I wondered if the Reformed blogosphere was going to issue a ‘strong warning’ against The Divine Dance. Mark Driscoll told his then-congregation “Have you read The Shack? Don’t,” and John Piper infamously tweeted “Farewell, Rob Bell” when Rob dared question the eternal-conscious torment party line in Love Wins, so I was curious if my former tribe of more conservative-leaning Calvinists (along with their conservative Evangelical fellow-travelers) was going to circle the wagons and warn their perceived flock against Fr. Richard’s and my ode to love.
Then last night, I saw it:
I have a review coming out tomorrow @TGC on Richard Rohr's book The Divine Dance: The Trinity & Your Transformation.
— Fred Sanders (@FredFredSanders) December 1, 2016
Always wanting to believe the best about people (I am opti-mystic after all!), I replied with a friendly tweet:
— Mike Morrell (@zoecarnate) December 2, 2016
…to which Fred – a theologian at Biola who also writes about the Trinity – made his intentions clear:
@zoecarnate I'm afraid my review of the book is very negative! I'd be glad to talk after you've read it.
— Fred Sanders (@FredFredSanders) December 2, 2016
Fred and I then had a brief, relatively-pleasant email exchange. He let me know that, as an art-student-turned-theologian, he created a series of underground-comix–styled graphic novels illuminating his favorite dogmatics. So, y’know, he can’t be that bad. (I hope he sends these to me, to show me the error of my ways.)
(And, update, I’ve been told by several today that the Good Doctor is not himself Reformed, but is in fact Wesleyan Arminian. So let his name be cleared of the TULIP-strewn path, but let the alliterative record stand on The Gospel Coalition.)
You can read it if you want.
In it, Dr. Sanders says things like “The Divine Dance is not about the Trinity,” and “Rohr aggressively misappropriates Trinitarian language in order to commend his own eclectic spiritual teaching,” and “[Morrell’s] transition of this material from speech to print is not, stylistically, a happy one.” (Ouch!)
By and large, I find this ‘review’ to be a bit of a hit piece, full of theological caricature, character assassination, under-appreciation for metaphor, and disdain for divergent perspectives. There’s also some substantial critique.
I’ve left a comment on the post, which is currently under moderation. Since so many of my friends have been banned from commenting on TGC’s site (did I mention their disdain for divergent views?), I’m not holding my breath that my comment will be approved, so I’m sharing it here with you, dear reader. It’s a kind of open letter to The Gospel Coalition, Dr. Fred, and their readers. Here you go…
Hi all. Fr. Richard’s thoroughly-Protestant collaborator on The Divine Dance here.
Well, Fred, you told me on Twitter last night that you’d be posting a “very negative” review, and you did not disappoint! I feel like it would read better without what occurs to me as a level of personal invective, but I’m still able to see the substance of your critique beneath this.
What’s obvious to me is how much you really care about the Trinity – it shows up here loud and clear. I resonate with your care and concern. I won’t spend time on a point-by-point rebuttal – I’ll only name that it’s equally obvious to me that it makes total sense that a kataphatic, hierarchical, substance-oriented Calvinist approach to Trinity would be at odds with an apophatic, social, process-oriented Franciscan approach. While we both believe in revelation, we see God not only as God is, right, but as we are!
Life is such an ongoing process of discernment being held in love, isn’t it?
And so, I appreciate how much you care about this, Fred. You want to get God right. Oddly, I’m right here with you. It’s why I watched with interest this summer when some friends from the Reformed camp seemed to be engaging in heterodox Trinitarian redefinition, which one of my Missional friends wrote about so eloquently here.
You care. I care. And so here we are, having this conversation.
I will say that we saw what little conversation was taking place about the life of God expressed in Trinity focused on the individual persons traditionally named Father, Son, and Spirit, and precious little on their relationship. We get why this is the case, but there are already so many engaging treatises on Theology, Christology, and Pneumatology, that we – like our friend Paul Young, whose novel The Shack I helped launch nearly a decade ago – wanted to say something about the divine relations, the process of divinity-in-friendship, the Space Between.
Writing about one does not negate the other.
And when so many of our best teachers, poets, and sages have put heart to paper about their experience of being caught up in this divine fellowship – not to mention Jesus’ own high priestly prayer in John 17 – it seems like such a neglect not to give contemporary voice to this rich, neglected stream of Christian spirituality.
It’s why I love what Tim Keller writes about in The Reason for God:
The life of the Trinity is characterized not by self-centeredness but by mutually self-giving love. When we delight and serve someone else, we enter into a dynamic orbit around him or her, we center on the interests and desires of the other. That creates a dance, particularly if there are three persons, each of whom moves around the other two. So it is, the Bible tells us. Each of the divine persons centers upon the others. None demands that the others revolve around him. Each voluntarily circles the other two, pouring love, delight, and adoration into them. Each person of the Trinity loves, adores, defers to, and rejoices in the others. That creates a dynamic pulsating dance of joy and love. The early leaders of the Greek church had a word for this—perichoresis. Notice the root of our word ‘choreography’ is within it. It means literally to “dance or flow around.
I’ll close with something that surely a Calvinist and a mystic can appreciate: Being pursued by God. There was a time in my life, about four years ago, that I was at a major life crossroads. Facing an agonizing decision; feeling desperately lonely. Truly, it felt like no one got me. No one was for me. In this space, I approached God in prayer. The opening words from Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing began to sing their way through me:
Tune My Heart to Sing Thy Grace.
And suddenly, my heart was opened: To the Father, Son, and Spirit.To the divine dance, weaving its indelible grace through my life. Trinity showed up for me in such an undeniable way, revealing just how love and pursued and (yes) chosen I was. Life goes on with its ups and downs, but this Trinitarian encounter was a game-changer. I write about this holy moment more in-depth in a special Divine Dance bonus chapter that I give away on my blog.
At the end of the day, what I’m left with is that we’re all in this together. Being formed in the Imago Dei means that we’re wired for ‘Imago Tres’ – we thrive living into our vital connection with God, self, others, and world. When we forget that we’re all connected, we wither. While we might see ‘the curse’ and ‘the cure’ differently, I appreciate that you’re asking these questions and are on this path.
Grace and peace to you.
Other Divine Dance Reviews
I want to name here that I’m not upset that The Gospel Coalition has posted their ‘very negative’ review of The Divine Dance. Because I really do believe that everything belongs, I think that such jolting exclamations – unfair though they may be – serve a real purpose: to continue the conversation in all its messiness, and help even more people discover this beautiful Mystery (not unknowable, but endlessly knowable) that Fr. Richard and I are so passionate about.
Thankfully, all of the other reviews I’ve seen thus far are far more generous – even critical ones like my friend Byron Borger’s from Hearts & Minds Books. If you’re curious to see what others are saying about The Divine Dance, what follows (in no particular order) are other reviews that have crossed my desk: