, and the result is that we totally misunderstand the ‘Christ’, according to Rohr (1). It must be admitted that churches have not (always) practiced what the spiritual life with God could have meant, but Rohr ignores the fact that the Holy Spirit has really been poured out in those that believe in Jesus Christ and want to follow Him wholeheartedly. Think of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at the Feast of Pentecost in Jerusalem (Acts 1:8;2). Rohr falls into the trap (lie) that we all can become ‘the Christ’ (1.10) and that everything and everyone belongs to the Kingdom of God (10). But that’s a half truth. Men can indeed become followers of Jesus Christ and become more and more like Christ (Rom.8,29) and be filled (anointed) with the Holy Spirit, but that is only possible in those who are born again through a personal faith in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ! And only then can a person belong to the Kingdom of God (Jn 3:3,5). The deceptive thing with Rohr is that his view is a mixture of non-Biblical concepts and Biblical notions, but those are interpreted totally different.
If Rohr claims that every human being actually has Christ within him already, then it’s not such a big step to take towards Rohr’s concept that he denies the necessity of a substitutionary atonement through the suffering and dying of Jesus for our sins, even though it is taught in both the Scripture and Jesus Himself (2,10).
In his book The Christ Mystery, Rohr even radically turns away from the idea of ‘atonement through satisfaction’ by Jesus Who had to die in our place, so that He in that way turns away God’s wrath (16). Rohr does believe that Jesus has been crucified, was buried and resurrected, but he interprets that totally differently. For God’s insulted righteousness did not need a bloody payment to make the problem of sin right, did it? (‘Transactional’ theology) (2). Even though the substitutionary sacrifice was a ‘blood sacrifice’, in my view it is not that God wanted to see blood necessarily or wanted to punish, but so that we could be redeemed from the hold of Satan.
According to Rohr, the cross was not a transaction, but a great revelation of the infinite and participating love of God’s flowing love.
Jesus comes down to us, so that we could be with God – our deification is the goal (ND). And Rohr continues by saying that Jesus did not need to die on the cross. For it is your ‘false self’ (we would say, the ‘old man’ or our ‘old self’) that has to die, thus no one else. Jesus is according to Rohr not a divine troubleshooter (14), but nothing more than a “model and example” of the human and the divine which are united in one human body. The cross, according to Rohr, stands at the deepest for a path which every Christian will have to follow (14). Jesus did not come to deliver us from sin, but to make us understand that all things are full of divine brilliance, according to Rohr (7). Rohr thinks that he knows better than Christ Himself, Who, according to Rohr, had made a fatal mistake and could have saved Himself a lot of suffering!
Here we see a mixture of truth and error. Of course it is true that it was God’s love that had caused Him to give His Son for our sins. And it is true that we need to lay down our flesh and that it takes a spiritual fight, but that’s only possible if we have received the Holy Spirit, which is only possible through (faith in) the atoning sacrifice of Jesus.
After all, what does the Bible say? The Old Testament speaks dozens of times about the atonement by sacrificing animals, which was a shadow image of the Lamb of God. John writes clearly that Jesus is an atonement for our sins. “He is an atonement for our sins and not only for ours, but also for that of the whole world” (1Jn 2:2) and “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1Jn 4:10). See also e.g. Mat.20:28; Mk 10:45 and Tim.2:6 about ransom and Rom.3:23 to 27 about redemption, propitiation and justification. See also Gal.4:5 about redemption). We can enter into God’s Kingdom only if we are a new creation that has been forgiven, justified and sanctified by the blood of Jesus and reconciled with God.
The concepts of Rohr therefore are in sharp contrast to the historical Christian view on the gospel (2). How serious this is, is described by Childers. “Those who accept God’s providence of salvation and redemption by the atoning sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, will receive eternal life from God. But for those who reject this gift of grace, the Bible describes their eternal punishment of being separated from God’s love and kindness” (2).
Considering what we already know about Rohr, it‘s not surprising that he has a universalist thinking, which is a kind of universal salvation. God is in every man, incarnation is more than God becoming man alone in the person of Jesus, argues Rohr. It is much broader and it refers to the presence of God in creation already from the very beginning. God is love, stands in relation to all things that He has created and how He intends to operate in the restoration of everything that has been broken (16).
Rohr sees a purpose driven movement in history, an evolution driven by God’s love, whereby nothing and nobody is excluded (3). Rohr states: God’s hope for humankind is that one day we all shall acknowledge that the divine dwelling place is the whole creation (10). Rohr’s book The divine dance has been dedicated to “every unsuspected man who doesn’t know that he has already been flowing along with the Divine Stream. ‘The stream is at the same time divine and cosmic and human and always being together” (13).
Of course, God loves all men and wants to restore everything that has been broken. He desires that man as the bearer of God’s image, shall share the divine nature (2Pet. 1:4), but that’s only possible by the work of the Holy Spirit in those who have accepted Jesus as their Redeemer and want to follow Him and be filled with the Holy Spirit. Therefore, it requires a choice of man to accept or refuse Jesus! And indeed, in the end God will be all in all (1Cor.15:28) who have come to faith and have learnt to know God as their heavenly Father.
The relationship between Jesus and the believer
According to Rohr, we have made Jesus an exclusive child of God instead of an inclusive model to every one of us, because we're just as much sons and daughters (11). Rohr’s book Immortal Diamond suggests that the death and resurrection of Jesus is an arch-typical (exemplary) pattern for the movement of the individual from the ‘false self’ to the ‘true self’, of ‘whom you think you are’ to ‘whom you are in God’ (17). Because, and by copying the words of church father Athanasius, Rohr states: “Divinity and humanity should speak in one way or the other as one, for if the unification of God and humanity is ‘true’ in Jesus, then there is hope that it can be true in all of us” (16).
Here we see truth elements and error mixed together. Rohr speaks a half truth. After all, even if we, as children of God, can and should be conformed to Jesus (Phil.3:21), Jesus is and remains our Savior without Whom we could have never become a child of God. But Rohr ignores this essential element. In addition, our lives are hidden with Christ alone in God (Col.3:3).
e. Other teachings
Other deceptive teachings of Rohr are ideologies such as syncretism (all religions are in fact legal ways to God, a concept that is rejected by the Bible), monism, the third eye (a Hinduist concept), and many problematic teachings on sexuality, homosexuality and transgenderism (1).
Yet another problematic area is Rohr’s approval or endorsement of the enneagram, which is a pseudo-scientific and spiritually dubious personality system (1,4).
f. Contacts with New Agers
If we consider the concepts of Richard Rohr, it’s not surprising that he has relations with non-Christians, particularly New Age supporters. In 2016 Rohr participated in an event called SAND16 US (which stands for ‘Science and Non-duality'). Non- duality is a New Age term, which actually means that there is no good and evil, no right or wrong, thus all things are one, all things are God (therefore the New Ager Neale Donald Walsch said that even Hitler will go to heaven) (6). Rohr was invited to speak on that event because New Agers appeal to him. There were more than one hundred other New Agers, amongst others Matthew Fox, Deepak Chopra, Ken Wliber and Larry Dossey (10).
It is also noteworthy that Rohr had invited Marianne Williamson who is honored as the worldwide expert in ‘A course in Miracles’. In this occult inspired book it is taught that the crucifixion of Jesus has no meaning and was even wrong, because people think that sin doesn’t exist (1, 5) or is a lack of consciousness (9). After all, there’s nothing that keeps you separated from God, except for the thought that you are separated from God (8), which in doing so, Rohr joins the Trappist monk Thomas Keating (14). Rohr endorses the teachings of Marianne Williamson on ‘A course in miracles’, in which she states that we are all in heaven now (????) but we simply do not realize it because we haven’t found the illumination of the ‘God consciousness’ (1). Is it not sad that a catholic priest invites someone who doesn’t believe in the existence of sin or in the real Jesus; someone who blasphemes Jesus and who says that salvation and redemption are not necessary (and even have to be undone)? (1). This does show how this priest is obscured in his thinking.
Objections against the teaching of Rohr
We shall mention some criticisms of theologians:
Ian Paul, an Anglican theologian, wrote in a review of The universal Christ: "I haven’t found any Bible text that has been cited with some probability; every text was either misread or taken out of context, or even cited with mistakes", and he comes to the conclusion that "Rohr leads us to a number of very strange paths and he is on numerous aspects far away from the orthodox Christian faith" (17).
The Catholic theologian Douglas Farrow writes: “The Christ of Rohr includes, just as that of Teilhard, the whole creation. Jesus may be the unique Christ, but He is nevertheless just one example of the revelation of the Christ. It is a revelation, not a reconciliation, which we have to look for in Jesus” (17).
Erwin Lutzer, an evangelic preacher, has criticized Rohr for promoting universalism and a New Age spirituality that shuns specific doctrines and fundamental Biblical doctrine (17).
According to Douglas Groothuis, professor of Philosophy at the Denver Seminary, Rohr has based his teachings on eastern mysticism instead of on Biblical Christianity by preaching that we have to find our ‘true self’ instead of knowing a redeemer who differs from the ‘self’. Rohr overlooks the fact that finding a redeemer and finding our true self are very closely related to one another, the first is even the precondition for the latter. Groothuis states that Rohr’s fundamental claims about the ‘universal Christ’ and the pantheistic worldview undermine the “Biblical worldview with the most flagrant mistakes”. Rohr manipulates the Scriptures in order to support his pantheistic (= all things are divine) or panentheistic (= the creation is a part of God) worldviews, while he contradicts the Christian theology that the creation and the Creator or God are different entities.
He continues to say that the writings of Rohr run parallel with New Age Christologies, which, according to him, interpret the Bible texts incorrectly (17).
Disturbing influences in the Netherlands
Unfortunately, Rohr has also influenced Christians in our country. In the foundation called Way of Grace, people, in some sense, go even further than Rohr. I believe that the intentions are good, but that people got on the wrong track, partly because of the influence of Rohr. Below you can find a brief impression of some of the incorrect concepts (in italics) in my opinion, of the foundation and a brief reproof of it.
“Every human being is by nature anointed with the Spirit and is therefore an anointed one of the Lord, thus Christ. The identity of every human being has therefore always been Christ. The anointment of the Spirit (Christ) is therefore found in all humans of all times”.
This is in conflict with God’s Word. Even though every human being is in principle intended as a ‘partner’ with whom He wants to have a love relationship through all eternity. Due to the Fall (which is actually denied or totally differently interpreted by Way of Grace) it has been disrupted. It was therefore necessary that Jesus had to suffer and die as the Lamb of God, so that we could be reconciled with God (amongst others to be found in: 1Jn2:2, 4:10) and in that way could receive the Holy Spirit, at least if we believe in Jesus and want to follow (obey) Him. Thus only those who have accepted Jesus as their Redeemer, are born again and are transferred into the Kingdom of God and can be anointed with the Holy Spirit.
“God’s Spirit dwells in all men. Therefore, there is no fundamental difference between Christians and non-Christians. We are all brothers and sisters and children of one Father. Humanity forms the Body of Christ”.
The result would be that mission and evangelization are meaningless and unnecessary! And God would ‘therefore’ be the heavenly Father to everyone. The Body of Christ, however, is only formed by those who have accepted Jesus as their personal Savior (Jn 1:12). There is of course no fundamental difference between men in the sense that they are lost without (the faith in) Christ. But the essential difference between true Christians and non-Christians is that the first group (the born again – Jn3:3) is saved and the second group is not (yet) saved. In all eternity, God will be all in all who believe (1Cor.15:28).
“We are not saved by the forgiveness of sins, but by awareness of our true Christ Identity”.
We are only saved by a personal faith in Jesus to the forgiveness of sins, and only by the fulfillment with the Holy Spirit we shall become more and more aware of our true identity as saved sons and daughters of God.
“God doesn’t calculate with good and evil. God has already forgiven us everything in advance”.
God certainly does distinguish between good and evil. If God could have forgiven us everything in advance, then the sacrifice of Jesus would have not been necessary. Even if we cannot comprehend this with our mind, the necessity of the sacrifice was obviously inevitable. That, by the way, has got nothing to do with the fact that God would not want to forgive.
It is very sad that this priest Richard Rohr, who in principle had good intentions (he did not want dead dogmas, but real experience of what God had intended), but by his own philosophy with halve truths has yet been so seriously misled and has been misleading many other people. Justifiably, he wants to get rid of a dry dogmatic which has no life in it and he longs for the spiritual life which God has intended. But he unfortunately has fallen into the New Age pitfall that says that every man is divine and needs no Savior. Rohr completely ignores the way that the Bible points out.
Due to his books and his very popular teachings about the enneagram (4), Richard Rohr gains influence quickly with individual Christians.
Rohr appeals so much to many people because he uses so many beautiful and lofty words which at the end it kind of makes you dizzy (16). That’s in my view the tempting and deceptive thing of Rohr’s books, for he ignores the solution mentioned in the Bible, which is the atoning suffering and the dying and resurrection of Jesus, the Lamb of God and the fulfillment with the Holy Spirit in those who believe in Jesus.
Every Christian and also church leaders would do good to be aware of what Rohr actually teaches, namely a false doctrine about the Bible, the cross and the gospel. Biblically grounded Christians therefore should avoid his teachings (2).
1. Catholic Truth, The Problems with Fr. Richard Rohr: Untrustworthy Spiritual Guide. Source: The Problems with Fr. Richard Rohr: Untrustworthy Spiritual Guide - Catholic Truth (thecatholictruth.org)
2. Alisa Childers, Here’s why Christians should avoid the teachings of Richard Rohr. February 2021. Source: Here's Why Christians Should Avoid the Teachings of Richard Rohr (crossexamined.org)
3. Paul Delfgaauw, ‘Christus was er al voordat Jezus werd geboren’ (Christ was there already before Jesus was born). Source: Richard Rohr – GODEN EN MENSEN (GODS AND MEN)
4. Gerard Feller, Enneagram: vertel me wie ik ben (Tell me who I am). Source: https://stichting-promise.nl/categorieen/40-waarzeggerij/153-enneagram
5. Piet Guijt (Guyt), Is "een cursus in wonderen" uit God of niet? (Is “A Course in Miracles” from God or is it not? Source: Is een cursus in wonderen uit God of niet? (Is “A Course in Miracles” from God or is it not?
6. Piet Guijt, Een ongewoon gesprek met Neale Donald Walsh (An uncommon talk with Neale Donald Walsh). Zoetermeer, 9 april 2001
7. Wolter Huttinga, Een theologisch werk dat gerust esoterisch kan worden genoemd (A theological work which you can safely call esoteric). Source: Een theologisch werk dat gerust esoterisch kan worden genoemd | Trouw
8. Dineke van Kooten, Christus in ons (Christ in us) – Richard Rohr. Source: Christus in ons (Christ in us) - Richard Rohr - Dineke van Kooten
9. Dineke van Kooten, Schaduwwerk (Shadow work) – Richard Rohr. September 2019. Source: Schaduwwerk (Shadow work) - Richard Rohr - Dineke van Kooten
10. Lighthouse Trails Editors, The Tragic Influence of Catholic Priest Richard Rohr’s Mysticism on Millennial Evangelicals, September 24, 2019. Source: The Tragic Influence of Catholic Priest Richard Rohr's Mysticism on Millennial Evangelicals - Lighthouse Trails Research Project
11. Richard Rohr: 'Laten we de Bijbel gebruiken zoals Jezus die gebruikte!' (‘Let us use the Bible as Jesus did’). Augustus 2020. Source: Richard Rohr: 'Laten we de Bijbel gebruiken zoals Jezus!' (‘Let us use the Bible as Jesus did’). - EO Lazarus
12. Boeken van Richard Rohr (Books by Richard Rohr). Source: Richard Rohr Boeken kopen? (Do you want to buy books by Richard Rohr? Kijk snel! | bol.com (Take a quick look at bol.com).
13. Fred Sanders, Waarom ik niet met Richard Rohr mee stroom.(Why I will not flow along with Richard Rohr) September 2019. Bron: Waarom ik niet met Richard Rohr mee stroom (tgcnederland.nl)
14. Daan Savert, ‘Richard Rohr daagt mij uit om Christus te vinden op plekken waar pijn, woede en verdriet is' (‘Richard Rohr challenges me to find Christ in places where there is hurt, anger and sorrow’)| Het Christus Mysterie (The Christ Mystery) #leestip. Oktober 2019. Source: Richard Rohr nodigt mij uit om dagelijks 'ja' te zeggen (Richard Rohr invites me to daily say yes’) - EO Lazarus
15. Spiritueel Bijbellezen (Spiritual Bible reading). Source: Kok Boekencentrum | Spiritueel bijbellezen
16. Voor Richard Rohr is Christus overal zichtbaar (For Richard Rohr, Christ is visible everywhere. Source: Voor Richard Rohr is Christus overal zichtbaar | Nederlands Dagblad. September 2019
17. Wikipedia, Richard Rohr. Source: Richard Rohr Wikipedia