A Dialogue with Ben Witherington on The Message of Love (22)

This9781783595914 is a repost of a dialogue on Professor Ben Witherington’s blog about my book The Message of Love

336 pages $12.49 paperback on Amazon or £12.99 paperback IVP UK  or £9.99 ebook 

BEN: On pp. 192-95 you broach the issue of philos. It is interesting how seldom the actual Greek language for friendship really comes up in the NT, whereas the familial language of brother and sister is ubiquitous. But we do have it briefly in John 15. You are certainly right that in an age of arranged marriages, friendship was often the most intimate of bonds, like with David and Jonathan. Jesus considers us his friends, but there is a condition— you have to do what he commands. This seems quite different from some modern laissez faire friendships which think it rude to demand something from a friend. How should we view friendship as Christians today do you think?

PATRICK: This links pretty closely to the last question. In our Facebook era the word ‘friend’ doesn’t have much weight, you can have hundreds of ‘friends’ many of whom you may never have met face-to-face. But in the ancient world much attention was given to philos in both Greek thought (Aristotle for example) and Roman culture (hierarchical frameworks of friendship between patrons and clients). Also, in the OT, Abraham and Moses are both called friends of God. It’s impossible to know exactly what lay in the background of John’s use of friendship, but it’s clear that believers’ friendship with Jesus is unparalleled for at least four reasons that should lead Christians today to worship.

1) It was unheard of for ‘God in the flesh’ to give up his own life for his friends. I say in the book at “If depth of love is somehow proportionate to that which is given up for the good of others, then the cross represents the greatest act of love in all of history.”

2) Believers’ status changes from slaves to friends: “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends.” This is a welcome into a new status and relationship. Again, this is astonishing.

3) Unlike Greek or Roman notions of friendship, such a change of status does not depend on being virtuous enough or worthy enough to qualify, rather it is a gift of grace: “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you” (15:16a). This is very good news.

4) As we said in the last question, there is no contradiction between called Jesus’ friends and faithful obedience. Disciples are chosen so that they might “go and bear fruit – fruit that will last” (15:16). Love is transformative.

A Dialogue with Ben Witherington on The Message of Love (21)

This9781783595914 is a repost of a dialogue on Professor Ben Witherington’s blog about my book The Message of Love

336 pages $12.49 paperback on Amazon or £12.99 paperback IVP UK  or £9.99 ebook 

BEN: Let’s reflect a bit on John 15— vine and branches and remaining/abiding. I heard a good sermon about how branches are not called to be sucking the nutrients out of the vine. Rather the way the viticulture actually works is the vine forces its good sap into the branches. All the branches have to do is hang in there!!! That’s an interesting take on ‘abiding’ The title of the sermon (typically American!) was ‘We Are Not Called to be Sap Suckers!!’ Does this fit with your understanding of ‘abiding’? I note that love is a condition for abiding in Christ.

PATRICK: A memorable title for a sermon for sure. And it’s a good image which captures how the vine is the life force, it’s only by remaining connected to it that the disciples will bear fruit (John 15:2, 4–5, 8).

But I think there is more to it than passive ‘hanging in there’. To remain (abide) includes active obedience. John is crystal clear – “If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love” (15:10a). And those commands involve loving each other (15:12, 17). The foot-washing story in John 13 leads up to a new command “love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (13:34).

That love can be commanded feels odd to us Westerners – doesn’t love have to be freely chosen between equals if it is to be authentic? But John has no problem at all linking love with faithful submission to authoritative commands. There is mystery and wonder here. John’s exalted Christology means that the only appropriate response for disciples to Jesus, the Logos and Son of God, is obedience to his commands. This isn’t obedience out of fear, but out of love for the Messiah who gives his life for his friends.

A Dialogue with Ben Witherington on The Message of Love (20)

This9781783595914 is a repost of a dialogue on Professor Ben Witherington’s blog about my book The Message of Love

336 pages $12.49 paperback on Amazon or £12.99 paperback IVP UK  or £9.99 ebook 

BEN: As a Christian pacifist myself, I really resonated with what you say on pp. 172-73, affirming my fellow Methodist Stan Hauerwas’s repeated teachings on such things.

I agree that this is the clear thrust of much of the Sermon on the Mount, and the clear witness of the life of Paul who was converted from violence against the church, to the Gospel of non-violence for the sake of Christ. When Jesus said love your enemies he didn’t mean love them to death by killing them!

Interestingly, Martin Luther King Jr. was finally convinced of this Gospel by reading E. Stanley Jones’ biography of Gandhi when he was in seminary. Jones was a Methodist missionary to India, and a graduate of Asbury college. Recently there was an excellent movie entitled Hacksaw Ridge, which told the story of a pacifist Seventh Day Adventist who served as a medic in the Pacific WWII, who was the first soldier to be allowed to serve in the U.S. Army without carrying or firing a gun. And he rescued many people in battle at Hacksaw Ridge, both friend and foe.

I used to think when I was younger that there’s no way I could serve in the military… but perhaps I could do that, and still serve my country without violating my conscience or the ethic of the Sermon on the Mount. Would you see this as plausible, or as an unhelpful compromise? After all, you could be said to be patching up soldiers so they can go back out and kill some more.

PATRICK: I really wanted to get over how enemy love is not confined to interpreting a line or two from the Sermon on the Mount. What tends to happen then is Jesus’ teaching is reinterpreted as hyperbolic or idealistic. Richard Hays has an excellent discussion in his classic book The Moral Vision of the New Testament of all the attempts made to soften Jesus’ teaching to love our enemies. None of them are convincing.

Jesus’ teaching shapes that of the first Christians – Paul, Peter and the early church. The overwhelming historical evidence is how the pre-Constantinian early Christian movement repudiated killing in all forms – abortion, war and capital punishment. The shift after Constantine (Augustine especially) to legitimize ‘just’ violence in order to suppress heresy or expand Christendom was, in my opinion, a disaster to the witness of the church. Similarly in the 20th century for Reinhold Niebuhr’s theory of ‘just war’.

It isn’t a question of whether Christians are to be violent in certain situations, Jesus calls disciples to be non-violent full stop. Of course this seems crazy, but that’s the point – enemy love is the good itself. It’s the window to life in the upside-down kingdom. I saw Hacksaw Ridge in Dublin a couple of years ago and read up on the story of Desmond Doss on which it was based. While I don’t think I could sign up for the military, his was an inspiring example of how Christian non-violence requires considerable bravery.

A Dialogue with Ben Witherington on The Message of Love (17)

This9781783595914 is a repost of a dialogue on Professor Ben Witherington’s blog about my book The Message of Love

336 pages $12.49 paperback on Amazon or £12.99 paperback IVP UK  or £9.99 ebook 

BEN: On p. 153 you say that discipleship is in the end about who or what we love most dearly? I thought it was about taking up our cross and following Jesus, which I don’t imagine most of us think of that as something we love most dearly. Bonhoeffer famously said when Jesus calls us, he calls us to come and die. Again, that doesn’t sound like something we would be enraptured about. Even Jesus said, if it be possible let this cup pass. Perhaps what you meant was that the one we love most dearly is the one we are the disciple or follower of? Explain.

PATRICK: I’m zoning in on Jesus’ words demanding that disciples love him before any other commitment, even family. This echoes God’s command to Israel to love him with heart, soul and strength (which has Christological implications but that’s another story). Love in this sense is wholehearted allegiance. This is costly love – it’s going to mean self-sacrifice, serving others, being willing to endure persecution. No other ‘gods’ are to get in the way. This is why I argue that discipleship is first and foremost a matter of the heart – which is why I’m sometimes dismayed by ‘cookie cutter’ discipleship programs that seem to be mostly about about information and techniques but assume that our hearts are already rightly orientated. That’s a big assumption, especially in a Western consumer culture.

BEN: There seems to be a clear tension in Jesus’ teaching between the physical or birth family and the family of faith, with the latter getting priority in Jesus’ teaching. Honestly, I don’t know of many churches who really teach or practice life that way. Instead, the church is all about nurturing the nuclear family rather than BEING a family. Where have we gone wrong, and what’s the remedy, do you think?

PATRICK: Jesus is deliberately shocking to his listeners:

“Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matt 10:37).

Contrary to Messianic expectations his ‘sword’ will divide families. Disciples are to love Jesus first, before even our deepest other loves.

This is perhaps one of his hardest sayings, especially in a Western culture that tends to idolize the family as the source of fulfillment and happiness. We invest immense significance in finding the ‘right’ person, and children are a source of ultimate significance to parents. I know I’m generalizing, but I agree with you that the church has bought pretty uncritically into this narrative. The family is seen as the goal, those who don’t fit in are marginalized in a hundred different ways.

A remedy first requires a diagnosis. Once the issue is recognized (and it’s often not) then it’s a question of leadership to teach and model a different narrative within the church family. One that celebrates singleness as much as marriage. One that teaches about marriage NOT as a private relationship between autonomous individuals ‘in love’ who construct their private nuclear family, but a porous relationship that is orientated outwards for the good of others in hospitality, service and friendship.

Eschatology and Advent (6) the inaugurated eschatology of N T Wright

This post finishes our sketch of the recovery of eschatology within contemporary New Testament studies. To bring the story up to date I’m going to look at one of the main voices in NT studies and in eschatology – that of N T Wright.  

From this foundation, some follow on posts will dip into Fleming Rutledge’s marvellous preached eschatology within her book of sermons on Advent.

Doing things this way will highlight how eschatology is no Cinderella doctrine tacked on to the end of Christian thought and life. It is key to understanding and interpreting the gospels, Paul and all the other writers of the NT

Switching focus from eschatology in modern theology to Rutledge on Advent, is deliberate. Not only is eschatology central to Christian theology, it preaches! We’ll look at examples of how.

N. T. Wright

Wright’s eschatology is central to most of his work. And it is most certainly not a fluffy, sentimental, vague hope. Indeed, Wright has spent a lifetime battling against what he sees as popular Christianity’s platonized eschatology – a form of dualism that wants to escape the world and get to heaven.

At times, so much has his emphasis been on realised eschatology along with a historically realist interpretation of the gospels, that when Jesus and the Victory of God (JVG) came out in 1996 some reviewers wondered if Wright had abandoned the ‘not yet’ altogether.

An example is Wright’s reading of Mark 13 and the Olivet Discourse. This is a clip – see the whole chapter.

20 “If the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would survive. But for the sake of the elect, whom he has chosen, he has shortened them. 21 At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. 22 For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. 23 So be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time.

24 “But in those days, following that distress,

“‘the sun will be darkened,
    and the moon will not give its light;
25 the stars will fall from the sky,
    and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’

26 “At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.

Rather than read this as futurist end of age language, Wright’s reads it as Jewish apocalyptic language, referencing Daniel 7:13, referring to the vindication of the Son of Man within history (namely the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70) and not as a literal description of Jesus’ second coming in the clouds with power and glory.

Wright self-consciously travels the Schweitzerstrasse in his reconstruction of Jesus within history coming to understand himself, through reading of Israel’s scriptures, as the embodiment of an Israel in exile awaiting YHWH’s return to his elect people.

Acting in faith, Jesus the Messiah acts courageously in himself to confront evil in and through his sin-atoning and representative death. His coming simultaneously enacts divine judgement on Israel’s rejection of her true king and his gospel of the kingdom come.

But Wright departs from Weiss and Schweitzer in seeing Jesus’ death not as a failure of mistaken hopes, but God’s paradoxical victory over sin and death, witnessed in the vindication of the resurrection Christ.

Since JVG, his inaugurated “already and not yet” eschatology has become clearer and more fully worked out.

Jesus is an eschatological and apocalyptic prophet in and through whom the kingdom comes. This world has been changed as a result and, because of Jesus’ resurrection, will be fully transformed in the future.

Thus, Wright says for Paul

“this hope both had been fulfilled through Jesus, in his kingdom-establishing death and resurrection, and the life-transforming spirit, and would yet be fulfilled in the second coming of Jesus and in the work of the same spirit to raise all of the Messiah’s people from the dead.”[1]

And from my chapter in The State of New Testament Studies

The nature of that transformation is holistic; it embraces the spiritual, political and social within a renewed creation. A consistent Wrightian theme is that the emphatically “earthy” nature of that future hope has social implications for the praxis of Christian ethics in the “here and now”.

Wright loves the big picture. Some say he pushes this too far in ways that the evidence does not support. But the story he tells is that Paul, the Synoptics, John and other New Testament authors all, in distinct ways, articulate a recognisably consistent eschatological hope in light of the story of Jesus Christ.

Wright summarises Paul this way

“The belief in a now and not yet inaugurated kingdom through the exaltation of the human being Jesus, Israel’s messiah, was not then a piece of clever apologetic invented in the late first century let alone the mid-twentieth century. It was part of the earliest apostolic gospel itself.”[2]

And for the Gospels

“John has his own ways of saying the same thing, but it is the same thing [as the Synoptics]. The gospels do not contain apocalyptic; in the first century sense they are apocalyptic. They are describing how the revelation, the unveiling, the visible coming of God took place.”[3]

God has disrupted the world in Jesus Christ’s life, death, resurrection and ascension to become reigning Lord.

A new revelation (apokalypsis) has unfolded. Reality will never be the same again.

The victory of God has been won, the long promised Spirit has been poured out, we live now in the overlap of the ages, the present evil age is passing away, the new age has dawned, flesh against Spirit, Spirit against the powers, God versus his enemies – all until the final consummation of the Kingdom when God will be all in all.  

This is how the NT sees things.

And it means that the Christian life within the community of the people of God, is eschatological through and through.

We live in an age of sin and death that is under the power of spiritual powers opposed to God and his kingdom. Unless Christians grasp this, and face the darkness head on, they will be ill-equipped for the battle.

Christmassy sentimental religious feel-goodism just does not cut it. The world is too broken. Injustice is too brutal. Sickness and suffering is too painful.

And this is where Fleming Rutledge comes in.

Few preachers have seen the challenge more clearly and how Advent is NOT primarily a time for preparing to celebrate the incarnation and birth of baby Jesus.

Rather it is a time to look into the heart of darkness with hope in the future coming of Jesus Christ as Lord and judge to overthrow Sin, Death and the Devil and establish his kingdom of light.

The next few posts this Advent will be in her company. You are welcome to join us.                                                                                                                                                   


[1] Wright, PFG, 1258-59. Emphasis original.

[2] Gifford Lecture 4, “The End of the World?”

[3] Gifford Lecture 4, “The End of the World?”

Eschatology and Advent (1)

Due to a couple of writing assignments I’ve been thinking and researching quite a bit about eschatology. The word comes from the Greek eschatos (‘last’) hence eschatology = theology of the last things.

This is the first of a few posts on the intersection of future hope and the Christian life in the present.

One reason for this series is as a form of preparation for Advent, so it will take us up to Christmas.

While concentration in most churches during Advent tends to be on the first coming of Jesus, Advent, like many OT prophecies, has a double focus on the present as well as the indeterminate future.

So Advent celebrates the First Coming as told in the Gospel narratives of the incarnation and birth of the Messiah AND the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, the judge, king and risen Lord. As we will get to later, within church tradition going back centuries it is the second coming that is a major focus of Advent, not primarily the baby Jesus lying in a crib in Bethlehem.

So, let’s get going and see where we get to.

These aren’t going to be devotional posts. It is going to be a mixture of theological discussion of eschatology within New Testament studies along with exposition of some key Advent themes.

At the beginning we’ll engage a bit with my chapter in The State of New Testament Studies (SNTS) as well, later on, with Fleming Rutledge’s book of collected sermons Advent: The Once and Future Coming of Jesus Christ.

In the first few posts, we are going to sketch of the recent ‘fortune’ of eschatology within New Testaments studies and theology.

It’s fair to say that eschatology has made a major come-back since the mid-twentieth century, and this was in no small part due to the German theologian Jurgen Moltmann who famously said that ‘Christianity is eschatology’.

Eschatology’s Come Back

It’s worth putting that famous saying in fuller context. It comes from his Theology of Hope (1964), a revolutionary book within theology if ever there was one.

“From first to last, and not merely in the epilogue, Christianity is eschatology, is hope, forward looking and forward moving, and therefore also revolutionizing and transforming the present. The eschatological is not one element of Christianity, but it is the medium of Christian faith as such, the key in which everything in it is set, the glow that suffuses everything here in the dawn of an expected new day.” (Theology of Hope (16)

Back when I was in theological college we did an entire term on Moltmann. Like a lot of things in life as you get older, looking back now I think I would get a lot more out of those classes now than I did at the time! Youth wasted on the young and all that …

He isn’t an easy writer to pin down, he talks in big picture abstractions and imagery that is often not clearly rooted exegetically, but he is often inspiring and here on eschatology he was dead right – take eschatology out of Christianity and there is virtually nothing recognisably Christian left in terms of NT belief.

The revolutionary impact of Moltmann is hard to imagine now over 50 years later. It needs to be set in context of social unrest of the time and in reaction against the long marginalisation of eschatology in New Testament study.

This relegation of eschatology was evident in classic liberalism, but also, I argue, was also present, if in a very different way, in critical responses to liberalism’s discomfort with Jesus the apocalyptic prophet of God’s kingdom come.

Classic Liberalism – the Wredestrasse

The trajectory of classic liberalism (eg Wilhelm Wrede, Albrecht Ritschl) was to marginalise eschatology – or perhaps more accurately, to reinterpret it only within the horizon of the present.

This has been called the Wredestrasse (a metaphor first used by T W Manson, taken up by Norman Perrin and then later by N T Wright) – a road directed into a very ‘this-worldly’ future. Christianity is reduced to being only about the present.

Albrecht Ritschl was the classic voice of a nineteenth-century German Lutheran liberalism in which the kingdom of God was typically an inward, spiritual, and already present reality, largely detached from contemporary Judaism and its apocalyptic eschatological hopes. Its motive was to demonstrate that the essential nature of Christian thought is focused on this world and current religious experience rather than some vague future realm. (Mitchel, SNTS, p.228)

Johannes Weiss and Albert Schweitzer – the Schweitzerstrasse

Two men threw grenades and basically blew up the Wredestrasse – or at least left a crater in it the size of a truck. In probably the most famous book ever published in Jesus studies, The Quest for the Historical Jesus (1906), Albert Schweitzer, closely following Johannes Weiss, called the bluff of liberalism.

Weiss followed an exegetical path that led him to believe in “the completely apocalyptic and eschatological character of Jesus’ idea of the Kingdom.” Similarly Schweitzer said that we may think we have Jesus neatly defined as “one of us”

“But He does not stay; He passes by our time and returns to his own.”[1]

For Schweitzer, Jesus’s entire life and thought are shaped by eschatological thought. But for both Weiss and Schweitzer, Jesus the apocalyptic prophet died a mistaken failure.

For Weiss:

Jesus’s task was to proclaim the imminent kingdom, not establish it. When the mission of the twelve failed to persuade many of the impending arrival of kingdom, Jesus decided to atone for the people’s guilt by his own death. He hoped to return, after death, in messianic glory, revealed at last to be the Danielic Son of Man at the coming of the kingdom. (Mitchel, SNTS, p.228)

Schweitzer saw it this way – Jesus’ apocalyptic mission led to

his heroic, yet doomed, attempt to force the hand of history through his own human agency. Schweitzer’s Jesus journeys to Jerusalem to die, giving his life as an atonement to facilitate the kingdom’s coming. (Mitchel, SNTS, p.229)

The irony was that for both Weiss and Schweitzer, their version of Jesus the failed apocalyptic prophet also marginalises eschatology: the eschaton did not arrive with the death of the Messiah. 

This meant that, despite Weiss and Schweitzer’s emphasis, eschatology was, in effect, “buried” with Jesus. For both men it was only a human Jesus who died on the cross. His actions are only significant in how they model courageous world-renouncing faith. Their view of Jesus resulted in a ‘present’ orientated ethical version of Christianity not very far from the liberalism they were criticising.

In the next post we will sketch how the Wredestrasse and Schweitzerstrasse continue to be followed right up to today. There are plenty of people travelling on both roads still … (Moltmann is solidly a Schweitzer guy in his reclaiming of the central place of eschatology in Christian theology – as N. T. Wright if in a very different way).

So, how about you? What place does eschatology have in your theology of hope? How does the future shape your life and priorities in the present? Which Strasse are you walking down?


[1] Schweitzer, Quest for the Historical Jesus, 397.

Musings on Richard Rohr’s Universal Christ – a modern day gnostic?

The new edition of VOX is out, with all sorts of news and stories from around Ireland.

In my musings column are some thoughts on Richard Rohr’s latest book The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See Hope and Believe.

A good way into Rohr’s thinking in his own words is through the accompanying website ‘The Universal Christ’

Someone asked me did I get up on the wrong side of the bed and deIcide to have a go at Rohr. Actually no, I started reading Rohr with an open mind. I hadn’t read him before although many people I know had. Several people had asked me what I thought of him given his huge popularity.

After reading him I think it is fair to say that he is a modern-day gnostic.

Rohr claims privledged knowledge. He does not say where it comes from, he just asserts all sorts of things without even attempting to defend or explain them.

Just read again the full title of the book – it takes some chutzpah to publish a title like that. Just ‘everything’ will be changed by the unique insight that Rohr along has access to and writes to tell us what he alone knows.

Sorry I just don’t buy such hubris. His claims about Jesus are quite fantastic and dualistic.

But scepticism towards Rohr’s claims is only a partial response. And so in the column there are some musings on what challenges his popularity raises for churches today. Here’s the content of the musings column:

Richard Rohr’s Universal Christ

Richard Rohr is a best-selling author and teacher. His latest book is The Universal Christ: how a forgotten reality can change everything we see, hope for and believe (SPCK, 2019). This piece is not so much a book review as a flavour of Rohr’s beliefs[1] followed by some musings on his popularity.

Rohr says he represents an ‘alternative orthodoxy’ and his understanding of Jesus sure is alternative. The ‘forgotten reality’ – that Rohr uniquely seems to have access to – is that Jesus and Christ are not the same.

‘Christ’ is, for Rohr, not a ‘him’ at all, but a ‘universal principle of truth’. This means that everyone can experience Christ, who is a ‘cosmic, but deeply personal energy field, available to all – Jews, Greeks, and pagans’. So, according to Rohr, since it is Christ, not Jesus, who says ‘I am the way, the truth and the life’ (John 14:6) this verse is not a call to belief in one person but ‘a mystery of Incarnation that can be experienced by all, and in a million different ways.’

Who, then, is Jesus? For Rohr he is the historical person from Galilee in whom God is seen to be personal and individual. Jesus is the ‘grounding wire that holds this huge force field of Christ onto the earth.’ We need Jesus to show us what love and forgiveness looks like, otherwise the Christian message is distorted to be ‘violent, exclusionary, segregationist, imperial and punitive.’

‘If Christ is like the kite, Jesus is the little boy flying the kite and keeping it from escaping away into invisibility … If Jesus is the little boy holding the kite string, Christ is the great banner in the sky, from whom all can draw life – even if they do not recognize the boy.’

That’s a taste of Rohr’s Universal Christ. If you are struggling to pin down what he means you are not alone. His arguments are little more than assertions and personal opinion. No serious biblical scholar would recognise his views of the Gospels or the rest of the New Testament. If a theology student was submitting The Universal Christ as a piece of academic research any reputable college would (or should) give it a fail. Ironically, for someone who champions inclusion, those that do not agree with his views are caricatured as being ‘primitive, exclusionary and fear-based’. In The Universal Christ sin is reduced to recognising that ‘I have never been separate from God nor can I be, except in my mind.’ The cross is reinterpreted as our ‘negative experiences’ and the gospel is psychologised as self-acceptance. There is little or no sense of the cost of discipleship. In other words, it is hard to read Rohr as a Christian author at all.

However, it would, I think, be too easy to dismiss Rohr as a false teacher telling people what their itching ears want to hear (2 Timothy 4:3). His massive popularity should make us ask what challenges does he pose to orthodox Christianity?

Rohr typifies the search to be ‘spiritual but not religious’ since organised religion is unspiritual and bad for your health. A challenge here is for churches to live up to their God-given calling to be Spirit-filled communities of love and justice.

Rohr effectively rejects themes like sin, repentance and forgiveness as negative and judgemental. A challenge here is for Christians joyfully to show that the gospel is good news that leads to a life of human flourishing – what we are for rather than what we are against.

In person and in word, Rohr displays a kindness, welcome, compassion and inclusion for everyone – yet at the cost of ignoring the power of sin within ourselves and our broken world. A challenge for the church today is to hold these two things together.

Rohr wants to make the Bible story simple, beautiful and attractive, yet at the cost of rewriting the script altogether. The challenge here is for Christians to know and communicate the Bible faithfully yet in ways that speak to people’s everyday lives.

And if Rohr’s success lies, at least in part, in how he taps into our culture’s obsession with self-acceptance and inclusion, a challenge for the church today is not to lose its nerve and continue to preach Jesus Christ crucified – however foolish that message may seem.

PS. An addendum. See this earlier post on Fleming Rutledge and gnosticism for her mention of Richard Rohr as a modern example.


[1] Sources used are from the book and material from the Universal Christ website http://universalchrist.cac.org/