The Wisdom Pattern is the next to latest book from Richard Rohr as of this writing (February 2021). It is a revised edition of a 2001 book, Hope against Darkness: The Transforming Vision of St. Francis in an Age of Anxiety. For reasons of space and time, only certain prominent themes have been addressed.
Rohr’s ideas and language are sometimes broad and undefined; therefore, many read meanings into what Rohr writes that do not sync with his beliefs. However, if one is familiar with his writings, his massive blog site at cac.org, or his numerous videos and interviews, one can more readily understand his message.
It is not surprising to find Rohr expressing Panentheism in this book. Rohr misinterprets certain Scripture passages to support this view that Christ is in creation based on his belief that the first incarnation of Christ was creation.
Rohr cites Ephesians 4:4-6 and Colossians 1:15-20 on pages 18, 149, and 152, and asserts that the phrases of the Lord being over all and through all and in all mean God is in creation. This is a rookie mistake and it strains credibility to imagine anyone thinks this. The passages are usually expressing Christ’s dominance and power over creation. The idea of God being a part of creation goes against God’s attributes and the account of creation itself. Not only is there no passage in the Bible that teaches Panentheism, but it teaches beliefs contra Panentheism. The Colossians passage is also about Jesus as head of the church.
References to Panentheistic ideas are scattered throughout the book. It is important to know that Rohr’s Panentheism is part of his Perennial Wisdom beliefs. Perennial Wisdom, or the Perennial philosophy, is the view that all religions share the same source and spring from the same truth. This means that no religion is more true than any other religion. They are all equally true despite outward differences.
This idea is esoteric in nature because it depends on something that cannot be propositionally argued or proven, is hidden from all, and is only discoverable through mystical practices by those seeking this “truth.” In fact, followers of Perennial Wisdom state that one must realize this truth, or awaken to it, through inner journeying and knowing (via mystical practices). Naturally, anyone on this journey is probably expecting to discover it, and so they will. There is no way to test it objectively.
Although Rohr does not explicitly bring up Perennial Wisdom, the title of the book hints at it by using the word “Wisdom,” a key word in Perennial views. It is implicit in other ideas expressed in the book.
The god of Perennial Wisdom, sometimes called Divine Reality, Presence, the One, the Absolute, Living Wisdom or other names, is present in creation and within human beings. Perennial Wisdom entails Panentheism.
One cannot sincerely confess to the historic Christian faith and be a Perennialist, because in Perennial Philosophy, the death of Christ is not necessary since all have always had a True Self in God, and have God in the True Self. There is no need for salvation or forgiveness of sins.
The True Self and Other Selves
There are many references to the True Self, the false self, and the small self. Rohr never defines these terms although, at one point, he writes My deepest me is God (146) which is Rohr’s interpretation of Galatians 2:20:
It is no longer I, but Christ living in me.
Only if one twists the meaning of Galatians 2:20 and takes it out of context, could it ever resemble Rohr’s paraphrase of it. But Rohr teaches that we all have “divine DNA,” a belief rooted in his Panentheism, because if creation is the first incarnation of Christ, and we are all part of creation, then we are all part of Christ. So Panentheism causes Rohr to twist the meaning of biblical passages in order to support his ideas.
On his blog, Rohr makes this belief crystal clear:
Christ is our shortcut word for “The Body of God” or “God materialized.” This Christ is much bigger and older than either Jesus of Nazareth or the Christian religion, because the Christ is whenever the material and the divine co-exist–which is always and everywhere. From “The Cosmic Christ,” Nov. 5, 2015 at https://rb.gy/j61plt
These words reveal Rohr’s teaching that there is a distinction between Jesus and the Christ. In one interview, Rohr stated that the universe is the body of Christ. It should be noted this is not a New Age idea. The most common New Age views of Christ see “Christ” as a state of awakening to one’s innate divinity or as a Christ spirit that descends on and inhabits various advanced spiritual teachers. The New Age focuses on transcending the material world while Rohr emphasizes the material as literally containing the divine presence.
Rohr asserts that we have a “Godself, the True Self, the self ‘hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3:3).'” Rohr cites Colossians 3:3 as his text. (164). However, this Colossians passage is part of an admonishment to live a life that reflects one having been saved by Christ. The verse prior speaks of being raised with Christ, referring to the resurrection. The Christian has a resurrected life, a new life in Christ which leads to glory (see following verse). Rohr shamelessly misinterprets Scripture right and left.
Rohr also uses the terms the Great Self, the Christ Self (50) and the True-Self-in-God (73). There must be “deconstruction” of the false self (196). Rohr writes that contemplation is
where we get the false self out of the way and the gift shows itself like an apparition (129).
This view of a True Self, like Panentheism, is part of Rohr’s Perennial Wisdom, which plays a major role in Rohr’s Enneagram teachings. David G. Benner, regarded as a “Christian” writer, who is a Master Teacher at Rohr’s school, also uses terms such as Christ self and the Christ-in-me to refer to the Perennial True Self.
“Redemptive violence” is what Rohr disparagingly calls the personal substitutionary atonement (PSA) of Christ, which he vehemently denies and denounces (not just in this book but on his blog, and in numerous writings and interviews). Apparently, the term redemptive violence is not Rohr’s originally. Progressive theologian Walter Wink has used it and Wink may have borrowed it from others.
Rohr references Luke 21:19 and writes that “redemptive suffering instead of redemptive violence is the Jesus way” (184). Looking at that passage in Luke 21, we see Jesus is telling his disciples about future persecution and that by your endurance, you will gain your lives. This advice from Jesus does not negate the Old Testament teaching of the need of an atonement for sins (Leviticus 1:4-5, 17:11, 14; Isaiah 53:4-6; Hebrews 5:1-3, 7:27). The Hebrew word translated as “atonement” comes from a Hebrew word meaning “to cover” and “to propitiate.”
The Old Testament, in the Old Testament atonement, and related phrases, such as sacrifice of atonement, most often translates the Hebrew piel verb kipur and two related nouns, one, kippurim, found always in the plural and signifying the noun equivalent of kipur, and the other, kapporeth, meaning the so-called mercy-seat or the place where the sacrifice of atonement happens. These occur with meanings related to atonement around 140 times, almost always in the context of the cults, as a sacrifice for sins and to provide reconciliation to God. – From Bible Study Tools at https://rb.gy/yedghi
The English word atonement is used to describe the New Testament concept of Christ presented as our reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18), as a propitiation (1 John 4:10), in giving his life as “a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28), having poured out his blood “for the forgiveness of sins” (Matt. 26:28). – From Theopedia at https://rb.gy/6wwobx
The personal substitutionary atonement of Jesus is too large a topic to tackle here, but there are many resources on it.* Scripture reveals that due to God’s righteousness, he cannot excuse or overlook sin, and sin must be judged in some way. Jesus willingly laid down his life (John 10: 11, 18; 1 John 3:16) to be the sacrifice to pay the penalty for sins (2 Corinthians 5:21). In doing so, Jesus suffered that judgment on sin. Jesus was not a victim of God, the Roman empire, the Jewish leaders, or anyone else.
An image to cherish from Scripture is this:
And it came to pass, when the time had come for Him to be received up, that He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem. Luke 9:51 KJV
The King James wording gives a stronger depiction of Jesus’ resolution to go to Jerusalem where he knew he would be crucified. Interestingly though, it refers to his coming ascension and not crucifixion (the Greek translated as received up means ascension). The Luke 9 passage, as many have noted, is a fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy in 50:7, which refers to the victory of the crucifixion:
For the Lord GOD helps Me,
Therefore, I am not disgraced;
Therefore, I have made My face like flint,
And I know that I will not be ashamed.
So Jesus made his face like flint and was unwaveringly steadfast in heading toward Jerusalem.
Jerusalem is mentioned 31 times in the Gospel of Luke as opposed to 12 in Matthew, 11 in Mark, and 13 in John. Luke’s focus on the holy city is strong and there are many statements after this one about Jesus on his way to Jerusalem and/or talking about going to Jerusalem, in chapters 13, 17, 18 and 19. This demonstrates how willing and determined Jesus was to complete his mission. These and many other passages destroy Rohr’s argument against the atonement for sins and his description of Jesus as a victim.
Jesus as presented by Rohr is a weak and colorless figure compared to the vivid depiction of him we have in Scripture.
The Cosmic Egg
One chapter is called “The Cosmic Egg.” This chapter is where Rohr combines his ideas of the True Self, the small self, duality, the nondual mind, the mystics, Jungian archetypes, and mythology.
The Cosmic Egg is one egg enclosed in another enclosed in another, so there are three of them. The first one is the “me” level and the small self searching for meaning. The second level branches out to group identities, tribalism, God and country, but still retains the small self. The third layer is the nondual level of the mystics and the one least attained, according to Rohr.
Rohr believes we are living in a false reality that masks the true one of nonduality. At the book’s end, Rohr writes that the role of the prophet is “about letting go of illusion and toppling false gods.” (196). This idea of needing to let go of illusion is consistent with Perennial Wisdom. We do not know the True Self or actual reality until we take that inner journey, according to those who follow Perennial Wisdom.
Jesus Holds Opposites?
Rohr’s idea of nonduality is that one can hold opposites together:
The greater the opposites we can hold together, the greater soul we usually have (17).
I am not sure what a greater soul means but Rohr clearly thinks it is superior. He also ties the Holy Spirit to this, saying that the Holy Spirit is the neglected member of the Trinity because
we don’t know how to dogmatize or control, wind, water, or doves alighting from the sky (see John 3:8).
Rohr seems to equate certainty with being dualistic while mystery and nonduality are not knowing or not being certain, which for Rohr means being humble. So the Holy Spirit is for Rohr a picture of this mystery. The “folly of the cross,” he writes, is “where we cannot prove we are right” (17).
If we need to be uncertain to be humble, then that means objective truth does not matter, that God does not care about truth, or that God has not revealed truth. But truth based on who God is and how he revealed himself is a major theme of the Bible. Being uncertain on some things is normal, but when it comes to who God is, who Jesus is, and which eternity we face, uncertainty is a disaster.
Jesus “was crucified on a collision of opposites (14), Rohr asserts, and Jesus holds together the tension of opposites”(18). Furthermore, writes Rohr, Jesus
is the archetype of what it means to be a full human being. He holds together heaven and earth, divine and human, a male body with a female soul (17-18).
I am not sure where Rohr gets the “female soul” of Jesus but clearly Rohr views this as preferable to a “male soul.” My guess is that Rohr equates militancy and duality with maleness. Of course, this just shows he is falling into stereotypes if he does think that.
We are to realize that “we are also daughters of God and daughters of earth, of divinity and of flesh, of ego and of shadow.” When these opposites “happily coexist within us, one might say we are ‘saved'” (18).
Rohr believes that all of us are part divine, part flesh (human). The opposites in us need to be united so that we can be whole and nondual. Later, Rohr continues this idea by writing that Jesus is
the living icon of integration, “the coincidence of opposites,” who “holds all things in unity” within himself (Colossians 1:15-20). (149).
In the next to last sentence in the book, Rohr repeats this by writing that in Jesus “all things cohere, all opposites are overcome.” (He cites Colossians 1:15-20 again).
This appears to be part of Rohr’s view of reality that opposites meet and are overcome, and explains why he loves Carl Jung’s teaching on the shadow self, something Rohr often references. The idea of opposites being part of the whole is found in many beliefs, such as Taoism. The Yin and Yang of Taoism appear opposite but are said to be constantly merging with each other. This is why there is a black dot on the white side and vice-versa. This view is found in the New Age, in Wicca, and in other esoteric teachings.
On his blog, Rohr ties this idea of opposites into the cross:
It’s a statement from God that reality has a cruciform pattern. Jesus was killed in a collision of cross-purposes, conflicting interests, and half-truths, caught between the demands of an empire and the religious establishment of his day. The cross was the price Jesus paid for living in a ‘mixed’ world, which is both human and divine, simultaneously broken and utterly whole.
……Jesus the Christ, in his crucifixion and resurrection, “recapitulated all things in himself, everything in heaven and everything on earth.” (Ephesians 1:10). From “How Do We Save the World,” May 6, 2021 at https://tinyurl.com/7bxxu5xc
Jesus is not where opposites disappear. This is Rohr’s idea of nonduality where distinctions are erased by merging. That would be illogical and impossible, since opposites cannot merge. By definition, opposites are opposed to each other. It reminded me of Deepak Chopra who wrote in his book about knowing God that God is where opposites are resolved and disappear. The idea is that opposites are not truly opposite but just the way humanity perceives things due to not understanding the true dynamics of the universe.
In truth, Jesus Christ is untouched by sin, evil, falsehood, deception, or anything that would be the opposite of truth, goodness, sincerity, or trustworthiness. He embodies all the perfect attributes of God. Jesus cannot tolerate sin and it is against his nature to accept it. Therefore, Jesus Christ cannot be some sort of melting pot for opposites.
This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. 1 John 1:5
HE WHO COMMITTED NO sin, NOR WAS ANY DECEIT found IN HIS MOUTH; and while being abusively insulted, He did not insult in return; while suffering, He did not threaten, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously. 1 Peter 2:22-24
In sum, Rohr presents what can appear to be clever and profound observations about life, spirituality, Jesus, and God. At times he makes statements I agree with. However, when his main ideas are dissected, one uncovers illogical thinking, misuse of Scripture, a false view of Jesus Christ, and a rejection of God’s truth.
*I highly recommend Pierced for Our Transgressions by Steve Jeffery, Michael Ovey, and Andrew Sach (Crossway, 2007) on the topic of the penal substitutionary atonement.