Dance With the Three Who Brung Ya: a book review

 

556775I had three reasons for picking up The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation. First, it is about the Trinity and how belief in the triune Godhead is a game changer.  There are few topics which make me this giddy. My reading of Zizioulas, Volf, Moltmann and Barth in grad school made me a passionately Trinitarian.  Secondly,I read this book because its author is Richard Rohr. I mean who doesn’t love Rohr? He is the reigning guru on all things enneagram, contemplative prayer in the perennial tradition, Franciscan spirituality and the masculine journey. So what if his mystic speak is a little fuzzy and he pushes things in  more of a progressive direction that many of us are comfortable with? His progressive bent is not characterized by a demythologizing, deconstructive tendency, but a desire to squeeze every generous ounce out of God’s grace.  I don’t agree with everything Rohr says, I don’t even understand everything Rohr says (he’s deeper than I am); yet I am always challenged by reading his books and walk away believing and trusting God just a little more.

My third reason was Rohr’s co-author Mike Morrell. Morrell is best known as the organizer of the Wild Goose Festival. One of his seven or eight other day jobs is curating SpeakEasy,a blog review program which has introduced me to some great books the past few years. This book came into fruition when Morrell got his hands on material that Rohr had delivered at two conferences and offered to help Rohr translate them from conference to book form.So the Triune God, Rohr and Morrell conspired. The Divine Dance was born. Um. . .the book, not the dance. The Divine dance has been happening for a little while now.

The book is based on Rohr’s lectures, but the concept came to Rohr during a Lenten retreat. While on retreat, he picked up Catherine LaCugna’s book, God For Us: The Trinity and Christian Life and read it.  Rohr describes the reading of her book as being brought into conversation with the “big tradition.” For him the Trinity was no longer a “dusty doctrine” to be shelved, but “almost a phenomenology of my own—and others’—inner experience of God” (40-41).

Organizationally this is different from Rohr’s other books (mostly through Morrell’s influence). There is an introduction and three parts. In lieu of chapters there are sub-headings in each section—seventy headings in all. This makes it an ideal book for daily devotional reading; however I wouldn’t say that there is a linear argument running through each section. Instead Rohr steps, sways, and sashays his way across the floor, circling back to aspects of the Trinity, embellish his dance moves with creative flourishes.

Rohr’s introduction  describes how despite Western Christians’ affirmation of the Trinity, it has made little practical impact on our lives. The invitation, Rohr has for us, is not just to see the triune relationship at the heart of God, but to enter into communion with Father, Son and Spirit. Rohr illustrates this by describing Rublev’s Trinity which depicts the Godhood sitting at Abraham’s table. Rohr posits that a mirror originally hung in front of the icon, to help the observer take up her space at the table (29-31). This takes Trinity out of the world of abstraction and invites us into Divine relationship.

Part 1, Wanted: a Trinitarian Revolution is conceptual and philosophically rich. Rohr attempts to answer  how entering into Triune reality changes everything—breaking all our dualisms (including political dualisms), and opens the way for new paradigms and connection with the world. Part II, Why the Trinity? Why Now?, delves deeper into the nature of God and how commitment to the Trinity dismantles our divine caricatures, and showcases a God more loving, welcoming and present to us. Part III, the Holy Spirit, concludes the book with some thoughts on how the Spirit brings helps us engage deeper with God and the world. An appendix describes seven practices for experiencing the Trinity, notably a litany of seventy evocative names for the Holy Spirit (210-212).

Rohr avoids the practical modalism of Western Christianity by looking East to the Social Trinity of the Cappadocians. He writes, “Don’t start with the One and try to make it into Three, but start with the Three and see that this is the deepest nature of the One” (43). Rohr makes the case that the relationship in the Godhead between its members, is the basis of all reality, and understanding and embracing the Divine Dance opens us up to new realities which effect politics and community.

Richard Rohr and I have different starting points He’s a Franciscan friar and  a priest, I’m a low, roving Protestant. But I appreciate the way Rohr urges a recovery of the Trinity and has traced out its implications. I highly recommend this book for several reasons. First, Rohr is all about the great tradition. He cites Protestants, Patristic, medieval theologians and a healthy helping of notable Franciscans. Secondly, Rohr is both gracious and thoughtful in his analysis. Third, there are lots of theology books about the Trinity, but there have been few books that help us imagine what the practical implications are for our spiritual life.  This one delivers. Fourth, even where we may disagree with Rohr,(i.e. his critical  and selective reading of some Bible passages), he asks hard questions which we ought to press into. For example, he writes as a Franciscan priest who doesn’t believe in forensic models of the atonement (131). If we are to affirm penal substitution, how does God’s wrath against the Son on the cross fit into our Trinitarian theology? What impact does our belief about God impact how we live? Our politics? These are great questions. I happily recommend this book and give it four stars.

One final plea, get the hard cover edition instead of the Kindle edition. Reading this as e-book is okay, but because this is a book with no chapters and so many headings. I prefer the orientation and spacial awareness provided by a physical binding. Also, the inside of the front and back covers have a full-color reproduction of Rublev’s icon of the Trinity (the same image in copper hue embossed in copper tone across the dust jacket). Divine Dance is published by Whitaker House. Many of their books reflect  a charismatic aesthetic. They are best known, to me, for publishing Smith Wiggleworth and a slough of deliverance ministers. This may be the most beautiful book they’ve ever published.

Note: I received this book from SpeakEasy in exchange for my honest review. I wasn’t asked to write a positive review. I just can’t help myself.

3 thoughts on “Dance With the Three Who Brung Ya: a book review

  1. Hi James, thanks for this review. I have read other works by Rohr, and am suspicious of his “universalistic” tendencies, but as you note, he has something to say that challenges his readers. Also – I am happy that I am not the only one to have read Zizioulas! I managed to read his “Being As Communion” this spring while in the Capadyoccian hills: a great treat – and among the finest books on the Trinity: https://moreenigma.wordpress.com/2016/04/07/being-as-communion/. Here’s to our accepting the invitation to the “Divine Dance.” Merry Christmas.

    • Wow! What a setting to read Metropolitan John! My good friend at Regent did a thesis on Zizioulas and Gunton and it transformed my theological reading for the better.

      I feel you on the Rohr suspicions. I always feel uneasy about where he goes with stuff.

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