Alternative Orthodoxy

Our community group this year will be listening to various podcasts and focusing on the meditation and reflection sparked by those podcasts.  If you’d like to follow along with us, you can check out my notes here on the blog each week.

January 10

When I was in my twenties and reconsidering what forms my faith might take, I remember feeling as though I had flung off an old coat.  To be sure, some vestiges of the faith of my youth continued to cling fast, but many others were tossed aside with the coat.

But once the coat was off I wondered what to wear in its place.  I knew that my faith not longer fashioned itself into this garment I had worn comfortably all my life but if not that, then what?  What would my faith look like now?

This morning I listened for the third time to a podcast with Richard Rohr discussing (with Rob Bell) a 7-part alternative orthodoxy.  I actually wrote about it the first time I listened.  But we’re going to discuss it with our Cgroup tomorrow night and I wanted a refresher.  At the beginning of the interview, Rob Bell says that so many of us (Christians / Christ-followers / Church-goers) know what we don’t want to be part of (ie Church as we currently know it) but we also know that there is a sacred hum within us.  We know what we’re leaving but we aren’t sure where we’re going.

That’s exactly what I felt in my early twenties.  I knew what it didn’t look like.  But I wasn’t sure what it did look like.  And as I listened yet again this morning, I thought, ahhh, if only someone could have handed it to me so succinctly all those years ago!

If you are not familiar with churchy-church talk, orthodoxy in this context means the “authorized or generally accepted theory, doctrine, or practice — for the Church.”  Orthodoxy is “Church as it has always been done.”  So Rohr, a Franciscan friar / Catholic priest, has come up with what he calls an “alternative orthodoxy.”  In other words, a different way of doing things.  A different way of thinking about God and the world and the people in it.


Here are the first four themes.  We’ll be listening to the second half of the podcast in a couple weeks.


Scripture, as validated by experience, and experience as validated by tradition are good scales for one’s spiritual worldview.

Rohr believes that SCRIPTURE, EXPERIENCE & TRADITION make up the three wheels of the tricycle, so to speak.   Rather than the dualistic notion of scripture and tradition pitted against one another, personal experience is the front wheel of the tricycle.  And according to Rohr, we can allow personal experience to be the front wheel because we are at a place in human history with the tools to critique our experience.  We can trust it because we can critique it.


If God is trinity and Jesus is the face of God, then it is a benevolent universe.  God is not someone to be afraid of but is the ground of being and is on our side.  

The trinity is the perichoresis, or the divine dance.

The typical Christian image of God is actually pagan.  It is not trinitarian.  We could drop the trinity and 98% of Christian practice and devotion would remain untouched and unchanged.

But if we understand the trinity as the perichoresis, everything changes.  The divine is a circle dance.  God, Jesus, Spirit is a community of love in which the members of the divine move and encircle each other in loving, giving, generosity and service.

It’s not “Do you believe or not?” but rather “Would you like to join the dance?”

Bell interprets John 14:6 where Jesus says “I am the way, the truth and the life,” as Jesus saying “I’m showing you what the dance looks like.”

Anyone can join the dance.  You can show the lordship of Christ without the vocabulary.  The vocabulary is nice but it isn’t necessary.  Listening to people at the margins of society is joining the dance.  Devoting your life to researching a particular disease is joining the dance.  Naming the dark and ugly things inside of yourself is joining the dance.  Simply choosing to get out of bed in the morning when it all seems pointless can be joining the dance.

We have made Jesus into an exclusive Savior rather than an inclusive one.  Paul’s great idea was NOT faith and works but the idea that we, our bodies, are now the temple of the most high God.

If the gospel is not proclaiming a cosmic hope for history, it’s not going to be compelling.  It’s very hard to heal individual people when the whole thing is going to hell in a hand basket.  We are trying to tell people to be hopeful while at the same time we damn the whole thing to hell!

Instead, we should show the ways that God is healing the whole thing and ask “Would you like to be a part of that?”


There is only one reality.  Any final distinction between natural and supernatural, sacred and profane is a bogus one. 

One God = one reality.

Grace itself is inherent in nature.  We’ve made grace extrinsic – something that comes now and then to those who make good choices but it can’t be counted on.  Grace is inherent in all of creation.   And it changes everything to have the indwelling spirit planted in our hearts.


Everything belongs and no one needs to be scapegoated or excluded.  Evil and illusion only need to be named and exposed truthfully and they die in exposure to the light. 

God as the great allower.  God allows horribly things to happen, it’s true.  And we don’t know why or what for.  We, therefore, believe in the myth of redemptive violence.  Redemptive scapegoating.  But Jesus shows us another way.  Jesus became the scapegoat in order that we might know that we do not need a scapegoat.

^To be truthful, I’m still trying to wrap my mind around this one.  I understand the basic premise but atonement theology is so seeped in my psyche that I’m going to need more time with it.  Maybe our discussion tomorrow night will cast more light for me.

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