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The Divine Dance: the Trinity and Your Transformation by Richard Rohr with Mike Morrell

Book review by Philip Bradford

I write this review with some fear and trepidation because the main author has a wide following and has published a number of books on spiritual matters.

Richard Rohr is described in the Divine Dance as a globally recognised ecumenical teacher bearing witness to the universal awakening within Christian mysticism and the Perennial Tradition. I have to confess that this is the first of Richard Rohr's books I have read and I had to google the 'Perennial Tradition' to find out what it is. The quick answer to save you time is that the 'Perennial Tradition' recognises that there are some constant and recurring themes and truths in all the world's major religions.

Book cover

The Divine Dance begins with six pages of glowing reviews from a variety of luminaries but I only recognised the names of three of them—one being 'Bono'.

Rohr begins by noting that although the Trinity is supposed to be a central foundational doctrine of our Christian belief system, most Christians have little real understanding of it and the doctrine has apparently no impact on the way they live their lives. If that is the case Rohr argues then either the doctrine is not true or else it is badly misunderstood. In formulating a new understanding of the Trinity, Rohr takes us back to the Fourth Century Cappadocian Fathers who suggested that relationships within the Trinity could be understood as a flow, a radical relatedness, a perfect communion between 'Three'—a circle dance of love. Furthermore they suggested that God is not just a dancer; God is the dance itself.

Rohr takes this language and runs with it. His first major theme is that the Trinity of the Godhead is relationship. He argues that early Christian thinking was influenced by Aristotle and therefore described the Trinitarian God as being substance. He uses the famous Rublev icon of the Trinity (also known as The Hospitality of Abraham) to illustrate the concept of God as Three in perfect harmony and relationship. (The icon is on the front cover of the book). Rohr suggests that the figure representing the Spirit seems to be inviting the viewer to come and join the meal. To quote Rohr: 'I want you to take this image into yourself as you read. I invite you to recognise that this Table is not reserved exclusively for the Three, nor is the divine circle a closed circle: we're all invited in. All creation is invited in and this is the liberation God intended from the very beginning.'

I found Rohr's emphasis on the Trinity as God revealed in equal loving relationship a helpful image and a welcome relief from Trinitarian language using concepts like hierarchy and subordination. Welcome, too was his stress on God's love being the essence of his nature. I liked his statement, 'God does not love you because you are good. God loves you because God is good.' However, I started to part company with Rohr in Part 2 of his book, entitled 'Why the Trinity? Why now?' In this section Rohr takes the themes of the first part of the book and develops them further in ways which I found were not always helpful.

Under a heading 'Essential Ecstasy' Rohr argues that despite what he calls the Trinitarian revolution we still have a largely pagan view of God. He suggests, 'But once you experience this changing of the gods, you have a solid and attractive basis for Christianity as a path—a mystical and dynamic Christianity concerned about restorative justice and reconciliation at every level, here and now. All you have to do today is walk outside and gaze at one leaf, long and lovingly, until you know, really know that the leaf is a participation in the eternal being of God.' He continues, 'This is God's suffering: that the species whom God gave free will to has used it to say no to itself, and thus no to most other things too... That is probably what we mean by sin.'

Rohr has a strange understanding of sin and regards the whole concept of the atonement as unhelpful. In his view any understanding of Christ's death bringing reconciliation between God and humanity is to be rejected because it somehow limits God's freedom to be perfectly loving. In fact he argues that the Incarnation is the Gospel and that Christ's death on the cross was not really necessary—it is simply an icon to change our minds about God and show that he is perfect love. If that is the case it is strange that all four Evangelists give so much space to Christ's death and resurrection.

After reading Part 2 of Rohr's book I was reminded of Richard Niebuhr's unforgettable critique of early Twenty Century liberal theology: 'A God without wrath brought people without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.'

Like the famous 'Curate's egg', this book is good in parts.