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Jesus’ Alternative Plan: The Sermon on the Mount by Richard Rohr

19 May 2023

Gems in a flawed book, says Richard Lamey

RICHARD ROHR is one of the most influential and prolific writers on spirituality and the Christian faith today. He is an American Franciscan friar based in New Mexico and a very effective communicator of the values and the truth of the Reign of God, of the need for Christians to live visibly different lives in a world that despises goodness and crucified Jesus. His latest book, Jesus’ Alternative Plan: The Sermon on the Mount, updates his 1996 book Jesus’ Plan for a New World.

It is not exactly the book that it claims to be: the reader will expect an in-depth study of the Sermon on the Mount, but the first 135 pages set the scene, giving us a picture of who Jesus is and arguing that he was executed for challenging society and calling for a new community of justice, forgiveness, and love.

There is plenty of depth, reflection, prayer, and vision in what Rohr writes. He is clearly someone who loves God and knows Jesus and is inspired by the Spirit at work in his heart.

It is a frustrating book in some ways. Its structure is not linear, which makes it hard to know where Rohr is taking you. Rohr often asserts things as asides, such as what is wrong with Western European Christianity. Without seeing what inspired Rohr’s comment, it is hard to work out whether you agree.

When he finally does get to the Sermon on the Mount, Rohr does an excellent job of guiding us through it, offering a helpful overall structure and explaining each line directly and powerfully. Rohr really accelerates in the last chapters with welcome drive and direction. He ties these “happy attitudes” back into the whole of Jesus’s teaching and treats them as a code for understanding everything that Jesus came to achieve and fulfil. It is a very enjoyable and worthwhile section of the book.

The reader is left wanting more of that and perhaps less of the slightly circular insights and snapshots that name the issues with society better than they prescribe his cure, the how of living in the Reign of God. Almost every page has a shining jewel that you want to spend time on and discuss with others: an insight, an observation, an idea; but the abiding feeling is one of longing for more on the Sermon on the Mount itself.

The Revd Richard Lamey is the Rector of St Paul’s, Wokingham, and Area Dean of Sonning, in the diocese of Oxford.


Jesus’ Alternative Plan: The Sermon on the Mount
Richard Rohr
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