Why this book?
I read this book at the request of some parents whose children were using this book in a Christian school. It is promoted as a book on worldviews to inform students and aid their discernment. However, the book undermines the idea of objective truth and promotes Perennial Wisdom, but in a covert manner. Only selected topics are addressed here, not the whole book.
Perennial Wisdom (also called the Perennial Philosophy or the Perennial Tradition) avers that there is one core truth at the heart of all religions. Though they differ outwardly, all religions are rooted in the same divine reality, which is discovered through a person’s inward journey (see CANA article on Perennial Wisdom and Christianity). The True Self of each person has never been separated from God, so no salvation is necessary, only awakening to this divine reality. Mysticism is the bridge that leads to the realization of this truth.
Perennial Wisdom does not teach that all religions should merge because Perennial followers believe that various religions reveal truth to those who seek it, and each way is equally valid. Perennial Wisdom should not be equated with the New Age, though they have some similar and overlapping views.
Nothing is 100% Certain
Section one of this book, which includes five chapters, has a theme that nothing can be 100% verifiable or certain. Everything is based on trust and what we consider to be trustworthy. But, writes Dominguez, our trust is via fallible eyes, hands, ears, tongues, noses and our often malleable and fragile brains to make sense of the world (17). Dominguez writes that these perception tools have been inaccurate and could be wrong right now (17).
What Dominguez appears to be saying is that reality or truth is what we perceive it to be and we cannot know for certain what is true. If that is the case, how can his assertion be true? How do we know that Dominguez is not basing this idea on his own malleable and fragile brain?
Even if Dominguez is coming at this from an angle to get readers to think, his premise is flawed because it is based on the idea that nothing is certain, and we must decide what is trustworthy. This kind of thinking was common with the Emergents like Rob Bell and Brian McLaren and others. In fact, Dominguez quotes Erwin McManus, who was also one of the Emergents (now called Progressives).
Dominguez admits he believes in objective truth but that his personal access to it is subjective. But since Jesus did not ask us to prove we are right but only to trust him, writes Dominguez, then it is okay. The problem with this contention is that trust in Christ is different from the trust that Dominguez is discussing. If it were the same, it would be a bad testament to Christ and objective truth.
Dominguez equates trust in what is true based on subjective access to trust in Christ. However, objective historical evidence for the existence of Jesus, even from non-Christian sources, the amazing amount of documentary evidence for the New Testament, and the internal consistency of Scripture calls for more than an uncertain trust based on subjective channels.
Although Dominguez is not writing a survey of evidence for Christ or the Bible, his approach is a flawed one that is not helpful in determining truth claims. As a book for students, this approach has graver consequences than if it were simply expressing the author’s ideas for the general reader.
On page 30, Dominguez writes that trust activates truth. This sounds like truth is based on what we choose to believe. I do not know how to interpret this any other way and if that is what is meant, it is quite alarming. His other statements only support this erroneous view.
He interprets John the Baptist calling for people to repent to mean that one must change their mind and let go of old views. By using our choice, we can do this (36). However, what John the Baptist called for was based on God’s revelation and on absolute truth. It was not just a call for people to change minds and make choices based on subjective perceptions, but a call to turn to the living God. It was a message based on the words of a prophet (John) foretold in the Hebrew Scriptures (Isaiah 40:3-5; Malachi 3:1, 4:5) who was called and ordained by God to announce God’s truth. This is diminished in the book.
On page 37 there is an excerpt from Richard Rohr’s blog. The quote is the second paragraph of an essay found on Rohr’s site at https://cac.org/universal-reality-2016-04-21/ called “Universal Reality.”
It is important to note that Richard Rohr is completely heretical, even by liberal standards. His view on creation, God, man, sin, the atonement, Jesus, and the future is totally at odds with the biblical worldview. (I have been tracking Rohr since 2013 and have watched and listened to dozens of his talks, lectures, podcasts, interviews, and I read and wrote articles on three of his books). Here is the excerpt:
Much of Western culture is saddled with the conviction that humans must rationally create and explain all meaning for themselves. But this task is impossible, and so the search for meaning inevitably collapses into nihilism. The seeker gives up, assuming, “Since I can’t figure it out, everything must be absurd and meaningless. There is no meaning, except what I manufacture, what I decide to believe.” No civilization or community can be founded on this individualistic worldview, because it is simply a collection of competing egos fighting for their dominant story based on private individuals’ experience, hurts, perception, and education. This is most of North America and Europe today. (Richard Rohr, as quoted in Dominguez)
Rohr is very much against what he calls Western. He has stated that the Eastern church (Eastern Orthodox) retained at least some of what Rohr considers to be truth: nondual thinking, contemplative practices, mysticism, a view of Christ distinct from Jesus, and not following the Bible in a literal way.
The statement is anti-logic and downgrades rational thinking. This is because all those like Rohr who advocate mysticism (this is also true in the New Age) are against what they view as rational or logical thinking when it comes to beliefs. Ironically, the words denounce individual experience and perception which is what Rohr bases truth on. The reference to education is another way to demean intellectual efforts or analytical thinking.
Rohr pits his spirituality against critical thinking because logic and reason easily dismantle Rohr’s beliefs. Yet God’s word upholds reason, which is rooted in God’s character ((Isaiah 1:18; Matthew 22:37; Acts 17:17, 18:4, 19; Psalms 16:7; Proverbs 1:2-5; 18:15, 22:17; Romans 12:3; 1 Corinthians 14:15; Hebrews 10:16; the book of Romans is a logical apologetic for the Christian faith; the Holy Spirit transforms the mind of the believer, Romans 12:2).
It is sadly ironic that in a book that supposedly enhances the critical thinking of students, an influential figure who discourages such thinking looms so large in the book.
Dominguez writes that nobody can substantiate his or her understanding of the truth (38; he also repeats this on p. 44). Christian apologists would disagree. External evidence and compelling arguments do exist for the historical Jesus, the documentary reliability of the Bible, and the rationale for a Christian worldview.
Dominguez writes about making choices and that choice is the essence and lifeblood of trust (39). We must keep finding what is trustworthy. That may be part of a search for truth but what does it rest on? He seems to say you just need to make a choice and choose what works as trustworthy for you. This is a search for what is true from a very postmodern angle.
The Four Worldviews
The book continues with its theme of trust. Dominguez writes that all the answers are based on trust (63). If I were a young believer or were struggling with my faith, I would find little comfort in the idea that trust is based on what we find trustworthy. What criteria do we have for that? That is not explained.
The rest of this section describes the four worldviews Dominguez is focused on: Pure Idealism, Authentic Materialism, Complete Monism, and Religious Theism. The first he defines as seeing everything as spiritual. Materialism is the opposite and views all as purely physical. Monism is a belief that the physical and spiritual realms are connected with no distinctions.
For the fourth, Religious Theism, Dominguez uses a definition that is not standard: the reality of the spiritual and material realms are deeply connected but with real distinctions. Theism, however, is usually defined as the belief in one God, but God is not even mentioned. Theism acknowledges both the spiritual and material but the focus is on one God, not on any kind of connection between the material and spiritual.
This definition from Dominguez would seem baffling if Rohr’s influence on Dominguez were not known, but since Rohr’s influence is a factor, that explains the definition. Rohr continually talks about the melding of spirit and matter as part of his Panentheism.
This is worrisome enough, but what Dominguez claims about the relationship between these four views is equally disconcerting.
Interlude: Video of Dominguez
Just as I started Section Three, I received a link to a YouTube video by Matthew Dominguez in which he talks to students about Richard Rohr and about the lights on in monism and the truth in monism about Christ. (This video has since been removed).
Dominguez begins by saying that he has given ten devotionals from Richard Rohr to the students. Dominguez adds that in our Western and Evangelical worldview we often don’t get the light of monism…. like Richard Rohr does. Dominguez also states he would love to have Rohr come to the school to speak in the chapel.
Richard Rohr has a Christ-centered and biblical worldview, declares Dominguez around 6 minutes in. However, Rohr’s view of the Bible is that men wrote it at different states of spiritual evolvement. Furthermore, Rohr teaches that Matthew, Mark, and Luke wrote about Jesus, but John and Paul wrote about the Universal Christ. Jesus and the Universal Christ are not one and the same (see link to CANA article on Richard Rohr’s The Universal Christ). Rohr does not have a biblical worldview at all and he teaches a heretical Christ.
Since Dominguez calls Rohr a mentor and states I’ve read pretty much every book by Richard Rohr, he must know what Rohr believes. He also claims Rohr is a trusted voice.
He recommends Rohr’s book Immortal Diamond (and two other books) about our identity in Christ and how it is soooo good. However, Rohr’s view of our identity in Christ is based on Panentheism (God and creation interpenetrate each other, and God is dependent on creation) and Perennialism. We are all in Christ because the first incarnation of Christ is creation, Rohr believes. And our true Self is in Christ because in the Perennial view, everyone has an innate true Self that is part of God and was never separated from God.
The video merely verifies the influence of Richard Rohr on Dominguez and his book.
A Painting in Four Parts
In chapter 14, Dominguez uses the metaphor of the Da Vinci painting of the Last Supper being divided into four parts. He writes that although each part comes from the original, only that part of the picture can be seen. He compares this to the four worldviews (Idealism, Materialism, Monism, and Theism), saying that each has part of the truth but are incomplete, and are completed by the other parts.
His assumption is that these worldviews all have a piece of truth and when connected, they yield the whole truth. However, three of these four are not only false but contrary to the Christian worldview. They cannot offer “truth” to the biblical worldview nor does the biblical worldview need additional so-called truth. If such truth could be added, it would mean that the Bible is incomplete for our needs, that God overlooked some information.
On page 123, Dominguez denies being a pluralist. However, pluralism and Perennial Wisdom are different categories. Dominguez does not use the term Perennial wisdom, or anything similar, but the book and his references to Richard Rohr give strong indications that he may be in agreement with that view.
Pluralism is defined as a political philosophy holding that people of different beliefs, backgrounds, and lifestyles can coexist in the same society and participate equally in the political process. This is the most common definition. Whether Dominguez is a pluralist or not is irrelevant to the problems found with the book’s messages.
Perennial Wisdom is a spiritual belief that acknowledges that all religions though outwardly different at their core share the same divine reality (God) or core truth. However, this truth is not apparent. One must discover it on an inward journey via mystical (Contemplative) practices.
Dominguez states that the undivided person of Christ is the complete painting and Christ is far bigger than any of this (123-124). He writes that we can only get glimpses of the fullness of reality. The term undivided indicates that pieces of Christ are found in other religions since we only have glimpses of.
What does it mean to say Christ is bigger than any of this? It is reminiscent of Richard Rohr’s Universal Christ, a Christ seen from everywhere like a kite in the sky attached to a string held by Jesus (this illustration is given on Rohr’s site for his book). Not everyone sees Jesus, but they see the Christ. In other words, Christ is captured in all beliefs and not exclusive to any one belief, and can be known outside of knowing Jesus.
Many Christians, when reading odd statements such as those about the 4-part painting and Christ being bigger than all this, would shrug and read on, or perhaps interpret it in a way that makes it seem orthodox. That is one reason why these ideas fly under the radar and infiltrate churches and schools. Another reason is that a book and author are accepted because of reputation, friendship, or a seemingly credible publisher. However, a simple investigation could turn up worms under the rock.
Using the metaphor of a chandelier, Dominguez writes that Christ is the light in each of the four bulbs (worldviews), and that all religions have light in them. Dominguez’ contention is that one can find Christ in the other three worldviews.
Don Veinot (one of my two co-authors of Richard Rohr and the Enneagram Secret), who also read this book, pointed out that the light we may find in other religions, or what looks like light, only may reflect the light of Christ. It is not that there is an authentic light of Christ in each religion. The chandelier metaphor is perfectly suited for the Perennial Wisdom view, not for the biblical worldview.
Dominguez writes that Jesus encompasses all of reality (128). Dominguez is making a point that Christ is bigger than our understanding of him. While we cannot totally comprehend God and we do not know everything about Jesus, God’s word gives a very full picture of who Jesus Christ is, a picture that meets our needs. Dominguez implies not just that Jesus can be found in other religions, but that there is additional data on Jesus in other worldviews that is not in Christianity; that is the fullness of reality.
Dominguez misuses the Matthew passage (6:22-23) about the eye as the lamp of the body by telling the reader to replace the word eye with the word worldview. There are disagreements on what this passage means but one widely accepted view is that this is an idiom about having greed or envy. This makes sense considering the preceding verses about not storing up treasures on earth, and the following verse about how one cannot serve two masters, God and the things of this world.
To use the word worldview as a meaning in this passage in Matthew does not fit the context, linguistically, culturally, or theologically, but it does fit with Perennial Wisdom.
The Bronze Serpent
When talking about Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus, Dominguez writes that Jesus referred to the bronze serpent from Numbers 21 and all that was needed was a
glance at the Fullness of reality giving himself up to restore us to our full selves….Jesus tells Nicodemus that salvation is a glance…. (140; emphasis added).
Is salvation just a glance? The passage in John 3 states:
And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes will have eternal life in Him. Verses 14-15
Believing is more than a glance. The term fullness of reality appears again. This makes sense in Rohr’s world because his view is that most do not see true spiritual reality but are hampered by their beliefs.
Further down, Dominguez writes about receiving the gift of perfection — becoming the perfected version of yourself. Considering the influence of Rohr on Dominguez, I think that this perfected version of yourself and the full selves just quoted are likely the True Self taught by Rohr. This True Self is an innate self that was never separated from God, as explained in what is written in Part One. In a Christian context such language makes no sense. These terms and others in the book are red flags that should trigger investigation.
God’s word teaches that those who have believed in Christ are being conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29), not to a perfected version of self. But Dominguez does not write about being conformed to the image of Christ.
In chapter 18, Dominguez writes that the universe is connected supernaturally/spiritually through the Holy Spirit of Christ. He refers to scriptures in John 17, Romans 6, and First Corinthians 1. However, the Holy Spirit is not a force or energy connecting the material world.
He points to Colossians 1:11-22 to say that Christ holding all things together means that all humanity is far more connected than it is divided (he also made this point in a podcast on Point of View, falsely equating this with monism). But Colossians is not saying that all humanity is mystically connected by Christ. It is stating that Christ upholds creation by his power. This passage is one of Rohr’s favorites to misuse to support his Panentheism.
Dominguez writes that Spirituality is embedded in the material reality and material reality is embedded in spirituality, thus giving spirituality expression and shape (156). This is patently false and is Panentheism. No biblical teaching exists to support this but rather refutes it. This, however, is a favorite with Rohr. Rohr talks about reality and Christ as the amalgam of the spiritual and the material. It seems as though Dominguez has embraced Rohr’s Panentheism.
Dominguez writes of flaws that would exist in theism without the light and truth of monism and without the light of idealism (164). But he has it backwards. The truths of God’s world and character do not need any light or truth from monism or idealism, assuming there is even any truth in them.
God’s truth and character is not lacking in any area because it is complete; it is absolute, objective truth. The love and goodness Dominguez assumes from idealism are attributes of God; God does not need to borrow from idealism or monism. Monism is a unity with no distinctions, but there are clear distinctions between God and creation.
Dominguez writes that theism needs the light of unity from monism. In a sentence that Rohr could have written himself, Dominguez states that without this light of unity from monism
religious theism creates us-verses-them attitudes…. that use rules and moralism to intentionally exclude and create an ‘in’ crowd and an ‘out’ one. In Christianity alone, this has produced thousand and thousands of denominations….. (165)
Rohr repeatedly criticizes what he says are teachings about who’s in and who’s out as being part of dualistic Western Christianity. This is one way Rohr denies God’s wrath on sin, God’s judgment, and hell. It is one of Rohr’s chief accusations against the church. The reference to rules and moralism are also words that Rohr has used to accuse Western Christianity of being too focused on logic and reason, among other things.
Dominguez continues by stating that theism is beholden to the light of materialism for understanding the here and now and that without this light, Christians are too focused on spiritual salvation, heaven, and forget that Jesus was here in a physical body (165-166). But Theism does not need any so-called light from materialism to recognize physical reality and needs, or as a reminder that Jesus incarnated as man. In fact, the bodily resurrection of Jesus is the central tenet of the gospel (1 Cor. 15) and is a focus in churches, seminaries, theology books, and apologetics. The incarnation was a much-discussed topic of the early church defending the full humanity of Jesus against heresies.
Historic Christianity has always held to the importance of the bodily resurrection of Jesus in Christian theology, especially since this is connected to the biblical teaching of the Christian’s own future bodily resurrection.
Dominguez channels Rohr with a harsh denouncement of Christian theism needing the other three lights to remind them that Jesus’ birth was good news to all people. He claims that without the other three lights, theism tends to establish a rigid moral code and religious authority. In a very harsh statement, he writes that without the three lights of idealism, monism, and materialism, theism can create a false god and misuse religion and religious authority.
This attack on Christian Theism makes some accusations from non-Christians look pale by comparison. Christian theism does not create false gods but rather is the ground upon which such beliefs are discerned and condemned. It is also a straw man to accuse Christianity of pushing rigid moral codes and authority. Just because Christianity has been misused throughout history does not mean that those actions are endorsed by God or by God’s word.
This claim about the other three lights and the attack on Christian Theism should have been sufficient to keep this book out of students’ hands.
The Tortured Paradox
Christians should not assume we have all the light there is, argues Dominguez. In other words, Christianity does not have the full truth. Dominguez has just said this in the previous chapter and repeats it later on page 180. He urges readers to embrace paradox. Paradox is one of Rohr’s favorite words, along with mystery and wonder, both of which Dominguez uses.
On page 169, Dominguez quotes Rohr:
the binary, dualistic mind cannot deal with contradictions, paradox, or mystery
For Rohr, that means being more nondual and inwardly focused. The binary mind for Rohr is dualistic and therefore unable to capture supposed deeper nondual truths, such as being already at one with God. Rohr rejects binary categories such as heaven/hell, sinner/saved, lost/redemption, and wicked/righteous. Yet these categories are clearly taught in God’s word and throughout church history.
Dominguez echoes Rohr in his condemnation of what he terms binary and dualistic because he, like Rohr, rejects God’s judgment and that separation will exist as part of God’s plan (Matthew 25:31-46 and Revelation 20:11-15). But the Bible teaches that God is binary; in fact, God is the ultimate binary if that term can be used to make a point. Starting in the Old Testament, God was teaching his people that he is holy through the laws he gave regarding clean and unclean. In First Peter, we read:
As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (Verses 15-16)
The word holy comes from a word meaning different from and implies being set apart. Being holy and unholy, being the same as or different from are clearly binary.
In a podcast interview, Dominguez made the same mistake about paradox as he does in the book. He states that incorporating views from all four worldviews is a paradox we should embrace.
But a paradox is not a contradiction; a paradox is an apparent contradiction. Dominguez uses the term in speaking of actual contradictions because the first three worldviews do not complement or add to the Christian worldview. Consequently, taking from those worldviews for a Christian outlook is not a paradox; it is a contradiction, should be termed a contradiction, and should be rejected.
This book, so cleverly marketed as a helpful book for Christian students, is essentially an attack on the Bible and on the historic Christian faith. But it is being used and promoted despite the undercover messages of Panentheism and Perennial Wisdom.
This is a true tale of how beliefs hostile to Jesus Christ are entering the church via ignorance, lack of discernment, apathy, and/or drift from sound doctrine.
Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. Ephesians 6:11