What does the word ‘Christ’ mean? A swing and a miss by Richard Rohr

Here is some nonsense I read yesterday:

Here is my hot take on it:

The fact is, we can call anything whatever we want. But simply ascribing the word ‘Christ’ to something, does not make that thing Christ. At best, it is a misnomer. At worst, it is deceitful.

Words do not mean whatever we want them to mean. Words mean what the speaker actually intends them to mean in any given context. What is more, a speaker trying to convey some truth tends to use words in their commonly understood sense. Otherwise, it begs the question as to why they are trying to convey truths in a way that nobody is likely to understand them.

When it comes to the word ‘Christ’, we can’t just ascribe whatever meaning we want to it. It has a heritage and a way of being understood by those who first used, continued to use as well as for the geezer to whom all Christians look who took it upon himself. It is notable that Jesus never understood the term ‘Christ’ to mean ‘the transcendent within every “thing” in the universe.’ Nor did he ever use it in such a way – and neither did any of the NT writers – to mean ‘the immense spaciousness of all true love.’ Again, it is never used anywhere in the NT to mean ‘every thing – in its fullness.’

You see, what Richard Rohr is doing there is taking the word ‘Christ’ and describing animism. Now, there is a reason – perhaps a very simple and obvious reason – that the overwhelming majority of Christians, and especially those societies founded on Christian values, have not adopted a de facto animism. That reason is that the word ‘Christ’ does not imply animism and the overwhelming testimony of the Christian scriptures does not afford any room to animistic religion. Ditto, I should add, for the Judaism in which it is rooted.

If Christ meant what Richard Rohr suggests, we should expect to see animism (of some sort) riddled through Judeo-Christian societies and a common phenomenon among their respective adherents. That we don’t is testament to the fact that nowhere in the Bible does the word ‘Christ’ mean what Richard Rohr suggests and nowhere do any of the Biblical writers imply or explicitly teach this understanding of that term either.

The Jews understood the Christ to be the messiah – the king who would save the Jews. Jesus Christ employed the term Christ in exactly the same way. The NT writers understood the term Christ, again, the same way. Yes, the Jews and the Christians differ over who the messiah/Christ is and exactly how he will save his people (and, indeed, who those people are). But there is no misunderstanding over what that term explicitly means.

My hot take is not all that different to my considered take. If Richard Rohr is right, then Christianity is utterly pointless. Jesus is not who he said he was and his followers are the pitiable fools that the apostle Paul said they would be if Jesus had not actually risen from the dead. The Bible itself, if Rohr is correct, is fundamentally flawed and essentially untrue. The Bible is wrong, ‘Christ’ is a meaningless term to take to oneself, Jesus was deluded and/or a liar and his followers are idiotic gulls who should be pitied above all. Christians are people who will follow literally anything and convinced that the very word at issue means something it doesn’t and has implications for them that it cannot possibly have. Our founder, faith and just about everything is utterly pointless. That is the answer to his ‘what if’ question.

Thankfully, it really doesn’t take much to see that ‘Christ’ evidently doesn’t mean what Rohr suggests it might. I feel like I’ve been saying the following phrase a lot of late, but here we go. By all means deny that Jesus is the Christ or that there is such a thing as a Christ. Feel free to reject the Biblical data as untrue with reference to whatever evidence you find compelling. But what you cannot do is pretend the Bible says stuff it doesn’t. You can’t pretend it means something that any reading of the text makes clear it cannot possibly mean, that no follower of Jesus has ever successfully argued and that no mainstream denomination has ever followed.

That, dear friends, is just making stuff up and ascribing words to it that nobody else means. That is not the kind of thing that evidence-led, intelligent people do. It’s certainly not the kind of thing one would expect of a man who claims to be a follower of Christ.