Review: The Universal Christ

A review by Dwight A. Moody

 

Richard Rohr is the very popular and influential Christian author, priest, and spiritual guide whose work emanates from the Center for Action and Contemplation in New Mexico. He has written many books, but this is the first one I have read.

 

The book is a description of “the Christ Mystery, the indwelling of the Divine Presence in everyone and everything since the beginning of time…” He begins by quoting the English mystic Caryll Houselander as she describes an epiphany that opened her soul to this way of encountering the world.

 

He could have just as easily invoked the experience of the even more famous Trappist monk Thomas Merton who famously testified to the same sort of inner transformation while standing, he wrote, as the corner of Fourth and Walnut (now Muhammed Ali) in downtown Louisville. I had a very similar experience many years ago, about which I have never spoken or written, sitting in an airport and watching the people walk to and from a boarding gate.

 

Rohr gives me a vocabulary to describe what I realized that day in the airport: that Christ is in every person I saw, pulling them toward a destiny that has already been revealed in the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

 

Fundamental to Rohr’s vision is this: what Christians call the incarnation—the coming of the Divine into human life in the person of Jesus—was first realized when God created the heavens and the earth. The Christ Mystery is present in every single element of the creation: every blade of grass, every dinosaur and dog, every star and galaxy. And, of course, every person—of every race, and tribe, and creed, and culture.

 

It is, to say the least, an expansive vision of reality and religion. It emerges from elements of scripture, tradition, and practice that we often overlook.

 

Rohr is a winsome writer, surely a function of his generous spirit and expansive vision of what it means to live as a Christian. There are many phrases, clauses, and sentences to note; here are a few that leaped right off the page into my personal data bank:

 

“Instead of saying that God came into the world through Jesus, maybe it would be better to say that Jesus came out of an already Christ-soaked world” (15).

 

“As a rule, we were more interested in the superiority of our own tribe, group, or nation than we were in the wholeness of creation” (45).

 

“The proof that you are a Christian is that you can see Christ everywhere else” (51).

 

“Religion … is more about waking up than about cleaning up” (72).

 

“Resurrection and renewal are … the universal and observable pattern of everything” (99).

 

“It is not God who is violent. We are. It is not that God demands suffering of humans. We do. God does not need or want suffering—neither in Jesus nor in us” (146).

 

“I suspect that Western individualism has done more than any other single factor to anesthetize and even euthanize the power of the Gospel” (164).

 

“Jesus came to undo our notions of scarcity and tip us over into a worldview of absolute abundance—or what he would call the Kingdom of God” (185).

 

Along the way, Rohr endorses Merton and a host of the ancient saints and also Yung, Berry, Crossan, and C. S. Lewis: not bad company.
Theologians recognize this vision of things by two words: panentheism and universalism; and we also note that Rohr overlooks some elements of both history and scripture that surely would cause us to question him closely about this interpretation of Christianity.

 

That being said, I confess that among the many things I liked about this book is the way he embraced the ideas and practices of his own Roman Catholic tradition, finding in them (often overlooked) potential for radical reinterpretation in line with this reading of the Gospel. This inspires me to search for the same in my smaller, younger Baptist tradition.

 

I read this book straight through, alone in my room. But I am sure it is a more powerful experience when read with others, talking about every idea as you encounter them. Find a group. Organize a club. Read this book.

 

copyright 2019 Dwight A. Moody